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In times of darkness (I am by your side)

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Montpelier Estate, Virginia, United States

James sips his coffee while he reads the morning paper. It is a sacred ritual for him, signifying his last part of the day without technology. Dolley knows not to disturb him so she only slides his breakfast onto the table in front of him and goes to answer the phone, humming as she walks.

"Alright," James sets the paper down when she hangs up the phone, looking shocked, "I’ll bite. Who was it?"

"That was Thomas on the phone." Dolley’s shocked expression morphs into surprised happiness. "He said he’s moving back to Monticello in two weeks’ time." James successfully manages to look like he does not know. "Well, I’ll be damned. After fifteen years I didn’t think Monticello would ever lose the dust coating the halls."

Dolley nods in agreement, eagerly and smiling, but she is fiddling with the wedding ring on her slight finger. James knows his wife’s tells. She has three of them. Number one is clicking her tongue rapidly. Number two is touching up the curls she has pinned up at the back of her neck with inordinate dedication. Number three is fiddling with her jewelry. So he probes further. "There is something else on your mind, dear, isn’t there?"

Perhaps Thomas let something slip on the phone, something that gave him away. But Thomas is too professional for that.

"He said he is moving back with his husband and child, James. I didn’t even know he was gay."

"And that bothers you?"

"You know it doesn't bother me that he is gay. It bothers me that I didn't know. I’m supposed to be good at reading people. I am a psychologist, James. How did I miss it?" She wonders. "He never even mentioned a boyfriend when he called, did he?" James knows Thomas would have liked to mention a boyfriend, if there had ever been one after college. 

"No, I suppose he didn’t. But the man is well into his thirties and never even dated a woman, Dolley. Thomas is a very private man, and we’ll be meeting the husband now. Better late than never, I say."

Dolley nods, more assured now, before her face turns a little reverent. The hand on the wedding ring disappears, rubbing over her heart distractedly, a different sort of tell. "Oh, it’ll be so nice to have a child around from now on."

And James fights the frown on his face to turn it into something closer to a smile. Two weeks to prepare Monticello for Thomas’ arrival. The bureau could have given him a bit more time.

6 Weeks earlier, WITSEC Safe house, classified location, United States

The last few days have gone by in a blur. "Eliza Hamilton has been found murdered and we need you back in the States for another long-term mission," Steuben had kept their conversation intentionally brief on the phone. Thomas had been in the middle of taking a well-deserved vacation that consisted of climbing Mt. Everest and finally obtaining a license to give scuba diving lessons. (Thomas has long been a fan of improving his skillset.) The next stop would have been to jog the length of the Great Wall of China. 

He had thought about complaining, but Steuben’s words were phrased as nothing less than an order, and therefore to be obeyed. An operation they had worked on for years was close to falling apart. Thomas would never choose a few extra days of respite over trying to salvage it. That, however, doesn't mean he didn't mourn the fourteen days of leave he sacrificed.

So he had hopped on the next plane back without further questions, tried to sleep on the way over which - frustratingly – failed due to a loud baby, and received briefing in the car on the way to the safe house. "Eliza Hamilton, 27 years old, primary witness in the recent SIMCOE murders, found by her husband and son last night, bludgeoned to death. We have the husband and baby, also key witnesses, in our custody and are waiting for the ‘go ahead’ on the new contingency plan," Ben, the ridiculously young agent currently in charge of this damn operation, explains as he hands Thomas multiple pictures. Washington rotates who takes the lead every few years. 

"Right, the plan is to set them up in a rural town with a handler posing as the brother-in-law next door, I remember," Thomas nods, already beginning to plan his role. Will they let him pick the alias this time? He tires of the ridiculous names Steuben comes up with.

"Unfortunately without Mrs. Hamilton that plan has been compromised, and the handler that was coaching her died protecting her."

"Oh?"

"The plan has been changed to include you," Ben reluctantly divulges. His blue eyes have always seemed too piercing for Thomas. He cannot make out what he secrets away among their ice in them. 

"Yes, I gathered as much when Steuben called."

"No, I mean, including you," Ben stresses, adding, "It’s time for Thomas Jefferson to return from France."

Now that is a surprise. He hadn’t expected the plan to include ‘get married to A. Hamilton, ‘move back’ from France to pick up life in Monticello’ either. When Thomas was recruited right out of college, they had set up a life for him that would protect his identity, to an extent. As the son of Senator Peter Jefferson, he was never exactly out of the public eye. He had 'picked up and moved to France' the second he passed training, bouncing from one undercover mission to the next, all over the world. The full extent of how serious this operation has become is shown in the bureau's willingness to let Thomas work under his real name. If this cover is blown Thomas can kiss his career goodbye. 

"Sounds like you’re planning for the long-term?"

"Rogers has been tracking down every witness we have against him for months, Mr. Hamilton is the most important asset we have. Now that Mrs. Hamilton has been eliminated he has all but disappeared, none of my contacts can tell me anything. If he surfaces again, it will be to kill Hamilton. Any case we could build falls apart without him. Prepare yourself for at least a few years of pretend-married bliss." Ben has only recently taken over, but has already gained more traction than anyone else Thomas watched attempt it by developing contacts, it appears. Before today, Thomas thought it would have been impossible to find someone willing to actually talk about Rogers. 

Ah, Rogers. Even after years spent investigating, they have only a few photos of him and even fewer accounts of his locations over the years. They aren't even certain if Rogers is an actual last name, and if it is, what his first name is. They can't even say for sure that he is in the United States right now. He is nothing but a deadly, dangerous shadow. 

The whole mission started, when, years ago, an anonymous source named SIMCOE revealed a willingness to talk, if certain conditions would be met. It cost the team several members before they put the pieces together to spell out that SIMCOE was none other than Rogers' lieutenant, including two in a long row of men in charge of the whole thing before Benjamin Tallmadge. Thomas hardly knew Charles Scott, but Nathaniel Sackett was a pleasant man Thomas enjoyed working undercover for. "Sounds to me like there is strife amongst his ranks, if his lieutenant is reaching out to us." Director Washington had said, and ordered a cold investigation to be kept open indefinitely. Over the years SIMCOE has reveled in leaving taunting notes with his victims. There seems to have been none on Eliza Hamilton. It is unusual, to say the least, even if SIMCOE left all the traditional signatures. There is no note on her body, and it makes her uniquely special. It could be a slip up. It could signify that she meant something to whoever SIMCOE is. It could mean anything.

"What about the son?" Thomas asks, gritting his teeth so that he does not accidentally vent his annoyance. Ben flips through some documents, brows furrowing. "Philipp Hamilton, 18 months old, just learned to walk and talk, useless as a witness but essential to his father, obviously." It’s harsh, to lose a mother at an age where you will never be able to remember her. At least Thomas still has memories of his mother, sparse though they may be after the years of estrangement leading up to her death. 

"Have you informed Mr. Hamilton of the plan?"

"We have. We’re sending the two of you to spouse-boot-camp for a few weeks before you get reacquainted with the rolling hills of Virginia." Thomas hopes for the sake of the mission that Ben expressed himself more respectfully towards Mr. Hamilton. 

"Where?"

"At the safe house. Rogers might expect us to be moving the witness, so we won't. We can’t afford to take risks, Thomas. None."

And Thomas knows damn well that he is the best undercover agent they have, even if he sometimes deviates from the plan. He learned long ago that inflexibly following a plan until it fails leads to deaths that might have been prevented. It took heavy losses to learn that lesson. His sleep still isn't the easiest, even after ten years. 

"There’s a list of instructions for you," Ben says as he hands him a wad of paper, "Best not waste what is left of the day, come on."

+

Thomas enters the isolated cabin to find a small man, facing away from him and staring out of a window as he watches two of the marshals outside converse with detached interest. "Mr. Hamilton?" Thomas announces his presence once the marshals inside have skedaddled. There are plenty more outside, but Thomas would prefer to get this over with in something resembling privacy. The man turns to face him, and Thomas takes in his face. Short hair, clean-shaven (They will have to alter his appearance. He looks exactly like all the photos Ben showed Thomas, maybe he should grow his hair out, adopt a beard), utterly broken eyes. The eyes are the most distinctive trait Thomas takes note of. Red-rimmed and baggy, from what looks like a night spent crying, but an otherwise dead look in the deep brown of the irises. He is clutching a cooing infant tight to his chest, pressing soft, tender kisses onto the baby’s violent brown curls and whispering something to him in a soothing language that Thomas cannot make out. His voice cracks ever so slightly as he keeps eye contact with Thomas, admirably. Cagey, apprehensive, Thomas thinks. "My name is Thomas Jefferson. I am here to-"

"Be my husband," Hamilton finishes the sentence, "Yes, I’ve been informed by Agent Tallmadge. I’ve already agreed to go along with the plan, though at the time I wasn’t aware I wouldn’t even be given a full 48 hours to mourn my wife."

"We have no time to waste," Thomas retorts and berates himself for his tactlessness, adding a useless, "Unfortunately." It sounds heartless, even to him. But Thomas can't help thinking ahead, busy analyzing the man in front of him and making plans that will ensure his witness stays alive. Hamilton frowns at him. "I’ve been ordered here to discuss strategies with you, see if we can agree on how to play this."

The psych consult told Thomas to use this wording deliberately, since they estimated Mr. Hamilton to be a man who needs to feel in control. Briefly he wonders who interviewed Mr. Hamilton to get this impression, because the man sees right through him and Thomas is a very convincing liar, usually. "I know this isn’t a debate, Mr. Jefferson. You have a list of orders. Read them to me or let me read them, I’ll comply. Not like I have another option that won’t get me and my son killed."

Thomas nods, clears his throat, before asking Mr. Hamilton to have a seat. Name change. "We’ve provided birth records for your son, now Sebastién Beauregard, with a slightly altered date of birth. We have also arranged for a new identity for you." He pushes the envelope containing said documents across the table. Hamilton inspects them carefully, frown deepening. "Alexandré Beauregard-Jefferson? Aren’t the first names too similar?"

"As your husband I will be referring to you as André, and Agent Tallmadge has obviously taken the similarities into account and approved it anyway. As far as the world is concerned, Thomas Jefferson has been living in France for the last fifteen years and is returning to settle down at his old family estate."

And Thomas would have dearly liked for that to be real, in one or two decades, with a real partner. Once his father died and left Thomas as the sole owner of Monticello, he started building fantasies in his head to get him through particularly rough days. Fantasies of a future are easy to shape and hold on to, even during hours that seem so dark it leaves him thinking he might never see the light again. And there have been a few close calls, all part of the job description, nothing too out of the ordinary, but the thought of a future worth having has never wavered. Monticello remained, safe, a home, untouchable in Virginia, waiting for him to find someone worth settling down for. 

But it is a small thing to sacrifice if it means they have a shot at stopping SIMCOE one day. If Thomas keeps telling himself that, he knows he will eventually believe it. It just might take a while longer to convince himself.

Location. Contact with friends and family. Following instructions. Thomas checks off one box after another. Hamilton nods. "What is next?"

"Because your son is so young it offers us an advantage that we do not usually have with children. If he grows up to believe in the authenticity of the cover he will not ask questions or compromise it. Children are notoriously bad liars."

"You want my son to believe you are his second father?" Mr. Hamilton asks, anger burning behind his eyes for a quick second before it dies, fading to reluctant resignation. "These are my orders. I am relaying them to you. What I want is inconsequential," Thomas dismisses. The bureau seems to think so, in any case, so it has to be true. 

"Ah," Hamilton sighs, "Of course. How will we trick him, for his own safety?"

"Sharing a bed, in the most innocent way possible," Thomas begins to explain, rattling down a list of rules that Hamilton accepts without protest.

"How long do you suppose the cover has to run?"

"Could be months, could be years," Thomas decides to be honest. He is fairly certain by now that nothing he could say would shake Hamilton out of the deep melancholy he is in. "I see," Hamilton nods, bouncing little Philipp on his knee to distract that restless infant.

"Regarding your admittedly troubled state of mind, as part of the cover you have recently lost your parents to a car crash," Thomas continues.

"Great. Will that be all, Mr. Jefferson?"

"There is the matter of practice," Thomas is reluctant to admit that there are still several points on his list of instructions left untouched.

"Practice?" Mr. Hamilton repeats the word in a hollow voice. Thomas nods, pushes a different packet of paper across the desk. "This includes important dates, significant information on your husband, things that must be gotten in order before we can assume the cover."

"This says ‘establishment of believable physical attraction’," Hamilton squeezes his eyes shut, the strongest show of emotion Thomas has seen from him so far. He is fairly certain that Hamilton is hiding tears.

"Nothing like you might think, Mr. Hamilton. It is just that given your marriage was to a woman, we need to ensure that you can feign being attracted to a man."

Hamilton lets out a shaky exhale that gives Thomas cause to think there might actually be some emotion, still hidden away somewhere, deep within the man. "If you cannot, we can bring in a female agent to-"

"I’ll manage," Hamilton’s voice breaks, his eyes are still screwed shut. His hand flies to Philipp’s hair and he strokes it, calming both the infant and himself. "Not a woman please, not so soon-" he pleads quietly, before snapping his mouth shut and renewing a determination to take whatever Thomas throws at him and run with it. It makes sense, Thomas thinks, that it would be easier for Hamilton to pretend to be with a man than risk actually developing an attraction for a woman. Ben must have taken that into account as well. There seems to be sharp reasoning behind everything he does. Washington clearly saw something in him when he placed a twenty-something year old in charge of the SIMCOE project. 

Ordinarily, there would have to be a test, of sorts, regarding kisses and outward signs of intimacy. But the man lost his wife two days ago and Thomas frankly does not care to force the man to follow through on orders that are, simply put, ridiculous. Even if Hamilton cringes away from his touch, on the off-chance that they will actually have to kiss Thomas will simply find a way to be believable for the both of them. He is a professional after all, he has played this game a hundred times before. And hey, maybe Ben will catch a lucky break and arrest Rogers within a month. One always has to hold out hope, right? Why should it matter that they have made hardly any progress in seven years? Why should it matter that Thomas might have to spend decades playing house with a grieving widower? Why should it matter that Thomas is giving up his own future?

"I’ll leave you to it." Thomas abruptly stands up, as Hamilton returns to scanning the documents handed to him. There’s a marriage license that he gets caught on, staring at it for almost half an hour as Thomas takes position on the couch with his laptop.

+

The next few weeks pass in a slow dredge of time, as Thomas spends his day observing Hamilton and quizzing him on the information he is supposed to retain, leading to a few awkward and terse conversations. The man only ever seems to mutter to himself, walking with his son in his arms, holding on for dear life as if by setting him down he is risking his life. He doesn't eat, doesn't even seem to notice that he isn't eating until someone gently reminds him that he really, really should. The dark circles beneath his eyes deepen in color with each passing day, soon purple enough to look as though someone knocked him about quite a bit. He focuses his whole energy on his son, and Thomas suspects the infant is the only thing stopping him from completely deteriorating. 

Thomas understands his grief, he understands it very well, but the professional in him is anxiously waiting for a change, for him to snap out of it.

But Hamilton continues pacing, talking non-stop to his son, in tones too hushed for Thomas to hear. And if he doesn’t do that, he drowns himself in books. At least it is better than constant crying. Thomas has had enough of that to last him at least a couple of years. If Hamilton does cry, he does so silently in the little room assigned to him. Thomas can deal with this. He’ll simply show Hamilton the library in Monticello and hope the cover doesn’t last long enough for him to read through the twelve-thousand volumes on his shelves. In his state, it is unlikely that Hamilton wants to leave the house anyway, and in that case Thomas won't even have to talk to him, he can just, well, waste his life away and moan to James about how little his boss appreciates his sacrifice. 

Ben stops by a few times, to discuss who else will be joining him undercover. A gardener, an electrician, a pizza delivery guy are on-call in the area and will be making regular rounds. But at least they will get some time off. They get to go home, occasionally. Thomas tries to force these thoughts from his mind. It won't be forever. It can't be. They'll make a bust, eventually. They have to. 

"And James Madison, as your contact to me."

"Convenient," Thomas grimaces.

"He seemed to think so too." Ben agrees. "Although he did wish for his wife to remain unaware of what you do."

"Won't be a problem."

Five weeks after arriving at the safe house, Ben arranges a photoshoot to ‘get the details right’ for a convincing couple. The tuxedo fits well but Hamilton looks severely uncomfortable. It feels awkward to hold a man whose eyes are more dead than alive. But Thomas is a professional and he makes it work by tugging Hamilton against his chest, facing him away from the camera.

Surprisingly it is Hamilton who suggests a more open pose, for the sake of believability. Thomas is about to insist that there is no need, but Ben agrees with Hamilton. Something changes in Hamilton’s eyes, as he looks up at Thomas with fond, almost reverent eyes and a stunning smile that tells Thomas he is definitely imagining someone else in his place. He isn’t really looking at him at all, just arranging his face as he needs to. It looks like an imitation of happiness, close but paling in comparison to the real thing.

"Can we get a kiss?" Someone, Thomas can’t for the life of him tell who, suggests animatedly. Hamilton’s expression falters, his lips beginning to move silently, his eyes almost pleading. "Don’t you think that’s tacky, Agent Tallmadge?" Thomas wonders. 

Ben shrugs. Alexander has taken a deep breath and is back to lacking any sort of emotion, almost like the simple act of smiling is too exhausting to manage for longer than a few seconds.

"I can go for a stage kiss," Thomas frowns, but then he sees something like gratitude in Alexander Hamilton’s eyes and knows he made the right call. He covers Hamilton’s lip with his thumb, noting that they are irritatingly soft despite the constant attention Hamilton’s teeth lavish upon them. There’s a height difference of just about eight inches between them, so Thomas bends down a little and Hamilton plays his part by grabbing Thomas’ lapels and lifting himself onto his tip toes. Thomas kisses his own thumb, letting his eyes close and his body relax to portray happiness. He's open to do anything that looks good on camera. Someone tells Hamilton to relax and Thomas feels the man force the tension out of his body through sheer willpower.

Ben tells him they’ll get the pictures framed. He also gives him a hard drive that supposedly contains home video material (Mrs. Hamilton was an amateur producer, it seems.) and pictures. He forces himself to pick out some of Hamilton and his son, but foregoes looking at the videos. It doesn’t feel right. He is already being inserted into the most intimate parts of that man's life, he'll try to leave him this, at least. 

Two more weeks pass, until Thomas is sitting up on a couch with Ben in the early hours of the morning, watching Hamilton sleep on the couch across from them, his son on his chest.

"Sure you are ready to be yourself again?" Ben asks him.

"I’m up for anything, always," Thomas insists.

They leave for Monticello by first light. Hamilton is silent the entire car ride as he sits in the back with little Philipp, who, in turn, will not shut up, repeating the words Papi  as he tugs on Hamilton's fingers and something that Thomas thinks sounds like pairdoameh. The child is blissfully unaware of how much his life is about to change, and Thomas wishes he could say the same. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

Thomas watches as Alexander Hamilton’s eyes reveal how overwhelmed he is by the entirety of Monticello, and he would be inclined to smirk if he didn’t also feel the whole situation to be way above his pay-grade. Philipp, for his part, has slept the last few hours of the journey and is therefore sufficiently energetic.

"Castillo, Papí! Castillo! Abajo!" The little child is trying to squirm out of his father’s arms, whose fingers are shaking because he does not want to let go of him. The kid repeats his command, now bordering upset, and Hamilton relents, "Okay, mi alma, okay." Hamilton gives his kid a stern look through tear-filled eyes and the kid wraps his tiny hand around Hamilton’s finger, walking towards the house on determined if wobbly feet. For a twenty-month old child, Philipp Hamilton definitely knows what he wants. Thomas trails after the pair. Hamilton is coddling his son. The poor child has just spent two months in an old safe-house that offers little entertainment for kids. He has been starved of stimulation and the need to explore is therefore disproportionately strong. 

But Thomas understands very well that there is something in Alexander Hamilton that physically can’t bring himself to let go of the last thing that remains of his family. "His wife has two living sisters and a pair of adoptive parents that mourn her, but Alexander has no living relatives, Thomas, when do we ever get that? Mother died when he was twelve, sickness, father drank himself to death that winter. His brother and he moved in with a cousin who committed suicide, and when they were then transferred to an uncle, he got ill too. His brother James slipped through the cracks and disappeared without a trace twenty years ago. The witness, when he was fourteen, started working for a shipping firm. There are accounts of him taking over while the boss was away on business. Imagine that, a fourteen year old." Steuben had sounded over-awed when he’d given Thomas a brief introduction to Alexander Hamilton.

And Thomas had thought, great, with an undercurrent of resignation, because evidently seeing your wife's mangled corpse isn't enough trauma for one lifetime.

"There are accounts of native-speaker proficiency in five languages, Thomas. Does the bureau have anyone that speaks Danish fluently? How did no one pick this kid out at college? There's blog posts written by him in at least three other languages as well, and apparently he did most of the translations of his books himself. Everything he has touched has turned out phenomenal."

Thomas had grown uncomfortable with Steuben’s praise by the second sentence, but the man had rambled on for another fifteen minutes, giving Thomas what he called ‘the hardware’ of Alexander Hamilton. "Computers tell me nothing of his state of mind, nor how his past affects him today. But you’ve had behavioral training, Thomas. You’ll be able to read him like a book."

And Thomas has tried to get a sense of Hamilton. The man can force smiles now, harsh ones that somehow manage to calm Philipp even though they don’t reach those still shattered eyes. But Hamilton is quiet. He only speaks when Thomas addresses him. His face is impassive at best and a second away from a tearful breakdown at worst. Sometimes Thomas catches a glimpse of life behind deep brown eyes, so wonderfully expressive that they give him a bit of insight he desperately needs. If Hamilton can only bear to communicate with his eyes, that is fine, for now. But sooner or later they are going to have to talk about the cover in detail. Sooner or later they are going to have to actually get to know ‘the software’ of one another. (Thomas tries not to overtly cringe as he expands Steuben's metaphor in his head.)

Turns out, reading Alexander Hamilton like a book is surprisingly easy when you present him with books. Thomas leads him to the library, Philipp back in his father’s arms and cooing, babbling into Hamilton’s ear in varying decibels. The kid is not above trying to hum while his tongue is sticking out either, an objectively adorable sight. It makes Hamilton’s lip quiver dangerously. "About twelve-thousand volumes in here," Thomas says by way of explanation, stunned into silence at the open admiration in Alexander’s eyes as he regards the long stretch of shelves. "Wow." His voice cracks as he speaks, for perhaps the first time since Thomas met him, above something that could pass for a broken whisper. "Take your pick." Thomas motions, a bit awkwardly.

Hamilton nods at him, the movement clearing the emotion from his eyes like a sponge wiping a chalkboard clean.

Thomas goes on to show him the bedroom they will be sharing (Wardrobe, some personal effects and anything else they might need has already been stored into the residence. Thomas doesn’t know who took all the covers off of the paintings and dusted the place, but he suspects James had something to do with it.), complete with two baby monitors for the room connected to this one. "We’ll leave the door open, of course, but, uh, Sebastién should, uh,"

For a second he thinks Hamilton is going to protest, he can see the reluctance in the wide-eyed look he receives, but even that is calmed. He nods, looking every bit as if the movement were killing him. It takes Thomas just over two hours to finish an explanatory tour, omitting to mention all the locations Ben said he had weapons hidden. ("All child-proofed, don’t worry, Thomas.") By the end of it Philipp has fallen asleep, evidenced by the slowly growing spot of drool on Hamilton’s left shoulder. Hamilton places him in the intended bed, shaking at the loss of contact, so he stares. It’s a start. Thomas watches Hamilton for a while and then he clears his throat, excusing himself with the intention of procuring something to eat.

The fridge is stocked, but that’s a temporary thing, so Thomas orders in. The delivery guy is friendly and Thomas tips well, answering one or two questions about moving back to town. They are, after all, ordinary citizens, just a happily married couple settling into small-town Virginia life. When Thomas takes the pizza upstairs it doesn’t look like Hamilton has moved from his spot, but his hands grip the sides of the bed like he is trying not to reach out and pick him up. "Hey." Thomas catches his attention and watches him flinch. Hamilton turns around, fully composed. "Gotta eat," Thomas waves the pizza box, trying to make it seem appealing. Hamilton nods, muttering out a quiet thanks as Thomas hands it to him. "No pineapple on it, is there?"

"Are you too good for pineapple?" Thomas huffs, as he opens his own steaming pineapple-and-ham pizza.

"Pineapple is too good for me," Alexander confesses, "I am severely allergic."

"Oh." Thomas should have asked Steuben for a list of allergies, perhaps. What even is Alexander Hamilton’s medical history? Does he have chronic illnesses? How is Thomas supposed to keep him alive if he doesn’t know? In his mind Thomas is picturing runaway fantasies of Alexander Hamilton dying of some unspecified allergy and their whole case falling apart. "Well," he clears his throat, nodding towards Alexander’s still unopened box of pizza. "I figured I’d play it safe. It’s just plain pizza, no toppings." Hamilton nods, opens it and sniffs. It reminds Thomas oddly of a cat, and he almost lets his amusement at the thought show. The pizza is still steaming - a testament to the virtues of the delivery boy - and Hamilton eats it willingly. He doesn’t comment on it, but Thomas has learnt to expect quiet. As pizzas go, this one is pretty passable.

The awkwardness doesn’t dissipate over shared food, unfortunately. Hamilton is too caught up in his own mind to even acknowledge Thomas most of the time. Thomas just finds himself observing and trying to read Alexander Hamilton. He’s facing a crisis by the time both men seem to feel drawn to sleep.

"Wall or window?" Hamilton addresses him without prompting for perhaps the first time ever. Thomas tries to think if there is a tactical advantage to be gained from either position, but dismisses it quickly. "You choose," he offers. For a second there is a glint in Alexander’s eyes that makes it look like he wants to retort something. But it dies, like any spark Thomas sees in those brown pools. Nothing ever catches fire. He pads to the wall, closer to the door to Philipp’s room. Of course. Would he have objected if Thomas had chosen that side? Is there any fight in Alexander Hamilton at all?

Hamilton walks over to the closet Thomas said was his and pulls out a few items, seemingly at random, before he locks himself into the giant bathroom that Thomas missed more than he realized. He takes the opportunity to get changed as well, into purple pajama pants from years ago that unfortunately fit a little too snugly now and an old university t-shirt he managed to scrounge up somewhere. (Thomas has been sleeping naked for years, but that is hardly appropriate now. It will take some getting used to the fabric again.)

Hamilton emerges, face washed and teeth brushed, presumably. "All yours," he nods at Thomas before sliding beneath the covers. Thomas wishes he could say something to make this less awkward. He stares at himself in the mirror for the longest time as he goes through the motions of his night-time regimen. "This is my life now," he thinks as he whispers the words, trying to convince his mind that it isn’t so bad. They might catch Rogers tomorrow. They won’t, but there’s always hope. Thomas has to hold out hope. Tallmadge is a bright kid. He’s managed to develop contacts within Roger’s circles. He’ll catch him.

Truthfully, Thomas doesn't mind being somewhat removed from the more dangerous action. He is doing his part. He is sacrificing just as much.

Thomas gets into bed, trying not to shift the mattress too much. Hamilton doesn’t seem to be asleep yet, but getting there. ‘Good night’ hopefully sounds cordial and not uncomfortable coming out of Thomas’ mouth. Hamilton mutters out a quiet reciprocation.

Philipp wakes up crying in the middle of the night because his diaper is full and as Hamilton takes care of it Thomas regrets that he didn’t tell Steuben to fuck off when he brought him home from vacation.

+

WITSEC Headquarters, unspecified location, United States

Benjamin Tallmadge raises his hand to the plaque that says George Washington, raps on the door twice, and waits. The gravelly voice of his boss allows him entry and Ben wastes no more time as he steps inside. It's a busy day, after all.

"Benjamin," Washington greets him benevolently, "Have you come to give me an update?"

"It’s been two months since we’ve set them up in Monticello, Sir. I have reports from Madison regarding Agent Jefferson and the witnesses. Everything seems to be going to plan."

"Good, good," Washington nods, repeatedly. "And concerning SIMCOE? Last time we spoke you had a man on the inside."

"Yes, Sir," Ben nods as he speaks, "He works at a coffeehouse that Roger’s men frequent, and I’ve got a chain of agents set up to relay his intelligence without causing suspicion."

"A second phone? Coded e-mails?" Washington prods. "I must say this ring you have set up intrigues me. Why have I not heard of it before? You’ve obviously put a lot of thought into this whole thing. Dare I infer you have been planning it for longer than you’ve actually been in a position to set it up?"

Ben squirms, just a little. Under different circumstances his poker face is impenetrable, but George Washington has an unsettling gaze, strong and piercing. "Yes."

"Why not go through the official channels, Benjamin?"

"I tried," he insists, angrily, "But Agent Scott shot down every idea I proposed, no matter how promising, in favor of ‘scouting’. There’s a reason the team suffered the most casualties during his leadership. It got us nowhere and any intelligence we got was rendered useless because they knew that we knew."

Charles Scott gave Ben no consideration and the resentment is still strong. Ordinarily not a prideful man, Benjamin can hold a grudge when the mistakes of arrogant leaders are paid for by others, particularly so when the price is asked of those he cares about. Whether Scott was objecting to the employment of civilians to gain intelligence or the money that would have to go into resources, he always found something amiss. And sure, Ben knows that his tactics are risky and hitherto not as developed as they ought to have been, but a little trust would have been nice. Mr. Sackett, at least, understood the need for this spy ring, even if his tactics were disagreeable.

"And Agent Scott payed with his life, Agent Tallmadge. We do not drag our fallen colleagues through the mud, no matter how questionable their tactics might have been." The reprimand in Washington's voice is plain. Ben holds his tongue about Scott.

"I would never drag Sackett’s name through the mud," Ben mutters, perhaps a bit petulantly. But he cannot bring himself to care that he is pouting like a child. Not when Scott's failings have had such dire consequences.

Washington stares at him, assessing him, for several minutes. "Very well. Tell me about your Culper ring. I need names, I need aliases, and anything else that is relevant."

"Agent Brewster and I hired Abraham Woodhull two years ago, and he expanded his trade onto the black market, where he eventually made contact with Roger’s men and has since been their delivery boy for basic necessities," Ben begins, only for Washington to interject.

"How did you know he was genuine, that you could trust him?"

"We all grew up together - small town, no more than a thousand residents. We were inseparable before age forced a degree of distance. Agent Brewster went off to the Navy, I went off to Yale, Abraham Woodhull stayed in Setauket and started a family."

"Childhood friends?" Washington repeats, wrapping his head around the idea. "Useful, I suppose. And if he is genuinely a civilian, then they truly will find nothing if they snoop."

Ben nods. "He used to compile reports of the observations he made, using the alias ‘Samuel Culper’ and a code book that has since been exchanged for something more covert," he explains hastily, "And leave the letters at a designated hiding spot for Agent Brewster to retrieve when he visits his sick uncle."

"A dead drop," Washington nods, appreciatively, "Why forego technology? Surely an e-mail would be much faster? And cyber-encryption is quite reliable these days."

"We discovered fairly quickly that Rogers monitors everyone’s phones and online activities, once they work for him. The dead drop cannot be monitored, and a burned paper leaves fewer traces than an encrypted file, as you know well, Sir." Washington should know. Rogers’ men had used Mr. Sackett’s code of encryption to lure him out and kill him. Ben looks at his boss and recognizes true sorrow and regret in those eyes. The demise of his boss had led to profound paranoia on Abraham's part, and forced Ben's hand to come up with a more secure route of information. What they have now works. They suspect, of course, that Roger's has someone in his employ that is working to counteract Ben's efforts. After Sackett's fall they are aware that someone has infiltrated their ranks. But his agents have sent word that they do not suspect their covers to be blown and Ben reluctantly agreed to hold off on extraction.

"You said there was a signal?" Washington asks, forcing both men out of reminiscing.

"Yes. Anna Strong, another childhood friend and one currently unaffiliated with Abraham Woodhull, she texts me and asks me how I am doing, an innocent question between old friends, and depending on her wording it lets Agent Brewster know which dead drop he has to frequent."

"It’s well-thought out, Benjamin, I’ll give you that," Washington nods approvingly, "But you said you had a man on the inside."

"We do. After Culper started to gain their trust he began delivering to the coffee shop they use as a meeting place directly. One of the owners is a man he knows from College, a Mr. Robert Townsend, who signs his reports as Samuel Culper, Jr. After a close call with the code books we’ve switched to a brand of invisible ink. The system has been expanded to include Townsend, and when he places an advertisement in a local newspaper for the brandy he brews at home, as a hobby, we send someone to pick up his report and carry it to Culper, where the chain of information is completed again by Agent Brewster."

"Who are the couriers?"

"Agents Hawkins and Roe from Townsend’s hometown and mine, respectively," Benjamin reveals. Washington quizzes him for another twenty minutes, asking for painfully small details and in the end deciding that the set-up is a viable one.

"How soon can we expect more news?"

"I am meeting Agent Brewster this evening, Sir," Benjamin says before he is excused. He leaves the office with a renewed sense of hope. There is no one he trusts more to bring this odious operation to completion.

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

Thomas wouldn’t say he has settled into his life as Alexander Hamilton’s shadow, exactly, but it has become a routine and there is familiarity in those. They manage to make it work. It isn’t any less awkward. Hamilton does not leave the house, not once in the just about two months that they’ve been here now has he strayed further than the steps of the backyard to watch Philipp play.

He reads like someone running out of time. On one particularly grueling day, Thomas observes with a healthy amount of incredulity as the man devours three books in succession. It’s a way of escape, for Hamilton. That much is clear. It seems the man has decided that if he has his head in a different world every day, he won’t have to face the one he is actually living in. It’s not healthy. But what can Thomas do? He can’t force Hamilton to confront the nightmares that plague him. If anyone had tried that with Thomas when he was in his deepest slump, he would have lost it completely. Hamilton has to decide that he wants to ‘get over’ his wife’s brutal murder, for lack of a better word. But Thomas sees right through the man’s reasoning. If he distracts himself he can keep it together – for Philipp.

Right now Thomas is watching Alexander has he bathes a twenty-two month old Philipp in a giant bathtub filled about a third of the way, enough for Philipp to sit and stand comfortably, if he so chose. Philipp screams and laughs excitedly, playing with a rubber duck and splashing his father’s face. That child is a deep well of untapped energy with too little outlets. He needs age-appropriate companions. They could sign him up at a daycare, but Thomas knows it would be futile to suggest it. Alexander Hamilton’s sanity hangs on being able to see that Philipp is alright at all times.

It is a rare night that Thomas does not wake up to the sound of Alexander trying to stifle sobs into his pillow. He says nothing because he does not know what to say. He’s sure Hamilton doesn’t want his comfort anyway.

Right now Alexander is smiling at his babbling son, but it does not reach his eyes. They are soft when they look at Philipp, how could they not be, but the pain in them is unbearably fresh. Thomas, not for the first time, feels like the worst kind of intruder in this man’s life.

"Papí, look," Philipp points towards Thomas, excitedly. Alexander’s eyes are expressionless again when he cranes his neck to stare at him. "Ven aquí," little Philipp demands with an excited expression, hand gesturing wildly enough that Thomas understands in lieu of the Spanish demand. He rolls up his shirtsleeves and squats down at the edge of the tub. Philipp’s feet splash water all over the place as he pads towards Thomas, coming to a stop right in front of him, pushing the duck into his face. "Pato," Philipp screams excitedly. Thomas hasn’t had much opportunity to get to know the kid, but he can guess what the word means by cross-referencing his French vocabulary. "Yeah, buddy, I see that. A ducky," he smiles at Philipp, who offers him a partially-toothed grin that is, simply put, adorable. "Ducky?" Philipp repeats, petting his little companion fondly, before looking at his father for confirmation. Alexander offers a shaky smile. "That’s right, mi vida, Ducky es inglés para pato."

Philipp returns to shove the rubber duck against Thomas’ face again, repeating a command that he doesn’t understand. Thomas looks at Alexander, whose face invariably drains of expression every time their eyes meet, and silently asks for help. "He wants you to kiss it, Mr. Jefferson," he says.

Oh. Well, nothing to be done about that then. Thomas puckers his lips, perhaps a bit over-the-top, and leans forward to smack a loud kiss onto the duck’s head. It tastes faintly of the Lavender soap Alexander is using to bathe his kid. Philipp giggles and looks overall satisfied, holding his arms up towards Thomas in a very telling gesture. Thomas looks at Alexander, uncertain if he is allowed. "May I?"

"Kid wants what he wants," Alexander shrugs, "I’ll get you a towel for him." Philipp whines in Spanish and as Alexander leaves the room Thomas is short precisely one translator. Philipp cocks his head at him, a quizzical expression on his face as he analyzes Thomas. "Up?" He demands, and now Thomas understands. It seems like the kid is already functionally bilingual. Huh. "Okay, buddy, I got you," Thomas relents when the kid’s whining becomes incessant. His shirt gets wet but they are about to get ready for bed anyway, what does it matter? Philipp giggles when Thomas picks him up with an exaggerated groan of effort. "Big boy, aren’t you, buddy?"

"Soy muy grande," Philipp solemnly agrees, nodding profusely. Alexander returns with a towel and mutters a few soft words to his son. "Bed time, mi vida, bueno?"

Philipp nods happily, and then nuzzles his wet curls against Thomas’ chest, yawning exhaustively. Thomas is a bit overwhelmed. "Should I just-uh, hand him back to you?"

Alexander looks at him strangely. "I think he wants you, Mr. Jefferson."

"How do I-?"

"No experience with babies?" If Thomas thinks he hears a bit of a smirk in that comment he dismisses it on account of the sheer nothingness in Alexander’s eyes. Thomas shakes his head. "Tell me what to do," he prompts as he awkwardly shifts to rock Philipp in his arms.

"He likes it when you speak to him in foreign languages, but French frustrates him because it is too similar to Spanish yet not similar enough to understand. It overexcites his little brilliant brain," Alexander coos, flicking at Philipp’s nose and making his son giggle, squirming in Thomas’ arms. Then he turns reminiscent. "Eliza," he chokes on the name, a little, and Thomas thinks he sees tears build before Alexander closes his eyes tightly and opens them, back in control, "She would speak to him in mandarin. He really liked that."

"I’m afraid I can’t oblige," Thomas frowns. He sorts through the languages in his head. Which one would be best suited to put a baby to sleep with? "Well, I would, if he expresses a wish for it. But just, say whatever comes to mind." Alexander gestures a bit lamely. Well, okay then.

"Es war einmal ein kleiner Prinz, der lebte in einem Schloss mit seinem Papa." Thomas speaks softly, catching Philipp’s attention. "Er hatte einen Teich, in dem er oft mit seinem besten Freund Ducky schwimmen ging…" Thomas builds a story, improvising as he goes along. The German flows easiest from his tongue, out of all the languages he knows. It doesn’t take Philipp long to fall asleep, his hair sufficiently dry now & cuddled against Thomas. The feeling of holding a child in your arms as it gives you it’s complete and utter trust, belly and chest expanding as it breathes, without a care in the world, is frankly indescribable for Thomas. Alexander watches Thomas like a hawk, until Philipp is safely stored in his bed. "Thank you," Alexander’s voice pulls him out of his thoughts.

Thomas takes his time to really look at the man. He looks like hell. "Don’t mention it. You should probably shower. It’s been a few days," Thomas suggests. Hamilton flinches, but he seems to recognize the validity of Thomas’ statement. He just forgets. Hamilton is so deep in the fortress of his mind that his mind doesn’t register basic survival skills these days. He only eats when Thomas offers him food, but he cares for Philipp diligently. Thomas slips into bed, listens to the sound of the shower for a while, and finally falls asleep when the bed shifts as Alexander gets in beside him.

The next day, their routine continues, unchanged. As for Philipp, he seems to have decided that Thomas is someone worth getting to know, and now the kid alternately clings to his father and Thomas.

 

Chapter Text

 Benjamin Tallmadge's Apartment, classified location, United States

Ben’s apartment is dark when he gets home, but the loneliness a lack of light produces is an illusion. There is someone here. Years of training have made him hyper-aware of the little details. It isn't like he can sense a presence - that would simply be ludicrous. But the doormat is slightly askew, there's a bit of air flowing in from a window Ben would bet his right hand on he closed before leaving, and the door to his bedroom is ajar. Some might say, he has heard it often enough from Steuben, that he is overly punctilious, but he cannot help it. Carefully he checks for the gun holstered at his back and the knife in his sleeve. 

And when Ben turns on the light, he finds Caleb Brewster sitting on his kitchen island, sipping a beer with unsettling calm as his brown eyes monitor him with some reservation.

"Was about to ask how long you planned on standing there like an idiot, Tallboy." The greeting he receives, along with a content sound of approval as Caleb finishes off his beer, breaks the tension. 

"We aren’t supposed to meet up for another two weeks," Ben says as he rolls his eyes, probing if this visit is work-related or personal. It’s so hard to tell with Caleb, sometimes. "Forgive me for not expecting you to break into my apartment-"

"Oh, but you should have expected it, right? You're beating yourself up over it now. I can almost hear the chastising you're doing in your head. Constant vigilance, Mister Tallmadge, I haven't even trusted myself for years-" Caleb imitates the late and great Nathaniel Sackett, "-And here you are, checking your gun at the door like a fucking idiot. As if opening the door didn't give you away immediately."

"Fuck off, I really don't need this shit after today, Caleb," Ben mutters, holsters his gun and closes the apartment door behind him. 

"Well, tough luck Benny, because the intelligence is ready now, though after I tell you, I bet you’ll wish it weren’t."

Ben sighs, it’s work-related, then. He squashes the bubble of disappointment in his gut and sets down his backpack, shrugging out of his suit and undoing his tie, before walking past Caleb to get himself some beer as well. Once he has downed half of the bottle in one go, he holds out his hand for Caleb expectantly. Caleb’s eyes flit over his body, sparkling even in the dimmed light, so warm and fucking beautiful. One sigh later, Ben holds a folded page, already prepped with the reagent. The paper is yellowed and he takes in Robert Townsends’ hasty scrawl.

Regret to inform you that Ben scans, sinking feeling of dread flooding his body. –Imminent return to the United States, the letter reads. Talks of confrontation between Rogers and as of yet equally unseen Simcoe-

"How did Townsend come by this information?"

"It’s further down," Caleb tells him gruffly, wiggling his finger over the final paragraph. "Curtesy of one disconcerted foot wobbler named Hackett, prone to lamenting his bad luck when too deep in the bottle."

"Do we know why he is coming back? Do we know if he suspects something is amiss with the cover we organized?"

"Townsend doesn’t mention anyone asking after Hamilton, or even talk about him. Safe to say they still think poor Agent Churchill was Mr. Hamilton."

Ben lets out a loud sigh, tension flooding from him. At least they have that. Caleb’s hand reaches out to tug his hair from the braid he keeps it in, running his fingers through it tenderly. Ben leans into the touch, covers Caleb’s hand with his own when it reaches his cheek, closes his eyes, smiles. "Right there, that’s what I wanna see every day," Caleb whispers, awed.

"We get SIMCOE over and done with, we get this for the rest of our lives, Caleb," Ben replies, putting on a confident mask to give Caleb some reassurance. Caleb pulls him down by the neck -even though Ben is standing and Caleb is sitting comfortably on the very high kitchen counter, Ben still towers over him- and kisses him, softly, almost hesitantly at first, as if he isn’t sure Ben still wants him. As if Ben would ever not want this. As if Ben hasn't wanted this as long as he can remember wanting anything. 

"I thought you were here on work-related business," Ben murmurs against Caleb’s lips even as his hands begin to divest Caleb of his clothes.

"We've got work mostly out of the way though, don't we? Can't I come here for both?"

"It's against protocol," Ben responds severely even as he kisses Caleb again. He feels Caleb roll his eyes, even though his own remain closed as he leans into him, to savor this moment. They don't get a lot of this in times like these. God, Ben can't even remember the last time they were allowed and able to spend more than a day together. Caleb is always gone, off risking his life trading information amongst some of the worst people in the world, and Ben hangs back and worries and schemes and plans and tries to keep him alive. Not that he hasn't had his share of field work, but ever since Washington promoted him it has dwindled to practically nothing. He isn't exactly itching to go out there and risk his life, but he would. For Caleb, he would. 

"It’s been a long few months without you, Benny. Just let me have this for tonight, alright? Tell Washington you’re following protocol and making sure your field agents are feeling good enough to continue their service."

"I will tell him no such thing," Ben protests as he presses against Caleb, closer and closer until they decide to move their reunion to a more suitable location than Ben’s half-lit kitchen. He'll take what he can get, and if that means just about an hour holding Caleb close, it is better than nothing. 

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

Thomas awakes to the sound of birds and the sight of Alexander Hamilton staring at him, without blinking, for an unsettling amount of time. It takes Thomas a while to process the visual. "Good morning," his voice sounds groggy when he finally does find it in himself to speak. He realizes with a jolt that he fully slept through the night. Alexander’s crying didn’t wake him up. Either Thomas has gotten used to it or Alexander didn’t have a nightmare, for a change. What a pleasant surprise that would be. 

"I’m ready," Alexander says. His voice is the very essence of calm collectedness; his eyes hold no sign of life. For a while, Thomas hopes he will elaborate, because he is very confused.

"Ready?" Thomas clears his throat when it seems the man cannot be moved to words by his own volition.

"You can stop making excuses to James and Dolley. Invite them over for dinner. It’s time I met Agent Madison and his wife," Alexander continues, stare locking Thomas into place.

"Only if you’re certain. Dolley doesn’t know this is a cover. Are you ready to pretend?"

"I have to be, don’t I? We’ve been living here for over two months and one can only hold off the neighbors for so long." Alexander looks thoughtful as he says it, fingers playing with the sheets. Alexander Hamilton has a very disconcerting habit of picking at anything he can get his hands on when he is nervous. Usually those attentions focus on the skin around his finger nails, occasionally his upper arm. His lips also boast proof of his anxious worrying.

"I’m sure there is some excuse I haven’t used yet," Thomas tries to offer reassurances. In reality, from ‘we are still settling in, Dolley, give us a few weeks’ through ‘Sebastién is sick, I think. André is worried half to death’ to ‘God, so much paperwork, would you believe it’, Thomas has used up just about every plausible excuse for the evasion of a meeting. Alexander makes a noise that sounds like a laugh without substance. He expels air, loudly, and a frame of the word ‘Ha’ flows out with it. It is a little perturbing. Thomas offers him a smile that isn’t returned.

"Invite them," Alexander says, before he pushes himself out of bed to pick up an already complaining Philipp. The complaints turn into a string of gleeful giggles and a proclamation of ‘Papí, Papí, caca en mis pantalones’. Thomas listens to Alexander talk to his Son in Spanish, unsure if it feels like there’s more emotion behind it than usual. "Oh, mi vida, how does someone so small produce so much?"

A few minutes later Alexander emerges with Philipp, cleaned, dressed and chattering away excitedly. He must get it from his mother, Thomas thinks. Philipp spots Thomas and almost leaps out of his father’s arms in his eagerness to greet him. "Hey, buddy," Thomas groans painfully when Philipp’s enthusiasm leads to him flopping down on Thomas’ stomach. He isn't even two yet, but the force of his movement more than makes up for his lack of body mass.

"Tell me eswareinmal," Philipp demands, bouncing up and down excitedly, curls flying all over the place. "You want a story?" Thomas asks, rubbing his eyes and reaching for his glasses, which Philipp promptly snatches for his own keeping, putting them onto his tiny face where they only stay because Thomas holds them in place. Philipp grins up at him, gap-toothed and spit slipping out at the corner of his mouth, and Thomas’ heart utterly melts. He smiles back, helplessly, only drawn out of the moment when he hears a camera shutter.

Alexander shrugs, "Tallmadge said we need photos of you with the kid too. It seemed like a cute photo op."

"Err, sure," Thomas agrees, "I’ll have it printed while I get the groceries."

Philipp demands his attention with a flick to his nose. "Eswareinmal," he repeats, frowning. "Alright, alright, buddy. You’ll get a story when we’ve had breakfast, alright?"

Philipp huffs, but nods.

"Can you say Geschichte, buddy?" Thomas coos at Philipp, making him grin.

"Gah-ziss-ter," Philipp half-yells, proudly. Close enough. "Geh-shiesh-teh," Thomas corrects, playing with Philipp’s arms as the child giggles and parrots him.

"I’ll cook, if that’s alright," Hamilton interrupts, odd look on his face.

"That’s fine, just give me a grocery list. James is celiac, though, is that a problem?"

"Shouldn’t be a problem," Hamilton dismisses, "Not like you agents eat carbs anyway, from what I’ve noticed." Ha, Hamilton should see Thomas on his cheat days. Mac & Cheese for days. Wait, was that a joke? He doesn’t feel confident enough in that knowledge to return something witty, so he merely barks out a laugh and returns his attentions to the child sitting on him.

"Hey buddy, can you say Nahrungsmittelunverträglichkeit?" Philipp gives him an angry look.  For a while the child’s mouth opens and closes again as he tries to make the word come out. "Nein," he huffs, crossing his arms and pouting. Thomas laughs. "Alright, buddy, that’s fine. Breakfast and then a Geschichte, alright?"

"Eswareinmal," Philipp beams, flapping his arms excitedly.

Thomas settles on the couch with Philipp on his lap -who is sipping juice contently and burping every few minutes- reading to him from one of the German storybooks his mother used to adore as a child. Fond memories are all Thomas has left of Jane Jefferson, but still it's more than Philipp will ever have. Stories calm Philipp like nothing else. It amazes Thomas how quickly he goes from bouncing off the walls to contently snuggling against him and pointing at the pictures in the book, attention rapt.

"Que esShield-croy-tae’?" Philipp wants to know as Thomas reads to him.

"It’s a turtle, buddy," Thomas replies, meeting confused brown eyes. He calls for help. Alexander chances a distracted glance at the page. "Tortuga, mi vida," he explains, gently. Philipp nods, repetitively. "Shield-croy-tae," he mutters, over and over again. Philipp has a habit of mindlessly repeating every new word Thomas teaches him until he almost can't hear it anymore. 

Thomas leaves to get groceries, and reminds Alexander of the panic pager that is supposed to be on him at all times. "It will alert the nearest agent, and they’ll come busting in immediately."

"So you’ve said," Alexander says as he holds the red button up in a lackluster fashion, "I’ll be in the library." It’s a routine. Alexander retreats into his books when Philipp isn’t demanding attention, and Thomas retreats into his work, reading every SIMCOE report he can get his hands on, exchanging opinions with Tallmadge, who seemingly never tires of his updates and insights. It almost seems like Tallmadge has a personal investment in the whole affair, with the way he throws himself into work. 

Nevertheless they are making slow progress, both at Monticello and regarding the case. He and Alexander don’t talk unless it is through Philipp, who seems to force them together whenever he can. Alexander Hamilton is still frustratingly unforthcoming regarding communication.  

"Talk to me," Thomas answers the phone as he parks his car in front of Whole Foods.  

"Received some intelligence last night," Tallmadge responds on the other end. 

"Are you sick, Benjamin?" Thomas laughs, concerned at the hoarseness of his colleague's voice, scratchy and raw. 

"What, no," Ben clears his throat on the other side of the call, which doesn't help overly much. "Just,"- his voice breaks again- "Are you somewhere safe right now?"

"I am getting groceries," Thomas sighs as he gets out of the car, closing the door gently. "There are a lot of very domestic aspects to this whole thing that you don't seem to consider."

"It's all paid for, not that your expenditures would put even a small dent in your fortune, from what Steuben tells me. I've sent you some stuff. Look at it when you get home, tell me what you think. We might have a problem on our hands in the near future. Maybe keep a bag packed, if you know what I mean."

"Sure," Thomas agrees, feigning pleasantry as he frowns at the price of his favorite meat substitute, which he is fairly certain has risen by a full 99 cents, "Are you going to tell me why you sound like you've been choked? Took the night off, perhaps?"

"Are you going to be inappropriate towards your boss on the phone, where I can easily record our conversation and file for harassment?" Ben retorts teasingly, but Thomas can almost hear the embarrassment amidst the scratchiness. 

"I think I outrank you, if we're being technical. Don't get cocky that you're running this whole thing unless you can produce results."

"Fuck off," Ben yawns, Thomas hears him stretch. Ben chatters away a bit more about office gossip as he checks off the remaining items on the list Alexander gave him, feeling pretty darn stupid about his life choices. He should be working on cracking the case wide open, and instead he is standing in Whole Foods, trying to decide if it matters that they don't have fucking chickpea flour, like the damn recipe called for.

Thomas sighs and decides to contact an employee, who tells him that 'Well, Sir, I see you've picked up Spelt flour, and if you're trying to go gluten-free I have to warn you that this flour does contain some gluten. What are you trying to make? Oh, Dessert? What kind? A nice little cake? In that case, you should definitely go for Teff flour, which I can personally recommend because it has a sweet, malty kind of flavor. It's totally awesome, and should be easily compatible with what you are trying to make. Other no-gluten substitutes you can bet on are Amaranth or Cornmeal, which we all stock.'

And isn't that just fascinating? Isn't this exactly what he always imagined his life would turn out like? Isn’t this kind of domestic bliss what he hoped for? Alexander Hamilton will just have to make-do without chickpea flour because this is bullshit. 

Eventually, Ben says goodbye and Thomas hangs up to pay. 

+

When Thomas returns in the evening after a day spent running errands, he finds Alexander and Philipp in the kitchen. Alexander is setting the table, busying himself. After four months his hair has grown enough to be gathered into a small knot at the top of his head, though shorter strands still fall out. Philipp is on the floor, doodling with a green crayon on what looks like his tenth sheet of paper. His tongue sticks out in concentration and Thomas can’t resist snapping a picture. He printed the one that Hamilton took this morning, and spent a good hour trying to quell the longing for a child that he has the right to actually call his own. One day, Thomas. This isn't forever. This can't be forever. 

Philipp gets up, the painting now slightly crumpled in his hand, jumping up and down at Thomas’ leg until he squats down to meet him eye-to-eye. "What is that, buddy?" Thomas looks at the seemingly random green shapes on the paper. Philipp frowns. "Schildkröte," he insists, his pronunciation perfect all of a sudden. Thomas gives Alexander a confused look, and thinks he sees the man’s lips twitch, just a little, as he begins sorting the groceries away. "He’s been practicing all day, Mr. Jefferson. I think someone is trying to impress you."

"Yeah, Schildkröte is right, buddy. Well done," Thomas commends Philipp, ruffling the kid’s hair as he preens. He picks Philipp up when the kid demands it and crosses over to Alexander.

"I think, for the sake of our guests, you should call me Thomas, at least tonight."

"Thomas," Alexander nods, berating himself. He clears his throat. "Sorry, it’s all a bit much."

"I get that," Thomas nods as Philipp’s tiny hands fist into his shirt and attempt to thus crush his windpipe. The child has no filter, happily babbling away in a mix of English and Spanish, throwing in seemingly random German words that he has picked up from Thomas’ stories. He is surprisingly articulate for his age, but his sentences aren’t really sentences, they’re just strings of random words with no syntax. It’s cute. It’s also a pain to understand. Another thing Thomas has to get better at. 

"He doesn’t ever stop talking, does he?"

Hamilton smiles at his son, leaning towards Thomas to press a kiss to Philipp’s forehead. "Yeah, he gets that from me I’m afraid."

What? The confusion must show on Thomas’ face, because Alexander swallows audibly. "If you had known me a year ago you would have begged me to shut up," Alexander sighs, "And now I couldn’t find enough words if I tried."

Oh. Alexander turns around, distracting himself from the direction his thoughts are spinning in by preparing dinner.

+

 The most prominent question on Thomas’ mind during dinner is if this is a hint of what Alexander Hamilton was like before he lost his wife. Alexander had been in the middle of cooking when the doorbell rang. He had flinched, just a little, and then handed off the child on his arm to Thomas, asking him to get the door please, I need a moment longer to prepare.

Dolley had gasped in excitement when she saw Philipp, immediately lavishing all her attention on the little kid and forgetting to greet Thomas entirely. "Hey there, sweet thing, what’s your name?" Dolley cooed, making affected noises when she saw Philipp’s sweetest grin for the first time. "Buddy," Philipp had said, after contemplating for a moment, and pointed at his own chest, puffed up a little. Thomas grimaced a bit, but it was better than the kid accidentally saying ‘Philipp’.  

"We’ve got to teach Sebbie his real name eventually, but Thomas seems to overdo it a bit with the nickname," a voice that sounded so unlike Alexander Hamilton’s usual one had said from behind them. Thomas turned his head to look at him, astounded to find a fondly smiling Alexander, extending his hand to introduce himself to Dolley.

And now Thomas sits, forking surprisingly delicious food into his mouth and overthinking everything. Hamilton is a damn good actor. For the most part Thomas can’t figure out that he is faking the smile since his body language doesn't give him away. There is a pale imitation of fire in his eyes, like somebody is playing a recording of fire behind them. It is passable to a woman who has never met him, but Thomas notices the lack of actual sparks. Hamilton is pretending, and he is pretending well so far. But the later they sit, the more exhausted he seems to grow. Thomas wants to play the ‘tired child’ card, but after finishing his meal, Philipp is practically running around the table, coming to crawl onto Thomas’ lap eventually and tugging at his shirt relentlessly, not stopping the barrage of words until Thomas bounces him on his knee, at which point he dissolves into happy giggles as Thomas tries to control the conversation, keep it safe. 

"I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse my curiosity, André, but Thomas never mentioned how the two of you met," Dolley smiles brightly. It's just another question in a long row of previous ones, but they had all focused on Alexander and what he is doing. None of his answers sounded rehearsed, but now he falters. Thomas watches Alexander’s fingers pick at his shirtsleeve with trepidation, and readies himself to answer for him, when Philipp tugs on his sleeve, hard. "Yeah?" He asks the kid.

"Nahrungsmittelunverträglichkeit."

For a second after Philipp’s loud declaration, the entire table is silent. Then Thomas bursts out into unrestrained laughter at this kid’s impeccable comedic timing. "Well done, Buddy. You’re so clever, Sebastién, yes you are." He praises, enjoying the slightly confused look Dolley gives him. "We discussed James’ celiac disease this morning. Amazing what kids pick up, isn’t it?"

The conversation focuses around Philipp then, and Thomas watches Alexander stop fidgeting. They manage to usher James and Dolley out by eight, and by that time Philipp is almost knocked out, demanding Papí to tuck him in tonight. "You go ahead," Thomas tells Alexander, "I’ve got some work to do, still."

"Alright," Alexander nods, slipping under the covers and curling up with a book.

+

Alexander provided these files willingly. Thomas has permission to watch the home videos. He has a written and signed consent form. And he stills feels guilty for snooping into his private life like this. But his curiosity gets the better of him eventually, so he opens the oldest folder on the hard drive, one which Eliza Hamilton titled ‘The first year’, and plugs his headphones in.

Alexander is standing in what looks like it could possibly be the smallest kitchen in the entire world, dressed in distressed jeans and a ratty t-shirt, hair spiky and sticking out all over the place. He is recounting a story, quite animatedly, as he stirs whatever he is making in the pan. ‘And then Herc honest to god got up and punched him, can you imagine? That’s insane. Herc is built like a fucking anvil, Betsey dear, and he just’ Alex glances over his shoulder, sees Eliza behind the camera, and blushes. ‘Are you filming me?’

‘No,’ a soft, kind voice that must be Eliza’s, retorts innocently, ‘I’m making memories of my first official boyfriend since he wouldn’t let me film him while we were just dating’

‘Ha’ Alexander retorts, pointing the spatula at her in an accusing manner. ‘I let you take all sorts of cute pictures of me’ Eliza must pull a face behind the camera, because Alexander starts laughing, a wonderfully genuine sound, if a bit high pitched, and crosses towards her to give her a kiss, which the camera captures as Eliza pans it to face her. She’s a beautiful woman, no older than eighteen here. Thomas thinks that she is exactly the kind of girl any straight man would be losing his senses over. ‘Alex, the stove’ Eliza reminds him, laughter pearling in her throat, growing more hysterical when she hears his softly muttered ‘Oh shit’ in response. ‘Eliza, dearest, bestest, how well-done do you like your meat?’

The video cuts to Alexander, wrapped in multiple blankets, groggily opening his eyes and stifling a yawn. ‘Morning, sunshine,’ Eliza coos, teasingly.

‘Christ, what day is it?’

‘Oh, is someone perhaps a bit hungover?’

Alexander glowers at her, but he can’t keep up the expression for long before it melts into an adoring smile, puppy eyes shining bright and admiringly, the fire in them visible even through the video. ‘How do you look this good after you drank me under the table?’

‘Not my fault you’re a lightweight. Peggy will be laughing at you for the rest of her life for the way you failed at kegging’

‘Does that mean I can never hope to gain your father’s approval? Doesn’t seem like Philipp Schuyler would give his daughter to someone as weak-stomached as me.’

‘Daddy doesn’t need to know’ Eliza giggles, pushing a tray of food towards him. Alexander groans happily at the sight. ‘We’re not even married yet and you’re the best wife in the world.’

‘Eat your omelette, Alex,’ Eliza chirps, happily.

‘I love you so much, you know that?’ He groans through a mouthful of egg, before covering his mouth and swallowing. He takes his hand away to reveal a heart-breaking grin. 

‘I love you too’

They kiss, blissfully happy and both giggling when they pull apart.

Someone else is behind the camera in the next shot, and Thomas hears an obnoxiously loud South Carolinian ‘alright, alright, that’s what I’m talking about’ as Alexander lifts Eliza into his arms, spinning her around happily. They seem to be celebrating something as Eliza whoops and kisses Alexander's face all over.

‘Merde, mais ils sont mignons’ a distinctively French voice gasps next to the camera and it pans over to show a handsome face caught between disgust and reluctant admiration. ‘Alex says we’re worse, bear,’ the South Carolinian says. ‘Peut-être, mon amour, mais this domestic bliss is a bit too much on an empty stomach’ Frenchie says.

The camera pans to show a face overflowing with freckles, twisted in a mischievous grin. Frenchie leans down and captures his lips in a bruising kiss, before pulling away with twinkling eyes. ‘Watch me, mon amour’ he demands as the camera pans to show him throwing a snowball at the joyful couple. Alexander valiantly protects Eliza against the assault, before setting her down and making a dramatic show of kissing her hand. Then he turns to the camera. ‘You impugn upon my honor, sirs’ he claims before launching into a tirade about duels and whatnot, talking and talking as he seems to forget that he has to breathe. South Carolina hands the camera to Frenchie and tackles Alexander to the ground. ‘Rescind the charges or prepare to bleed, good man’ he shouts, polishing snow against a sputtering Alexander as Frenchie shows Eliza losing it, leaning against another, shorter, broader guy as she laughs. Built like an anvil, must be the mysterious Herc. 

‘Looking pretty sexy there, Mr. Hamilton’ Eliza’s voice is seductive as she films Alexander dancing out of the shower to the music quietly flowing from the radio. He is much more confident in front of the camera now, flirting with it as he tries to get Eliza to put the camera down and come dance with him. Eliza sets it down but keeps it running, and there are a few clips of them dancing, closely intertwined and so obviously in love it is almost painful to watch. 

Thomas watches the entire folder labeled ‘the first year’ and afterwards, he thinks he understands. He refrains from snooping any further.

Chapter Text

Monticello safe house, VA, United States

The inevitable breakdown that Thomas has been watching out for occurs after they’ve spent just over three months in Monticello. He awakens with a start, the first panicked glance tells him that the bed beside him is empty. And then all he hears is a crash and suddenly Philipp is crying. Rogers found us, Thomas thinks as fear shoots into every muscle fiber, pumping him full of energy. Get them out. Get them out and get them to safety. The witnesses are worth everything.

He almost trips in his scramble to get to the bathroom, gun at the ready, eyes droopy at being torn from sleep abruptly. Alexander Hamilton sits against the wall, knees drawn to his chest and clutching a crying Philipp, rocking back and forth as he repeatedly begs for forgiveness. "I’m sorry," he says, "Perdonamé, Betsey, ayudamé, dios, perdonamé, perdonamé, perdonamé." His voice is choked but he keeps talking, shakily trying to soothe Philipp.

Thomas sets the gun down, and crouches down next to Hamilton, catching his eye. The situation isn't in the clear, but Thomas feels some tension leave him immediately. No murderer. This job really teaches you to appreciate small mercies.
He looks wrecked, the poor man. Philipp cries and reaches out for Thomas. Hamilton hands him over without question and Philipp sniffles into his shoulder as Thomas whispers sweet nothings to him. "Ich bin ja da, Kleiner, alles ist gut, okay? Ich bin ja da. Brauchst nicht weinen." Philipp quiets down and Thomas presses a soft kiss onto his head. Alexander Hamilton stares at him, lips desperately pressed together in a tight line to stop any sound from coming out, even as tears fall freely down his face like a damn waterfall. Eventually he whimpers, then clamps his lips shut even tighter and Thomas doesn’t know what to do as they slowly turn white.

There isn’t a protocol for what to do when the traumatized victim breaks down eventually under the burden of repressed emotion, at least not one that he can remember right now. For all his damn rules, Tallmadge seems not to have considered something like this. Panic attacks aren't a new part of his life, but he doesn't know Hamilton. He can’t help him without knowing what helps. "Hey," Thomas says, as softly as he can manage right now through the aftershocks of his adrenaline rush, "I’m here if you need me."
"I’m sorry," Hamilton manages to choke out, almost as though it costs him greatly to say it once more, but it sounds different. It sounds like he is apologizing to Thomas instead of whoever he was talking to earlier. It is not unheard of for someone to hallucinate their dead spouse. Maybe Hamilton is seeing her?
"You don’t have to apologize." Thomas tells him, hand instinctively reaching out to comfort but stopping mid-air. "Tell me what you need. Tell me what I can do," he urges.


A fresh wave of tears burns paths down Alexander’s skin and Thomas feels his gut twist. "Can you hold me?" Alexander’s voice is quiet and broken as he whispers the plea, shame burning in his eyes. But Thomas nods. "I’ll put the kid to bed, wait a second."


Philipp is already asleep by the time his head hits the mattress, and Thomas takes a deep breath on the way back to the bathroom. He didn’t notice the first time he entered, but in his grief Alexander has knocked over almost everything. That must be the clatter that woke him. The room is a mess-one of the bathroom tiles has a crack from a fallen glass bottle now, and Thomas flinches when he sees how desolate Alexander’s eyes are. "Alright, I’m here," he soothes, awkwardly sitting next to Alexander and putting an arm around him, unsure what is appropriate, what Alexander wants. But the man seems to be too exhausted to care as he scoots forward, patting the space behind him. Thomas understands. He sits behind Alexander, who settles between his legs and rests his back against Thomas’ chest. Shaking hands intertwine with Thomas’ warm fingers and burrow deep into a hesitant embrace. Thomas doesn’t know how long the small body continues to shiver as he silently sobs, but eventually, somewhere between stroking Alexander’s hair and assuring him that he’s right there, they both fall asleep.

+


Thomas awakes feeling a constant, hellish pain in his back and neck. As he comes to, he remembers where he fell asleep. The sink cabinet is unforgivably hard behind him, and Alexander Hamilton’s body is curled up tightly in his arms, finally sleeping calmly. It leaves Thomas in the awkward position of not wanting to move, in case it wakes him up. He really is a small man. (Thomas remembers Steuben saying something along the lines of Five foot six inches, maybe?)


He spends a good hour just staring at the sleeping man, observing his breathing and wondering if last night crossed a line. Of course, Alexander asked Thomas to hold him and it undoubtedly calmed him down, but what now? What comes next? Alexander stirs eventually, not freaking out that he remains in Thomas’ arms like Thomas feared he might. Instead the man just stares at him for the longest time, emotion in his eyes once more laid to rest. Thomas doesn’t know what to say. There is no way either man can pretend that this isn’t severely uncomfortable, not just in the physical sense of wood at his back. How did people use to sleep sitting up?


They aren’t friends. They might be married on paper but the last three months have hardly turned this pairing into something more than a hastily-arranged cover story. What can he say?
Philipp is crying for someone to get him out of his bed.

"Are you good to stand?" Thomas asks, clearing his throat. It feels raw and tight, after spending considerable time whispering.
"I’m fine for now, I think," Alexander nods, and Thomas lets go of him. They get up and Alex gives him a strange look when he hisses and rubs his back.

"I’ll just, take a quick bath, I think."


+


Alexander seems much better when Thomas trots downstairs, hair still wet and falling around his head in ringlets. "Besamé," Philipp demands, blissfully ignorant of the tension in the air. By now Thomas knows the command well, so he bends down to press a strong kiss onto Philipp’s head. It makes Philipp giggle when Thomas produces a smacking sound as he does. Grabby hands reach out towards Thomas and he receives an equally loud smack of lips against his cheek which smells faintly of banana. The witness to this exchange frowns, pushing a bowl of Thomas’ protein cereal towards him - another part of their routine. After three months, they go through these every day motions effortlessly.


Thomas waits for Alexander to join him and Philipp at the table, before he speaks up. "We should talk about last night," he tries to keep his voice neutral. Still, Alexander tenses.
"I told you, I’m fine now," he insists, perhaps a little too strongly.


"Breaking down crying in a bathroom at three in the morning is not fine," Thomas sighs.


"Am I not allowed to grieve?" Defensive, Thomas picks out from that statement.


"On the contrary, I think you should actually allow yourself time to grieve instead of repressing the hell out of it in the hope that it will just go away, because it won’t."


"I don’t want it to go away," Alexander admits, another tear flowing out despite his efforts to counteract it. Philipp stops mushing his bananas, hands reaching out towards Alexander. Once he is standing on Alexander’s lap, he kisses the tear trails on Alexander’s eyes. "No, Papí, no lágrimas," his little voice protests. Philipp tugs at Thomas’ sleeves, trying to pull him to Alexander.

"Buddy, why don’t you go draw a little, okay? Can you make me another Schildkröte while I talk to your Papí?" Philipp nods solemnly, taking turtle-drawing duty very seriously indeed. Once he is out of earshot, Thomas takes a deep breath and tries to choose his next words carefully.
"I need you to listen to me," Thomas begins, uncertainly. "You can’t heal from this kind of thing without recognizing the validity of what you are feeling."


"I don’t deserve to heal from it at all," Alexander chokes as his nails dig into the skin of his hand. "If I heal it means I forget her. I-" his voice breaks desperately, "I can’t forget her, Thomas. If I forget her, what does that say about me?"


"You won’t forget her," Thomas is quick to ensure. He would know. Over a decade later, he has never forgotten the first tragedy he suffered on the job. "Nobody is asking you to forget her. Eliza was a wonderful woman who should have had more time on this earth than she did. It’s unfair and it’s terrible and it’s tragic, but it cannot be changed. What you’re feeling is understandable and inevitable, but you need to let it out. You need to get better, if not for yourself, then for your son. He needs his father more than ever now."


Alexander looks miserable as he lifts his head to stare at Thomas, shaking all over as he struggles to speak. The half-dried tears have left a trail down his face.
"I’m trying," Alexander whispers. Thomas tries to smile but he thinks it must look more like a pained grimace, judging by the way Alexander flinches. "That is the most important thing."
"I just-" he begins but cuts himself off abruptly, "I just need to find a way to let it out that doesn’t make me physically sick."


"You could talk to me about it," Thomas suggests, striving for helpfulness. Alexander shakes his head vehemently and that really shouldn’t feel like a resounding slap to the face, but it does. You spend one uncomfortable night on the bathroom floor with the guy and suddenly you think he wants to talk to you, Thomas chides his own idiocy.
"I appreciate the offer, as much as I appreciate what you did for me during the night, Thomas. I really do. But it’s unfair of you to force you to be my therapist as well as my husband."


+

Montpelier Estate, VA, United States

Dolley opens the door and welcomes Thomas with a kiss to each cheek. "Why do you smell like bananas? Change of cologne?"

"Sebastién enjoys playing with his food a bit too much," Thomas explains, wiping some of the fruity residue off of his face apologetically. Dolley laughs, "Oh, kids, you just have to love them, don't you?"

Thomas gives her what he hopes passes for a convincing enough smile. "You look like you're on your way out," Thomas interrupts this conversation from getting too far. He has to head back to Monticello as soon as this is over. "Don't let me stop you."

"You're a dear, Thomas," Dolley chirps, stepping past him with a briefcase in hand and coat hanging over her arm.

He finds James in his office, taking a seat silently as he waits for his friend to finish whatever e-mail he was typing up.

"The first quarterly report, Thomas," James begins, letting out a slow whistle. "What shall I write?"

Thomas considers. "Do you think Washington or Tallmadge care to know if he has panic attacks?"

"If it impairs his mental health enough he might not be a viable witness," James folds his fingers, tapping them together in front of his face as he ponders the matter of it all, the very paragon of professionalism. Would James hold a witness through the night? Thomas is afraid to ask.

 "It's because he is refusing to talk about his trauma," Thomas frowns.

"We can't force him to talk about it. We could force him into therapy, but whether or not he talks is entirely his decision to make." James concedes, furrowing his brows as he begins to type.

"Unfortunately," Thomas glowers.

"What about the child?" James continues the questionnaire he is running through.

"Disgustingly adorable," Thomas sighs, before actually answering the question. "No nightmares, from what I can tell. Fully bilingual and very smart, but completely disreputable as a potential witness."

"He seemed greatly attached to you when I saw him. Do you and Mr. Hamilton raise him together, as instructed?"

"I mean, I do my best, but frankly I am completely unqualified to be a parent."

"As long as he doesn't start asking the wrong questions in the wrong place you’re good. Is there a chance of it?"

"No," Thomas is relieved to be able to say. "We don't call him by his real name, even when he isn't present to hear it. Mr. Hamilton has started calling me Thomas."

"What does the child call you?"

"He doesn't call me anything," Thomas realizes when he thinks about it. Philipp gets his attention by tugging on any part of him that his tiny hands can reach and it is a very effective system. "Maybe change that," James suggests, one eyebrow raised. That will certainly be a fun conversation to look forward to with the stubborn little man, Thomas agitatedly considers.

"Alright. Is your cover intact?"

"Mr. Hamilton has not left the house once. Safe to say that there is nothing more intact than that."

"That's not what that question means, Thomas. Work with me here."

"The cover is intact and not threatened by personal conflict." The words are tedious to get through. Another one of Benjamin Tallmadge's new rules. (Just one amongst a total of 47)

"Thomas, if it is at risk of turning into something more than you can handle on a professional level, tell me and we'll arrange a different cover for Mr. Hamilton and his son." Ben had told him as they worked out the details of this whole thing together, at about three in the morning while they were both somewhat cranky due to an acute lack of sleep.

"Do you think I can't do this?" He had frowned, offended.

"He's a man, Thomas. You've only ever been undercover with women since that first time, and never like this. You have no practice with someone like Mr. Hamilton."

"This is because I'm gay, isn't it? You think that I can't control myself as soon as I have to sleep next to another man?"

"Oh, fuck off, Thomas. We both know how super gay I am as well. Don't make this into something that it isn't. We’re talking about a long-term arrangement here, possibly years. It's a natural precaution that we have to consider." Thomas had not, in fact, known that Ben was 'super gay', but apparently the guy made no secret of it. He'd talked to Steuben about it, and the man had muttered something about 'preacher sons, man, my ultimate weakness'.

"Good," James nods, curtly, before spending another five minutes typing something into the report that Thomas can't know about - the personal assessment of his handler.

"Last question, Thomas," James grins, "You hungry? I've got gluten-free Mac&Cheese."

"You are the truest friend on this earth, Jemmy."  Thomas smiles, even as he shivers in fear at what gluten-free pasta must taste like, still vividly recalling the atrocity that Dolley called bread the last time.

 

 

 

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States


The house smells delicious when Thomas comes home as the sun begins to set, and there is longing, almost weepy music playing from the radio in the kitchen. It’s loud enough for Thomas to slip in unnoticed. He is about to announce his presence, but the sight in front of him robs him of his breath for a second. Philipp is perched on Alexander’s hip, clapping his hands excitedly as his father twirls around the room, quietly singing along.
Their eyes meet during one turn and Alexander abruptly stops, a bit embarrassed. One hand scratches at the back of his head, nervously.

"What’s this?" Thomas asks, carefully. It’s as much of a question as it is an invitation to talk, because Thomas obviously does not miss the steaming pots and set table.

"Dinner, I guess." Alexander offers as an explanation, "I got antsy, needed an outlet."


"Smells delicious," Thomas praises then adds carefully, "Shall I order something for myself and leave you to it?" There is no precedent to suggest Alexander enjoys taking meals with him, and Thomas would not expect him to, especially after the words they exchanged this morning. If anything he expects the man to withdraw even further into his headspace. And yet, Alexander surprises him.
"Don’t be ridiculous, Thomas. I’ve already set out three plates."


And, well, Thomas isn’t about to complain. What memory he has of Alexander's cooking is generally colored by fondness, even James praised it.

"Believe it or not, but I’m actually not a terrible husband sometimes," Alexander’s voice almost sounds like it could be playful, but Thomas can’t quite wrap his head around the idea of seeing a side of Alexander Hamilton that isn’t emotionally stunted so he dismisses the suspicion on grounds of insubstantial evidence.


"Dinner is a nice surprise," Thomas plays along anyway, keeping his voice light and neutral. "Are we celebrating something?"


"We’d have to make up an arbitrary significance for the 16th of November, but sure," Alexander muses, getting up promptly and walking away. It leaves Thomas confused until Alexander returns a few minutes later with a bottle of wine that he opens rather expertly. Thomas doesn’t miss the fact that Alexander left Philipp alone with Thomas of his own volition and without as much as a glance. If nothing else, it seems they have at least established a tender trust over the course of three months alone together. Is that enough to warrant a celebration? Perhaps not, but Thomas will take any victory, no matter how small.

He grabs two glasses and pours both of them a drink. Philipp’s hands stretch towards the deep red liquid, and Thomas laughs. "Can’t have that yet, buddy, I’m sorry," Thomas tells him. Philipp frowns at the both of them passionately, but eats his small portion anyway. Alexander brings him to bed afterwards and returns after a few minutes.
"Cheers," Alex raises his glass, and Thomas clinks his glass against it. It’s a good wine that Alexander picked out.
"Thomas?"

"Mhm?" Thomas’ mind is a little distant as he tries to pick out the notes of this wine. He has, for all his cultured upbringing, never understood how people can talk about wine bouquets at length. It came as a disheartening surprise when James eventually let him in on the secret that nobody really tasted any of the flavors they described; rather they talked about what connotations the flavors prompted. That was the first time Thomas considered there might be something to the stereotype of rich people being pretentious, because truthfully, no wine ever tastes like berries or cherry or pine. He is about to ask Alexander’s opinion on the matter, when the other man speaks again.

 "Can I ask you for a favor?"
Thomas coughs as he chokes on a sip of wine at the unexpected question, thought venture stopping once he remembers the descriptive unctuous he spied on the label earlier and finds the characteristic really makes sense once it burns his trachea. Wine-sellers know their wines best after all. "Of course," he immediately assures him.


"When we’re alone, can you, uh, can you just call me Alex?" It’s phrased by and by, but Alexander isn’t looking at him. He never has a problem turning that bland, penetrative stare on him, so for him to look down his drink as his index finger plays with the stem of the elegantly blown glass in a faux-casual manner is very indicative of how heavy the issue weighs on his mind.
"I’m not sure that’s wise," Thomas sighs, reluctant to deny him. "I have orders." It is a rare occurrence that someone with a rather common name like Alexander cannot retain it, and Alexandré is close enough. He’ll call Tallmadge and ask.


"I know," Alex frowns, "Sorry I asked. I just- I, well, pretending to be André just drains me."


"I get that," Thomas sighs, "It takes a while to get used to an alias." It takes even longer to adapt to a life under an assumed name. Before this, Thomas had adopted every name, no matter how bizarre, under the impression that it would be a temporary arrangement. It made things considerably easier.


"How long did it take you to get used to Thomas Jefferson?" Alexander cannot hide that he is curious. Thomas furrows his brows.

"Pardon?"
Alex repeats the question, slower, as he sips his wine. Oh. Did they not tell Alexander? Is he allowed to tell Alexander? It’s not on the list of instructions, after all.  "Thomas Jefferson isn’t an alias."
"What?"
"I think you heard me just fine," Thomas frowns, tipping back the rest of his glass before reluctantly pouring himself another one.


"But if-" Alex starts, louder than usual, confused, "If it’s your real name-"


"Yes?" Thomas prompts, equally amused and annoyed that no one thought to tell Alexander what he really would be getting himself into.  
"That means the marriage license-"
Thomas chortles, swirling the smooth red liquid around his glass reverently. "There’s always a messy divorce, as an option, should this mission ever end. I could be the asshole to cheat on you, lord knows it’ll have been a while by then-"

In fact it has already been almost half a year, but who is counting? Certainly not Thomas, as the whole premise of this case is quite destructive to his libido.
"You don’t sound too confident," Alexander flinches. He pushes his empty glass towards the bottle and Thomas tops it up again. Nothing like bonding over shared awkwardness, is there?


"It’s been an open case for years. I don’t know what should change about that," Thomas chews the inside of his cheek, unwilling to divulge that Benjamin Tallmadge has provided a hope that wasn’t ever there before. If he says it out loud he admits to the spark of hope, and in Alexander Hamilton’s presence all sparks seem to die, to fade into dark nothingness. Worse still, he wouldn’t want to ignite anything in dead brown eyes that invade his dreams nightly now, only to be responsible to watch it die again over the years.
"But that means you’ll possibly be stuck with me for the rest-" Alexander protests again, voice stronger than before.

"I know," Thomas nods slowly, "I agreed to do this job, after all. I knew what I was getting into."
"But why would you, Thomas? I don’t understand. Don’t you want to settle down with someone you actually like? Someone -" Thomas thinks he might see what Alexander was referring to before Dolley and James came over to dinner. Alcohol has loosened his tongue, and he cannot seem to get the words out fast enough. It is fascinating to watch his thoughts race past behind his eyes at top speed.
"Of course I would." Thomas reveals.  "I’ve got time to build a life of my own afterwards, if we bring down Rogers."

"But you won’t have a life of your own if he will not be brought down," Alexander’s eyes are wide and shocked. Thomas shrugs, nonchalant and resigned after he has already gone down that road in his head night after night.
"Small thing to sacrifice, hey? If it means Philipp gets to have one," he points out. He watches Alexander swallow, narrows his eyes at the offensively visible Adam’s apple. Alexander drinks deep, finishing his second glass and returning to fiddling with the stem. The silence is oppressive. Someone has to say something.

"Wonder why they didn’t tell you this was my house and everything."


"Oh my god," Alexander groans, something like realization dawning in his eyes. "You’re the Thomas Jefferson, aren’t you?"

"Heard of my stellar southern heritage, have you?" Thomas bites the inside of his cheek. Alexander scoffs.

"I was a political journalist, Thomas. Before you stands your father’s biggest detractor."

Alexander is sitting down, but the sentiment comes across still. 

"I know," Thomas smiles, beginning to play with his own wine glass as he is reluctant to drink more, "And while I always admired your spirited defenses of human rights, I could not find myself inclined to agree with your opinions on other political matters."

"What irked you?" Alexander is curious. "No, let me guess. You think funding a country through national debt isn’t actually a viable option? Is that it? Or is it my take on foreign policy that bothered you? You’re a Francophile if I ever saw one, but something tells me you’re not a fan of trading so freely with the European Union."

Thomas is stunned for a second. It seems that thus far he has been gravely misjudging Alexander Hamilton’s wit. Of course, he read Alexander’s work while his father was still alive, and had been made to suffer the frequent barrages of rage the work of Hamilton’s pseudonyms evoked in Peter Jefferson. But to witness a smidge of it in person is still a surprise. 

"Am I that obvious?" Thomas exhales sharply, perturbed by how easily Hamilton peered into his mind.

"You forget that I have had access to your very personal library for months now, Thomas. You annotate your books as you see fit. It is as endearing to observe the practice as it is exasperating to read, given how blatantly wrong most of your approaches are."

"Ah." Thomas considers this. "My pride is salvaged then. You have not made me due to a lack of secrecy in my demeanor."

"No indeed," Alexander taps his fingers on the table. "Nor would I like to know what goes on in a mind that would willingly choose to subject their life to an endless lie, though I admit I cannot help a smidge of morbid curiosity."

Their eyes meet and hold, seemingly forever. "I’m not proud of my heritage," Thomas confesses, "The bills my father championed are cruel and unnecessary. But he was my father and I loved him despite my misgivings."

If Thomas thinks and perhaps fears that this will lead to a diatribe from the man, he forgets that he is not sitting across from Alexander Hamilton, writer and fiend to republicans across the country. Instead he faces a broken version of the man, too tired to muster the energy for a debate. It disappoints Thomas to observe the resignation settle in. He wants Alexander to challenge him, wants a chance to be prompted into an explanation. Ask me, Thomas wants to tell him, ask me how I could ever love a father that saw the world the way Peter Jefferson did. Tell me I’m the biggest fucking idiot in the world, just talk to me. You have to talk to someone.

"Well," Alexander starts, after a while, "If there is one thing I cannot fault you for it is trying to keep your family intact."

They leave it on that note. Thomas accepts that he cannot goad Alexander Hamilton into a discussion he does not want to have. He offers a small smile as they clean up the kitchen together, and there’s brief spark of something in Alexander’s ever-confusing eyes before he turns away to start the dishwasher. No smile in return. One thing he will never be surprised by. Alexander showers, appears in their bedroom in ratty but washed pajamas and gets into bed silently.

"Hey, Thomas?" Alexander speaks up after they’ve turned the light off. Thomas makes a reluctant noise of recognition. "Sorry you’re stuck with me now," Alexander sighs.

"It’s my job." Thomas grumbles.

 "But I’m kind of glad you are," he continues.


"Go to sleep, Alexander," Thomas chides, but smiles into the pillow. It’s a step to building something like a friendly rapport out of this, right?

Chapter Text

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

By their third month of living together, Alexander is usually gone from their bed by sunrise, while Thomas wakes up to cold sheets and open curtains. Thomas isn’t sure how much sleep the guy gets but it can’t be enough. Once or twice Thomas has woken up in the middle of the night to find Alexander silently watching his son sleep, down on his knees, hands folded and lips moving rapidly. A religious man, apparently. Thomas wants to ask, but doesn’t dare.

Alexander's coffee consumption has sky-rocketed, but when Thomas raised concerns, Alexander had stared at him incredulously and told him 'this is the lowest my coffee intake has been in decades', and suddenly Thomas understood why the man grew up to be so small.

This morning Philipp is playing with his food in the kitchen again, singing along to the radio off-key and unintelligibly as he slams his fork into the defrosted berries in his bowl. Every time it splashes, Philipp cackles. It shouldn’t sound so diabolical. Thomas shoots Alexander an empathetic look, who just looks resigned by now.
“What do we say when someone comes down the stairs, mi vida?” Alex sighs.

Philipp looks up from the mess of his own creation and grins at Thomas through a mouthful of mistreated berries. “Besamé.”

“No, cariño, we say ‘good morning’”

“No,” Philipp argues, pointing at Thomas, “Decir besamé.” His mood is a little sour now. Thomas makes his way across the table and plants a firm kiss to Philipp’s berry-covered cheek. Philipp’s dirty, dirty hands pull on Thomas’ hair in an attempt to get him near enough to smack one on him in return.
“Alright, easy there, buddy. Can you tell your Papí 'Guten Morgen, Vater'?”

Philipp shakes his head. “Why not?”
Philipp crosses his arms, pouting.
“No eswareinmal,” Philipp explains. “Porque - Dormir!” He points an accusing finger at Thomas.

“And I told you that Thomas needs his sleep and we couldn’t wake him,” Hamilton reiterates, growing agitated by his son’s obstinacy. There are circles beneath his eyes, fresh and violently purple. He didn’t sleep tonight, for all his pretenses. No wonder he is shorter with Philipp than usual.
“You could have,” Thomas throws in.
“Don’t undermine my authority in front of my son,” Hamilton snaps at him, the flicker in his eyes flaring up for a few seconds. It takes a few seconds for it to die down. Is that progress, when what Thomas sees in those eyes is anger?
“Sorry,” Thomas backtracks, raising his hands defensively. “I meant no harm.”

“I’m sure you didn’t, but the kid is fucking attached to you now, so there you go.”

“Well, he has good taste in stories.”
Thomas snorts when Philipp perks up at the mention of a story. “Alright buddy, work it out with your Papí, yeah? I’ll be in my office.”

He gets some work done for a few hours, tedious paperwork that seems to keep flooding in no matter how much he completes, until Tallmadge gives him a call to update him on their lack of updates regarding Rogers and SIMCOE. In the middle of the call the door creaks open loudly. Thomas hears the little pitter patter of Philipp’s feet before he sees his big eyes peek around the edge of the door.
Eswareinmal?” He asks, pursing his lips.

“Who is that?” Ben asks on the other end of the line. Thomas scrambles to close the disturbing images on the screen that Ben just sent over.
“Witness number 2,” Thomas sighs as Philipp comes closer to climb onto his chair, frustrated at finding nothing to hold onto and glaring at Thomas like it is his fault.
Hoch!” He frowns. The imperious tone in his voice is undermined by his stature and still slightly smeared face.

“That’s not very polite, Sebastién,” Thomas chides, gently but with conviction.
“Terrible twos, is that it?” Ben laughs.

“Not until January, actually, but maybe the kid decided he needs a head start. I’ll call you back once this parenting lesson ends.”

Ben ends the connection with an amused ‘good luck’ and Thomas bends down to look at Philipp, seriously. “When you want someone to do something for you, you say ‘please’, okay buddy?”

“Why?” Philipp crosses his arms. Who did he pick that gesture up from?

“Because it is nice, and it makes the people you are talking to happy.”

“Why?”

Oh god, Thomas is not prepared for this at all.
“Uh, because otherwise they are sad - they cry,” Thomas tries to explain, only to hear a snort outside the door. Of course Hamilton wouldn’t let his son wander the empty corridors of this house by himself.

“No lágrimas,” Philipp protests immediately. Maybe he shouldn't have said that. God knows the kid has witnessed his father cry enough to last several lifetimes.

“Exactly, buddy. I know you don’t want people to cry. So when you want something, you say please.”

Einverständniserklärungsangabe,” Philipp spouts off confidently and it makes Thomas laugh. Quickly, the heaviness of the moment fades.
“Up, please,” Philipp smiles, and that talk has to be enough of being the serious parent, doesn’t it?

“Okay, buddy, hold on.” He scoops Philipp onto the chair and spins around a few times, which the kid finds utterly fascinating. Thomas manages to stop before Philipp gets dizzy. As he begins to recount a fairytale he remembers from his childhood, Hamilton enters enough to lean against the door frame and listen to the story as well. Philipp falls asleep against Thomas’ chest, smudging some leftover berry into his white shirt and Thomas is fairly certain that no clothes of his will leave this mission unstained. He supposes the bureau will be made to suffer that substantial dry-cleaning bill.

“How was that for undermining your authority?” Thomas probes, lips pressed tight.

“Thomas, here’s the thing. Philipp -no, I won’t call him Sebastién right now, stop looking at me like that- is becoming super attached to you and he is nearing an age where he can make memories. He’ll remember you, and at the rate you’re getting along he’ll be crushed when you leave.”

“Doesn’t look like I’ll be leaving anytime soon,” Thomas frowns. “It’s not like I want to hurt him, but it would look odd if I don’t bond with ‘my’ child.” The air quotes just happen without Thomas thinking it through, and he realizes belatedly that he might sound a touch petty. There’s a spark in Hamilton’s eyes again, close to catching fire before it dies, yet again. No fight. But oddly enough, it seems to Thomas that submission does not come as easily as it used to. “You’re right, but I hate that you are.”

“This isn’t ideal for me either, you know? I’ve never wasted a thought on kids before and now I’ve got to help raise one.” Tactful phrasing, indeed.

“You’re doing a passable job.”

Thomas grits his teeth. “We’re on the same side, you and I. We should work together.”

“I’m trying, Thomas, but your interference in my life is a nuisance at best and fucking unbearable at worst.” And wow, Thomas has been shot with actual bullets, multiple times, so why does this hurt so badly? He knows Hamilton would prefer to be alone with Philipp, though heaven knows how he would have gotten through the first four months without him. Thomas kept constant tabs on Hamilton's food and water intake, he reminded him to shower because the man just wouldn't, he told Hamilton to get some rest, first in the safe house, and now here. If Thomas hadn't said anything the man would have wasted away trying to care for his son and deal with his wife's death. Thomas isn't selfish enough to demand gratitude for what he did, but he has to admit that the words sting.

Then again, if a stranger were trying to insert himself into every aspect of Thomas' life, he might find his patience running out eventually as well.

Both men stare at each other for a while. “I’m gonna go read. Make sure he naps for at least an hour.”
Hamilton promptly stalks away.

+

WITSEC Headquarters, United States

 Steuben sits across from him, face contemplative and lip twitching. "No new intel?"

"Nothing to report, unfortunately. Until either Rogers or one of his lieutenants surfaces again, we’ve got nothing. No leads."

"Almost seemed too good to be true that we were finally getting somewhere, didn’t it?" Steuben rubs his eyes, taking his glasses off to do so. When they are off Ben is oddly reminded how old he actually is. Steuben is a veteran of this mission, this one that has been running since before Ben graduated High School.

"I haven’t exhausted all options yet," Ben assures him, although he too feels keenly that their successes are short-lived. They’ve got a witness, sure. He only heard the voice though, describing it as light and ‘hauntingly delicate’. That is what they have.

"You gave it your all, Ben, but it seems this just will not be cracked."

"Are you giving up, Friedrich?" Ben raises an eyebrow in disbelief.

"I can’t give up. I’m in too deep. Don’t let this mission consume you like it does me."

Those were his words of goodbye.

+

"Ah, Benjamin," a jovial voice interrupts his workflow some time later, "Just the man I was looking for." Ben looks up from his paperwork to look at Mr. Arnold, one of their more senior agents, lingering at his door.

"Please, come in Sir. How may I help you?" Men like Arnold enjoy reminding Ben of just how young he is by calling him by his first name and presenting themselves as overly familiar. Washington does it too, although Ben suspects that there is a paternalistic aspect to it that Arnold does not possess. Steuben does it too, but they’ve worked closely together ever since Ben’s recruitment, saved each other’s lives before - and they are on a mutual first-name-basis.

"I needed to pop by the morgue, but they won’t let me in. Word is you’re blocking it for the entire day." Ah, yes.

"SIMCOE case, was it?" Arnold crosses his arms, sitting down unbidden across from Ben’s desk. Ben holds his tongue and carefully sorts his paperwork instead.

"Yes. I thought it wise, given the lack of a taunt on the victim’s body, to re-examine it for any personal traces," Ben explains, somewhat more impatiently than he was going for. He really should be working.

"Personal?" Arnold raises a brow, disbelieving.

"Well, the M.O. is clearly the same, but SIMCOE murders invariably always have a message, and they are always specific and renowned for their gruesomeness. And then we have Mrs. Hamilton, bludgeoned, killed swiftly with the first blow to the head. It makes no sense. So it has to be personal."

"What about the husband?" Arnold probes casually.

"What about him?" Ben retorts, hairs suddenly standing up. He might have to check in with Thomas later, just in case. It doesn’t sit well with Ben that their only lead in this case is away in Virginia, of all places. But then again, there isn’t a place to hide him Ben would be at ease with, and Thomas is doing a fantastic job, according to James.

"Was there any message on his body? Didn’t they smash his whole face in? What’s that code for- uh, witnesses?" Arnold always talks quite brusquely and nonchalantly about the atrocities they witness, and of course it isn’t unheard of for people to be fascinated by the way murderers work – hell, Ben himself has marveled at gore once or twice – But the way Arnold does it is different.

Ben’s unease only grows. "The other victim did have his face smashed in, that’s right. But there was no message. Our agents arrived on-scene before he could plant it, I suppose."

"So Mr. Hamilton was obviously the witness and Mrs. Hamilton just so happened to be around, that’s the most rational explanation, isn’t it?"

"No, they were definitely both witnesses," Ben stands up once his paperwork is sorted. "Now I gotta be heading down, see if I can get the morgue free for you quickly. Can I walk you out?"

Arnold looks somewhat hesitant, but smiles genially and gets up to let Ben lock the office. ‘One cannot be too careful’, he hears the voice of the late Mr. Sackett caution him.

"Good day to you, Sir," Ben smiles as the elevator doors close around him.

+

"Ah, Special Supervisory Agent Tallmadge, what an honor it is to receive you in my humble abode," Dr. Stevens’ voice greets him jovially while also reminding him that he is late by about twenty minutes. Arnold held him up.

"Apologies, Dr. Stevens, I am here now. What have you got for me?"

"Eliza Hamilton’s remains, frozen like you asked for the last five months, twenty-seven years of age at time of death, cause of death: blunt force trauma to the cranium which resulted in almost immediately fatal hemorrhaging. Twenty-Nine stab wounds to the abdomen, post-mortem but pretty close afterwards, they still bled heavily. Made with a serrated blade, not dissimilar to a modified bayonet-head in length and width actually, if my calculations are correct. He pulled most of her intestines out with his work."

"Evisceration? She was refusing to cooperate, then? Is that his message?"

"I suppose it would have been had victim number two not shown up. I’ve looked at every SIMCOE victim we’ve been able to connect from the past fifteen years, and he has definitely improved greatly in efficiency and efficacy, but he has never deviated. His scheme, which is definitely unlikely for a killer like him, has not escalated nor has he ever made changes."

"What are you saying?"

"The killer is perfunctory, Tallmadge. He has a routine. He has a somewhat obsessive ritual that he has to follow. Depending on what the victim did he varies his style of murder. His protocol for evisceration is set in stone and I can give you just about thirty victims with identical patterns. Thirty-five stab wounds - organs pulled out, wrapped around the victim’s throat and then posed as if the victim hanged themselves."

"Yes, I know," Ben responds with distaste. Maybe it is medical professionalism or sheer detachment after everything Dr. Stevens must have seen in his career, but Ben will never understand how anyone can talk about evisceration, of all things, with such dissociated rationale.

"So why did he kill her before he started?" Stevens continues his monologue, taps his skull where Eliza Hamilton’s is caved in. "Huh? It makes no sense. Absolutely no sense."

"Fit of passion? Maybe she fought back?" Ben suggests, although he can hazard a guess that Stevens does not really care if he gives an answer. He doesn’t need an answer. Something in his eyes tells Ben clearly that he has figured it out already. He is playing with him now, perhaps for making him wait or something else entirely. Perhaps it delights Dr. Stevens to know that he made a connection no one has seen before.

"That woman is less than a hundred pounds, and we’ve seen him dispose of men three times that weight and size with no struggle," Dr. Stevens dismisses.

"Okay, do you have an answer for me or are you equally confounded?" Ben has a call scheduled with Caleb later, and he isn’t keen on missing it.

"It made me curious. So naturally I swabbed her body and found"- Stevens walks to his laptop and holds up a test vial-"Spit. Not Mrs. Hamilton’s. Not her husband’s either. Guess where I found it?"

In any other context, his voice might be considered eager, like he really wants Ben to guess.

"I want to say lips but I have a feeling it is worse," Ben winces.

"Around her vulva and clitoris, Agent Tallmadge." Dr. Stevens looks utterly disgusted. And if that isn’t the most disgusting thing he has heard in months, he doesn’t know what is.

"So she was personal? Do you think he tried to rape her and had to kill her when she struggled?"

"There are consistent defensive wounds on her hands and legs, which lead me to think that he originally didn’t intend to hurt her. He isn’t opposed to drawing blood, but he didn’t cut her, instead he hit her over the head, which makes me think he just wanted to knock her out. The evisceration, though not completed, is the result of her refusal to give in."

"My god," Ben claps a hand over his mouth.

"My god is right. Unfortunately there is no DNA match in our database. I haven’t heard back from any international databases yet. Might be worth a shot to talk to the victim’s sisters though," he suggests.

"Yeah," Ben agrees, making a note in the back of his head and shooting off a regretful text to Caleb, asking to reschedule. Caleb reads it immediately but does not respond. Ben takes a deep breath and tries not to let it bother him. "What can you tell me about the husband?"

"Can’t tell you anything about the husband, only that I’m sorry for the poor guy," Dr. Stevens leans against his desk, looking at Ben expectantly. Ben looks at the frozen body that used to be Agent Churchill - still young when he died, though older than Ben, promising. What used to be a moderately pleasant face has been turned into a red, unrecognizable pulp. Few bruises suggest he didn’t have time to fight back. He’s heard it before, of course. The autopsy was a lot more conclusive regarding him, and the specifics of his death fit very well with what they know about SIMCOE and his tactics. A witness loses anything they could use to communicate what they’ve seen or heard.  

"I read in the report that you and Agent Steuben secured the crime scene? You found the two victims?"

"Yes."

"Would you say you were the only ones who happened upon that scene for a while?"

"Why is this relevant?"

"Well, Agent Tallmadge," Dr. Stevens sighs, loudly, before he hits a button that locks down the morgue and shuts the windows. What? "Because that second victim is not Alexander Hamilton, and I’d like to know why you would tell me and the bureau otherwise?"

"Pardon?"

"See, I knew the Hamilton family." That explains the forced distance to Eliza Hamilton’s corpse. How did they miss the connection? "Him better than her, actually, though I did attend their wedding. Did you know Alexander was fostered with me for a while when he was young? We were like brothers for a time." The gaping holes in Alexander’s initial years as an orphan, Ben remembers Steuben wrecking his head in his quest to find out more about a background their witness was unwilling to disclose. When his brother dropped off the face of the earth, when his family was decimated one after another, through natural causes or man-made tragedies.

"-Lots of people confused us as such," Dr. Stevens continues, "And, as young boys go, we knew each other rather, uh, well? So, even though the victim’s entire face is smashed and he is Latino, about the right height and age, I noticed that he was missing a very distinctive birthmark on his hip. So where is Alexander Hamilton?"

Fuck.

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

Philipp wakes up after two hours. Thomas’ shirt is soaked with drool and berry stains but it doesn’t even matter because watching his eyes, so much like his father’s, blink open and crinkle when he sees him makes Thomas’ chest hurt like he is having a fucking heart attack.
“Looks like you’re stuck with me for a couple hours, hm?” Thomas plays with Philipp’s curls.
Papí?” Philipp asks, still sleepy.

“Your Papí needs some time to read, buddy. Are we good or do you need to see him?”

Philipp shakes his head.

“Okay, so what do you wanna do? You wanna draw something?”

Schildkröte?” Philipp asks, excitedly. Thomas laughs. “Sure.”
He hands the giddy kid a green pen, and gives him some blank papers. Philipp doodles away happily for a while, tongue sticking out of his teeth as always. Then he turns and pushes the pen into Thomas’ hand.
“You want me to draw?”

Philipp nods quickly.

“Okay, what should I draw you?”

Schildkröte,” Philipp beams. Ha. Of course.
Thomas creates something that could loosely be considered a very expressionistic take on turtles, but it satisfies Philipp, who gasps in delight and claps his hands before shooting off a string of Spanish words Thomas does not understand in rapid succession. Philipp takes the pen from him again. He produces a stick figure, and Thomas thinks he must have gotten much better at interpreting the various squiggles. “Is that your Papí?” Thomas points at the first figure when Philipp adds a much smaller figure next to him. Philipp looks at Thomas over his shoulder and nods.


“Is that you?” Thomas points at the small figure. Another nod. Philipp drags the pen across the paper wildly, producing a disproportionately tall stick figure that holds Philipp’s stickfigures’ hand. At least that is what it looks like. “Who is that?”

“Tall Papí,” Philipp chirps, doodling away. Thomas’ throat closes up. Why are his eyes burning? When Philipp has completed his masterpiece, he watches Thomas type up his report on the computer, delighting in jamming his finger onto the enter key whenever Thomas tells him he needs to start a new paragraph. (It is a touch better than smashing every button he can get his grabby hands on in an attempt to imitate Thomas’ writing style. Been there, done that.)

“Name?” Philipp wonders, pointing at the enter key quizzically. “Enter,” Thomas tells him.

“No. Long name?”

Thomas wonders what Philipp means. Philipp repeats his question, a bit whinier now. “Lebensmittelunverträglichkeit name.”
Ah. Thomas suppresses a grin at Philipp’s association with the German language.
Eingabetaste,” Thomas enunciates slowly and clearly. Philipp delights in repeating the word over and over again, until he gets it just right. The hours fly by faster than he can say, and eventually Philipp’s stomach rumbles.
Comer,” Philipp tugs on Thomas’ shirt.
“Buddy, I thought we had an agreement.”
Philipp pouts for a second and then perks up. “Comer, por favor.”

“That’s better. Let’s go.”

Hamilton is already in the kitchen, busy preparing something edible, a used edition of ‘Of mice and men’ perched next to him like a cookbook might be. He hears Philipp squeal and looks over his shoulder, eyes relieved to see that Thomas is attempting to convey he isn’t mad with a pacifying smile.

“I was about to call you two down here for dinner.”

“His stomach beat you to it.”

Eingabetaste,” Philipp tells his father proudly, who raises a skeptical eyebrow.

“He’ll be trilingual in no time, just you wait.” Thomas offers as an explanation.

“You just think it’s funny to see a child pronounce those monstrosities.”

“Maybe,” Thomas admits, trying to avoid laughing when Philipp repeats the new word in his arsenal, loudly crowing like an announcer until his plate is set down in front of him. Conversation slows to an awkward halt over dinner. Thomas doesn’t want to butt in when Hamilton talks to his son.

 “I wanted to apologize for snapping at you, earlier,” Hamilton keeps his tone lightly conversational when he brings it up as they put Philipp to bed. Thomas looks at him sideways.
“And I accept. I’m not sure how I would be holding up in your stead.”

Alexander has obviously thought about this for a considerable time. Must have been frustrating not to be able to focus on reading.

“You’re good for him, Thomas,” Alexander runs a hand through his hair, sighing, “I just, well, it looks like he got out of this mess fairly unscathed so far and I’d hate for him to experience losing a parent anyway.”

Thomas thinks of the painting still in his back pocket, and he takes it out to show it to him. Hamilton’s lips twitch, the closest thing to a smile Thomas has ever evoked in him. A quick spark.

“Quite the artist, aren’t you,Thomas?”

“Not to say my ability with the brush is the zenith of high art, but give me some credit at least. Your son made this today.”

A soft smile appears in Hamilton’s face, the eyes relax a little. Thomas can’t see what is swirling in brown pools he spends disproportionate hours analyzing, but he thinks that might be for the best. He isn’t sure he is ready for the Hamilton from Eliza’s videos.
“I won’t be leaving,” he tells Alexander. Alexander promptly frowns in response. He doesn't believe him. Frankly, Thomas doesn't even believe himself, so why is he saying it?

“I want to get him a Christmas gift. We should also decorate the house a bit.”

“Sure, we can order something. Or I can pick something up-” Thomas is just glad to return to what he has come to think of as ‘normal’ between the two of them, detached, meaningless conversation scratching the line between politeness and distance.

“I want to come with you.” Hamilton announces. Progress? Thomas tries not to be too hopeful.

“Are you sure? You haven’t left the house in months, your few attempts at obtaining adequate Vitamin D on the back porch notwithstanding.”

Hamilton nods, determined. “It’s the next step in my plan.”

“You have a plan?” Thomas asks, cocking an eyebrow. Hamilton tells him yes, but doesn’t elaborate. The man spends so much time shut away in the recesses of his mind Thomas frankly wouldn't be surprised if he created a whole 15,000 word draft outlining the next couple of months. He remembers distinctively, Peter Jefferson’s voice on the phone, screaming ‘how does he write so goddamn fast?’

“Does this plan include healthy coping mechanisms?” Thomas wonders.

“We’ll see.” Hamilton's voice is tight. Still not a viable topic of conversation, it seems.

“Alright then,” Thomas exhales loudly.

+

Church Residence, Albany, NY

Washington hadn’t been pleased when Ben dragged an intimidated looking Stevens into his office, had shoved him into a seat and told him ‘he knows’. What had followed was Dr. Edward Stevens’ vehement protestations that, no, he had not told a soul, no, he did not intend to and yes, all he wanted to do was help blow this case wide open, that was why he did not make it known he was familiar with the Hamiltons.

George Washington had expanded the list of people that knew about Alexander Hamilton’s continued survival to six. Friedrich von Steuben, Benjamin Tallmadge, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Edward Stevens. Too many, Washington had scowled, and stressed the outmost importance of no one else becoming privy to this information. Even the reserve agents they had in Virginia, the gardener and others, were unaware of the true identity of Thomas’ cover husband.

That is how Ben found himself accompanied by the Doctor to a doorstep he wouldn’t have liked to face alone. He might have asked Caleb, if the man weren’t so monosyllabic in his texts, foregoing any conversation past assurances that he remained among the living. No matter how pissed off he might be, and he was definitely pissed off, Caleb would never leave him in the dark about that.

A frowning woman in her early thirties opens the door.

"Mrs. Church?" Ben asks, showing her his badge. "I am SSA Tallmadge, this is Dr. Stevens-"

"Ned?" The woman interrupts, squinting at him as if trying to gauge whether it is really him. Before Dr. Stevens can respond, a second voice pipes up from behind the door, pulls Mrs. Church away. "Don’t talk to them, Angie, not before they show us."

"We’ve seen her body, Peggy, we went to her funeral. We’ve identified her."

"They haven’t let us see him. We haven’t heard anything about Pip-"

"Mrs. Church?" Ben clears his throat and is rewarded with an annoyed sound from the other side of the door.

"We can show you pictures, Angelica, but you’d have to sign a form that says you insisted and that we cannot be held accountable for any damages you may suffer-" Stevens begins, and Ben is glad he does. The man is much better at this than he is.

The door opens again. Angelica Church, née Schuyler, purses her lips and nods her head to allow them entry. Ben gets a glimpse of the other woman. Mrs. Church called her Peggy, so he assumes this is Margarita van Rennsselaer, née Marcus Schuyler. "Should we get them something to drink?" Peggy addresses her sister, refusing to even look at Ben or Dr. Stevens.

"Just see if we have something in the fridge, if not it doesn’t matter," Mrs. Church replies as she leads Ben and Stevens to the couch.

"Don’t start the shit storm without me," her sister retorts, already clearing the room.

"We have questions," Ben begins, in any case.

"Me first. Why haven’t they given us Alexander’s body? Why weren’t we allowed to see it?"

"Ma'am, to say it bluntly, the sight of the body-"

"What, you think because I’m a woman I wouldn’t be able to stomach it? Is that what you’re seriously implying right now? I work in criminal justice, Agent Tallmadge, the things I’ve seen-"

"That is not what I am saying," Ben’s voice comes out terse. He already feels a migraine coming on.

"Enlighten me. What are you saying?"

Ben hesitates, glances at Dr. Stevens. The man slides the forms across the desk and Angelica Church does not waste any time reading them, something of a fallacy in one who thinks they know the full extent of the law.

"Do you wish for an explanation or should we just show you the photos?"

Angelica Church chooses the latter and promptly excuses herself to the bathroom. He thinks he can hear her retch, miserably. When she returns, some five minutes later, Peggy has taken her place on the couch and wisely refused to see the pictures.

"Who did this to them?"

"We don’t know yet," Ben answers truthfully, thankful at having found a way to avoid the outright lie Dr. Stevens apparently saw right through. Mrs. Church will figure it out eventually, she is as sharp as a whip. They have to try to walk the fine line between getting what they want without revealing what they know. 

"Then why are you here?"

Once more, Dr. Stevens jumps in. "We’ve uncovered new evidence that suggests the killer might have had a more personal interest in your sister."

Both women are quiet for a while, as they process the information. Peggy chokes on a sob. Angelica covers her mouth, softly, shocked. "She only had eyes for Alexander, she never as much as talked about another man once they started dating, excluding, of course, Alexander’s friends."

"That doesn’t mean no one took an interest in her."

"Of course not. But she wouldn’t have noticed. She never said anything."

"Please," Ben urges gently, "Can you recall any instance where someone might have paid an undue amount of attention to her? At work, perhaps or while out partying? It would have been very overt."

"Sure, men talked to us all the time, but no one-" Angelica dismisses and is promptly cut off by her sister.

"There was one," Peggy nods, "Way back in May, Angie. Do you remember when we went to that new bar in Manhattan and this creepy guy insisted on talking to Eliza after he’d already stared at her for half an hour?"

Angelica furrows her forehead. "No."

Peggy sighs, "Of course you don’t." Then she turns to Ben and Stevens. "You’ll have to forgive my sister’s ignorance. So many men approach her every day that she forgets them the second they leave her sight."

"And how is it that you remember?"

"Not many men approach me," Peggy shrugs, simply. "Mostly because they turn their nose up towards me and don't consider me fully woman, you know? This one was attentive to me as well as Eliza, which was, to put it lightly, a surprise."

 

"What can you tell us about that man?"

"Oof," Peggy exhales, "Tall, probably over five-ten, brown hair, blue eyes, spoke in a softer voice than Eliza."

The pin drops. "Would you describe his voice as delicate?"

Peggy’s eyes widen. "Yeah, definitely. I’ve never been one to assign gender to anything, but his voice was definitely feminine, in a way? Very creepy. Is that- is that who you’re looking for? Is that who killed her?"

"Would you be willing to work with a police sketch artist?"

+

VA, United States


Christmas shopping with Hamilton is nice, admittedly. His gloved hand fits into Thomas’ larger hand very well, and Philipp is excitedly pointing at everything that catches his eyes and saying “Sehenswürdigkeitenbesichtigung!
When Thomas explains what the word means he watches Hamilton stifle a laugh with his hand. Considering it is a small town they are stopped a few times, dragged into conversations that Hamilton manages admirably, if with an undercurrent of annoyance.

(Yes, Linda, married almost half a year now, actually. Oh no, Josefine, we've been together much longer than that, we just didn't want to rush it. Just about two years old and our whole world, Carl. Oh, of course we had a birth mother, Paulette, look at the resemblance. But we considered adoption for a long time, Martin. And Thomas' current favorite, courtesy of one mildly accosted Alexander Hamilton: Actually, Karen, why don't you ask Thomas yourself if he's a pistol in the sack?)

There are a few snide glances, a few hushed whispers, a few people that don't approach him. He expected as much. “Peter Jefferson’s child... figures he’d be gay. That’s just Karma, isn’t it?”

“Bet if his Daddy knew he’d have sent him to the conversion camps he favored so much.”

Thomas watches anger rise in Alexander Hamilton’s eyes, watches it flicker, and then explode into a violent flame when the same person calls him a word he hopes Philipp didn't catch, just loud enough to hear. “Let me go, Thomas, I’ll be doing the world a favor by kicking his ass,” Hamilton hisses and Thomas is taken aback by the sheer amount of feeling behind those words.
“You’re like one hundred pounds soaking wet, dearest, what are you going to do, complain at him until he cries? He’ll still be homophobic.”

“Oh for someone who claims to have read my work, you really don’t know me at all, Thomas Jefferson, because that’s kind of my brand, and it's exactly what I'll be doing now.”

“No you won’t,” Thomas insists, strong hand on Alexander’s shoulder, who glares daggers at him. Beautiful, Thomas thinks first as he watches anger turn those brown eyes into flaming pits of passion. Unfortunate, is the second adjective he thinks of, as Hamilton seems to want to engage in their very own edition of ‘unstoppable force meets immovable object’ by struggling against his hold relentlessly.
“So help me god, Alexandré, I will throw you over my shoulder and carry you home before I let go of your arm so you can give this guy the satisfaction of getting on his level.”

Alexander glares. “Is that an order, Jefferson?”

“It is if it’s the only thing that will get you to listen.”
And it turns out that there is a lot of fight in Alexander Hamilton & once the fire in his eyes starts it is hard to put out.
“Fine,” he hisses, ripping his hand free from Thomas and stalking off in the opposite direction. Thomas takes a deep breath, wonders if that power move was strictly necessary to avoid a brawl, and resigns himself to catching up to his husband.

When he does, the flame is gone. If Thomas wanted to beat the metaphor until it is well and truly dead, he would compare what he sees in Alexander’s eyes to still glowing embers.

Never let it be said that he isn’t a fucking poet.

Alexander and he discuss which Christmas baubles to get, Thomas promises to get a Christmas tree, and things go well for a while as they walk along the aisles in something that could generally be considered 'reluctant camaraderie'.

Until Alexander stops dead in front of a plushy teddy-bear with a Santa hat and a shirt that reads ‘Happy Holidays’. It’s the cheesiest and kitschiest fucking thing that Thomas has ever seen, but Alexander starts shaking violently, fingers digging into Philipp’s skin too harshly but not noticing as tears spill over and he exhales a soft ‘fuck’, not even bothering to cover his son's ears like he usually does. Thomas reacts by taking a quivering Philipp into one arm, settling him on his hip, and pulling Alexander close with the other one. Alex gasps for air as sobs wrack his body. Thomas feels tears soak through his shirt. Another job for the dry-cleaner, but that isn’t important right now. “Eliza,” Alexander chokes out again, “We had this exact bear. I fucking hated it. We fought over it every year and every year she insisted on decorating the fireplace with it. Oh god, Eliza, perdonamé, perdonamé, per-“
He cuts himself off, fingers twisting into Thomas’ shirt and bordering close on cutting off some of his air supply.
“I’m here, Alex,” he whispers, ducking his head to whisper against his ear. “I’m here. We’re safe. You’re safe. I’m right here and I’m not going anywhere.”
Alex’s sobs subside, eventually, and he pulls back to look at Thomas in a mix of shame and awe that completely knocks the air out of him with how unfiltered and raw it is. He has no way of knowing just how long they stood there, in the middle of a store in conservative Virginia, Alex turned into his chest with panic masquerading as affection.
“Do you want to get the bear?” Thomas asks, gently.

“No, it’s still the ugliest fu- ah, ducking- plushie in the world.”

“Oh thank god,” Thomas exhales, relieved.

“But I do want to get something,” Alexander interjects. Not even a minute later Philipp is wiggling in Thomas’ arms, alternating between shouting ‘tortuga’ and ‘Schildkröte’ to make sure at least one of them gets the message.
“It’s corny as, uh, heck,” Thomas assesses the small turtle plushie dressed in a removable Santa hat. But Philipp has fallen in love and Alexander gives him a look as if to say ‘you try telling him he can’t have it, i fucking dare you’
They buy the turtle. Philipp falls asleep hugging it to his small body, smiling contentedly. Thomas checks his phone to a message from Ben, asking him to call ASAP. Alex is looking at him from where he sits on the bed, unbuttoning his shirt and stifling a yawn. "Thomas?"

"Work," Thomas points at his phone, explanatory. Alex nods, slowly, then pulls on a t-shirt and gets beneath the covers. "Tell Agent Tallmadge not to keep you too long, I’m tired."

There’s a certain pull in him, Thomas has to admit. Today was unbelievably exhausting, and he is truly tempted to just slip into bed next to Alex and turn the light off. But orders are orders.  The mission comes first.

Chapter Text

Benjamin Tallmadge's apartment, unspecified location, United States

Ben wakes up disoriented on the morning of the 24th of December, to opened curtains and light streaming into the open space. His head feels heavy even though he is fairly certain he had nothing to drink last night after the first beer, and his mouth feels overly dry.

Water, I need water, he thinks and tries to move, only to bear witness to a growling sound of protest from behind him. He isn't alone. Fuck. There’s a heavy arm slung carelessly across his waist, rough fingers that feel familiar sprawled across the expanse of his stomach. "Caleb?" He asks, clearing his throat to sound at least a little bit less like he got punched in the throat. What if it isn't Caleb? God, he hopes he didn't pick anyone up last night, he'd never forgive himself. Nathan wanted to get drinks and it had been too long for Ben to have a plausible excuse.

The person behind him startles, and Ben glances over his shoulder to see a disheveled looking Caleb, still in his dirty street clothes and going for gold in 'most unkempt beard'. Oh, thank god. "Yeah?" Caleb groans, blinking rapidly to look at Ben more clearly.

"When did you get in?"

"Last night, Tallboy. Was gonna give you the intelligence then but you were already asleep and severely inebriated from the looks of it and honestly, pretty boy, I’d watch you sleep for hours-"

"You should have woken me up," Ben chastises, blushing a little at the thrown-in compliment. Caleb cracks a grin, still sleepy. Ben’s heart skips a happy little beat when he sees him like this, reliably, every single time. "Not that you would have been able to contact the boss about it last night. Hear he and the missus booked it to the Caribbean."

"Ha. Yeah, Gates has taken over in his absence, the incompetent arsehole, can you believe it?" Ben complains mildly, trying to disentangle himself amongst vicious sounds of protest from Caleb that only leave him curled tighter against his warm body. Caleb is strong as a fucking bear, he has repeatedly found out during their sneaky shenanigans. Ben lets himself relax into Caleb's strong arms, lets Caleb kiss up and down his body despite the obvious olfactory evidence that he hasn't showered or brushed his teeth in a while. This feels too good - this is too rare a moment.

"Caleb," Ben protests even as his eyes close in pleasure when Caleb's hand dips beneath his waistband.

"Don't say you don't want this, Tallboy, that's a fucking lie, and a rude one at that, when you’re already standing at attention," Caleb grins against his neck as he works a rough hand over him expertly.

"I do," Ben gasps, "Fuck-I do. But I need coffee first, and you need a shower or two. There's a toothbrush for you as well."

Caleb's hand stills, he looks at Ben with narrowed eyes for a second. "Fine welcome I get, after finding out Roger's identity. Shower, he says. Brush your teeth, he complains. You know, Ben, you might offer a little gratitude for the work I do."

Ben rolls his eyes, knowing full well that Caleb is not actually offended. (Though he has told Ben in quite certain terms that his need for cleanliness even during the dirtiest acts is bizarre.)

"I'll show you just how grateful I am," Ben teases as he runs his thumb over Caleb's lower lip. Caleb shudders, his eyes close and his lips part a little. "After breakfast. I won't negotiate on that." He gives Caleb’s cheek a firm pat.

"Fine," Caleb sighs. He heaves himself off of Ben and drudges to the bathroom.

Ben stares after him fondly, before he also gets up and starts a pot of coffee.

Caleb walks into the kitchen wearing one of Ben's sweaters and what Ben supposes is a pair of his boxers, altogether too large for him. Where Ben is tall and toned, Caleb is smaller but stronger, broader, tougher. He’s a force of fucking nature, and Ben loves him so much it hurts. Caleb catches him staring, catches him lick his lips in anticipation, and grins when Ben takes a few steps towards him. "Now, now, Benny, I believe we said after breakfast. You wouldn't negotiate."

"Didn't say what I'd have for breakfast, now did I?" Ben tips Caleb's chin up and kisses him, searchingly.

"Oh."

Immediately one of his hands set to work, and it doesn't take long until Ben falls to his knees for Caleb, looking up at him through his long lashes. Caleb touches a hand, unusually tender, to Ben’s cheekbone. Ben leans into it as much as he can, with his mouth already set on exploring.

"Oh, fuck, my Benny, we're not going to get to debriefing for a while-"

"I'm taking a few hours off." Ben decides, preparing to begin, when something tickles his mind. "Hold on, did you just say you found out Rogers’ identity?"

"Ah, I see you’re back with me. For a second there I was sure you’d lost your mind to prioritize a hearty breakfast over this news." Caleb only sounds mildly disappointed as he waves the yellowed intelligence pages around.

Later then, Ben decides.

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

"Alex?" Thomas calls out groggily as he descends the stairs, a bit too late into noon for his liking. He had the day off yesterday, for the first time since the mission started, and he spent it getting drunk with James. (The gardener, as Ben dubbed him, took over watching Alexander and Philipp for the day as he pretended to work on the house.)

Where is Alexander?

Philipp comes running towards him, exhilarated grin on his face as he yells "Snow! Snow!" and throws himself into Thomas' arms to be scooped up, giggling as Thomas presses loud kisses against his hair and returning them with perhaps a little too much spit dribbling out of his mouth. "You wanna go play in the snow, buddy? Yeah? Alright, let's go find your Papí, hm?" He sets Philipp down, and begins his search. Alexander can't have just disappeared.

He hears a loud clank from the library, and Thomas immediately sets off at a run despite his hangover. He throws open the door, expecting another panic attack, or worse an intruder, but he finds Alexander staring at him guiltily beneath a pile of books. Behind him, he hears the telltale sound of Philipp's little feet on the marble floors, until two hands fist into the material of his pants, holding onto him and peering around his leg curiously. 

"What happened?"

"I was trying to reach one of the books on the higher shelves and miscalculated," Alexander frowns, rubbing at his elbow. Thomas gently wiggles out of Philipp's clutches and walks over to Alexander, crouching down and piling some of the discarded books into his arms. "Sorry," Alexander offers lamely. Thomas gives him a chiding look, and then relents. "Are you injured?"

"Only my pride," Alexander retorts drily. It makes Thomas smile.

"I thought you had today off as well?"

"Technically, I would have, but the gardener has a family that he'd like to get home to, so I told him I didn't mind staying on."

"Oh." Alexander's lips thin out.

"I can keep to myself, if you'd like to spend time with your son alone," Thomas offers, cringing a little. But Alexander protests.

"No, no, absolutely not. That would make me a terrible husband, wouldn't it? I'm just trying to adjust the meal I had planned."

"You don't need to cook for me every day, Alexander," Thomas protests, despite being very fond of their shared dinners, lunches, breakfasts. Now that Alexander is reluctantly warming up to conversation, the house feels less awkward than it used to. None of this is ideal, of course not, but they're making it work.

"Don't be silly, Thomas, I enjoy cooking. And it's not like you bring more to the table than take-out," Alexander's voice is just the right amount of teasing for Thomas to be taken aback.

"I suppose I'll see you at dinner then?" Thomas wonders, finished with sorting the books back onto their proper position on the shelf. He is about to put an old copy of Two Treatises on Government by John Locke back, when Alexander stops his movement with a gentle hand to his wrist. "Wait, I wanted that one," he tells him quickly, taking the book back and removing his hand immediately. A sort of phantom touch remains where Alexander touched him and Thomas vows not to concern himself with that any longer. "And yes, I'll see you for dinner, Thomas."

Instead of lingering, Thomas turns and takes Philipp outside with him, to watch the little kid play in the snow like he demanded. Thomas somehow manages to build a snow turtle and Philipp brings him two pebbles to use as eyes, utterly delighted by his new snow pet. It makes a pretty picture, and Thomas thinks he'd like to print it out and frame it. At some point, Philipp wriggles into Thomas' lap and politely asks for a story, manners now much more refined. Thomas wraps his arms around a contentedly squealing boy that he has grown perhaps a bit too attached to already, and begins. He hears Alexander's approach and swiftly glances over his shoulder to check that it is really him, as he keeps going. 

Alexander stands in the door to the porch, thick woolen blanket wrapped around his shoulders, arms crossed as he observes, hair tumbling out of the little bun on top of his head. He looks, perhaps for the first time since Thomas has met him, a bit at peace, almost at rest.

Philipp falls asleep despite the soft snowfall, and Thomas hoists him up to put him down for his nap.

"You're very good with him," Alexander offers, not unkindly. Thomas flushes, a bit awkwardly.

"Don't feel like I really know what I'm doing, to be honest," he admits. Baby care was not a part of his training.

"No parent ever does," Alex muses, staring at his sleeping son with unguarded adoration. "I was so scared by the prospect of being a father when Eliza showed me the test. We talked about it, of course, but since my own-"

Alex snaps his mouth shut promptly, face closing down into an emotionless slate Thomas has come to loathe but accept. He fights the urge to sigh regretfully and works on schooling his own face accordingly. "Well, you’d know about shit fathers, hm? Anyway I don't suppose it matters, because once you have a child you can't help but love them."

Thomas offers a careful smile. He doesn't expect to find it reciprocated. It isn't.

+

"Can I offer my assistance, as sous-chef perhaps?" Thomas asks when he enters the kitchen after looking over some of the files that Ben sent him early this morning, along with a quick note that more intelligence will trickle in throughout the day. Visiting the remaining Schuyler sisters, he hopes that will get them somewhere. Alexander looks over his shoulder and snorts. "Maybe as assistant. Can you chop vegetables?"

"Can I chop vegetables, how preposterous," Thomas takes offense, "I'll have you know my knife-work is impeccable."

"I never really put much stake into what you can do with your hands, given how terribly you draw," Alexander bites his lip, eyes crinkling a little. The teasing is new. Thomas can't say he doesn't enjoy it. But the phrasing, the phrasing is somewhat suggestive and he has to admit that makes him rather uncomfortable. Alexander notices his pause, his awkward look, then seems to realize what he said. He watches, mesmerized, as a deep scarlet flush spreads across Alexander's neck and face. He turns away to focus on his cooking, waving his hand to direct Thomas towards the cutting board.

"I think," Thomas starts, after an unbearably awkward ten minutes of cutting various edibles, "That you should teach me to cook properly."

Alexander raises an eyebrow. "Not like we have anything better to do. What do I get in return?"

"What do you want in return?" Thomas retorts immediately, unthinkingly, then wants to swallow his words because Alex is close to turning away again.

"I could-uh, you could teach me German."

"You want to learn German?"

"I won't have you developing a secret language with my son," Alexander insists. "Sure, we can do that."

"Dolley wants us over tomorrow evening, to exchange presents," Thomas says by and by, pouring them each a glass of wine.

"I haven’t got-"

"I took care of it already," Thomas dismisses preemptively. "I can even get myself something and pretend it’s from you. My feigned surprise face is very good."

"Oh, no," Alex rectifies, "I’ve got something for you, just not for them."

"Oh?" Thomas’ curiosity is peaked, "Do I get to hear what it is?" He didn’t expect Alexander to even be in a mindset where he thinks about presents. But then again, they largely ignore each other outside of mealtimes. Alexander could be doing god knows what around the house and Thomas would be none the wiser. Come to think of it, what has he been getting up to? Surely he can’t read all day. Not unless he truly has made it his personal goal to actually get through the accumulated tomes of the Jefferson library.

"I’m rather looking forward to see Thomas Jefferson’s authentic surprised face," Alex shrugs.

+

Benjamin Tallmadge’s apartment, unspecified location, United States

Ben hangs up the secure connection with Washington and turns to watch Caleb, busily preparing dinner out of leftovers, whistling a little tune Ben doesn’t recognize. It sounds like a cheerful little sailor’s tune, and Ben thinks Caleb must have picked it up from his time at sea, before the bureau took him in. Before they reunited. Before Caleb realized that his childhood friend’s younger brother may be worth getting to know more intimately.

"What did he say?" Caleb asks, not looking away from the food sizzling in Ben's ceramic pan. Ben steps closer, places his hands on Caleb’s hips, once more clad in Ben’s briefs and an old hoodie. It still astounds Ben that he is allowed to do this, that he has been allowed to do this for months now and that Caleb leans back into his touch like he craves it.

"He’s got a volunteer to go undercover and verify that we’re truly dealing with McFatridge," Ben murmurs as he rests his chin on Caleb’s shoulder.

"You don’t sound that happy about it, Tallboy," Caleb infers easily.

"Nathan volunteered," Ben sighs. Caleb stops for a second, then he starts stirring again, clearing his throat.

"It makes sense though, you gotta admit. Sure, he’s young, but that means that he definitely hadn’t caught the bureau’s interest yet when McFatridge apparently faked his death to become a criminal mastermind. I understand you don’t want your best friend in any more danger than necessary, but-"

"He’s in the bureau because he followed me here. If he gets caught that’s on me. I’ll have to explain that to Enoch and his Dad. I convinced him to join, Caleb," Ben tries to explain the guilt he feels, before he adds, "And he’s not my best friend, you are."

Caleb tenses in his embrace, stops stirring. This time he doesn’t start up again after a second.

"Am I, Ben? Because sure, we’ve never talked about what exactly we’ve been doing for a year now, but you can’t blame a guy for getting the impression that this isn’t strictly platonic."

"Saying a friendship is platonic shouldn’t actually mean excluding a physical aspect at all," Ben feels the need to correct, "You’ve read the Symposium, Caleb, you know how he felt about Achilles and Patroclus."

Caleb manages a laugh, strained and not particularly authentic. "Is that what I am? Your older, wiser friend who happened to introduce you to the delights of homosexual coupling?"

"We’ve got the same age difference, and you’ve got to admit there are striking parallels," Ben is thoughtful and as of yet unaware of the anger beginning to bubble inside of Caleb. "There is no one in my life whom I value more, my dearest Caleb, no one who knows me as you do, no one whose untimely death would more likely make me take on a river god and heroes sent to fight me from far off. I would be just as lost without you." He kisses Caleb’s neck gently, runs his hands up Caleb’s sides. "Make of that what you will. We’ve never spoken of it, but I thought what I felt for you was as clear as day."

"Would it be a terrible inconvenience for you to say it?" Caleb wonders tersely, turning the stove off before hesitantly covering Ben’s hands with his own.

"I love you," Ben whispers into Caleb’s ear, fascinated by the way he feels Caleb relax into his embrace again. Unknowingly, the situation is diffused before anything could come to blows. "Tell me you knew that."

"I didn’t," Caleb laughs, breathless and giddy now. "You haven’t been treating me much differently since we started regularly dancing the horizontal tango."

Ben hums, thoughtfully.

"Have you considered Caleb, the only reason you never noticed a difference was because I have loved you for much longer than that?"

"Have you?"

"Years and years," Ben admits, biting Caleb’s earlobe teasingly. "You did not know?"

"I didn’t," Caleb reiterates.

"But you know now, yes? Are you going to forget?"

"You might have to refresh my memory from time to time," Caleb considers, "Your Patroclus is only getting older, you know?"

Ben snorts a laugh into his collarbone then bites it as well. "I’ll try my very best."

+

Montpelier Estate, VA, United States

Dolley’s dinner is excellent, even if Thomas cannot get warmly acquainted with the mystery that is gluten-free bread. Alexander seems to have caught on early enough and refused a second helping. Smart man. Philipp doesn’t care. He digs in with delight, as long as the pseudo-bread is drenched in sauce.

Philipp falls asleep on Thomas and Dolley offers him a spot in the downstairs bedroom. "We’ve got baby monitors, don’t worry," she chirps happily when Alex looks somewhat concerned. "Make yourselves comfortable on the couch. I’ll put some records on."

When the music starts playing, Thomas looks a little horrified and hides his face in his hands as James bursts out laughing. Alex looks super confused.

"Thomas had a very strong Boyz II Men phase in high school," James grins at Alexander, ignoring Thomas’ groan of protest. "I’m surprised he hasn’t serenaded you, that was kind of his thing back then," Dolley throws in from where she sways dramatically to the beginnings of someone singing Baby all through the night I’ll make love to you, like you want me to. Incredulity looks fascinating in Alexander’s eyes.

"There’s a reason it was a phase, Dolley, god, please turn that off, I beg you," Thomas pleads. Dolley laughs and shakes her head.

"Your husband deserves to know how much of a pathetic romantic you are," she insists. Thomas risks a glance at Alex, who is biting the inside of his cheek as if to stop himself from laughing. Thomas glares at him. Alexander grins at him and shuffles closer, burrowing into Thomas’ outstretched arm easily. Thomas doesn’t as much as bat an eyelash, but he keenly feels James observing him. There are issues, when your best friend is simultaneously your handler, but this is nothing to be concerned about. Dolley is present. She is one of those that need to be convinced. This is a justifiable measure, and it isn’t as though they are copulating on the couch. Judging by the frown on James’ face when his wife is otherwise occupied though, you wouldn’t know there was a difference in the severity of the two considered offences.  

"Heads up, André, this one is for you," James picks up the first present, which Alex catches with ease. Thomas will freely admit to being a little nervous when Alex unpacks the leather bound journal Thomas had made for him. The imitation smile stretches over Alexander’s face, but he doesn’t look displeased beneath it. He just isn’t capable of real smiles yet, Thomas knows. "Thank you, it’s gorgeous," Alex insists, again scooting closer and into Thomas’ arms. He is much too professional to question it. Instead he pulls him tight and rests his chin on the top of his head, swaying a little to the music because while it may not be his thing anymore, it’s still pretty good. Dolley smiles and snaps a picture and he promptly stops, glowering at her.

"Thomas, here’s yours."

It’s a pretty purple scarf, hand-knit from the looks of it. "Did you make this?" He asks Alex, who shrugs. "I’m pretty good with needles. Do you like it?" And damn, he actually looks nervous.

"It’s pretty darn perfect," Thomas smiles, genuinely. Alex interlaces one hand with one of his and squeezes.

Some more presents are exchanged, everyone seems pretty pleased. Dolley fawns over the present Thomas selected. James gives him a tight smile.

"Oh, Thomas, remember this one?" Dolley teases, before she disappears into the kitchen. "He had a German phase as well, André."

"No," Alex gasps, obviously gleeful to see Thomas so embarrassed.

"Oh yes. It was terrible. No one knew why." James joins his wife’s efforts to make fun of Thomas.

"German exchange student," Thomas whispers into Alexander’s ear, who snorts, "Hella in the closet back then, but it got me laid for the first time."

"Do you still know it?" Alex wonders, turning his head around, obviously intrigued and somewhat relaxed after a glass of wine. Thomas makes a derisive noise and Alex looks a little disappointed, so he sighs, and begins whispering the lyrics along into Alexander’s ear.

"If I spoke better German I’m sure I would be blown away," Alexander teases. Thomas rolls his eyes, a little embarrassed. They started their German lessons last night, but Alexander seems determined to master the language as quickly as possible.

+

WITSEC Headquarters, United States

Ben meets Nathan in front of Washington’s office with a tight hug. "You know you don’t actually have to do this?"

"My, my, Damon, are you concerned I shall leave and never return? I have every intention of returning to take my place by your side."

It is a souvenir of their college days, when, in one of their more prominent Greek-binges, there have been many, to be sure, Ben and Nathan had taken to signing the notes they left for one another in their dorm as Damon and Pythias.

"Are you comparing Director Washington to a tyrannical King?" Ben raises an eyebrow quizzically.

"He does seem to hold you captive with work. All those missions you aren’t allowed to tell me about – Oh my God, Ben, is that a hickey I spy on your collar?"

Ben flushes, tugging his collar up to hide it, frantically.

"We should get to your briefing, he expects you."

"No, wait, I want to hear this story," Nathan teases, trying to get a peek beneath Ben’s collar once more, leading to Ben swatting his hand away sternly.

"Don’t make me use my power as head of operations, young man."

"I’m a year younger than you, and you owe me this story."

"You can have the story once you return to me, Pythias."

Nathan looks determined. "Fine," he says, face breaking into an impossibly sweet grin that betrays his young age. Then he knocks on Washington’s door and slides inside just as quickly.

Washington wastes little time on formalities - he is a busy man after all. Steuben sits with them, thoughtfully studying Nathan as he assesses his competence. "Robert McFatridge Rogers, operating now under his birth father’s name even though his records only list him with his mother’s maiden name, and that is how we knew him. He used to be a promising agent, if assessed to be prone to violence and coldness, until he disappeared while undercover in Austria. Presumed dead until our agent uncovered evidence to the contrary."

The meeting goes on for another hour after that, and Steuben takes care of the paperwork as Ben goes to see Nathan off with a firm hug and a prayer to the sky that he will get to tell the story of how he and Caleb finally managed to get it together. Nathan has clear instructions. Get in, get confirmation, get back out. 

"Promise me you’ll come home," Ben clasps Nathan’s hand tightly.

"I can promise I’ll try," Nathan smiles. Then he leaves.

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

It is just before New Year’s and they are standing in front of Philipp’s crib. Alexander looks thoughtful as he observes his son’s regular breaths. There is a nice pattern to them, they soothe Thomas as well. Sometimes, when nightmares catch up to him he watches the child in his care sleep. He learned long ago to control any outward reactions to his nightmares. It was a skill acquired after rigorous training. He does not know if Alexander has noticed, or if he is still caught in his own headspace. Thomas certainly notices the nightmares his pretend husband has, night after night still.

Occasionally, there are rare nights where Alexander is too exhausted for the nightmares to overpower him. Usually those nights occur after he has deprived himself of sleep for too long. It should be reason for concern, but unfortunately Thomas has to concede that emotionally Alexander has been doing better. Words come easier, conversations flow more smoothly instead of slowly dripping like honey – one could say the viscosity of their language has improved. But is Alexander better, or is he merely learning to hide it better?

Thomas couldn’t say.

"Do you want to wake him?" He asks to steer away from the direction his thoughts have taken, to avoid the feeling of insecurity and uncertainty that invariably overtakes him when he considers where he and Alexander stand.

"Unlikely he will remember it anyway, isn’t it though? Maybe we should let him sleep," Alexander smiles at his resting son. His voice is light. Thomas tries not to put too much stake in that.

"Sure. You wanna see something?"

"What is this ‘something’ we are talking about?" Alexander looks hesitant. The desire to be flippant is strong in Thomas, but rolling his eyes and drily saying ‘this dick’ isn’t the way to improve their strained agreement, even if it would be said in jest.

"No fireworks to be had here, tonight, but the constellations are pretty visible if the neighboring estates don’t overdo it. No clouds."

"You want to look at stars with me?" Alexander raises one eyebrow, turning to look at him. Thomas sighs, rolls his eyes now. "It’s a fucking option. I tire of the monotony of our barely-tolerating-each-other’s-presence routine, don’t you? We can sit around and do nothing, if you would prefer that."

"No, no, I want to see it."

Thomas nods, grabs a baby monitor and motions for Alex to follow him. He leads him up to the attic, which has a window Thomas used to climb out of all the time, when he wanted time alone. The roof was wonderfully secluded, but  accessing it used to prove a challenge to him in his younger days, before he began training.

"You want me to climb out of that? I can’t even reach the bar across it," Alexander gapes and Thomas laughs.

"I’ll give you a boost, come on."

"You’re still severely overestimating my upper body strength, Thomas," Alexander’s eyes are blown wide. Thomas grabs onto one of the lower bars, leans forward teasingly. "Do I have to carry you, you big baby?"

Alexander looks to the floor, face red and embarrassed. "Not all of us can be the fucking size of a giant, god damn it."

"Come on then." Thomas sighs, biting down a comment about irregularly violent caffeine abuse just hanging on the tip of his tongue.

"What?"

"Climb on," he elaborates, making inviting hand motions.

"How?" Alex looks so confused that Thomas takes pity. "I’m going to touch you, so stop me now if you aren’t okay with that."

Alex says nothing, doesn’t look put off, only a little hesitant, so Thomas lifts him up and Alex understands. His legs wrap around Thomas’ waist securely, his arms enclose his neck. Thomas narrowly avoids a mental tangent into how Alex instinctively presses close, his legs tight around Thomas’, holding on like he definitely has been in this position before.

"Good."

"Are you okay with this? I’m not too heavy?"

"Pretty sure I bench press more than you weigh on a bad day," Thomas teases, amused to see indignation in those brown eyes, alive and well.

"Asshole."

"Hold on tight now." Thomas ignores him as he jumps, holding onto the bars steadily and pulling the both of them out of the window with only minimal effort. He hasn’t exactly been idling in Monticello, but it is reassuring to know he is still strong enough to pull shit like this.

"Oh my god, it’s cold." Alexander gasps immediately.

"It’s winter."

"Shut up." Alexander’s teeth chatter as he holds onto Thomas even tighter. "I’m not complaining, Alexander, but you’re missing the view."

 "Right." Alexander clears his throat and jumps off, holding onto the oriel tightly. Briefly Thomas wonders if he might be afraid of heights, but he just looks wary, not panicked. Thomas recognizes panic on his face quicker than anything else.

"It’s cold," Alexander retorts plaintively. Thomas lets out a lightly exasperated sigh and ducks back inside quickly to retrieve blankets. He watches as Alexander absconds with two of them, wrapping them around his shoulders like an aging king forlornly observing the state of his kingdom. Thomas sits down, leaning back against the tiles and trying to concentrate on the sky he sees tonight. Alexander takes the space next to him.

For a few minutes they are silent as Thomas takes in the view. That is the beauty of it, Thomas thinks, that he never sees the same sky twice. Sure, there are constellations he sees more often than others, but it is never an identical composition. Much like his days.

"I’m still cold," Alex’s complaint makes Thomas hiss.

"Motherfu- alright, you know what? Come here." His voice is commanding enough that Alexander doesn’t question the order, he merely climbs between Thomas’ legs. They’ve done this before, in their bathroom, to soothe Alexander’s panic attack, and on the couch in Montpelier. Alexander sighs contently, squirming into the warmth that Thomas projects in a similar fashion to how Philipp usually behaves. It always fascinates Thomas to see which traits the little kid got from his father. Catlike mannerisms are undoubtedly from his father.  

"Better?" Thomas murmurs, pleased to feel Alexander nod, even if it is hesitantly.

"Yeah, now we can look at your stupid constellations."

"They aren’t stupid," Thomas defends readily, unsure why he is so offended, "They got me through my intensely closeted boyhood."

"Do tell?"

And sure, Thomas has never told anyone about this, but he’s also never pretended to be married to someone in his own house, so he supposes it comes with the territory. "I figured it out fairly quickly, middle school days. I tried to reject it, at first. I’d come up here, and in the true fashion of a melodramatic fourteen year old I would wail at the stars, I would curse god. ‘Why, oh why have you made me this way?’"

Alexander makes a thoughtful noise in the back of his throat that Thomas can’t interpret.

"Eventually I spent so much time staring at the stars moping, that I grew curious and looked up the constellations. Got really into Greek mythology, realized how gay all of it was. Helped me accept myself. Gave me strength to keep my head up in a home I knew would be closed off to me if my parents ever found out."

And if he is speaking in rather clipped sentences as he confesses, he doesn't deny that it is because getting it all out there is frankly a little overwhelming. The vulnerability he feels is insane, and he hopes that Alexander will not throw it back into his face. 

 "Oh Thomas, that’s horrible-" Alex begins, heavy with emotion.

"No need to pity me, I turned out just fine," Thomas chuckles, because otherwise he would have to admit how good it feels to have Alexander’s sympathy.

"It’s hardly pity, asshole, it is compassion," Alexander huffs.

"Mmh, alright then. If we’re playing ‘my childhood sucked more’ I suppose you are a serious contender," Thomas acknowledges.

"It isn’t a competition, Thomas," Alexander dismisses, "But hell yeah, if it were one I would crush you."

Thomas laughs, and he feels Alexander relax a little more. It happens in increments. "You know," he begins, "I used to avoid talking about my childhood and my family in general at all costs, because it was easier to push it down and pretend it never happened than deal with it. But now, compared to what happened with Eliza-" he still chokes on that name "-it doesn’t even feel painful anymore. Nothing feels as bad anymore as losing her does."

"You can’t qualify grief, Alexander." Thomas says softly, thoughtfully. "There isn’t a scale on which to judge how badly these things tear into a soul. And you don’t have to justify-"

"No, I know," Alexander swallows loudly, "That isn’t what I was saying."

"Enlighten me then."

"I’m glad you got me the journal. This time around I’m trying to deal with it better."

Thomas squeezes Alexander’s shoulder unthinkingly, but Alexander does not flinch away. Instead he changes topic with a loudly cleared throat.

"Tell me which constellations you see." Thomas takes a moment to study the sky as a few fireworks go off in the distance.

"That one is called Hercules," he points out after some consideration.

"One of my best friends is called Hercules," Alexander breathes out. Thomas resists the urge to say ‘I know’, barely. He doesn’t feel comfortable imparting the knowledge onto Alexander that he watched some of Eliza’s home videos. Instead he points out more constellations, until eventually Alexander falls asleep in his arms.

+

WITSEC Headquarters, United States

Ben rushes into Washington’s office as quickly as he can, the first morning of the year. Shortly after midnight Caleb had kissed him softly and slipped out of bed to return to his undercover work, and Ben had mourned the loss of his presence for the rest of the night.

"What is it?" He asks, concerned when he sees Washington hunched over his desk in grief, face buried in his hands, hair in disarray.

"Rogers," Washington begins, and for once his voice shows the weariness he feels, "McFatridge, he-" A loud gulp of air. "-He has made a response. He knows we found him out."

There’s a package on the desk, and even as a horrible feeling settles in Ben’s gut he steps forward to take a peek inside. The smell is enough of an indication, but the icy blond hair that comes into view confirms his worst fear.

A severed head is enclosed in soft straw padding, the word Spy nailed to his forehead on a piece of paper.

Nathan.

Oh god, Nathan.

Chapter Text

Montpelier Estate, VA, United States

Thomas glares at the coffeemaker in James’ overly lavish kitchen, as if the intensity of his eyes could induce it to work faster. Alas, it does not seem to be working. But if he wants to be awake for the emergency briefing James called at five in the morning, unfortunately he needs at least some caffeine. The Gardener was not exactly pleased to be called to watch the house at this hour, but it is his job and he followed orders with only mild complaining.

"Do you remember McFatridge?" James wonders, speaking quietly and looking at Thomas intently.

"Vaguely. He oversaw my first mission and then apparently faked his death during it. I remember a strong accent and the jarring smell of beard pomade."

"And we spent years wondering how you blew your cover, analyzing your every step. It wasn’t your fault after all," James continues, a bit stunned. "Unbelievable."

Thomas says nothing, he is still waiting for the coffee.

"I mean, I’ve got the intel for you to read over, but I don’t doubt Tallmadge sent it to you as well, so if you don’t think this impedes your ability to do your job you can head right back."

"At least wait until I’ve had the coffee I’ve been promised," Thomas grumbles, snatching the now – finally – full cup from beneath the drip. The first sip tastes like an epiphany, the second tastes like waking up. "What is your opinion on this mission, anyway?"

"My opinion on the mission, or on how you’re handling the mission?" James arches an eyebrow as he waits for his turn with the machine.

"Both."

"I think Tallmadge is opening new doors for us, but it makes me wonder at what cost. Hale was absurdly young, whose idea was it to send him there?"

"Washington’s, it appears," Thomas mutters, not in disagreement. At some point the bureau has to ask themselves what price they are willing to continuously pay for this shit. 

"I think it’ll be good for you if the mission wraps up within the next few months, but I’m not getting my hopes up," James sighs.

"And what do you mean by that?"

"No one can stay neutral in the face of such charm indefinitely," his oldest friend shrugs, prompting a laugh from Thomas. "Oh, I doubt there’s a risk of me running off and falling for him. That infamous charm you speak of only comes out to play when people are watching. He’s very dismissive of me and quite abrasive when it’s just the two of us." For the most part, that is.

One or two times, usually just before bed, Thomas recalls a softer tone accompanying words that could be misconstrued as kind. "I’m glad you’re stuck with me" could be misconstrued as ‘I’m beginning to like you’ instead of - what Thomas is sure the original meaning was supposed to be – ‘I trust you to do your job well’. James looks thoughtful when Thomas glances at him. No further words are exchanged on the matter, they manage to pass almost an hour bantering back and forth in a manner similar to how things used to be between them, but Thomas cannot shake the thought that James isn't telling him what he really thinks. As his handler, he is entitled to the right to reserve his opinions for his own perusal, but as his friend Thomas expects James to tell him when he thinks he is truly at risk of messing this up. He trust James' judgment more than his own in regard to that. 

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

It’s approaching seven in the morning when Thomas returns to relieve the Gardener of his duty. It’s still dark out, what with the long nights of winter, and so Thomas guesses correctly that Alexander is still in bed. He wakes up though when Thomas’ weight hits the mattress, it is evident even as he tries to be discreet.

"Where’d you go?" He asks, turned away, voice sleepy but hand already fishing for the light. Thomas puts his hand back onto the pillow insistently.

"Go back to sleep, we can talk about it when we’re both more awake," Thomas retorts. The pillows and blankets make a lot of noise when Alexander shifts, a herculean effort, one would suppose from the way he grunts.

"Tell me," his bossy tone of voice in no way impeded by the general sleepiness of the room. The small hours have never felt real to Thomas, not a real space of time. Everything slows down and stretches and becomes heavy before dawn. 

"Emergency briefing at Montpelier," Thomas sighs, "Don’t worry about it. Everything is under control. Go back to sleep, Alex."

There’s a huff from where Alexander’s face is smushed into the pillow, but no further contention. Only a quiet plea of "Please tell me, next time. I was worried."

A prime example of the trail of thought Thomas had while talking with James. If Thomas didn't know any better, he would interpret a concern for Thomas' wellbeing, instead of a fear of being left alone and helpless in general.

"Yeah, alright."

+

Benjamin Tallmadge’s apartment, unspecified location, United States

He hears the key turn in the lock and briefly wonders why Caleb decided to make use of that instead of choosing one of the million other ways of entry he varies just to mess with him. The thought doesn’t stay in his mind too long. No thoughts except those concerning Nathan have much hold on him these days. 

"Hey."

Caleb’s voice is tentative like never before and Ben hates it. Everyone has been treating him like glass for the past week. The psych consult won’t let him back onto the case until she is satisfied with his answers, but Ben has a feeling that will be a long time coming.

"You’re supposed to be at work," Ben accuses, staring at the wall like he’s been doing for two hours at least. Time is so meaningless. Nathan thought he would have time. Ben didn’t take the time they had to tell Nathan that he and Caleb finally got it together. He should have. Nathan would have been very happy for him, he thinks. Doesn’t matter now, does it? Nathan is gone. Nathan is never coming back.

Gone. 

He would have liked to phone his family and explain the situation to them, but then he realized that they wouldn’t be able to have an open casket like Nathan always talked about wanting. Because the bastards cut off his head. Ben wants to make them pay, he wants to walk into their headquarters and slaughter every last man or woman that had a hand in his undoing. (This is part of the reason he isn’t cleared to go back, so Ben assumes.) The thought of vengeance burns his insides day and night and he cannot stop feeling this way. The fire consumes anything else and leaves nothing behind. 

"Well, Washington can suck my lily-white nutsack if he’s got a problem with me being here, alright?" Caleb sounds vaguely irritated now. Ben looks away from the wall to take in Caleb. No new wounds, he surmises, though he looks terrible. His hair is sticking up all over the place, the bags beneath his eyes could actually be halfway-healed sucker punch bruises, and his clothes are torn and shoddy. 

"Were you debriefed, at least? Who took over for me?"

"Steuben’s back at it, the old fox, and he encouraged me to come see you. Said you could use a friend." The last sentence is suggestive. What Caleb isn’t saying is, ‘tell me you want me to leave’, or alternatively ‘tell me what you need from me if it isn’t comfort’, but it is implied. Tears well up again, though Ben could have sworn he’s done enough crying to be empty for a while. Part of him certainly feels that way.

Caleb nods at his continued silence, and understands. He toes his shoes off and takes off the rest of his clothes swiftly. "No-" Ben is already beginning to say, when Caleb arches an eyebrow at him. "You think I’d let you near my prick in that state, even if you claimed you wanted it? Think again, Tallboy. You need a shower, and I know you like me to smell just as dainty and flowery as you do, so up you get, stinker."

A smile makes his lips twitch, unbidden.

"Alright."

"Best pop the window open for a while too, you must have used up damn near all the air in this space."

It occurs to Ben, as they stand beneath the scalding spray of the shower together, that they’ve never done this before. Most of their more intimate encounters have been rushed, hasty affairs, borne of too little time together. (There is the underlying problem again, Ben thinks. There’s never enough time, no matter what he does. It all runs out eventually, it slips right through his fingers and he can do nothing to pause, to preserve the moments he desperately wants to draw out. Time is like water, Ben thinks. It washes over him and drenches him and leaves him weak and vulnerable while he has no defense against it.)

"You can make time for the things you want to last, Ben," Caleb whispers against his shoulder as his fingers stroke up and down Ben’s arms. How long has he been audibly pontificating at Caleb without realizing? Words all seem so far away.  

"I want more time with you," Ben admits, through half a mouth full of water from the unrelenting spray overhead. He might choke on it, if he doesn't close his mouth soon. 

"So do I," Caleb agrees, then makes a startled sound as Ben pulls Caleb’s arms tight around his chest. Why do the tears come again? Why now? Why can’t he stop them?

Powerless, that is how he feels. Caleb curls up with him on the bed afterwards, once he has made sure that Ben was adequately toweled off. They look at each other. Caleb is better to stare at than the wall. The wall is cold and indifferent to Ben's torment. Caleb's face is full of concern, but none of the mocking condescension of the empty wall. Caleb is good. Caleb needs to stay, Ben says as much. 

He ends up staying for almost two weeks. Ben is grateful not to be as alone as he feels. They talk a lot. Sometimes Caleb leaves the room to take a call - sometimes he leaves to have a smoke. He comes back every time, but the underlying fear that one day he won’t doesn’t leave Ben. Not of his own volition, Ben is sure of that. Caleb wouldn’t abandon him. But they’ve taken Nathan from him, what is to stop them from taking the only other person that still matters?

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

"Happy six month anniversary," Alexander jokes one morning as he slides more pancakes onto Thomas’ plate, "I want to go back to work."

"And I want a Lamborghini," Thomas shrugs, sipping his coffee. "Are we having fun in dreamland this morning?"

"You could get ten Lamborghinis with the money you have," Alexander retorts, rummaging for the low-carb syrup Thomas likes. He slides it across the kitchen island. Their routine is very smooth these days.  

"Maybe so, but my point remains that you can’t go to work because I am not really allowed to let you out of my sights yet."

"You mean to tell me that I’m just supposed to do nothing for the rest of my life?"

"You’re supposed to do nothing until the case is closed."

"So for the rest of my life, basically." Flippancy is a new and confusing aspect of a frustrated Alexander Hamilton, and boy does Thomas dislike it. He glowers. Alexander elaborates. "You told me that Rogers killed another one of your agents a week ago. That doesn't exactly bode well for the future of the case."

"We’re getting somewhere, at least. How do you propose going back to work, Alexander, hm? Wanna stroll into your old office and tell Mr. Cooper ‘Hey, it’s me, I know I’m officially dead and everything but I’m itching to blow my cover to spice things up, please let me write needlessly aggressive political polemic again’?"

"Of course not," Alexander mutters darkly. "But I need to do something. Google says that re-establishing normalcy is an essential step for dealing with life after trauma. The books on psychology you have seem to agree."

"Coming back from the dead isn’t establishing normalcy," Thomas frowns.

"I need to do something," Alexander just repeats it stubbornly, as if the frequency of such declarations should make a difference. 

"Well you can’t go back to your job, so deal with it." Patience is a virtue that evades him at inopportune moments, like before a single bite of breakfast.

"I didn’t fucking choose this, Thomas. I never wanted this." Alright, yeah, he’s heard that song before. Enough is enough.

"I didn’t want this either, but we’re stuck with one another so you’re just going to have to suck it up like I have."

Both men glare at one another a little longer before the Baby monitor goes off. "I’ll go," Thomas says, glad for the opportunity to leave.

+

Philipp’s second birthday on the 22nd of January is a rather quiet affair, spent with Dolley and James and a trip to the city where Philipp can pick out a few toys. The situation between Alexander and Thomas has boiled down to tension and fundamentally ignoring one another when Philipp isn’t around to see. Nights are back to being uncomfortable as they are trapped in bed together. Thomas considers once or twice to just take a guest room and be done with it, but that would lead them in a direction veering far away from what they actually want to achieve, so he remains obdurate.

Dolley is sitting on the carpet with Philipp and playing with him and his new toys – a few animal plushies and some new picture books – while James sits on the couch and observes them, a perfect representation of utter longing written onto his face. Alexander appears next to Thomas, one hand on his shoulder to facilitate speaking into his ear. "I need to show you something."

The way to the library is filled with questions Thomas doesn’t ask, ranging from ‘Why am I intrigued?’ to ‘Where are you taking me?

He ends up showing Thomas his laptop, where an email sits opened. "Dear Sir," Thomas reads, "Thank you for submitting your draft-" he goes quiet as he scans through the rest. When he gets to the end, he gives Alexander an irritated look.

"Before you get mad, let me explain," the man has both hands up peaceably. "I used to write exclusively non-fiction, this would be a novel, and I’ve submitted it under the current name and enquired about possible pseudonyms. It fits in well with the cover and Agent Tallmadge agrees."

"Agent Tallmadge isn’t back on the case yet so he is not the final authority on such decisions, not to mention that you should have asked me first," Thomas crosses his arms. "Agent Steuben is in charge and I’m not sure he approves."

"Could you, uh, could you ask him?" Alexander wonders. The pleading undertones give Thomas pause. Alexander must be going crazy with nothing to do all day but read and try to get his pain under control. Perhaps that is why he softens. And, he thinks, Alexander didn't have to show him. They don't monitor what he does on his computer too closely. He could have sent in that draft and he wouldn't have known until it was done. It's a compromise, he surmises, one that puts him on the spot. But it's better than some of the alternatives he can imagine. It's a start. 

"I’ll ask."

"Thank you," Alexander reaches for his arm, gives it a heartfelt squeeze. Thomas can see the relief written on his features, evident in the way it emanates from every pore.

+

Turns out Steuben approves. On the whole, Thomas doesn’t think he gives it more than a mere moment’s consideration, given the new scale of this operation.

Alexander pours his heart into writing, so much so that Thomas hardly finds him in their bed anymore. Once or twice he has crashed in the library, head smashed into the keyboard, leaving marks. Shortly before a third of such instances, Thomas has the forethought to address the issue.

"Come to bed, Alex, this is ridiculous."

"What’s ridiculous is that you get just as little sleep as I do and think you can lecture me, Thomas," Alexander snipes back without stopping his rapid-fire-typing. "You didn't come to bed before three last night and you got up at six this morning. Pot, meet kettle."

"Even I take breaks sometimes," Thomas sighs, crowding closer to read over Alexander’s shoulder. He hasn’t been told what the novel is supposed to be about, only that it is apparently quite the verbose volume.

"Eliza always tried to get me to take a break, and I loved her. If she wasn’t successful, what makes you think you will be?"

Those words help him overcome his reluctance as he settles into their now usually empty bed with his laptop to watch more of the home videos Eliza made. He has almost ten years of partnership to get through, after all.

It starts adorably:

("Look what I found," Eliza’s voice is gleeful when she enters the library, the clock on the wall showing it is way past midnight before the camera pans to a furiously scribbling Alexander, who gives her a very distracted kiss and groans when she pushes coffee and snacks towards him. "Best of girlfriends, best of women, Eliza."

"Only because tomorrow you’ll be a free man and I can finally get more than two minutes of your attention at once," she chirps, leaving with another kiss.)

and then another one, 

(Angelica Schuyler becomes Angelica Schuyler Church with a chaste kiss in an impossibly large chapel, and Eliza pans the camera around to show her resting her head on Alexander’s shoulder as he kisses her head adoringly. He lifts up their intertwined hands to kiss her’s and look at her meaningfully, mouthing something that could be interpreted as ‘someday’ towards her. Eliza beams and gives him a quick peck.)

and then more years go by, 

(Eliza isn’t behind the camera, because the loud South Carolinian can be heard way too close to the microphone, "Hams is about to propose and Liza has no idea," he stage-whispers and pans to show the French man, Bear, roll his eyes at his antics. "Tais-toi, don’t spoil it."

Alexander proposes quite beautifully, in a park, while Eliza cries stunning tears of pure, unadulterated joy. She throws herself into his arms and they stumble onto the grass before he can get the ring on – something they remedy amidst fits of giggles once John reminds them.)

and more, 

(John films the entire wedding ceremony, and much like the rest of their interactions it is sickeningly cute. In comparison to her sister’s wedding, Eliza plants a passionate kiss with tantalizing moments of tongue on him, right in church. Someone, he thinks it’s her other sister Peggy, hoots and whistles through her teeth. Both break apart and beam at each other as if they weren’t aware the entire room was watching – they probably weren’t. They only have eyes for one another.)

and eventually it grows sweeter,

(Eliza films Alexander as he curiously unpacks a small box. "I’m pregnant!" She tells him excitedly when he gapes at the pregnancy test and unisex romper inside. Alexander claps a hand over his mouth but that isn’t enough to contain the pure joy. The smile he gives when she pries the hand away by taking it in her own is radiant. It is light incarnate. "We’re having a baby." He sounds so different. So much happier. So much younger.)

until their happiness seems to peak as if it could never fall again.

(Someone films Eliza and Alex asleep in the hospital bed together, little Philipp propped against Eliza’s chest. That someone turns out to be the Frenchman, because the South Carolinian sneaks towards the bed to draw a mustache on a then beard-free Alexander, in spite of low protests from the Frenchman and Hercules.)

God, life is so unfair.

In the morning he finds Alexander passed out on his shut laptop, snoring loudly and drooling onto the cool metal beneath his chin. 

+

Benjamin Tallmadge’s apartment, unspecified location, United States

"What’s on the agenda today?" Caleb asks him as soon as he is coherent enough. The sun is blinding but he reaches for Caleb anyway. He is too far away, still. Oblingingly, Caleb shifts closer and allows Ben the pleasure of cuddling into his preposterously hairy chest. Like a barrel, he thinks pleasantly, strong and containing at least as much beer on many a night. 

"Today is the day I get reinstated," Ben determines, mumbling against the chest of his dreams, delighting in the sensation of his coarse hair against Ben's lips. 

"Gotta convince the shrink first though, yeah?"

"Of course," Ben frowns, "But I will. I’ve wasted enough time."

"Remember what we said about time?" Caleb pushes some hair out of Ben’s face, forcing their eyes into direct contact.

"I know, I know. 'It’s okay to take the time you need.' But I feel ready to go back."

"That’s good then," Caleb leans forward and kisses him softly, so softly. "I’m with you all the way, you hear? Whatever you need, whenever."

"I love you, Caleb." Ben pulls him in and kisses him in a manner more necessary now, which is to say: needy and demanding.

"’Course," Caleb smiles against his lips before fully and enthusiastically reciprocating the invasion of Ben's tongue, "I love you too."

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

January turns into February and Thomas is startled out of a daydream to find Alexander knocking on his office door. Quickly he shuts the laptop that just informed him Ben has managed to get reinstated in just over a month. Then he clears his throat to say, "Yes?"

Alexander wordlessly holds up the list of instructions that Ben left for them when the mission started when he enters. It has been severely neglected since they departed from the last safe house, to say the least. "I’m ready."

"Pardon?"

Alexander reads out ‘re-integrate witness into social circles’, and then gives Thomas a pointed look. "I’m ready," he repeats, stressing the words. Thomas gets up, snatches the list out of his hand, huffs out a laugh. "You can’t just skip to the final step, Alexander."

"Fine, let’s check off the other points. Where did we stop?" Here is a man that does not like attempts being made to deter him. 

"Establishment of believable physical attraction," Thomas dangles the list in front of Alexander like a delicacy on a stick.

"Not an issue," Alexander crosses his arms. Thomas raises an eyebrow at the stubborn man in front of him.

"Not an issue for you, really?"

Alexander juts out his chin, daring Thomas to contradict it. He sighs. Of course he would be like this. When that man gets it into his head that he will do something, there is no stopping him. Ever. "And what will you say to someone who asks you why we are married? Someone who asks you what drew you to me in the first place? What do you say when someone makes a comment on our physical compatibility?"

Alexander looks like he takes a moment to think about it, chewing on the inside of his cheek before he looks Thomas straight in the eye and speaks. "I know how to act like a besotted fool, Agent Jefferson."

"Oh?" Thomas challenges, "I’d like to hear it."

"I’d tell them that I’ve always been a sucker for brown eyes, but that yours drew me in like none before. I’d say that the first time I saw you smile at me my entire world stopped, that my head started spinning and that I forgot how to breathe for a second. I’d tell them that when we touched it was like I came alive beneath your fingertips, that it made my heart race and my body shiver and that I knew when you kissed me that it was what I wanted for the rest of my life."

Thomas frowns, faced with Alexander’s impassioned poetry, feeling uneasy with the suddenly declared intimacy, until he speaks up again. "I know what it is like to be madly in love, Thomas. It won’t be hard to fake."

Right.

"If you insist. Tell me where I can touch you."

"Excuse me?"

Thomas points to the next bulletpoint on his list. "When presenting ourselves as a couple to the outside world we are required to discuss which touches we are comfortable with. So where can I touch you?"

Alexander looks at him oddly for a while, steps closer, takes Thomas’ hand. Their fingers interlace and Thomas nods. They’ve done this before. "Good start."

Alexander worries at his lower lip, looking past Thomas’ shoulder into nothingness. "How far do we need to go to appear convincing, in your professional opinion?" The hesitancy is a good indication that Alexander is not really ready to commit to this, but he will not admit it. Thomas resigns himself to a nice, short game of gay chicken that will hopefully put this ridiculous notion out of Alexander’s head until he has thought it through once more.

"Well," Thomas starts, running a hand up Alexander’s exposed arm, up his shoulder, curling around his neck softly. "Nothing too lewd, I think. But something like this is necessary. Casual, soft touches and the like. Is this alright?"

Alexander nods, stepping closer to mirror Thomas’ touch. His thumb scrapes Thomas’ jawline, experimentally. "And what of reactions to touches?" Alexander wonders. "Will you stare at me so stoically when I caress you in public? It’s not very convincing, Agent Jefferson. You look rather constipated than hopelessly infatuated."

Thomas laughs. "Do you doubt my ability?"

"Truthfully I have not yet borne witness to your ability, but I do find myself curious."

"Ha." Thomas scoffs. "Go again, I’ll show you."

Alexander caresses Thomas’ cheek, watches the taller man’s eyes flutter close as he exhales shakily, leaning into his touch. Thomas’ hand comes up to cover Alexander’s. His eyes open again and the soft brown that Alex has come to know has turned into something different, something closer to black, hungry and full of desire. His lips part, slightly, as his second hand curls around the small of Alexander’s back, pulling them flush against one another. In the end, Alex stumbles into his personal space more than that he is urged there, so surprised is he. But the feel of a warm body against him is quite unusual by now, Thomas has to admit. How long has it been? "Convinced?" Thomas breaks character, blinking twice to once more return to his stoic agent face. "It lacks refinement," Alexander wrinkles his nose, but his throat bobs, just a little harder than usually. Thomas laughs.

"That it does. So we practice."

"Practice?" Alexander repeats. "That is what we were doing, I thought."

"In a way," Thomas agrees. "But first times are always awkward, so we practice to get used to it. As humans we are creatures of habit. Touch me, I’ll play along."

"How do I touch you? I don’t know what boundaries there are."

"The boundaries are more for your sake than mine, Alexander. This is kind of my job."

And Thomas doesn’t know if it is that sentence that makes determination flare in Alexander’s eyes or something else about the whole situation, but his thumb, currently still residing at Thomas’ jawline, moves towards his lips, pulling the lower lip slightly, softly prompting Thomas’ lips to part. Alexander stares up at him in fascination, almost scientifically exploring Thomas’ face. Thomas is struck with the odd, out of place urge to suck Alexander's thumb into his mouth. A reflex, he dismisses. A product of conditioning, nothing more. Alexander catalogues Thomas’ reactions to all manner of touches, growing bolder with each one.

He might get a little lost in it, because his hand trails down Thomas’ chest to areas he isn’t as apt at controlling in comparison to his face. "Whoa, hey," Thomas protests, snatching Alexander’s hand away before it continues to follow the trail of curly black hair into his pants, "None of that in public, I think?"

"Right, sorry," Alexander shakes his head, clears his mind, "Got carried away a bit."

Thomas nods. "Understandable. Are you satisfied with my reactions?"

"Honestly, honey," Alexander sighs, "It feels a little forced."

"I am holding back on account of your reluctance. It will get better with practice, but I thought for now I shouldn’t scare you with my considerable skill."

"Touch me then," Alexander takes a step back, spreads his arms. A challenge is issued, non-verbally. Alexander doesn't think Thomas can have an effect on him, is that it? Juvenile. Alexander raises an eyebrow, a singular one. It mocks Thomas. 

"Pardon?" Thomas dares, suddenly cautious. What is Alexander playing at? Either Thomas has misjudged the man’s ability to stomach uncomfortable closeness or he misinterpreted the hesitance he previously showed.

"You’re the professional, as you keep reminding me. I’m the one that has to work at being convincing, aren’t I?"

"Where am I allowed to touch you?"

"I’m inclined to say what goes for you goes for me, right? Seduce me with your clinical touches, Thomas."

"Ha." It eggs Thomas on, a little. He steps close, swiftly pulls the hairband out of silky black strands and lets them fan out around Alexander’s face. They are nice and long now, just begging for a hand to tangle in them, so Thomas does exactly that. He tugs at the ends softly. Alexander very convincingly drops his mouth and lets out a small gasp, angling his head upwards for Thomas to stare into his eyes searchingly. For a while Thomas lets the tension build between them, thinking of what to do next. He leans in, pressing a soft kiss to Alexander’s cheekbone. "Is this okay?" He whispers, bringing his second hand up to ghost his fingers across Alexander’s neck, thumb catching over his Adam’s apple as it bobs. "Yes," Alexander rasps. It won’t be long now, he thinks. Thomas smiles, lips ghosting over Alexander’s cheek to his ear, "Ordinarily, this isn’t something we ought to do in public, is it? Would you let me touch you this way? My lips on your ear, on your neck, down to your throat?" He punctuates each location with a soft, open mouthed kiss to it, feeling Alexander loosen up in his grasp. Oh, perfect. This, he can work with.

"Yes," Alexander breathes out softly, through closed eyes.

"Your reactions are very convincing, Alexander," he presses a wet kiss to Alexander’s throat, feeling a steadily increasing pulse beneath his lips. Alexander’s hands stop idling limply by his side, one of them shoots to his hair, before he hesitates, drawing back. "Sorry, I should ask beforehand. Am I allowed to touch your hair? Is that an issue for you? I really don’t mean to presume. You know? That’s a whole ass topic of racial tension we haven’t-"

"Touch me where you like," Thomas assures him roughly, diving back to Alexander’s throat a little too eagerly and peppering it with kisses. His arms wrap around Alexander and their embrace becomes tighter, frantic. He feels the whole of Alexander's body against him, the many points of their connection heating up alarmingly quickly. One of Alexander’s hands is firmly embedded in his hair, the other fisting into the fabric of his shirt, bunched at his chest now. Experimentally, Thomas sucks, a little. A needy whimper tumbles out of Alexander’s mouth, falling open exquisitely. It is that little noise that shifts the whole dynamic. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Thomas releases him, steps backwards quickly to a respectable distance, clears his throat. Alexander looks as though in a haze, just a little bit. One hand comes up to ghost over his own neck, where Thomas’ lips have left a beautiful purple mark.

"I would say that was fairly convincing." Alexander is breathless, and they are just staring at each other. Fuck. 

"Perhaps I underestimated your penchant for acting, Alexander," Thomas smiles through the ensuing awkwardness. Alexander offers a little breathless laugh in response, hands on his hips.

"Well, practice makes perfect, I've been told."

Oh, this isn't good. This has the potential to be very not-good. 

Chapter Text

Montpelier Estate, VA, United States

Dolley invites them over on Valentine’s Day for a themed party, including most of their neighbors. Thomas will freely admit to feeling nervous about the whole thing, considering this will be the first time Alexander tries mingling freely with Virginia's upper class. He isn’t sure how well Alex will do, and the idea of not being able to control the situation all by his lonesome plagues him.

(Really, he needs to talk to James about it soon. In a way Thomas no longer feels as secure in the job as he did when it first started. Some things are slipping out of his control, like the attraction that is slowly closing in on him, wrapping around Monticello like a noose and pushing Thomas closer to Alex until both of them choke. It’s not good.)

Philipp comes along, dressed smartly in a white dress shirt with a bright red bow tie and suspenders. He wanted Thomas to comb his hair before they left, and Thomas could tell it wasn’t something Alexander was happy about. He overstepped by honoring the little boy’s request, he knows it. But Alexander won’t admit to it, he will just lock his jaw and nod, as if he has no choice at all. Even now, Philipp is riding on Thomas’ shoulder when they show up at Montpelier, holding onto his hair as he crows loudly about whatever catches his eye. ("Squiwwel?" He points at a raccoon disappearing into the enclosing forest. "No, mi vida, Waschbär." Alexander looks terribly smug to know the German word. Their lessons are progressing at an alarmingly fast pace.)

After Dolley welcomes them cheerfully with kisses on both cheeks, Thomas leads Alexander around the room, before leaning in to whisper into his ear, "I’m going to go find James. Are you good on your own for a while?"

Alexander, well-practiced after a few sessions hashing out details of what they are comfortable with that mercifully did not spiral out of control like the first one, fixes Thomas’ bowtie with a convincing look of adoration playing on his face. Well, convincing to people that do not obsessively study his face. Once the bowtie is fixed, Alexander flattens his palm against Thomas’ chest and looks up at him from under his lashes. Those damn brown eyes. "I’m good, go ahead."

Thomas hands Philipp over, who goes with unmatched enthusiasm when he discovers that Alexander’s open hair is also fun to tug on. ("Knew there was a reason I started wearing it up-" Thomas hears as he leaves.)

James is busy in conversation with someone Thomas faintly remembers from his time before ‘Paris’, but he’d be hard pressed to put a name to the face. His best friend does not disappoint, however. "Ah, Patrick, you remember Thomas Jefferson, don’t you?"

There’s a firm hand on his back and it is fascinating, it truly is, how James is still a lifeline after all these years. "Of course. Didn’t think we’d be seeing you ‘round these parts again, if I’m honest."

"Well, I thought I’d show my husband where I grew up," Thomas shrugs, smiling as if he was flustered. Patrick, whoever he may be, nods sagely. "It’s a shame, for what it’s worth."

In his head Thomas is already busy building fortifications against whatever pseudo-homophobic bullshit is about to stink up the room, when Patrick elaborates. "-That you had to wait to do it until your father passed, I mean. He could not give you liberty to be yourself while he lived, but I suppose in a way he gave you his death to do it."

"Poetic," Thomas raises the champagne glass that was pressed into his hand quite early in the evening and drinks deep. What an unwelcome reminder. Patrick excuses himself to speak to his wife, and James gives him a long look once he is gone. "You don’t remember him?"

"Should I?"

"I remember my first kiss," James shrugs.

"You married your first kiss," Thomas retorts immediately, then backtracks, "That is Patrick Henry?"

Vague memories of kisses with too much tongue behind a dumpster past sundown flood his mind. It had been Patrick that made the first move then, Thomas recalls. He would have never been brave enough to go after what he wanted at fourteen. That came later. He also remembers Patrick Henry avoiding his eye at school for a whole two weeks afterwards, and remembers being crushed by it until eventually Patrick got a girlfriend for a month or two and then things were back to normal. Thomas dismissed the kisses as a fluke - Patrick never brought it up, after all. 

"Fascinating, isn’t it? The lengths a gay man in Virginia will go to in order to stay in the county’s good graces?" James wonders, making a great show of stirring his drink (if it looks like Gin Tonic, if it smells like Gin Tonic, if it tastes like Gin Tonic it still isn’t Gin Tonic because James doesn’t consume alcohol when he isn’t assured of his privacy) with a very kitschy striped paper straw. As a rule, Thomas avoids these straws because they get increasingly soggy as you sip and it isn’t a great experience for anyone that doesn’t down their drinks immediately.

"Or he’s bi," Thomas shrugs, "Or pan. Or anything else that concerns neither me nor you. Why bring it up?"

"Because I have a reputation for seamless segues to uphold," James takes a thoughtful sip of Ginless-Tonic, "And because I think your husband is attracted to you."

Thomas raises his brows. "Five out of ten - Questionable segue, if you ask me."

"I didn’t," says James, drily.

"Tallmadge did his research. He’s had two serious relationships, both of them with women. First a Kitty Livingston, then his to-be wife, which points little towards any attraction to other genders, even if it isn’t impossible."

James hums, "I think you should take my insight for what it is, alright?"

"When do I not? I could just ask him."

"Do you expect an honest answer?"

"Unlikely," Thomas sighs. James is pulled into another conversation, and Thomas circles back to find Alexander. He locates him whilst his charming fake-husband is busy talking a wide-eyed relative of his into the wall.

"-So, yeah, while you might think it makes it easier for you to refer to me as ‘the wife’ in the relationship because I fulfill what is traditionally considered to be a female role by cooking and staying at home with Sebbie, I find it deeply offensive and it makes me in turn feel insecure about the relationship I have with Thomas because it does not fit the mold of your view of what a marriage is, right? Think of it this way- uh, - would you like me to call you Archibald’s husband because you earn more money than he does and designate him as the wife?"

"No," she nods determinedly, "I suppose I wouldn’t. Thank you, I hadn’t thought of it that way."

Philipp peeks out from where he is playing hide and seek in Alexander’s hair to purse his lips at the woman, blowing a raspberry carelessly. 

"Of course," Alex says smoothly, a strained smile plastered onto his face as he strokes Philipp's back. Thomas slides into the conversation as easily as he slides an arm around Alexander’s waist. Alexander reacts fluidly by leaning into the touch, welcoming it as if he has in fact been craving it. Thomas wonders if there is anything to James' so-called insight.

"Hello Mary, it’s been too long," Thomas purrs as he kisses her hand. She beams brightly.

"Ah, yes, I’m sure you’ve heard the same few variations of ‘don’t leave again for fifteen years’ and ‘it’s good to have you back’ a million times tonight, so I won’t bother, but the sentiment is true in any case. I was just telling your husband about Archibald. He couldn’t make it tonight, but I said that the three of you should come ‘round to Buckingham when you find the time."

For all Thomas could hear that is not what they were talking about, but Alexander nods as if he agrees. "Our children are all grown up now, it gets lonely at home, you know," Mary sighs, "Did you know we Randolphs are related to the Jeffersons now? Yes, really. My Jane married her Thomas, that’s the fellow in the bespoke suit by the door! And his father was your Thomas’ Grandfather, Isham Randolph. Now, of course, I was a Randolph in my own right before I ever became a Cary. Yes, we’re everywhere, you’ll find. It’s very complicated, here in Virginia."

"You don’t say?" Alexander tries his hand at feigning interest, "I suppose I’ll have to get used to it."

"Is it easier, where you’re from?"

"Oh, nothing is simple about New York," Alexander smiles good-naturedly, lying through his teeth. Thomas knows he isn’t from New York. He didn’t step foot in New York until he was at least sixteen. (Steuben hadn’t managed to get an exact date.) But Alexander says it with such conviction that Thomas wants to believe it. (The psych counsel suggested that Alexander had made New York into his home, and thus believed it to be so even without it factually being anywhere close to the truth. Thomas has learned that lying is easiest when you strongly believe you are telling the truth.)

Someone, mercifully, interrupts Mary’s oratory on family relations in the area, by calling out to them. "André, Thomas, get over here, I need a picture of the two of you."

Thomas and Alex comply with smiles that are more practiced than real, as something to fall back on. Smiling is always good. When mastered, the art of faking a smile eases many a situation - When it just barely falls short of a grimace, not so much. Thankfully, Alexander does it well by now. He settles easily into Thomas’ embrace, looks up at him with a gently constructed face of absolute infatuation when Thomas grins down at him charmingly. Philipp babbles non-stop on Thomas’ hip. ("Quiero plátano - quiero mi Tortuga - necesito besos!" intermingled with random words in languages ranging from Spanish to German to English.)

"It’s Valentine’s Day, you guys, and we’re not in catholic school. Show me some love," Dolley’s friend, and the photographer for the evening, prods. Alexander shoots a wink in her direction, because he has decided to try and charm the whole of Virginia apparently, then unexpectedly takes Thomas by the shirt, pulls him in close and presses a soft kiss right to his lips. Unbelievably soft, Thomas thinks, having only explored the whole of Alexander’s pout with his fingers so far. He settles into the kiss easily, smiling against his husband. The camera flashes, once, twice, three times. Dolley makes a comment about them to James, who looks overall satisfied. Thomas has no time to wonder where the man suddenly appeared from when everything looked like he was heading upstairs for the night half an hour ago; the party simply goes on around them.

+

Later that night, when they’re in bed, Thomas turns towards Alexander and speaks quietly but with conviction. "A kiss on the lips wasn’t something we discussed beforehand."

Alexander’s eyes open, alive with something he can’t identify, crinkling slightly. Somehow he thinks they must have been made for dim light like this, they look absolutely stunning. "What was I supposed to do, hm? Tell her my husband has cooties, I’d really not like to kiss him?"

"I thought it was something we would work up to. I wasn’t sure you were ready to feign that kind of intimacy."

"If this is for the rest of our lives we should work on it sooner rather than later, I thought," Alexander’s hand reaches out to trace something on Thomas’ arm, absent-mindedly. Ah, practice. Getting used to touching one another. It has become somewhat commonplace, but that does not mean the first initiation of contact isn’t still awkward.

"What is important is that you’re comfortable with what we do."

"You have soft lips. It wasn’t so bad. No bad breath either."

Thomas chuckles. "You’ll be pleased to know that goes both ways, I’m sure."

There’s a faint sound of amusement. Thomas watches Alexander fall asleep, tracing patterns into his skin.

+

Benjamin Tallmadge’s apartment, unspecified location, United States

The spray of the scalding hot shower distracts him enough that he doesn’t hear his door open, but he does not miss the footsteps that follow, tracking mud into the bathroom. He’s got his gun in his hands within a second, pointing it at a grinning Caleb with his hands up.

"Quicker this time, are we?"

Ben runs a hand across his face to clear away the excess water. "I wasn’t expecting you."

"I make it an important point of these briefings to surprise you. ‘S what keeps this dynamic so fresh, yeah?"

Caleb’s eyes are following the path of the water droplets with unabashed interest, lewd enough that Ben feels hot even under a collar he isn’t wearing.

"Feel like putting the gun away anytime soon, Tallboy?"

He shakes his head, clears his thoughts. The Safety comes back on. He deposits the gun back onto the chair next to the shower. Caleb is still staring intently, licking his lips. Incredibly, Ben can almost see the dirty thoughts that undoubtedly distract him so playing out in his eyes.

"Are you going to get in?" Ben decides to take action.

"You make caring about the environment so easy, you really do," Caleb hums, already halfway undressed by the time Ben has finished his question.

"To be completely honest, us showering together is probably going to take much longer than solo showers would, so we’re not really doing anything for the envi-"

The force of Caleb’s lips on his knocks the air out of him completely for a second as they barrel back beneath the spray, almost slipping but holding onto a bar Ben had the foresight to install months ago. "God, never let me be caught saying I don’t love your tongue, but please put those oral skills to a different use for a second, yeah? I’ve missed you."

What follows is Caleb pinning Ben against the wall and what will definitely go down as the hottest bit of intercrural shower sex of Ben’s as of yet young life. He hopes there will be many such instances to follow. Caleb is frantic as he thrusts against him, unable to stop whispering sweet filth into his ear. ("I think about you like this all the time, Tallboy," and, "God, you take that so well. You like that, yeah? You love it. You need this. You need me. Just like I need you." And: "Fuck, Ben, that’s it. Right there, Ben. Oh fuck yes, take my cock just like that.")

And Ben is helpless in his arms, holding on tight to their interlaced fingers and whimpering when Caleb unlaces one pair to reach around and quite literally give him a hand.

(He takes his sweet time shampooing Caleb’s crust and dirt-streaked hair afterwards. He hasn’t forgotten what Caleb did for him in the weeks following Nathan’s death. Ben wants to be just as strong for Caleb when it is needed. Ben will never forget what Caleb means to him – what they mean to each other.)

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

Thomas steps out of the shower and flinches when he hears Alexander’s yelp of surprise. "You said you were going to the library," he yanks the towel he left in the bathroom around his hips, fastening it hastily.

"Forgot my glasses," Alexander says dumbly, holding up the mentioned object as some sort of proof while he stares pointedly at the floor until Thomas clears his throat, towel now firmly in place. Thomas is keenly aware of Alexander’s eyes on him now, is unsure how he feels under that watchful gaze.

"That’s a lot," Alexander croaks out, still fixated on Thomas’ chest.

"Pardon?"

"Scars," Alex clears his throat. "You have quite a few of them."

"Ah." Thomas nods. Of course that is what Alexander would notice predominantly. It would have been worse if he had said something like ‘nice pecs, bro’, even though that is the farthest stray from Hamiltonian rhetoric his mind can believably conjure.  

"You must be a very brave man indeed." Alexander’s voice is full of reluctant admiration, and now Thomas definitely feels more than just a little uncomfortable under his stare.

"These aren’t signs of bravery. They are signs of failure. My scars, at least, are only ever the result of cowardice, Alexander."

"I can’t believe that," Alexander holds his ground, pushing on his glasses  and now meeting Thomas’ eyes.

"You don’t know me," Thomas reminds him, stupidly. His husband bites the inside of his cheek and breaks the stare.

"I’d like to."

This surprises Thomas, because: "What happened to me being a nuisance at best and unbearable at worst?"

More reluctant cheek-biting from Alexander, as words pile up in his brain that he needs to structure before he hits Thomas with the full barrage.

"Statements made out of frustration. It’s just- Well, what you’re doing for me and, more importantly, for my son - it’s a lot. I forget sometimes, because you play your part so well, that you’ve given up more than I have for this relationship."

Thomas, tactfully, neglects to mention that Alexander somewhat unwillingly gave up the person he loved more than anyone else in this entire world. Instead, he nods and offers a smile.

Things get easier after that. February bleeds into March and the first sunny day  in April leaves Thomas feeling hopeful despite everything else.

+

Alexander hands Thomas the bowl of food with a desperate look on his face when Thomas finally steps into the kitchen one morning, hair still a little wet and dripping onto his t-shirt.

"He’s being difficult again," Alexander sighs. He hasn’t had a chance to shower yet because Philipp started crying half an hour ago and he hasn’t stopped. The sippy cup that once contained orange juice is leaking onto the table, turned over in an uncalled for two-year-old fit of rage, and Philipp’s sweet little face is covered in snot and tears that are burning tracks into the dried up residue from those shed previously.

"Alright, why don’t you go take a bath, I’ll take care of it," Thomas sighs, putting a hand he hopes is soothing on Alexander’s shoulder. One of Alexander’s hands comes up to cover it. He gets as far as one stroke of a broad thumb across Thomas’ fingers before Alexander seems to realize what is happening. He tenses – minutely – then an air of forced relaxation returns into his posture.

"He’s my son," Alexander murmurs, but it is only a token protest. Thomas hums his agreement, then continues, "He is. But we’re in this together now, you said so. Let me take care of it this time."

Alexander turns his face a little, hopeful look in his eyes. "Sure?"

Thomas smiles and turns to Philipp, bending down to look him in the eye. Philipp halts his tantrum mid-scream, looking at him expectantly as if to assuage what Thomas could have to offer him. "Sebbie, can you say Lebensabschnittpartner?"

It’s the first time that Thomas is privy to a real smile from Alexander, one that knocks his thoughts completely off-balance when he stumbles upon it while looking back over his shoulder. "Thank you," Alexander whispers, heartfelt, before he disappears up the stairs to the bathroom.

Philipp starts crying again, and all in all it really isn’t a great day in terms of parenting. But until Philipp has tuckered himself out and fallen asleep on Thomas’ chest, the vision of Alexander Hamilton’s smile keeps him going.

And then, when he does have a calmly sleeping infant drooling onto his shirt again, the vision keeps on playing anyway. Ad infinitum.

+

Benjamin Tallmadge’s Apartment, unspecified location, United States

Caleb’s arms are like anchors that keep him from drifting off into the darkest parts of his mind. "It’s tough out there right now, Ben," he sighs against Ben’s neck, "I don’t want to go back tonight."

"I can get you the rest of the night off if I say we’re putting together the plan to take the location Townsend tipped us off to," Ben rubs his weary eyes, "But we’d actually have to put something to paper."

"Can’t I just stay here with you in your fancy bed and your onehundredmillionthreadcount sheets?" Sleepy Caleb is single-minded in his pursuit of comfort when in a position to let his guard down.

"If I had my way you would never leave it," Ben whispers, bringing their interlocked hands to his face and kissing Caleb’s.

"That can’t be good for my health," Caleb teases, and Ben delights in the hot breath of air across his skin when Caleb chuckles.

"Well, I guess we can allow you outside for half an hour each day, for optimal Vitamin D blood levels and exercise. But-"

"I’m sensing a dreadful stipulation coming on there, Tallboy," Caleb laughs.

"Oh, the worst," Ben agrees, "You have to hold my hand every second we are outside this bed."

"You’re right," Caleb sighs melodramatically, squeezing their already entwined hands, "That’s gonna be a real bummer. Not even worth the sunlight and exercise, really."

There’s some shuffling and then they are pressing goodnight kisses against overheated skin until both of them drift off to slumber.

+

In the morning Ben ingests more caffeine than is probably legally allowed to be consumed at once and pours over the intelligence Caleb brought over shortly past midnight, while the man himself still entertains him with the annoyingly endearing sounds of his painfully loud snoring. ("Allergies, Tallboy, nothing to be done about my stuffy nose. Brought you some earbuds, if you think it’ll help. Or I can take the couch- whoa, hey, alright, I’m stopping. Just keep your, fuck, keep your hand right there.")

About an hour later or so, Ben has put together something resembling a plan, which he faxes to Steuben. There’s a special encryption on it, to which both Steuben and Washington hold the only other keys, but he still feels uneasy sending anything of value digitally, so he organizes a meeting for the next day. Ever since Nathan, there has been a niggling suspicion in the back of his mind that will not leave him alone.

Almost nobody knew about Nathan going undercover. Almost nobody knew Nathan, period. He was still a very fresh face in the bureau, and he should not have been exposed so easily. (Coincidence, it could just be coincidence. Thomas has told him as much. Thomas, undoubtedly one of the most prolific among his colleagues, has had his cover blown many times. Christ, Ben had heard about his worst undercover mission. It was notorious in the bureau as a mission that should not have been survivable. When Ben had relayed the information about Rogers, Thomas hadn’t taken it well. James Madison had called him afterwards and told him to take a look at some of Thomas’ old case files, if he was really interested in knowing more. Russia, it was, some twelve years ago now, when his old partner had their cover blown in front of Thomas. There are no details, but Ben cannot fathom how you watch your partner, someone you trust implicitly, get shot in front of you and keep your calm enough to stay undercover. Thomas thinks Nathan’s death might have been coincidence. Thomas also thought most of his blown covers were coincidences. Perhaps he is wrong on both counts. After all, it reeks of arrogance to assume the fault could not have been his own, for all his many talents.)

But, Ben thinks, if it was indeed not a coincidence, then either Nathan gave himself away (unfortunately, it pains Ben to admit, indeed a possibility), or someone gave him away. Perhaps it is Ben’s need for revenge that has him latch onto the possibility of a mole. It gives Ben a more immediate outlet for his anger as long as Rogers eludes them.

And he is eluding them well. The Hamilton debacle must have caused him to pull the brakes. There haven’t been any distinctive SIMCOE murders since then, just one or two unidentifiable henchmen murdered for trying to leave. They tell Ben nothing, and Dr. Stevens had not been able to lift their prints because, apparently, before their deaths they had them destroyed by the oldest trick in the criminal handbook. (‘Ah, the merits of pineapple juice’, Stevens had merely muttered darkly and frowned at the two corpses.)

Caleb is eventually roused back into the world of the living when Ben presents him with a steaming cup of coffee held tantalizingly close to his body. His eyes are shut tight and he has to rub his hands across them once or twice until they deign to open. Caleb looks delightful in the morning. Ben tells him as much and witnesses a most un-delightful snort of mockery in return.

"You got any food here?"

He can’t stay long. Whenever Caleb has to leave panic seizes Ben for just a moment. He wasn’t kidding when he told Caleb he’d like to keep him in his bed forever. Watching Caleb go is like watching your own heart wander off unprotected, unsure if it will return to your chest or bleed out in the strange and dangerous places it travels to.

(Ben has always known that when he feels something, there is no gradual dial. It is a matter of on-off, all-in at all times.)

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

They are bathing Philipp when his phone rings. Philipp makes grabby hands and for just a second Thomas considers letting him answer it. (A few days ago he was ‘helping’ Thomas in his office for the day, answering a phone that wasn’t ringing with what Thomas guesses was supposed to be an imitation of his formal ‘yes?’ when communicating with colleagues, and, oh, alright, sue him, it was fucking adorable.) But this is a  real call, and this late at night it usually means serious business. So he excuses himself and lets Alexander take over telling a story as Philipp splashes around with his ducky, but Philipp protests when he is about to close the door. Unable to help himself, Thomas hovers, waving at Philipp to let the kid know he is still there. His wave is cheerfully reciprocated and he gets another hesitant smile from Alexander as his reward.

"Yes?" He asks when he picks up. Tallmadge is on the line, and after the customary questions of ‘is this a bad time’ and ‘how are you holding up?’ he begins.

"I sent you that plan a few days ago, yeah?"

"You did," Thomas confirms.

"It’s happening tomorrow," Ben, ever mistrustful of the security their technical department offers them, is intentionally vague. Thomas understands in any case. A raid on a location Rogers might be hiding out at is a huge risk. This is a warning, of sorts, a protocol update, probably.

"Thank you for letting me know," Thomas keeps his voice pleasantly even. Still, he feels Alexander’s eyes on him, questioning, pleading.

"If-" Ben clears his throat, clearly not liking what he has to say, "If it goes wrong, if anything about it goes wrong, there’ll be a signal, the one we discussed. Do you remember it?"

"I do," Thomas smiles for Alexander’s benefit.

"Good," Ben says, as if reassuring both of them, "I’ve instigated a change of protocol. If you get the signal, you alone decide where you take your charges, alright? You tell no one until you make contact with the local department of wherever you end up, alright?"

"Ben-" Thomas is thrown off axis, a little. This is highly irregular.

"I’m telling you this now because I have to tell you. The Baron and I are fairly certain of a mole in our midst, and if something happens to me and they gain access to your files, we can’t rely on our protocol because it will be our downfall."

It takes some effort then, rearranging his face into a mask of calm indifference when he has just had the rug pulled out completely from underneath him. But he’s managed better in circumstances more dire than this. So he takes a deep breath. He takes another one. A third.

"Understood."

Ben exhales loudly on the other end. Thomas feels it in every bone. This whole ordeal has everyone strung out and thrumming with tension that never dissipates. There is no stopping until it is all over. "If you hear nothing by two AM on Sunday, you are to also assume that something went wrong and the signal didn’t come through. I’ll contact you before then if all goes well."

The call ends when Thomas confirms Ben’s plans, and by then Philipp is snuggling into his towel robe. He demands kisses sleepily and Thomas will admit to being distracted as he bestows them, caught out by Alexander’s wondering eyes. He watches Alexander put Philipp to bed, watches Alexander smile and kiss him and tell his little son that everything will be alright and that he will see him in the morning. "Te quiero mucho, Papí," Philipp insists. Alexander tears up, smiling as he tells his son the same. Philipp’s eyes close and Alexander stays a while longer, watching until the little boy’s breathing evens out.

He doesn’t say anything until they are both in bed together – long enough that Thomas begins to hope he might just let it go – but then he doesn’t waste any more time.

"What did Agent Tallmadge want?"

"I can’t tell you any specifics, Alexander," Thomas sighs, trying to turn around and end the conversation, but Alexander decides that is the optimal time to fuck around and so he stops his retreat with an entreating hand to Thomas’ cheek.

"Please," he says as he gnaws on his lower lip, "Tell me what you can tell me. I can’t- I’m – Thomas, I’m so worried."

Thomas closes his eyes and deliberately doesn’t lean into the tentative touch. He does, however, cover Alexander’s hand with his own and firmly removes it from his face to forego temptation. Their fingers interlace and he rubs circles into Alexander’s skin with his thumb. It is almost therapeutic. 

"We might have to change location. I won’t know for sure until Sunday night, but maybe we should keep a bag ready, just in case."

"Are we in danger?"

Thomas shakes his head, "I won’t let anything happen to you or your son." He can’t make that promise, rationally he knows, but he feels like he has to make it. He has to take some of the worry out of Alexander.

"What about you?" Alexander stares at Thomas’ cloth-covered chest, where weeks ago he must have seen his grisliest scar.

"What about me?" Thomas plays for time.

"Are you in danger?" His eyes are so earnest when he asks that Thomas doesn’t know how to respond except to shake his head, dumbly. Alexander exhales, forcing a smile that reveals the remains of his worry. He takes Thomas’ hand, still clasping his own, and presses a firm kiss to it.

"Good," he says, as if that one little world has all the power in the world. In a way, it does. Thomas faintly registers the light turning off and Alexander turning over to go to sleep. It takes Thomas a while to do the same.

 

Chapter Text

Target Warehouse, unspecified location, United States

This isn’t going according to plan. They had everything worked out, delving into painfully small details for hypothetical situations that were deemed possible outcomes. This isn’t what they planned, Ben thinks, and wants to scream.

Where the fuck is Caleb? His earpiece and microphone went dead five minutes ago, and the abruptness of it did nothing to ease his worry. He’d been breathing in Ben’s ear, and then suddenly he was gone. Steuben is crouched behind him, quietly tapping away on his tablet.

"I’m going in," Ben announces, after another minute passes in absolute silence. Steuben tries to hold him back but he isn’t quick enough to rise to his feet. Benjamin Tallmadge is already jogging towards the small entryway Caleb disappeared into ten long culminated minutes ago. The building is dingy, a persistent smell of something rotting away taints the air. Not bodies, after so much time with Dr. Stevens in the morgue he’s got a pretty good sense what they smell like in various states of decay. (The smell also follows Dr. Stevens home, clinging to his clothes, and yeah, Ben understands why he has remained single for now.) But something smells rotten, certainly. 

More importantly, there are voices, growing louder as he goes deeper into the warehouse. His entryway is obscured by about a million crates, stacked up in towers all over the otherwise open space. And then there is Caleb’s voice.

"I told you, asshole, this is where Hackett sent me. I’ve been told you’d give me my next job and that’s all they told me-"

Ben almost steps on something as he weaves his way past another tower of crates. It produces the smallest of sound as he dislodges what he quickly recognizes as Caleb’s abandoned earpiece. Ordinarily easily overheard but the sound carries in the warehouse. Fuck, did Caleb voluntarily take it off? Why the fuck would he do that? They are going to have words when this is over. Then they are going to have kisses, so many kisses, but only once the idiot has gotten it through his head what this kind of behavior does to Ben. Only after many words are had will there be kisses. 

"You’re not fucking alone, you bastard," Caleb’s apparent interrogator yells at him, and then Ben hears the sound of a knife being unsheathed and Caleb’s sharp intake of breath – all too familiar to him for now. Immediately all of his training goes out of the window as he steps out from his hiding place, slams the head of the guy who’s got his back to him against one of the crates, effectively knocking him out, as he keeps his gun trained on the guy holding a knife to Caleb’s beautiful, currently very endangered throat.

Steuben is talking in his ear, asking for an order as for what to do.

"It’s entirely up to you what you do now," Ben says, relying on Steuben, for the moment not frozen and half going out of his mind because there’s a knife to Caleb’s throat. They cut Nathan’s head off. Oh god. Oh god. This can’t fucking happen. That knife needs to go.

Getting the building surrounded, Ben. Don’t do anything rash. Deep breaths.

But there’s Caleb. His Caleb. Fuckfuckfuck. Caleb is looking at him, levelheaded in a way he could never be, as his deep, stunning brown eyes try and tell him something.

Caleb’s lips are shaping a word. Two words. Three more, Ben thinks he makes out.

Almost ready to bust the door down, Ben. Give me the green light.

Steuben’s voice brings his thoughts back into the present.

"Yeah?" The knife-wielding fiend laughs. "Then I think I’ll do this, if you don’t mind." He presses the knife down and Ben can only choke out a ‘now’ into the earpiece before he shoots. He goes for the shoulder even as everything inside of him screams ‘head’. Take them alive if you can. Always take them alive. Information is worth everything. Caleb needs only the time it takes for his previous assailant to scream out in pain to grab the knife – so close to his throat just seconds before, oh god – and toss it into the soft thigh of a second man approaching  as he hears the commotion. He’s got the shot man’s shoulder dislocated before he even has him on the ground. The doors bust open and Steuben leads a troop of men inside. He’s still standing, frozen in place, when Caleb yells out.

"Ben, to the left!"

His body's reaction kicks in even if his brain lags pitifully behind, but even so he feels the pain as he throws himself to the floor. Blinding, utterly blinding and searing, reducing him to nothing but screams that don’t make it out of his throat. He faintly registers Caleb clearing the distance to get to him, and then he registers nothing but darkness. 

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

Thomas gets a text from Steuben just two minutes before Ben’s proposed deadline runs out.

Tallmadge shot, in surgery, no other casualties. Two taken alive, otherwise nothing. Stay put.

The lack of personal modifiers and clipped sentences constitute grounds for reasonable concern. He rubs a hand over his face as he stands in the kitchen by himself. Sleep has eluded him since Ben let him know about the raid taking place tonight. Alexander is supposedly asleep upstairs, but more likely the man is pacing, throwing worried glances at their packed bags as he does so. Their combined tension has filled the entire house with an air of unease.

Now Ben is possibly dying. Fuck.

Steuben told him to stay put. Ben, who has seniority in this mission, said that in case something goes wrong the further protection of Alexander Hamilton and his son is entirely in Thomas’ hands.  Fuck.

At three AM he gets another update, even as he considers shotgunning a whole pot of coffee, he hurries to open it.

Still in surgery, not looking good. Big man rules you safe until further notice.

Now Washington himself is involved in the decision making when it comes to this mission? Good god, everything about this is getting out of hand. He doesn’t know if he can get to sleep while Ben’s life hangs in question, but maybe he can bring a semblance of peace to Alexander. He drains a quick cup of coffee and trots up the stairs.

"Hey," Thomas announces himself quietly when he enters the bedroom he has shared with Alexander for the better part of a year now. Alexander is on the bed, eyes closed in a weak imitation of rest. They flutter open too quickly, he startles. Glasses askew on his face and hair sticking out into various directions, Alexander wipes drool from the corner of his mouth. He blinks a few times and pushes his glasses up to rub his eyes when blinking proves mostly ineffective.

"Hey," Alex replies, sleep-drunk and sweet. "Do we have to go?" His eyes flit to the packed bags and Thomas catches a brief moment of regret that flies past behind Alexander’s usually guarded eyes.

"They took some guys in for questioning. We’ll keep the bags packed, but for now we’re safe."

"Would you be allowed to tell me if things had been shit?"

"You’d know by the fact that I’d currently be driving us to the airport," Thomas assures him. "Trust me, you’re safe right now."

"Where would we go?" Alex doesn’t argue. The trust he places in Thomas’ simple assurance makes his chest feel tight. God, Thomas needs to clear his head of the invasive thoughts that have been popping up with alarmingly increasing frequency. What would Alexander do if he found out? He doesn’t think he would be faced with disgust, but Alexander definitely wouldn’t look at him the way he does now. He can’t give the man grounds for suspicion. It would shatter whatever shaky rapport they’ve managed to build.

"Where’s the kid?" Thomas rubs his eyes and stifles a yawn, caffeine seemingly failing him tonight.

"Peacefully asleep," Alexander smiles to himself, fondly remembering something, "Drew his first recognizable turtle today."

"Do you think he’ll ever draw something else?" Thomas laughs quietly as he changes into his pajamas. That is one of the things that has changed since the first night. He and Alexander no longer take turns in the bathroom getting dressed. He’s seen Thomas bare now, after all. The shower incident still weighs heavy on Thomas whenever it worms its way into his thoughts. Alexander watches as he toes his shoes off and when Thomas lifts the cover to slide into the bed his entire body turns to face him, huddling close. "He draws you too," Alexander says.

 "How do you know it’s me?" Thomas teases.

 

Alexander reaches a hand out in the semi-darkness of rapidly approaching dawn and undoes the hairband holding Thomas’ curls back. "He likes drawing your hair." A beat of silence follows that declaration as Alexander’s hand massages his scalp as he cards through the curls, untangling any knots with considerable dedication as he goes. "Though we really need to get him a brown or black crayon – he’s been using purple."

 

"Now there’s an idea," Thomas teases, laughing when he watches Alexander’s nose crinkle in abrupt disgust, "Wouldn’t you like me with purple hair?"

"Don’t you dare," Alex threatens, "Your hair is the textbook definition of natural perfection. Think of the damage to your ends."

 

"Maybe just one purple highlight then?"

 

"Thomas," Alex groans a dismayed warning, but Thomas can see a small, genuine smile playing along his lips.

 

"You don’t like purple?"

 

"No."

 

"We could get matching dye jobs-"

 

"I know you’re trying to distract me, and I thank you, but please, what you’re suggesting is frankly horrifying."

 

"Alright," Thomas mumbles, as Alex burrows closer beneath the covers, taking a deep sniff. 

 

"You reek." 

 

"Saving the world gives me permission to sweat, don’t you think?" Thomas sighs, even as he disentangles himself from beneath the covers to hop in the shower for a quick refresher.

 

"Hardly saving the world here, Thomas. Just me." Alex calls after him, and Thomas isn’t quite sure why that statement feels inherently wrong to him. That isn’t something to ponder while sleep-deprived.

 

+

Unknown Hospital, United States

Hospital lighting usually has different settings of brightness, he is sure of it. Right now it is dim as Caleb watches a machine force Ben to breathe.

It feels oddly like he’s the one who got shot, going by the way his heart contracts in absolute agony. "If the bullet had hit a few inches to the left it would have gotten his heart," he hears the doctor say through the rush of blood to his head. "You say he dove to the side?"

"Ya," Caleb swallows, unable to take his eyes off the steady rise and fall of Ben’s chest, through no effort of his own.

"It probably saved his life," the doctor nods, "Even if it is regretful that the impact on the floor cracked his skull."

"What’re you sayin’?" Caleb demands, gruffly, hands clenched tight by his sides.

"The next few weeks are crucial. Right now I can’t say for sure he’ll wake up."

Eventually the doctor leaves the room. He has other patients to get to, after all. Steuben gave him leave to watch over Ben, most likely because he knew Caleb would not have stayed away for all the king’s horses trying to drag him off. That isn’t how the saying goes, he thinks blithely, but it’s all he’s got right now. Ben would probably know. Ben can quote all kind of shit from memory, it’s incredible. He fondly remembers, back when Ben was sixteen and Caleb was on leave home for a weekend, how the young Tallmadge boy stood up in the middle of service to tell the old pastor – a guy filling in for Ben’s father while he was in the hospital – that he was misquoting the bible to propagate a message of intolerance and that god would most definitely not stand for that.

Sometimes it amazed Caleb how Ben can reconcile his faith with what he does for a living. How does Ben see the worst of humanity and still cling to the belief that everyone is loved? How does he believe that those committing atrocities are merely lost and in need of guidance? How does anybody manage to retain so much goodness even in times of absolute darkness?

"I don’t know how you do it, Ben," Caleb strokes Ben’s cheek. He thinks he’s read stuff about comatose patients being able to hear what people are telling them but unable to respond. "I saw it in your eyes, how you wanted to kill him when he had a knife to my throat. And somehow you fought that urge down and aimed for his shoulder. You’re so – God, Ben. You’re so good. Why do I feel like this is all my fault?" Caleb has to take a beat. Get his breathing under control. If Ben can hear him now he doesn’t think he’d feel good knowing that Caleb can’t stop the tears from building and falling. His throat is raw with pain, an ever expanding lump makes it impossible to swallow and breathe. Even talking is hard.

"If I’d been quicker, if I’d aimed my knife at the guy’s chest instead of his thigh. Christ, we’d have one less source to interview, but you’d be safe. Why do you throw away your life so carelessly to preserve mine, Ben?"

Another beat. He thinks of what Steuben told him in the aftermath, as he had sat cradling Ben’s body and applying steady pressure onto a bleeding wound. Ben’s body had been limp, his fingers so cold even as he clutched Ben’s hand. Ben’s head had lolled, malleable like a ragdoll.  

"If you’re gone, Ben," he chokes on his words, "God, if you’re gone I couldn’t live with myself. Why’d you have to follow me into that building? I’m not trying to be accusing, really, I’m trying my level best. But this wasn’t the fucking plan, Tallboy. You’re not supposed to be the one that does reckless and stupid things. That’s my job, you hear? You’re the one that scolds me."

The machine keeps going, keeps pumping air into Ben’s chest.

"For what it’s worth, Ben, I get it now. I really do. I know I’d use to roll my eyes when you’d yell at me only to pull me into your arms. ‘How could you be so stupid?’, you used to tell me all the time, remember? I understand that now. Fuck, I would chew you out so badly if you weren’t so hurt. Fuck you for making me care so damn much, Ben."

He cries himself hoarse then. Tuckered out eventually, he succumbs to sleep.

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

Dolley and James come over for dinner a week after the raid, ostensibly for movie night. In reality, James nearly drags Thomas into his office under the pretense of planning a surprise. Thomas watches as his best friend kisses his wife teasingly, flicking her nose and squeezing her hand apologetically when she pouts in her demand to know more.

"You sounded urgent on the phone," Thomas opens the conversation, not wanting to admit to the anxiety he feels almost constantly now. Every bit of him is wound up. It isn’t helping the house dynamic.

"Okay, first of all take a deep breath," James advises him, and because James usually knows best nine out of ten times, Thomas does so without protest. "Ben’s still unchanged. His wounds are healing, but the doctors say he isn’t making any progress towards waking up."

Horrifying, but not the worst news James could have come forth with. Thomas takes another deep breath, and then nods. "That’s not what you came here to tell me."

"The men taken in have proven rather obstinate."

Also, not entirely surprising. Thomas knows well the consequences for those who talk. Hardly any deal they could cut would be worth the anticipated punishment. (Then again, the longer they are kept, the more likely they will be killed anyway once they are released. At some point, those captured are considered a liability no matter if they held out or not. In such cases, and possibly just in such cases, time is on the bureau’s side. And yet, playing for time means the criminal activity merely continues, so even that advantage comes with undesirable side effects.)

"They’ve contradicted each other once we started interviewing them separately, but Washington won’t let Agent Brewster near them."

"Caleb?" Thomas says, confused. "I didn’t know he was back in the U.S. Last I heard he was raising hell in Yemen."

Caleb Brewster is, in many aspects, Thomas' direct opposite in the bureau. They both do spectacular undercover work, but their approaches are vastly different. Caleb is a man that fits in easiest with the lowest of the lower classes. I’m very method, he once joked while they were out getting drinks and Thomas pointed out his overgrowing beard.

"It would seem that Agent Tallmadge recalled him from Yemen after a job well done and used him to build up a successful spy ring right under Roger’s nose."

Thomas chokes on his own spit.

"Did you know those two knew each other?"

"I did not," James admits, evenly. Presumably he has already had ample time to get over his initial shock. Thomas is left gaping.

"Point of fact is, they’ve got two men firmly on the inside, and Brewster believes their covers are intact. He checked in on them multiple times over the last week."

"You’re building up to a dramatic reveal here, Jemmy, and I don’t like it," Thomas scratches his chin. James raises his eyebrows and puts his hands on his hips, as if to say, ‘Well, you’d be right’.

"One of them has a source in the deepest circles, and apparently Rogers has built a counter-intelligence ring to lure away of our own. We’ve got a traitor in our ranks, Thomas."

Thomas lets that sink in, pushes away the instinctive panic. James is calm. If James is calm, Thomas can be calm as well. Ben suspected as much, last they talked, but to have it confirmed is another thing entirely. 

"Do we need to leave?"

"The mole isn’t high-up enough to know about this operation, but they did catch wind of the raid and informed Roger’s men. They were waiting for our agents."

"What do we do?"

"You’re cut off, time to isolate," James explains, nodding severely. "Tallmadge is unavailable in any case, but all communication goes through me for now. Steuben’s orders, until we’ve found the mole."

"What do we know about the mole, then?"

"The source didn’t get a name, only a codename, it seems. ‘Blue bear’"

Thomas has some trouble playing at absolute ease during the rest of movie night, but he thinks he manages well enough, as Alexander does not confront him. He only gets a mumbled ‘sleep well, Thomas,’ before the lights are off and both men drift away to dreamland.

 

+

Benjamin Tallmadge’s Apartment, undisclosed location, United States

Sometimes Caleb truly can’t believe that Friedrich Steuben is actually a federal agent, because he just rings the fucking doorbell and enters like a regular visitor, the absolute amateur. Then Caleb remembers the thirty-one successful undercover operations and acknowledges that the man probably knows what he is doing.

Dr. Stevens takes a more subtle route and enters by fire escape, looking by all accounts like someone out of a terrible teen drama with his hoodie pulled over his head tightly. He shakes his head and rights his glasses, while Caleb stares at the two men and heaves a sigh.

"Ben’s been out for a month," Caleb announces to the room at large.

"So he has," Steuben agrees, "Why did you summon us to his apartment?"

"I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I’m not getting him back until I meet my own maker, and even then I’ll probably be on a downward descent while he’s up there with the other angels," Caleb waxes poetic.

"Are you drunk?" Dr. Stevens furrows his brow.

"Toasted," Caleb nods, "But that’s when I do my best work, don’t you know?"

"You’re suspended, Caleb," Steuben urges, gently. Ah yes, Washington was very insistent on that, wasn't he? 'For your own good, Agent Brewster' and 'Benjamin wouldn't want you to get yourself in trouble'. 

"Yeah, well, I’m here to fucking tell you that I’m going back undercover, whether the big man sanctions it or not."

"Your cover might already be blown," Steuben protests, "There was a camera feed at the warehouse and even though we shut that down we don’t know if your image might have somehow been relayed."

"I can’t sit here and dawdle," Caleb shakes his head decidedly. "If I do Ben’s been shot for nothing, yeah?"

"He was shot saving your life, if you throw it away now that makes his sacrifice worthless." Dr. Stevens says gently.

"Frankly, I didn’t come here to get your permission. I was doing you the curtesy of giving everyone a heads up, that’s all. Do let Washington know."

"There’ll be hell to pay for you, Caleb. Your job might be gone by the time you resurface." Steuben tries, one final time. He knows it is futile. Caleb Brewster's mind is made up and the one person who could reason with him needs to be kept alive artificially.

+

Summer takes over Virginia steadily, and by the time July rolls around temperatures have risen well over the norms, and every second day it seems the radio hosts are boasting some new record. It leads Alexander into a tirade about Global Warming as he works on his book, finalizing edits while Thomas spends his days worrying about Ben.

Two months have passed. The injuries have healed spectacularly, the doctors say, but he isn’t waking up. They’re keeping him alive mostly because his father, the honorable reverent Tallmadge, does not believe in ending a life. He is content to leave it in god’s hands, perhaps indefinitely. Two months can leave  lasting damage on the body. Thomas doesn’t even want to think about the physical therapy Ben will have to get through if he ever wakes up.

Agent Brewster has disappeared back into the shadows, James informs him, to carry on with Ben’s work against Washington’s wishes. And Thomas remains, in Monticello, doing nothing and feeling mostly useless as he watches his colleagues drop like flies.

The men captured at the warehouse are facing trial for the huge amount of drugs found at the scene. Steuben is confident they’re going inside for a long time. Thomas is sure they won’t stay inside, per se, for long. Soon enough someone will take care of them in the worst way possible. By getting caught they are now definitely branded as traitors. They’ll not live long. Prison is harsh and unforgiving. Mostly anarchy constitutes the order of the day.

He thinks about this predicament all too often. His fingers itch for something to do, but they are cooped up in this great big mansion that holds all too many memories. Thomas thinks he might slowly be going stir-crazy. He can’t legitimately call it cabin fever because, damn, the man who calls Monticello a cabin has conclusively lost their mind, but still. Training is no longer a sufficient outlet. He needs a change of scenery.

Thomas has been on plenty of long-term undercover operations. He has lived different lives, but none of them have been as monotonous as this one.

It won’t do.

+

"Happy one year anniversary," Thomas brings a cup of coffee to Alexander’s bedside one morning in July, who groggily sits upright and rubs his eyes. "Let’s go on a date."

"I’m sorry, what?" He manages to pose this question between hungry sips of what, for Alexander, passes as liquid consciousness. Thomas has turned up his nose occasionally at those who tirelessly laugh about the interdiction of talking to someone before they’ve had their cup of coffee, but Alexander truly is useless before he has had at least a few mouthfuls.

"Dolley, being the woman that she is, called me and said if we wanted a ‘day to ourselves’ for the anniversary, she would gladly watch Sebastién for the night."

And yeah, fuck, it really has been a year since he has first laid eyes on Alexander. Time flies, he supposes.

"That’s nice of her," Alex says, evasively.

"I thought so too. Also convenient that there will be a qualified agent with the kid for the entire time, wouldn’t you say?" James isn’t particularly fond of children, he knows that to be one of the biggest problems in his marriage, but he’ll gladly watch Philipp for a day. After the last check-in he had with Thomas he looked more concerned than usual. Thomas isn’t hiding his restlessness all too well these days, apparently. Monticello is also making him complacent. For shame.

"Sure. But why do we have to go out?" Alexander poses this question as if he truly does not understand how caged both of them have been. Thomas considers for a second that the man truly does not mind curling up in the library forever, and wants to scream.

"Certainly we don’t have to, but I thought it might be nice. Another step to completing your secret recovery plan."

He’s baiting Alexander. He’ll freely admit it. He needs to get out and about.

"What are we doing?"

"Dinner? A change from the housewifely-duties you have been performing for us so well?"

"Ha." A snort. Now they’re getting somewhere. "In that case I’ll have you know I expect the very best for our first date."

+

 

"Say bye to your Papí, buddy. We’ll see you tomorrow." Thomas nudges the child on his arm. Philipp reaches for Alexander and showers his face in sloppy kid kisses, giggling as Dolley eagerly takes him into her own embrace.

"Do I get a goodbye as well?" Thomas coos, making Philipp giggle and give him the same treatment. "Bye, bye, Dada."

Oh.

He tries not to show how shell-shocked the words leave him. Alexander takes over thanking Dolley for her offer seamlessly. His hand interlaces with Thomas and he leads them back outside where they’ve left the car. Once they are alone, he frowns.

"Since when does he call you that?" Alexander asks, as they are fastening their seatbelts. Thomas deflates visibly.

"That was the first time," He sighs, heart twisting. Philipp thinks of him as a father. If Thomas didn’t feel guilty before for growing overly attached to the kid, it now hits him like a ton of bricks. Philipp thinks of him as a father. He is fully embedded in his cover now. It doesn’t feel like the triumph he knows it to be. It feels fake and horrifying.

"God, I’m so sorry."

But Alexander surprises him, making a soft noise of disapproval in the back of his throat. Thomas lifts his face out of his hands. Alexander reaches out towards him. His hand cups Thomas’ cheek gently and he offers him a careful smile.

"Orders are orders, Thomas. I think your boss would be perfectly happy to see my kid so well adapted to the situation."

"Still isn’t fair to the kid," Thomas sighs. One day this mission will be over and then he’ll have to leave. Then Philipp will go through the loss of a parent again, and this time, who knows if he’ll get out unscathed. Fuck, this isn’t fair. This is everything Alexander was worried about those first few months.

Alexander gives him another smile, though it is laced with pain. "Lots of things aren’t fair. Are you allowed to have contact with us…afterwards?"

The way Thomas chokes on his answer says everything. After this is over he'll be undercover elsewhere, ad infinitum. "I see," Alexander frowns, resigned.  "Well in that case we’ll just have to find a way to deal, won’t we? Now, I believe you promised a guy dinner and I don’t like being kept waiting."

+

Thomas picked a 'restaurant' he used to love when he was a teenager. He came here with James almost every Friday to ring in the weekend and, embarrassingl, do their homework so they’d have the following two days free to do what they really wanted. (Most of the time that amounted to reading or watching movies, but sometimes they went camping on their vast estates. James was a boy scout when he was younger and took great pride in showing Thomas the skills he learned. It was his trump card, considering Thomas was both stronger and more popular, though the latter only marginally. Yes, the worries of their younger days seem pathetic now. Back then they were the end of the world. Maybe, Thomas thinks, he’ll look back on this mission one day and it will seem like nothing. Unlikely, as it has already shaken him to his core, but maybe.)

It is set up like a diner and not exactly visually impressive, but he hopes Alexander will appreciate the nostalgia bomb he is about to drop, at least. This part of Virginia does not offer a vast array of options for fancy dinner dates, admittedly. They'd have to drive further out and he isn't too keen on putting more distance than necessary between Alexander Hamilton and his son. 

"-I mean, yeah, sue me, I was a fucking nerd." Thomas eventually finishes recounting part of his previous monologue to a rapt Alexander Hamilton. "You already knew that though, I mean, we looked at constellations together."

Alexander, to his great surprise, bursts out laughing, loud and wild and a wheeze marking half of the noise. It takes Thomas a while to recover from that sight.

"Oh, god, Thomas, you’re really something."

He isn’t sure what that is supposed to mean, but Alexander delivers the line with a smile so he supposes it isn’t a jibe.

"You say that like you didn’t have eclectic habits as a teenager," Thomas rolls his eyes. He rolls them fondly, but still. They are being rolled.

"Sure, if you consider trying desperately not to starve eclectic," Alexander shrugs flippantly as they order, their waitress smiling but looking slightly concerned. Thomas decides to stick with non-alcoholic beverages, but Alexander orders beer with a charming smile and a haphazardly thrown wink at the waitress, most likely well into her fifties. Thomas certainly doesn’t remember her from his High School days, but he isn’t sure he paid much attention to the staff back then. He hadn’t learned to be observant yet, it wasn’t a priority. She raises her eyebrows challengingly. Both come away from that brief exchange with slightly higher spirits.

"Don’t be glib," Thomas frowns. "I’m trying to get to know you."

"Bit late for that since we’re already married, isn’t it, darling husband?" Alexander grins, bloodlust showing in his eyes. Thomas is reminded of Shark Week and shudders mentally. Interesting how that image pops up now.

"You’re still upset about Philip," Thomas sighs, choosing to address the problem.

Alexander shakes his head. "I’m angry, Thomas. Not at you in particular. How could I be? You’ve been-" He cuts himself off. A beat. Then he continues a different line of argument: "I’m angry at the world. I’m angry at the people who took Eliza from me. I’m angry that I am forced into this arrangement, equally angry that you’re forced into this arrangement. I’m angry that this is literally your job and means nothing to you-"

Once more he cuts himself off, this time because the waitress returns with their drinks and they order food. Thomas opts for a burger, because it has been many long months since his last one, and Alexander gets waffles. For dinner. Thomas does not attempt to hide his disgust.

"I’m angry that you prompt me to reveal everything of myself even when you are playing a part and I have no way of knowing what is real and what you’re hiding from me. I’m angry that you hold all the power in this dynamic and I’m even angrier that most of the time I don’t mind that you hold said power. Not that you’re under any obligation to give me more than the inch the bureau is making you give. I don’t mean to take out my anger on you. I hope you know that. I just don’t know where to put it. I can’t keep it inside of me forever, it only grows and grows."

"We’ve been cooped up with only each other for a very long time, Alex," Thomas tries to answer diplomatically, "It is normal for emotional build-up to, uh, clog everything, I suppose."

"This is what I mean," Alexander sips as he looks at Thomas, challenge clear.

"Care to elaborate, dearest?"

"I can tell that you’re just about ready to go off on a rant of your own about whatever has been bothering you, and then you slide on your agent face and talk to me like you’re my shrink."

"What would you rather I do?"

"Isn’t that clear? If you’re mad, get mad. Tell me how you really feel. I’m stuck with you, Thomas. I want to know you. Not Agent Jefferson."

Tell me how you really feel.

How nice would it be if Thomas actually had an answer for that odd request?

"I’m-" Thomas starts then stops to reconsider. "Yeah, I’m not exactly doing so hot either. We stay at Monticello all day; we hardly ever leave that house if it isn’t for groceries or taking up Dolley on her well-meant invitations. It's not ideal."

Alexander nods, seemingly pleased. Still, Thomas has to continue.

"But this is my job, Alex," Thomas tells him meaningfully, looking at him plainly.

"I know."

"Do you?" Thomas furrows his brows. "Sometimes, I don’t even know. Sometimes we cross boundaries. I agree if you want to get to know me then, by all means, you should. I can’t promise I’ll be able to tell you what you want to hear, or-"

"We cross boundaries?" Alexander leans forward on his elbows, "I thought we had those long days touching each other in your office precisely so that we wouldn’t cross boundaries."

Damn him for his choice of words. Damn him straight to a hell he does not believe in.

"There are other types of boundaries than physical, as I know you know. I saw you pick up my mother’s books on healthy relationships. Which, by the way, you may talk shit about my annotations but at least I don’t fucking put sticky notes on every second page."

"What else am I supposed to do when you leave no space in the margins?" Alexander retorts hotly. Both men take a breath. "Have we crossed emotional boundaries?"

"I’m not sure. You need to tell me."

"Because this is your job and you wouldn’t be caught dead doing something as unprofessional as getting your feelings mixed up even for a second, got it," Alexander glares at him.

"Your panic attacks, for example" Thomas brings up, "I think it was good that I was there to help you when they happened. But sometimes such bonding experiences have bigger tails than anticipated and drag along a lot of consequences."

Alexander snorts, Thomas watches as his face shuts down. He may have an agent face, as Alexander viciously called it, but Alexander has a mask of absolute stone that makes his eyes go dead and hide a trace of anything Thomas could get a read on.

(Incidentally, every single frame of the home videos he watched of Eliza and Alexander provided a poignant insight into the inner workings of Alexander Hamilton. The old version of Alexander could not hide his feelings no matter how hard he tried. In a way, the bureau created that stone mask.)

"Oh, don’t worry about that, Thomas. I’m sure the psych consult told you how much trouble I have forming attachments. I’d say you’re well in the clear."

Silence falls. This isn’t where Thomas wanted this evening to go, not at all. (He maintains that these things needed to be said, for both their sakes. Perhaps, though, this was neither the time nor place for such a talk.)

Five tense minutes pass and then the waitress brings their food. Both of them thank her politely and dig in, pointedly not looking at each other.

 Until Alexander moans around his first mouthful of waffle.

"That good?" Thomas cocks an eyebrow. Alexander, looking unbearably smug, nods.

"You wanna try?" He holds out his fork. It’ll be a cold day in hell when Thomas eats a fuckton of carbs-and-syrup for dinner, but one bite can’t hurt, can it? Conversation picks up again, and though the underlying tension does not abate completely, they keep it at bay well enough to manage a few laughs. It ends up being nicer than he could have hoped, their first date.

Chapter Text

Setauket, Long Island, NY, United States

He hasn’t strolled into the heart of the town that used to be his home in months, Caleb realizes with a healthy amount of nonchalance. Whenever he visits now, he meets up with Abraham or Anna in the woods just outside of town to exchange clandestine information on criminal happenings. So, following the path from the city’s bus stop up to the outskirts of town where Anna lives in her McMansion with her local politician of a husband has almost become too unfamiliar. Still, muscle memory would probably steer him in the right direction even if he didn’t put a conscious effort into staying on the right path. He’s been here a hundred, maybe a thousand times, between missions abroad.

When he rings the doorbell to the beautiful estate now, he does it with a stomach full of lead. Not actual lead, since that would kill him, but it certainly feels like it, and he is able to track the metaphor for the first time since initially coming to know it. What a revelation that is.

Anna does open the door for him eventually, in a silken robe and disheveled hair that clearly tells Caleb he went ahead and interrupted what was clearly turning out to be an immmensely satisfying morning.

"Call Abe, get him over here, we have things to discuss," Caleb shoulders past her into the house before she can as much as greet him. A practically-naked-save-for-the-boxer-briefs-he-put-on-the-wrong-way Selah comes down the stairs and stops short when he sees him.

"What’s happened?" He wonders immediately, then rectifies his words, "No, don’t tell me. It’s better if I don’t know or I’ll spend the entire day worrying when I should be filibustering. I need to be off."

"First you need to get your pants on the right way, big boy," Caleb throws over his shoulder as he makes himself at home in their kitchen. Anna still looks stunned, and alright, Caleb will admit that he just sprung this visit on them, but so what? This is important.

Once Caleb has downed half a bottle of orange juice for nourishment and Selah has gone back upstairs to get dressed, Anna does manage to follow the instructions previously given and organizes for Abraham to come by.

Selah gives Anna a firm kiss on the lips and whispers something like ‘I’ll see you when I get home’ into her ear, which he really could have said at a normal volume, Caleb thinks. The words aren’t particularly dirty, and the only thing that might be considered risqué is the tone of implication in which they are said, but Caleb can hear that promise lounge around in the air between those two from all the way across the room. There is no hiding the general horniness, but he'll destroy that soon enough with all his gory details, so he lets them have it for now. 

Abraham ducks into the house via the back door – careless of them to leave it completely unlocked. Caleb considers, and then concedes that, okay, they live in Setauket, fair enough, but Ben would bristle at the thought that his friends make such haphazard choices. Then the thought that Ben probably won’t ever find out about such questionable lifestyle choices invades his mind and he engages in effective mind-clearing exercises he spent years perfecting. Abe wraps Caleb up in clingy arms – both Abe and Ben are very fond huggers, though Ben keeps the contact shorter while Abe lingers – and then ruins the progress Caleb made in pushing thoughts of his comatose boyfriend out of his mind by whispering: "I heard about what happened from my dad. Fuck, I’m so sorry. What are the doctors saying?"

It leaves Caleb in the awkward position of explaining that their handler has been forcibly kept breathing for the past couple of months and that, no, this doesn’t have to mean their undercover work is at an end and why does it matter if he’s waited so long to tell them?

"I’ve got a plan, trust me."

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

November rolls around, emerging out of a storm-riddled September and October. (They carved pumpkins with Philipp for Halloween but passed on trick or treating when the kid just asked for a spooky story instead. Thomas was all too willing to comply with that and curled up on the couch with Philipp while Alexander made dinner.)

"It’s the sixteenth of November," Alex says, breaking out another bottle of wine he must have selected earlier that day. Thomas spent most of today looking at the files Steuben brought with him and trying not to worry about the fact that once more, nothing about Ben’s condition has changed. 

"The arbitrary date of celebration, I remember," Thomas agrees with a smile. Has it really been a year since they first shared a conversation that didn’t seem forced and stilted? Has this really been the reality of Thomas’ quotidian life for over a year now? Three more months or so and he’ll have known Alexander for one and a half years. Philipp will be twice as old as he was when Thomas met him. It seems unreal, and yet, here he is.

(So much has changed since then, and change is best measured in how Philipp has developed. His words have become more coherent. His sentences still mostly lack structure and proper grammar, but he expresses himself much better now. Alexander would chastise him if he heard his thoughts. ‘Proper grammar is a form of oppression, Thomas’. But language isn’t all that has changed. They are currently trying to train Philipp out of his diapers, and around the house he’s pretty reliable in regards to going to the toilet. He’ll tug on Thomas’ clothes and ask him to accompany him. Thomas humors him because Philipp also sometimes waits in front of the door when Thomas is doing such business, talking through the door, and he will absolutely follow Alexander inside and actually watch his father on the toilet. So then, Thomas will watch Philipp climb onto the green baby toilet seat – that was a fun trip to the store to pick out – and wait for him to finish. Philipp talks while he poops. For some reason the kid needs to document the whole process. One time he sang a song that consisted almost entirely of the word poop, in three different languages. And then once Philipp is done, he will, without fail, turn his big, adorable eyes on Thomas and ask: "Wipe for buddy?")

"So, I think a special date is in order." Alexander prompts when Thomas, lost in thought as he is, forgets to answer for a while.

"Is it?"

"Mhm," Alexander muses. Now Thomas notices the lack of dinner on the stove, and thinks Alexander must have something different in mind.

"What did you have in mind?" Thomas probes, voicing his thoughts. They’ve been going out with increasing frequency since that first 'date'. Most of the time that ends up being dinner and careful conversation. Once or twice they’ve gone to see a movie.

"Calling Dolley now would be the height of rudeness and very last-minute, but knowing her she’d probably still oblige us with an honest smile. She loves our kid," Alex smiles at Philipp, currently sitting cross-legged on the kitchen island they stand next to and finger-painting on a large, tapestry-like sheet they procured for him when he took one look at the copy paper Thomas showed him yesterday, shook his head, and demanded: "Bigger space, Dada!" They’ve been watching him work for almost half an hour now, and so far he has produced three clumsy but distinctive smiling faces. There is little to be seen in terms of artistic finesse, but Thomas clearly recognizes the figures they are supposed to represent. The range of Philipp’s inspiration is turtles or their family. Considering he is not yet three, Thomas thinks it is a very passable range.

"Do you want to call Dolley?"

Alexander shakes his head and sniffs his glass before he has a sip of wine.

"I was thinking-" he trails off when Philipp excitedly motions for him to look at his newest addition to his magnum opus. "Yeah, mi vida, you made my glasses, good job. Wow, muy hermoso!"

Philipp, content with the praise, resumes his work. Alexander looks back at Thomas. "Last time you didn’t show me all the constellations."

The actual invitation to stargaze again goes unsaid, but Thomas thinks they’ve gotten good enough at understanding implications for it to be sufficient. Still-

"Is that something you want?" Thomas asks, carefully channeling neutrality into his voice. Alexander considers him for a long while. The way they regard each other has changed, Thomas is not oblivious to it. Where there used to be long, unfeeling stares in which Alexander seemed lost to him, now there is curiosity in Alexander’s eyes again. Now he feels like an actual, living person is looking back at him whenever their eyes meet.

"Yes," replies Alexander, lacking uncertainty. 

So, once they’ve put Philipp to bed for the night, he grabs a baby-monitor, tells Alex he better wear sufficient clothes this time, watches as Alexander dons three layers of insulation, and then takes him to the attic. This time Alexander wastes no breath before he wraps his legs around Thomas’ waist and his arms around his neck.

Their eyes meet and Thomas wishes he could look away. 

He can't. 

Distantly he wishes he could see what they look like. Alexander wrapped around him, Alexander and him sharing breathing space, Alexander pressing tighter and tighter until - No. 

Still, his thoughts drift. They drift to Thomas leaning in, drift to Thomas' large hands travelling from where they chastely sit at Alexander's hips to knead at the flesh of Alexander's- No. Enough. Enough, enough, enough. 

Thomas isn’t sure whether this is a sign that the man has learned to trust him or something else. Alexander’s eyes hold his stare, determinedly. It would feel like provocation, under different circumstances. And yet, how could Thomas ever even consider that the man might mean something by it? He resolves not to think about it too much.

 

They order take-out while up there and when the food arrives Thomas swiftly runs downstairs to get it, tipping the delivery guy very well. They haven’t ordered takeout in months, since Alex seems to really like cooking and Thomas really likes eating together.

He’s never shared pizza and wine on his rooftop before, but it ends up being a really nice night. "What notes do you get from this?" Alex asks as he samples the wine again, and Thomas is about two minutes into his oratory on hints of cinnamon and fresh summer breeze when he realizes Alexander was teasing him. Because the man is giggling, flapping his hand about as if to say ‘no, please, keep going’.

"Yeah, alright, mock me all you like, you fiend. I deserve that."

Alexander smiles at him; then turns pensive as he lays back and looks up at the sky. 

"Would you like to know what I associate with the wine? Because, that’s all it is, isn’t it? Association?"

"Well, the human mind is a powerful thing. If you associate it with, say, cinnamon, you might very readily fool yourself into believing it is actual cinnamon you taste."

"Is that a yes?"

"Uh, yes," says Thomas, taking another sip and picking up a new slice of the pineapple pizza Alex stays far away from.

"I associate it with you," Alexander says, looking away as if he does not want to know the reaction Thomas might have to his words. Instead, he is pointedly staring at the sky as he continues to speak. "Because I associate most good things in my life with you these days."

Those are dangerous words and Thomas knows that Alexander is aware it isn’t ideal.

"Most?"

"There are the circumstances under which we met, of course," Alexander is still refusing to even glance his way. "But yes, as a rule, you’ve- well, I’ve become quite reliant on you, Thomas."

When Thomas can’t hide the sharp intake of shocked breath, Alexander finally looks at him, confused. Then his eyes glass over. "Sorry. I am too deep in the bottle. Speaking nonsense."

"Do I-" Thomas is hesitant to have to pose this question, but he does have to pose it. "Do you want me to leave?"

"That is the very opposite of what I want." Alexander retorts, snappishly. Thomas bristles.

"Alex-"

"You tell me I can get to know you if I like, but whenever I open up about something that isn’t strictly relevant or beneficial to ‘the mission’ you push me away and threaten to leave."

"Leaving is not supposed to be a threat." Thomas clarifies. "Leaving would be a measure taken to ensure you stay well-protected and uncompromised."

Alexander is quiet again, turned away from him. Unthinkingly, Thomas reaches out and puts a hand on the shoulder hunched away from him. "Hey," he says, softly. He feels Alexander’s intake and subsequent release of air underneath his hand. It is comforting to feel, and Alexander does not seem to mind the touch. Gradually, he relaxes again. 

"So...you actually think the wine I stock is good, for once? Cause that's what I heard."

Alexander snorts, and makes a dismissive gesture at Thomas. "Talk stars to me, darling."

He keeps his hand in place as he turns his rhetoric on the sky instead.

He gets around to pointing out several more constellations before the conversation moves on to other topics they manage not to struggle about, and if they both realize with varying rhythms of fluttering heartbeats that they’ve still got a few dozen constellations left unexplained and point out that this means they’ll have to do this again, well, that’s just life.

Thomas, for his part, spends most of the night awake and staring at Alexander, torn about what path to take.  

+

 

A hospital, undisclosed location, United States

Caleb hates hospitals. If he thinks about it for a few seconds, he doesn’t think he knows anyone that actually likes hospitals. It is entirely probable that even hospital staff don’t like hospitals. Hospitals are largely overcrowded and underfunded, the employees therefore overworked and underpaid.

One of said underpaid nurses waves him off with nothing but a vague direction towards the room they are keeping Ben in and a tired smile that suggests ‘a doctor will be with you soon’ is too much effort to be worth saying. Night shift visiting hours are unconventional, he will readily admit it, and certainly not something they like to see, but Caleb knows their director made sure a few strings got pulled in the right direction for Ben.

He’d like to say that Ben looks beautiful, even in rest, but the truth of it is that Ben is not at rest and his clear lack of well-being does nothing for his beauty. His skin is dull and lacks any trace of the faint tan he might have had beforehand. (Ben is a pale guy even in the midst of summer, alright, but he’s never been this pale.) When he steps closer and peeks beneath the hospital gown he sees a pink scar, right where the bullet entered, in the last stages of healing. They’ve shaved a bit of hair at his temple to attach some electrodes Caleb supposes monitor brainwaves.

"Hey there, Benny-boy," Caleb says, trying for cheerful, the best impression of positivity he can manage while whispering. "How have you been doing?"

He sits down next to the bed, takes one of Ben’s hands in his. It is horrifying to be able to see how the muscles have atrophied after only months of disuse. The nurses are supposed to work the muscles whenever they reposition the patients, but Caleb can’t exactly blame them for rushing it, considering their workload. He isn’t one to complain.

It is only another part of Ben that he is slowly losing, a process he is utterly unable to interfere in. He dearly wants to. If he could count the times he has thought about just kissing Ben and praying desperately for True Love’s Kiss to work some magic, he might well and truly find himself asleep as well before he is done. That is what it feels best to describe Ben’s state as, even if it is not necessarily true. If he tells himself Ben is asleep, there is an suggestion left in his words that he might yet wake up, even if he cannot be roused by external stimuli.

"I haven’t been doing so nicely without you either," Caleb carries on, conversationally, as if Ben had answered verbally instead of demonstrating with his lack of outward show of health. "Working on something, here and there. Went to see Anna and Abe and Selah a while ago. They miss you too. They wish you- Christ, Ben, I’m crying again, would you look at that?" Caleb laughs, humorlessly, swipes at his eyes with his free hand, unwilling to let go of Ben entirely. "Anyway, they wish you all the best."

"As do we all," says George Washington, from behind him. It is an unmistakable voice.

"I wasn’t aware you got a medical degree, Sir," Caleb snorts, expecting no one but a doctor at this hour.

"Dr. Rush was easily convinced to extend his snack break. I’d be more than happy to update you on his state," Washington offers, voice more smooth than usual. Diplomatic. The man wants something.

"I suppose you’re here to take me in?"

"Take you in, Agent Brewster? Why, but you’re on paid leave, hadn’t you heard?"

"Agent Steuben must have told you about my plans," Caleb presses on, still not looking at his boss.

"Yes, those. No, as it is, I am merely here to visit one of my agents and get an impression of his recovery process. For all intents and purposes I am in here with nobody but Benjamin."

"Why?"

"I find myself in something of a bind, Agent Brewster."

"Because you will not drop the case?"

"Because I have been somewhat forced to put the case on hold. A lot of the higher colleagues, Gates and Conway in particular, but also Charles Lee, are scheming to have me replaced. It would certainly complicate things."

It would. It could undo years of work. It could give those bastards ample opportunity to regroup and disappear, even further into the shadows.

"Tell me how he is doing," demands Caleb, stoically.

"No pneumonia, no bed sores, from what I am told. Although his muscle atrophy is essentially unavoidable. Even if he wakes up sooner than anticipated, the physical therapy alone will call into question if he can ever fully recover his field agent status, let alone the accompanying emotional hardships."

"Dr. Rush tell you all that? I already guessed as much by holding his hand," Caleb snorts, "His wound is closed up."

"Yes, he is healing very well. I am not sure if we ought to trust Dr. Rush. The man was very insistent on suggesting a rather high dosage of medication to counter possible brain swelling, even though the monitors do not indicate any notable swelling for now. He says Benjamin might very well progress to a vegetative state soon, now that the causes of the coma are reversed."

"Vegetative state?"

"There is no perceivable reason why he shouldn’t regain consciousness, I am told. We are waiting, but it is left up in the air. Even a vegetative state might be permanent."

There’s a long and hard pause between the two men in the room.

"How many lives must be lost before you give up on that case?"

"Agent Brewster, if we give up now we might as well all sign our own death certificates. We can’t just let McFatridge win."

"You knew him well?"

"We had many a mission together, once upon a time. But our core values did not match up. Robert, he enjoyed violence, I think. And now he has rallied men around him who feel the same. It could very well prove disastrous and I am ashamed that in the years this investigation has run, I never once considered it might have been him behind it all."

"Everyone considered him dead."

"Men rarely stay dead when there is no body found. Sooner or later they resurface."

"And what do you want me to do about it?"

"I want you to keep doing what you are doing. I trust that you have a plan, and I trust that you’ll enact it and keep me updated periodically and discreetly enough that our detractors do not find out. You can contact Steuben."

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

Thomas wakes up in the middle of the night without Alexander by his side. In previous months it has become so rare an occurrence that it jolts him into a state of action.

Immediately he checks Philipp’s room – that is where Alexander is most often to be found when not in bed with Thomas. But the kid is soundly asleep, peacefully breathing in and out in a steady rhythm. Watching him is not just a source of peace for Alexander. Thomas feels a pressure lift off his own chest whenever he sees Philipp smile or giggle, whenever Philipp tugs on his clothes, whenever the kid demands his attention, whenever he is presented with another crudely done masterpiece, whenever he watches Alexander interact with their son.

In sleep Philipp’s mouth is wide open, and drool covers part of his pillow. That has remained a constant. Reliable. 

He takes one of the baby monitors in hand and goes to the library. Maybe Alexander had an epiphany regarding whatever new book he is working on right now. It has only been a few weeks since the first one was published, and apparently the public has been giving him great reviews. When Alexander presented the first newspaper review with an equally smug and proud smile, Thomas had found himself equally overjoyed and they celebrated with a particularly nice French dinner.  

As his footsteps draw nearer to the library, Thomas hesitates. He can hear Alexander crying and rambling.

Thomas is reminded of a similar occurrence, almost exactly a year ago, when he found Alexander in their bathroom, clutching a crying Philipp to his chest and begging for forgiveness.

"I never meant to forget, my love. I never used to forget. I am so sorry. I tried- I’m so sorry I forgot, my dearest. Perdonamé, please Eliza. I didn’t mean to. I don’t know- I don’t know how it happened. How could I have forgotten?"

But Alex isn’t rocking back and forth when Thomas catches sight of him. This isn’t a panic attack. (A quantum of relief is immediate, but the fact of the matter remains that Alexander is still crying and it makes Thomas uneasy.)

Alex is kneeling, hands clutched as if in prayer. There are tears streaming down his face, one or two dangling off his chin. His hair is a mess and his hands are shaking, but this is more controlled. This isn’t a relapse into the near-constant panicked state of a year ago, Thomas thinks. There are other factors involved. Alexander hasn’t been on the worrying edge of a breakdown for months now. Something has to have set him off. He said as much. He seems to have forgotten something important.

"Alex?" Thomas wonders, voice once more laced with sleep now that no immediate threat to their lives is evident. "What’s wrong, dearest? Come back to bed."

The words slip out of his tired mouth like they are the most natural thing in the world.

Alexander laughs, bitterly. "We had our eleven year anniversary today, Thomas. And I forgot."

For a second, Thomas is confused by Alexander’s use of the term ‘We’ before he understands. ‘We’ has, for the longest time now, referred to Alexander and Thomas as a unit –  first, as a reluctant cover, and then as something more resembling an effective partnership before they first made overtures towards an honest attempt at friendship. But before that, there was another ‘We’, a real ‘We’, and that is what Alexander is referring to.

Of course, he thinks. December 14th. He’d remembered this morning, while looking at the calendar, that the date held some meaning. He had forgotten to ask when Alexander suggested they ought to take Philipp ice skating on the rink that just opened in the city a few weeks ago. The sight of Philipp ecstatically trying to tame the icy medium beneath his feet was a wonderful one. Quite a few pictures were taken, and Thomas only smiled obligingly when Alexander asked if they could get a few of them printed. So, it wasn’t only Alexander that forgot.

Thomas wants to say something, wants to reach out and comfort Alexander, but when he puts a hand on the man’s shoulder said man whirls around, shrugging Thomas off viciously. He recoils. "I forgot because I was too occupied playing at marriage with you."

"That’s my fault?" Thomas wonders why they’ve reverted back to the blame game.

"It is your fault." Alex agrees, angrily. "It’s also my fault because I got so caught up in all of it. You blind me with your smiles and words and, fuck – I can’t fucking take this anymore, it’s turning into something it isn’t supposed to be."

"Well, not to worry. Maybe you’ll be rid of me sooner than you think," Thomas knows even while he says it that the words are cruel. Alexander has never bluntly stated so, but there have been enough implications made, subtle as Alexander can manage, that he is afraid of Thomas leaving. He is afraid of losing the safety Philipp is currently growing up in. To suggest leaving is cruel of Thomas, but the words spill out of him as he finds himself hurt by Alexander’s sudden accusations.

"What do you mean?" Alexander asks; wind quickly taken out of his sails of momentous anger. There is hesitation, trepidation, fear in his eyes and Thomas wants to backpedal. The last thing he wants to see in those eyes again is fear. Never fear, never uncertainty. How does he go back?

"I’ve got a meeting with James tomorrow," Thomas takes a softer tone of voice, but still tries for resolute. "It’s nothing major, just another quarterly evaluation. I can request a different cover for you and the kid if that is truly what you want."

Silence.

"Is that what you want?" Thomas prods, while Alex stares at him, fresh tears gathering to obscure the beautiful brown of his eyes.

"I-" He begins, unsure still. "I don’t know. Yes? No?"

"I can be gone by tomorrow, if that is what you want," Thomas looks at him evenly, not daring to step closer and touch the man again after he has so clearly rejected  physical comfort only moments before, but everything inside of him is screaming at him to make this right. ‘Touch him’, his mind screams, ‘he needs the comfort.’ In his frustration, Thomas adds, "Then you can go back to being miserable."

"I’m miserable now," insists Alexander. Pain gathers in Thomas’ chest like a storm cloud and it blinds him.

"No, you’re not. You’re sitting here begging your wife for forgiveness because you’re something close to content and you feel guilty that you are, because you still think you aren’t allowed to be happy ever again."

"Happy?" Alexander yells again, angrily. At this rate they’ll wake up Philipp soon, but the baby monitor remains silent. It serves as a solid reminder in Thomas’ hand that it isn’t just the two of them in this arrangement. He couldn’t decide who would be harder to walk away from, but he’d feel a lot worse about actually leaving Philipp alone. He’s never been a father before, but he knows that you don’t just abandon your child because your partner apparently still hates your guts after almost one and a half years of fake marriage.

"You think anything about all of this could ever make me happy? You think I could be happy pretending to be in love with you? It’s all fake, Thomas. How could anyone be happy in these circumstances?"

I don’t know, Thomas thinks as she shuts his mouth to avoid any further outbursts, but I am. He has already said too much. He isn’t going about this the way they’ve been taught. This isn’t acceptable agent behavior. Fuck, he really needs to talk to James.

"I’m going back to sleep, Alexander," he finally answers after Alexander’s burning eyes silently scream at him to give as good as he gets. Hurt me back, they seem to dare. Fight back, they taunt. Prove me right by saying this means nothing to you. That is what you claim, isn’t it? Prove me right or prove yourself a liar. He ignores them, somehow – an almost legendary accomplishment. "You’d be wise to do the same."

+

Half an hour after Thomas has attempted to go back to sleep only to achieve violently screaming into his own mind, Alexander shuffles beneath the covers next to him, after somehow ascending the stairs in near silence. Or maybe Thomas is just so much off his game that he didn’t hear something that should have raised every hair to attention.

"Thomas?"

He grunts in response, unwilling to start another fight or continue their previous one with Philipp so close by. Nobody wants to witness their parents fight. He remembers it all too well. That is something a child never forgets.  

"Can I, uh," he begins, cutting himself off. Thomas opens one eye to glare at him.

"Use your words, Alexander. You had no problem doing so before."

"I want to hold you," Alex blurts out, before correcting himself. "Well, more accurately, I want you to hold me. Is that – well, sorry, is that inappropriate? I think I need it."

Thomas grumbles, but he holds open his cover, making an inviting motion with his hand as Alexander scoots closer. His head lands on Thomas’ chest. Thomas wraps his arms around him, his chin resting on the top of Alexander’s head.

"I’m sorry-"

"No, don’t." Thomas cuts him off. "It’s not worth it if you don’t mean it."

"Will you let me apologize, you great big baby?"

"Alright then. Humor me, Alexander. What are you apologizing for?"

"I’m sorry for getting angry-"

"No, try again. You’re allowed to have feelings, and you shouldn’t apologize for those. Acknowledge them and move on."

Pot, kettle, his brain taunts.

"What I mean is that I am sorry for taking it out on you. You are not to blame."

"Why, thank you, darling. How generous of you," Thomas drawls. 

"Asshole," Alex grumbles into his chest, smiling when he hears Thomas laugh.

"I think we’ve established that you need this asshole in your life, Alexander, if only to call you out on your bullshit."

"Fuck off and cuddle me."

"Can’t do both."

"Don’t test me." It is said into his skin, right by his collarbone, and he keenly feels Alexander’s lips there, warm and chewed on but still so unfairly soft.

"How are you feeling?" Thomas asks, because yes, they just screamed at each other, but before that Alexander was crying.

"I – distraught, mostly. Before today I would have denied that I could have ever forgotten even the smallest detail about Eliza, and to be proven wrong proved a bit too much. Again, I shouldn’t have taken it out on you."

"I’m not looking for more apologies. I want to make sure you’re alright," Thomas says into Alexander’s hair, trying for soothing.

"I’ve been better, thank you. Mostly I think I just need to sleep. I’ll journal in the morning, if it makes you happy."

"You shouldn’t do it to make me happy. You should-"

"Oh my god, shut up, please. You know very well that was just a figure of speech," Alexander’s eyelashes flutter against his neck. The man’s breath is warm and even as settles into the position more, enough for it to become comfortable enough to last the night.

They fall asleep, Thomas playing with Alexander’s hair. He doesn’t usually sleep on his back, but this works for him.

+

When they are awoken in the morning, it is because at precisely six AM, some three hours after they fell asleep, Philipp is holding onto Thomas’ arm, dangling off the side of the bed.

"Dada," he crows, trying to climb onto the bed by using Thomas' arm as a rope. Thomas is startled by the sudden intrusion, but more startled to find out that Philipp hasn’t ripped him out of a nightmare. No, for the first time in a long time he dreamt of nothing at all. "Up, please."

Thomas is careful not to disturb Alexander, and bends to the side to scoop Philipp into the bed with them, who gives Thomas a few kisses which land indiscriminately on both of his cheeks.

"Hey, buddy," Thomas whispers, holding a finger to his lips and then pointing to Alexander’s hair. "Your Papí is still sleeping."

"I want a cuddle," Philipp demands, also adopting a whisper.

"Alright, come lay down," Thomas offers the part of his chest which isn’t covered by Alexander to him, and Philipp settles into the space like it was made for him. "You gotta be quiet for your Papí though, okay, buddy?"

"Yes Dada," Philipp promises, eyes already falling closed again. Thomas follows suit. A few more hours pass, and when Thomas wakes up again the alarm clock shows it is about eleven-thirty. Philipp will be nothing but pure energy today with how much he slept. His shoulder is already covered in baby drool. More importantly though, that is not what Alexander’s sleep breathing pattern sounds like. Thomas chuckles quietly.

"How much longer are you going to pretend to be asleep?"

"As long as it takes for me to get the cuddle I want," Alexander hums. His voice stirs Philipp, who scratches Thomas’ chest just a little in the scramble to kiss Papí awake. Thomas vows to take a pair of clippers to Philipp’s fingernails before they do this again.

"Buenos dias, mi vida. Did you learn how to climb out of your crib?"

"Ich binaventurero?" Philipp looks at Alexander, questioningly.

"You’re an adventurer, are you?" Alexander smiles, "Ask your Daddy what that is in German. Papí doesn’t know."

Now Philipp turns to Thomas, the same inquisitive look on his face.

"Abenteurer," Thomas tells him, laughing when Philipp starts repeating it, bouncing around on the bed.

"You know," Alexander says as Philipp leaves to ‘pipi machen ’, "Climbing out of the crib is a sign that they’re ready for a real bed."

"Are you saying you want to go to IKEA? Because that is what I’m getting," Thomas retorts.

"Not today," Alexander frowns at the thought, "But maybe sometime in the next months."

"What time do you have to go see James?"

"Not until the afternoon," Thomas replies, choosing to remain in bed for as long as possible. He still doesn’t know what he is going to say to James at the meeting.

(It turns into another part of their arrangement. They don’t talk about it, when really they should, but Alex inevitably burrows into Thomas while they lay in bed.)

Chapter Text

Here's what Thomas thinks of his current situation, once December has settled into the land and they've brought out last years' Christmas decorations again: It's too comfortable. 

Their routine is so smooth most days that by now it is like second nature to wake up with Alexander in his arms or Philipp tugging at his fingers and crawling into their bed to wake them up with slobbery child kisses and experimental hair tugs. Alexander still spends most days in the library, reading or working on a second book. He is told the first book is doing very well, e-mails from the publisher confirm it, and Alexander seems to find a great deal of comfort in throwing himself into that research. 

Thomas spends his days running errands and looking over the case files in his office. Philipp explores Monticello, usually sticking to one of their sides for the day. His German is getting very good, which is to be expected in someone so young - their brain plasticity is supposed to be off the charts until age five, Thomas has been increasingly googling 'how to raise a child', and if he's ordered a few books on the subject matter, then nobody needs to know, do they?

In the evening, he usually finds Alexander on the couch in front of the TV, journaling. Alexander has been filling up his current journal a lot quicker -  this one is already journal number three since Thomas got him the first one last Christmas. They take their meals together. They've got a routine. It's comfortable. 

Like Thomas says, too comfortable. 

This morning, Alexander enthusiastically dances to radio music because he thinks Thomas isn’t watching. Thomas, however, has long mastered the art of descending stairs quietly, even if Philipp coming down behind him is not as subtle by half. "Papí, Papí, I wiped mi trasero all by myself!"

"Very good," Alexander praises, mercifully halting his gyrating hips and squatting down to inspect Philipp’s offered hands. "Did you wash these afterwards?"

Philipp nods, eagerly, "Dada lifted-ed me up to… el lavobo?"

"Waschbecken," says Thomas, as Alexander says: "Sink."

"Yes!" Philipp beams.

"Very good, mi vida," Alexander kisses Philipp’s little hands and then his forehead. "You want to watch Papí make pancakes? Are you hungry, pequeño?" "Sí, sí, por favor! Quiero pancakes cada día!" 

"Maybe not every day, hm, mi vida? Or all the teeth you have grown so painstakingly will turn black and fall out from all the sugar," Alexander teases, tapping Philipp’s nose with his index finger. "Now watch Papí work and learn." 

"How has this been going on for over a year and you still haven’t taught me how to make pancakes?" Thomas asks as he watches Alexander create a plate full of fluffiness. Alexander grins at him over his shoulder, effortlessly flipping the next one in the pan without looking. "Step by step, Thomas. Don’t run before you can walk."

He sets Philipp onto the counter next to the stove and issues a stern reminder not to put his fingers near it. "Lo prometo," Philipp crosses his heart and looks serious.

"I’ve been improving," Thomas puts an affronted hand over his heart.

"You’re doing alright," Alexander concedes, "Not as good as you could be. Mostly because you enjoy my cooking too much to want to usurp me, I suspect."

Thomas grins into the cup of coffee set out for him. The amount of sweetener is perfect, the low-fat milk accurate to the amount of fucking drops. Alexander makes the best coffee.

"I was thinking," Alex begins, deliberately nonchalant, "That instead of gifts, we should do another quid pro quo for Christmas this year, like the cooking lessons in exchange for German."

And why not?

"I suppose that could be a nice idea," Thomas agrees, setting his phone down after checking perfunctorily for e-mails. James and Steuben have been eerily quiet for a few days. The investigation has been kept on a backburner since Ben was shot. There are hints dropped by Steuben that Caleb Brewster is off doing his own thing somewhere, but nothing precise, nothing to build a lead on, has reached his ears. So he stays with Alexander, drinks the perfect coffee made for him each morning, smiles a little more, grows a little fonder of both of them. Becomes  a little more comfortable practically shoveling his own grave, if he's feeling particularly gloomy and poetic. 

"What can I do for you, Alexander?" Thomas wonders, "Any ideas?"

"I want to learn how to shoot," Alexander declares. "And fight, although I’m pretty sure I’ll be mostly terrible at both."

"It’s a good idea." Thomas agrees. Worst case scenario, if Thomas is incapacitated, Alexander should at least have the groundwork of defensive training laid out to apply to try and save himself. "I’m surprised I never thought of it. What do I get from you in return?"

"Think of something you want, Thomas, I’ll do my best to oblige."

Thomas wishes Alexander wouldn’t use wording so vaguely suggestive, but such is the nature of him. It is hardly deliberate. Alexander most likely does not realize what he does to Thomas when he speaks that way. Think of something you want, Thomas.

He knows what he wants. He knows he shouldn’t want what he wants. And yet he cannot leave. He should.

"I’ll let you know when I think of something."

Breakfast is served.

+

Two days later Thomas brings their takeout for the evening to the library, only to nearly drop it when he finds Alexander at their piano, playing a somewhat longing tune expertly. He looks immersed, and Thomas grins when he notices that Alexander's tongue is poking out between his teeth. That's where Philipp gets it from. Another mystery is unveiled. 

"Looks like I just found my gift," Thomas catches Alexander’s attention, who smiles over his shoulder. Finally, Thomas has come out of his office for the day. "It’s your piano. I assumed you could play."

"It was my mother’s. I can only play the violin."

"Before Eliza all I could play was the recorder. And not very well, either." Alexander pats the chair next to him, scooting over to make room for Thomas.

"Where’s the kid?" Thomas asks, taking a seat next to Alexander and observing the man’s fingers as they continue their dance along the keys.

"I put him to bed half an hour ago," Alexander explains as he keeps playing, never losing track of the complicated patterns. "We played in the snow for hours today. He was pretty much down in a second."

"Guess we’ve got an early start at six AM coming up then," Thomas muses, and Alexander stops playing. He hums in acknowledgement. The early morning cuddle sessions now that Philipp has overcome the barriers of his crib are something to be treasured. Sometimes, Philipp will curl up on his chest and sleep some more. Unfortunately, because Philipp hasn’t hit his third birthday yet, he doesn’t understand that other people do not have the same sleeping pattern he does, and might need more rest than him. So, most mornings, he will tug on Thomas’ hair and face, demanding attention whether or not Thomas is fit to be awake. He can’t fault the kid for his energy, but it’s made him not-seriously consider getting a more restrictive crib. Most days he loves it. Philipp makes it hard to be mad at him. 

"What are we doing?" Thomas asks when Alex’s smaller hands cover his and position them on the keys.

"I am teaching you a piece."

The feeling of Alexander’s hands guiding him across the notes is something new for Thomas. Alexander smiles whenever Thomas messes up and then corrects him, pretending to be chastising. In truth Alexander is abnormally patient when it comes to teaching. They spend just about two hours on that stool together, and at the end of those hours Alex can guide Thomas through a flawless rendition of Rod Stewart’s ‘Sailing’. His pacing is still a little clumsy.

"One more time," Alexander orders, softly. Thomas takes a deep breath to concentrate, and begins. Alexander’s hands are lax on top of his, he plays mostly by himself. Alexander’s voice is low and quiet as he sings the words, intermittently switching to humming when he does not know the lyrics by heart. Can you hear me? Can you hear me? Across the dark night, far away…I am dying, forever crying, to be with you, who can say?

Their takeout is cold by the time they eat it, but truthfully Thomas does not mind.

"Tomorrow at eight," Thomas tells him between spoons of Kung Pao noodles. "You remember where the gym is, right?"

+

Alexander stops in the doorway, slack-jawed, as he watches Thomas complete his set of pull-ups for the day. He drops down, frowns at the intrusion. "You’re early." He quickly pulls a shirt over his head, toweling off some of the sweat. Alexander walking in on him in various stages of undress is becoming an alarmingly regular thing. It isn't good for either of them. 

"Sorry, couldn’t wait."

It happens before Thomas can stop it, as Alex squirms a bit too much in his grip. He’d been showing Alexander how to get out of attack holds, checking off one after another. A slight jolt of arousal, shooting to his dick before he even realizes how close they are. He isn’t sure if Alex notices the twitch in his pants. He must, so tightly pressed against him, right? But he says nothing, doesn’t tense up. Nothing about his body language suggests he noticed at all. Thomas fights down the spark and puts it down to his prolonged abstinence.

(It’s been too long. He needs to do something about it. For the sake of professional integrity.)

It becomes a pesky part of training, and Thomas no longer fights the urge to get himself off in the shower, fully aware that Alexander is right behind the door. He tries not to think of Alexander while he takes himself in a tight, punishing fist; tries being the operative word. There is some guilt, after each time he stops resisting. 

Well, it was only a matter of time, wasn’t it? He held out for over a year before his mind considered being attracted to Hamilton.

+

Montpelier Estate, VA, United States

It goes without saying that they spend Christmas Eve with James and Dolley. Thomas reluctantly admits that Dolley’s continuous experimentation with various gluten-free baking methods has yielded improved results in bread consistency. Alexander allows himself to be persuaded to try another piece after the first one. It’s got nothing on real bread, but he pities James’ stomach a little less this time around.

After dinner James lifts Philipp up so that the kid can put the final decorative star on top of the tree they organized a few days ago. Dolley snaps a picture with the Polaroid camera James got for her recently. It develops wonderfully and Thomas notices that James keeps Philipp on his lap longer than strictly necessary, tickling his chin and listening to Philipp babble about wanting a pet turtle that can speak to him.

"He can’t speak," Philipp pouts, holding up the plushy turtle he cuddles with most nights. They spent twenty minutes this morning looking for the ridiculous Santa hat that came with it when they bought it, eventually finding it under Philipp’s crib. What followed was a talk about cleaning up after play-time that Philipp mostly pouted through and then crossed his arms, stubbornly doing nothing until they told him his turtle would be upset if he couldn't find his hat again. That, apparently, was worth more than Thomas' stern talking to. Being a parent is fucking hard, sometimes.

"Oh?" James raises one eyebrow. Philipp nods, seriously. James says: "I don’t think real turtles can speak either."

James realizes his misstep with a chagrined face when Philipp’s eyes go wide and his mouth drops open. He turns to Alexander, lip quivering: "Papí? Las tortugas pueden hablar, right?"

"They can, buddy, but you don’t speak turtle." Alexander assures him. James still looks a little guilty.

"I learn turtle-speak." Says Philipp, determined.

"I’m sure you will," assures James, and goes back to calmly letting Philipp tell him all about his adventures with the pet turtle.

"Does he have a name?" James finally interjects, at last a little less awkward and somewhat aware what talking to a child entails. Philipp cocks his head, pondering. Then he shakes his head. "Oh, Sebbie, he should definitely have a name," Dolley encourages, coming back from the kitchen with hot chocolate for everybody.

"You name turtle," Philipp pushes his toy into James’ face. James is, appropriately, stunned.

"Well," James goes into his head, thinks about it, "Is he a strong turtle?"

A nod from Philipp.

"Is he a nice turtle?"

Another nod. Then, seriously: "Turtle is the best turtle."

"Alright then," James scratches the back of his head. "How about Enki?"

Philipp repeats the word, then nods brightly. "Enki turtle," he declares, kissing his toy and making James kiss it in return, who follows suit with a little reservation.

"Do you know who Enki was, Sebastien?"

Philipp shakes his head and then listens to James recount the story of a Sumerian god in Mesopotamia, patron of water, knowledge, mischief and various other things, whose associated animal was, apparently, the turtle. He goes into the myth of Ninurta and the Turtle, and by the time he is finished, Philipp has fallen asleep on his lap and James gets a sweater ruined by drool, for once.

"I was going to go with Chelone, but that’s harder for a little kid to pronounce, isn’t it?" James worries as they watch Philipp twist around in sleep, gurgling happily at whatever he is dreaming. Enki the turtle shares the space with him, a little squished but probably happy to be there.

"You’re doing fine, James. He liked your story."

"Guess I can’t claim to be absolutely terrible with children anymore. Close call, though."

They stay over at James and Dolley’s place, since they didn’t get around to opening presents that evening. Alexander crawls into Thomas’ arms and he welcomes him readily. Too comfortable. 

After breakfast, Dolley presents them with art pieces she made with Philipp while babysitting him whenever they were out on dates. She drew outlines of Alexander’s and Thomas’ profiles, and Philipp finger painted inside the lines in purple and green, respectively.  Philipp has his chest puffed out, looking quite proud when both his Dads compliment him.

"Modern art is understandable, at last," Alexander cries out, triumphantly.

As far as Christmases go, this is definitely amongst the top three Thomas has had.

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

They pass another New Year together on the roof. This time, as the clock strikes midnight, Alexander turns around and presses a barely-there kiss to Thomas’ cheek. Thomas doesn’t reciprocate, but they definitely stare at each other longer than should be allowed, their breath visible in the cold air between them.

Things reach a boiling point when, about three weeks after starting the self-defense training Thomas agreed to, they fall to the floor together, grappling. Thomas is, in the back of his mind, dimly aware of his now ever-present low hum of arousal. No amount of self-flagellation he applies to his cock truly gets rid of it. But as he has Alexander locked in, the man will not stop squirming and Thomas feels the need to put an end to it. He loosens his grip, but before can declare the lesson over and done with Alexander has pushed him onto his back.

"No, no, Alex wait-"

But it’s too late. Alex has straddled him. Thomas watches, with ever-growing horror, as his mouth drops open. Alexander’s pupils blow wide, even as his eyes narrow, suspiciously. His hands are planted firmly on Thomas’ chest. Thomas’ hands have Alex’s wrist enclosed, ready to pull or push him off, but Alexander’s eyes hold him in place, leave him immobile.

Oh god, those eyes.

Thomas can feel the exquisite pressure of Alex sitting on top of him. When was the last time he got friction like that? Oh, fuck. Both men are caught in the moment, eyes holding as Thomas’ cheeks burn red from embarrassment. He watches, fully aware that he is hardening more and unable to stop it. A bit like a car crash, he has to admit. A car crash of blood rushing South, uncontrollably. He half feels like an outside witness, not really aware that this is happening to him while at the same time being very aware of just who is sitting on his crotch. Something like determination flashes in Alexander’s eyes and he shifts. Thomas realizes he is rolling his hips and cannot stop the gasp this evokes. His mind is hazy. He doesn’t think straight as his hands leave Alexander’s wrists to settle on his hips, enclosing them. Thomas might be able to claim that he puts his hands there to push Alexander off, but it turns into a lie when he doesn’t follow through.

Alex shudders beneath his fingertips, licking his lips when Thomas digs his nails in a little. His hips roll again, expertly dragging over every nerve and setting him on fire. Thomas’ slight moan and Alexander’s subsequent smile jolt him back to reality. He finally shoves Alexander off of him, breathing heavily.  

"That should not have happened."

Alexander looks at him, confused and equally dazed. He doesn’t say anything as Thomas leaves him lying on the floor. Thomas locks himself in his study. He can’t share the bed with Alexander tonight. He fucking can’t. Not after what just happened. That should not have happened.

Steuben calls him, asks him to take a few days off and come to Headquarters for an in-depth briefing by Washington on how things will proceed. It is a blessing in disguise, coming in just at the right time.

"James has agreed to take over for you, and at night the Gardener will stay at the house. James insists you need a few days to get your head on straight, so we’re forcing you to take a week."

Thomas welcomes the escape with open arms. James must have noticed. James isn’t an idiot. James saw this coming a mile away as Thomas merrily walked right into it. Stupid, he chides himself. He should have never agreed to those lessons. He should have done something when he first realized he might be attracted to Alexander Hamilton.

"Where are you going?" Alexander catches him at the door. Worry is written into his eyes so clearly it physically hurts Thomas.

"Briefing at Headquarters," responds Thomas, only barely hiding a flinch when he sees Alexander’s face fall even further.

"When…" Alexander chews on his lower lip. "Will you be back?"

"I don’t know yet," Thomas forces out, because he needs to see if he can get this under control before he can consider coming back.

"Just-" Alexander closes his eyes, rubs his hands over them. "He’s turning three in a week, Thomas."

He leaves the house with a curt goodbye.

+

A Hospital, United States

Caleb Brewster is already sitting at Benjamin Tallmadge’s bedside when Thomas enters the room he was shown to. Caleb is holding Ben’s hand, talking low enough that Thomas has to strain his ears to make anything out.

"And if you – God, Ben, if you have to leave me alone here, I mean, please, don’t – oh fuck, Ben, I’m so sorry. You don’t know how sorry I am that I have to go. I want to be here for you every step of the way. But I’ve got to finish what you started, you hear me? I need to make sure it was worth it – god," he sounds choked up.

Thomas politely knocks on the door. Caleb glances over his shoulder.

"Been a while, Thomas," says Caleb, a bit more composed.

"Good to see you, Caleb," he nods, "Wish the circumstances were better."

"Well, there’s still no swelling of the brain or pneumonia. That’s something."

Thomas looks at Ben's form, and thinks that really, that isn't really enough. He's still wan and looking downright terrible. Weak. 

"It’s a bleak something," Thomas raises an eyebrow.

"No need to tell me that, man, I know," Caleb rubs at one eye with his knuckle, then gets up to pull Thomas into a one-armed hug of acknowledgement.

"Why did you call me here?"

"You got somewhere else to be tonight? Steuben says you’ve got a week off," Caleb does a little half-grin.

"I’ve got plans to let off some steam," Thomas doesn’t elaborate. Caleb understands anyway. Caleb has been undercover plenty of times, some of them long-term. (None quite as long as the one and a half years stint he’s already pulled at Monticello, but still, long enough for Caleb to know what kind of steam Thomas needs to let off.)

"Better be quick then," Caleb nods, "I’ve got a trap set for McFatridge."

"That is -" Thomas lets out a slow whistle. "Not what I was expecting."

"Washington’s higher ups ain’t expecting it neither, but I thought you should be in the know anyway, since you’ve gotta leg it out of your fancy little mansion if things go to shit."

"Thank you for letting me know," Thomas responds. He is grateful. Having McFatridge out of the way might not be the end to the mission, but it’ll be a large step. He really needs that mission to make some progress.

"Sure thing,” Caleb shrugs. “Now go and blow off some steam, Tommy. I'll contact you when the time comes.”

+

A Bar, United States

Thomas always picks the bars he visits with a certain goal in mind. That is to say, if he hadn’t planned on finding someone to pick up, he would have chosen something less seedy, maybe a hotel bar. Something high end. That would have been his venue of choice if he'd just planned on getting drunk. Instead, he walks in, shrugs his coat off, orders something sugary with only a little alcohol, finds himself a booth and waits.

It doesn’t take long. Not often one to brag, Thomas is aware that he looks quite attractive to most people. James, in their younger days, would occasionally refer to him as a ‘honey trap’ little stood a chance of resisting. Combined with a mask of confidence he was able to put on due to there being no hope of anything developing with his targets, it gave him some renown amongst others in their agency. In real life, that all looks a little differently, if he is being honest.

He doesn’t lack confidence, but he does find himself at a loss when it comes to actually hitting on people with genuine interest, which is why right now he is waiting for someone to approach him instead of approaching himself. Someone turns out to be a young guy – not young enough for there to be any doubts about the legality of what Thomas is planning, but younger than Thomas by a few years at least – with bright ginger hair and blue-maybe-violet eyes. He can work with that.

The guy orders himself a drink and knocks it back carelessly, before actually taking his time on the second one. After some crucial minutes spent throwing glances back and forth, Ginger slides into the seat across from him, offering him a beguiling smile.

"Hey there. Drinking alone?"

"Not anymore, apparently," Thomas looks him up and down, and decides that he’ll do. He looks even younger up close, but still not so young that there are doubts in Thomas’ head.  

"No indeed," the young man agrees pleasantly, clinking his glass against Thomas’. "What brings you here?"

"Same as you, I’d wager. Itches that need scratching." Thomas isn’t a fan of playing games in his private time. He’s too wound up.

"Mhh, I hope not entirely the same as me. Because I’ve been wearing a plug for just about two hours and am looking to replace it with something a little more fleshy and pulsing."

Ah, thankfully it looks like they’re on the same page about wasting time. That is pleasant. 

"Not quite the same then," Thomas agrees with a smile he hopes is charming and not as desperate to get started as he feels, finishing off his drink as he considers his options. "But instead very much compatible to what I am looking for."

The look he receives for his answer is full of hunger, eager anticipation leaving the guy grinning and tapping out an impatient rhythm on his glass with long, elegant fingers. He’s fidgeting in his seat, and that tells Thomas’ enough about where this is going.

"Bathroom stall fine with you?"

After the few more minutes it takes for Ginger to finish his drink, Thomas finds himself in the aforementioned bathroom stall, opening Ginger up methodically with a condom on his fingers to assure the butt plug did what it was supposed to before shoving himself inside of him, snug inside another condom. He brought quite a few. It is a tight fit, Thomas thinks, hot around him and clenching even more. This guy knows what he is doing, but it is not quite enough. The man in front of Thomas moans, arches his back. His hands hold onto the walls, long fingers crooked as he struggles for purchase while Thomas continues rocking into him, burying himself to the hilt and still searching for more. It isn’t enough. Fuck, he needs more.

He’s too loud, someone will hear them. Thomas can't quite relax. "Pull my hair, Daddy," the guy demands. It does the opposite of what it is supposed to. Unease settles in his stomach, unpleasant and laced with guilt. Thomas withdraws, cringing. Oh, that does not feel good.

"None of that shit. I’ve got a kid."

He does not need to be reminded of his son right now.

(Christ, Philipp is turning three in a few days. What the fuck is Thomas doing fucking a stranger in a seedy dive bar bathroom stall? He should be in Monticello-)

"Oh, shit, sorry," the guy looks genuinely regretful. "Duly noted, should have checked. Are you gonna get back on me or is the mood killed?"

"I’ve got some mood left in me," Thomas decides, needing to see this through for the sake of his sanity. "Turn back around for me and bend over." He snakes his hand in the guy’s hair and does as previously commanded, pulling as he resumes thrusting. Now they’re getting somewhere, Thomas thinks, as proper friction begins to build when the guy grinds back onto his cock perversely.

Now, Thomas doesn’t do this often, but he does it often enough that he knows not everybody is bizarrely compatible. There is a reason that people usually enjoy having sex with the same person repeatedly, because it gets better when you have time to figure out what the person likes. Right now Thomas just has to take what he can get. It’s only common courtesy for him to bring this to a pleasurable end.

Thomas shuts Ginger’s mouth with one hand, something that seems to turn the man on even further. "Yes, that’s right, take me. Fuck me. Harder. God, yes. Harder." How the man manages to speak even though just about three of Thomas’ fingers are jammed into his mouth, pulling his jaw open, is beyond Thomas.

It isn’t enough. Thomas comes into the condom, satisfaction worn off already within minutes. He helps the guy get off, reaching around and tugging, obeying the commands to go rougher – It’s only polite after all -  does his pants up and leaves him in the restroom. It isn’t enough. The edge isn’t off. It is barely softened, still sharp enough to cut. 

(Why does he still crave more? Why can’t this be enough? He suspects he knows why. The Why is in Monticello, probably pissed off beyond belief.)

Chapter Text

It is a novel feeling to be hesitant to ring one’s own doorbell. There was a time, not too long ago, where Thomas would have insisted that he was open to all kinds of new experiences. (Ah, yes, wasn’t there a time in which Thomas relished pushing his limits? Wasn’t there a plan to jog the entirety of the Great Wall of China, once upon a time? Whatever happened to that sense of adventure?)

Here he stands, wary of entering Monticello. And the big question is, why?

Which is a ridiculous question to ask oneself because Thomas knows why; he just has trouble accepting the why right now.

There is guilt now where there shouldn’t be, and it is that guilt more than anything else that makes him realize just how much he is in too deep. He has done nothing wrong. (It felt wrong though, it really did, through the physiological satisfaction it all felt wrong wrong wrong.)

 He was, in fact, told by superiors that he ought to take time off if it proved too much. And yet – the guilt weighs him down like a thousand chains wrapped around his body. They bring him to his knees and make it impossible to move.

Perhaps that is why he rings the doorbell instead of using his key. It is a form of supplication, is it not, to give Alexander the power to open the door to him? (It is purely symbolic though, because if Alexander does not open he will use the key. Still, there is power to symbols. Empires rose and fell on symbolic rites left unobserved. And maybe he is desperately hoping Alexander will open the door. He is hoping the man does not want to keep it closed, metaphorically and literally speaking. Messing up is staggering enough, to have his mistakes put them back to square one would be like replacing the floor he drags himself across wrapped in chains with honey that further entrenches him.)

Alexander does open the door, after hopefully checking the camera system for the identity of the supplicant. His foresight is confirmed because he opens it with a glare hard enough to level entire cities already in place.

There’s a brief, time-suspended moment in which Thomas forgets everything he was going to say. He’s aware his mouth is open, poised to say something, anything. Then the rapidly advancing sound of movement breaks the spell and he finds himself with an armful of Philipp, who used the leverage his momentum gave him to jump higher than anticipated. It is more of a reflex that Thomas catches him and the little guy doesn’t go plummeting to the ground again than anything planned out, but he’s sure got Thomas’ attention now.  

"Dada, Dada, you’re back!" His little voice is so excited as he cuddles into him, and Thomas’ chest feels unbearably tight. Philipp’s hair is still wet from his bath, he’s wearing his fluffy yellow robe and Thomas almost chokes. "Te extrane mucho."

"Missed you too, buddy," Thomas kisses the top of his head repeatedly, telling nothing but the truth. When he goes to set him down Philipp protests vehemently. "I’ll tell you a story later, okay? Gotta talk to your Papí first."

Philipp’s shoulders slump, but he returns to whatever he was doing, only slightly distracted if the long time between the glances he throws at Thomas is anything to go by. Alexander doesn’t say anything, but he nods towards the stairs. Thomas follows. He supposes if they are going to have it out, it is only right that Philipp does not have to witness it.   

"Are you going to apologize for leaving me here?" Alex crosses his arms, standing in front of the bed. He’s turned away from Thomas, who gets a sudden unwelcome mental image of being a character in a TV drama for how scripted it all seems. 

(He does recognize that his sudden departure left Alexander rather isolated. He does realize and he is sorry, sorry, sorry-)

"Do I have to apologize for finally taking more than a day off?" Thomas retorts, more hotly than he intended. It isn’t what he wanted to say, but he cannot take it back. Alexander’s shoulders tense. "No." He leaves the room.

Alexander does not return, not even when Philipp asks to be put into his crib. In the morning Thomas finds one of the guest bedrooms slept in, Alexander and Philipp secluded in the library. He listens for a while, as Alexander reads to their son, from The Life and Perambulations of a Mouse. Alexander looks up and notices him, then urges Philipp to go with Thomas while simultaneously managing to make Thomas feel non-existent. It really is a talent.

His husband does not speak with him that day. He doesn’t share his bed that night either. Or the next night. Or the week after that.

Thomas does not know what to do.

(Many times, Thomas considers phoning James and asking for Alexander to be reassigned. He is tempted, but ultimately unwilling. He wants to fix this. He doesn’t want to abandon Alexander and Philipp. And isn’t that half of the original problem?)

+

"Dada," Philipp whispers directly into his ear, startling Thomas awake quicker than anything. He thinks he’s read somewhere that parents, especially mothers, are particularly receptive to the frequency at which small children cry, but there is something to be said for the receptiveness of his ears to being practically chewed on by the youngest Hamilton.

"Oh shi-, uh, crap," Thomas rubs his eyes, already reaching up and pulling Philipp onto his chest. It’s become a conditioned response, in a way. Philipp waking him up from the side of the bed means Philipp has escaped the insufficient confines of his crib in his quest to get satisfactory attention.

"Where is Papí?" Philipp looks around. He looks sleepy and more than a little frightened. Thomas supposes now is as good a time as any to come clean.

"Daddy messed up," Thomas explains, wincing only a little when Philipp rediscovers the joy he always gets from tugging on his hair, treasuring it just as much as all the other times he discovered it. "He made a mistake and your Papí is mad at him because he hasn’t even apologized yet. So Papí is in a different room at least until Daddy tries to apologize."

"Entschuldigung sagen!" Philipp protests immediately. "Ganz wichtig."

"I know, buddy, I know. I always tell you it is important to apologize if you hurt someone and haven’t even done it myself. Daddy is stupid sometimes."

"Not stupid," Philipp shakes his head vehemently. Two little hands reach determinedly for Thomas’ face and he gets sloppy kisses onto his cheeks. Philipp has a bit of morning breath, but it’s alright.

"Why?" Philipp wonders.

Now, Thomas could pretend not to know what the kid is asking, but that would only amount to buying time – and even bought time doesn’t make the answer more pleasant. Philipp is becoming too articulate and smart to be appeased by distractions or half-truths.

"I wanted to give your Papí space and time so he could stop being so mad at me," Thomas sighs. Philipp cocks his head. How does an almost-three year old master the eyebrow-raise so completely and innocently? "I am also scared that he won’t accept my apology."

"He would accept it, I think," Alexander says from the door, full laundry basket on one hip and poised to knock with his free hand.

"He is within his rights not to," Thomas throws out there, embarrassed and equally relieved to have been overheard.

"Vertragen," Philipp wriggles free and slides off the bed, landing deftly on his little feet and rushing to Alex, pulling him towards Thomas by the hand. Alexander, for his part, goes willingly, which is a good sign in Thomas’ eyes, because, while Philipp might have many talents to boast, moving a fully grown – if small in stature – adult who does not want to be moved goes beyond even his considerable capabilities. "Dada! Entschuldigung!"

"I am sorry, Alexander. Not for leaving, but for not informing you where I was going and essentially leaving you in the dark. I left you here alone when I said I wouldn’t and that wasn’t alright."

Philipp considers those words thoughtfully, then nods.

"Papí, necesita una repuesta," Philipp insists with a tug that dislodges the laundry basket. Alexander struggles not to drop it, and manages barely, clucking his tongue at the kid.

"Thank you for apologizing."

Alexander comes back to bed with him that night, an unspoken peace between them. A particularly loud nightmare makes both of them wake up, wide-eyed and worried. It’s Thomas that suffered it this time, which is unnerving because he’d tried for years to keep himself from reacting outwardly to his nightmares. It had been essential for his missions undercover. What does it mean that he cannot keep himself tightly wound enough anymore to conceal the nightmares which plague him? There are no words exchanged as Alexander scoots closer to hold him. The man is tiny in comparison, so in reality what constitutes ‘holding’ is Alexander flopping onto his chest and wrapping his arms around Thomas. He falls asleep to whispered Spanish words he does not understand.

"Se pueden inventar verbos ? Quiero decirte uno : Yo te cielo..."  

They warm his chest anyway.

+

An Ikea, Woodbridge, VA, United States

It’s Philipp’s birthday, they drove two and a half hours to get here – mostly due to traffic, google maps had promised a journey of just under two hours – and now Philipp is crying in the middle of IKEA.

"Mi vida, I told you, that bed is too big for your room," Alexander’s voice is kind but unwaveringly firm as he kneels next to a scream-crying Philipp in front of a bed with turtle bedsheets. "We can’t get it."

Alexander throws a look at Thomas over his shoulder. "A little help here?"

"You’re doing great," Thomas assures him as he checks his phone, content to stay in his capacity as the fun parent. Alexander’s look turns withering. Thomas heaves a large sigh, scoops Philipp into his arms, walking away from the exotic selection of various teenager – beds.

"You know it isn’t nice to scream at your Papí, buddy," Thomas tells him, but Philipp does not interrupt his screaming. Thomas is quickly at a loss. Does he let the kid keep crying? Does he relent? That’s not what good parenting looks like, he thinks.

"I mean, we could just leave him in the ball pit," Thomas whispers to Alexander, who has fallen into step with him again. The amount of looks he gets for carrying a child that looks nothing like him while wailing at a volume loud enough to rival a busy construction site is frankly embarrassing. He has never felt quite so judged.

"Just let him keep crying, he’ll be ready for negotiations soon."

And truly, after about five minutes – in which Thomas would guarantee he has drawn more gossip than in all of his decades of life combined – Philipp’s screams subside into sniffles. Alexander smiles at him.

"It’s the bed sheets you wanted, isn’t it? With the turtles?"

Philipp nods, burrowing into Thomas’ chest and soaking his shirt with his tears. He’s sometimes very grateful that Alexander knows more about laundry than the average man, because he gets snot and tears and berry residue out of Thomas’ expensive shirts with staggering ease. Thomas used to only have issues with blood stains, and he’d learned useful tricks from Steuben for that – the cold water soak is an essential part of that, never varied no matter what remedy it is coupled with: vinegar, ammonia, cornstarch, cola, salt – even if he mostly ended up throwing his shirts away or burning them after missions. No more. Alexander had glared at him with something akin to betrayal the first time he’d spotted one of the shirts Thomas believed ruined in the trash.

(And well, Thomas gets it. Thomas had an upbringing founded in expendability, whereas Alexander had to make even the most threadbare fabrics last. He’s willing to compromise on throwing clothes out versus mending them.)

"And, mi vida, we talked about why we can’t use screaming to get what we want, didn’t we?"

Another nod from Philipp. Then, muffled against the fabric of his shirt: "Can scream when someone wants to take you or hurt you. Should."

"That’s right, buddy," says Thomas, petting Philipp’s hair.

"We can get the turtle bedsheets, but you have to ask for them nicely, okay?"

"Can I please have?" Philipp sniffles. And if they’re being perhaps a tad indulgent by saying yes, so be it. Thomas is exhausted and Philipp is asleep by the time they reach Monticello again, but they’ve got a bed, and that’s what was on their agenda today, so he considers it a success.

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

"Dolley has gifted us tickets for Valentine’s day," Alexander says casually at the breakfast table one February morning. He just showed Thomas how to make pancakes, and Thomas managed to spectacularly drop one onto the floor while flipping it. Alexander laughed a solid minute and then told Thomas to sit down and let him do it. 

"What for?" Thomas asks, carefully, as he closes the news app on his phone. No updates from Steuben or James. Nothing from Caleb either, who, according to records, dropped off the grid about a month ago now and hasn’t contacted anyone from the bureau.

(Steuben’s got an emergency number he is supposed to use only in Ben-related-emergencies, and the man doesn’t want to risk having no option to contact Caleb if Ben does die or wake up, so he hasn’t attempted to contact Caleb yet.)  

"She said that you always loved a certain charity Gala when you all went to high school together. Apparently the tickets are hard to come by but she managed to snag some for us while she was scoring tickets for James and herself."

"Do you want to go?" Thomas wonders, feeling oddly nervous. The last time he went to one of those big southern galas, where the very rich from the South gather to drink champagne and drop what is essentially pocket change to them into a special cause, he was maybe twenty-five, just before his parents died. He remembers fondly sitting with James and Dolley and making fun of the ridiculous hats people wore, seemingly more at home at ASCOT than in Virginia.

(Dolley had started a game of talking about their water glasses as though they contained the most expensive whiskey in the country. ‘Ah’, she had rhapsodized to one of James’ foppish relatives, ‘indeed I feel a bit of a smoky aftertaste, almost something citrusy in there, if I am not mistaken’. Her ability to say this with an entirely straight face was what made it all the more hilarious when James took a sniff of his own glass, nodded, and said with certainty: ‘tangerines, darling’)

"It sounds like a nice way to help hurricane victims." Alexander shrugs, deliberately nonchalant. There is a definite look of hope in his eyes though. Thomas sees Alexander yearn for a chance to go mingle with people. It might not be his ideal setting, but it is a chance that won't come again soon. How could Thomas say no to those eyes?

+

The ball starts off nicely. Earlier Philipp had demanded that Thomas should braid his hair the same way as his own, backwards and then up in a bun. "Daddy, I want to be matching," he had chirped at Thomas while twitching in front of the mirror, tugging on his dark red waistcoat.

And his little tux looks absolutely adorable, courtesy of Dolley and James for his third birthday.

(The whole hall seems to be too much for Philipp to take in all at once. His little hands reach aimlessly in the general direction of whatever catches his eye for a fleeting fraction of a second before something else chases any thought of the previous fascination out of his head. Thomas has some trouble keeping him steady on his hip for all the squirming he is doing. Alexander, on the other hand, looks equally taken aback by the splendor, and Thomas watches the man fiddle with the cuffs on the sleeve of the hand that isn’t holding Thomas’. He feels out of place, but is trying not to let it show. Thomas feels out of place for different reasons, because while he grew up with such events, he grew into a mask-wearing young man that merely pretended to feel at ease here and the memories veritably flood him.)

Mostly Alexander keeps his eyes on the cleared dance floor while they eat, later smiling wistfully at the whirling couples. It is an occupational hazard as well as a result of growing up in high society that Thomas knows a thing or two about dancefloor etiquette, even if no one would call him a good dancer unless threatened at gunpoint. He can dance – he just has to focus really intensely on his footwork and therefore compromises just a bit on rhythm.

Dolley catches him catching Alexander stare at the dancefloor and winks at him, motioning for Philipp, who gurgles and proceeds to talk to ‘Auntie Dolley’ about how much he likes the jewels on her neck. She’s normally not the type for ostentatious jewelry, but the collier she is wearing right now is definitely on the expensive side – a gift from James for having to miss an anniversary for ‘work reasons’ a few years ago; ‘Work reasons’ being travelling to Hong Kong to retrieve two agents with compromised covers. Dolley really loves that collier, but she doesn’t stop Philipp’s clammy little fingers from gently tracing the stones in fascination.

One glance at James, who also nods in confirmation, later, and Thomas extends his hand to Alexander to lead him to the dancefloor. Alexander makes a much more obvious show of mentally calculating Philipp’s safety with the Madisons, but he seems to have warmed to James over the period that Thomas took off, and so he smiles and goes along with Thomas.

Contrary to Thomas, Alexander seems to have rhythm as though it were the most natural thing in the world, moving with an ease Thomas can only envy. He feels relaxed, his whole body, in Thomas’ arms, seems to lack tension.

"You’re quite good at this," Thomas murmurs, close to Alexander’s ear. Alexander laughs, a wonderfully genuine sound for a change.

"I’m Latino, Thomas. Frequent dancing was one of the nicer parts of growing up, though I will admit it was Eliza who had to teach me the more formal ballroom stuff."

Thomas can see it, having looked at the home videos in which the happy couple often danced together. He pictures rainy Sunday afternoons in which Eliza successfully managed to drag Alexander away from his writing, with a goading smile, and they danced around the living room of their New York apartment together with subdued giggles until they couldn’t hold the laughter in anymore. Alternatively, he imagines them slowing to a stop and holding each other tightly. As another alternative, he imagines Alexander pulling Eliza in and kissing her hungrily, crowding her against a wall until they have to take it to the bedroom – or perhaps the couch was sufficient, at times.

Thomas spends a lot of time thinking about it. His heart aches for Alexander and what the man has lost.

"An exceptionally talented student then," he teases. He adores the sound of Alex’s laughter, but it stops dead in his throat and is replaced by a quiet and exhaled ‘fuck’.

"What is it?" Thomas tenses just the same, concerned. He has a weapon with him. Philipp is with Dolley and James, a quick glance assures him. Dolley has him perched on her lap as the kid gesticulates wildly. James smoothly pulls a glass out of the way milliseconds before it would have been knocked over by an enthusiastic three year old elbow.

"John and Gilbert - they’re here," Alexander’s voice is breathless and Thomas can almost see the way his blood is pounding in the way the artery in his neck stands out and pulsates. "I think John just saw me. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Didn’t you look at the guest list?"

There are rules, rules which Alexander knows, about what he has to do if he encounters someone from his past life. And though Thomas dearly wishes he could allow Alexander to greet friends he hasn’t seen in over one and a half years, he cannot. What must it be like, for Alexander to spot two people he loved for years and be unable to acknowledge their existence?

"James should have," Thomas insists. Alex buries his face in Thomas’ neck, apparently already one step ahead in the great plan of hiding. Thomas ignores the goosebumps as they are especially inconvenient right now. "Okay, we need a new plan. He’s making his way over here."

Alexander’s voice is pleading, as if he knows he will not be able to resist if they address him. Alexander will crumble. The cover will crumble. The mission will fall apart into nothing more than dust.

In the time it takes for Thomas to realize that in his head, Alexander has already made up his mind.

 "Come with me."

Alexander pulls Thomas away from the dancefloor and into one of the coat closets. "Are we seriously hiding in here? He definitely saw us go in."

"Just, fuck, just play along." Alexander breathes out heavily and then launches himself at Thomas. Thomas gasps into the kiss but does as commanded. (Smart strategy, he admits, in the back of his mind, but they can’t keep at this forever.) It is too easy to settle into the kiss since that is what is at the forefront of his mind. Alexander’s hands wander down his back, pulling his hips flush against him. Thomas does the same, hooking one of Alexander’s legs around his thigh - then his hip - and grinding. They’ve never done this before, for all their careful practice sessions of mapping out each other’s bodies. Ah shit, this is crossing so many lines but his mind is dizzy, spinning –

"Fuck," Alex moans, leaving Thomas’ lips to kiss his neck. Thomas walks them backwards, pressing Alex against the wall and lifting him up. His body covers all of Alex’s, something he doesn’t bother pretending isn’t intentional while being equally indulgent.  

He registers the door opening, risks a vicious glance over his shoulder, playing at anger over being interrupted. A freckled face he recognizes from Eliza’s home videos stares at him. The Frenchman from said videos joins the South Carolinian, stammering and a little out of breath. They wear the faces of dashed hope incarnate. "Sorry, man," John holds his hands up in an offer of peace. "I thought you were someone else. My mistake, didn’t mean to interrupt."

Thomas raises a pointed eyebrow. He knows he is physically intimidating, but he suspects that is not why the two men leave, rather unbearable disappointment plays a larger role. Pressed tightly against him, he feels Alexander convulse upon hearing the voices of his best friends. The door snaps close and Thomas looks at Alex again, eyes hooded and panting in a way that isn’t just to try and hide the flowing tear tracks on his face. Their foreheads connect as both men try to even their breathing.

"Never," Thomas exhales, "Do that to me again without warning me."

Alexander swallows, looks at him. There is something like defiance in his eyes, burning brightly, but he nods.

They can’t stay at the gala after that.

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

Whereas the night after the fundraiser was quiet, as Thomas suspects Alexander came to terms with the fact that there is an entire life he left behind that isn’t at Monticello, the morning afterwards Alexander seems sleep-deprived, his journal seems fuller, and the man seems out for confrontation. It is very hard to be confrontational while pouring coffee, but Alexander manages.

There is almost an attack underscoring the press of the cup into Thomas’ hand as he comes around the kitchen island.

"If - " Alexander exhales and closes his eyes, "If this case ever goes to trial, and I testify, do I get to renew contact with people from my old life?"

"Yes," Thomas nods, because this is a question he anticipated. "When the perpetrators are behind bars and you are in relative safety, the bureau has no say about who you can contact or not."

Thomas takes a deep breath. "I do feel obliged to inform you that we can’t keep you in WITSEC against your will, you know that, right? You could refuse the protection, against our counsel."

Alexander nods, he knows this.

"So, what we’ve learned is: if this ever ends I get my life back if I want, minus you."

"I’m not sure about the specifics of the rules," Thomas sets his jaw, because he has held himself back from specifically researching said rules. If he considers it –

"You were hard, yesterday," Alexander drums his fingers on the board he is pretending to be scrubbing. "You kissed me back quite – uh – was that just acting?"

"Alexander - " Thomas sighs.

"No, wait, hear me out," Alexander sighs, "If it’s what we both want, Thomas, why - "

"Because you can’t correctly consent, Alexander," Thomas rubs a tired hand across his eyes. "I’m assigned to protect you, you rely on me for the duration of this mission. I won’t abuse my power like that. While you are essentially at my mercy, it would be taking advantage."

"Oh, so if I was going to say ‘damn, Thomas is jacked as fuck and I want to climb him like a tree’ you would tell me I was wrong? That I was imagining it? Are you so sure of what is going on in my mind? Do you think I am incapable of free thought just because you’re the only person I regularly spend time with?"

"It plays a part in it though, doesn’t it? You’re obviously lonely, which is understandable, but otherwise it doesn’t make sense that you - "

Thomas stops himself when Alexander turns a daring look on him.

"What doesn’t make sense?"

"Sudden attraction to men doesn’t make sense unless you look at it from a point of loneliness."

Alexander looks confused for a second. "There is nothing sudden about it, Thomas."

"Sure there isn’t," Thomas shakes his head with a snort, "We did an extensive background check on you, Alexander, you’ve only ever been with women, and the fact that two of your best friends are in a homosexual relationship doesn’t make it likely that you would hide an inclination to your own sex-"

"Did your guys really manage to not find out that I was fucking John Laurens for just about two and a half years in college? And before him in High School there was this kid named Aaron who-"

What?

The shock and outright confusion must show on Thomas’ face, because Alexander cackles and it sounds the tiniest bit vindictive.

"I’m bi, Thomas. I am super-bi. The bi-est."

More silence. Thomas can’t form words yet, but Alex decides he doesn’t care and continues after his words have shown such effect.

"Yeah, it makes a whole lot of sense that I’m attracted to you. Look at yourself, Thomas. Am I supposed to be ashamed of the fact that you absolutely turn me on? Is that so hard to believe? I know I’m not alone in this, Thomas, you’re attracted to me as well."

Alexander isn’t wrong, is the thing.

It would be different if Alexander were a fellow agent, merely a subordinate in rank at the bureau. It would be so different. As it is, Alexander is a normal citizen, and more off-limits than Thomas can say.

"If I sleep with you, Alex, that’s it," Thomas tells him, not bothering to deny the accusation of attraction. That’s a hopeless case. "I’ll have to leave, I’ll be lucky if I just get reassigned and don’t lose my job, and you get a new cover. Is that what you want? Is that worth it? Just to satisfy an itch?"

Alexander looks, for a moment, as if he is going to say ‘fuck it’ and throw himself at Thomas anyway. Then Philipp cries out from upstairs, waking up late after being on an energy kick until just about two in the morning – someone must have slipped him some cola last night. It seems to ground Alexander, who exhales and nods at Thomas, seemingly resigned.

 "Look, we can go out and you can hook up with someone, if that is all it is. We’ll be discreet," Thomas offers.

"No," Alexander decides, "I’m not made for casual hookups anymore."

And Thomas very stoically decides not to analyze that sentence.

+

Warehouse, unspecified location, United States

Caleb never really liked the smell of blood, if he is being honest with himself. He doesn’t mind when he gets some blood on himself or his clothes, that isn’t the issue. (Steuben has tricks up his sleeves that get blood out of clothes like it’s nobody’s business.) The issue is when he finds himself drenched in blood and the scent of it thick in the air all around him, like right now.

He knew there was something that seemed too easy about getting into Rogers’ inner circles, especially now that the man is aware that they’ve figured out his identity. Which is why he went into this mission with a healthy amount of skepticism, and it’s how he’s now only got a small cut across his cheek instead of one head less on his shoulders.

(Abraham had gotten reliable information from Townsend, which is nice even if Townsend was hesitant to trust someone that wasn’t Ben with the handling of information once relayed by Abe. And Anna – Caleb is fairly certain they haven’t figured out Anna as a spy now that she has assumed her position as new hire in Townsend’s pub. The wives of local Setauket politicians don’t feature heavily in the local media, and the assumed name and alias suit Anna well. Ben had reservations about embedding civilians too deeply, but everything they’ve found out since Ben was shot points towards the necessity of Anna’s involvement. Caleb remembers Anna having a mean hook from when she was in the army after High School. Anna left after three years to become a housewife, as Caleb left for the bureau after he had his turn. Point is, Anna is embedded, and he needs her to stay embedded which is why he’ll have to find a way to check up on her discreetly now that there’s a chance more than the two of Rogers’ men he just killed know what he looks like.)

The big fish, for the time being, however, has been fried.

As for the big fish’s lieutenant, the ever-elusive mastermind behind the SIMCOE murders, that’s where Anna is still needed to do her magic.

Rogers is tied to the chair in front of him, wheezing for air. Caleb is fairly certain he must have crunched a rib or two in the struggle for the upper hand. He’s going to have to figure out how he is going to explain two dead on a mission that wasn’t officially sanctioned by higher ups when he brings Rogers in. Washington did voice his endorsement, but Caleb understands that if how this went down gets out it is his ass on the line, and Washington won’t be able to do much without jeopardizing himself as well. And sure, the man’s noble, but Caleb trusts few people further than he can throw them. Washington may hide it well, but the guy also serves his own interest in the end. It is just that most of the time, his interests happen to align with those of the company.

Rogers seems to be aware of that too, since the man is looking too full of glee for someone that was just apprehended by the law.

He could just make the two bodies disappear. There’s a river just below the window, two hundred paces to the east. A glance around the room shows him that there’s nothing that will sufficiently weigh the bodies down. His knife makes easy points of entrance to the lungs though. A temporary measure, both men still alive know it.  

"That only keeps them on the riverbed until the bacteria has produced enough methane to float it right back up to the surface," Rogers tells him, without being asked. Caleb wasn’t going to ask, in fact he’d prefer it if the guy kept his mouth shut so that he doesn’t run the risk of accidentally taking drastic measures to shut him up.

It is the most important thing right now to get this guy in custody alive, but Caleb is not self-sacrificing enough not to want to cover his own ass.

(He’s been to jail, undercover, that’s where the beard first came through, but he doesn’t fancy going back in a less official capacity.)

"Not used to having to clandestinely dispose of bodies, pup? I could tell ya all about it, you know?"

There is something distinctively irritating about the Scottish lilt in Rogers’ voice, since Caleb knows very well the man hasn’t set foot in Scotland since High School. It mocks him. He’s used to that, but he finds it more grating from people responsible for the loss of his loved ones.

"Or I could just be practicing for how I’m going to dispose of you," Caleb retorts flippantly, which is unprofessional conduct. He doesn’t doubt Rogers is going to voice some formal complaint of mistreatment, and Caleb is doing the man an involuntary favor by being anything less than cordial. Rogers has a vast array of lawyers, probably. He hears the restraints rattle a little, and a quick glance over his shoulder shows that they hold fast.

"You know, I think I remember your name. Brewster…" Rogers feigns dramatics. Caleb certainly remembers Robert McFatridge as one of his lecturers when he first started his career with the bureau. He didn’t stay a lecturer past that first year, when he was presumed dead in action during one of Jefferson’s early missions. "Benjamin Tallmadge’s lapdog, I think that’s what the reports said."

"Reports?" Caleb takes the bait knowingly. He should leave the subtle interrogating to those officially assigned to do it, but he thinks he might be able to get an edge on Rogers.

"Oh, ay, the reports. Surely you don’t think I haven’t got my long, spindly fingers in the bureau?" An expectant silence, in which Caleb stabs the deceased’s lungs once or twice more, and then Rogers continues: "Ah, so you have figured out there’s a mole, hm? Does it irk you that you couldn’t discover their identity?"

"No, we know who he is," Caleb retorts, with confidence garnered over missions. It’s still a risk, but Rogers’ stunned silence, even if it lasts only a second, is very telling. So it is a man they are looking for. Steuben will be pleased to hear that. It eliminates just about a third of their suspects.

"No you don’t," Rogers finally susses out when he sees Caleb’s grin.

"Don’t need to. He’ll try to kill you to cover his own ass as soon as I take you to the bureau, and that will narrow my list down considerably. You seem like a man willing to cut a deal."

"Oh, I love a good deal, true, but I don’t think the bureau is inclined to spring me."

"Definitely not," Caleb agrees, "You’re going behind bars for life, mate, but you might have some sway for how comfortably you languish behind said bars."

Which is, again, nothing but the truth. It plants a little seed in Rogers’ mind. He’s read the dossiers, about a selfish man out for his own gain. He doesn’t doubt the man is willing to sell out anyone for the right price. It is now a matter of figuring out the price without giving away that what Caleb wants more than the identity of the mole is the identity of SIMCOE.

He drags the bodies to the nearby window. It’s February, the river is still partly frozen, so it’ll take a while until they are discovered.

Then his phone rings and promptly slashes his plans in two.

"Better answer that, Mr. Brewster, might be about Tallmadge, I hear he isn’t doing so well," laughs Rogers. "Though I have to applaud the pup, no one’s ever gotten away from SIMCOE alive, I don’t think."

There’s a questioning edge in the man’s annoying lilt, and Caleb hopes the immediate considerations about whether or not his men suspect Hamilton of still being alive don’t show. They shouldn’t, he’s a good, trained actor, but then again, so is Rogers.  

The terrible thing is that the man might be right. It might be about Ben. There’s only one man that ought to be calling this number. Those under Caleb’s immediate command know better than to just call, even in emergencies.  

"Yes?" Caleb answers, tersely, one body propped against his hip and the other lying at his feet.

"Caleb," Steuben says on the other end, breathless and sounding choked with tears, "It’s Ben."

Fuck.

Chapter Text

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

“You said you had to go, buddy,” Thomas sighs, exasperated. Philipp stares up at him from where his short legs are dangling from the toilet seat. Small blue jeans are pooled around his ankles, stopped from slipping off by sandals over the frilliest pink socks Thomas has ever seen. Philipp dressed himself this morning. Such instances have become regular occurrences. Philipp has a newfound preoccupation with independence.

“Poop is coming,” he nods, seriously. To Thomas it sounds like bargaining.

“It’s been seventeen minutes,” Thomas tells him, confirming it with a quick glance at his wrist. No actual need to be precise, it isn’t as though Philipp can count past ten or so yet, but Thomas has been squatting next to the toilet for too long and his legs are starting to cramp a little.

“Poop,” Philipp says, again, with heavier pouting. In nodding so earnestly his little curly ringlets bounce up and down. 

“We talked about this with your Papí, Buddy, remember? It’s okay for you to keep wearing the diapers as long as it takes-”

Nein,” Philipp’s hands flail as he cries, “Will U-terhose! Wie du!”

Unterhose,” Thomas corrects gently, “There’s nothing wrong with wearing diapers. You’re still a big boy.”

“You wear no diaper,” Philipp crosses his arms and the image that makes of him sitting upright on the toilet like a throne is admittedly a little amusing.

“You have lots of time in your life left not to wear diapers-”

Fertig,” Philipp grins at him, blissfully, interrupting him with a high-pitched howl of victory.

“What?” Thomas furrows his brows, “Let me see. I heard nothing.”

Sure enough, when he lifts Philipp out of the seat there’s a runny brown mass in the bowl and pieces of corn like sprinkles around it (“-that’s just the shell of the corn, mi vida, your tummy can’t digest that properly so it comes back out. The inside is gone into your body to nourish you,” Alexander had assured Philipp when the kid raised concerns about it, suggesting they eat the corn so as not to waste food, much to Thomas’ horror.)

The joys of parenthood are only slightly marred by the persistent smell. Thomas’ face scrunches up in a spectacularly amusing fashion, if Philipp’s giggles are anything to go by.

“Smelly!” Philipp comments, still giggling helplessly.

“You can say that again,” Thomas laughs, waving a hand in front of his nose to distribute the odors as well. Philipp mimics him, playing at stern eyebrow action and starting to giggle again when Thomas catches onto the fact that he is being made fun of.

+

“He’s got diarrhea,” Thomas tells Alexander when he comes into the kitchen for dinner that night. Alexander immediately crosses over to Philipp, softly hiccupping in Thomas’ arms. “It burns, apparently.”

No te sientes bien, mi vida?”

“Rumbly,” Philipp pronounces, “In my tummy.”

“Do you want to go see a nice doctor to help you?” Alex rubs Philipp’s head soothingly and Thomas mourns the loss of yet another shirt as Philipp’s snot rubs into it, where it will inevitably dry and crust over before Thomas has the chance to clean it off. He shakes his head.

Abrazo!” Philipp sniffles, “Make better.”

“You want me to cuddle you, mi vida?”

Abrazarme…y Dada,” Philipp demands, and Thomas does not need to speak Spanish to suspect the kid of meddling. It’s true that since what he has chosen to call The Incident, he has been careful to keep on the right side of a clear line of demarcation. He wasn’t aware it was obvious enough for a three year old to notice.

“Does Daddy need a hug too, you think?”

Philipp nods into Thomas shirt, still whimpering a little. It would be ground for concern, but Thomas doesn’t get any worry telegraphed from Alexander, so he assumes one instance of Diarrhea isn’t actually life-threatening. It isn’t as though he has any parenting experience to draw on for this. He, for his part, had been just about ready to drop everything and rush Philipp into the ER. Perhaps he’ll take to google once more.

Estaba muy triste…” Philipp whispers loudly to Alexander while beckoning him close with a small fist, then addresses Thomas: “Richtig? Ist war traurig?”

“That’s not how you say it, Buddy,” Thomas says gently, but Philipp takes that to mean his assumptions were correct and one hand is reaching for the hand Alexander still has on his head and putting it on Thomas’ shoulder. It feels heavy on his skin and warms him more than it should.

“How to say?”

“You say: du warst traurig. Or if you want to say so to your Papí about me you say: er war traurig. But I wasn’t. Dada just had a lot to think about recently.”

Nicht traurig?”

“No, Buddy, I’m alright.”

“Still cuddle,” decides Philipp, with authority that will not be defied. It is equal parts bliss and torture when they relent and he has Alexander in his arms again.

+

The Incident, even weeks in the past, becomes a personal sort of hell for Thomas. He wakes up some mornings, painfully hard, with Alexander splayed on top of him. For all the lines he tries to draw the contact both men seek out during the night does not abate. It is a very basic sort of conditioning, because the nightmares abate with Alexander in his arms, and the general skin-on-skin contact is nice too; an abundance of positive reinforcements and rewards with little immediate incentive to deter him.

This has to stop.

Alex stirs minutely, smacking his lips together, lazily rutting against Thomas, whimpering at the contact. Here, a new line must be drawn. Thomas hisses, shoving Alex off of him.

"Fuck," Alex groans, fisting a hand into the sheets and hips stuttering forward before the movement is aborted. It takes a while, but he too comes to his senses. The conversation about proper job conduct, little though he may cling to it when he cannot help it, seems to have had an impact on Alexander as well. "I am so sorry, that was fully unintentional." He looks genuinely embarrassed, burying his head in the pillow. Thomas fights the urge to smile even if no one can see it.

"There is nothing unconventional about such reactions. Definitely normal, considering you have had only me by your side for one and a half years now, Alexander."

"Still, you can control yourself and I behave like a horny teenager while barely coherent," Alexander’s voice is muffled by the pillow.

"There are ways for you to ease your strain." Thomas suggests, unsure how to approach the matter delicately.

"That does its job of easing one strain but leaves loads to be desired, Thomas. You don’t seriously believe I have not been doing that?"

Thomas does not want to think about Alexander, in the shower or wherever else he has been secretly getting off, wrapping a hand around his cock and squeezing, catching his lip between his teeth to stop from crying out, face screwed up tightly, shuddering and convulsing as he spills over. Just because he tries to push the image away though does not mean he succeeds.

Alexander looks at the bulge in Thomas’ pajama pants, curious. "How long has it been for you?"

"Probably about three months. Concern yourself with your own issue, Alexander."

Here it is: an inadvertent confession of what he got up to when he went on leave for that week. Alexander seems to do the math in his own head, because he comes away frowning from the long train of thought Thomas watches flit across his face. Thomas fights the urge to apologize. He does not owe Alexander any fidelity. (And yet, a nagging part of his brain reminds him that he’d like to owe him fidelity. A very dangerous and potent part of his brain, if unwelcome.)

"Must be draining," Alexander sighs. "How many times are you going to get the opportunity to take care of that until you’re no longer stuck with me? What on earth could endear you to that idea?"

"It pays well, for one,” Thomas jokes, reaching out to tuck a strand of hair behind Alexander’s ear. It belies the levity of the situation and he thinks Alexander can tell, if the look in his eyes is anything to go by. What is bureau policy on the ethics of pretending like you aren’t in too deep? “You’re not the worst. I can do this for a few more years, at least, before I demand a pay raise."

Alexander’s laugh is something glorious, full and uncontrolled. Thomas joins in until Philipp protests from his place next door.

“You know, at some point we should probably get him a room that isn’t connected to ours,” Alexander points out.

Thomas doesn’t even point out that Alexander is planning so far into the future. He’s right there with him, unfortunately.

+

 

A hospital, unspecified location, United States

Caleb never spent too much time thinking about Ben’s eyes, and it’s made him think that he took them for granted. He can’t have so thoroughly forgotten what they look like, can he? Just two days ago he would have insisted that the image of Ben is etched into his memory, perfectly complete and painstakingly detailed – he spent a lot of time mapping out that body, after all, with every sense available to him.

Ben’s eyes are blue, the kind of blue that makes poets and artists despair over how they could possibly capture the whole extent of the various shades. Caleb is neither poet nor artist, so he doesn’t even try.

Why would he try, when Ben’s eyes are open and looking at him for the first time in months? How could descriptions ever not pale against the real thing?

"He’s responsive, and through electric muscle stimulation we saved his intestinal muscle from falling into complete disuse, but he’s weak and has trouble speaking or moving, so it would be best if you don’t strain him for too long," the nurse says from behind Caleb, who couldn’t find words even if he tried.

"Ben," says Caleb, and that’s about all he can manage.

Ben’s eyes focus on him, although they strain in doing so, and Caleb thinks he sees a twitch of muscle around Ben’s mouth, as though Ben were trying to smile.

(What an absurd urge that Ben seems to think he’s the one that needs to offer comfort.) It is sufficient ground to step forward. He reaches his hand out towards Ben’s hand, watches Ben’s fingers strain to spread or stretch even a little bit. By the time he’s got his fingers wrapped around Caleb’s hand, Ben’s eyes are closed again, and there’s sweat on his forehead, but he looks more serene now that Caleb is touching him.

Caleb wipes the sweat away with his shirtsleeve.

Ben is awake.

"God, I missed you so much," Caleb is aware that his voice is wobbly and pretty shoddy, but he cannot care right now. Ben is awake. He got Ben back.

(He’s temporarily out of a job, but there’s no prison time looming for him unless the board decides that he has to be punished more severely, and he’s got Ben. That’s all he needs. He can think about money later.)

+

Benjamin Tallmadge’s apartment, unspecified location, United States

Circumstances have left Caleb somewhat transient – his more bulky possessions are currently languishing in his uncle’s unused second barn – and therefore he has taken up a place in Ben’s empty home. He spends two whole days cleaning it after no one has sufficiently looked after it for the duration of Ben’s incapacitation.

He visits Ben in the hospital every day. Ben’s eyes are open for just about thirty minutes, reliably, and after that it depends on the mood of that day.

(“His heart is a little weakened, though on the way to recovery,” the Doctor had informed him, “Not to mention we can’t dismiss possible neurological damage yet. He responds to your voice and he seems to recognize you, but it’s entirely likely that he might not recover his ability to speak. Or, if he does, that his speech might not be what it used to. Really, that he woke up is a feat in itself, any other intact piece of his makeup is a bonus at this point.”)

They’re feeding him a mostly liquid diet because Ben’s jaw isn’t used to chewing anymore. At some point, the nurses say, they’re going to move him up to solid but still soft foods. Ben’s fingers twitch towards him, and Caleb will catch Ben staring at his fingers, desperately wondering why they won’t move even though he tries to make them. Caleb holds his hand and tells him – only half-joking – about how he’s planning on redecorating the apartment. It’s more than enough. Never hearing Ben’s voice again would be tragic, but by god it is better than never feeling Ben near him again. It feels like a second chance and he hopes that he turns out to be deserving of it. 

Ben can blink reliably, at least, and he does it in regular intervals that let Caleb know that at least he is being understood.

Decorating is what he is doing tonight, after visiting hours are long over. (In this case decorating means spreading out sheets of information he gathered from Anna over the course of her stay undercover and analyzing them. Ben is awake, and Caleb feels like he can actually concentrate on something beyond bringing down Rogers in particular. He’s finally got the presence of mind for actual investigations again.)

+

WITSEC Headquarters, United States

Caleb hasn’t been back at Headquarters since long before Ben got shot, and it feels like everybody knows exactly how damaged he is now as they greet him hello – those who remember him, anyway. There are plenty of fresh faces that look at him like he doesn’t belong here due to his general scruffiness and their clean-cut everything. They don’t know about him and Ben, he suspects. Neither Washington nor Steuben seems the type for gossip. What Caleb does suspect is that word has gotten around that he messed up a little, in eliminating two of Rogers’ men in the quest to get to him, even if nobody knows the particulars of why or what he messed up.

(He isn’t sure if they know Ben woke up, yet. Steuben knows, that much is certain since he called Caleb to the hospital, which means Washington knows. Other than that though, he can’t say.)

“Agent Brewster,” Benedict Arnold comes up to him, shaking his hand good-naturedly. “We weren’t expecting you back for a few more months at least. Make any headway in Yemen?”

“Yeah, that’s done. Already debriefed, too,” Caleb scratches at his beard, confused.

(Yemen ended years ago, Caleb doesn’t say. Yemen ended the second he got a phone call from Ben and the words: “I need you here, Caleb, please don’t make me take this on all on my own” reached his ears. Yemen was over and done with two weeks later and he just about reached his flight on time.)

“How have things been over here?”

“Oh, you know, big fish fried here. SIMCOE case is practically over and done with, all things considered – if you hadn’t heard. There have been some arrests made over the last week since we cut the snake’s head off.”

“No kidding? Steuben got them to confess?”

“From what I hear he’s been advised and is inclined to make a deal to sell out the rest of his pack of monsters,” Arnold shrugs. “Talk about a safe house being raided is floating around all over the place.”

“You think they’re going to let him take the deal?”

Benedict Arnold is one of the most senior men in the bureau. By all accounts he should know very well that Caleb has played a part in bringing down Rogers. Either he does not, which is disconcerting in what it says about Washington’s trust in his most senior agents, or he does and is pretending not to be aware, which is equally if not more disconcerting in what it says about Arnold. Either way, it puts Caleb on his guard.

“I think they might, though I shudder to think of the consequences,” Arnold says, “You heard what happened to Agent Tallmadge at that last raid, didn’t you?”

And damn, if that doesn’t sound like a warning to Caleb.

+

“You know, when I called to let you know I wanted to resign officially, this kind of fight club-esque meeting wasn’t what I imagined,” Caleb announces when Dr. Stevens presses a few buttons that leave him shut in the morgue with Washington and Steuben, both of whose arms are crossed.

“We’ve received information from Rogers about SIMCOE.”

“I gathered as much,” Caleb nods. “What’s that gotta do with me?”

“Information that necessitates questions about the civilian you placed in his path, if she is in danger or not.”

“She’s fine, checked up with her last night. Disgusted by him, yes, but alright.”

“If what Rogers claims about his right hand man holds true then putting her in his way was foolhardy and dangerous – it could cost her more than you know-”

“Ben found out the guy had a type, alright? Mrs. Hamilton and my contact are of a similar spirit, it was worth a shot. But it was still my contact’s decision to jump into the abyss, yeah? She’s trained, and I couldn’t have stopped her anyway-”

“They know we still have witnesses against SIMCOE,” Washington interrupts the squabbles, “Your contact and whether or not that was a decision you were right to make is one of many discussions tabled for later, but this is more urgent. I can’t say if Rogers kept that information to himself or if SIMCOE is aware of it as well. Point of fact is that he is trying to bait us with information on SIMCOE’s appearance, since we have no notion of his appearance, age…nothing past a description of his voice.”

Caleb stares at the three men in turn.

“You want me to recall her, Sir?”

Washington nods.

“SIMCOE will know she’s undercover if we do. If she disappears – he’s not dumb, he’ll know exactly what’s going on.”

“More pressingly we need a description of him,” Washington seems agitated. “We need enough to insinuate to Rogers that the information he has on his man is superfluous. Do you understand, Agent Brewster?”

“I still intend to resign, alright? There’s a letter in my pocket that is for your consideration, Sir. But I’ll get you the information.”

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

“I thought we were cut off from information here?” Thomas says, frowning at nothing in particular when he answers his phone. “Why are you calling me?”

“You talked to Agent Madison recently?”

“I have,” he says, waving at Philipp and assuring him he is still watching his dance moves in the living room. “Last night I stopped by at his place.”

“You don’t sound as concerned as I thought you might be,” Agent Brewster tells him from the other side of the line.

“You’re planning a raid for tonight, I’ve been told. It’s practically over, if James is anything to go by. Can’t I be happy in light of that?”

“Let’s say I think they’re a touch too confident in that assumption, what would you say?”

“I’d say your intuition is usually sound.”

“SIMCOE probably knows your charges are still alive,” Caleb says, business-like, “If they aren’t telling you that they’re putting you in danger. I thought I’d let you know.”

+

 

"Daddy, daddy," Philipp tugs at Thomas’ pants as Thomas is washing up after dinner. Too many things about Caleb’s phone call are unnerving him. James had sounded borderline hopeful on the phone, and it had been infectious at the time. But he still remembers well that last phone call with Ben about a potential mole, and now Caleb finds cause for concern?

If it is true that SIMCOE knows about Alexander and Philipp being alive, then Thomas can’t fathom how long it will take until their location is compromised. Sure, it’s never been completely from his mind, the possibility that everything will blow up in his face here, but there has hardly ever been legitimate danger, so far. Aside from the emotionality involved in every aspect of this cover now, the mission has been laughably easy.

He’s had to actively start boxing again to keep himself in shape enough.

In a few hours there’s an update due for the raid.

He’ll ask then.

He’ll just have to find a way without giving away the fact that Caleb was fair enough to reach out, if it turns out the bureau thought they’d rather keep him in the dark.

 "Watch movie with me and Papí," Philipp is still at his legs, pleading. Alexander is hovering a few feet behind, looking more concerned than he has any right to.  

“What movie do you want to watch, Buddy?”

They curl up on the couch with Philipp between them, who eventually folds up in Thomas’ lap and falls asleep there, knees tucked almost under his chin. Alex watches them from his side of the couch with a gentle smile.

"Eliza always fell asleep while watching movies too," he muses. It doesn’t sound pained. There used to be a slight choke as he said her name, for the longest time. If Thomas had to put a descriptive to it now, he might say it sounds fond. Fond is a fitting adjective for the look on Alexander’s face as well now.

"You haven’t mentioned her in a while," Thomas responds, unsure how to approach the conversation he is trying to have. Alex nods; an agreement beyond a simple confirmation. Alexander is apparently also in a proper state of mind for a conversation. It gives Thomas hope.

"Not to you, anyway. My journal has suffered my unending thoughts with astounding dignity."

"Ha,” Thomas scoffs, unable to help a small smile, “Be thankful that paper is not sentient."

Alex smiles again. “I assuredly am.”

They come easier these days, Alexander Hamilton’s wonderful smiles. It makes Thomas think of the future. If this mission is to come to an end, truly, tonight, if Caleb’s words can be discounted as needless worry, then what?

A trial, for one. Alexander’s re-entry into a normal, civilian life. And Thomas?

There lies a path before Thomas that he wants to take, a clear vision of the future he would like to have, and it features Alexander – if the man wants him, as he does.

(How can he know, completely, if he has only had Thomas for company in so long? How can he know what he would feel if the situation were not so dire? What would he feel if he did not have to rely on Thomas for his safekeeping?)

But until he can get confirmation from Steuben, clear information that he can be sure isn’t meant to just appease him, he cannot think on that for too long.

"How are you feeling, these days?”

Alex takes a deep breath, turns towards Thomas, propping his head up on his elbow. Philipp snores a little – the diarrhea did turn out to be a temporary thing, two days later he was right as rain again and sufficiently cuddled. (Thomas supposes that every new parent gets unreasonably concerned over the health of their child.)

"Better, I think. Philipp has her smile, did you know that? Every time I look at him I see parts of her in him, beautiful parts, but it isn’t as painful as it used to be. More subdued – sometimes there is no pain at all. Sometimes my heart skips a beat and all I feel is fondness. I’m better now, mostly because of you."

Thomas chokes on his own spit. Philipp is mercifully not startled.

"What?"

"You and your incessant attempts to cajole me into properly dealing with the whole thing," Alexander elaborates, a twinkle in his eyes that does things to Thomas’ heart.

"Ah."

"I would have spiraled, without you." Alex frowns. "I probably would have starved just because I didn’t have the presence of mind to remember that I need to eat. You took care of me, Thomas, more than you had to, considering the circumstances. I don’t know if I’ve ever thanked you for that."

"It was only right," Thomas offers as a dismissal Alexander does not want. They look at each other for a moment more, then Thomas drops his eyes to Philipp, still asleep and snoring. Looking at Alexander so open and vulnerable is not entirely appropriate – yet. There is hope in Thomas now, unbidden but not as unwelcome as it used to be.   

"How did you get so good at it?" Alex pretends to be casual, but his fingers are fiddling with the couch. “The grieving or well, I mean the process of healing from grief, more precisely. You don’t just learn that from a book, though I did spot quite a range of topic-appropriate tomes in your library. There were no notes in the margins though, so I suppose you haven't actually read them...”

He is nervous, asking for a piece of Thomas that he hasn’t shared before. There have been accusations made, on his part, about an unequal distribution of confidence, and in a way Alexander was right to make them. Thomas takes a leap.

"During my fifth mission undercover, I lost my partner, Martha. They, uh, they killed her in front of me and I had to maintain my cover. I wasn’t right after that, for a while."

(The nightmares he never mentions, mostly. They’d become such a part of his life that to have them subsiding into nothingness once more feels strange and foreign – exciting and worrisome. He tries not to dwell on Martha, on what her face looked like in those final moments. Two seconds earlier she’d been confident in her cover, and when she had realized that her hopes were dashed, she had stared down the barrel of the gun that ended her with a sort of emptiness, devoid of an outlook as for the future. By all accounts she died bravely, if such a thing is possible. There weren’t any tears, just that perpetual emptiness during which Thomas thinks he could have seen the entire universe fit into the black holes of her dilated pupils. She hadn’t looked at him in her final moments. No, Martha had easily guessed that his cover remained intact, and selflessly hadn’t even pleaded for help. Not that she would have had the time. She was dead within seconds. An impulse shot fired, and only afterwards the question was raised if perhaps they should have thought of interrogating her.

One minute finger movement and she’d disappeared into nothingness. In the aftermath there was nothing of Martha in that corpse, even the emptiness in her eyes was gone by way of lifelessness. It had been too quick and too unjust. Thomas tries to push it from his mind.)

Alexander’s fingers have interlaced with his own, squeezing his hand in silent comfort as he recounts. Thomas doesn’t let go.

+

His phone wakes him at just about three in the morning, and once Alexander’s annoyed cat-like protests subside he moves to get up.

“Nuh,” Alexander protests, one hand swatting at the phone already in Thomas’ hand, unwilling to be dislodged from his chest.

“It’s work,” Thomas hisses. Alexander will not be moved. Thomas takes a deep breath, tells Alexander to keep quiet, and answers.

“This is Agent Jefferson,” he says, as calmly as he can manage.

“Thomas,” Steuben says, clearing his throat. “There’s been a slight complication.”

Chapter Text

A Hospital, unspecified location, United States

Yemen, about three years ago

The first impression Ben gets of the place is that this is exactly where you’d expect illegal activities to happen, and perhaps the unabashed obviousness of the whole thing is what makes it so brilliant.

Brilliant, yes, but also dangerous and not without considerable gall to run a clandestine gay bar in a country where capital punishment follows exposure, Ben thinks as he looks around. But this is where Steuben says Caleb signed off on being tonight, ostensibly for contact with his mark, a drug dealer secretly in a relationship with another guy while married with children. Ben is just here to help Caleb out for a few days, if anything more than his appearance tonight should prove necessary. (“Primarily eye candy, Benjamin,” Steuben had laughed at him, “Nothing more than that if it isn’t inevitable. Let’s not risk you actually seducing Agent Brewster. We just need to convincingly establish his cover sexuality.”)

The thought has been tumbling about in the safe he had thought he kept it well locked up in. It doesn’t do anything for his cool to imagine Caleb actually attracted to him. And as he gets to the bar he does catch a more subdued version of the laugh he grew up with. Caleb’s here, alright. Ben pointedly resists turning towards the source of the sound. Caleb is supposed to approach him, Steuben said, if that. Maybe he’ll just make a comment to his mark about Ben’s ass, or something.

“American?” asks the man polishing glasses, in a surprisingly posh accent. Ben can see just about five other uniformed soldiers lounging around various parts of the establishment, so he isn’t concerned about affirming. “Beer for you, then?”

Another nod and seconds later he has the beverage in front of him. Ben isn’t very partial to beer, personally, but his cover is, so he has a deep gulp he pretends to enjoy, tipping his head back. (He’s fairly certain Steuben wrote that in just for shits and giggles, but he won’t give him the satisfaction of complaining.)

“Are you new at the base?” The barkeeper asks him.

“Visiting for about a week,” Ben smiles at him. Steuben’s advice proves correct, the man is trying to appear casually interested. He’s got some stake in the comings and goings of their base, then.

“Why not longer?”

“Just here to oversee some shipments,” Ben waves a dismissive hand, furrowing his brows, “Grunt work, it’s almost embarrassing.”

The barkeeper looks around and motions with his head for someone to approach. A good-looking guy slides into the chair next to him, asking for a cup of tea in English that is slightly more accented, not as obviously RP as the barkeeper. It’s still obvious that he spent considerable time studying the language, most likely abroad. This must be the mark, Ben thinks.

And lingering just behind the guy is Caleb, with a beard. Ben hasn’t seen him with any form of facial hair since Caleb started sprouting hairs at fourteen and went from peach fuzz to full-on bear within two months. (At first his age discouraged keeping it, and then the enlistment center discouraged it. Now, seemingly rogue, it is only fitting that Caleb revert back to it.)

Ben hasn’t seen Caleb in years in general. The last time he recalls was a Christmas in the about three years ago, when Caleb had popped by to steal Samuel for a few hours. Ben had been close to graduating then. It must have been before Caleb became a liaison, if he remembers correctly. Ben remembers that he announced the Bureau’s offer that night, to Sam’s equal horror and awe. Briefly, he wonders if Caleb will even recognize him. He’s sure that since Caleb is their liaison, Steuben kept him well in the loop, right? Caleb must know who the requested Eye Candy turned out to be, right?

Ben engages in conversation with the guy, but remains keenly aware of the way Caleb keeps smirking at him as he sips on a beer of his own. It occurs to him to play up the his part a bit more, biting his lip as he steals hesitant glances in return. It isn’t difficult, when he stops to consider it, to pretend to be flustered by Caleb’s eyes and the curve of his lips. He’s had half a lifetime of practice.

Caleb’s mark turns around and tells Caleb, in Arabic: “I think the boy likes you.”

To which Caleb responds, evenly, as if actually considering Ben: “He’s very pretty.”

The inflection is weird, and Ben manages not to convey that he understands. Caleb’s words are heavy with meaning. His mark smiles at him, gets up and claps him on the shoulder, wishing Ben a pleasant night and good stay in the area. Caleb sidles up to him, leaning on his elbows against the bar.

“I didn’t really have a chance to introduce myself,” he says, and Ben is struck by the thought that his eyes look wonderfully warm. There’s a constant stream-of-consciousness in the back of his head that goes haywire at the association of Caleb at a gay bar, even if it is just a cover. Even if he’s grown up watching Caleb test the waters with many willing girls and no boy that he knows of. The association is enough to make him vividly relive teenage years spent pining for Caleb until he and Samuel got leave to come home. “I’m Paxton,” he says, and if Ben didn’t know the truth he’d believe it readily. Caleb is convincing in the way he roams his eyes over Ben’s uniform. “Linus,” he responds, taking the hand offered and lingering.

Three minutes later their beers are empty and they are bridging the distance to Caleb’s lodgings, in the household of his mark – lives with his wife and three children, the briefing information floats into his mind – together.

He barely has time to think about how to ring in the reunion after the door to Caleb’s bedroom is slammed shut because he finds himself pressed against it with Caleb’s lips on his, demanding and with unsettling expertise. He’s powerless for a second, helplessly whimpering as Caleb nudges his legs apart with his thigh, pressing against him and wasting no time slipping him tongue.

The fact that Ben has wanted this since his first wet dream at age fourteen isn’t enough to distract him from the mission, over ten years later. More precisely, it isn’t enough to distract him from the fact that Caleb doesn’t need to kiss him. (Because this isn’t real, because Caleb is, just like him, a consummate actor.) Caleb seems to disagree because he is relentless. There’s a brief moment where Ben pushes away, trying to voice a question but being shut up by Caleb removing his shirt before diving right back in. His eyes are on fire with something and he is almost convinced that Caleb really does want him with a burning passion. Ben roams his hands across Caleb’s body, looking for a reason to possibly keep up the act even in supposedly private circumstances – hidden microphones or the like – and then he feels Caleb’s lips on the shell of his ear. “There’s a camera in here, no audio, but the walls are thin. It encourages proximity.”

It’s followed by Caleb’s tongue licking his tragus and a nibble on his lobe. Ben sighs and pulls Caleb’s shirt over his head. (Internally he curses Steuben for his lack of foresight.)

But it’s a delight to have Caleb’s stubble brush against him, so Ben goes with the plan.

(Hours are spent between the sheets in mimicry of intimacy that makes Ben’s chest ache for the real thing when Caleb whispers his findings of the mission into his ear and Ben responds with moans and gasps at just the right intervals, building up a crescendo to yelling out a name that isn’t Caleb’s real one, stifling it expertly in Caleb’s neck to keep up the pretense of not ignoring the thin walls. He’s fairly sure Caleb’s mark hears it anyway.)

His eyes open and the first thing he sees are the various tubes feeding into his arm. Ben thinks he’s been getting better with establishing a rhythm of wakefulness, and there’s a faint sign of dawn coming through the windows. His eyes recovered the quickest out of everything. Sweeping them across the room, they land on Caleb, curled up in the uncomfortable looking hospital chairs and breathing evenly.

Ben clears his throat, watches Caleb’s eyes open immediately, ready for action. It makes him smile. He thinks he manages that rather well, these days. There’s no telling, he hasn’t seen himself since waking up, according to Caleb he’s ‘still the handsomest lad on god’s green earth’, but he thinks his face must show at least similar levels of wear and tear to his body.

“Caleb,” he croaks out, sounding raspy to his own ears but at least this time he successfully manages to voice his thoughts. Possibly it is the first word he has managed to get out since being shot. He lifts a hand, not as much of a strain as it used to be, and pats the bed beside him, trying to give Caleb another smile.

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

“What do you mean by that, Sir?” Thomas keeps his voice clipped and professional so as not to give anything away to Alexander, shuffling about on his chest and looking generally agitated. Steuben, on the other side, seems hesitant to divulge exactly what went wrong, but is professional enough to lay out the basics. ‘Slight complication’ has to be a euphemism in any case, he wouldn’t get a three AM call for anything just slightly gone wrong.

SIMCOE evaded capture, three agents dead or nowhere to be found.

(And really, didn’t Caleb call him just yesterday to essentially warn him that this wouldn’t go down as well as Steuben seemed to hope? What more proof does the Bureau need to crack down on the mole that must be responsible for this? How many more need to senselessly lay down their lives for this?)

“Do we stay or do we leave, Sir?” Thomas trails fingers up and down Alexander’s back as the man glances up at him with nervous eyes. He’s tempted to make a soothing noise, but Alexander isn’t supposed to be anywhere near him during work calls and that would surely give them away. (Thomas used to have something like professional integrity, didn’t he? Where did that go? He’s hanging on to pointless little shreds of it instead of tossing all of it out of the window like he wants to.)

“Stay until further notice. Agent Madison will debrief you in the morning, when we know more.”

Thomas thinks back to a conversation he once had with Ben, about having back-up plans no one was aware of. He’s made arrangements, but for now the orders are to stay. Steuben hangs up quickly and Thomas is left mostly alone, pondering these things in his mind – until Alexander speaks.

“I’m not going to ask for details…” he says in a tone of voice that is very clearly inviting Thomas to give out details. “But you don’t look convinced of our safety.”

He’s still in Thomas’ arms, looking up at him like something utterly vulnerable, expecting to be tossed into a cold, cruel world. It makes Thomas hold him tighter, pressing his lips to Alexander’s hair and pretending it means nothing when Alexander exhales against him like just a brief touch from Thomas can drain his fears away.

“We’re alright,” Thomas says, because for the time being, they are. He just doesn’t know if he can keep it that way. “I would never put you or our – ahem, the – kid in danger.”

He feels Alexander smile against his skin, and then the man whispers what threatens to undo him.

“Okay, I trust you.”

+

Philipp is excited when Thomas tells him they’re going to spend the day at Montpelier.

“Auntie Dolley is the bestest,” Philipp declares, frustrating Thomas’ efforts to brush his teeth. “She’s pwetty – ”

Thomas stops, sighing heavily and raising a chastising eyebrow at Philipp. Alexander usually sings a song that Philipp brushes his teeth to, but Thomas would rather tear his own hair out than resort to that. This used to be easier when Philipp couldn’t talk as smoothly.

“Do you fink sh’s pwetty?” The amount of toothpaste in Philipp’s mouth makes his speech slurred and drips onto his chin. Most recently Philipp has started completing his sentences in a single language, no longer as prone to mixing words together as he used to be, when he concentrates. In moments of extreme excitement he still abandons any form of language structure.

“Don’t let him swallow any of it,” Alexander pokes his head through the open bathroom door, towel-drying his hair.

“She’s very pretty,” Thomas agrees evenly, “But if you actually want to go see her, you have to get ready. Let’s finish cleaning your teeth, okay buddy?”

(James, at great length, confirms Steuben’s insistence that they are in no immediate danger and are to stay until further notice. It makes Thomas’ skin itch.)

Dolley uses their impromptu visit as grounds for another get together of friends, during which Thomas has an arm wrapped tightly around Alexander’s waist and Alexander is leaning into him. One of Dolley’s sisters, Annie, Thomas’ favorite of the three that aren’t married to James, is present, and she seems to have caught Philipp’s eye as he looks up at her with wide eyes.

“You’re pwetty,” he announces to the room at large, then sticks his thumb in his mouth and giggles when she squats down to introduce herself to him.

Sie sind die schönste Frau der Welt,” Philipp tells her when she tells him she knows some German, and Thomas watches as Annie laughs, obviously charmed by Philipp. Sometimes Thomas is left in complete awe at how he can watch Philipp grow up. He knows he didn’t teach Philipp that particular phrase, which means he actually put the words together and isn’t parroting someone. Just like that, Philipp has reached another level on the large staircase of growing up, and Thomas thinks that within just one blink he could easily miss more stages.

(He doesn’t want to miss any, he realizes with a painful sort of compunction in his chest. He wants to be there for every single step.)

“A veritable rake in the making,” someone calls out to the general amusement of everyone in the room. In his embrace, Alexander frowns. Thomas nudges him with his head, raising an eyebrow.

“I never really understood why people will claim teenagers are too young to know what they’re attracted to when they come out, but then say shit like that about three year olds and mean it.”

Thomas nods, resting his head on Alexander’s head and humming his agreement. Alexander leans back into him like it is the most natural thing in the world. It’s comfortable. He might zone out for a bit as he watches Annie play with Philipp, even trying to teach him a few dance steps that he copies with much enthusiasm but little accuracy.

Then he catches what Alexander is saying, apparently answering a question he must have missed in his distraction. “It was really romantic,” he insists, “You know we met in Paris, right? Right, so when I first went out with him, I didn’t really like him very much. We’ve got very different views on lots of things generally, but politics particularly. But then we sat down on this park bench, and watched a street artist do someone’s portrait, and then just like that we found ourselves mutually appreciating something, and it was magical. So then when Thomas leaned over and kissed me, I was pretty much gone for him.”

There’s some cooing from all around them, and Alexander ducks his head, looking up at Thomas with a smile that makes his eyes crinkle wonderfully. It’s entirely made up, that anecdote, but Thomas would believe it if he could.

Hell, Thomas wants to believe it. In accepting that, he throws caution to the wind for a second, swooping in and pressing a kiss to Alexander’s lips. Alexander nearly drops his wine in surprise before he sets the glass down on the table to hold onto Thomas.

It’s perfect, is what it is. The way Alexander’s lips feel against him is something straight out of a fantasy, the pressure of them exquisite and the softness unparalleled. It’s tempting to close his eyes and dive right back in, but he draws away instead, catching a grin from Alexander that he reciprocates.

Thomas realizes his mistake when James looks at him in a very telling manner.

Philipp breaks the awkwardness by running up with another kid and saying that they’re going to be starting Kindergarten together in the fall.

(Wasn’t Philipp just barely 18 months a few days ago, Thomas thinks, then his heart clenches when he realizes that he has been with Alexander for two years now.)

+

He can’t avoid the James conversation now that he knows James has clued into the fact that something isn’t right. When James nods towards his study, Thomas follows.

“Tell me you’re not compromised,” James runs a hand across his face, tired.

Thomas looks at him evenly for a long time.

“Do you think I am?”

“I think what I just witnessed wasn’t an act,” James crosses his arms, leaning back onto his desk and challenging Thomas to refute it.

“It was for the benefit of those around us,” Thomas says – which isn’t a lie – because it was, but it isn’t the entire truth either, he knows. He wants to kiss Alexander a lot more than the few sparse times he has so far.

He’d been wondering why he hangs on to the few selective threads of integrity that he has, and here it is, the answer. Because the way James is looking right now poses immediate risk of reassignment, and he will not let that happen. He can’t.

(Witnesses in the program can request protection for their significant others, but that isn’t what Thomas is to Alexander, despite anything that might have grown between them. There is nothing Thomas is more painfully aware of than the fact that it is entirely possible that Alexander might be projecting, or that he might have transferred the role of Eliza onto him. There’s no proof that any of this is real, beyond what Thomas feels, and even that might only be borne out of months of forced proximity.)

“So what you’re saying is you’re fine?” James wonders. “I’m not just asking this as the agent you report to, Thomas. I’m also concerned and your friend, you know that, right? The witness is important, sure, but so are you.”

“I know,” Thomas says, nodding. “And I appreciate it. But I’m fine.”

He isn’t though, he really isn’t. This is the dictionary definition of being in too deep.

+

Benjamin Tallmadge’s apartment, unspecified location, United States

Yemen, about three years ago minus five days

Ben has four hours until the plane in the hangar is taking off to bring him back to Headquarters, so he has decided to just spend that time lounging in it, reading. The netting makes it a somewhat cozy place to lay his head, it should be alright. His plans are foiled early on.

There’s a disturbing clank and then someone is swinging themselves into the aircraft. Ben is ready to defend himself until he spots a gingery-brown beard.

“Caleb?” he asks, squinting at the backlit intruder. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Needed to talk to you, Tallboy, that’s all,” Caleb’s voice sounds normal again, the unrestrained version he knows from childhood, not the cover voice that aims to convey professionalism and cold-bloodedness. The nickname itself is a painful reminder of how much Ben used to preen when Caleb teased him thus, glad for the attention if nothing else.

“More intel?” Ben wonders, sitting upright and trying to pull his t-shirt back down where it has ridden up, but Caleb stills his efforts with a gentle hand to his elbow, coming to kneel beside him.

“Nothing so grave as that,” he assures him, eyes warm and full of life. “Just – you’ve been on my mind, Tallboy, more so since Tuesday.”

Tuesday – When Caleb spent an entire night pressing Ben into the mattress, playing at the real thing under the covers but really just making an effort to ignore the mutual erections that veritably popped up at earliest opportunity and kissing until their tongues hurt. Ben had previously thought that to be impossible.

“On your mind?” Ben repeats, dubious.

“Yeah,” Caleb says, that twinkle in his eyes insinuating something dirty. “Wanted to make sure we didn’t part with any misunderstandings between us, so that when I come home for Christmas we won’t have to cut through ten layers of added bullshit.”

Christmas is a long time away, Ben thinks, but it’s still a good deal Shorter than the recent intervals between their meetings.

“We’re good,” Ben shrugs, pretending like Tuesday night didn’t shake him to his very core,  like Caleb's hands didn't permanently scorch his skin in their exploration, like his lips didn't ruin him for anyone else, “You did what you had to do for a cover, nothing more than that. I get it.”

“That ain’t it though, Tallboy,” Caleb says, bracketing one hand on Ben’s hip and pulling him close with decisive action. “I’m good at pretending, I’ll admit it, alright, but Tuesday exceeded even my capacity for faking it.”

“What are you saying?” Ben whispers, somehow aware of the answer by the way Caleb’s eyes linger on his lips, meaningfully, but also needing to hear it said aloud.

“I want you, alright? That’s what I’m trying to say when I tell you you've been on my mind, and not just since Tuesday, alright?”

“Alright,” Ben nods, swallows, brings their lips together. Caleb wastes no time laying him out on the floor of the aircraft, hands pushing up the shirt even further, exploring again while their movements cease to be governed by any sort of restrain, only by the quest for more friction, more contact, more of everything. “Just like that, Ben,” he tells him, gasping when Ben gets a hand on him.

It was early august when they finally released Ben from the hospital and Caleb took him home to an apartment that looked too well made-up to have been left alone during the entirety of his indisposal, Ben thinks as he stirs awake against Caleb’s naked chest. There are conversations to be had about that, about Caleb taking care of essentially everything while he was out, but they have to be had when he is in a better position to have them. He can cover short distances with crutches now, but mostly relies on a wheelchair. He can talk more on some days than others, with no regular pattern to indicate why. Every day is like flipping a coin when it comes to words. It’s progress, but mind-numbingly slow progress, with no guarantee that he’ll make a full recovery. Caleb tells him he doesn’t mind, tells him that he’s in this until the end, but lying awake and watching Caleb snore contentedly now, it proves difficult to hold onto that notion.

Ben feels useless, is the truth of it – useless and half a failure for letting the weight of the entire mission drop back onto Steuben.

There was a time when Ben wasn’t bitter, he supposes. There must have been.

Caleb’s eyes open eventually, and Ben removes the traces of his thoughts from his face. He is enough of a burden as it is.

“Hey,” Caleb, voice still laced with sleep, tells him. He paws him closer and presses a sloppy kiss, morning breath included, to his nose.

Ben wastes none of the limited words he gets per day.

“What are we doing about the mole?” He asks, and watches as Caleb sighs and resigns himself to the apparently wonderful fate of life with him.

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

Alexander sits on the kitchen counter, sipping his topped up glass of wine as he watches Thomas do the dishes. There’d been some talk of chore rotating, now that Philipp is definitely old enough to participate in the household, but doing the dishes just seems too daunting a task, and at this hour Philipp is already asleep anyway. It’s approaching midnight, and they just finished a movie together.

"Hey, so, have you ever had a real relationship?"

"Awfully bold question, Alex," Thomas muses as he swats the towel in Alexander’s direction without real intent. (Alexander had offered to help, but there’s also a rule about the cook not cleaning up, and since Alexander is the only one that can reliably put together a delicious meal even after he taught Thomas some basic dishes, that leaves Thomas as the main dishwasher in this house. There is, of course, a mechanical one, but the dirty plates and cutlery they produce just aren’t worth throwing that huge thing into action.)

"Sue me – I’ve had two glasses of wine, my peak curiosity amount."

"No." Thomas sighs, telling the truth.

"No? What is my peak curiosity amount then, according to you?"

"No, I haven’t had a real relationship," Thomas clarifies. Alexander seems surprised by the lack of reluctance, but for tonight at least, Thomas’ resolve wears thin.

(He is reminded of James making a comment, ages ago, about Alexander’s ability to wear someone down. Perhaps he finds himself at his limits.)

"Not ever?"

"What do you want me to say, Alexander? I figured out I was gay when I was twelve, in a largely homophobic household. I basically hated myself up until college and by then I was just too busy."

"You’re not a virgin, are you?"

Now Thomas turns around, raising an eyebrow at Alexander to convey exasparation. The man is testing him, tonight - has been ever since he cuddled up to him on the couch, and Thomas isn’t dumb enough to dismiss the possibility of an underhanded seduction plan out of hand.

"I am under no obligation to answer that."

"Very true," Alexander grins and it scares Thomas a little. Who knew he could look so predatory? "Will you humor me, though? What’s your number, Thomas? In the spirit of getting to know one another."

"You know plenty about me already," Thomas almost yawns his way through his usual methods of deflecting.

"And what if someone asks me? How do I answer?"

Thomas knows when Alexander is trying to goad him into something, but he’ll bite. He steps closer, doesn’t miss the way Alexander’s legs part a little to allow him to step between them. He does, and for a second he thinks Alexander might wrap his legs around his waist. He does not, small mercy. Thomas plants his hands firmly on the counter, bracketing him in. "You could always answer what normal people who don’t have a chronic pathological need to overshare would answer, which is that such a thing is private."

"Mmh, yeah, I could," Alex nods, playing at thoughtfulness, "Or you could tell me."

"I could," Thomas agrees genially, continuing after he leans in closer to Alex to whisper, "But I won’t."

"Tease," Alexander groans when Thomas leans back again and returns to finishing up the dishes.

"Dearest you haven’t seen anything close to teasing yet," he smiles at Alexander over his shoulder.

"No?"

"No."

"Show me then."

"Maybe when you’re not drunk, hm?" Thomas sighs, knowing well that it’s an excuse. From the resigned face of Alexander, he gathers the man knows it too. They may toe the boundary from time to time, but to cross it is an impossibility.

+

Thomas might have guessed he’d grown too complacent after not receiving the dreaded ‘further notice’ from superiors. James’ briefings are mostly about how SIMCOE is the only missing link in the puzzle, how Rogers helped them track down those of his associates who aren’t dead yet, but that SIMCOE has also been leaving messages with the bodies of those associates that hadn’t been caught.

(“He cares not an inch about those he worked with, what he really cares about is staying a few steps ahead of us and making us look like fools. That’s what he wants and what he aims for all the time.”)

They were safe in Monticello, according to everyone, and so life carried on as it always had into fall, and Philipp’s first day of Kindergarten. The Gardener brightens up a little when he is called into duty for Philipp, but that initial shine quickly dulls again as weeks pass by with no noteworthy occurrence past Philipp perhaps chattering away too much in any given language.

Which is why, when the phone rings one morning as Thomas is sitting at the breakfast table with Philipp, he doesn’t think anything of it.

Da klingelt es,” Philipp points out, before going back to doodling. Thomas is about to get up, but Alexander’s hand strokes his shoulder in passing as he says: “I’ll get it, darling.”

Thomas stares after him, mentally sticking a pin with the descriptive ‘longing’ into his own chest where everything feels too tight. Alexander answers the phone with a practiced “Beauregard-Jefferson household, who is this?” And Thomas watches in real time as all the color drains out of his face. The phone drops out of his hand and shatters as Alexander stands, motionless save for the shaking of his fingers.

When it comes to the question what to do next, it really isn’t a question at all.

Chapter Text

 

Benjamin Tallmadge’s Apartment, unspecified location, United States

Pens are still hard to hold, most days. Recovering his fine-motor skills takes a great deal more effort than approximately bending his arm at the right angle to wave, for example. He manages waving pretty reliably these days, but life does not consist primarily of waving, nor does he much want it to. (“They’re your smallest muscles, Mr. Tallmadge, atrophy at such a progression as yours affects them particularly severely. Here – have a stress ball, you can work on your grip with that.”)

His fingers shake as soon as he gets the pen tight enough in his hand to actually try and put it to the paper. The letters he manages to produce are crude and seem more like a five year old's work than someone who won awards in school for his calligraphy.

(It is a daily struggle not to fall back into the pit of bitterness that seems to constantly loom next to him, like any small inconvenience might throw him right over the edge into those terrifying depths. He doesn't want to resign himself to his fate, but fighting anew each day exhausts him quickly.)

Caleb isn’t paying attention to him right now – he’s preparing something in the kitchen for them. Ben would have never professed himself to be a world-class chef, but making dinner that requires more than pressing a few buttons on the microwave would also be too exhausting to manage, most days. There have been a few good days where he managed to stir soup and even season it, carefully. It’s beyond frustrating, to be caught in a body that knows what it should do, but is utterly unable to execute the commands he issues. He watches Caleb move effortlessly, and feels resentment grow. Not towards Caleb – heavens, how could he hate Caleb for not getting himself injured? – But towards his own body, for failing him.

(His body isn’t at fault either, he tells himself when the headaches keep him awake at night while Caleb snores softly next to him. He ought to be glad it cooperated enough to keep him alive at all. The fault lies with whoever shot him, and that isn’t at all satisfying.)

He is glad to be alive. He would have hated to miss out on a life with Caleb. His gratitude is, however, not incompatible with his growing resentment and frustration. He's been snappy, he knows it. And Caleb remains, undaunted and smiling. 

Doctors say that he is on a steady track towards recovery. (“Extraordinary, to have regained that much function in your legs.” Or “Yes, your vitals are surprisingly good, Mr. Tallmadge, already more than we projected.") But it isn’t happening fast enough. SIMCOE is out there, still, and Ben can’t do a damn thing. Most nights he can’t even concentrate on the files for long enough to actually read more than five pages.

Caleb won’t let him have coffee, because he 'needs his rest’, and Ben knows he is right, but he cannot keep feeling this useless.

Some of his frustration must spill out in the way he is bent over the piece of paper with the insufferably unmanageable pen, because two seconds later Caleb is kneeling in front of his chair, his hands holding onto Ben’s, pressing kisses to them.

“Alright there, Tallboy?”

Ben casts a murderous look in his direction. “Right,” Caleb says, nose twitching as he frowns. “Anything I can do?”

There are a lot of things Caleb could do, that he hasn’t been doing. (Again, Ben knows the cessation of it is for his benefit, so that he doesn't spoil his recovery, but it has instead been spoiling his mood even further.)

“You could take me to bed,” Ben says.

“Tired already?” Caleb wonders, glancing over his shoulder. “It’s only seven.”

“No,” Ben sighs, moving one hand gingerly to rub his eyes. He is exhausted, but there is something else inside of him that needs, that hungers. “Take me...to bed.”

“Ben…” Caleb starts, chewing the inside of one cheek and scratching his beard. “You know I want to, yeah? It’s just gonna be a lot of stress on your body…and…”

“Fuck that.”

“Ben-”

Caleb.” Ben rolls his eyes, then takes a breath and gathers some strength so that his voice carries well. “I want you. I want you right now.”

He is aware, distantly, that he sounds like a petulant little brat. But it's been so long and while he never would have counted masturbation as a fine-motor skill, the effort of it still proves too much for him to have a go at it. 

He gets a few kisses for that, as Caleb pulls him down against a shallow ache his body produces at the strain, like an unwelcome relative on thanksgiving, something he can do nothing against and has to accept to continue in peace. 

“Fine,” Caleb says, pulling him up and leading him to the bedroom, slowly, where he lays Ben out like the sack of flour he feels like these days. “Stop me if it gets too intense, promise me,” Caleb commands sternly as he crawls on top of him, settling between his legs and unhooking his belt. He stops, gives Ben an expectant look, until Ben finds himself nodding.

And then…

Then bliss follows for a short while, as Caleb reminds him just how well he can use his mouth. He can't keep a firm grip in Caleb's hair, but he cards through it, holds on as best as he can, and soon forgets to care that he still has a million checks to make in the name of recovery.

(It almost makes it okay when he drops the fork during dinner and ends up covering himself with sauce. He’s got Caleb. He’ll be alright, someday.)

+

Monticello Safe House, VA, United States

“With all due respect, Sir,” Thomas interrupts Steuben’s complaints, “This location has been compromised and I will waste no time getting the witness to safety, whether or not you planned for it. I discussed this with Agent Tallmadge when he was in charge and I can’t imagine why you’d disagree.”

"Thomas," Steuben says, concerned, "That may be, but you have to realize that you'd be entirely on your own."

"I have some contacts from my time there," Thomas insists. "And I'd much rather have the witnesses safe than well-connected."

"Those contacts are almost a decade old, and from what you've told me not all of them are filled with warm memories."

"It's a risk I'm willing to take."

"Very well," Steuben finally seems resigned. "I'll funnel you the information we get once you establish a contact in the city. You'd do well to have some backup, if SIMCOE really is on your trail."

"This isn't my first rodeo," Thomas snorts, feeling quite belittled for a second. 

"I know, Thomas, I know. But James voiced concerns about whether or not you are in too deep, and he made a convincing argument."

"If I am, Sir, and I'm not saying I am, then that should play to your benefit, should it not? My increased desire to keep the witnesses safe, in this case a conflict of interest wouldn't be a conflict at all."

"We'll talk about this in your debriefing. For now you've got a job to do."

+

 

Thomas finds Alexander pacing in their bedroom, once the call has ended and he has taken a few seconds to clear his head and start putting a plan in action. He isn't exactly a wizard with computers, but obtaining the necessary documents is quite feasible. 

“Hey,” he says, feeling pretty stupid about it but hesitating nonetheless. Alexander still seems thoroughly shaken. 

“That voice,” he says, his own voice breaking, “I knew that voice. That was him. He killed-” Alexander’s choke opens the floodgates for his tears, and his entire body shakes. Thomas folds him into his arms and holds on tightly. It takes a long time for his breathing pattern to return to something like normalcy.

“He…he…Thomas, what if he comes for Philipp? He said he doesn't like leaving ends untied-”

“I won’t let that happen,” Thomas says, tightening his hold and burying a hand in Alexander’s hair, stroking in a way he knows calms his husband down. (“My mother used to do that,” he confessed, once, in the cover of night where they got away with more lack of professionalism than they ever should have.) “I won’t let anything happen to you, Alexander, or our son. I promise.”

He presses a kiss to Alexander’s hair, firmly, and feels Alexander shiver, though it seems the tears have stopped at long last. The way Alexander is holding onto him speaks of continued desperation, and Thomas suspects he is trying to pull himself together for Thomas' sake. That doesn't sit well with him, at all. He wants Alexander to be able to rely on him. 

“You can’t promise that,” Alexander whispers. Thomas pulls away to look Alexander in the eyes, cupping his cheeks, carefully, like he is something precious.

“Look at me, Alex,” he coaxes. When Alexander does, his eyes are brimming with unshed tears.

“I-” he takes a second to compose himself, before he tries again: “I would die before I let that happen, okay?”

Alexander’s eyes are glassy, he gets the impression that he isn’t really looking at him, that he resides somewhere in the deep recesses of his mind where his trauma is still stored, far off. But then one of his hands covers Thomas’ hand, and he breathes out: “Thomas.” 

He pulls him back in, and they stand, holding each other for a while longer, until the air between them settles and Thomas decides not to waste any more time. They've got little enough as it is, if SIMCOE knows where they live. (He's been to the psychoanalysis briefings of their most notorious serial killer, he knows that he enjoys the chase, that it's borderline impossible to escape once he's got you cornered, and he can't let that happen.)

 “Go wake up the kid, we’re leaving.”

“Where are you taking us, then? What’s the protocol?”

“Let’s call it a very long vacation for the time being,” Thomas says, hating the fear that creeps into Alexander’s eyes once the words register. He doesn’t say that they are on their own for the time being, that while pretty much the entirety of the Bureau is starting a manhunt for SIMCOE, he can’t exactly count on them to find him before he finds them. That is his burden to bear, his worry to force into submission. He can do this for Alexander, he can do this for their son. He has to. 

“Daddy?” Philipp comes stumbling into the room, rubbing at his eyes, Enki dangling by the leg from one tightly clutched fist. “Was ist los?”

Thomas feels a sense of loss, something acutely painful in his chest, so he lifts Philipp into his arms and presses kisses to his face and head.

“We’re going to take a little trip, the three of us? Okay, buddy?”

Papí ist traurig,” Philipp murmurs, looking more concerned than any almost-four-year-old has the right to. (Philipp knows a thing or two about his father being upset, and it makes a different sort of pain flare up in his chest.)

“Yeah,” Thomas eventually settles on, because his mind can’t really come up with a plausible explanation. Alexander is busy getting out the suitcases they packed months, over a year, ago, precisely for such an event.

“What happened?” Philipp wants to know, trying to shift in Thomas’ arms and reach for Alexander, who has his back turned on them. His shoulders are shaking and Thomas wishes he could do something, say something to Philipp that would soothe the little boy.

“Son los nervios, pequeño,” Alexander wipes his eyes covertly, sniffs once, then turns to give Philipp a powerfully convincing smile. “I’ve never been on a plane before, mi vida. Neither have you. It will be very fun for both of us, right?”

Avión?” Philipp gasps excitedly, earlier worries forgotten. He turns back to Thomas, all bright eyes and slightly gap-toothed smile. “Flugzeug? Richtig, Daddy? Wir fliegen?”

“That’s the plan.”

The exhaustion hits Philipp again in the backseat of the car, and his eyelashes flutter tiredly as his arms wrap around Enki, telling him in a quiet voice about the adventure they are going on, together, 'as a family'. Alexander keeps glancing at the backseat. Thomas reaches out a hand while he drives, and Alexander takes it like a lifeline.

James will make sure his car gets home from the airport; he made sure Monticello didn’t fall into disrepair even after 15 years of Thomas’ absence. There is no time for him to make a more elegant arrangement. He hasn't truly felt hunted in a while now, and this feels so much worse, with higher stakes than his own life. 

“For a while there, I was reasonably sure we were never going to have to use the fake identification,” Alexander murmurs as they get the now sleeping Philipp out of the car. Alexander hoists him up and Thomas takes the bags.

“Wait,” Thomas pauses, reaching back into the car and holding out Enki. Alexander’s eyes look impossibly warm, like fresh coffee without any creamer, when he realizes, even if he isn’t quite smiling. They get through check-in and security without a problem, although the guy stamping their visas gives them long, considering looks. (Thomas is fairly certain they aren’t because of the visas, those are bureau issued and as authentic as they get. It lists them as returning to France from vacation in the US. He doesn’t glance at that. What he does glance at is the fact that they are holding hands. Of course.)

(“Why Paris?” Alexander asks as they are settling into their seats. Thomas chooses to be honest and explains, as he whispers into Alexander's ear so they aren't overheard: "Because while hiding in a small town may seem intuitive, for temporary attempts to go into hiding, big cities are more inconspicuous. Makes it easier to blend in. Once someone tracks you to a little village, they've pretty much got you. We aren't even going to give him the chance to find us.")

+

Benjamin Tallmadge’s Apartment, unspecified location, United States

Years of covert missions make it almost impossible to sleep through noise that seems out of place. Back in Yemen, he'd wake up if those sleeping on the other side of the wall coughed, or even shifted on the bed particularly strangely. Caleb isn’t exactly sure of the science behind it, but he certainly believes in it. Ben would probably tell him that it is because his body has learned never to feel entirely at rest, that it has learned that out of place noises and their prompt recognition mean the difference between life and death. At least, he thinks Ben before he was shot would have said that. These days Ben does not say as much, and Caleb is often at a loss when it comes to consoling him. In any case, he feels more at rest with Ben than he has with anyone else in his entire life. 

The thing is – he is just so unbelievably grateful he got Ben back. That, somehow, against all odds, the universe, the benevolent creator, science, whatever, decided Ben would wake up. To him that is the greatest gift possible, but he isn’t blind. He can tell that Ben is frustrated, that his temper is shorter with himself than with others; that it tears him up that he can no longer meet the high standards he used to set for himself.

(It takes him back to his senior year in High School, when he’d been studying at the Tallmadge kitchen table with Samuel, and Benjamin had come home from his after school debate club talking about how the teacher said he wasn’t assertive enough, that he needed to believe in his arguments more. It had made him frown at his dinner as he contemplated how to increase the appearance of confidence, it had made him frown at his breakfast plate the next morning, and he hadn't really stopped frowning thoughtfully until the week afterwards, when he came home smiling a secretive little smile that made it clear the teacher had had cause to shower praise on him. It had been lovely. And then Caleb promptly stops himself from thinking any further about just how long he has known Ben, and just how much older he is than him. It doesn't freak him out anymore, everything between them developed once both of them were adults and age differences didn't matter that much anymore, but when he thinks too long about the fact that Ben was eleven when he was eighteen, he cringes. Never mind that the Ben he seduced was almost halfway to thirty.)

Case in point, the noise wakes him up, and his first instinct is to make sure Ben is also awake. But Ben isn’t in bed next to him, and all signs point towards him being the reason for the clatter. His stealth is considerably hindered by the recovery period, and that alone merits a place on the long list of grievances Ben carries against his body. 

He blinks his eyes and trudges to the living room, where he finds Ben hunched over the table in front of his couch, possibly ruining his eyesight because he only has a rather dim light on to read.

“Not sleeping isn’t gonna speed up the process, you know that, right?”

“Sleeping is impossible with these headaches,” Ben counters, not even looking at him.

“But it makes for pleasant reading backdrop, does it? Does the pain force you into focus?”

Now Ben does look at him, but only to narrow his eyes at him in obvious reproach. “Thought so,” Caleb snorts, coming over to sit down next to Ben.

“What are we looking at?”

I’m looking at all the missives from Abe and Townsend, to see if I possibly missed something. I also took the stuff you noted on Anna,” Ben explains, pointing a finger that only shakes a little at the coded journal Caleb kept. “You’re going back to sleep.”

“What, and miss out on all the action? Fat chance of that, Tallboy.”

Ben’s face sort of pinches, like he just bit into something entirely unpleasant – or maybe its just the fact that Caleb isn’t cooperating.

“Come on, Benny,” he goads, nudging Ben’s shoulder carefully, “Let me help.”

“You really want to help, you can give me a massage,” Ben tells him, lips twisting into a smug little smile when he focuses on the papers again. He loves that look of mischief on Ben. 

“Oh, you think I won’t, is that it? Alright then, Tallboy, scoot forward and rejoice beneath my gentle touch,” Caleb settles behind him, smooths his hands over Ben’s shoulders, kisses a trail of careful, open-mouthed kisses to his neck, only to whisper into his ear.

“Just don’t go getting no off-tangent thoughts now, alright?”

Ben’s eyes are closed, and he looks more relaxed than just a few seconds ago, so that is definitely a win in Caleb’s books. “Don’t confuse me with your double negatives,” he breathes out, though he smiles as he does, leaning back into Caleb, “This whole thing lacks enough sense as it is.”

“Oh, does it?” Caleb wonders, trailing his hands along Ben’s arms and breathing with him. (How could he ever not be joyful that he got Ben back?)

“Yes,” Ben frowns, “Look here, there’s a mention of overhearing a conversation between a Joseph Stansbury with a Jonathan Odell who claim to have knowledge of a Bureau operative willing to sell his colleagues out for the promise of 'monetary compensation'.”

“Yeah, Abe mentions it, but like always he adds unnecessary comments. There’s no one in the Bureau that could possibly complain that the salary isn’t cushy. We’re doing quite nicely on your recovery package,” Caleb agrees, hooking his chin over Ben’s shoulder and pinching one of his nipples,  just to see if they are still sensitive – they are, but it’s good to check every once in a while. To make sure he doesn't regress. It has nothing to do with the fact that Caleb loves the way it makes Ben gasp just a tiny bit. 

“Exactly,” Ben sighs, “So I thought to check if perhaps someone in the Bureau secretly has large debts, but it’d take more than my meager abilities to get past the security some of the higher ups have, and those that do occasionally partake have nary a debt, only the occasional lottery ticket. That speaks of perhaps a dream of riches, but isn’t really a solid motive. They couldn’t possibly have the clearance to find out about the raids anyway, Washington kept that very classified.”

“You’re very eloquent tonight,” Caleb notes, shifting slightly so he can pull Ben in more.

“You smell like peppermint,” Ben yawns, “That helps a little. So does your touch; you, in general.”

“What’s it say afterwards?” Caleb points towards the letter after he has given Ben an appropriate amount of kisses for his sweet words. (He’s helping, after all.)

“Just that Stansbury is looking for an introduction to John André,” Ben dismisses, “He’s the one that Rogers identified as the counter-FBI guy. We know he’s the one behind luring the mole away, but that helps us only a little if we don’t know who the mole is.”

“Do we have a picture of this André guy?”

“Yeah, hold on,” Ben reaches to the side to pull up his laptop, and Caleb does not point out the beads of sweat that still form on his neck at so little effort. He hits a few keys, has to refocus his hand movements a few times, but then a picture appears on screen. Caleb lets out an appreciative whistle.

“Now that’s a guy you change sides for,” he snorts, and is gratified to hear Ben chuckle. “Maybe, but I don’t think we can consider love as a motivation, can we? In any case, André creating a mole speaks of calculation, not passion.”

“Maybe not love from his side, but unrequited? I don’t know, Tallboy, that’s a powerful motive, if the mole thinks they can get his approval and possibly win his affection.”

“Yes, but the guys Abe mentions talked about money as motive.”

 “Ha,” Caleb snorts, “You know what that reminds me of?”

“Tell me,” Ben says, twisting his head over his shoulder to look at Caleb fondly.

“The front desk lady, Sybil, when I went back to talk with Washington about my future with the Bureau yesterday, she told me that they arrested a guy earlier that day cause he was inside the building without proper clearance, but then let him go because it turned out he had approval to be there from a way higher pay grade. Anyway, she said that he was so unfairly handsome that it almost seemed a crime to put him in cuffs. Just made me think about what people are willing to excuse in the name of beauty. Like how I excuse the fact that your hand is deliberately trying to snake it's way into my pants right now, Tallboy, because you're the prettiest man on this earth. We're on the verge of a breakthrough. I get that I am temptation incarnate, but keep it in your pants a little longer until we've got cause to celebrate, yeah?”

“Steuben didn’t tell me about any arrests,” Ben says, pensively, not removing his hand but instead ghosting his fingers over Caleb's skin. 

“Yeah, was a pretty small thing, he was free within an hour or so,” Caleb dismisses placing his hand over Ben's to make sure the grip is sufficient, “Anderson, or something, I think. You should be able to look him up.”

At this point he's definitely more into the idea of Ben's current plans, but apparently, his words have finally managed to pique Ben's interest. Figures. 

“Well,” Ben says in a wry tone that makes Caleb hope he is recovering his humor, “Now I have to see what ‘too pretty for handcuffs’ looks like.”

His search on the computer shows them a single file, which is almost merciful in comparison to their usual bureaucratic overload. The picture shown is clearly a screen-grab from one of the lobby’s security camera’s, but even so, it gives Caleb pause.

“Holy shit,” he breathes out, softly and more than a little surprised. Ben seems to agree.

“Who did you say gave him the clearance to be in Headquarters?”

+

Richelieu Apartment Safe House, Paris, France

It is nearing midnight in France when they arrive at the Safe House, to Philipp’s utter confusion. Alexander whispers something about time zones and makes them sound almost magical in his sleep-deprived state, which means Philipp, after exerting himself charming every flight attendant to make them fall at his feet, snuggles into Alexander, content to fall asleep in a place where time is different from everything as he knows it, as Thomas navigates the streets of Paris for them. He hasn’t been here in years, but there is something about Paris that feels inherently familiar to him.

Once inside, he turns the light on to find two people sitting at the kitchen table.

“Were the two of you just going to sit in the dark until we got here?” Thomas wonders, astounded.

Agent Hemmings a eu besoin d’une sieste, et moi j’ai passé le temps en pensant de votre raison pour revenir à Paris en secret,” Agent Noailles gets up, crossing her arms as the man comes back to awareness, clearing his throat. “Agent Jefferson, Je ne sais pas si vous vous en souvenez, voilá, c'est Agent Hemmings.”

 “Clairement,” Thomas responds, frowning, “Pourquoi est-il là?”

Il m’a dit qu’on ne peut pas compter sur vous en présence d’une belle femme, et ouais, c’était suprêmement condescendant, mais peut-être c’est aussi raisonnable, non?”

Et je suis certain que tout va bien pour Sally?” Thomas asks, fully aware that he is needling Agent Hemmings.

Elle est pensionné,” Agent Hemmings says, staring him down. “Pour s’occuper de son enfant. Qui avez-vous apporté?”

He points towards Alexander and Philipp, who, up until this point, had been hiding behind Thomas. “Mon mari et mon fils,” he introduces, pointedly.

Perhaps it is the tension in the air that wakes Philipp up again, perhaps it is the noise, because he blinks awake and immediately turns the full intensity of his puppy eyes on the woman, inducing her to fawn over him like he does to every woman he deems worthy of his attention. “Hello,” he chirps at her, and Thomas watches a smile flit onto her face.

“Hello, little man,” she coos at him, bending down so she can see eye to eye. “Did you have a nice little trip with your parents?”

“Yes! First time flying,” Philipp tells her brightly, “Daddy held me safe the whole time and the airplane ladies were so nice.”

“I bet. He’s holding you safely still,” she nods towards Alexander, and Thomas recognizes that as the minute interrogation it is supposed to be.

“No,” Philipp shakes his head, “That’s Papí. That is Daddy.” His tiny finger points towards Thomas as he explains. Adrienne raises her eyebrows. “I had no idea you’d gotten married.”

“We need somewhere to stay,” Alexander finally speaks up, still looking scared but valiantly trying to hide it.

Il joue un rôle pour votre mission, c’est ca?” Agent Noailles turns around to address Thomas again. He doesn't even need to look at Alexander to know the man just flinched at the implication that he is just a mission. Ah, the subtle nuances between what he should be and what he has become. 

J’apprécierais si vous pouviez arrêter de douter la validité de mon mariage,” Alexander speaks up, glaring at Agent Noailles, who does not look perturbed to have been understood. Instead she only inclines her head in a probably false show of remorse. 

“My apologies,” she says, “You can stay here tonight, and we’ll see about finding you a more permanent solution as quickly as possible. What of your Paris residence, Agent Jefferson?”

“That address is listed as my home on all official papers, our pursuer will be able to find that out. I stayed there quite some time, he would catch us out quickly.”

The next safe house Adrienne mentions is also out of discussion. “Large street, with too many opportunities for security camera feeds to be hacked into or positions to potentially fire from.”

“Ah, then that leaves the Hôtel Landron, does it not? You have fond memories of Cul-de-Sac Tailbout, do you not?” Agent Hemmings looks at him with narrowed eyes.

“I suppose that would be best,” Thomas retorts, fairly certain that the tension he feels is manifested on his face. He can't really complain, because Agent Hemmings is at least making a show of being professional. The little barbs are just as easily dismissed as banter. 

“Then let’s get you to sleep, little one, bien?” Agent Noailles smiles at Philipp, who nods eagerly. “Can you say ‘je voudrais dormir?’”

“Je fouh-drays dormi-r,” Philipp repeats, familiar with this routine. “I want to sleep. What’s your name?”

“You can call me Adrienne,” she smiles at him, leading him up the stairs by the hand. “What do I call you?”

“Buddy,” Philipp chirps, as Alexander calls after them: “His name is Sebastién.”

Thomas has been waiting for Alexander to make inquiries ever since the name dropped, and he does not disappoint once they are finally in bed together. Alexander’s fingers are tracing his collarbone, seemingly spelling out something Thomas couldn’t possibly identify. Apparently he forgot to pack a shirt for sleeping. If Thomas finds that it seems awfully convenient to Alexander tracing his chest, he keeps his peace about it. 

“Who is Sally?”

He takes a deep breath, and wonders how much he can say.

“During one of my earlier missions, here in Paris, I worked with her as my partner instead of Martha who was otherwise occupied. We were posing as a couple, and she fell pregnant during the mission. I don’t know how, but her brother, Agent Hemmings The Second, still believes that I am the father.”

“Did you sleep with her?”

“She’s female and I am very gay,” Thomas snorts.

“But you’ve probably slept with female marks, haven’t you?”

“I have,” Thomas nods, thoughtfully, “That’s different though. In the end genitals make up scarcely any part of my attraction to men. That was always part of the job, so you grit your eyes, maybe popped a pill if you really needed to, and did it. She was a fellow agent – there was no reason to sleep with her, barring attraction, had there been any.”

“I see.” Alexander murmurs. “So you’ve always been the very picture of professionalism? No skeletons in your closet?”

“Well,” Thomas sighs. “That’s a bold and untrue claim, but I can wash my hands clean of that particular accusation, at least.”

“Did you ever sleep with Martha?”

“I think our time together must have given you a very strange picture of what my job usually entails,” Thomas chuckles into Alexander’s hair, and can practically feel him roll his eyes. “I don’t usually work with witnesses, Alex. They usually send me in as a bachelor to infiltrate crime rings, sex is usually a remote possibility. This has, up until now, been a very passive mission for me.”

“Do you regret taking us on?”

“How could I ever regret you?” Thomas wonders, feeling the truth of it in his every bone. Alexander interlaces their hands, and Thomas brings it up to his lips to kiss it, before they fall asleep together.

+

WITSEC Headquarters, unspecified location, United States

“You know, Caleb, this wheelchair is rather humiliating,” Ben grumbles as they fish for their identifications in the morning, showing them to the front desk lady and then once more showing them to the scanner. Caleb bends forward to whisper into Ben’s ear.

“Not as humiliating as falling into Washington’s lap because you’ve got a spontaneous cramp. Now, I’m not the type to be jealous, Benny-boy, but you do voice a fair bit of admiration for the big guy, and in such a case I’d have to fight for your honor-”

“Oh, shut up,” Ben rolls his eyes, but he does tilt his head to the side to give Caleb a quick kiss that effects his command quite efficiently.  

The looks they get as they make their way to Washington’s office are both speculative and painfully obvious in the way their coworkers try to be covert.

“I have half a mind to just pull you into my lap and kiss you, if only to satisfy their curiosity,” Ben rumbles from somewhere deep in his throat, already rubbing at his temple from the strain of so much background noise.

“Maybe after we’ve caught our guy, yeah? You won’t find me unwilling, but I think you’d hate it if we let him slip away.”

They are admitted into Washington’s office without delay, and the man looks glad to see them, but before he can speak up to offer congratulations or something equally unwelcome, Ben does.

“Recall Agent Jameson and tell him to re-arrest the guy he let go yesterday, he’s Roger’s guy André.”

Washington’s brow wrinkles. “Jameson should still be in the building, he just got done briefing Benedict about what happened yesterday. We can set him onto that task right now.”

Caleb feels Ben tense, he would feel it even without the hand he’s got on his shoulder.

“Incidentally,” Ben wonders, “Just where is Agent Arnold?”

 “Arnold? I just sent him home for the day, he was looking rather ill so I thought I would cancel our breakfast appointment. You missed him by about twenty minutes.”

Chapter Text

Hôtel Landron Safe House, Rue du Helder, Paris, France

Three weeks after their arrival in France they have settled into the Hôtel Landron Safe House, in the Ninth Arrondissement. Philipp has joined a Kindergarten about three blocks away. Adrienne, fully enamored with Philipp, had offered to enroll him in the same class as her daughter Virginie, where she offers parental supervision three times a week. It had given her certain strings to pull, when otherwise they would have had to deal with a host of issues, including but not limited to Philipp’s as of yet lack of complete grasp of the French language. Adrienne’s missions for the DGSI are rather sporadic, and it’s a rare thing for her to take something on these days.

Thomas hasn’t heard anything from the Bureau since his phone call with Steuben before they headed to the airport. (Adrienne confirmed that she made contact with James and very pointedly asked why Thomas hadn’t told her that Alexander was a witness – followed by angry eyebrows and a concerned question of whether or not Alexander even knew that that he was just a witness. The answer had lodged painfully in Thomas’ throat before he finally got it out. It hadn’t even been halfway credible by then, and Adrienne had looked mildly sympathetic while managing to be very disapproving.)

Still, Adrienne settles into being their new, unofficial liaison very well, coming over frequently and staying longer than intended, most times.

“It’s too high-risk for a single mother to just slip undercover for so long,” she tells Alexander when she comes over initially to pick up Virginie but staying for dinner, walking from her place in the 8th Arrondissement, sitting at the kitchen table and sipping her wine as they watch Philipp and Virginie play with Enki and giggle at one another.

“She is the product of myself and a French sperm donor,” she explains, when Alexander finds the courage to voice an enquiry as to the girl’s father, “We keep in touch pretty regularly, he visits her twice a year when he comes to France for business and she’s always happy to see him and his partner.”

Alexander smiles as he regards the little girl on the carpet with Philipp, dark blond ringlets framing her face and bouncing as she talks to Philipp in rapid-fire French.

Nous devrions créer…pantalons pour Enki.” Thomas can make out only part of her words, her enunciation isn’t all that clear yet. But Philipp looks at her, nods seriously, then beams: “Si! Si! Pantalones!”

He turns back to Thomas, the parent currently not busy with cooking or conversation, and says seriously: “Wir brauchen Hosen! Ganz wichtig!”

Mal sehen,” Thomas tells him, wondering for a while how a turtle would wear pants.

“What about Sebastién’s mother?” He hears Adrienne ask. Thomas tenses up, forcing himself not to look at Alexander.

(He hasn’t mentioned Eliza once, since they came to Paris, and sometimes Thomas catches himself thinking that Alexander left her behind with everything else in America, and then he feels guilty. He feels guilty a lot these days. There is no reason to it, you cannot help feelings, and yet he continues to torture himself with the fact that what has developed between him and Alexander may very well be unethical – if not entirely unreal and born of circumstance.)

“She passed, shortly after his birth. Then I met Thomas, you know how it goes.” Alexander explains – Thomas hasn’t told him that Adrienne knows about the cover marriage, the one that has become increasingly real. It is striking to Thomas, how calm he sounds as he talks about her now.

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Adrienne truly sounds it. “You loved her very much, yes?”

“With my whole heart,” Alexander smiles, turning the stove off and putting the lid on whatever he is preparing to let it simmer for a few more minutes, “But she’s  been gone so long, Adrienne, it has turned mostly into gratitude that I got the chance to know her at all. And that some part of her continues to live on.”

Adrienne nods, thoughtfully, “Did I ever tell you about why I followed the career path I did?”

“We’ve known each other for three weeks, and though our conversations have been riveting, I don’t think that had the time to come up,” Alexander tells her, setting out plates for everyone.

“There was a terrorist attack in Paris, years ago, when I was still very young, that killed my sister, my mother, and my grandmother, all at once,” she explains, her own fingers unsteady on the glass of wine she sips from. “I wanted to get to the bottom of why someone would do this. It made me think that France must be a very unwelcoming country indeed, if we have given enough grievances that someone would lash out like that.”

“Truthfully, that is not the answer I was expecting,” Alexander says, taking her hand and squeezing. “I’m so sorry.”

She talks to Alexander about a great deal of things after that inadvertent confession, the two of them coming together in mutual loss. The reason for her involvement with the DGSI had been previously unknown to Thomas. He knows what followed afterwards, what lead to her quasi-retirement. A mission gone wrong, imprisonment for an extended period of time, and a chronic illness as a farewell gift that she never quite managed to get under control. She’s still prone to coughing fits and spells of dizziness on occasion, but she is fighting back against it all the same. In light of that, undercover work was no longer possible. Then Virginie came along, and Adrienne rebuilt a family of her own, slowly.

Virginie and Philipp get along very well, in any case, and Thomas agrees with Alexander that a similarly aged close companion is good for their child. They make quick work of overcoming their language barriers, repeating words at each other in various languages until one of them nods and signals they understand. Sometimes Thomas envies them for their brain plasticity.

When it so happens that a Spanish word and a French word are not at all similar, they resort to drastic measures. Case in point: the butterfly debacle.

Je veux être un papillon!” She tells him one day, as Thomas is walking them to Kindergarten. The streets are windswept and she is making demonstrative movements with her arms. Philipp cocks his head at her. “Oiseau?” He wonders.

Non, non,” Virginie giggles, as if the thought of her movements being interpreted as bird-like is the funniest thing she has ever heard. “Papillon! Je suis un papillon!”

Pájaro?” He turns around to look at Thomas helplessly, “Daddy? Vogel?”

Sie meint einen Schmetterling,” Thomas offers. Philipp looks even more concerned, and Thomas mourns the fact that while his German is admirable, there are words he just doesn’t know, because Thomas hasn’t taught him yet, and he has no one else to practice German with. Now Philipp’s lower lip is quivering. “A butterfly, buddy. You know what that is,” Thomas tells him, gently.

Philipp takes two seconds before he releases a soft gasp of realization, nodding profusely and taking Virginie’s hand to flap along with her. “Mariposa!” He beams, as Virginie laughs and repeats the word, louder. They spend the entire trip to their Kindergarten skipping and pretending to be butterflies.

The system they use isn’t perfect, but damn it all if Thomas isn’t suitably impressed.

+

They settle into their new lives in Paris all too easily. Part of it is the illusion that no message from the Bureau means there is no reason for concern, and the lack of correspondence settles over them like a warm, comforting blanket of safety. Winter envelops the city, and at some point they can’t put Christmas shopping off any longer, once December is thoroughly rung in.

“If you pick me up some groceries, Thomas, I’ll watch the kids for the afternoon,” Adrienne winks as she hands him a list. She has warmed up to Thomas more than he expected her to, all things considered. Back when he asked for her help she insisted on addressing him with the formal vous, but when she speaks French to him now, rarely, because she insists that her English needs the practice, she slips into the informal tu. Thomas knows most of that is Alexander’s work. The man is just too damn charming. And if Virginie talks as much about Philipp as he talks about her, it should be clear that they are inseparable by now, and their respective parents should just go with it instead of fighting that particular friendship.

Hence, the reason why Thomas and Alex are strolling across the city, a few weeks before Christmas, hand in hand, is demonstrated. The Champs-Elysées aren’t too far from their place by subway, but today they’ve chosen to walk, because about a month in Paris has not been enough to lessen Alexander’s fascination with the city.  

(This is, Thomas knows, the first time the man has left the States after he immigrated at age 17. He supposes in that case he would also be floored by Europe. There is a certain splendor here that the United States cannot imitate, an age to the buildings of a city that stretches more than one millennium into the past. And, he supposes, though the history of Europe is tainted by more bloodshed than conceivable to the human brain, it does a better job of hiding it. No confederate statues would remain erect here.)

“I can’t believe Philipp will be four in just over a month. Time flies so quickly, doesn’t it?” Thomas muses, directly after the thought comes to his mind, unbidden and somewhat painful.

“There are a lot of things to be said about time,” Alex agrees, thoughtfully. They get a coffee as they take a break, sitting down on a park bench.

"Is it wrong that I like this?" Thomas wonders quietly. He feels Alexander’s thigh against his own and can’t find a persuasive reason to deny what he feels any longer. Alex looks at him curiously and he wishes he could take it back. What good does it do, to confess, if nothing can come of it?

Still, those eyes – Thomas can’t help it. "I mean, of course this is a job, but you’re – you’re amazing, Alexander, truly."

There’s a man playing a lonely tune somewhere around them – Thomas can’t see him, but the music sounds lovely to his ears, it really does. Generally the city is very loud, various voices raised in the quest to sell their illegal merchandise, tourists chatting, pointing, gasping. He can’t hear any of it anymore, as they look at one another.

Alexander blinks. His hand comes up to stroke Thomas’ cheek, hesitantly, like he is very much afraid of being denied even this. He knows he shouldn’t, but he lets his eyes flutter closed as he leans into the touch. He craves Alexander’s touch. He craves Alex. The touch of Alexander’s lips to his is careful; it is much softer than the kisses they have shared thus far – a total of four, he thinks. This one is the first that feels entirely real; private, vulnerable, just for the two of them. Alex doesn’t push. There is no slip of tongue, no pressing against one another with abandon like he recalls himself falling into at the charity gala. It’s a chaste kiss, but it leaves Thomas’ head spinning. He pulls back. Their eyes open to gaze at one another again.

"I like this too." Alexander admits. Thomas gives in for a moment. He is weak. He kisses Alex. They are both shaking, not just from the cold, hands intertwined. There is fear in the kiss. Thomas is scared of the magnitude of his feelings, how much they threaten to consume him. They pull away again, foreheads resting against one another as their breaths mingle in the little space of air left between them.

"This can’t happen," Thomas insists hoarsely, aching at the thought of it. “I’m so sorry, Alex, but it can’t.” He needs Alex to understand that it doesn’t matter that he wants to spend his life with him. He can’t.

"I know," Alex says sadly, stroking his thumb over Thomas’ cheek. “Doesn’t stop what I feel though.”

Thomas knows that sentiment all too well.

+

Benjamin Tallmadge’s apartment, unspecified location, United States

It isn’t often that Ben wakes up to Caleb between his legs, even less so since his injuries, but today he does, and it is glorious. His hands are twitchy and shaking by the time they find Caleb’s hair, but it doesn’t matter, none of it matters – he hardly feels the strain at all, can’t think of anything but the words that flee his lips: “Christ, Caleb.”

“Look who’s awake,” Caleb’s voice is muffled beneath the sheets – it’s too cold in his apartment for them to be bared to the air – and laced with entirely too much mischief. “Took you long enough, Tallboy, I’ve been at it for a good five minutes now.”

Ben rouses himself a bit more so that he can manage to flip the cover back, revealing Caleb to him. “Hey,” he manages, his heart beating too wildly to facilitate proper thinking. “You should fuck me.”

He hadn't broached the subject again since Caleb explained his reasons for reluctance, but he's been getting better. He wants this. 

Caleb pauses, kisses the inside of Ben’s thigh, affectionately concerned, his eyebrows furrowed. “Yeah?”

In the aftermath of it, Ben is exhausted like he hasn’t been in a very long time, worn out but sated and entirely happy for it as he rests on top of Caleb, indulging the man in his wish to pet his hair. (It isn’t a hardship to burrow into Caleb, not at all. He could do this all day.)

“Steuben called earlier,” Caleb finally mentions, “Says the big man wants to negotiate my return to the Bureau.”

“Are you going to?” Ben asks carefully, because they could probably live on his salary alone, but Caleb would surely go crazy with no row to get in for extended periods of time. He recalls all the times Sam and Caleb came home from school bloodied and bruised, sent to the principal’s office for one infraction or another. Ben had always watched with a mixture of awe and concern and anger. He can’t imagine how much worse shape Caleb could end up in now that he’s actually been trained to fight instead of swinging without proper direction at bullies in school.

“Nah,” he says, and Ben hopes he doesn’t notice how displeasing he finds that. “I thought I might head in a different direction – private investigator, or the like.”

“That’s what restless retirees do,” Ben points out, just to be contrary, though he is unspeakably relieved that Caleb plans to at least channel all his energy into something productive rather than destructive.

“Am I not a retiree?”

“Point,” Ben yawns. “But if you’re a retiree I can’t tell you what we got from John André last night.”

“Then I guess I'm not retired just yet. He finally talked?” Caleb wonders, letting out a slow whistle, “Who got him to?”

“There was – Well, Steuben assured him that Arnold’s family hadn’t come to harm, that they all followed him into hiding and were presumably safe, and that seemed to open the floodgates. We know who SIMCOE is now, he was very cooperative. Rather charming, if I'm honest.”

“That doesn’t put as closer to finding the little piece of shit though, does it?” Caleb resumes carding his hands through Ben’s hair after pausing initially at the word charming. It has grown a bit too long – he really should cut it again soon. “I thought Mrs. Arnold was in our custody.”

Ben lets out a snort. “We did have her. But then she faked a very convincing panic attack and escaped from the hospital just in time.”

“Alright, out with it then. Who is SIMCOE?”

“His name is John Graves Simcoe, and if you’re thinking that sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Before the SIMCOE cases popped up on our radar, we had Graves cases. He’s been at it for very, very long.”

Caleb makes a considering noise. “What of our charming spymaster André?”

“Washington is rather determined to see him die, I think. He’s a British national, but that isn’t an insurmountable obstacle.”

“Because he can’t punish Arnold?”

“That surely plays a part in it.”

“Has he even informed the Brits that we have him in custody?” Caleb wonders, stretching a little. His arms wrap around Ben to stabilize him as he does.

“I hardly know, he’s been rather reclusive in the face of that betrayal. Did you know Arnold sent him a letter?”

Caleb makes a noise of interest.

“Apparently it said that if André vanishes or dies he would ensure that the entirety of the Bureau faces bloody retribution,” Ben reveals.

“So, more or less, we’re still between a rock and a hard place here, yeah?”

“Precisely,” Ben murmurs, discontent with the situation.    

+

Hôtel Landron Safe House, Rue du Helder, Paris, France

“We’re going out,” says Alexander two days after the tender, clandestine kiss they shared, fiddling nervously with the cufflink on his dark blue shirt and not looking Thomas in the eye. Thomas stops short for a second, unpacking that statement. “I already asked Adrienne if she would watch Philipp for the night. She’s with him in the kitchen, and Virginie is about to hit the roof in excitement at the prospect of a proper play date sleepover.”

“Alright,” Thomas says, not liking the look in Alexander’s eyes when the man finally deigns to look at him. It speaks of a plan being set in motion. “What are we doing then, dinner? A movie, perhaps?”

“No, Thomas,” Alexander shakes his head, gently but seriously, like he has had to work himself up to saying it. “We’re going out so I can find someone to have sex with.”

“Pardon?”

His stomach lurches, he cannot help it. Surely, he misheard?

“I can’t wake up in your arms every day and know that it’ll never go further, that you can’t let it. I understand, I do, really, but I need – Thomas, I need more. I need to feel someone…”

He cuts himself off as his voice breaks, his lower lip already trembling. The implications are like a punch to the gut as they finally sink in. He hates that look on Alexander, hungry for something and nearing desperation. It makes him curse this situation, because he can’t do anything about it, much as it everything inside of him is trying to crowd close to Alex. The distance to Alexander would be covered easily enough. Three steps and he could pull him into his arms, just three.

His feet don’t move. He can’t. His heart breaks over it and everything aches, but he can’t.

“We’ll have to be careful,” Thomas finally manages to get out, though his throat feels thick and stiff, it hurts to swallow, and the pain seems to only travel further into him, ready to fester there.

“What does careful entail?” Alexander wants to know.

“I’ll vet them before I can give you the go ahead and it’ll have to be quick,” Thomas says, somehow managing to keep his voice steady and controlled. Barely. The thread is thin and close to snapping. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll need to take a shower beforehand.”

+

A Seedy Establishment, Paris, France

Alexander waits until they’re already in front of the seedy club he chose for his quest before he takes off the wedding band he has worn for over two years now, just to hammer the point home to Thomas that this is going to hurt, and gives it to him for safekeeping. It disappears into Thomas’ pocket, where it sits, weighing more than any burden he has carried up until now.  

It doesn’t take Alexander long to catch someone’s interest, Thomas hadn’t expected it to. He looks good, with his hair up in a bun and the first two buttons on his shirt popped. That look is hardly a temptation to Thomas anymore, after the myriad of versions he has seen of him, but the novelty of it is alluring to club-goers, undoubtedly. There is something about Alexander that is just ridiculously attractive, that draws people around him in more than the metaphorical flame does to the moth.

Current guy is tall, has sandy, reddish hair, a long nose and is wearing clothes that seem ill-fitting, like he intentionally bought them a size too small so that they stretch across his frame. He has one hand on Alexander’s waist – which Thomas thinks is ridiculous, it isn’t as though that will make him more easily understood – as he leans in to whisper into Alexander’s ear. There’s a slow smile curling on Alexander’s lips, it looks genuine. His eyes are filling with anticipation and Thomas’ chest fills with pressure that will not abate.

Alexander glances back at Thomas, and he forces himself to nod. There is nothing suspicious about the way this guy is behaving, objectively. Thomas is just having an immensely hard time of it. The hand on Alexander’s waist curls as the guy pulls Alexander close and they dance, their eyes hooded as they regard each other, seemingly liking what they see well enough.

And then, the guy ruins Thomas’ previous resolve by tucking one of Alexander’s strands of hair behind his ear. Alexander smiles brightly. It’s too intimate, it awakens a sort of panic in Thomas that this won’t be a casual, seedy hookup. What if Alexander falls for this guy? The fear of that is nearly paralyzing.

Damn it all to hell. 

Thomas has crossed the space to them in no time and has Alexander’s hand in his before he even realizes he is leading him towards the backdoor and out of it. Alexander goes with him until he realizes that even though Thomas must look murderous, they aren’t in actual danger, because then he turns utterly confused.   

“Hey, what the fu-”

Alexander doesn’t get to say anything more before Thomas has him backed against the wall, his face firmly in his hands, kissing him breathless. Alexander’s legs buckle and Thomas sweeps an arm around him to hold him upright, ignoring the increasingly loud thumping in his chest as they kiss and kiss and kiss.

“I shouldn’t-” Thomas pants, tearing himself away only to dive right back in. “This shouldn’t be happening.”

His resolve has broken, he is weak, he can’t deny himself any longer. (He doesn’t want to, either. Not when Alexander, tight against him, feels like this, not when he has him in his arms at last.)

“Then stop it,” Alexander says, grabbing at him and pressing against him, accepting the sudden change in him in stride. “Stop me, Thomas, come on.”

His fingers, deterred only a little by the cold, get Thomas’ jacket open quick enough for him to run his hands over his back, pulling him in. He hitches one leg up around his waist, Thomas pushes forward, they both groan. He doesn’t expect Alexander to take control, but he goes along, his brain cushioned by the floaty feeling his proximity always induces, kissing and biting and licking until Alexander is the one to push him against the wall, a few short seconds before he falls to his knees in front of him.

“Alex,” he says, eyelids fluttering. He should say something stop him. This isn’t the right place, they shouldn’t –

What comes out instead is something entirely else. “God, please, Alex.” When did his voice start sounding like that? Since when is he capable of producing a sound so raw and anguished, so full of need?

Alexander’s teeth chatter as he frees Thomas, shoving his pants aside as much as strictly necessary. He feels the tear of a condom packet, and then cold fingers are on him, rolling it down, before they are immediately replaced by something hot and warm and wet. Thomas shudders, knees going weak. He can’t look. He can’t have the image of Alexander Hamilton sucking him off behind his eyelids, it will never disappear. It will brand him irrevocably. 

“Tell me to stop,” Alexander sounds husky, wild, and desperate. Thomas looks. 

“I can’t,” Thomas says, brokenly, his breath coming fast as he puts a hand to Alexander’s cheek. “I don’t want you to stop.”

Alexander doesn’t stop.

“I haven’t done this in ages, Thomas, so…” He clears his throat: “Feel free to correct me a little.”

He takes him in, initially settling for taking his spit-slicked hand and tugging at him as his tongue explores the head of him, but that soon turns out not to be enough for him as Thomas is already dangerously close to teetering off the edge under his guidance.

“We can…” Thomas says, pausing to gasp, still amazed at how wrecked he sounds, even to his own ears, “We don’t need to do this here, we can go back…do this in a proper bed.”

Alexander pauses, and Thomas will never be able to ignore the sight of Alexander, wide-eyed, with his dick halfway inside of his mouth, looking at him. He pulls off. “Are you going to change your mind about this by the time we get there?”

It’s a valid question.

“No,” he finally breathes out, “I’ve made my decision. I don’t want to go back to…oh, fuck…oh…Alex.”

“Then kindly let me finish this before you make plans to have at me in our bed.” Alexander looks less desperate now, he is starting to look like he might be enjoying handling Thomas like this all too much. “Alright with you, husband?”

“Yes,” Thomas somehow manages to breathe out, fishing in his pocket for the ring Alexander took off earlier. He manages to find it despite his fingers being partially frozen already, and takes Alexander’s hand in both of his.

Perhaps it is a bit crude, to do this while the man is still on his knees for him, but Thomas slips the ring on, and it feels entirely right, hotter than it has any right to be. Alexander seems to agree because he moans around Thomas and it goes to his brain quicker than anything. (He’s consumed a fair share of illegal substances – this high is different, powerful in its own way.)

He holds onto Alex, shivering when he feels the cold drag of the ring on Alexander’s finger, even past the latex, and loses himself in the feeling of it.

“Alex…” he says, “I’m about to-”

It only seems to spur Alexander on even further.

“Alright,” he says, getting up and kissing Thomas as he continues the ministration of his fingers. Thomas bucks forward, he can’t seem to get himself under control. He’s pretty sure that as his mind shorts out he stops kissing Alexander in favor of panting into his mouth, where he gets vague hints of flavored latex from the man in return that somehow do not take away from the experience at all.

Alexander tucks him into his pants after he almost yanks the condom off, clears his throat again.

“Did you mean it?” He says, voice a little damaged anyway. Thomas doesn’t need to ask to know what the man is asking him. He could try to lie, but what good would that do? He’s been lying to himself for almost a year now.

So, he takes Alexander’s hand in his two larger one, pulls him close, kisses the hand again and again, where the ring sits. “I meant it.” He whispers, seriously. Alexander swallows loudly, smiles, nods: “Good.”

He leans in for a kiss, calmer and more assured than before: “Let’s go home.”

Chapter Text

Hôtel Landron Safe House, Rue du Helder, Paris, France

The apartment is empty when they stumble back into it, hands pressed together tightly as though Thomas is not alone in this strange fear that the moment of intimacy might be broken if he allows himself to stop and think about it. It is a fight against reason, one he has been losing for months now. Alexander seems determined as he pulls Thomas into their bedroom, and exhales loudly when Thomas closes the door behind him. The closing of the door marks a sort of point of no return, once more, as though he didn't burn every bridge to proper conduct when he pushed Alex against the alley wall and drank deep from his mouth. 

(As though he didn't strike the first match long ago. The flames those bridges are up in now are the collective result of a million little fires, started by the little intimacies he let himself have, that turned into this inferno inside of him now.)

“Take it off,” Alexander nods hastily when Thomas pops the first button of his shirt, giving Alexander a hesitant glance. His eyes are alive, heated, every bit of sadness Thomas thought he might have seen in them once upon a time replaced by something else, something that makes him shiver to name. Desire, he thinks. 

Thomas complies with the order all too readily, shrugging out of his shirt as Alexander watches him, not bothering to hide his lust any more. He toes his shoes off, undoes his belt, steps out of his pants, bends down and – as quickly and smoothly as possible – pulls his socks off, before straightening again. Alexander is still fully clothed, and Alexander is staring. His tongue darts out to lick at his lips and Thomas steps closer. To hell with it, he reminds himself, he already went too far, even if he were to stop now the consequences would no longer be avoidable. He cannot salvage this any longer, he might as well allow what both of them are yearning for. 

“Alex,” he whispers, because anything louder, it seems to Thomas, would disturb the image before him. “You wanna lose the clothes or not?”

“Why don’t you take them off for me?” Alexander tempts. If Thomas lets out a hum of consideration, it is purely cosmetic, to cover up how desperately he wants to jump at the opportunity.

“Hang on,” he says, when he finally has Alexander down to his boxers. Alexander looks confused right up until the moment when music starts softly playing from the television speakers. Then he cracks a smile that looks helplessly amused.

“Really?”   

“The walls are thin,” Thomas offers as an explanation, voice dropped to a low whisper as he walks Alexander backwards to the bed, where they fall onto soft sheets, tangled together. Alexander’s skin is a furnace against him; his kisses are like hot wax poured onto him, pleasant even as they burn.  

“It’s also past midnight – our neighbors are bound to be asleep,” Alexander says into the kiss, running his fingers up Thomas’ arms like he is trying to commit the feel of them into memory. Every bit of skin he traces comes alive beneath his fingers. He feels a little like a stature in the making, formed by Alexander’s hands into something wonderful.

“Then indulge me and accept that I want music for our first time because I am ridiculously romantic?”

"Does it have to be Trey Songz though?"

"Are you opposed to his voice? There are other artists on the playlist."

"Well it's a bit cliche, dearest, don't you think so?"

"It's mood appropriate," Thomas insists. "I can change it if it bothers you."

"We're good," Alexander smiles up at him, giving him a quick kiss. 

"Are you sure?" Thomas wonders. 

“Yeah,” Alexander sounds happy, Thomas is strangely reminded of a sated cat as he watches the man arch his back, “They all warned me about your romantic tendencies, didn’t they? Come kiss me again.” He scoots backwards on the bed, managing to look seductive despite the crab-like nature of his movements. Thomas is simply ridiculously gone over him. He supposes everything about Alexander would fascinate him enough to warrant admiration.

It isn’t Thomas’ first time – far from it, truthfully – but it is the first time with someone that matters, the first time it has been born of something so strong, that he wants it to be special. Frantic, desperate fumbles behind the club out of the way, he can focus on how he really wants this to go. He wants to take his time with Alexander, make this last for hours.

“I want to blow you,” Thomas tells Alexander, hand traveling down to knead the soft flesh of Alexander’s ass. “Can I?”

“Yes,” Alexander breathes out, fingers soft on Thomas’ jaw as they look at one another. He is so, so beautiful, Thomas finds it a little hard to breathe. “Condoms?”

This is a bad time to remind Alexander that he had been, presumably, monogamous with Eliza for a decade and celibate for a few years now, so he says: “I’m fine without if you are.”

“Is that wise?” Alexander muses, “Don’t they teach you to use protection with your marks?”

“You’re not a mark,” Thomas shakes his head, cradling Alexander’s face in his hands as they draw apart a little more to look at each other fully. “You’re – Alex, you’re a lot more than that to me.”

He can't voice exactly what he feels for Alexander, though it feels a little dishonest. A lie by omission is still a lie, after all. But he is afraid what Alex might say to such a confession. 

“As much as I appreciate the sentiment, there’s something that sits uncomfortably with me at the notion that a lack of condoms should make for more intimacy,” Alexander argues, raising an eyebrow. “Safe sex is sexy, you know?”

They look at each other a while longer, then Thomas rolls sideways to fish around in Alexander’s nightstand where he finds a small pack of condoms.

Condoms that were supposed to be used to get off with a stranger in a club – Thomas is very aware of what nearly happened tonight. A second grab gets him a few travel packets of lube that land on the pillows with a crinkling noise that doubles as a promise.

“Lay back,” Thomas commands, kissing the inside of Alexander’s thigh softly and spreading the man’s legs. “I don’t like hair pulling, just so you know. You can hold it, but no tugging.”

Alexander nods, and then Thomas rolls the condom on. The first lick is tentative, before a soft gasp from Alexander melts away any and all hesitation on his part. In the midst of a moan, Alexander begins to laugh, breathless. Thomas draws away, delighted to see Alexander smile but confused as to the reason.

“Were you humming along to the music just now?”

Thomas huffs out a short laugh, and goes back down on him. Alexander’s hand scrabbles for purchase on his shoulder, seeking out Thomas’ hand. Their fingers interlace, he feels the metal of their rings clink together and it sets off warmth deep in his stomach. "Don't get me wrong - nngh, fuck - it's very cute."

There's a growl of indignation out of Thomas' otherwise occupied mouth.

“Thomas – ah, fuck, Thomas,” Alex gasps, head thrashing on the pillow and stomach tensed up. “Won’t be long now, Thomas, you’re too good at this.”

“Not yet,” Thomas pulls away again, stroking the inside of Alexander’s thighs and licking his lips.

“No?”Alexander asks, chest rising and falling rapidly, “Something else you want to do first?”

“I want you to fuck me first,” Thomas tells him, capturing Alexander’s tongue in a kiss that sends a jolt right through him again. "I mean, if you want that too."

“You don’t want to top?” Alexander wonders, eyes blinking open, surprised.

“At some point, yes, I’d love that, but you said you haven’t been with a guy since your university days, Alex,” he points out.

Alexander smiles, a wicked little thing with gleaming eyes. “And you took that to mean that I haven’t bottomed in over a decade?”

“Naturally,” Thomas nods. Alexander hums, guiding Thomas down onto his back, perching on his thighs so that they rub together just so. The friction is delicious, wonderful, but the look in Alexander’s eyes more so.

“You are aware of the existence of strap-ons and their various uses?”

(Thomas very resolutely does not think too hard about what the man just revealed, and instead focuses on breathing normally.)

“Besides,” Alex leans down to lick and suck at Thomas’ neck, biting sharply enough for Thomas to cry out, “You don’t think I fingered myself open before I went out looking to get fucked?”

“God, Alex,” Thomas sighs, hands tight on Alexander’s hips. Alexander smiles down at Thomas, supremely confident in a way that makes Thomas want to both foster that confidence and reduce the man to incoherent whimpers, lost to pleasure entirely.

“Of course, if you’re set on bottoming, I can work with that too,” Alexander teases, and Thomas feels the dull pressure of Alexander’s thumb pressing at his hole. Some profanity flees his mouth at the sight of Alexander like this.

“I just want you, darling, it makes no difference to me how – fuck!”

Alexander’s thumb is still playing with his ass, but the rest of his fingers have traveled upwards, tugging on his balls just enough for his mind to short-circuit. There’s the sound of a condom wrapper being torn open, then Alexander is lubing both of them up before he poises the head of Thomas’ cock right at the tight ring of muscle.

“I want to look at you,” Thomas says, letting Alexander interlace both their hands together.

“Yeah, okay,” Alex breathes out softly. Then he begins sinking down on Thomas, pinning his hands over his head. The rhythm he sets is slow, maddeningly so as Alexander shifts back and forth. When Thomas’ hips thrust upwards, Alexander’s eyes flutter wildly for a second and he reels, pleasure twisting his face up.

Thomas wants to feel more of him, so he pushes upwards, leaving Alexander’s arms around his neck and pulling at the man’s back. They kiss, and to Thomas it feels as though they mold into a single being, perfectly in sync and feeding off each other until nothing remains but shuddering ecstasy.

In the aftermath, Alexander is collapsed on top of him, Thomas still inside of him but sticky-soft now, and he giggles: “That’s the fourth time your bedroom playlist has looped now. Maybe it’s time we show some mercy to the poor neighbors.”

They fall asleep holding each other like they do every night. It feels right.

(It has never felt wrong, how could it now?)

+

In Monticello, Thomas was never once afforded the opportunity to smell breakfast being made while still in bed. The bedroom was a way up the stairs, the house too spacious for the spices to fill up the air.

It is different in their Paris apartment, and he wakes up to the smell of caramel and something like cinnamon. He gets up, contemplates getting dressed, then settles on briefs and nothing else, just in case Alexander is not alone in the kitchen. Christ, what time is it anyway?

Time seemed more like an abstract concept that applied to everybody but them last night. This morning, Thomas isn’t so sure about that anymore.

(There is the expected bit of guilt, though his happiness outweighs that by far. Last night had been...ah, how to describe last night with words? None would suffice.)

He finally spots Alexander, wearing a t-shirt and underwear that do not belong to him, frying up pancakes. There’s a quiet smile on his face, not exuberant but radiating contentment. Thomas crosses the room silently and slides his arms around Alexander’s waist. Alexander in his clothes is a different sort of Kryptonite, equally potent. 

The man startles slightly, but relaxes into the touch almost immediately with that same soft smile still on his face.

“Good morning,” Thomas whispers into the terrible, bed-headed mess of hair below his lips, pressing kisses along the way.

“I expected regret,” Alexander says, in lieu of the standard response of ‘good morning to you as well’.

“You will not find it.”

“Might I ask why? We broke the one rule you were particularly fierce about upholding. And we broke it quite thoroughly, at that. I'm not saying I didn't explicitly ask for it, but I am still sore.”

“So we did,” Thomas says, tightening his grip on Alex and breathing him in. It is grounding even while it intoxicates. His presence gives Thomas a certainty he has never felt before, a sense of rightness, a sense of belonging. No person can belong to another, he knows that, and still he feels as though he is Alexander’s, for good.

“And you don’t regret it?” Alexander reiterates, turning the stove off and relaxing further into Thomas’ arms.

“How could I ever regret you?”

Thomas wonders whether he should be honest about his colleagues considering him compromised. In the end he does not say it. Not yet. There is no need for Thomas to overwhelm Alexander with his feelings for the time being. They can have this conversation when SIMCOE has been caught. They can have all the important conversations he wants to have when this mission has come to an end, when Alexander has the agency to decide if this is really what he wants.

+

A hospital, unspecified location, United States

Setauket, Long Island, NY, United States, about Seven Years ago

His family home has never seemed smaller to Ben, when he returns from Yale that thanksgiving. He has not been away for long, but still he comes home to find he has outgrown this little town, though not necessarily the people in it. Not yet, anyway. He shudders to think how his family will view him after he has done what he came for, after they have said grace and he has said his bit.

At 19 the idea of it all is daunting, but Nate had sat up through long nights of panic with him, assuring him that there would always be a family for him in his friends, if not in his biological one.

“Damon,” the goodbye had been, with a reassuring hand on the back of his neck.

“Pythias,” the response had been equally fond.

Ben had left with determination in his heart, but it shrinks all the more the closer he gets to the threshold. He loses heart entirely when his brother and father envelop him in warm hugs and joke about how he they’re glad university hasn’t changed him enough for him to forget about his family.

“Still the same Ben,” Sam beams, pinching at his cheeks. Behind Sam, Caleb Brewster comes into view. He's still in Navy uniform, likely fresh off the boat, so to speak, and it leaves Ben's throat a little tight.

“Good to see you, man,” Ben says, against the beating of his heart. It’s been a while, he thinks, since Caleb got leave and chose to come to Setauket. For the past seven years since Caleb’s graduation, he’s been more of a fringe figure in Ben’s life, bits and pieces of him here and there, by-lines from Sam about how the Navy has been treating him and Anna.

“Yale man now, huh?” Caleb asks, scratching his head as he shakes Ben’s hand formally. They both laugh a little, then Caleb says: “Come here, you,” and pulls him in tight for a second.

Ben does not do what he planned to do at dinner that night. He answers curious questions from Lucas Brewster about his studies, talks about the friends he made, talks about Nate like he would talk about any friend and doesn’t test the waters at all.

He sits at his laptop in his childhood room until one AM, looking at pictures from university and trying to muster up the courage he felt on the way here. In the end he decides to call it a night and heads to the bathroom he used to share with his brother to get ready for bed.

“I’m gay,” he tells his reflection, earnestly, “That is who I am. I will no longer be ashamed of what I feel, of who I love.”

It should be easy, he thinks. He can admit it to himself easily enough. He can live his truth at Yale. Why does Setauket make him feel so uncertain? The air in this small town chokes him, he feels judged by it, though he knows the notion to be ridiculous. He breathes more freely at Yale. 

“I’m gay,” he says again, more resolute.

There’s a throat cleared behind him, and Ben whirls around to see Caleb staring at him from the bathroom door, looking awkward. “I can pretend I didn’t hear that, if you like – no judgment here, hey?”

Ben’s insides clench for a horrifying moment. The initial questions of why Caleb is still awake at this hour, even if he is staying over, or why he moved so quietly that Ben didn’t even hear his approach, are pushed to the side in favor of sheer terror. And then, equally quickly, the terror abates in light of Caleb’s wild eyes, gentle for once in their concern.  

“It’s laughable, isn’t it? That I’m so terrified to tell them? It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but the local congregation would have you think it were a ticket straight to hell, the way they talk sometimes.”

“Your father is a reverend, some nervousness is expected and likely quite normal,” Caleb says calmly, closing the door behind him, pausing to consider his words: “If he gives you shit over it, which I don’t think he will, you can crash with me for the rest of your visit, yeah?”

“Thank you,” Ben says, stunned.

“Course,” Caleb nods, unknowingly parroting Nate, “Even if your family chooses to be ignorant, you’ve got friends to support you always, Tallboy. I’m honored to count myself among them.”

Caleb accompanies Ben to physical therapy three times a week, and today the doctor teaches him what stretches he can help him with, which is how Ben finds himself on his back on the floor, Caleb looming over him and pushing one of his legs back towards his chest gently. It burns, the muscles complain after not being used like this in so long. Hair falls into Caleb’s face, and the look in his eyes makes it very clear that Ben isn’t the only one who considers this position a parody of earlier episodes in what has thoroughly been christened as their bed now.

“It’s very important that you’re consistent with these stretches,” The Doctor says, the same thing he says every time, along with encouragement offered on behalf of the progress already made. Ben doesn’t much feel like a ‘stellar case’ of recovery, if he is honest. The little range of movement he regains each month is still only a little. He should be glad with anything, but he isn’t. He wants the agility of his body back. (He wants it back promptly, but he doesn’t voice that thought. He doesn’t have to. Caleb knows, of course Caleb knows. Caleb knows him too well to miss the signs of his obvious frustration.)

“Don’t worry, Doc, I’m very good with stretching him.” Caleb winks at the Doctor, who raises an eyebrow to retort: “I’m sure you would benefit from the occasional stretch as well.”

It shuts Caleb up, and it startles a laugh out of Ben, unexpected and daringly loud in the small room.  

+

Setauket, Long Island, NY, United States, Three Years Ago

Sam mentioned Caleb coming over for Christmas, but it is still a surprise to Ben when he comes inside from a phone call with Nate to see the man lounging on the family couch, excitedly trading stories with his brother over a bottle of beer. This time he isn't in uniform, instead he wears an unusually formal button up and nice jeans. Caleb isn't one to dress up, this must mean something. Ben almost feels guilty for the sweatpants and threadbare hoodie he is sporting. 

Brown eyes look up and crinkle with laughter when he notices Ben’s arrival.

“Tallboy, good to see you.” He swings himself off the couch and wraps Ben in his arms. Ben stiffens a little, if only because his body remembers the last time it came into contact with Caleb all too well, on the floor of that military plane, with nothing but nets and rope beneath them. Naked bodies writhing against each other, greased by sweat and spit. There is nothing so inappropriate in this embrace, Caleb draws back quickly, and then there is a flash of confusion on his face.

Belatedly, Ben remembers to smile and clap him on the shoulder. “Good to see you too.”

Much later, Caleb slips into the bathroom as Ben is just about done with brushing his teeth.

“I thought you’d be a touch more enthusiastic to see me, honestly,” Caleb says, though there is no accusation in his tone. They have not been in communication since Yemen – Ben knows how difficult it is for Caleb to make contact while his life depends on an intact cover. It is a wonder he managed any leave at all.

“I am very happy to see you, more so to note a lack of life-threatening injuries,” Ben says.

“But you haven’t told Sam about Yemen, have you?”

“I have not,” Ben confirms.

“Why is that? It’s okay, don’t get me wrong, you’re under no obligation to disclose anything, but I find myself curious. Are you regretting it?”

It stings, that Caleb would reach that conclusion. It stings because Ben has been longing for him for years. It stings because that bit of intimacy was all he thought he'd ever get from Caleb, and now here the man stands. 

 “Firstly, you’re not out to Sam as… whatever orientation you have decided on for yourself, he’s very convinced of your unwavering heterosexuality, and I wasn’t about to challenge that without your blessing. Secondly, what should I have told him? That you pretended to fuck me for one night and then fucked me for real before we once more ceased all contact? You’re heading back into Yemen in a week, Caleb, and I’m confused enough by my workload to know to leave well enough alone instead of adding to it by navigating the intricacies of this dynamic with you.”

“This is precisely why I wanted to get everything cleared up in Yemen, Tallboy, did you think I sought you out on that plane just because I was desperate to get off? I could have just rubbed one out and be done with it. I wanted to see you. I wanted it to be you.” Caleb runs a hand through his slightly matted curls. “I want more of this. I thought I made that fucking clear.”

Precisely that is the problem – Ben doesn’t know what the elusive ‘This’ is. Ben has been imagining something like what happened in Yemen since at least the time Caleb comforted him about coming out, probably, definitely much earlier. He remembers teenage lust and guilty nights in his bed with his hand, a name always clinging to his lips but never uttered.

“Then take what you want,” Ben issues a challenge instead. There’s a reason that Caleb is talking around the subject, that he is being vague. Caleb is a blunt man. If it were a relationship he wanted, he would make that clear. But neither of them is positioned well for loving commitment. And Ben supposes he can take that.

“Now we’re talking,” Caleb grins as he unbuckles his belt. Ben follows his lead, pushing his sweatpants down and deliberately flexing his arms as he does so; wanting Caleb to note what training has been doing for his body. Caleb’s eyes track his movement and it’s intoxicating.

+

WITSEC Headquarters, unspecified location, United States

Of course Ben waits until they’re having their ID checked to lean over and whisper: “How would you feel about me fucking you, sometime?” Caleb should have expected this scenario, that Ben would get back at him for his lewd comments during physical therapy at the most inappropriate time to pop a stiff one. He is a devil like that. 

“Huh?” Caleb chokes.

“I mean, the PT did say you should get some good stretches in too, I'm just brainstorming.” Ben hides a grin in his hand.

“You think you’re up for that?” Caleb wonders, trying to phrase things tactfully. He can see that Ben is making steady progress, but he can also see that an extended session of Ben fucking him would probably be too much to ask for.

“Oh, I’m always up for you,” Ben muses, licking his lips ever so subtly, hot enough that Caleb needs to tighten his grip on the wheelchair so that he does not push Ben into the only disabled-access bathroom in this building and blow him until his vocal chords take irreversible damage. “But even so, Caleb, there’s no rule that says you couldn’t ride me. I’m glad to leave the heavy duty work to you for the time being.”

The delivery is so calm and measured that it drives Caleb all the more crazy. Ben twists his head, slowly and with purpose, and grins. His skin has regained some more color in recent weeks, he no longer has quite the same ill pallor of his hospital days and Caleb is glad for it. By contrast, he thinks he must be red all over. Not from embarrassment, but from clenching every single muscle as a last resort of maintaining control.

 

“You really need to stop saying this stuff right before we meet the big man,” Caleb chastises, half-heartedly. Ben laughs and immediately, nothing else matters.

“Just trying to assure you how gone for you I am, so that you don’t start accusing me of wanting to fuck my boss again.”

“Knew I’d come to regret that,” Caleb says as they reach the office door. Ben lifts his arm, it shakes only a little, forms a fist, then knocks. The fist is loose, Caleb notes; it seems to take too much effort to keep it tightly closed.

“Just stand behind the wheelchair then, if what is in your briefs is at attention.” 

+

“There are pleas, you know,” Washington sighs, “To hand him over to the authorities of his own country. He’s been courteous, he’s been cooperative – all very good reasons for us to comply, and yet…”

“And yet?” Ben prompts, mouth set in a thin, determined line.

“And yet it is treason we are speaking of, and the judgment of such matters is above my paygrade. I am to present this case to the White House next week and I can’t for the life of me decide on a recommended course of action, not with SIMCOE still in the wind.”

“Have we had any luck tracking the runaway bride, then?” Caleb wonders, to change a subject that is so obviously giving Ben migraines.

“Margaret Arnold remains a mystery,” Washington shakes his head. “André has nothing at all to say about her, though Steuben insists he looked relieved to know she had eluded us.”

“Pardon, Sir,” Ben speaks up again, unwilling to allow a change in topic even for his own benefit. “You said there was an attempt of intervention from Britain?”

“Yes,” Washington nods, “Clinton claims André as one of his own, though he assures me that he was not acting under orders, he would like to see André reprimanded by his own people, in exchange for offering us intelligence about where the Arnolds are hiding, likely because he is acutely aware that his agent is a candidate for capital punishment.”

“Capital punishment?” Ben wonders, amazed, “We offer Rogers a plea deal when he is directly responsible for dozens of deaths, but André faces execution for his crimes?”

“As it stands, yes, Benjamin, if the President has as little qualms about upsetting our allies across the pond as I suspect. In that case both men are set for trial next year, if by then we have managed to apprehend SIMCOE. Until he is secured we cannot recall the witnesses Agent Jefferson is guarding, and they remain invaluable to this case.”

“What if he’s left the country, our SIMCOE?” Caleb wonders.

“If he has, then he hasn’t done so by any means we can monitor. We can’t say for sure, but we have little reason to suspect he might have.”

“Other than the fact that he’s hell-bent on eliminating the witness he couldn’t get,” Caleb retorts admittedly feeling a little flippant.

“Yes,” Washington says, “Other than that.”

+

Hôtel Landron Safe House, Rue du Helder, Paris, France

On Christmas morning, Philipp returns from another sleepover chez Adrienne full of glee and crawls into bed with Alexander and Thomas, after Thomas left the cocoon of warmth to open the door. Alex is still sleepy, though he manages to be admirably alert for Philipp’s recount of everything they did.

 “Can I marry Virginie when we are old?” His eyes are wide and earnest; his freckles still noticeable even in winter.

“You gotta ask her that, buddy,” Thomas says, combing his fingers through Philipp’s slightly knotted hair.

“Virginie is a girl,” Philipp points out, as though that were of great importance. “Can I marry a girl?”

The irony of that statement is not lost on Thomas. Alexander, for his part, seems to find such a viewpoint delightful.

“Of course you can,” he assures him. For a second Thomas thinks Alexander may tell the boy about his mother, about how one of his fathers was also married to a woman, once upon a time. Alexander does not. 

“But you are two boys. And Virginie has only her Mama and her Papa is married to a boy as well,” Philipp argues, deep in thought about such a conundrum.

“Do you remember Auntie Dolley and Uncle James? They are a girl and a boy and are married. You can marry whoever you want to, as long as they agree,” Thomas tells him, as Philipp burrows deeper into the covers.

Philipp considers this: “What is ‘marry’ in French?”

“You’re going to have to figure that one out on your own, Buddy.”

Alexander laughs: “You’re still enabling him to ask her, you know? He’ll find a way around the language barrier anyway, mark my words.”

“Oh I don’t doubt it for a second.”

+

The next day Thomas walks the two of them to Kindergarten. Virginie beams widely when Philipp pulls one of the mini waffles Alexander made for breakfast out of his coat pocket, slightly mushed but otherwise unharmed. Thomas does not quite know whether to laugh or cry. That coat is definitely ruined now. He can only be grateful that Philipp didn’t think the girl might also be interested in maple syrup or whipped cream along with the waffle. Virginie pulls out a clementine, already peeled, and hands it to Philipp in exchange.

Je veux… casarme con toi,” He says in an adorable mix of French and Spanish after they have shared their breakfast loot with one another. Virginie lets go of his hand for a second to push her fluffy green ear muffs back into place with equally fluffy bright orange gloves. She has a very colorful sense of fashion.

Casarme?” She repeats the word, slowly. “Je ne connais pas le mot, Buddy.”

Comme mes parents,” Philipp says the words, only struggling a little with the changes in pronunciation. He points at Thomas, trailing behind them, helplessly amused.

Tu veux te marier?”

Oui!” Philipp nods rapidly, “To marry.” 

Más tarde,” she nods solemnly, taking his hand. Apparently Philipp isn’t the only one adjusting well to a new language. Their shared vocabulary increases with each passing day, to the delight and exasperation of their Kindergarten teachers, who have trouble keeping up once Philipp mixes things up more by teaching Virginie some German words along the way. “Quand on est plus grande.”

Claro!” Philipp nods in return, and they skip along the street together.

D’accord.” She smiles at him and they both laugh. He thinks Alexander is going to have a field day with this.

+

A Hotel Room, Paris, France

Daily routine of Thomas Jefferson, he writes, in elegant, loping scripts. Takes Young Boy, presumably Witness Number 2, and Young Girl, unidentifiable, to Kindergarten at 7:30 – 7:35 five times a week. Doesn’t sleep in on weekends, buys groceries on Saturdays between 8:00-8:30. 

Really, he thinks, this should almost be too easy for his preferences.