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After the War

Chapter Text

The morning sun rose as Alexander Hamilton had always known it to. Warm summer rays felt welcoming on his fair skin as the early daylight shown through the bedroom window.

Daring to crack open an eye, Alexander was unsurprised to find that he was lying face to face with the one person he would never tire of waking next to.

John Laurens was still deep in slumber, his features relaxed and smooth as his breath gently caressed Alexander’s cheek. Alex remained still, taking note of John’s rumpled golden hair and furrowed brow, his lips resting slightly agape. He was perfect.

After an unguarded moment of taking in the sight of his lover, Alexander realized that his shoulder was becoming sore. Taking great care not to disturb his sleeping bedmate, Alex began to shift.

Unfortunately, John had always been a light sleeper, which had incidentally come in handy during their time in the army; John playing watchdog, always waking at the sounds of approaching footsteps or voices outside their room.

Their relations during their service had never been discovered by another officer; they had never been found out or exposed for what they were. Though Alexander was a carrier, he defined himself as a male, making his and John’s relationship a capitol offense and a mark against God.

Or so said the church.

But the reality? John was his church. John was where Alex would go when he was lost, when he was needy. He would worship John’s body, and in turn, Alexander would receive the same. They would spend as much time together as suspicion would allow, quiet nights tangled in each other’s embrace. Walks through the woods and drawings by candlelight, stolen glances and clasped hands under tables. John was Alexander’s everything, laws be damned. He would spend an eternity in hell if it meant he could love John in this lifetime.

John stirred as Alex rose up on his elbow, taking in a slow, waking breath and fixing his stunning blue eyes on Alexander’s, who grinned down sheepishly, freezing his movements.

“My apologies, I did not intend to wake you.”

“No need for apology. I would wake only to see your face.”

Alex felt his cheeks grow hot. His Jack, no matter how long they had been together, would always cause him to feel as a lovesick schoolboy, his attentive gaze never failing to make Alexander’s stomach tighten and perform skilled acrobatics inside him.

Alexander’s expression must have displayed this discomfort, as John leaned up on his elbow, mirroring his lover and pressed a tender kiss to the younger man’s forehead.

“Are you well this morning, my love?”

Alexander took a moment to think on the question, swallowing at a thickness in his throat.

“I believe I have improved from mornings past.”

Concern crossed John’s features at the mention of the past few days, his eyes searching Alexander’s pale face.

“I am well, John, please do not fret.”

Reaching out absently, John began to run his fingers through Alexander’s red locks, untangling little snares as he went.

Alex hummed into the touch, tilting his head so that John’s hand was firm to his ear.

“Had I my way, there would never be a moment where we would not be touching.”

John chuckled at Alexander’s ridiculousness. “My dear boy, you know as well as I that that would be quite the mistake. Imagine going to the latrine?”

The two share a laugh, hands connecting and legs tangling beneath the blankets.

“Perhaps you are right. I should not be so greedy, as I do have you all to myself nowadays.”

“Well, not all to yourself,” John corrected as they heard the padding of small feet approaching their bedroom door.

“Father? Papa?”

Alexander and John smiled at each other, their foreheads touching for just a moment.

“Come in, love,” Alex answered, sitting up in bed.

The door to their room opened slowly, a small girl with fiery hair and freckles, a mirror image of Alexander, shyly peeked in, still clothed in her nightgown.

“What is it, dear?” Alex asked, holding out his hand to his daughter.

“It’s morning!” Corentine cried, giggling behind her fist. She bounced over to her parents, her shyness left at the door as she clamored up onto the bed and nestled between them. “You said we could go to the park today!”

John laughed at his child’s fervor, taking after more than just his partner’s appearance.

“I did indeed, sweet one. And we will, but first we must have breakfast, yes?”

Corentine looked thoughtful for a moment. “Yes, I suppose.”

“Then why don’t you go downstairs and ask Vanessa to set the table for us, hmm? Your father and I will be down in a moment.”

That reasoning seemed to satisfy Corentine as she grinned wide and bounded back out the door as quickly as she had come.

“She’s quite the persuader,” John remarked, Alexander not missing the note of pride there.

“We would do better to say ‘no’ to her more often.” The couple smiled sideways at each other, knowing that neither of them would.

“Well, as we are going to the park today, we had better rise,” John said after a beat, shifting so that his feet met the wooden floor.

Alexander made a noise of affirmation, still smiling as he swung his legs over the edge of the bed and also stood.

Suddenly the world seemed off-kilter and his limbs far heavier than normal. Alex stumbled and fell to one knee, sucking in a sharp breath to steady his vision.

John was at his side in an instant, strong hands grasping around Alexander’s shoulders protectively.

“Alex? Tell me, what is wrong?” The panic in John’s voice made Alexander feel guilty, though he could not manage to answer right away, instead focusing on breathing and fighting again at the thickness in his throat.

“John, I-” Alexander covered his mouth with his hand, unable to say more. Thankfully, John seemed a step ahead, knowing what was to come as he handed the, thankfully empty, chamber pot to Alex.

Alex wretched violently into the pot, trying his best to make it seem like his vomiting was not causing him distress, but failing miserably.

John watched helplessly as Alexander continued to be sick, circling a comforting hand on Alex’s upper back, while the other held the man’s hair to his neck.

The ordeal lasted for several minutes, making John bristle with concern. He had certainly never seen any man become sick for such a enduring amount of time, other than when…

John gasped in realization as Alex leaned back, panting and shivering, his weight now supported by his lover’s larger frame.

“I think… I think it’s done.” Alexander said weakly, his hands shaking as he pushed at the stray hairs sticking to his now sweaty forehead.

“Alexander…”

“If we get dressed and hurry downstairs no one will be the wiser.”

“Alexan- ”

“Corentine will want to leave as soon as we finish breakfast, so if we-”

“Alex…”

“-leave within the next hour we could have time to-”

“Hamilton!”

Alex jolted in John’s arms, the broader man instantly feeling guilty to have raised his voice.

“My love, please listen, you are not well. I think-”

“It is a passing bug, nothing to raise concern about,” Alex interrupted, wiping at the sweat on his forehead. “I must have eaten something to my stomach’s disliking.”

“Are you discrediting our Vanessa’s care in preparing our meals?”

“Not at all, but-”

“And would a sickness caused by food not last but a day? Alexander, it has been three. I think-”

“You think I should have a doctor examine me,” Alexander stated with a slight venom. “You think I should be placed in a sick bed and looked over by a stranger, just for him to tell us exactly what I have told you, it is but a-”

“I think you’re pregnant, Alex.”

Alex stiffened, his mouth slightly agape, frozen mid-sentence.

Taking Alex’s shock as an opportunity, John continued, “I do not mean to alarm you so, it is just that the last time you were so persistently ill, you were-”

“Corentine.”

“Pardon?”

“You… You’re right. I was- I was with Corentine, then.”

There was a heavy pause, Alexander swallowed and cleared his throat quietly.

John held Alex tighter to his chest, a smile curving at his lips. If this was what he suspected…

“I thought…” Alexander made a sniffling noise that startled John out of his reverie, his hand instinctively seeking out Alex’s chin to turn his face towards him. Alex turned in his arms pliantly, the start of tears welling in his eyes as he avoided John’s gaze.

“You thought?” John asked delicately, wiping at Alex’s cheek with his thumb.

“I… I had thought myself to be,” Alex grimaced, “incapable… of bearing another child.”

John sucked in a quiet breath. It was true that he and Alexander had thought of having more children after Corentine.

Well, perhaps more than just thought.

After the war, the couple had worked hard, both completing their schooling and becoming fastidious lawyers. In secrecy, the two had bought a home together under the guise of being working companions, but truly readying for the return of their daughter, their little girl now three years of age.

During the initial weeks following Corentine’s birth, she had become the couple’s whole world, nestling into their hearts in a way neither of them could have ever expected. But she had been born during the war, at the army encampment no less. Neither Alexander nor John were able to spend the first years of Corentine’s life with her, having to send her away to live with John’s sister, Martha, until the war’s end.

Though giving up Corentine had been right at the time, John had seen first-hand the emotional toll it had taken on Alexander to not have been with their daughter during those tender years. John could see the guilt in his lover’s sharp eyes, lingering still to this day, tormented for having left his child in favor of a war.

John also knew, though Alexander would never admit to it for fear of coming across as selfish, that Alex felt he had missed out on one of the most fulfilling aspects of being a parent; watching his child grow. Corentine crawling, taking her first steps, speaking and calling them by name, they had missed everything. With each letter from South Carolina regarding the tiny girl’s progress, Alexander would try to hide his tears, claiming pride, but John knew better. He felt it, too.

Not to mention, John had not even been present for Corentine’s birth. That guilt was his own, a weight that he would always carry with him, one that he could never completely apologize for, as it had been done.

Nothing in John’s mind would ever compare to the horror of returning from his scouting mission in the early hours to find Alexander missing from their room, the supplies they had gathered for Corentine’s entrance into the world disappeared as well.

John could still clearly recall the ringing in his ears and the ache in his chest as he and Lafayette rushed to the tent that they had set up just outside of camp, afraid that he would find Alexander in pain, Alexander dead… his child and his lover lost to him while he had been swept away by the damned war.

Thankfully, that had not been so.

He had found Alex safe and sound, if not very sore and tired, holding a bundle that he would introduce to John as their daughter. In that moment, he had instantaneously fallen in love, their little girl claiming ownership of his heart as soon as she cracked open her crystal blue eyes to give her father a disgruntled glare.

Fast forward to a year after Corentine’s reinstatement into their lives, their new home felt cozy, but not quite full. With this realization, John and Alexander quickly became ecstatic with the idea of having another child.

Acting upon their wishes, they would be passionate late into the night, sometimes on through morning and even during the day, if Vanessa were to take Corentine on an outing, sneaking around as if they were still in the army, an officer around any corner of their own home.

However, as time passed, the couple’s hopes began to dwindle, no signs to come of what they wished for most. Months, then years flew by until eventually, the talk of children ceased. Some nights Alexander would whimper quietly into his pillow when he thought John to be asleep, his tears not going unnoticed by his partner, though John could never find the words to comfort what he knew he could not fix.

Presently, summer was upon them and Corentine would be turning six soon, each year of her life an odd reminder for John an Alexander of the time that they had lost with her. Of the time they could have had with another child, had they conceived.

Yet here they were now, huddled together on their bedroom floor, staring down the barrel of a possibility they had so long wished for, but had all but given up on.

John pulled Alexander closer, the smaller man fitting easily in the crook of his neck. “Alex, If this is… if this is what we think-”

“Jack.”

John looked down at Alex, suddenly shocked by the man’s wavering tone. For someone with such renowned ferocity, his partner now sounded so uncharacteristically meek as he trembled and tried to hide his eyes in John’s shoulder.

“What if… I mean to say, I do not wish to grow my hopes, your hopes,” Alexander babbled, “If it is not what you think, then I don’t… I don’t think I can-”

Alex struggled as he bit back what John knew to be a sob as he held his lover tighter, letting the smaller man relent and shudder against him. The quiet sounds of Alexander’s heartbreak was suffocating to John in their small room, their sanctuary. Here, they were safe from suspicion, safe from unwelcome eyes and judgement, from the law. Yet here, nothing could be done to protect them from their own personal despairs, and it made John feel weak.

“Shh, Alexander, please. No matter the outcome, we have Corentine. We have each other.”

“I wasn’t with her… I should have been with her.” Alex sobbed, grasping tightly at Johns shirt.

John’s heart broke.

“My love, there was nothing we could have done. We did what was best, what was safe for her. And just look at her now, she is a fine girl, with your wit and my southern charm.” John tilted Alex’s chin up to face him, giving the young man a wry smile.

Alex couldn’t help but smile back, hot tears still streaming down his cheeks, “That she does, John.”

Then came a knock at the door, “Sirs?”

John and Alex shared a pointed look, then John untangled himself from Alex gingerly, leaving the younger man to rest against the bed frame for a moment as he moved to open the door.

“My apologies, Vanessa, we will be down shortly.”

Vanessa, a pretty young woman with dark, curly hair and bright eyes curtsied politely before looking up at John in the doorway.

“Not a problem, sir. The young mistress is only delighted at the fine day ahead.” Then Vanessa’s expression turned to that of slight concern. “Is Mr. Hamilton unwell again this morning?”

John sighed, knowing Vanessa was smart enough to also read the signs of what was so plainly in front of them. After all, he and Alexander had hired her for that very reason. On top of cooking and serving meals and keeping the house in order, she also would assist the men by playing the part of secretary when their work would be brought home.

Vanessa was also a woman of little judgement, and John secretly suspected that she, in fact, also harbored a similar secret with her friend Katrina, who would visit the house from time to time.

Vanessa and the couple had a sort of unspoken understanding, one that kept the house and the people within safe from outside scrutiny and public embarrassment. John truly had come to trust her with his family, as part of the family.

“He… claims to have eaten something upsetting. However…” John paused to carefully search for his words.

“You think it something more?”

John locked eyes with Vanessa, her sharp gaze knowing and full of implication.

“Perhaps.”

“John, do not feed our Vanessa lies, she is too smart for it,” Alexander chimes as he stands beside the bed, albeit a little unsteadily. “I am well, Vanessa. We will be down shortly.”

Vanessa shared a quick look with John before curtsying again and stepping back down the stairs.

John closed the door behind her and turned to Alexander, now fighting to get his day clothes on.

“Alexander, it is you who lie.”

“We know nothing, John. It could be nothing.”

“Alex-”

“Jack, please.” Alex’s eyes shimmered dangerously, his voice strained. “Whatever this illness, it will either progress or dissipate. Do we understand each other?”

A pause.

“You mean that we should wait.”

“Exactly that.”

Blowing out a resigned breath, John made his way over to Alex, now struggling to pull a fresh shirt over his head. “My love, I shall wait for but awhile. However, If you continue to become sick for longer than we have observed in the past, then we shall seek a physician’s opinion. Can we agree?”

Alex finally managed to pull his head through the correct shirt hole and paused for a moment, his eyes locking with John’s. “I can concede to this on the condition that we do not speak on it further until we can be certain that it is not, or is, what you suspect.”

John clenched his fists at his sides, but nodded despite himself, knowing better than to argue such a topic with Alexander. It was unwise to argue any topic with Alexander, really.

Chapter Text

True to his word, John did not again speak on his suspicions concerning Alexander’s condition.

Instead, he stood by, a close eye on his lover as they continued their day to day. Alexander would still become ill most mornings, with John always prepared to hand off the chamber pot, to hold up Alexander’s quaking form, to whisper calming words of love and praise in his partner’s ear.

Vanessa, though she feigned innocence, began leaving glasses of ‘special’ tea on Alexander’s nightstand each evening and taking care to prepare extra snacks for the daytime to combat Alex’s newly ravenous appetite.

The signs rang clear to John and Vanessa, who would share meaningful looks over Alexander’s shoulder as he would fuss and rant about not needing to be doted upon and have special snacks or drinks made for him. Though despite his arguments, John would often catch Alexander partaking of both.

Weeks flew by, and Alexander’s morning illness finally ceased, some semblance of normalcy returning to their lives as Corentine’s birthday came upon them.

Corentine’s birthday had always, in a way, been a somber occasion for Alex. While he was of course overjoyed to celebrate another year of his child’s life, the day itself would always remind Alexander of the night she was born.

He had been alone, scared and, at a few points during the ordeal, certain that he was going to die. Nothing he had heard or read could have ever prepared him for what he actually had experienced that night, unattended in a secluded army tent with a monstrous storm battering the canvas from the outside, his child tearing him apart from the inside.

And then there was the memory, three weeks after Corentine’s birth, that Alexander feared to revisit the most.

The day Corentine was taken to South Carolina.

He had known it was right for her to go, for the sake of her own safety and her parent’s reputation. But in that moment, as Alexander held his daughter for the last time as an infant, he couldn’t fathom why he had to relinquish the child that he had just given birth to, that he had only just begun to know.

She was forcefully taken from his arms by Martha’s servant, the man obviously pained, and slightly disgusted by the nature of John and Alex’s behavior and relationship. Alex all but crumpled on the ground, his arms so empty with John leaning over him, his own tears falling just as fast, but doing his best to remind Alexander that it needed to be done.

Corentine’s fading cries as she was ridden away had broken something inside Alexander, that day forever leaving a messy wound, open and raw this mind. It was a loss from which he never fully recovered, even if Corentine was returned to them now.

Alexander didn’t want to go through that again… he couldn’t. He would not have another baby, the possibility of another baby in his arms, only to have that possibility taken away. Everything had been taken away.

His mother, taken.

His cousin, taken.

His Corentine… taken.

No more. No more, please.

“Alex?”

No more.

“Alexander!”

Chapter Text

Alex had fallen. He had fallen and John was just barely able to catch him on the front steps of their house. If he hadn’t… no, he couldn’t think on that.

Corentine had been playing in the front garden, laughing as two butterflies danced around her red locks, thinking her a flower. Vanessa following close behind the little girl, trying to convince her to stand still as the butterflies hovered.

John was proud. Proud of his life, of his child. Proud to have the man he loved standing beside him. Looking to his left, he saw Alexander staring off into the distance, his forehead glistening with sweat despite the cool of the shade, his eyes oddly glazed.

“Alex?”

Alexander swayed slightly, giving no indication that he had heard John. Suddenly, the young man’s legs gave out beneath him and he fell forward.

“Alexander!”

John had caught Alex, his skull mere inches from the bottom stair.

“Vanessa!” John cried.

Having seen the incident, Vanessa swiftly scooped up Corentine in her arms and rushed toward the front stoop.

“Vanessa, quickly, call for a doctor!”

“Yes, sir!” Vanessa rushed past the two men on the stairs, shushing Corentine’s cries of “Papa!” and disappearing indoors, returning only moments later with her riding gear.

“I will return promptly,” she threw over her shoulder.

John nodded once, a grim expression darkening his features, “Make haste."

Chapter Text

Alexander was sweaty, hot. No, cold.

He was in his bed, or a bed, at least. There was a weight on his forehead, a coolness that made him shiver. Voices down the hall, grave and hushed.

Was he to die?

Was he to be taken, too?

Chapter Text

“Can anything be done?”

The doctor, a gruff middle-aged man with an offending mustache, pulled the door to John and Alexander’s bedroom closed, motioning for John to follow him down the hall.

They entered Alexander’s study, all sorts of papers and quills in disarray across every surface available, an empty teacup balanced on top of a stack of papers, forgotten.

“What can you tell me of his condition?” The doctor inquired, taking in the haphazard state of the room.

“He… he was healthy naught but a few months ago. Then he-” John took a moment to swallow a lump in this throat, “He would become sick each morning for about four weeks. He has since improved, but… now this,” John wildly gestured toward the hall.

The doctor made a dismissive affirmative nose as he shuffled through some of the medical instruments in his bag. “You are aware your Alexander is a carrier, I am sure.”

“Yes,” John returned, blandly.

“And you are aware that he is pregnant?”

John couldn’t help the gasp that escaped his lips, his chest feeling as though it had just been punched.

“We… we had suspected-”

“He isn’t far along, but I can assure you, he is with child,” the doctor said, flatly.

“Oh,” John managed back, stupidly.

“I can imagine you have a great interest in this man, given your current… living arrangements.”

John stiffened.

“He is suffering from a severe fever. He should be kept in bed and given liquids until it breaks. However, if I may be frank with you, the prospect of a recovery is bleak. There is nothing more that can be done for him.”

At that, the doctor picked up his case and made to leave, but John moved into his path.

“Nothing more? Is there not medicine that could bring down his fever?”

“I’m sure you are aware of certain roots and herbs available to the public for such ailments,” the doctor replied tersely, “I said good day, sir.”

The doctor moved towards the door again, but this time John filled the frame with his intimidating stature.

“And what of the child? Would you leave your patient in such a condition without care, without crucial medication?!”

The doctor’s mustache twitched, his body leaning forward to glare at John intensely, “I treat the esteemed ladies and gentlemen of this new nation, sir,” the doctor spat, “and I would do well to prioritize the health of such folk over others.”

John took in a sharp breath, his mind reeling with possibilities. This man with a bloody face, a busted jaw, this man lying at the bottom of their stairs in a broken heap. But before John could make any of these visions a gruesome reality, he felt Vanessa’s tight grip on his shoulder.

“I think it best you take your leave now, sir,” Vanessa cut in, brusquely.

The doctor huffed and managed to squeeze around John’s unmoving form, mumbling something about leaving before, had he been allowed.

John then rounded to face the young woman, his voice strained and panicked, “Vanessa, he will not-”

“I know. I will ride to town presently, retrieve the herbs that we need. I can return before sundown.”

For a beat, John could not think of what to say. Something in Vanessa’s eyes was telling, and suddenly he felt a stroke of kinship with this woman that he could not fully explain.

John nodded once, his eyes dark. “Go, then.”

Chapter Text

Vanessa did in fact, return before sundown, a variety of roots and herbs carried safely in her saddle bag.

She rushed up the stairs to alert John and Corentine of her arrival, both sitting in an eery silence by Alexander’s bedside.

Back downstairs, Vanessa ground the herbs into a tea, just as she was taught as a child. Just as she had done for her ailing Katrina all those years ago.

The remedy had worked then, and it would work for Alexander now.

Back upstairs she enlisted the help of both father and daughter as she tried to rouse Alex, to no avail. Having prepared for this, Vanessa poured her remedy into a basin and used a clean cloth soaked in the tea to drip he remedy into Alexander’s mouth as John gently held it open.

To this point, Vanessa had worked in near perfect silence, until Corentine began to whimper from the corner of the room.

Vanessa’s grave expression softened, suddenly remembering the child for what she was, “Corentine, dear, would you come here?”

Corentine shook her head violently in response, her hands covering her face as she began to wail.

John stood abruptly and walked over to his daughter, resting his broad hands on her tiny shoulders.

“Corentine, my love, I know this must be hard sight for you to see. It is hard for me, too.” John paused to glance back at Alexander’s pale body lying motionless on the bed, suddenly feeling hot tears burning at his own eyes. John turned back to Corentine, the sight of her breaking his heart. Her cheeks are flushed and salty with tears, her chest heaving.

John was abruptly reminded of when his mother died. The devastation he felt, how he had had his siblings, how they had supported each other through the worst of it, how they had learned to move past such a tragedy with each other’s guidance. Corentine would not have such a luxury. She would only have John.

And for one terrifying moment, John wasn’t certain he could be strong enough to continue without Alexander.

Shaking the thought, he pulled Corentine to his chest and held her, allowing her a moment to tremble in his arms.

It wasn’t until John felt a familiar hand on his shoulder that he realized his own tears were now falling, mixing messily in Corentine’s unruly curls.

“John.” Vanessa had never addressed the man by his first name, always retaining a sense of propriety as their housemaid. “Let me take her to bed. I can return quickly.”

John managed to look back to where Alexander lay motionless, all of a sudden feeling the urge to be alone with his partner.

“Thank you, Vanessa, but I believe it is best that you get some rest as well. I will watch over Alexander for the night.”

Vanessa did not argue, understanding what John needed in this moment. She and Corentine walked out into the hall hand in hand, the little girl looking back only once to whisper “I love you, Papa,” before the door clicked closed behind her.

Chapter Text

Alexander shook violently in his sleep, convulsing with what appeared to be a chill, though his skin was dangerously hot to the touch, his body glistening with sweat.

John remained vigilant at Alexander’s side, griping his hand tightly and holding him as his body quaked. Every so often a soft moan would rise from Alex’s lips, raising the small hairs on the back of John’s neck. Alexander was in pain, and there was nothing he could do to absolve it. He was utterly helpless, forced to watch as his partner faded before him.

Was this to be it?

After surviving the war, after finding one another at the end of each battle they fought, bloody and bruised and shot, but alive; after illness and famine and misery, after everything, would this be how they part?

Alexander, with their child…

Alexander, who would never get to hold his baby. The baby that they had prayed for, the baby that had already broken their hearts.

Had John known this child would take Alex from him, he would never have wished for it so.

But time could not be undone, and if this were truly his and Alexander’s last quiet moment together, then he would stay at his side, the silence be damned.

Chapter Text

Night wore into day, into another night; Alexander faring none the better. Vanessa did her best to keep Corentine occupied, allowing the small child to visit briefly before persuading her to let her Papa rest. John knew it was for Corentine’s benefit as well as his own that Vanessa kept her away, leaving the couple time alone in case the worst should happen.

But John refused to think about such things. Instead, he busied himself with wetting cool cloths and keeping them to Alex’s burning forehead and chest, his free hand finding purchase in his partner’s beautiful red hair or his cheek, always touching, always comforting. He knew Alexander would like that, were he conscious.

During the rare moments that Alexander would stir, John would rush forward with Vanessa’s herbal tea, squeezing droplets of the fever reducer into his parted lips, though Alex would never fully rouse.

Time was running out. No man could remain with such an aggressive fever for long, and for Alexander, it had already been nearly two days. The repetition of care and lack of improvement finally began to tear at John’s mind. As much as he wished for his lover’s recovery, he had to face the reality of the situation. If this was the last he would have of his Alexander, then he would speak to him. He would bare his soul to this man, have him hear the contents of his heart as long as he lingered to listen.

“Alexander…” John began hesitantly, the dryness of his throat catching in his voice, “My love, I can only trust that you hear me, so I will speak slow and plain.”

John breathed in a long breath, eyes daring to memorize everything he could of the man before him. His fiery hair, his freckled nose and small frame, the moonlight from the open window mingling silver against Alexander’s skin, setting him aglow with a ghostly pallor. Had he not been shaking still, John would have thought him passed.

“Alexander,” John addressed again, “you cannot leave us so.”

John felt tears threatening his vision with the admission of such a possibility. With no one but his lover laying limp in the room, he continued, disregarding how a mess he must look.

“Corentine and I, we need you. Your daughter needs her Papa, and I-” John’s voice broke as his tears were forced free, “I doubt I could endure, should you go.”

Amidst the swell of emotion, John intertwined his fingers into Alex’s limp ones, squeezing hard, as if he could pin Alexander’s soul there, keeping it safe inside.

“My dear boy… I beg you to stay. If not for me, then surely for your daughter, surely for…” his voice became lost as he remembered what should have been their happiest news.

John untangled his shaking fingers from Alexander’s and reached out curiously, hesitating over his partner’s uncovered navel.

“My love, did you know?” John asked softly, letting his hand fall gently over Alexander’s middle, resting just above his hips.

Though the child wasn’t truly showing yet, John could still feel the familiar firmness of a womb, the tiniest slope of a dome in which their baby grew, tucked away safely inside.

Feeling the tiny proof of their child's life beneath his palm was the final break. Overwhelmed with grief and heartbreak, John finally relented, allowing uncharacteristic sobs wrack his entire body. His messy blonde hair fell loosely to his face, his hand still guarding the baby he might never meet, but already loved so.

The gray of early morning replaced the evanescent moonlight as a new day’s sun began to rise. John, oblivious to the coming of dawn, remained bowed, crying softly into his lover’s middle and blathering in concise phrases. “Please. Alexander, my love. You cannot. Please, fight. Stay. For us, for this. Please. Please.”

Suddenly, there was a soft weight against John’s cheek, familiar, if not slightly clammy. A hand.

“And what is it that has my Jack begging so?”

Chapter Text

Relief had fallen over John like a wave, crashing into him all at once, then ebbing to a sense of euphoric peace.

Alexander had woken in the early hours on the third day, still warm with fever, but conscious, and well enough to drink and eat, his shuddering dwindling to only slight shivers.

John remained glued to Alexander’s side, grasping his hand, his shoulder, his cheek - anything he could reach as the younger man sat up in their bed and munched on a cut of slightly stale bread, complaining avidly about the work he had missed between bites.

“Unconscious for two entire days!” Alex motioned widely with his hands, “And nights! I would be thankful for the rest if it weren’t such a waste of my time. Of all the days to fall ill! I was expected to turn in my notes on the Campbell case, not to mention I have yet to finish two letters of correspondence and my essay for-”

Alex.”

Alexander would have continued his exasperated ranting had it not been for the dangerous waver in John’s voice, the need there. Alex tuned his complete focus to his lover for the first time since waking, shocked by the hunger with which the blonde man stared, as if this were his last chance to take in the sight of his partner. Only then did Alex realize how desperately John clung to him, his grip unrelenting and possessive.

“John, what-”

“You were so close.” John murmured, his eyes downcast, voice so soft that Alexander had to lean in.

“Close?”

“To death.”

Silence held thickly in the air for a beat, the gravity of John’s words heavy in Alexander’s ears.

“I have… never seen you in such a state.” John took in a shuddering breath, his gaze focused on where his hand connected with Alexander’s. “We have survived battles together, triumphed hunger and illness and injustice and-” His voice broke, “I never thought I would lose you in such a way, in our own home.”

Alexander dropped what was left of his bread and brought John’s face up to level his, both hands bracketing the blonde man’s cheeks, his tears now evident as their azure eyes met.

“But you haven’t lost me. I am here, I am well.”

“You do not know how ill you were. How certain it seemed that you would…” John trailed off, unwilling to say aloud what they both knew. “Even now, you are still fevered. You are in no condition to fuss so,” John chastised, taking his lover’s hands in his own.

“My dear Jack, you are the one to fuss. I feel rested and well enough to at least draft responses to the letters I am sure have accumulated in my absence. If you would let me-”

“I would not.”

Alexander appeared genuinely offended. “You would not let me continue my work even from my bed?”

“No.” John said tersely, an unexpected fury edging at his surface.

“John!" Alex yelled petulantly, "I am not a child in need of coddling, and if you think you can keep me from-”

“I thought you lost, Alexander!”

Alex snapped his open mouth shut, mortified by John’s outright rage, directed so piercingly at him.

“You have no idea what it was like to watch you, writhing in pain and shivering away from every touch!” The anguish in his lover’s voice resonated within Alexander, vibrations of guilt for prioritizing his work over his family's worry tingling uncomfortably at his core.

Nothing, could ever have prepared me to see you in such a state; so pale, so near death. You leave us in a purgatory of concern and misery for two days and the first thing you speak of upon waking is the work you've missed?!

Alexander flinched. “You are right, my love, please, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I should rest, I should think about you, about Corentine and what it would do to you both should I disregard my own health.”

“Not just your own,” John remarked ominously.

“What?”

John was noticeably shaking, either with rage or incredulity or some other cacophony of emotions, Alexander couldn’t tell. However, John only shook his head in answer, standing and untangling himself from Alexander’s hold, bitterly.

“I will send Vanessa up shortly with some tea for your remaining fever. Corentine will want to see you when you feel well enough, she has worried after you deeply.”

“John, wait-”

But John was already through the door, closing it roughly behind him, leaving Alexander alone for the first time since he fell unconscious.

Chapter Text

John had fallen in love with the most argumentative, oblivious, headache of a man. Awake not even an hour after being unconscious and bed-bound for over forty-eight hours, and immediately asking about work.

This man is ridiculous.

But wasn’t that why he loved him? Alexander, with his steadfastness, his passion and tenacity.

Though Alex was bull-headed and, at times, inattentive, John would never change a thing about his partner. John recognized that they each had their own respective eccentricities, ones that they had vowed to work through together from the beginning. These traits, these faults were what made them who they were, what had attracted them to each other all those years before.

John suddenly felt guilty for leaving Alex alone, knowing that he had hurt his lover’s feelings. He had just been so angry. How could Alex have expected to go right back to the normal day to day after nearly dying, after nearly leaving his family, his Jack, behind?

Because he’s Alexander Hamilton, John’s brain supplied, unhelpfully.

As plain as it was to John, he had to remind himself that Alex hadn’t been awake, he hadn’t seen what his illness had done to his partner, how devastated their little family truly had been.

John’s anger began to subside as he rationalized his lover’s point of view, even if the younger man had been wrong to ask about his work so quickly. Really, the last thing John wanted right now was to fight. He wanted to hold Alex, his Alexander, tight in his arms and breathe him in as he thought he never would be able to again.

His Alex with their Corentine and Vanessa. Their odd family safe, their odd family… not yet complete.

As abruptly as he had left, John burst back into their shared room to find Alexander hunched over in bed, unflatteringly thick tears streaming down his freckled cheeks.

“John, I’m- I didn’t mean-”

“Shh, shh,” John shushed, climbing into the bed and pulling Alexander close to him, the intimate contact feeling like a shot of hot whisky to the couples’ blood. “I’m sorry, too, Alex. My Alexander. I love you... I love you more than the stars and skies above us.”

Tears formed hot at both he lovers’ eyes as they clung to each other, the chilling uncertainty of the days past ebbing away to tormented memory.

Alex tilted his chin up in askance, John responding in kind with a deep, impassioned kiss. It was something reminiscent of the forbidden kisses they would share in their rare moments alone in the army; the thrill of being found out combined with the delayed gratification of intimate touch transposing into a sensual, decadent flavor to be passed between the lover’s tongues.

Alex reached up, his hand grasping hard at John’s fine locks and pulling, a new fever taking over him as he moaned into John’s mouth.

John practically growled in response, his hands hungrily roaming over the expanse of Alexander’s body, one hand grappling onto his lover’s jaw, the other coming to rest on the small of Alex’s back, pushing with a force that brought the smaller man into his lap.

The sultry sounds of heavy breath and needy moans pervaded the air, a thick miasma of their own making, one the pair could get drunk off of.

Suddenly John pulled away, stiffening in Alexander’s arms.

“John?”

“Shh,” John hushed, his head cocked toward the door. After a beat, Alexander could hear the rushed footsteps on the stairs.

“Damn your ears,” Alex groused as he shifted back to his rightful place in the bed, taking care to cover the more outstanding evidence of their passions while John rushed to do the same.

Not a second later, Corentine burst in, defying the manners they had taught to her at an early age, and bounced up and down with a wide, toothy smile lighting her face. Vanessa was just a step behind her, the admonishments flowing off her tongue caught short as she took in the sight of Alexander awake and well.

“I told you, Vanessa! I told you!” Corentine shrieked happily, still capering, now in a tight circle in front of the couple’s bed.

Vanessa looked speechless for a moment, then allowed herself to smile as well, relief clearly commandeering her usual composure.

“Miss Corentine, I apologize, you were correct after all.”

“Of course I was!” Corentine replied unabashedly. “Can I come up Papa? Can I?”

Alexander could never have said no.

In a heartbeat, little Corentine was nestled comfortably between her parents on the bed, clinging firmly to Alex and nuzzling into his side. Alex couldn’t help but cling back, realizing how horribly he had concerned his family. If it were in his power, he would never frighten them so again.

“What were you right about, little one?” John asked, pushing an unruly curl behind his daughter’s ear.

“Tell them, Vanessa! You didn’t think I was telling the truth!” Corentine giggled, hugging herself closer to Alex.

Vanessa looked irked for an instant, before relenting with an honest grin, “We were far out on the property when Corentine said she heard yelling coming from your room.”

“I see,” John said in slight embarrassment.

“She said she heard Mr. Hamilton’s voice.”

Alexander laughed, “Of course she did, of course! My lovely girl, you knew I was awake.”

“Uh-huh! You were really loud.”

It was John’s turn to laugh.

Vanessa cleared her throat from the foot of the bed, giving both men a knowing smirk. “Miss Corentine, might you help me make breakfast for your Papa, since he is awake? We can make him something special together so that he shall know how much we’ve missed him.”

“For Father, too?”

Vanessa suppressed a laugh, “Of course, whatever we make we will share with everyone.”

Vanessa helped Corentine off her parents bed, the little girl unable to contain her energy as she ran ahead through the door, pausing a moment to balance on her toes and wave back at her parents before disappearing down the hall. Vanessa followed close behind, shooting the couple wry smile before closing the door behind her.

“Well, John, I do believe she has your ears,” Alex snorted.

John shoved Alex over in the bed.

Chapter Text

By mid-day, Alexander’s fever had broken completely, the young man agreeing to stay in bed to recover and give his time to his family. Corentine spent much of the day in her parents room, filling Alex in on what he had missed while he had been “resting,” hopping around their bed and motioning wildly with her little hands as she relayed the details of her horseback lesson.

By late evening, Alex found himself nodding off as his daughter lay between John and himself, still talking, sleepily chronicling how she and Vanessa had caught and identified four different types of butterflies the day previous. Just as Corentine began to describe the patterns on each of the butterflies’ wings, there came knock at their door.

“Good evening, sirs. Miss Corentine? I believe it’s past your bedtime.”

Corentine groaned, but didn’t have the energy to argue further, sitting up and allowing herself to be lifted out of her parent’s bed and lead to her own bedroom.

“Goodnight, Papa. I’m glad you’re feeling better, now,” she curtsied, showing off her manners before following Vanessa back out into the hall.

“I’d boast that we’ve outdone ourselves with her,” John remarked, eyes lingering on the door.

“Yes,” Alexander replied absently.

John picked up on his lover’s vacant tone right away. “What are you thinking of, my love?”

Alex sighed, “We’ve done well with her, of course. However… we are not the only ones who have raised her.”

Marking the hint of remorse in Alexander’s voice, John did his best to navigate his next words with care, knowing that his partner was not referring to Vanessa.

“We were so young when she was born. We knew nothing about children, only how to fight.”

“And write,” Alex supplied.

At least he is still in good spirits, John thought.

“Yes, and write. Mostly the latter.”

The two shared a half-hearted laugh, their fingers twinning together at their sides.

“I know what we did then was difficult, maybe even wrong for a child,” John began, “But life is filled with regrets, and in my opinion, we can either hold on to those feelings and let our guilt destroy us from the inside, or we can live outwardly, and accept that what we have now is the outcome of us trying our best, and I believe that is something to be proud of."

Alexander seemed thoughtful for a moment.

“I would rather be proud than regretful.”

“As would I, my love.”

A pause.

“I am proud of the young woman Corentine is becoming, and I am proud that we have her with us now.”

John glanced over at Alex, half surprised at his words. They seemed healthy. Healing.

“Yes,” John agreed, turning on his side to face his lover, the younger man still laying on his back and studying the ceiling with rigor.

Alex’s free hand fidgeted for a moment, sliding up as if to rest below his belly button, but instead fluttering above the skin there, seemingly torn, before falling still on his chest.

The odd movement didn’t go unnoticed.

“I am proud of everything we have, Alexander. I’m proud of our lives, our house, our daughter. I’m proud of you, as well, my dear boy.”

Alex snorted, but didn’t argue as he tightened his grip on John’s hand.

The two lay in silence for a moment before Alex spoke up.

“I wish I could give you more.”

It was an unusually simplistic sentence that John hadn’t expected from a man so renowned for his wordiness and mastery of phrasing. It was a little unnerving, in fact.

“My love, I would have nothing more to ask of you. You and Corentine are my everything.”

Alex shifted away, obviously fighting to hold in words set to burst at his tongue.

Enough.

“Alex, we must talk.”

Chapter Text

Alex turned to his side so that he mirrored John, his hair falling messily over his shoulder, having not been pulled back into a ponytail since his recovery.

“My Alexander,” John began, “You do not hide your thoughts well enough.”

Alex gave him a skeptical look, but John knew it to be a guise.

“I know you have wanted more for us. I know that the passage of time has made you doubtful of your capabilities, but that is not your worth, my love.”

Alex noticeably flinched.

John reached out and stroked Alex’s sharp cheekbone in an attempt at comfort, his words coming softly as if he were speaking to a newborn deer. “I cannot begin to comprehend what you must be feeling, mourning over something that we have neither gained nor lost.” John tilted Alexander’s chin so that their eyes met, “My dear boy, should our hopes for this moment be true or not, it will not change my love for you.”

Alexander took in a sharp breath, as if stabbed by John’s words.

“Alexan-?”

“I am scared,” Alex began pitifully, his broken cadence sending a shock straight to John’s heart. “We have waited for so long, tried everything. I had lost hope, and now I fear it, altogether. Hope is just a chance for more heartbreak.”

Alex’s own words seemed to break the dam inside of him, emotion beginning to spill over as the young man suddenly tried to turn away from John in embarrassment.

John captured Alex gently by his arm, rolling him onto his back and lightly pinning the smaller man so he wouldn’t lose his lover to his alarmingly sudden despair. Alex thrashed weakly for a moment, throwing his head form side to side and begging to be released.

“My love, my love, please. Alex, you must look at me, calm yourself.”

“I don’t want another child taken from me!” Alex yelled, stunning both men into silence.

John’s breath caught in his chest. What could he possibly say to that?

Alex panted and shook beneath John’s tender grip, sobbing as he shattered the oppressing quiet of the room, “I don’t want to hope for a child if it is a farce. I don’t want to disappoint you. To allow premature hope for another child is to have it ripped from my arms again, and I- I know that is something I could not endure.” John’s heart shattered as Alex shut himself off, his voice ringing with dangerous finality, “I don’t want to know the truth until it is certain.”

“You can’t mean you wish to wait to give birth to acknowledge that you are-”

“We don’t know, John!”

John exhaled a steep breath. He was utterly ashamed that he had not shared what he knew of Alexander’s condition with his partner. In all honesty, he thought Alex truly had known, but John hadn’t counted on the man to be so adamant about remaining ignorant to his own changing body, so dead-set on waiting until the truth was glaringly unavoidable.

All of that, just to shield John and himself from further misery.

“Alexander, give me your hand.”

Alex shot John a look of defiance, his lover leaning over him, strong arms holding him in place carefully, as if he would break otherwise.

“Alexander, please, trust me. Trust in what I know.”

“And what is it that you know? You treat me as if I were a porcelain doll,” Alex shot, his tone bordering on disgust.

John’s voice dropped a few startling octaves, “Please, Alex… I am scared, too.

Alex’s defensive persona deflated almost instantly, his eyes now searching as he gave his lover a questioning look.

“My love, no matter how afraid we may be, we have to be honest with each other and ourselves. We have to trust that if our hopes should end in disappointment, we will still have each other, we will still have Corentine and Vanessa. Our family.” John reached down and covered the back of Alexander’s hand in his own, “We have to remind ourselves that there can be no positive outcome if we do not take risks. We learned that lesson during the war. We were reminded of it each time we fought together on the battlefield.”

Alex locked his fingers in John’s.

“We are being reminded of it, now, my dear boy.”

The couple stared at each other in silence for a few beats, allowing breath and mind to catch up with action. Then, tentatively, John began to guide their clasped hands, sliding them up Alexander’s body.

Alex tensed, but did not protest as John carefully watched for signs of distress. Though this needed to be done, he would never push Alexander too far.

John continued the movement slowly, their intertwined fingers brushing over Alex’s thigh, his hip, then coming to lightly caress the soft skin of his tummy.

Alexander’s breath hitched instantly, and John knew that what the younger man was feeling was familiar to him, the confirmation he had been so afraid to seek out now at his fingertips, just as it had been six years before. John wondered at how long Alex had refrained from touching himself, from searching for what had, this whole time, been within his reach. If anyone had that sort of restraint, it was surely his Alexander.

Alex panted out a short, stunned breath and unraveled himself from John’s grip, reaching down with both hands and greedily exploring every square inch of his firm navel, lifting his shirt and excitedly glancing over at John between breaths.

“You were right, oh, John, I-” Alex choked out in heartbreaking relief, hot tears burning at his eyes.

John shifted closer, pulling his arms around Alex tenderly as the younger man began to hiccup with small sobs.

“I’m sorry, John, I’m sorry. I was so scared. I wanted so badly for it to be true, but if it wasn’t I- I didn’t want to know, didn’t want to- it’s just, we’ve wanted this for so long. I doubted I could take it if it weren’t-”

Alexander was borderline babbling, his words running together and his speech quickening as he shook against John’s chest.

“My love, be still. Shh. You have nothing to be sorry for.”

The couple rocked gently together. Alexander’s quiet crying fading to soft whimpers, his shoulders shaking now with excitement.

“We- we are going to be parents again,” Alex said reverently, his words barely audible against John’s shirt.

“That we are, love.”

There was a small pause, Alex taking a moment to reach down between them, now unable to refrain from touching his growing belly as if making up for lost time, a stupid smile stretched wide across his cheeks as he felt his child.

John loved to see his partner this way. Happy, as he deserved to be.

Suddenly, John felt as though he’d never be able to take his eyes off the man before him, his heart so full with love and respect for his partner.

“I am so proud of you, Alexander,” John breathed, only half-meaning to have spoken out loud.

Alex looked up, a bewildered chuckle escaping his lips, “Proud of me? Whatever for?”

John pulled back to give Alexander and incredulous look, locking eyes with his partner seriously, “Because you have a resilience that is unmatched. You have overcome tragedies unknown to most by employing the talents God has granted you and using those gifts to fight boldly for what you believe is right. You are fearless, you are relentless and you are so brave.” John’s hand moved down and connected with Alexander’s over their child once more. “You have given us Corentine. You have given us this family, and you continue to make us whole. If I could give you all the appreciation I had to offer, it would not be enough.”

Alex shifted so that his head nestled comfortably under John’s chin. This was his safe place, his sanctuary. Breathing in the scent of his lover deeply, Alexander felt as though a weight he had been carrying around with him for months had fallen from his shoulders.

He was ready to carry this new weight, now.

Chapter Text

Golden rays danced across Alexander’s cheek, rousing him from perhaps the most peaceful sleep he could recall having in months. Alex took in a deep breath, the scent of his partner filling his senses as he instinctively shifted toward the comforting warmth beside him. Strong arms met Alexander halfway, enveloping him lovingly and pulling him closer, chest to chest.

Love. Safety. Heat.

A hand, smooth and firm innocently carded through Alex’s hair, fingers parting through his long locks and tugging gently. Alex struggled to hold in a moan, leaning back into the touch. Suddenly, there were lips on his, eager and needy. Then a tongue, rough and hot against his own.

Alex pressed his hips forward, desperate for friction, for attention, for more.

A chuckle rumbled from the man leaning against him, his body large and looming over Alexander’s smaller form.

Alex shivered, reveling in the feeling of being held and pulled and maneuvered by his lover, John now nipping lightly at the tender skin just below his ear.

“My… My love…” Alexander couldn’t quite organize his thoughts, his words caught in a hopeless jumble somewhere between his brain and his tongue as he began to pant, John’s hands greedily exploring the expanse of his lithe body.

John paused his actions, breathing in theatrically and blowing hot breath against Alexander’s sensitive skin, allowing the man beneath him to jolt in his firm hold before laving his tongue over the raised gooseflesh of his neck.

This time Alexander couldn’t help the moan that escaped his parted lips, John’s body was too heavy against his, his breath too sultry.

“Good morning, my dear boy,” John whispered, his voice gravely from sleep and heavy with something more. Lust.

When had they last…? Alexander tried to do the mental gymnastics to figure when they had last taken each other, but was cut short in his efforts when John rolled them over, Alexander now fully on his back, John directly above, his bright eyes mischievous and triumphant.

“Oh, don’t look so pleased with yourself,” Alexander huffed, a small smirk betraying his attempt at disinterest.

Instead of answering, John locked gazes with his partner smugly and shifted so that his thigh pressed solidly between Alexander’s legs, causing Alex to let out an undignified squeak before sighing and relenting to the glorious friction, grinding himself down in increments and breathing shallowly.

John couldn’t help but rock his hips as well, watching Alexander fall apart at his touch was exhilarating, and John needed more. More contact, more movement.

After a moment of frustrated rutting, Alex reached up and grabbed John’s shoulders for better leverage, the new power behind his movements pulling impressive moans from both men as they ground together.

John found that he couldn’t take his eyes off his partner as he writhed and whimpered beneath him. God, he wasn’t even touching him, wasn’t even giving his lover a fraction of what he could do and Alexander was already losing himself in his pleasures. It had certainly been too long.

Alexander’s breath began to quicken, his hips moving more erratically, a deep rouge blush burning at his cheeks. John knew his lover was close, but he wasn’t done, hadn’t given the younger man the ravishing he felt he deserved, hadn’t shown Alexander how much he loved him. He needed Alex to feel it.

All at once, John pulled away, leaving Alex frantic and whining, his hips stuttering pathetically as he looked to John through glazed eyes.

“My dear Alexander, always getting carried away,” John chided, his heavy breath tarnishing his bravado.

Meanwhile, Alexander looked all but lost to the world pinned beneath John, his hair now fallen from it’s tie and spread about the pillows, mingling in the morning sunlight and painting them in blotches of golden-red, his eyes heavily lidded and his gaze intense with need, fixed only on John.

God, he was stunning.

For a moment, John wasn’t certain if Alexander had heard him, then suddenly the young man surged forward, wrapping his arms around John’s neck and forcing him onto his back. John went pliantly, but pulled Alex down with him, the two laughing in each other’s arms at their own ridiculousness.

Giggles and hushes turned into soft kisses, to heated passion. Alex pressed his hips to John’s, the feeling of his partner’s arousal against his own even through layers of clothing was exquisite, but ever frustrating. Alex whined and gripped John’s shoulders once again for leverage as he began to ride his lover’s lap, but was halted as John gripped his hips tightly.

“Need you.”

John’s voice came in a whisper, almost pleading and entirely uncharacteristic, stirring Alexander’s excitement another degree.

“Yes,” Alex managed, still straining to grain friction in John’s restrictive hold.

Then John was peeling away Alexander’s shirt, his own to follow. Chest to chest. The heat, Lord, how lovely it felt. Hot breath against his shoulder, his neck his lips. Intoxicating. Their bodies sliding together and mingling in the ecstasy of the other’s touch.

Alex reached down between them, cupping John in his warm palm and rubbing with just enough pressure, smirking when the man groaned into his shoulder and dragged his teeth over Alex’s tender skin absently.

Alexander shuddered and enlisted the use of both his hands for the task of removing his lover’s breeches and underclothes. With some shifting and more giggling like schoolchildren, John was relieved of all his clothing, leaving Alexander half-dressed and uncomfortable, the evidence of his arousal thick and tightly constricted against the fabric of his breeches.

John gave Alex a wry smile before ghosting his fingers up the smaller man’s inner thigh, Alexander instantly going limp and whimpering for more.

“Is this what you want, my love?”

Alexander could only nod vigorously as John raked his fingers back down his leg, this time digging into his supple flesh.

Having his answer, John grabbed Alex by the waist and hoisted him over so that the younger man was facing away, his back to John’s broad chest. Alex moaned at the movement, opening his legs in invitation.

“Shh. I’ll give you what you want, my dear. You must be patient.”

With a small amount of shuffling, Alexander was relieved of his breeches and underclothes, John taking his time in lowering the fabric off his partner’s hips, reveling in the sounds Alex made as his manhood was freed to the cool morning air.

John took a moment to reach for the vial of oil the lovers kept in their bedside drawer, turning back to find a desperate Alexander rutting shallowly into the sheets.

“Naughty boy, did I not say to be patient?”

Alex only keened in response, words now completely failing the fiery young scholar. John chuckled in amusement and leaned in behind Alexander, a finger now wet with oil teasing at his lover’s entrance.

Alex squirmed and cried out as John pushed in the first finger, shushing the smaller man as he began to drag it out and push back in slowly. Once Alexander began to thrust back into the movement, John carefully added a second finger, steadily widening the space between the two, stretching his lover open gently.

Alexander was all but falling apart, gasping out and reaching back with one hand to grip the back of John’s neck. John removed his fingers with a whine of protest from Alex and began to spread a generous amount of oil onto himself.

Poising himself at Alexander’s entrance, John took a moment to whisper, “My love, are you ready?”

Alex shivered in his arms and nodded, “God, yes.”

With that, John pressed forward, Alex taking each inch beautifully. John groaned in Alexander’s ear, the man beside him shuddering and moaning as John sheathed himself completely, connecting in a way that they reserved for only each other.

John snaked a hand down and pulled at Alex’s leg, cradling just under the knee so that the young man’s hips were open as he began to rock into him. Alex cried out loudly at the movement, never one to be aware of his own volume.

“Alexander, shh,” John hushed as he pulled out to the tip, “We mustn’t wake Corentine. Vanessa.” John’s breath hitched as he slid back in slowly, his thighs meeting the plump flesh of Alex’s rear, the sensation heavenly.

“Our family,” Alex panted almost reverentially, his hand resting on the nearly imperceptible swell of his belly.

John’s heart soared, “Yes, my love. Our family.”

There were no words for the love John felt for this man, not just in this moment, but every minute of every passing day. He could never effectively articulate his feelings to Alexander, the man a reliquary for language, but he could show him, make him feel it within every thread of his essence.

John began to set a measured rhythm, pulsing his hips deliberately, smoothly. Feverish enough to convey his need, tempered enough to make sure that Alex felt the agonizing drag of his arousal, inch by inch, Alex sinking back into each of John’s movements fervently.

Groaning in Alexander’s ear, John pulled at the younger man’s leg, deepening his angle and aiming for what he knew was just within reach.

“God, John!” Alex abruptly cried out.

Found it.

Alex continued to vocalize, John gently shushing him as he picked up his pace, kissing and licking and worshiping ever inch of skin before him. He needed more, needed to be closer, deeper. John canted his hips in desperation, ripping a near-scream from Alexander.

“Alex-?”

“There! There… please don’t, don’t stop,” Alex panted frantically.

Words escaped John, unable to say or do anything but nod furiously against Alex, leaning further against his lover, his everything, pulling him closer and speeding his hips, Alex rocking back with the same intensity.

John reluctantly relinquished his hold on Alex’s leg, grasping his lover’s hard arousal and stroking in time to his frenetic thrusts.

“L-love you. Love you so much,” Alex managed between harsh breaths. John continued his assault on Alexander’s member, the smaller man suddenly tensing and his breath catching in his throat in a silent cry, releasing thickly into John’s hand.

“Alex, ugh. Y-yes.”

John gripped Alexander’s hips hard as he reached his own climax, burying deep in his lover and rocking through the pleasure.

They laid still in the afterglow, holding each other and breathing heavily, listening for any indication of their little family’s waking.

“I love you, too, Alexander,” John breathed into his lover’s hair, his arms enveloping him in a protective embrace, his hand resting over Alex’s middle.

There was nothing more John could wish for in this moment.

Chapter Text

It was funny how quickly time seemed to pass.

Days, weeks and months progressed like normal, yet, the anticipation of another child always remained at the forefront of John and Alexander’s minds.

By Alexander’s calculations, he would most likely deliver in mid to late January, giving their family plenty of time to adjust and make the necessary preparations for their new arrival. Vanessa already knew of the pregnancy, John explained, however, Alex wanted to wait to tell Corentine, at least until they could no longer hide it. John never spoke to Alexander about this odd request, but he suspected that the young man was afraid Corentine might react badly or become jealous, the two always having a special and exclusive bond. But despite his partner’s hang-ups, John knew that Corentine would be overjoyed to have a younger sibling, the girl having asked them on numerous occasions for a little sister.

By John’s request, Alexander began working more and more from home, taking on less cases and doing less favors for the President, though he still would write in his study into the late hours of the night. As long as Alex was nearby, though, John felt secure. Their child wouldn’t be due for some time yet, but John still felt more comfortable staying close to Alexander in his condition. He would not leave him alone again. He would stay by Alex’s side until their child was safely in their arms, their little family complete.

The couple also vowed to be more prepared for this child’s birth, collecting all the needed supplies and reading the literature and medical journals that were not available to them back when they were expecting Corentine. Quickly enough, their bedroom became stocked with blankets, medical tools and medicine, everything ready months in advance for the delivery. This time, they would be ready.

Alexander opposed hiring a midwife, wishing to rely solely on John for support during the birth. Vanessa agreed to remain close at hand should the couple need any assistance, having helped deliver her own siblings as a young woman. Otherwise, she would remain with Corentine and distract the child in another part of their home during the ordeal.

They had a plan. All would be well.

Except that Alexander hated to be cooped up. To John’s dismay, the stubborn man would often disappear, leaving the property without his knowledge to go to town, run errands or to just have a change in scenery. In time, though, Alexander would grow too big to ride, and much to big to look as a man should in public.

“You make it sound as though I should be bedridden.” Alex grouched, crossing his arms and leaning back into his desk chair petulantly, his belly now rounded and visible under his waistcoat. It was becoming harder and harder to conceal.

“My dear boy, you know that is not what I mean,” John scolded lightly, setting a hot saucer of tea down on top of the notes Alexander had been working on. “I am only concerned for your safety, should someone notice you in your state.”

“My state,” Alex repeated venomously. “Yes, how dare I be a carrier? How dare I exist in the form God gave me?”

John sighed, pulling up a spare chair and sitting down beside his partner. “Alexander. You know I would have you no other way. But, there are so many who would not accept what we have, what you are.”

“I am not just some creature for others to gawk at, to chain and study.”

“No, but you are a rarity. You are unknown. Different. My unique Alexander.” John brushed the younger man’s cheek with his thumb. “You do not deserve to feel like a well-kept secret, locked away because of what the public would not understand. If I could, under a good conscience, allow you to be amongst the fair people of this nation as you are now, then I would. But the matter is, we cannot be sure that it is safe.

“We could be found out, yes, I know,” Alexander said, quietly, like a child being admonished for unruliness.

“It will only be for but awhile, my dear,” John soothed.

“I know,” Alex said, leaning into John’s warm palm at his cheek. “I do feel as though I’ve missed quite a horrid amount of work.”

The couple laughed together half-heartedly, tapering into a comfortable silence.

“All the same. I do not think anyone would truly do me harm, should I be found out.”

John clenched his jaw. He would not speak to Alexander of the doctor who saw to him the night he fell ill.

Chapter Text

Their dinner table was full, laden with fresh meat and vegetables despite the frost. Soon, the late fall chill would turn to frigid winter, and good quality foods would be harder to come by, so tonight, they would feast on what would surely go bad before they began their storage for the season.

Alexander and John sat side by side, Vanessa and Corentine on the other.

“You have outdone yourself, Vanessa.” John complimented, serving himself a helping of potatoes.

“I helped!” Corentine exclaimed excitedly, bouncing in her seat.

“Oh, yes? And what is it that you helped our Vanessa with?” Alex chuckled.

“The meat!” Corentine beamed. “I helped season the meat. Oh! And I helped set the table. I set your place all by myself, Papa!”

Alexander smiled practically from ear to ear. “Is that so? Well, shall I inspect it, then?”

For a moment, Corentine looked fearful, then nodded her head, a determined look crossing her face.

“Very well. Let us see, now…” Alex made a show of leaning in and closely eyeing the placement of the silverware, studying the symmetry of the napkin.

“Papa?”

“Hmm…”

John suppressed a laugh. Alexander was obviously toying with the poor girl. Corentine was practically holding her breath.

Finally, Alex spoke, “I believe…” Corentine leaned forward in her seat, Vanessa snickered from behind her hand, “that you have done an outstanding job, my love.”

Corentine giggled and clapped her hands, quickly stopping herself, remembering her manners at the table. “Thank you, Papa.” She smiled a toothy grin, revealing an empty space where one of her front teeth used to be.

“My goodness!” Alex exclaimed, “Have you lost your first tooth?”

Corentine smiled wider, “Uh-huh! But I didn’t lose it, Papa. I was eating- um… tasting the potatoes Vanessa was making and it became stuck!”

“Really?” Alexander asked, enthralled.

“Mm-hmm. It was very frightening. There was blood!”

“My brave girl, I’m sure you handled it well.”

“I only cried for a moment,” Corentine said, sheepishly.

“Let’s hope there isn’t any blood in our potatoes,” John joked, the table laughing and continuing to pass around their spread.

Alexander, trying his best not to take more than anyone else at the table, carefully spooned his own serving of squash. He had been so ravenous throughout this pregnancy, and though he hadn’t gained much weight other than what was obviously the baby, he felt self-conscious about how much more he ate than the rest of his family.

John, noticing Alex’s hesitation, cast him a knowing look before tenderly taking the bowl to serve more squash onto his partner’s plate.

Corentine giggled again from across the table.

“What is so funny, love?” Alexander asked.

The little girl went silent, casting her eyes down, “Nothing, Papa.”

“Corentine, it is unkind to keep secrets.” John admonished, gently.

“Yes, Father,” Corentine sighed, then breathed, “I’m sorry, Papa.”

“Whatever are you sorry for, my love?” Alex asked.

Corentine looked distraught, wringing her dress in her little hands and tears misting in her eyes. “I had an unkind thought.” she whimpered, “I’m sorry, Papa, I had an unkind thought about you.” The damn suddenly broke, silent tears trailing down the little girl’s cheeks, a quiet sob shattering Alexander’s heart.

Alex stood from his place at the table and made his way over to where his daughter sat, her head in her hands.

“My sweet girl, come here. Shh,” Alexander cradled the girl to his chest. “There, there, what has you so upset?”

“I-I don’t want to be mean,” Corentine wailed.

“My dear child, you are not mean. One must be mean-spirited to be so. Do you believe yourself mean-spirited?”

Corentine sniffled against Alexander’s shoulder. “No.”

“I agree. Now, would you share your unkind thought? I’m willing to bet it was not as unkind as you think it to be.”

“I… I just thought…” Another sniffle, “I saw Father giving you another helping and I thought it funny.”

“Oh?”

“Because…” Corentine looked pained to say more.

“Because I’ve gotten bigger?”

Corentine jolted in Alexander’s arms, a look of surprise replacing her distress.

Alexander sighed. He should have told her sooner, been more honest with her.

“My dear child, perhaps I am the one who has been unkind. Your father and I have had news for you, but I’ve since been too frightened to tell you. Do you know why?”

Corentine shook her head, her light curls bouncing around her freckled face.

“I was frightened because adults make mistakes, as well, but we don’t like to admit to them. We all think mean things about each other, we all tell lies or withhold the truth, but what makes the difference between a kind and an unkind person is realizing that what we’ve done is not right. I apologize for not telling you the truth, Corentine. Are you ready to hear it?”

“Yes, Papa.”

“That’s my girl,” Alex said, sweeping a loose curl behind Corentine’s ear, affectionately. “Do you remember when we discussed what makes boys and girls different?”

“Yes.”

“And do you remember that sometimes a person can be born with both a boy’s and a girl’s features?”

“Like you, Papa?”

“Yes, exactly like me,” Alex said with a smile. “Because I was born the way that I am, I can do things that other men cannot. I can have children as a woman can, do you remember when we spoke of that?”

“Yes, but it was quite some time ago. You said that’s how I was born.”

“That’s my clever girl. Yes, that is correct, I-”

Corentine suddenly gasped, “Are you like Mrs. Lewinsky?”

“Mrs. Lew-?”

“My schoolteacher! She’s going to have a baby soon, and she’s gotten big, too!” Corentine began to bob with excitement in her chair. “Papa, are you having a baby, as well?”

John fought back another laugh. Alexander looked so stunned, his mouth gaping open like a fish with no words coming out. He had met his match in his own daughter.

Finally, Alex was able to collect himself enough to answer, “Yes, Corentine. You are going to be a big sister in about four month’s time.”

Corentine let out a sharp squeal and hugged Alex tightly around the neck. “Papa, thank you, thank you, thank you! I am so excited! Oh, I want to know if it’s a boy or a girl. I do wish the baby would come now.”

Alexander chuckled, resisting the urge to reply with an ‘I don’t,’ and instead hugging his daughter closer and sharing a warming smile with John from across the table.

Now everything was ready.

Chapter Text

Winter, now. Beneath the freshly fallen snow the frozen ground remained hardened and cold, the bulbs and creatures within awaiting the warm thaw of spring, still a long slumber away.

Alexander was now truly becoming stir-crazy, struggling to occupy himself in his own home as he could no longer really leave. He was far too big to ride on horseback now, his firm belly swollen and round, obvious even under his winter dressings. He could no longer go into town or to work, else his and John’s life would be exposed for what it truly was.

It all drove Alexander mad.

The only saving grace was the time he got to spend walking with his family. Walking felt good, though his body was now heavy and sluggish. The movement, at least for a short while, was welcome, even in the chilly December air.

John and Alex walked hand in hand across their property, the blonde man rarely letting his partner out of his sight now that the time was approaching. Alex found his protectiveness to be sweet, if not a tad overbearing, but he would take it over not having John near at all.

Corentine was running ahead, calling back to her parents, remarking on the sights up ahead that they had yet to see, urging them forward.

The long narrow drive leading up to their house was quiet, surrounded by trees laden with snow. Alexander had a strange sense of being complete. Of having everything he wanted right here in this moment. Alex laid a hand on his belly, smoothing out his shirt over the tight stretch of his skin. Well, almost everything. Soon.

Corentine was now back at their side, chatting away about the animals she had seen, the squirrels up ahead. Then, the subject changed.

“Can we go to the park? Can we please, father?” The little girl begged, tugging at John’s sleeve.

John and Alex shared a look before Alex knelt, albeit a little unsteadily, so that he was eye to eye with his daughter.

“Little one, I would love nothing more than to walk through the park with you. However, do you remember when we spoke of how it would be difficult for me to do some of the things that we normally would because of the baby?”

Corentine nodded bashfully, her eyes downcast.

“That’s my smart girl,” Alex praised. “I’ve grown too big to leave our property right now, love. Remember, it’s a secret from everyone that I’m having a baby. I must stay where I cannot be seen, do you understand?”

Corentine seemed to ponder this. “Will we ever go to the park again?” The little girl had tears in her eyes and Alexander’s heart melted.

“We will, of course we will, my sweet girl. We just have to wait for your brother or sister to come first.”

“When will that be?” Corentine whined.

Alex looked to John for help.

“A matter of weeks, my love. Not long,” John supplied, gently.

“Weeks!” Corentine cried, exasperated, “That’s so long!”

“It won’t be as long as you think, dear,” Alex consoled, “In fact, I know of a way to make the waiting seem like a game. Would you like to play?”

This seemed to catch Corentine’s interest. “Yes,” she replied suspiciously, but with a whimsical glint in her eye.

“Wonderful, dear. Why don’t you run ahead and meet Vanessa back inside, your father and I will be there shortly and I will show you how to play our game.”

The toothy smile that Alexander loved so spread across Corentine’s fine features, her missing teeth only making her more adorable as her blue eyes sparkled. “Yes, Papa.”

With that, the little girl sprinted away, paying no mind to her frocks as she hopped through the muddy slush.

“Whatever are we going to do with her?” Alexander wondered out loud, still crouched in the snow. John sidled up behind his partner, leaning down and running his hands under Alex’s arms, lifting his lover off the cold ground and supporting him for a moment as he adjusted to his new center of gravity.

“Not a thing. She’s a fine young lady.”

“That she is,” Alex said, watching Corentine skip away. “We’ll have another fine young one to match her soon enough. She’ll make a marvelous big sister.”

Chapter Text

“Look here, now. See this date?”

“Yes, Papa.”

“Good. That is today’s date. Now, if we flip the page, we can look at the next month. See this date?” Alexander pointed to a small box drawn in ink with a number inside.

“Yes.”

“That is around the date when the baby will be born. We can’t know for sure, but this is when we’ll be expecting it. Do you understand?”

“I think so, Papa.”

“Excellent. Now, the game I spoke of goes like this. Each day when you wake, I want you to take this ink and this quill and scratch off the day’s box, like so.” Alexander made one sharp line through the current date, his makeshift calendar now a countdown to the delivery.

“Now, every day you’ll be able to see how close we are to meeting your new sibling.”

“Papa, you said I’m not allowed to use your quills,” Corentine questioned, slightly shocked.

“Yes, that was my rule. However, you will be an older sister soon, my dear. You are going to have a lot of responsibilities as the eldest child, and I trust that you will be mature enough to care for your new brother or sister, just as you can now care for this quill. Do you promise to be careful with it?

Corentine’s eyes lit up at such a declaration, “Yes! Yes, thank you, Papa. I will take wonderful care of it and the ink! I promise not to spill it.”

“My sweet girl. Accidents will happen; they are a part of life and that is okay. If the ink ever spills come get your father, Vanessa or myself. We will help you clean it up. What I really want is for you to feel comfortable having a responsibility. Make sure the ink doesn’t dry, do not break the quill. When the baby comes, show me the remarkable big sister I know you will be.”

“Yes, Papa!”

From where he watched in the doorway, John could see the excitement and pride shinning in his daughter’s expression. She was unmistakably Alexander’s daughter, and John had absolutely no doubt that she would rise to the occasion beautifully.

Chapter Text

John hadn’t seen Alexander in hours.

It wasn’t unusual for Alex to lock himself in the library or hold up in his study to work in peace, often forgetting to come down for meals or to let his family know he was still alive. It was a sort of running joke in the household, though, this sort of behavior wasn’t something John would have expected from Alex so close to the delivery. They had a month yet, but it set both partner’s minds at ease to be close to one another as the time drew near.

When Alexander didn’t show up for dinner, John began to worry.

“Vanessa, have you spoken to Alexander today?”

“Not since this morning, sir. However, I did see him in his study naught but an hour ago.”

“I’ll go fetch him, then.” John turned away and left their dinning room, heading for the stairs, trying not to walk too quickly.

Alexander was fine. He was just busy, that’s all. Forgotten to eat again, the fool.

The mantra of such calming phrases continued to dance through John’s mind as he lifted his fist to knock on Alexander’s study door.

No answer.

Another knock.

Silence. John opened the door a crack and found the room devoid of life… and surprisingly neat. Alex’s study always seemed to be reminiscent of a war-zone, reflecting the discourse in the young man’s mind, scattered but intelligent thoughts organized in ways that would drive any other scholar mad. To see it in such a divine state was unprecedented.

John crept in through the door, too curious and in slight disbelief.

The haphazard piles of papers that had littered every surface were now organized in neat stacks, albeit still on the furniture. The plates and old coffee cups had been removed and the papers and folders on the desk were now artfully arranged.

John’s eyes were quickly drawn to the one outlier in the room; an open letter lying on the desktop, an official-looking seal and pristine text on the letterhead, addressed to Alexander.

Unable to resist, John picked up the letter and began to read.

John’s blood ran cold. He gripped the crisp paper tightly and raced towards their bedroom.

Chapter Text

Alexander had heard John come up the stairs, enter his study. He took in a slow breath and steeled himself, bracing for what he knew was coming.

Then, a rush of footsteps, a voice from the doorway, “What are you doing, Alexander.”

It was less of a question and more of an accusation.

Alex turned to face John from where he stood by the bed, revealing an open suitcase, half-packed with folded clothes, more garments strewn about the covers.

There was a weighty pause, the two men sizing each other up from across the room. Unfortunately, neither man had ever been inclined to back down in an argument, suspending the static tension well beyond normalcy.

“Packing,” Alexander said unempathetically, turning back to his folding.

“You cannot be serious.”

Alex continued his work silently, ignoring John’s words.

“Alexander, now is hardly the time to-”

“I have to go, John,” The young man interrupted, stubbornly, “I’m sure you know this, as you have read my personal mail.” Alex shot a scathing look over his shoulder.

“Would you have told me, then? Or would I have woken to find you gone?” John shot back.

Alex’s shoulder’s visibly slumped. He felt irrationally emotional as his eyes misted over. He didn’t want to fight right now, he just wanted to do his job. Wanted to do what was needed of him then come home and be with his family. Why was that so hard?

“The President has requested that I-”

“I couldn’t care less, Alex. You are in no condition to travel.”

“There is still a month yet,” Alex replied softly, voice now nearing a whisper.

“There was still a month when I left!” John barked.

The room fell silent. It was oddly quiet throughout the house, in fact, as if the very woodwork were listening.

John regretted what he’d said in an instant, Alexander’s shoulder’s quaking as he held whatever garment he had been folding tightly to his chest. There was a sniffle.

Guilt struck John’s chest like a hard stone. He moved quickly to Alexander’s side, but the smaller man turned away.

“My love, I… I am sorry. That was a cruel thing for me to have said.”

Alex did not turn around, but his sniffling and trembling seemed to be subside a bit.

“I would only wish to see you safe. There is so much uncertainty for us at this time… I fear for you, Alexander. I would fear for your safety if people were to see you as you are now.”

“You truly think someone would harm me?” Alex asked, tilting his head and side-eying John.

“I think people fear what they do not understand. You are a rarity, my love. Misunderstood, by no fault of your own. It would…” John shuddered and tried his best to hold in his emotion, “It would end me if any harm came to you because of my avarice for a family.

Alex turned to face John, his heart breaking at the sight of his lover, eyes red, blonde hair fallen loose.

“It was not only your wish to have a family, but mine as well,” Alex said, firmly, cupping Johns cheek and pulling him closer. “Would it ease your mind if you came with me?”

“Alexander, I don’t-”

“I know you would have me not go at all, but I have been summoned by Washington. It is urgent, and it will only take but a few days,” Alex plead. “We can ride by carriage, John, I will wear my largest coats. No one would be the wiser, we will not need to be seen.”

“And what of your piers? Surely those who have known you will be suspicious. You have always been small in frame and stature.”

“Why, can anyone not gain weight?” Alex jested, rubbing his belly and giving John a playful smile. “I have requested that I meet only with the President. The matter that I have been summoned for will not require me to be in the presence of the rest of his staff. We will be protected, my love.”

“You cannot be sure of that.”

“We cannot be certain of anything in this life,” Alexander said, ominously. “However, I have sent a letter ahead of us requesting privacy and expeditiousness. We shall not be there more than two days, and no one will see us but the President, I assure you.”

John sighed. On one hand, it was absolutely ludicrous for Alexander to be traveling at such a delicate time, so near the delivery. On the other, this was Alexander. John would not be able to stop the man, even if he tried. By the looks of it, he could either allow his partner to go alone in his state, or follow him for the sake of the young man’s safety, and for his own peace of mind.

Of course, John would chose the latter.

Chapter Text

The next day at dawn, the first of January, a carriage arrived to their home. The driver paid the family little mind as they said their goodbyes, packing their luggage into the cab.

“Papa, why must you leave? And why so early?” Corentine complained, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

“I have been called to meet with the President, little one,” Alex chuckled. “It takes quite a while to get to his office, so we must leave this early to be sure that we arrive on time.”

“Alright,” Corentine relented, staring down at her own shoes. “I’m going to miss you.”

“My lovely girl, I will miss you as well,” Alexander sighed, pulling the curly-haired child close, the size of his nearly full term belly making it difficult to hug his daughter. “Remember our calendar? I want you to keep marking the days until we return.”

“How long will that be, Papa?”

Alexander smiled. “If all goes well, we should return by tomorrow night. Not long at all.”

“I’ll only have to mark one day, then,” Corentine said excitedly.

“That’s correct, my clever girl,” Alexander said, hugging his daughter one last time and kissing her forehead before being helped into the carriage, John following after.

And just like that, they were on the road. The ride to Washington’s office in the city was quite the trip, indeed, lasting nearly four hours.

Alexander and John made the most of this time by going over each other’s notes on certain issues and cases, eventually falling asleep on the other’s shoulder, their hands intertwined.

Neither man felt the carriage come to a halt, startling awake at the sound of their cab door being opened. Alexander quickly shook his hand free of his partner’s, but was unsure if the driver had seen their affection or not.

To his own surprise, Alex realized he was nervous, though he reminded himself that they had nothing to fear. Yes, they were sodomites, but for such an accusation to be made, one would need proof. As long as John and Alex remained platonic in public and Alex could pass himself off as just being overweight, then they would be protected.

What he was most worried about was perhaps seeing Washington once again.

Alexander met with President Washington regularly throughout the year, but had not seen the stoic man in many months. He certainly had not been showing his pregnancy the last time he was in the man's presence, his belly still small enough to be hidden under his clothes.

Now, though, would be a test. Would Washington say anything? Would he notice?

He had noticed when Alexander was carrying Corentine. He had protected Alex from scrutiny, allowed him to keep his position in the army, hiding him away until his delivery. Without these sympathies, Alexander would have lost everything. He and John owed the safety of their family to the President, though Alex wasn’t even sure if Washington knew John was the father.

Nevertheless, the pair checked into an inn closest to the President’s office and settled into their separate rooms, taking all the precautions necessary to evade suspicion.

John elected to explore the city while Alex set off to meet with Washington, sending the young man off with a kiss in the privacy of his rented room and wishing him luck.

Before Alexander knew it, he was standing in front of the polished wood of the President’s personal office door, his heart racing.

“Your Excellency, sir?”

“Ah, Hamilton!” Came a booming voice from within. “Yes, come in.”

Alex entered, reminding himself to stand up taller and suck in his stomach as much as possible, absently pulling his coat tighter around his middle.

“You summoned me, sir?”

“In fact, I did. Sit.”

Alex was grateful for the offer, his swollen ankles sore and aching from the short walk from the Inn.

“How have you been, son? It has been quite awhile,” Washington asked, barely looking up from the parchment he held in his hands on the desk.

Alex resisted the urge to contest being referred to as “son,” and instead relayed a few vague aspects of his personal life, such as the productivity of his garden and the relentlessness of his work.

Washington seemed to be half listening as he shuffled through more of the notes on his desktop.

“Hamilton, I have brought you here to ask something of you.”

Alexander stiffened in his seat, a little prideful, but also hesitant. He was unsure what more he could offer their President.

“You are one of the many men who has labored to lay the groundwork of this new nation. You have not only spectated this country taking its shape, but moulded it. You have a brilliant and capable mind, one that I need on my staff. I trust very few men, Alexander, and you are one of them. In fewer words, I wish for you to become our Secretary of Treasury.”

Alex knew he must have looked stunned, only hoping that his mouth had not been gaping. Secretary of Treasury? Such a high position was what he had always craved, fought for. With little deliberation, Alex accepted the President’s offer, the two shaking hands and drawing up the paperwork immediately.

In an hour's time, Alexander stood to leave, a new folder in his hand with notes on his new appointment. Oh, how he couldn’t wait to tell John.

Alex and Washington said their cordial goodbyes, the younger man excitedly steering himself toward the door. His hand was on the doorknob when the President spoke once more.

“Oh, and, Alexander?”

“Sir?”

Washington looked Alex up and down before smiling warmly, a knowing glint in his eye. “Congratulations.”

Chapter Text

When John returned to the Inn that evening Alexander nearly tackled him, bringing the taller man down by his shirt collar for an excited kiss. The couple retired to John’s room for a time, Alexander regaling the specifics of his meeting with the President proudly, motioning broadly with his hands as he waddled around the bedroom, unable to be still.

John felt his heart fill for his partner. To once again be a part of Washington’s staff was a true honor for Alex, though this time it was for the benefit of the entire nation, not just their army. This was where he knew Alexander had always dreamed of being, and though they would have to make changes in their lives to accommodate such an outstanding position, John knew it was right for Alex, for their country.

His partner was capable of greatness, and John would never stand in the way of that.

The couple talked until close to midnight, making plans, excitedly preparing themselves for the large changes to come in the next few weeks.

Never would they ever imagined to have such a life back when they were merely aides-de-camp, marching for hours on end, nearly starving and constantly in the line of fire. So much had changed. They had changed.

“We were so different, so young, then,” Alex mumbled to himself sleepily, absently rubbing the dome of his belly as he reclined in John’s bed.

“We are still young, my love, we have simply become wiser.”

“Speak for yourself, I feel as though I have aged a millennia!” Alex complained, grunting as he attempted to sit up.

John took pity on his partner and reached out to support Alexander’s back as he sat. “You may feel better in a few weeks. I am sure carrying such a weight has taken a great toll on your body.”

“That may be an understatement,” Alex chuckled, rubbing at his stretched sides. Soon, it would be much easier to walk. And breathe. And ride a horse… in general every simple task Alex had taken for granted would be manageable again. He couldn’t wait.

Or… he could. There would, after all, be a crescendo before the alleviation.

John seemed to notice this confliction written on Alexander’s face, rubbing at his lover’s back soothingly. “Are you afraid?”

“I… yes.” Alex made his answer sound like a question. “I know that all will be well. I know that I can endure the pain, as I have done it before, but…”

Alexander glanced down at his swollen tummy, the child inside moving and kicking against his left lung, earnestly.

“I do not look forward to it. I only anticipate holding our child in my arms. I wish so badly to meet him.”

“Him? You think it a boy?”

“I think it a kangaroo, at present.”

The couple shared a laugh, John resting his hand to join Alexander’s on the top of his stomach.

“No harm will come to you, either of you. This I swear,” John whispered so that Alex wasn’t sure if he had been meant to hear.

A comfortable silence took hold, Alex and John feeling their child’s movements together in the cozy dark of the room.

After awhile, Alex spoke, “I should retire.”

“Yes,” John replied, breathily. “Though I do wish you could stay.”

“As do I, but we will not be parted for long. The carriage will arrive at dawn, and it is already well into the early hours.”

“I shall still miss you,” John said, playfully, pinching at Alexander’s thighs as he stood.

“Stop that, you scoundrel. There will be time for that later.”

“Will there, now?”

“If you behave. Now, I bid you goodnight, sir,” Alex threw back, good-naturedly.

The two shared a kiss at the door, deep and longing, fingers twinning in hair and foreheads bumping. The last thing Alexander wanted was to be separated from John, even if it was only by a wall, though he knew it had to be. Just for tonight.

The couple parted reluctantly and settled into their respective rooms, bedding down for a short night before another day of travel.

Chapter Text

Alexander was awoken not by the light of dawn, as expected, but by a painful, incessant twinge radiating from his lower back. Even with the curtains drawn, Alex could tell it was not yet time to rise, the light of the moon still strong, the stars still prevalent in the night sky. Still, he sat up in his bed and stretched, attempting to alleviate the discomfort in his spine.

Lower back pain was common, especially this late into a pregnancy, though, something felt oddly different about this sensation. It was less of an ache and more of a constant pressure, the feeling akin to the slow shifting of bones.

Oh… no.

Alex shook himself free of the covers and made to stand, gasping as he felt how low his child had settled in his hips, making him stagger with the new center of gravity.

Alexander held is breath for a long moment, standing stock still in the middle of his dark room alone, waiting.

Then came what he had suspected.

A small, weak contraction bloomed, the muscles in his abdomen fluttering along to a tight tempo, his child kicking in protest at the shrinking of its home.

Alex let out a slow breath through it. The contraction had not been entirely painful, just uncomfortable and fantastically untimely. He was not supposed to deliver for over three weeks! Then again, Corentine had made her entrance early as well.

Stupid. How could he have been so adamant in traveling such a distance from home so near the delivery? Dammit, he should have known. Should have waited. John had tried to stop him, but he had only argued, gotten what he wanted, and now look where it had landed him!

Think. Think! What could be done to rectify this?

Alexander remembered back to his study of childbirth, to his own experience when Corentine was born. The contractions were not serious yet, that was a good sign. A journal he had read stated that the time in between contractions was an indicator as to how soon the baby would arrive. This coincided with what Alex recalled when he had labored with Corentine, the contractions intensifying and coming closer and closer together before he felt the urge to push.

By that logic, the severity of his current situation would depend on how long it would take for another contraction to begin. So, he began to count.

Ten minutes shy of half an hour later, Alex felt the start of the next contraction, the young man halting his pacing to breathe slow and deliberately.

So, twenty minutes, then.

Another good sign. If what Alexander understood about birth was correct, it would take at least a day for the contractions to progress into something unconcealable, certainly more than four hours. For now, and for the duration of the carriage ride, he would be able to endure these small pains. He was sure of it. Their chance at a comfortable birth at home was still within reach, there was only one problem.

John.

If John knew the state Alexander was currently in, he would never allow Alex to enter the carriage, refuse to allow him to travel. He would want for them to stay in the city, though Alex wasn’t quite sure where they would go. There were hospitals, sure, but would anyone truly take no notice of their unconventional family? They could legally be refused assistance, shunned and left to deliver their baby on the streets.

Alexander felt his heart race just thinking about the misfortune that could befall them, should they stay. His decision was clear, he had but one choice.

He would not tell John.

Chapter Text

Finally, back in the carriage. Four hours. Only four. Alex was certain he could manage that. After all, Corentine had taken nearly forty-eight hours to arrive, and if this child was to be anything like its older sister, then Alexander expected this delivery to be just as prolonged.

Time was on his side. He could do it. He could remain silent for the carriage ride, then surprise John with the news of his labor after they would be settled in at home. Perhaps he would even have enough time to spare to have a bath and something small to eat before things got too serious.

Alex confidently settled in to the corner of the carriage, John taking the seat next to him. The lovers intertwined their fingers after the cab door closed, John giving Alex a meaningful look, pure love and raw emotion in his eyes. Alex’s heart dropped.

Should he really hide this from him?

Labor was a long, drawn-out process, Alex rationalized. It wouldn't hurt John to not know about the minuscule pains he was having, in fact, it would save his partner the extra hours of worry. After all, Alex had experienced the entirety of childbirth on his own once before, he was confident he could handle this first stage alone again.

Alexander and John made small-talk, held hands as the carriage pulled down the first road of many between them and their home, setting out for a moderate journey.

Silence fell over the small cabin as it rocked and carried them back to their family. After a short while, John began to nod off, leaning his head and shoulder against the wooden cabin frame and snoring lightly, leaving Alexander to his own devices.

In the quiet of the cab, Alexander had nothing much else to do but try to ignore the tight, incessant pain that blossomed in his hips and womb intermittently. It was manageable, but something felt off.

The pains seemed to be worsening more quickly than expected, feeling more severe than Alex had remembered to be characteristic of early labor. Alex let out a long breath at the end of a contraction and began counting the time in between to the next one, for curiosity’s sake.

Alex nearly choked when a new contraction began around the six minute mark.

Six minutes. Six minutes?!

Alex shifted in his seat uncomfortably as he tried not to panic. He had not anticipated the contractions to pick up so abruptly. He hadn’t even been laboring for more than three hours and he was already beginning to feel the familiar intensity of the later stages of delivery.

This was wrong. With Corentine, Alex had been having small, aching pains for a day, progressing so slowly that he hadn’t even realized he was in labor at first. This labor felt different. Faster, smoother. Hopefully more manageable, Alex thought, bitterly, as the contraction peaked, then slowly released his already aching muscles.

That contraction had hurt much worse than the last, tempting Alex to hiss or groan, to grip at his navel and grimace, but instead, he blew out a long quiet breath, careful so John wouldn’t hear.

An accelerated labor was surely not what Alexander had expected at all, compared to his last delivery. Thinking back, Alex wasn’t sure he would have gotten in the carriage had he known he may not last. Either way, it was too late, now.

The unexpected possibility of giving birth in a carriage away from their home, their sanctuary, suddenly hit Alexander hard. The air of the cabin felt tighter, harder to take in air as he fought to rationalize his decisions, settling for a garbled mantra of commands.

Make it home, have to make it home. It is not safe. Hold it. Ugh. Breathe, blow out the pain. John mustn’t know.

Alexander struggled to control his breathing, the fear of being outed to his partner for lying combined with another tight contraction stealing the air from his lungs. Alex bit his lip, willing himself to remain strong. Remain silent.

This was all wrong. Somehow, the contractions felt stronger, far more intense than Alex had remembered them during his previous delivery. Perhaps because this labor was progressing so quickly it was more strenuous on his body? Alexander couldn’t be sure. He only knew his job was to keep quiet and safely have his child. At home.

Keep it together. Make it home.

Chapter Text

John was abruptly jostled awake by a particularly harsh bump tossing the car. Taking a moment to fully wake himself John glanced blearily over to Alexander.

The young man seemed to be resting, his head and shoulder propped against his side of the wooden frame. Something seemed off, though. Even though Alex appeared to be asleep, his body looked tense, sweat beading at his neck and forehead. To John, Alex looked almost pained, his eyes screwed shut, hands cradling his large tummy with his fingers twisted tightly into his shirt. The man looked to be having an intense nightmare, his breathing shallow and quick.

Concerned, John rested his hand on his partner’s shoulder and shook it gently to rouse him. Alex shook awake quite quickly, eyes darting around frantically before finding John’s.

“My dear boy, are you well? Were you having a nightmare?”

Alexander took a moment longer than usual to answer. “No,” He choked out, before rectifying, “I mean, yes! Yes. I am afraid I was.”

“Oh? What about?”

“Nothing of importance,” Alex shot. “Please, John, just… I would go back to sleep, should you let me.”

“Oh... apologies. Yes, go back to sleep, love.”

Alexander tried not to feel guilty at the downtrodden tone of his partner’s voice. He was only trying to help, but Alex had to fight this battle alone, for now.

He had done it before, dammit. He could do it again.

Chapter Text

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Exhale. Slow, quiet exhale. Good.

Alexander had lost all perception of time, feeling as though they had been riding for a day when really, they were only about two hours into their journey.

It was becoming a struggle for Alex to remain silent through the contractions, the pains having increased in intensity and frequency just in the last half hour. The pressure low in Alexander’s pelvis was building immensely, bringing forth instincts that Alexander remembered well.

Two hours left. Could he wait that long? Perhaps if he resisted the urge to move and bare down when the time came he could possibly make it, but Alexander was sure it would become obvious to John what was happening by then. He knew he wouldn’t be able to stay silent up to that point.

John needed to know, but…

No. He could make it. Two hours was not that long and Alex had done this before, considered himself to have a decent enough pain tolerance plus experience from Corentine’s birth to trust himself to keep quiet. Even if John did discover what Alex had been hiding, he was still resolute in giving birth at home, and only at home. He would make this work, he would make it home, no matter what.

Alexander startled at a soft hand tenderly shaking his shoulder.

It was John, asking him something. Was he okay, did he have a nightmare?

Alex couldn’t think of a legitimate answer, he only wanted silence. Needed to concentrate on breathing and not crying out. He brushed John off. It was wrong, it was mean, but what choice did he have?

John couldn’t know, not yet. They had to make it home.

Chapter Text

A piercing yelp roughly dislodged John from his nap, the blonde man snapping to attention and glancing around the cabin suspiciously, eyes quickly focusing on Alexander beside him.

John’s heart nearly stopped.

Alex was leaning back heavily in his seat, his hips thrust out, in more of a reclining position than sitting properly. His cravat had been loosened and his hair was a mess of red, loose pieces falling from his normally pristine ponytail, his body glistening wetly with sweat. Alex choked back another abrupt sound, biting down harshly on one of his hands as he attempted to muffle his cries, his other hand gripping his swollen belly, desperately.

Noticing John’s movement, Alexander looked to his partner helplessly, eyes pleading. Their gazes locked as Alex tensed with another contraction, stiffening in his seat and moaning around the hand in his teeth. John reached out and grasped at his partner’s knee, his shoulder, trying to ground the man as he shook. Alexander’s moan turned into a rough-edged scream as the contraction reached it’s peak. Once the pain faded, Alex removed his hand from his mouth and began panting harshly to keep his breath. John noticed blood forming on the back of Alexander’s hand.

“Alex, what is this- are you…?”

Alex only responded by nodding his head violently, taking in small gasps of air and rubbing his hands over his tense belly methodically. John watched in dismay as Alexander struggled to breathe, barely keeping his head above water.

Now? This was happening now?

This was so sudden, had the pains just started? Did all births begin at such a level of severity? Alexander had claimed labor to be long and arduous, so was the entirety of their child’s birth to be such a terrible strain on Alex? John felt himself panic slightly. He didn’t want to see Alex in such agony, and certainly not for such a drawn out amount of time. John was almost certain that Alex had told him that the pains of labor would start out slow.

Then it hit him.

“Alex,” John said rigidly, “How long have you been laboring?”

Alex cast John a guilty look before groaning as another contraction tore through him, the young man leaning into the tight cramping in his navel and quaking as he held his breath.

John watched dumbfounded for a moment before he realized what was happening and dropped his accusations in favor of supporting Alex.

Moving quickly and tipping his lover’s chin up, John spoke, looking directly into Alexander’s eyes. “Breathe, my love. You must remember to breathe, yes?”

John’s voice was soothing, grounding, reminded Alex to take in a shaky breath and exhale it sharply, then to repeat. The pain ended later than the last had, Alex noted, the contractions running longer and closer together, less than two minutes between each one.

He wasn’t going to make it.

Chapter Text

One moment, Alexander had been fine. The next, he was struggling not to scream, poised to deliver their child at any second.

If John didn’t love this man, he would have surely tired of this sort of whiplash ages ago.

They had had a plan. A quiet, safe delivery at home. Just the two of them, warm and calm with everything they would need on hand. They could never have prepared for this, hours away from their sanctuary and supplies, in a carriage with a stranger driving them.

John was kneeling now, crouched between Alexander’s knees, gripping the young man’s hand and rubbing at his thigh in a poor attempt at comfort. Alex let out a another yelp before cutting the sound off sharply and sucking in a breath, holding it. He was trying so hard to be silent, to be strong. John realized that his partner must have been enduring like this for hours now, alone.

The absolute fool.

John, of course, was more than just a little frustrated with Alex for hiding something so serious from him, however, he had to remind himself that Alex was scared, too, even more so than he was. This situation may have been avoidable, but then again, maybe not. Who could say what would happen if different decisions had been made? The fact was, they were here now. Their baby was coming, and John knew he needed to keep a level head, support his partner.

Though, despite all of their research and preparations, John felt ill-suited to see Alexander in such a state, his lover writhing and moaning from the pain. It reminded John of battle, the men he could not save calling out to him, crying, covered in blood. He had left them behind. He had to. They could not have been saved… the war was still raging. Gunshots. Canon fire. Pain in his shoulder. He couldn’t save them all. Alex, where was Alex? He wouldn’t leave him behind. Never.

“J-John,” Alexander whimpered desperately, pulling the blonde man back from the dark precipice of his mind.

John struggled to let the memories go, to be unaffected in this moment, for Alex. “I’m here, love. Please, tell me what to do. What do you need?”

John tired to sound confident in his tone, but Alex could feel his partner’s hand shaking in his grasp.

“I- Nngh.” Alexander’s grip on John tightened, a new contraction radiating though him, plateauing and then sharply jumping up to a new, unanticipated peak.

Alex cried out harshly and curled forward, dropping John’s hand and gripping the sides of his belly, his legs stiffening with the force of the contraction.

John watched helplessly as Alexander’s scream tapered off into a low moan, then a hum. The young man now seeming to be in a sort of trance. Oddly, it reminded John of when Alex would be working on a case or an essay. He would shut himself off, enter a state of deep concentration in which the wold seemed to be mute to him.

At least one thing could be familiar in all of this, John thought, sourly.

Alexander’s contraction ended, the young man now breathing heavily, his dissented belly rising and falling rapidly with each desperate intake. John took out his handkerchief and dabbed gently at the sweat on Alexander’s forehead.

“I’m sorry,” Alex panted, so lowly it was almost a whisper. He looked utterly exhausted.

“Whatever for?” John asked, knowing full and well why Alexander was apologizing.

“I didn’t tell you… feeling pains since early this morning. Th-thought I’d have time. Didn’t want to worry you. Took so long last time, but… oh, God, John, what have I done?”

Panic rose in the cadence of Alexander’s voice, his breathing picking up as he began to hyperventilate, tears forcing themselves free and trailing down Alex’s sweaty cheeks.

John immediately moved forward, rising up on his knees and pulling his lover to his chest.

“Alex, my Alexander, I need you to breathe with me, now. Shh, follow my breath.”

“It wasn’t s-supposed to be this way,” Alex sobbed into John’s shoulder, “I c-can’t do this, not here. It’s my fault. We have to m-make it h-home.”

“Shh, don’t talk, now. Just breathe. We will be alright, my love, I promise. Just breathe evenly, like this…”

John made a show of taking in a deep breath, then audibly blowing it out, then repeating. Hardly a moment passed where Alex could follow along with John’s exaggerated breathing before another contraction began to build within him, starting at a steady incline before shooting up to a new, excruciating peak.

“Ah-agh, J-John… I don’t think I can… stay quiet… for- nnngghhhhh!" Alex screamed through gritted teeth, trying with all his might not to do so, but failing as if the contraction itself were forcing sound from his lungs.

John watched on in horror as Alexander succumbed to the pain, vocalizing and shaking with the intensity of it all. John’s heart raced, his mind now blank. What could he possibly do? There was nothing for him except to hold Alexander’s hand and encourage him. How utterly helpless of a feeling this was, a special kind of torture that John would gladly have traded for Alexander’s pain.

Alex went slack against the seat as the contraction ended, his body shivering from an odd mix of pressure, excitement and stale agony. He had once vowed to never go through this again. God, why was he going through this again? He would have to remember to admonish John for it, later. Right now, though, he could hardly take a breath.

“I… I won’t make it, John,” Alex managed between pants. “It will have to be here.”

“Are you certain?” John asked, breathily. This was all happening so fast. “We are so close to home, Alex, can you not fight it?”

Alex shot John the most intense glare he had ever had the displeasure of being on the receiving end of. “If I could magic such nonsensical wishes into reality, I would not be on the verge of delivering our child in a carriage in the middle of the woods in the first place!” Alex yelled defensively, quaking with anger and the tension in his body.

John had no rebuttal to that, nodding his head sheepishly as a blush tinted his cheeks.

Alexander took a breath as if he were about to continue his scolding, but was promptly cut off by another rising pain. Alex gripped John’s shoulders for support as he leaned into the contraction, moaning, then screaming through the worst of it.

As the pain ramped back down, Alex leaned back once again, this time shifting his hips slightly and grimacing at the movement, the young man seeming to gauge the severity of the situation by consulting his laboring body.

John felt the need to ask questions, to comfort Alex, to say something. Anything to fill the silence. Talking was all he was good for in this moment. My God, he had become Alexander.

Alex beat John to the punch, though, with an offsetting declaration.

“I will need to bare down soon.”

Chapter Text

“You- no, Alex, perhaps we can make it if-”

“I told you, it cannot wait, John!” Alex hiccuped.

the young man was obviously frightened. His body was taking control and John knew there was no changing that. Still, the birthing process was a difficult concept for him to grasp, as he was not the one experiencing it; the overwhelming urges that were overtaking Alexander’s laboring body and mind.

A few more contractions rolled through, each adding to the unyielding pressure in Alexander’s hips, until it was just too much.

“I think I… I think I need to push,” Alex choked, his mind warring with his own instincts.

“Ah-Alright, yes, um, what do I-?”

But Alex already appeared to be acting on instinct, leaning forward and widening his knees as he began a forceful push, grunting with the effort.

“Oh!” John nearly jumped out of his skin, unsure of how to help in this phase. It seemed right, almost by instinct, to aide Alexander by supporting his legs. So John did just that, reaching out and placing his hands on Alexander’s knees, he widened them further and moved them back.

Alex leaned into the counter pressure and groaned, the sound peaking into a long wail as he continued to bare down.

The contraction faded, leaving both partners breathless and panting, John realizing he had been holding his breath the entire time.

Running his hands over Alexander’s outer thighs in a half-hearted play at consolation, John suddenly noticed something.

“Alex?”

The younger man gave a short grunt in response.

“Your, ah… your breeches are still on.”

Alexander leaned forward slightly to get a view of his legs over his belly.

“...So they are.”

All was silent for a beat.

Then laughter. Both men giggling at the ridiculousness of it all. The expedited labor, the carriage, Alexander’s pants. What were they doing?

“John, I am sorry,” Alex breathed. He could feel the small window between pains closing fast.

“I know, love. You’ve given me quite the scare, but it is a small price to pay for our beautiful family. I would endure hell if it would mean I could spend eternity with you.”

“Are you implying I have put you through hell?” Alex jested, his voice tired.

“Only for the past hour,” John returned with a smile.

Alexander smiled back, genuinely. The situation could have been better, but at least John was at his side. Having him here, having his support and comfort meant the world to Alex, the difference between giving up and persevering.

Another contraction was beginning to stir, John prepared himself as he read the look of discomfort on his lover’s face.

“Breathe, love. Breathe first, then bare down.”

Alex nodded and took in a shaky breath before curling forward into another push.

John held Alexander’s legs wide, realizing again, too late, that they had still forgotten to remove his breeches. So much for being prepared.

Alex began humming as the contraction intensified, the hum phasing into a guttural scream, loud and sharp in John’s ear. Alex gasped and leaned back, groaning from the lasting ache of his effort.

“That one was… worse,” Alex breathed.

Before John could even think to ask how the pain could possibly be worse than what he’d already witnessed, the carriage swerved violently, throwing the two men onto their sides.

The carriage seemed to steer off-road as the wheels bounced roughly over the unfit terrain. Suddenly, they came to an abrupt halt. John was splayed out stupidly on the cabin floor while Alexander lay on his side in the seat, clutching his belly and breathing harshly.

“What happened?” Alex asked, meekly.

John sat up, looking disheveled. “I’m not sure,” John took in the poor state of his lover, his hair now completely fallen loose from it’s ribbon, skin glistening and clothes rumbled on his body. John reached out and placed a hand on Alexander’s cheek, his eyes searching. “My love, are you well?”

Alex chuckled. “Is the answer not obvious?”

“You know what I mean.”

Alex sighed. “I am not injured, no. But I would very much like for this ordeal to be over. A bath would be exquisite,” Alexander answered with a tired smile.

John’s heart melted.

A loud bang startled the couple out of their stolen moment as the carriage door was forcefully thrown open, the metal barrel of a pistol, glistening in the noontime light, appeared in the doorway, aimed directly at Alexander.

Chapter Text

The vastness of the world had suddenly shrunk to one small sliver of reality: there was a gun pointing at Alexander.

Suddenly, John was back on the battlefield. He could almost taste the ash and smell the decay, his fever to protect and take action overriding his rationale. Only one thing mattered.

John flung himself between the pistol and Alexander, shielding his lover completely, his chest taking Alex’s place in the line of fire.

Fearing the worst, John had braced himself for the familiar sting of a hot bullet, prepared himself to say goodbye to Alexander and the child he would never meet.

Instead, silence.

No bullet, no blood. Not yet.

The owner of the pistol stepped forward, the look of absolute disgust that colored the man’s features set John’s blood to boil. The young man was their carriage driver, holding his gun aloft, still aimed at the couple as he glared at the disheveled men before him.

“Get out.”

Alex gasped.

John moved to speak, but their driver shouted over him, “Now!” The young man motioned sharply with the pistol in his hand. The damned thing, if there were a way for John to snag it, oh, this boy would regret ever having used them as a target.

But for now, they were cornered, and John could to nothing. Begrudgingly resigned to comply to the carriage driver’s commands, John slowly began to rise, his hands raised. John waited for Alex to do the same, glancing behind him to assure that his partner was also being complacent. To John’s dismay, Alexander seemed to be in the midst of another strong contraction, biting into his wrist to muffle his discomfort as he remained on his side.

Panic shot through John like a bullet, “Alex-”

“I said get out!” The driver yelled.

“Can you not see that he can’t?!” John brazenly tossed back, stunning both the driver and himself.

Alex let out a rough-edged moan from where he lay behind John, the young man clinging to his belly and attempting to raise his knee, though the effort seemed futile.

The driver looked repulsed. “You have until the count of five.”

“Please, just allow him a moment-”

“Now!”

“Fine!” John bellowed. He fiercely turned to Alexander, still curled in on himself in the seat, whimpering now.

“John, no, please. I can’t- we cannot stop here, I’ll die.”

“You will not,” John argued helplessly, fighting the swell of tears in his eyes as he hoisted Alex up into his arms, the smaller man yelping at the sudden movement.

With great care, John stepped out of the carriage and into the frigid January air, Alexander cradled tightly to his chest. Each footfall was agony, knowing that they were leaving their only shelter, their only haven in this wilderness that could have been safe for the birth.

As gently as he could, John laid Alexander down in the wet snow, gripping the young man’s jaw in a tender hand and bringing his ear against his lips.

“I love you,” He whispered simply.

Alex made a small choking sound as John stood, breaking away from his partner’s frantic hold to face their driver, the man still holding his pistol out at arm’s length, the barrel aimed straight through John’s chest.

John spoke calmly, “We are in desperate need of medical attention, if you would only-”

“I didn’t think you to be indecent,” the driver cut in, sharply.

“What?”

“I thought perhaps you were colleagues sharing the carriage fare, one perhaps a little more well-fed than the other,” he shot a caustic look at Alexander. “Then I observed the way you looked at one another, the way your hands met. Disgusting! I had hoped I was simply imagining things.”

“Whatever your accusation may be-”

“You are lovers!” The driver shouted, the dense, snowy forest around them soaking in the echoes.

“What we are is none of your business nor concern,” John returned, coldly.

“It becomes my business when your bitch is screaming and delivering your bastard in my carriage!”

Somewhere inside of John, a dam broke. With blatant disregard for his own safety, he stormed forward like an angry river, threatening to engulf all beneath him. The driver raised his pistol higher, aiming for John’s head as he pulled the trigger.

Chapter Text

A meager ‘snap’ echoed off the boundless trees surrounding them.

A misfire, no bullet had left the pistol’s chamber; a one in a million chance.

John continued his advance, a raging bull, reckless and uncontrollable.

The driver took a startled step backward but John was already upon him, blind with fury. With a sickening crack, John drove his fist into the driver’s jaw, the young man stumbling, but not falling from the force of it. Blood seeped thickly from the driver’s lip, his jaw set askew at an unnatural angle.

Both men were at a standoff, their breathing labored as they calculated their next play, the driver roughly snapped his jaw back into place with a sickening noise. This man was unexpectedly tough for someone smaller in stature in comparison to John, that hit hadn’t seemed to phase the young man too terribly. This would be a hard fight.

John could hear Alexander behind him, panting and groaning. He needed to be there with him, needed to end this so that he could be by his partner’s side.

Then, Alex screamed out piercingly, the sound stirring birds from the treetops.

John turned, overwhelmed by impulse. The driver took his opening.

A hollow, metallic crack sounded through the clearing.

“No!” Alexander screamed. John fell to his knees, blood flowing from a deep gash on the side of his skull, tainting the pure snow beneath him with flecks of crimson.

Alex watched in horror as John lost consciousness and hit the ground, the driver standing over him, blood dripping from the rounded silver of his pistol.

Was this to be it? Was this how they would die, in the forest with no one to find their bodies? Corentine would grow up without her fathers, her sibling. All alone with Vanessa, a shell of what their family had once been.

Would she thrive, Alex wondered. Would she move on? Lord knows he hadn’t when he was forced to give her up all those years ago. And if he were to leave her now, in this moment, there would be no coming back, no reunion as there had been before.

The driver unceremoniously stepped over John’s limp body and crouched next to Alexander, a filthy hand reaching out and pulling sharply at Alex’s damp hair.

“You’re lucky I haven’t the heart to kill you, myself,” the driver whispered in Alexander’s ear. His breath smelled like rot and decay. “You’ll suffer here. You won’t make it home on foot.” The driver glanced down at Alexander’s swollen navel, rising and falling with each panicked breath, “Not in your state.”

Alexander’s breath caught in his throat.

“But perhaps you have a chance…” The young man pulled Alex closer so that they were nearly nose to nose. “So here’s the deal, carrier. I leave you here, alive. You either perish, or you miraculously survive and forget that we crossed paths.”

“And why… would I… do that?” Alex panted defiantly, another pain ramping up, stealing his breath away.

The driver leaned in impossibly closer, his lips ghosting against the shell of Alexander’s ear. “Because, no one will be on your side.”

Alex bit his lip. He was right.

As abruptly as the driver had halted their carriage, he forcefully slammed Alexander back onto the frozen ground by his hair and stood, surveying the scene for a brief moment before clamoring back onto the front seat of the carriage and urging the horses forward.

The crack of the reigns faded with distance as Alex fought against another contraction.

Chapter Text

White.

John’s vision was all white, blurred shapes tumbling around him. He remembered the fall, the biting pain against his head. Darkness.

Then, a voice. A weight on his chest. Fingers at his neck, a cool hand on his cheek.

“Please, John, please, you cannot leave me like this…” The voice begged, it sounded so fractured, so scared.

Then, a searing pain burning at his skull, pressure being placed on the wound.

John called out, tried to jerk away from the irritation, but was held down by a firm hand at his shoulder.

“My love please, you must wake. We cannot last like this,” the voice wavered, frightened, though it carried an undertone of determination like no other. John knew that voice. Then there were cold lips brushing against his ear. “Wake for me, love. For our child.”

Alexander.

Everything came rushing back. John eyes shot open as he gripped the most beautiful man he had ever seen, his Alexander, leaning over him worriedly.

Alex looked a mess, but then again, John supposed he did, too. He could feel his hair matted where he had bled, was still bleeding? It was of no matter, his injury was not a priority. He began to sit up.

“My love, no, please, you mustn’t-” But John ignored him, forcing himself vertical in his lover’s arms. The world seemed to spin around him, but he ignored it, grasping Alexander’s shoulders tightly as he steadied himself.

“Did he hurt you?” John ground out.

“No.”

Alex held a bloody handkerchief in his hand, and for a shocking moment John thought it was his partner’s blood. It was his own.

Alexander, in labor and ready to deliver, was fussing over him. This was all wrong, it should have been the other way around. What kind of partner, of father was John if he couldn’t even care for Alexander in this moment? He could never forgive himself for being so neglectful.

After all, he had been the one to carry Alexander from the safety of the carriage. Now, here they were, stranded, with nothing but the cold snow and the ravenous creatures of the forest around them. And it was all his fault. He was injured, they had no way to retrieve or call for help, and Alex… surely he couldn’t be moved now.

If the cold wouldn’t get to them by nightfall, then the animals would. The smell of blood, thick and metallic, already surrounded them. They would be hunted, the new prey of the forrest.

Alex began to quiver, pulling John stiffly to his chest, “I th-thought I’d lost you.” John could hear the tears in his lover’s voice. “I thought… thought I’d be alone again.”

John crumpled against his partner at those words. He had failed. He had failed when Corentine was born. He had failed now. They were going to die out here and no one would ever know. He hadn’t protected Alex, hadn’t kept him safe. What could he have done differently to have changed this outcome? He should have refused to leave the carriage, fought harder. They were going to perish and it was entirely his fault.

Chapter Text

John shook in his lover’s hold, the men weeping, clasping each other tightly as the sun progressed overhead, heavy winter clouds diminishing the midday light to a dismal, gray hue.

“Alex.”

Alexander looked up, completely shocked at the sheer anguish resonating in his partner’s voice.

“I am so… so sorry.” John began, his face hidden in the crook of Alex’s shoulder. “I couldn’t protect you. We are going to die here and it is my fault. You have always deserved better. You could have found a wife, lived normally and had children the right way.” John sobbed. “It is because of me that you have met this end. Had I not seduced you into my life, you would have become so much more than a carrier. You’d be indistinguishable. Normal. You…”

John struggled to continue, the words lodging in his throat as he babbled, knowing none of his apologies could ever rectify his theft of Alexander’s life.

Hands pulled John from the depths, Alexander cradling his cheeks harshly as he forced his lover to meet his eyes.

“John,” Alex spoke firmly “You must know that I do not think so little of you. Never have I felt my life stolen from me. I chose to love you, to grow a family and a life with you. You above all others should know that normalcy is not what I want for. I would see a thousand suns pass overhead before I live a modest life. You make me who I am, John. I would be nowhere else, chose no other life than this one here with you, no matter the outcome.”

John fought against another wave of emotion as Alexander brought their lips together, chastely.

“Now, listen to me. We haven’t time…” Alex trailed off, his face contorting in pain with another contraction. John gripped his lover tighter, supporting him at the elbows. “Into the forest. We have to- uugh!”

Alexander vocalized through the rest of the contraction, rising up on his knees and resisting the urge to bare down as best he could.

When Alex relaxed, John lifted the small man carefully into his arms and stood. The world swam, setting John to stumble and fall to one knee, Alex still cradled to his chest.

“John-?”

“I am well,” John breathed, “I need but a moment. Let me try.”

Alexander didn’t argue. It was either be carried or walk, and he wasn’t sure if he could manage the latter. After a pause, John stood once more, breathing the cold air in deeply before taking a shaky step forward. Alex watched the road disappear behind the tree line as they entered the dense quiet of the forest.

Chapter Text

Remaining at the roadside would have been a gamble. On one hand, the couple would have been able to flag down any passerby and ask for aid. On the other, their best kept secret would be exposed. There was no guarantee that whoever would pass them on the roadside would be friendly to their situation, and John feared he could no longer fight should another altercation arise.

All the same, Alexander needed shelter, and the forest was the only answer they had for the time being.

John made note to not carry Alex too far into the forest, keeping close to the tree line so that they could still view the road, but far enough in that they could not readily be seen by travelers. John didn’t expect there to be too much traffic in the midst of winter on this back road, anyhow.

Truthfully, they were on their own.

A large tree with a thick and weathered trunk stood out amongst the other varying spruces and pines of the forest. It was old, wise; its thick branches creating a dense canopy above them, the boughs hanging low with the weight of the snow, closing them in. It was the best shelter they could manage now, John supposed.

John stooped over and attempted to lay Alexander down against the aged bark, but Alex struggled against him.

“Let me stand.”

“My love, it would be best if-”

“No,” Alex protested, flatly. John noted that the laboring man seemed to be entranced again, concentrated and lost within his own mind. Perhaps he would know what was best. After all, Alexander had done this before.

John was careful to support Alex as he slowly took his full weight onto his feet, breathing deeply and reaching out to place his palms on the rough exterior of the tree. Alex huffed and began to hum, rocking his hips from side to side gently. John wasn’t quite sure what to make of this behavior, but he suspected it was a way to deal with the pain. He wondered to himself if it at all helped.

As little as he wanted to leave Alexander’s side, John resigned himself to searching the immediate area for supplies. At home, they had blankets, water, sheers and medicine ready for the birth. And what did they have now? The clothes on their backs, their luggage ridden away with the carriage.

Striking at least a bit of luck, John found a few rocks that could be struck together until sharpened. They would have to do in the stead of sheers. Water? Freshly fallen snow was all around them, thick in the branches overhead and beneath their feet, but was far too cold for them to consume, and especially too cold to clean their newborn with. They would need to stoke a fire, but such a feat would be near impossible with the forest so wet from the snowfall.

That left blankets and medicine. There would surely be no herbs alive at this time of year, and if there were, John didn’t know of them. As for the blankets, John removed his overcoat, steeling himself against the chill and placing it around Alexander’s quaking shoulders. Their coats would have to do.

Alexander didn’t seem to notice this gesture, continuing to rock and hum, deep in meditation.

John left a worried kiss on his lover’s forehead and ventured off in search of unsaturated wood.
He only made it a few feet away, however, before Alexander began to groan from where he supported himself against the tree.

“My love, tell me what to do,” John was by Alexander’s side in an instant.

Alex didn’t answer, only moaned louder as John looked on helplessly. Alexander didn’t appear to be baring down during this contraction, but John thought it better not to question a process he knew so little about. Instead, he laid a hand on Alexander’s back, rubbing gently so that at least the laboring man would know he wasn’t alone this time.

When the contraction ended, Alex slumped against the ancient tree that was now their sanctuary, huffing in distress.

“Something is wrong.”

“Wrong?” John repeated, lamely.

Alex nodded his head absently, rocking his hips again. “Not making progress,” Alexander managed, shortly, putting his palms back onto the tree for support.

“Progress? But-”

“The child ins’t moving down.” Alex said, a spike of anxiety distorting his evened tone.

John blinked, shocked. He wasn’t sure how to remedy this. “Perhaps you should sit?”

Alexander shook his head. “I’ve sat through much of this ordeal already. I need to move.”

Without waiting for John to catch on, Alex began a slow circuit around the massive tree, one hand keeping contact with the bark for support, the other cradling the lowest part of his belly. John followed closely behind, unsure of what to do. Alex didn’t seem to notice that he was even there.

Agonizing time stretched on as contraction after contraction passed, Alexander halting his continuous shuffling for each pain, enduring but not baring down. He seemed to be searching for something within his own body, waiting. This was all very confusing to John, but he refused to question Alex. They couldn’t trust anyone but each other in this moment, and he refused to make Alexander feel insecure.

Suddenly, after what felt like hours of walking in circles, Alex halted, letting out a long groan and leaning into the tree, bending slightly at the knees.

“Alex, are you-?”

“Finally.” Alex panted, relieved.

Alexander seemed to sense John’s perplexed expression even though he kept his own head down, a small smile playing at his lips.

“My water has broken.”

Chapter Text

Alexander recognized the sensation.

When Corentine was born, pressure had built and built in his hips until it just… released. Not completely, of course, but the loss of a fair amount of fluid had taken the edge off, at least until the next contraction, the intensity of his labor increasing ten fold to move his baby down in the final stage.

Alex had been waiting for that feeling again. Waiting for the rush of fluid to tell him to start really pushing. Though, contrary to how quickly this labor had been progressing so far, the rush of fluid seemed to be taking its time. This had all happened so fast, yet now that he felt the need to bare down, he felt as if there were a wall between his child and the world.

With every push Alexander gave the pressure in his strained body built to a painful crescendo, never releasing as he expected. The overbearing weight of anxiety began to squeeze and constrict Alex’s chest. He needed to do something different. Move. Go. Walk. Anything. His child was ready, he was ready, but the pressure was in the way.

Circling the tree was all he could manage with the pains coming nearly on top of each other. As he shuffled around the massive trunk, Alexander drew the parallel in his mind to Corentine’s birth, how he had walked around in circles in his little army tent in a futile effort to escape the pain. Now, all Alex wanted was to be able to bare down and feel his progress.

Walking. Pressure. Walking. Pain. Hours.

Then, finally, a release.

Alex didn’t mind the liquid as it trickled down his legs, he only felt the bliss of relief. Relief from the pressure, relief in knowing that his child was not stuck, dying inside of him. Relief in knowing that it was finally time.

Alexander had never been more ready for anything in his life.

Chapter Text

Never would Alex have ever thought he could have given birth in a worse situation than he had with Corentine. Now, he could only wish to have such luxuries available to him as he did then.

Here, they had nothing but the clothes on their backs and the waning daylight.

Nevertheless, it was time. Alexander could feel his baby in position, low and heavy in his hips, his water had finally broken and he was now seated on John’s coat that had been laid out over the snow, his back supported by the solid tree that sheltered them.

It was deathly cold, the winter sun too weak to shine through the dense branches above them. John remained close, always leaving a hand on Alexander’s thigh, his shoulder, as he organized the few scraps of supplies they had. Then, John took of his undercoat, exposing himself to the winter chill, protected only by his shirt and waistcoat.

“John, don’t! You’ll freeze!”

“And I would gladly do so to see you not meet the same fate,” John returned, sternly, placing the warm fabric over Alexander’s bent legs. “Now, let’s not forget to remove your breeches this time, yes?”

Alex tried not to laugh, but couldn’t help a letting a giggle escape at the memory of their blunders from before. Alexander immediately felt guilty for such an outburst; this was serious, John could die without his outdoor wear. More than anything, Alexander wanted to protest, but for once in his life, could think of no compelling argument to his favor. Their first and foremost priority was their child, even if sacrifices had to be made. It killed Alex to think about, so he focused on the man before him, now tugging gently at his pants.

“Jack?”

John successfully removed Alexander’s breeches with a satisfied smirk, humming in acknowledgment as he folded them to the side.

“I love you.”

John paused and locked eyes with his partner, his hand coming to rest on the top of Alexander’s knee. “And I, you,” his other hand coming to caress the softest part of Alex’s cheek, “My dear boy.”

The couple smiled sadly at one another, knowing full and well that this was very likely their last act together, the frigid, deadly winter air already nipping painfully at Alexander’s bare feet. Alex let his eyes drift shut and tried to accept that they could do little more than see the birth of their child before succumbing to the elements, their little family complete, if only for a brief moment. Alex thought to Corentine, wondered how she and Vanessa would fare without them. What a bright young woman she would become, the daughter of two outspoken, unyielding men. She would no doubt do marvelous things one day, Alexander only wished he could live to see them. He wished he could have said a more heart-felt goodbye, told his daughter how much she truly meant to him. How much he wished he could bring her tiny sibling home safely to her.

There was so much yet that he could have done, but wasn’t that life? No one knows when or how they will end, they can only do their best with each day. Had he done that? Alex wasn’t sure if he hadn’t taken some of his time on this earth for granted, but there was nothing to be done about that, now. At least in their final hours, he and John would be side by side.

The tight, corded pain that Alexander had been expecting began stir, his muscles contracting to move his child into the world. Alex took in a harsh breath, the frigid air piercing like knives in his lungs. John rested both his hands on Alex’s knees and gently moved them apart settling in closely between his legs.

“Alexander, are you ready?”

Was he? Would he have a choice if he wasn’t?

He was not ready to die, but he was ready to bring his second child into the world.

“Yes,” Alex breathed harshly, the pain stealing his voice away.

“Then, push.”

Alex nodded, bracing his hands on the cold ground for leverage and curling forward into a strong push, holding the force of it for as long as he could.

The contraction was nearly done when Alexander had to stop for air, taking in a deep, quick breath and bearing down slightly as the pain ended.

“Wonderful, my love, that was brilliant.” John praised. rubbing at Alex’s legs, attempting to keep his lover warm. He and John had been lawyers for so long that he had forgotten his partner had once wished to be a doctor.

“You have an inspired bedside manner, Jack,” Alex panted.

“Only towards the patients I care for,” John returned with a weak smile.

“I am honored, then,” Alex said, leaning back against the rough bark of the tree, shifting uncomfortably.

“How did that contraction feel?”

Alex considered this. “Excruciating, but not overbearing. The pressure from the fluid was what had caused me so much agony before, though, the pain will start to become overwhelming again, soon enough. You’ll see.”

“I would rather it didn’t, for your sake.”

“You and I both.”

The couple remained in silence, waiting for the next contraction. John methodically swept his hands up and down Alexander’s legs, drawing Alex into an almost trance-like haze. Alex felt that he could have fallen asleep had it not been for the next rising pain, calling to him back to the task at hand. Again, Alexander leaned forward into his middle and bore down, hard, grunting and holding this pressure, then gasping out when he felt his baby shift down, suddenly.

“Ah!” Alex yelped in surprise, “John, it’s coming fast!” he warned before catching his breath and bearing down once more, the child sliding down through his hips and settling there, stretching his bones wide.

Alex vocalized loudly as the pressure built to be too much, his wails ringing through the quiet forest around them.

John was taken aback, utterly unsure of what to do except console Alex as their child stretched him, now bulging at his opening, “Shh, it’s okay, it’s okay, my love. Just-”

“I can feel him, John! He’s so close. Ugh, there is so much pressure…” Alex weakly tried to adjust his hips, praying for another contraction to come so that he could move his child forward and out of his pelvis. This baby felt to be much larger than Corentine had been, but perhaps that was only his imagination. Alex hoped that to be so, anyway.

Another contraction began to bloom, Alex swearing as he felt the baby rush forward with hardly any effort of his own. His body felt unprepared for such a quick birth, but there was no stopping nature as the babe forcefully began to descend once more.

John gasped out suddenly, completely in awe of what he saw before him. Just barely, visible only as Alexander pushed, was the top of their baby’s head, wet and bloody and theirs.

“Alex! Oh, Alex, I can see him! You’re so close, my love, keep going, just like that.”

Alexander didn’t answer, only grunting with another forceful push, their baby’s head peaking through once more, this time much more clearly. Suddenly, Alex began to wail, his cries peaking in to a high shriek as he halted his pushing, their child slipping back inside, nearly hidden again.

“H-hurts!” Alex yelled. The young man had a feral look about him, wild and panicked as he squirmed uncomfortably and struggled to take in air.

“Yes, I know,” John began. He could only imagine this to be the most painful part of giving birth. It certainly looked to be. “But you are so near the end, my love. Our child is right here, I can see him.”

“He’s coming too fast!” Alex cried, “It’s too much. I’ll break!”

“Then slow it down,” John encouraged, “Push lightly. Let your body do the work.”

Alex considered this as another contraction ramped up. His body had forced the child out without much help thus far, perhaps if he focused on his breathing instead of pushing, his child would ease out more gently, giving him more time to adjust to the stretch.

With that hope, Alex began to pant, his breath the only tool he could think to use to keep himself from bearing down too hard as the contraction reached its peak.

Sure enough, the child progressed with little extra effort, pushing further forward than it had the last time. Alex groaned roughly as the baby stretched him wider, but maintained his breathing as the contraction came to an end, the child only slipping back a small amount, this time remaining visible at his entrance.

Alex let the contraction go with an exasperated sound. This child was definitely larger than Corentine had been, he could feel it in the circumference of the baby’s head. John was right, he would have to let the child come slowly if he did not want to be torn apart. However, the thought of prolonging this agony seemed a cruel joke to Alexander. If they were to die anyhow, what would be the point in taking such precautions? To protect Alex from hemorrhaging, from bleeding to death? That sounded like a much better fate than living to watch his child freeze in his arms, his partner soon to follow. Should he survive the birth, he would very likely be the last one to perish.

Perhaps it was selfish, but Alexander did not want to live to experience such heartbreak. To lose a child again, then his partner would be too much for him. He would rather die peacefully, with his baby’s wails in his ear as he quietly drifted away from blood loss.

Leaving it up to fate to decide for him, Alex gave a powerful push when the next contraction came, curling himself over his belly and widening his legs. He could hear John’s voice, his pleas for him to stop, stop! Slow down! But Alexander tuned him out as he felt the widest part of their child’s head inch through him.

Unfortunately, the contraction faded then, the baby’s head pausing at it’s broadest point. Alex vaguely registered that he was screaming, his throat raw and torn as his voice echoed around them. Everything seemed far away. The pain, his body, John’s voice.

The forest suddenly grew darker, was the sun setting? Then darker still, until there was only the pitch black of unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

Alex!

Alexander, please, you mustn’t!

Please, please, please...

“Wake!”

Alexander’s eyes snapped open. There was a rough hand on his shoulder, another on his cheek, shaking him awake; John’s eyes in front of his, creased with worry and wet with tears.

“J…” Alex tried, weakly, before shuddering and gulping in a much needed breath of air.

“Alexander! My love, don’t speak. Please, just breathe. Just…”

John trailed off as he watched Alex take in short, deep breaths, his frighteningly pale complexion gaining back a bit of its color as he did so.

Alex could feel another contraction threatening to begin, but he ignored it for now. “How… how long-?”

“Only a moment,” John answered, tersely. “But, to me, it felt an eternity.”

“John, I’m-”

“I could have lost you, Alexander.” John muttered, fist clenched. “For an instant, I thought I had lost you both.”

“I did not mean for such an offense,” Alex panted, the returning pain now undeniable, “I only wish for this to be over.”

“And kill yourself in the process? My God, Alex-”

“We are all going to perish here, are we not?!” Alexander’s words rang through the dense forest around them, the two men falling into a heavy silence, save for Alex’s strained breathing.

John was the first to speak, at a whisper, “We do not know that to be true.”

“We know it well, John. There is… ugh!… t-there is no other outcome, and I would rather die first than…nnngh… than see our child perish in my arms.”

John’s spirit was breaking. He had remained strong for the both of them up to this point, but he could not deny the truth in Alexander’s words. Their situation could not be helped unless a great deal of luck were to come their way. Otherwise, they were at the mercy of the winter’s bitter cold and the beasts of the forest. By all logic, they would most likely lose their lives on this night. But by John’s reasoning, they could either be complacent as death came for them, or fight for their lives together for as long as they could.

Fighting.

Wasn’t that what they had done all of their lives, anyhow? Alex more so even than John. Poor Alexander’s life had only ever been a battle, so why now should he stop? If they were going to indeed die, they would do so only when no other options remained. They would either miraculously live, or die fighting together, side by side, just as they had on the battlefield. They were army men at heart, after all. There would be no honor in merely accepting the lot that had been given to them.

Alexander seemed to be in the throes of another contraction, obviously fighting the urge to bear down with his body rigid against the tree while his hands frantically felt around the frozen ground for something to cling to through the pain. John suddenly reached out and grasped Alex’s hands, pining the younger man’s wrists to the earth, leaning his larger body over his partner so that Alexander’s attention would have no where else to go.

“Alexander, I ask you to listen to me now.”

Alex refused to meet John’s eye, stubbornly turning his head away.

“Hamilton!” John roared, utilizing a commanding tone that Alexander had not heard since their time on the battlefield. Alex couldn’t help but jolt in surprise, snapping his eyes back to his lover above him.

“Good. Now, hear me, our fate has not yet been written, our threads not yet cut. We would not be the men we are today had we not fought for everything we have, you especially, my love. I have never known you to give up, so why should you do so now?” John leaned back onto his knees, releasing Alexander’s wrists and holding out his hand in an offering. “I beg you, fight with me. Persevere against the odds as I have always known you to.”

Alexander was utterly torn. He trusted John with all that he was, but… the cool embrace of death was a charming substitute for living falsely for a few extra hours. However, something John said was eating at him, that their fate was not yet sealed. Had his fate not been sealed as a child, a bastard, alone and orphaned on an island? Or when he had been alone to give birth to Corentine? No, he had not perished then, so why should he be resigned to do so now?

With an unsteady hand, Alex reached out and grasped John’s, firmly, the couple making a silent pact as the sun sunk further to the west.

There was no guarantee that they would survive, but together, they would fight like hell to see their family once again.

Chapter Text

Alexander began to pant harshly as another contraction took hold, John now back between his partner’s legs as the younger man worked to bring forth their second child.

Unfortunately, the top of the baby’s head had slid back a significant amount after Alex had fallen unconscious, much of the young man’s previous efforts being wasted. The good news, however, was that from John’s vantage point, Alexander had not torn, meaning that as their child moved forward once more, there would be a low chance that he would do so at all.

“Remember, gentle pushes,” John cautioned.

Alex smiled in response, despite himself, “Yes, yes. I’ll remember to not… hah… be so reckless this time ‘round.”

John returned the smile and patted Alexander’s knee supportively, watching as the young man leaned forward into a light push, grunting as the baby’s head inched forward.

“Excellent, love. Another.”

“Give it a minute,” Alex panted, the contraction ending.

A quiet moment passed, then another pain began. Alex again curled inwards and bore down, gently, the burning at his entrance intensifying to an excruciating level as the babe’s head surged forward and stretched him once more.

Despite the small amount of force Alexander was putting into his pushes, he could feel his child descending rapidly, in a rush to be born. Alex cried out and began to huff as the contraction faded, the babe slipping back only a few centimeters, resting firmly and visibly at his opening, the top of its skull now much of the way through.

“That was perfect, Alex. Just breathe, you are nearly there,” John encouraged.

Alex could only manage to nod weakly in response, his mind occupied solely by the overwhelming sensation of his flesh being stretched so tight it could tear, the impossible weight in his pelvis, shifting his bones.

Another pain; Alexander began to pant to keep himself from baring down too strongly as the child forced itself down of its own accord. In an instant, the babe’s head was again edging at its widest point.

“Nnnnnnggghhh!” Alexander began to vocalize through gritted teeth, the sharpness of the sound morphing to a sharp whine as the contraction ended.

Instead of taking in a breath, Alex felt himself begin to hyperventilate. This was happening both too quickly and not quickly enough, and somehow, the pain was far worse than he had remembered. This child was larger, what if it would not fit? What if the pain would only grow worse? What if-

“Alex?”

Alexander opened his eyes. When had he closed them? John’s striking blue eyes were focused on him, concerned, his hand now resting on Alexander’s tight belly, rising and falling with each quick, unsatisfying breath. God, why couldn’t he breathe?

“Alexander, I need you to breathe slowly, now. Look at me, follow my breath and do as I do.”

John visibly began to breathe in deeply, then blow out audibly so that Alex could follow along. For a moment, Alexander struggled to slow his breathing, to take in air, but then John’s hands were upon him, rubbing at his thighs, his belly, his shoulders, soothing and grounding and calming him down. In minutes, Alex was able to match John’s rhythm, the air now filling his lungs and clearing his mind.

He was alright. John was here with him. He had the support of his partner, and that was all he had wished for during their second child’s birth. Though, noting their current surroundings, perhaps he should have wished for a bit more.

Regardless of the bleak situation, the couple remained optimistic, breathing together on the forest floor. The reprieve was short lived, however, as Alexander felt another contraction rising and the child shifting forward on its own.

The intense burning returned ten-fold as Alexander did his best to ease the babe out slowly. All he had to do was make it past the widest part of the head, and then there would be some relief, for a short time, at least. With a powerful groan, Alex bravely pushed along with the searing pain, feeling his child’s head slip to its broadest point, then past it.

“Good! Yes, love, just like that!”

Alex could barely register John’s cheering, his concentration completely on the intensity of the pressure, the burning, the action of moving his child out. His legs shook with the force of another push, his efforts now focusing to pass the eyes, the nose, the chin…

Alexander’s groan morphed into a rough-edged scream as the babe’s entire head popped free, a fair amount of fluid gushing out with it.

“Lord! Alex, the head is out!” John laughed, excitedly, cupping the skull of their child in his palm. John fought back a surge of emotion at the contact, his heart instantly melting as he felt the warmth radiating off their child’s soft crown of blonde hair, it’s little face in his hands.

Alexander seemed to take no notice of John’s newfound affection as he panted and waited for the next contraction. The head was out, which could be considered the hardest part in terms of initial pain, however, Alexander remembered the shoulders to be just as challenging, if not more so.

John, however, was lost in the beauty of seeing his child enter the world before him, enthralled with just the view of their baby’s tiny head, now turning in his hand. Alexander moaned from above him, feeling the child move, as well, its small body positioning itself, preparing for the final push.

During this lull between contractions, Alexander felt the instinct to move. He was now sure that this child was much larger than Corentine had been: he needed to widen his hips, open his legs for the shoulders. John seemed to catch on as Alex struggled to find purchase for his feet in the snow, shushing his lover as he carefully supported Alex by his thighs and pushed his legs back and outward.

“Better?”

“Perfect,” Alex breathed, feeling the start of another contraction.

In a moment, Alex began bearing down, hard, determined to have the shoulders out as soon as possible so that it could all be over. However, the contraction peaked, then miserably died down without the child progressing forward much at all. Alexander groaned in frustration and leaned back against the tree’s bark dramatically.

“Be still, my dear, you are very close,” John soothed, still holding Alex wide. “Try again on the next pain.”

Alexander resisted the urge to sass his partner by replying with a ‘that is what I intended to do,’ and instead began to hum as he waited for another contraction.

When the pain finally came, Alex picked himself up off from the tree and supported his weight with his palms on the frozen ground, pushing as hard as he dared to deliver the rest of their child.

An inexplicable pressure built as Alexander bore down, the babe refusing to progress further even as Alex gave it his all. By the time the contraction ended, Alexander was sure something was wrong.

“John…” Alex said, weakly. He was so exhausted, yet so near the end. This had to end.

John stirred at Alexander’s withdrawn tone. “Alex, what’s wrong?”

“The child it… I believe it to be stuck. I can’t- it won’t move.” Alexander was shaking now, John could feel it as he held his lover’s legs, the young man was frightened. This was something neither of them had expected, something Alex had not experienced during his first delivery.

But what was to be done? If a child became stuck, it usually meant death for either one or both the mother and baby. John’s breath halted as he realized that he could lose both Alexander and their child all at once. He would lose neither had he the power to decide.

In reality, though, all John had was some basic knowledge of human anatomy, which fortunately enough, seemed applicable to their situation. If what he remembered of the pelvis was true, then either the babe’s shoulders were caught on the ring of bone it was passing through, or the child was simply too large for Alexander to deliver.

John felt himself shrink back at the last possibility. Should that be the case, there would be nothing he could do to save his partner.

John considered what could be done knowing this, seeing as their child was already partially free. The babe’s position could not fully be reset, but if the issue, as John prayed, was with the positioning of the shoulders, then perhaps he could nudge them free, provided that Alexander would allow him.

It would be worth it to try.

John spoke softly, as if to a lost fawn, “My love, listen to me. I may know what is amiss and how to help, but I need you to understand what will need to be done.” Alex only stared at John blankly, so he continued, “I believe the child’s shoulders may be stuck. If you would allow me, I can try to dislodge the them by inserting my fingers-”

Alexander flinched at those words. The thought of anything else stretching him open was terrifying. Was he not already at the breaking point? Surely he would tear. Alex retracted into his calculations of specific outcomes, all of him bleeding out or enduring even more senseless pain, but then there was a soothing hand on his knee, urging him back to the present.

“Alexander, I know you are frightened, but I cannot lose you now. Not you, nor our child. Please, let me try to help.”

“Save him.”

“What?”

“If it comes to it, save the child. Cut me open and save our son, John.” Tears were now falling form Alexander’s eyes. “If I die, you and our son may have a chance. You can move faster without me, make it home before nightfall-”

“Alexander, no.”

“Jack, I tell you-”

"No. I will lose neither of you.” John said, firmly. “Now, will you allow me to assist you, or not?”

Alexander faltered for a moment. “I… ugh!”

Another contraction grew as Alex held in a sob and bore down, this time only half-heartedly. John watched on, deciding to embolden Alexander verbally in lieu of taking immediate action. Perhaps the babe wasn’t truly stuck, perhaps Alex was only fatigued…

“Harder, Alex! Really try!”

“Ngh! I- I can’t!” Alexander cried, exasperated.

“Yes, you can! You’ve done this before all alone, without me or anyone. If I were to leave right now, I know you would persevere.”

“No!” Alexander wailed, seizing John’s wrist in a tight grip, not quite grasping John’s well-meant encouragement. “Please, John, don’t leave. Please don’t leave me alone to do this again.”

John’s heart sank. “No! No, my love, I would not leave you. Never. I was simply trying to-”

“I don’t care!” Alex yelled, “Please, just do what you think will help. Neither the child nor I will last like this. Please…”

“Yes… yes, of course. Let us change positions and prepare.”

The couple shifted, John instructing Alex to lay on his back and to hold open his own thighs so that his pelvis would remain wide enough for the child to pass through while John used his freed hands to assist the shoulders.

John again knelt between Alexander’s legs, positioning his fingers at Alexander’s opening.

“Ready?”

Alexander nodded, certain that he would, in fact, not be ready for any added pressure to such a sensitive area. Regardless, John pushed forward, gently squeezing two fingers in alongside the baby’s neck. Alexander gasped and began to groan against the added stretch, resisting the urge to move away from John’s ministrations.

“Shh. I know, I’m sorry, love. I will be quick,” John consoled, dragging his fingers around the base of the child’s neck in search of a shoulder. Suddenly, Alex began to feel the familiar tightening of a budding contraction.

“Ah- John!”

“Don’t bare down! Not yet,” John warned, coming into contact with a shoulder that felt to be lodged tightly behind Alexander’s pelvic bone. Alex began to hum loudly as the contraction intensified, John could feel his partners muscles tightening around him as he gently worked their child’s shoulder down and inward toward’s its chest. John held the freed shoulder in place as he waited to see if the babe would slide forward.

Alexander’s hum transformed into a strained wail as the pain reached its peak, his body involuntarily baring down on their child, still stuck tightly in his canal.

“God, John, please!” Alex cried, desperation taking hold.

John began to panic. If one shoulder wasn’t enough, then the other shoulder must have been stuck just as firmly, and Alexander could only take so much.

“Alexander, I need you to breathe and not bare down. We are almost done, I promise.”

Thankfully, the contraction faded, allowing John to insert, much to Alexander’s discomfort, another set of fingers along the opposite side of their child. Sure enough, John found the other shoulder to be lodged squarely behind Alexander’s pelvis, bent at an odd angle. Should he have not intervened, John was unsure if Alex or the baby would have survived the delivery.

Careful not to be too rough with their unborn child, John nudged at the stuck shoulder until it, too, contorted enough to fit through Alexander’s narrow passage. John carefully held each shoulder in place, fearing that if he should let go, they would go back to being caught behind the bone.

“John, please…” Alex breathed weakly. Another contraction was ramping up, John could feel the muscles once again compressing around his fingers.

“Now, Alex! Push!”

Alexander hardly questioned the command, gripping his thighs tightly and baring down with all his strength. To John, this moment was oddly surreal, the feeling of his partner’s powerful efforts in moving their child into the world was astonishing, and assisting in such an act, holding their child in his own hands as it made way into the world was humbling. John felt tears prick at the corners of his eyes as the babe’s first shoulder popped free.

Alex yelped at the release. John pulled lightly as the second shoulder came into view.

“A little more, Alex. Harder, now.”

Alex held back a scream as the second shoulder came free, only the baby’s midsection and legs remaining. Their child was half free, existing between the waking realm and his mother’s womb, his little body cradled in John’s hands.

It all felt like a dream. After all that they had been through this day, they were about to become parents again under the most bizarre of circumstances.

Alexander began to heave in breaths as the contraction ended, his body now truly exhausted and weak from such a taxing delivery. Concerned, John caught Alexander’s attention.

“Dear boy, look here,” John motioned down with his chin. “Give me your hand. Look what you’ve done.”

Though Alex couldn’t truly see over his belly or the coat laying over his legs, he allowed John to take his hand and guide it under the warm fabric, his fingers meeting something soft and wet, larger than expected, but still small and fragile all the same. His baby. Alexander choked back a sob, his hand now moving of its own accord, feeling the expanse of their child’s tiny chest, shoulders and head.

“He’s perfect,” Alex whispered, allowing his tears to fall once more.

“Now, we don’t rightly know that it is a boy, yet,” John teased, his own tears clouding his vision.

“I don’t care what it is, just as long as it comes out.”

John did his best not to laugh, knowing that Alexander wasn’t being entirely facetious. This day had been arduous for the both of them, however, he was more than proud of Alex and his endurance through such an ordeal. The fact that he had done this on his own the first time made John appreciate how capable Alexander was in overcoming the worst situations, and it only made his heart grow warmer for the young man.

The couple reveled in the quiet bliss of the moment, their hands cradling their tiny child’s frame together, supporting him as he waited to be born completely.

Minutes passed, and then…

Alex grunted lightly, dropping his free hand from his thigh and using it instead to support himself as he curled forward, pushing down hard. Slowly, their child inched forward into their waiting arms. Alexander began to groan as the babe’s hips stretched him, the sound transposing to a high scream that stood the small hairs on the back of John’s neck. Then, in a rush of liquid, the child slipped free.

Alex gasped loudly and reached down, lifting the newborn into his arms. John was quick to move the coat from Alexander’s legs around the newborn’s naked body, now exposed to the unforgiving cold.

Upon instinct, Alex brought the infant to his chest, rocking and cooing lightly to the child as it began to wail. It was the most beautiful sound John decided he had ever heard.

“He’s here. Oh, he’s here, John, look!” Alexander babbled, still rocking and kissing every bit of the child his lips could reach.

“Is it a boy?” John wondered out loud, lost in a haze of emotion after witnessing the birth of his baby, the sight of Alexander holding their newborn indescribably beautiful and real before him.

Alex paused in his rocking and lifted the coat that covered their infant, his breath audibly catching in his throat as he peeked under.

“Alex? What is it? Is everything alright?” John floundered, now worried.

“Yes, I… He is- I mean to say…”

“Alex?”

Alexander looked up at John with fresh tears in his eyes. Our child, he… or she, is like me,” Alex stated with wonder, a look of pride overtaking the young man’s features as he turned back to the new life he had just delivered.

“He is like me,” Alexander repeated, quietly, more to himself than to John.

So, their baby was a carrier, just like Alexander. John was at a loss for words, instead letting his usually cool countenance slip, allowing relieved tears to fall freely. Their baby was here, Alexander was alive. In reality, the gender didn’t matter as long as they were both safe.

Time had no meaning as John cuddled up behind his partner, supporting Alexander’s weight and wrapping a protective arm around the young man, peeking now, for the first time, at their newborn baby.

Complete, at last.

Chapter Text

John had felt himself doze off, blissful and suddenly overwhelmingly tired as the winter chill crept further into his meager clothing. All was silent until he was startled awake by Alexander shifting and groaning quietly.

“Alex?” John managed sleepily. His eyelids were heavy and he found it hard to move, or even remain conscious, for that matter.

“I’m alright,” Alex assured, though he sounded strained.

They were in the same position they had been when John had drifted off, Alexander’s back resting against John’s firm body, and John, himself, leaning against the old oak tree, now somehow more welcoming than it had been when they first arrived.

Still cradled safely in Alexander’s arms was their tiny newborn, tucked away in John’s warm undercoat. Despite the tender hold Alex had on their baby, the young man’s body felt tense, his legs spread wide once again.

Alex let out an uneasy breath, a short grunt following shortly after.

For a moment, John’s heart skipped. God, was there another child?

“It is… ah… the afterbirth.” Alex assured, sensing John’s sudden stress. “Do not worry, it isn’t nearly as bad as the child itself.” Alexander smiled back at John with tired eyes. The young man had to be utterly exhausted. He certainly looked worse for the wear, though John was sure that he, himself, likely did as well.

Alex took in a slow breath, then went silent, his body tensing even more. Concerned, John began sliding his hands up and down Alexander’s sides, hoping the gesture would come off as supportive and loving, as he could do little to help.

Alexander’s breath hitched, a pant, and then a slow release out.

The two went silent. John vaguely registered that the sun would be setting soon, but couldn’t fully remember why that was such a terrible thing. His mind felt cloudy, uncharacteristically distracted and unfocused. He tried to shake away the feeling, remain present for his partner and child; he tried to move, but his body felt so heavy. Then Alex was speaking softly. Saying something, something about it all being over now.

Without realizing it, John drifted back to unconsciousness, the only sounds around them the rustling of the pines and the scurrying of small creatures on the boughs above.

Chapter Text

The shadows of the forest had grown dangerously long when Alex shivered awake, realizing with a start that he had dozed off.

Upon instinct, Alex jostled the baby in his arms, fearing it may have succumbed to the cold in his absence. To Alexander’s great relief, the newborn instead began to flail its little arms and grunt in protest, just narrowly opening its eyes as if to ask ‘why?’

Alex chuckled, alight with the sense of new motherhood. His baby was robust and healthy, plump and already a survivor in this harsh wilderness. Perhaps other infants would already have faded in such elements, but Alexander could tell this child was strong. A sense of determination Alex had not felt since the war suddenly set in, like an itch under his skin.

“I will not let you die here,” Alex whispered, kissing his newborn’s soft crown. “We will not die here, I promise you this.”

With that proclamation, Alex looked to his side and focused on his long since discarded pants, thankfully just within his reach. They were soggy and cold, but Alex figured they were better than no pants when it came down to it.

With a minimal amount of wiggling, he was able to pull the fabric over his bare legs, numb and stiff from the cold. His toes and feet were no better, devoid of feeling and frozen as he struggled to pull on his socks, his baby still struggling fitfully in the crook of his arm.

When it came to shoes, though, it became impossible for Alex to balance the child and struggle with his frozen appendages all at once, and laying the newborn on the ground was quite out of the question.

“Jack, my love?”

Alexander could feel John behind him, leaning limply against the oak tree, his chest slowly rising and falling, then pausing, then rising once again, as if he were in a deep slumber.

“Jack?” Alex asked a little more insistently, reaching behind him with one hand and grasping at John, attempting to stir him. He found the end of John’s sleeve and began to tug, “John. John, it’s time to get up! We must go.”

John stirred, oddly rolling his eyes around before finding and focusing on Alexander.

“My dear, could you hold…” Alex floundered for a gender pronoun briefly before giving up, “our child? Only for a moment. I must put on my shoes and then we must be off.”

There was an unusual pause, then John spoke, his voice slurred from what Alexander guessed was sleep, “of course.”

Alex turned slowly, careful not to upset his sore muscles too much in one movement. It would be a long walk home, especially after giving birth, so he would have to be very gentle with his taxed body. He needed it to get him and his child to safety, and failing was no longer an option in Alexander’s mind.

John reached out as Alex willingly deposited their baby into his arms, though the young man’s eyes lingered as John cradled the child close, his breath catching slightly as he held their newborn for the first time. Alexander loved that look. The same look John had donned when he first met Corentine, a look of wonder and unconditional love.

This was why they had chosen to grow their family. Perhaps it was selfish, but to have a baby and raise it without having to give it up this time was healing: it would be a gift the couple never had the chance to enjoy. As long as we survive, Alex’s thoughts intruded, darkly.

Finally fully clothed and miserably no warmer, Alex turned back to John, only to find his partner still slumped against the oak tree, their child still held safely, if not loosely in his arms. A sense of wrongness enveloped Alexander like a cold blanket.

“Jack?”

There was no response.

Alexander reached out, his heart skipping. His hand gripped his lover’s cold arm, pleading. “John!”

John startled awake, his eyes darting around, unable to focus. His head lulled to the side as if he were going to pass out again.

Alexander braced John’s head with both hands desperately, “No! John, please, we can’t sleep here. What is wrong? Are you not well?”

“M’sorry… Alex. So… tired." John’s words sounded more gruff and slurred than Alexander had ever heard. He hadn't seen his lover look and sound so weak, not since he had been injured during the war. But this wasn't the war. This was jarring, this was wrong. There was something amiss, something…

Alexander’s eyes flew to John’s fingers, fearfully searching for signs of frostbite. Although cold, his partner didn’t seem to be showing any signs of freezing, though without a coat, he wouldn’t last the night. But if not yet frostbite, then what?

Alex felt his heart begin to hammer, “my love, I need you to tell me what’s wrong. Why can you not move? Are you cold?”

It took a long moment for John to answer. “Head… ’s pounding.”

“Your head hurts?”

John groaned weakly in answer, his eyes heavily lidded, his hold on their child steadily loosening.

Alexander’s focus turned to the ugly gash behind John’s hairline, gory and crusted, dried blood tainting his partner’s beautiful blonde hair.

Suddenly, Alex understood.

Chapter Text

Alex became wracked with guilt. He had never forgotten about the gash; the image of John’s skull being bashed open by the butt of a pistol had been seared into his mind, stinging and gnawing at him, refusing to abate. It was just, in the moment, he had to focus on bringing his child into the world. All the while, John had seemed well, so attentive and supportive as he aided in his child’s birth.

Nothing about what had happened had set up any red flags in Alexander’s mind until now. Until he remembered that John could be just as stubborn as he was.

“How long has your head hurt you so?”

There was a long silence. Alexander couldn’t tell if it was because John was again unconscious, or if he was just avoiding the question. Though, Alex suspected he knew the answer.

“John, answer me,” Alexander said, sternly.

John answered reluctantly after a short pause. “S’been… awhile.” The man attempted to shrug, but the motion was lost between the effort it took to hold the baby and keep himself upright.

“Why would you not tell me this?” Alexander asked incredulously, dragging a hand down his face in frustration.

John chuckled weakly. “S’ for… the same reason… you didn’t tell me you were in labor.”

Alex went silent, his eyes wide. John shot his lover a playful, sad smile as his head lulled to the side. Both were quiet for a beat.

Then, Alexander sighed and crossed his arms. “Touché.”

Normally, John loved when he made Alexander go quiet. It meant he had rendered the fiery young man speechless, however, he could hardly register the situation as a win with his head throbbing so incessantly. He had ignored it throughout the birth, ignored the way the world spun or tilted if he took his focus off of his laboring partner. He had decided his injury could wait, dedicated himself to supporting Alexander during the ordeal. He had not been there for Alex during Corentine’s birth, but, no matter the cost, he had been there to help deliver their second child. That much John was proud of.

Alex sat back on his heels, at a loss for what to do. John was the one with medical expertise, not he. How was he to tend to an injury he didn’t know how to heal? At the back of his mind, Alexander worried if it at all could be healed. There were many things about the brain that modern science did not yet understand, and this injury clearly was affecting John more deeply than just the cut.

“Tell me what to do. How shall I treat the wound before we begin walking?”

A brief pause.

“You won’t.”

Alex felt unease at the finality in John’s response, “I won’t? Of course I will, if there is something to be done for it, but if not then we must go now, John. Daylight is waning fast.”

“I cannot… I don’t think I can stand, Alexander. Please… take the child, make haste.” John began to press the newborn back into Alexander’s arms, “You have to leave me, Alex.”

“N-no.” Alexander resisted taking the baby back fully into his arms, refused to accept John’s words, refused to acknowledge the reality before them. John was obviously injured, badly, and the baby couldn’t survive the night like this. Alexander, even in his weakened state, would be the fastest. He would have the highest chance of making it home before the cold got to them, that much was obvious. John knew Alexander knew this. Knew the only way Alex would agree to leave him would be for the safety of the baby.

“Please, my love, there’s nothing to be done for me. I will only slow your pace.”

Alex didn’t answer, was shaking his head, fighting tears. He wouldn’t listen to this, he wouldn’t. He would never leave John for dead, he had to know that! Such a sacrifice was out of the question; they would either all leave this wretched forest together, or not at all. Alexander would happily die by his lover’s side rather than escape without him…

But, then, the child would die, too.

No. He would not let his baby die, not now, not after everything they had been through. Nor would he leave his partner behind. It was a dangerous gamble, but Alexander had made up his mind.

“No.” Alex said in a harsh, definitive breath.

“Alex-”

“I will not leave you. Now, rise.” Alex ordered. “Not one of us will perish this night, if I can help it.”

“You must listen,” John pleaded, “you will be… quicker without me. The baby…”

John seemed to be struggling with his words, slurring most syllables and speaking uncharacteristically slowly, unable to finish his thoughts.

Alex laid a chilled hand on John’s cheek to still his mumblings, caught the blonde man’s glazed eyes in a meaningful stare. “Hear me now, we have never abandoned each other, not on the battlefield, not in partnership, and not here. I. Will. Not. Leave. You.”

The couple remained still for a beat, a gentle wind tussled the boughs overhead, the creaking of unstable wood echoing through the eerily dense forest as the great branches of the oak swayed.

Suddenly, from between the two men, a tiny, angry cry grew to an unavoidable volume. Surprised, both looked down to see their newborn infant supported between them, its little balled fists waving in frustration, displeased with being ignored for so long.

Neither parent spoke, called back to reality by their newborn who had no sense of the life or death urgency they all faced.

“John, if you choose to stay here, then I will stay, too. I will not leave you here to be torn apart by the wolves. But if you get up, we can all leave together, and we can all have at least a chance of surviving.” Alex knew this was more of an ultimatum. The logic between the two men was all or nothing, John favoring his own sacrifice for the sake of Alexander’s speed, and Alexander challenging that play with the threat of staying, despite the fact that that would mean certain death for their child. The difference was, Alexander would never willingly stay and watch his baby freeze, but the young man was hoping above everything that his bluff would not be called, that John would concede to fighting for his life just like Alexander knew he could.

“Alex…” John swallowed heavily, his eyes cloudy, heartbroken. “I don’t know if I can make it.”

“I don’t know if I will, either, my love, but we have to try. Together.”

Chapter Text

Sunset.

It had always been a tradition for Alexander and John to walk together in the evenings, ever since their young days in the army, their shadows cast long by the setting sun, the sky alight with the vibrancy of dying daylight and gun smoke. It had been a comforting ritual in those days, one that had brought them closer together as each evening drew in, leaving them with only each other every cold, quiet nightfall.

Except on this sunset, the men struggled to stand, weak and staggering, a swaddled infant fussing between them.

Alex bit at his lips, fighting back the urge to groan with each shaky step he took. His legs and back ached, and his lower body felt as though it had been run over with nothing less than a fully-weighted carriage. Though, none of it compared to the burning throb between his legs, the discomfort likely to last for many days.

John moaned quietly at Alexander’s side, the taller man’s weight mostly supported by Alex’s shoulders. With one hand, Alex kept hold of John’s arm, with the other, he cradled their newborn as tightly as he could, afraid to let go as they trudged through the thick snow back towards the road.

“John, how do you fare?” Alexander knew the answer to that question, but mainly wanted to keep his lover talking and alert. The older man had obviously sustained a head injury that affected his mobility and speech, though Alex wasn’t sure how permanent the damage would be. He hoped that they could at least make it back to their house, just an hour’s carriage ride away, but still many miles on foot, a treacherous walk in the wintery darkness. With the current state of the both of them, it would be a miracle if they made it before they froze to death.

Still, they had to try.

“John, I asked you a question,” Alex huffed in between breaths, taking another step forward, feeling his partner stumble forth with him.

“M’fine.” John replied stubbornly, able to do little more than lean feebly on Alexander and match his steps.

“Then talk to me. Tell me a story, tell me about your favorite memory, anything to fill this blasted silence.”

“Alex… I cannot. Cannot think.”

“I know, but please. Just, talk to me. Even if it’s nonsense, I wish to hear you speak.”

They were at the road now. It had taken significantly longer to reach the icy, dirty pathway than Alex remembered, though he was in such a state when he and John first entered the forest that he figured his sense of time had been skewed. Still, their slow pace concerned him. Already, the sun had dropped behind the trees and out of sight, leaving only the faded gold and peach of the late evening as their only source of light, threatening to diminish in it’s own time as well.

John remained stubbornly silent as the couple began to stagger down the icy mess of a road, slipping and sliding in places, becoming stuck in small snow drifts in others. Even at their hindered pace, Alex did his best to keep their strides uniform and efficient. Just like the army, Alex thought, darkly.

Suddenly, John spoke, “M’sorry, Alex… M’ so tired and confused, and I don’t know why. But… all of this is my fault. C-couldn’t hold my own against the driver. Couldn’t protect you.”

“No, Jack, you mustn’t say that. You know that is not what I think of you.” Alex paused before adding, “he cheated, anyhow.”

But John continued, his voice full of sorrow, “We could have had shelter… we could have taken the carriage and made it home.”

“To what end?” Alexander cut in, “If you had bested him and we had taken the carriage, then what do you think would have happened? The driver could have made it back to town somewhere and reported us for the sodomites we are. They would have taken our children, they would have taken…”

Alexander lost his point as he realized they had nothing to call their newborn. They had discussed names before the birth, sure, but they hadn’t prepared themselves for the possibility that their baby would be a carrier.

Finishing his thought, Alex supplied “Sam.”

“Sam?” John slurred.

“I don’t know, perhaps it could be short for Samantha or Samuel?”

“You are calling him… a ’he’ already.”

“Perhaps it’s a mother’s intuition,” Alex breathed, cuddling his baby closer, his eyes straining to see into the gaining darkness. “If we live to see him grow, I wager that he will define himself as a lad.”

“We will live,” John answered quietly, though he sounded unsure of himself as he matched another one of Alexander’s uneven steps.

Silence pervaded the narrow road the couple walked, nothing to be heard except the heavy padding of wet clothing and the crunch of damp footwear in the icy slush beneath them.

Just as the last of the orange and pink hues faded from the sky, John surprisingly spoke again. He words seemed to come difficultly, slow, slurred and stunted as his teeth chattered from the cold, “When we were in the army… we c-came across a field of sunflowers… you stood beside them and looked to belong with them. Your eyes shown so deeply blue that they m-melted into they sky, and the fire of your hair matched the vibrancy of each petal.”

“What are you speaking of?” Alex asked, cautiously.

“You had asked…” John paused to groan softly, “what my favorite memory was.”

Alex thought briefly before answering, “indeed, but it was quite a while ago that I asked. Perhaps half an hour,” Alexander said, concern for his lover now creeping back as he forced himself to take another excruciating step, his partner lurching heavily alongside him - perhaps more heavily than he had in previous steps.

“Oh,” John replied, simply.

Alexander did not respond, concerned and afraid of what was ailing his partner. Above anything, he wished there were time for John to rest, to recover, but they had to keep miserably moving.

The hours passed slowly, the starry winter sky becoming crowded with heavy January clouds, casting deep shadows over Alexander’s path until the sky was completely pitch black. Small flurries of snowflakes began gusting by as a winter wind slashed at the faces of the traversing couple, reminding them of the dangers of succumbing, breathing icily down their necks as if waiting for the first prey to fall.

Ignoring the sounds of animals and, presumably, predators around them, the small family continued on, mostly in silence, until the light snowfall gradually transposed into an aggressive storm, dangerously obstructing what was left of Alexander’s vision.

“I cannot… I can no longer see the road,” Alexander breathed, staggering for a few steps before slowing to a halt, clumsily trying to feel the texture of the road with his numb feet.

John did not answer. He had grown increasingly quiet over the past hour or so, though still kept moderate pace with his partner. Alexander shifted so that Sam was balanced further into his coat, the only shield between the babe and the unforgiving elements. During the shift, Alexander realized that his exposed hand and wrist were virtually unmovable from the cold, his fingertips numb and the bones of his hand aching.

“Jack,” Alex panted “Can you feel your hands? I fear my fingers have frozen.”

John swayed unsteadily at his side, seemingly unable to respond.

Alexander’s heart began to race. Their situation was rapidly becoming more and more hopeless as the night had settled in. They were still many miles from home, and the snow… well, Alex wasn’t sure if John would be able to traverse the ever growing drifts ahead of them, even on the road.

And, where was the road now? Beneath them? Alexander began to panic as he realized he couldn’t tell.

Then, without warning, John suddenly shivered violently and collapsed forward, bringing Alexander down onto the icy ground with him, hard. In one fluid motion, Alex reacted and braced his free hand in front of his chest to prevent himself from crushing his baby, the resounding crack of his wrist against the unforgiving ground sent chills down his spine, the pain of his bones fracturing suddenly invaded all his senses.

“Nnnnnggh!” Alex lay still for a moment, gritting his teeth and breathing harshly through his frozen, dried nose. He knew instantly that his wrist had broken, though Alex had never experienced a break before. The pain was nothing close to childbirth, but it was still excruciating in the moment, even with his limbs numbing in the cold.

Alex rolled weakly onto his side, being careful not to squash Sam as he did so. With only the use of one hand, Alexander managed to peek at his newborn, the babe now fussing loudly, startled from the fall. Thankfully, Sam seemed uninjured, though his skin was pale and cold to the touch, and his tiny movements were slow and lethargic.

They were too late. There was no way the couple could carry on now, not like this. Alex tucked the baby away, back into his coat as the young man did his best to sit up.

“J-John?” Alexander’s own voice sounded alien to him, hoarse and rigid and fearful. He knew now that they were going to die tonight. They were going to die because of his poor decisions, because of his lack of good judgement.

He couldn’t manage to stay on the road, couldn’t keep John on his feet, couldn’t hold his baby inside him for just a few extra hours, couldn’t tell John that his labor had begun, couldn’t have just stayed at home in the first place. It was all his fault… and now his punishment would be to watch his lover and baby perish, one by one until it was just him, broken and cold and alone. Next.

Alex fumbled on his hands and knees in the dark, unable to see his partner through the snowstorm that continued to rage around them. After a moment, Alexander’s fingertips found John, face down and unconscious in the snow. With a broken wrist and a baby in his arms, Alex did his best to roll his partner onto his side. John responded to the movement with a weak groan, though he didn’t seem aware of anything that was happening to the them now.

Feeling around delicately, Alexander was able to find John’s face, his frozen hand caressing the snow-dusted cheek of his lover, the crusted blood of his wound.

Alex shivered from the cold, but shook with the fear of this being their last moments on earth together. He and John had been through so much more than many men would be able to endure, it seemed ridiculous that they should pass now, like this.

But then, there was nothing really to be done for it, was there?

Resigned to his fate, Alex began to sob lightly into his partner’s chest, realizing miserably that his tears would not even fall due to the extreme temperature.

Then, a cold, dry hand was on his.

“My… dear boy.”

“John!” Alex startled upright, pulling at his partner.

“Can… can you walk?”

“Yes,” Alex answered feebly, “Can you?”

“…No.”

The unearthly quiet of the pelting snow left the couple alone with the sounds of their newborn’s faint cry and their own heavy breathing.

John placed an unsteady hand on Alexander’s cheek, neither man able to really feel the contact. “You know what you must do, my love.”

“N-no. Jack, please! Don’t make me-”

“Don’t let our baby die, Alexander. You can make it… I know it.”

Alex began to hyperventilate. Everything hurt, his baby was fading and John could no longer be moved. It was what he had feared most.

He had to leave John.

Alex shook, quaking against his emotions and the bitter winter air. “I don’t want to, John. I can’t.”

“You must… For Sam. For Corentine.”

Alexander wouldn’t answer, wouldn’t acknowledge what he was about to do. Instead, he searched for John’s hand in the dark, grasped it weakly and brought it to their baby’s chest, still hidden behind Alexander’s coat. A last goodbye, the only contact either man could manage.

“I will be swift,” Alex breathed, “I will ride back out with horses and retrieve you as soon as I find help.”

Both men knew the likelihood of such a rescue, especially in Alexander’s state, but regardless, John smiled in the darkness.

“I love you… Alexander. I love our family. Please tell them so.”

“You’ll tell them, yourself.” Alex challenged with a sob.

The couple clung tightly to one another for a beat, Alexander leaning in to share one last kiss with his partner and best friend. Their lips met, cold, cracked and sore, awkward and painful, but neither man wanted to let go.

Then, the sound of hooves echoed around them, but from which direction they couldn’t tell.

Alex gasped, “do you hear that, John?”

“Yes… but where?”

“Oh!” Alexander caught a glimpse of a light in the distance, bright and bobbing, as if someone were holding a lantern aloft.

John saw it, too. “My love… go!”

Alex looked back down to his partner, still veiled by the oppressive darkness. “I will go to see if they can assist us both. If they can only carry one of us on horseback, then I shall give them the baby and stay with you.”

“Alex, no, you cannot-”

“I will not leave you alone like this,” Alex breathed before jumping up, much to his body’s discomfort, and hobbling toward the light before him.

Sam began to fuss louder against his father’s chest, the unforgiving wind blowing thick snow into the young man’s eyes as he struggled forward, his legs and body becoming uncooperative and slow after enduring so much. Tripping over a snowdrift, Alex fell to one knee, hopelessly searching around him for the light he had been following.

Suddenly, Alexander heard voices - honed in on one distinctive voice that he knew all too well.

“Papa!”

Chapter Text

A Heavy, incessant snow began to fall in the late evening hours of the 2nd of January. Corentine knew this date well, as she impatiently alternated between staring at the calendar her Papa had given her and out the window to the road on which he was expected to return. In her hand, she held the quill Alexander had entrusted to her, its tip hovering just above the inkwell, ready to gather ink to mark the passing of the day on the stiff piece of parchment.

From the doorway, Vanessa watched, concerned.

“My dear child, I am sorry, but it is time for bed.”

Corentine whipped around in her seat with exasperation “No, please, Vanessa! Papa said he and Father would be home today. Please let me stay awake to greet them, please!”

“I’m afraid I’ve already let you stay up far past an appropriate hour. Your fathers would be awfully disappointed to find you waiting up for them now.”

“But, Vanessa, I’m - I’m worried they won’t come back!” Corentine sniffled, obviously trying hard to conceal her emotions, something Vanessa suspected the small girl had learned from John.

In truth, Vanessa was also troubled by the absence of the couple, their lateness very uncharacteristic of both men. Though, it was possible - even likely - that Alexander’s work had delayed them longer than the couple had expected, though Vanessa was sure that Alex would have sent a letter ahead, assuring his daughter not to worry as he had often done before.

Something about the whole situation seemed wrong. The blizzard could have caused the carriage to stop in the town over, but then again, the storm didn’t begin until after dark, much later than the men were expected to arrive home.

Though, regardless, there was nothing Vanessa could do for it. Were she not alone at the house, she wouldn’t have hesitated to ride out and search the nearby roadways and towns for the couple, but with Corentine to look after, she couldn’t risk exposing such a small girl to the ruthless cold, nor leave her to fend for herself alone at the house.

There was little Vanessa could do other than keep the fire lit and the house warm as the thickening snow buried their home and property in heavy, unrelenting whiteness.

Vanessa offered her hand out to the girl, “Come, dear. I’m sure your father’s are safe. They are very intelligent men, and they would never leave you so readily.”

“Then why are they not here? Corentine whined, frustrated tears now falling down here rosy cheeks.

“Because they wanted to stay safe for us. It is not safe out there now, love. They would have stopped and taken shelter before the storm trapped them in the woods, yes?”

Corentine nodded, obviously still upset, but consoled enough for the moment, at least.

“Now, come. Let us get you into your nightgown.”

“Yes,” Corentine sighed, taking Vanessa’s hand and hopping off the chair. Before leaving the room, though, the little girl gave one last determined look over her shoulder at the calendar she’d left on the table, the day’s date still left unmarked.

Chapter Text

It was well into the night when Corentine rose from her bed. For the past few hours she had been watching and waiting. Watching for her fathers to return from her bedroom window; waiting for Vanessa to quit her work and retire to her room for the evening. She could hear the young woman moving about downstairs, replacing the firewood and moving things about restlessly, unable to be still.

Though Corentine was young, this behavior was not lost on her. Vanessa was a strong woman, stern at times, but ultimately a beautiful and loving member of their family. Corentine adored her, but understood more than Vanessa gave her credit for. The young woman was worried about the men, too.

Finally, late into the evening, Corentine heard the tell-tale footsteps of Vanessa’s heels move past her door and down the hall to her own bedroom to bed down for the night. It was then, after Vanessa’s room went completely silent, that the little girl crept out of bed, her tiny toes meeting the cold wood of the floor below. She knew all the creaky floorboards, knew just where to step so as not to alert the maid of her deviance.

Just as quietly as she had risen from bed, Corentine crossed the room and searched her closet for her warmest winter dressings and riding gear, taking the time to carefully tie her boots so she wouldn’t trip, all the while listening for signs of Vanessa’s notice.

None came.

Corentine waited patiently, fully clothed by her bedroom door, now opened slightly, listening down the hall for a very specific sound. Finally, through the thin walls the little girl heard the small noises of sleep that the young woman made after she had drifted off after a long day, a deep, rhythmic breathing.

Taking her cue, Corentine cautiously stepped out of her room, reminding herself to close the door gently behind her as she left.

Down the stairs and out to the side door, Corentine only paused one last time to make sure no one was following her, before stepping out into the frigid, blinding storm.

Chapter Text

The snow continued to fall repressively as Corentine coaxed her fully saddled mare out of the stable and into the bitter cold. Vanessa had taught the little girl everything about horsemanship, from how to prepare a horse for a ride, to how to ride with urgency. Things, perhaps, that the young woman would regret teaching to such a headstrong girl. Regardless, as displeasing as the conditions were, the mare obeyed, trusting the small child and dutifully waiting to be mounted as Corentine went back to latch the stable door.

Moving quickly for fear of being discovered, Corentine neglected to secure the latch on the door properly behind her, but paid it no mind as she readied her lantern for the ride. Unfortunately, the blizzard winds swept open the unlatched door, and then blew it violently shut, startling the little girl and her horse.

Corentine gasped and nearly dropped her stolen lantern at the sound, the commotion echoing off the house and the trees in the muted silence of the blizzard, surely alarming Vanessa to the child’s delinquency. Realizing this, Corentine sprung into motion, lighting up her lantern and mounting her mare. Taking the reins, Corentine urged the mare off at a racing speed, trying to escape the view of Vanessa’s window before the woman could light a candle to see.

While hindered slightly by the piling snow, her horse managed to still run swiftly to the edge of their one hundred acre property and out onto the road that would eventually lead to town. Corentine had ridden it many times, and knew the route, at least partially, that her fathers would have taken, so she started there. Steering her horse down the right branch of road, Corentine whipped the reins again and pressed her mare to go faster.

She’d have to find her fathers before Vanessa found her.

Chapter Text

A loud bang and the startled neighing of a horse startled Vanessa awake, the sound echoing from somewhere outdoors, near the stable.

Bolting out of bed and procuring a candle from her nightstand, Vanessa rushed to the window to see if she could locate the source of the noise. Was someone raiding their home? Or had the masters returned? Both seemed unlikely in such a storm.

Instead, what Vanessa saw from her window was nothing less than a nightmare.

The young woman had peeked through her curtains just in time to see a child’s figure riding off on one of their horses, the mare at a full gallop in the snow, racing towards the end of their property and the beginning of the road into the forest.

Chapter Text

Vanessa was hot on the little girl’s trail.

The caretaker didn’t even know how she was going to punish the child, much less convince her to come back home with her. It would have to be done, though, and Vanessa would drag the little girl back if she had to. As much as the young woman admired Corentine’s gumption and determination to look for her family, the small child couldn’t be allowed to just run off to her death in a storm. Above all, her fathers would want Corentine safe, and that was Vanessa’s job to ensure. She couldn’t fail them.

Tracking the fresh hoof prints of Corentine’s horse, Vanessa knew she wasn’t too far behind the stubborn girl. Corentine was a talented rider, but Vanessa had the advantage of strength and speed as an experienced equine instructor. It wasn’t long before the young woman’s lantern fell upon Corentine’s mare a short distance ahead, though unexpectedly, the horse stood stationary, her rider missing.

Vanessa pulled back on her reins, hard, her horse slipping in the snow and raising up on its hind legs as it struggled to stop short. Nearly being tossed from her saddle, Vanessa steadied her mare, then frantically cast her lantern about the road for any evidence of the child.

A few feet away from her horse, Corentine stood over something half covered by the falling snow.

“Young lady!” Vanessa scorned, dismounting her horse and walking up to address the child, “I will not have you run off into the night like this, you could have-”

The young woman’s scolding halted instantly as she noticed what the Corentine had been looking at. Lying at the girl’s feet was a luggage bag, one that looked awfully similar to Alexander’s.

Vanessa audibly gasped before covering her mouth with her hand, remembering her composure in front of her ward. Corentine, who had not yet spoken, turned to face her caretaker, tears rolling down her frosted cheeks.

“Vanessa, what if... w-what if-”

Without answering Vanessa took the girl into her arms in a tight hug. “It’s alright, it’s alright. Shh...”

Vanessa’s mind was reeling. What could she possibly say to Corentine? What were the odds of them finding a luggage bag that looked just like Alexander’s, abandoned on the same night that the men went missing? The young woman’s heart sank. The men could have very well met foul play in the form of carriage robbers on their way home. Vanessa realized that Corentine must have thought of this possibility, too.

There was no way to be truly sure, but Vanessa had to give the luggage the benefit of the doubt, for Corentine’s sake. Perhaps the luggage was someone else’s. One would only know by checking its contents.

The little girl clung tightly to Vanessa’s dress, keeping her face buried in her caretaker’s coat as she sobbed, too afraid to look inside the bag herself.

“Corentine, my dear, please, understand that this does not mean that your fathers are lost,” Vanessa soothed, “this bag could belong to anyone. Shall we look inside to see if we recognize anything of the belongings?”

Corentine bravely nodded against Vanessa’s coat, stepping back before taking a breath and collecting herself, just as she’d watched her papa do on many occasions.

Together, she and Vanessa unearthed the rest of the partially snow-covered bag, only to find that it had been emptied before being left in the snow… or tossed. Cursing under her breath, the caretaker began to search the in snow surrounding the bag, looking for any of its lost contents that could give hem clues as to whom the bag may have belonged before it was dumped.

Corentine joined in, and just as Vanessa was giving up on finding any garments in the immediate area, the little girl called from just a few yards away, “Here! I’ve found clothes!”

Vanessa rushed to where the little girl sat crouched in the piling snow, hovering over a pair of beige breeches. Spread about in that same vicinity, the ladies also found a brown waistcoat, a sock, an undercoat, and most disturbingly, another pair of breeches, this time green in color.

With little knowledge of what the men packed for themselves, it was impossible to say if these items belonged to them, though Alexander was known to have breeches in just that shade of green, where John preferred to wear more muted colors like beige and light brown.

Then, a few yards further down the road, they found a second bag, now nearly concealed by the incessant snowfall. This bag, horrifyingly, resembled a bag John was known to use when traveling, though it was also plain and had no distinctive features to identify it by.

This was enough for Vanessa, however. While there wasn’t clear evidence that the men of the house had run into trouble on this road, it surely appeared that someone had. Considering all the clues they had uncovered, Vanessa had heavy suspicions that something terrible may have happened to her employers, but hoped above all hope that she was wrong, and that their findings were simply coincidence.

Still, it was a pretty miraculous coincidence, indeed.

After a short time of searching and finding other small garments, the snow began to cover any hope of uncovering more, so the ladies again mounted their horses and decided to search on, at least for a short distance before they would inevitably have to return back to the shelter of their home.

They would not last in the cold, after all. Should they ride all night searching, they would be risking their own lives for an uncertain cause.

Chapter Text

“Mr. Hamilton!… Mr. Laurens!”

“Papa!… Father!”

The night grew darker and more oppressive as the blizzard continued on, pelting Vanessa and Corentine’s backs with heavy, wet snowflakes as they continued to yell for their missing family members.

The ladies had been riding for at least an hour, the storm around them refusing to abate, steadily worsening as the night progressed. The lantern Corentine held aloft could no longer project past a few feet, its strength obstructed by the incessant snowfall around them.

“Lady Corentine!” Vanessa shouted, her voice heavily muted by the snow, “We must turn back, we cannot see ahead of us any longer!”

Corentine neglected to answer, instead listening to the sounds around her. The little girl shook in her saddle, but not from the cold. The weather was bitter, but a certain feeling was egging her on, screaming at her to keep going, keep going!

Anticipation, she thought. But, anticipation for what? What did she think she was going to find?

After all, she was just a child. Perhaps it was wrong of her to have come out here, to have forced Vanessa to follow. It was a wild goose chase, and she knew it, but she just hated feeling helpless, like she couldn’t help her fathers when they needed her.

But, perhaps they didn’t need her. Perhaps Vanessa was right, they had just stopped in another town for the night. Perhaps those bags in the road weren’t even theirs. Perhaps they were just fine, perhaps they would even be upset with her for acting so brashly. Perhaps they would punish her, but she didn’t care anymore. This feeling she had… it was overwhelming. If she could just make it a little further-

Corentine pulled one last big breath into her lungs and shouted as loudly as she could, “Papa!”

Just then, a sound. One that Corentine had not at all expected to hear.

An infant’s cry.

Vanessa heard it, too, pulling up alongside Corentine and bracing an arm in front of the child.

“Stay with the horses.”

“Yes, miss,” Corentine affirmed, her skin prickling with the electricity of apprehension. Whoever was out there, they needed help if they had a baby. Even if it wasn’t her fathers, someone else surely needed rescuing this night.

Vanessa turned to face the source of the noise, echoing from somewhere close, just off the road. She began to walk toward the sound as she lifted the lantern to guide her steps, at least as far as the light could reach.

Then, just a few paces from where she left Corentine and the horses, was a sight that she had feared most.

Alexander lay on his side in the fallen snow, his unruly, fiery hair unmistakeable. At first glance, the young man appeared to be unmoving, though as Vanessa rushed closer, she realized he had been struggling to sit up, his limbs too weak to support him any longer.

In an instant, Vanessa was on her knees in the snow by Alexander’s side, “My Lord! Master Hamilton, what has happened? Are you-”

Vanessa stopped short when she noticed the young man’s sagging, empty clothes, his belly no longer full with child.

“T-The baby?” She stuttered, a look of sheer horror crossing her face.

Alex seemed to be in quite a state, unable to focus completely on the woman before him, though at the mention of his baby, Alexander’s eyes snapped up to meet Vanessa’s in the dark.

“Vanessa… you’re here. P-please… you have to take… save the baby…”

As the young man spoke, he pulled back the lapels of his winter coat, revealing a rather plump newborn, dangerously pale, and no longer crying.

“Take him… give him your heat…” Alexander managed.

Without hesitation, Vanessa ripped open her own coat and gently transferred the baby from Alexander’s arms and onto her chest, closing up the coat as best she could after the babe had settled. He was still alive, fussing weakly, though his skin was alarmingly cold to the touch. There was nothing more to be done except to bring the baby and Alexander back to the house as quickly as possible. Nothing, it seemed, could save them now but a fire.

Vanessa moved to hoist Alexander to his feet, but the young man protested.

“John! You have to find John… He’s… he’s in that direction,” Alexander motioned, weakly.

Vanessa nodded and turned back to where she had left Corentine with the horses.
“I will return in but a moment.”

Alexander didn’t seem to have much reaction to this, his priority seeming to no longer be his own safety, but rather his new baby’s.

Leaving the lantern behind with Alex, Vanessa rushed back to Corentine.

The little girl had obediently remained in the same spot with the horses, still seated in her saddle and waiting patiently in the dark. At length, she saw Vanessa emerge through the snowfall, noticing immediately that the woman now concealed something, a bulge against her chest, something nestled just under her coat.

There was no time to question her caretaker about this, however, as the Vanessa quickly reached up and held the small girl’s cheek in her gloved hand, begging all of her attention, “Corentine, I need you to hear me now.”

The little girl swallowed against the dryness in her throat, Vanessa’s tone gripping and serious, her eyes full of sorrow and fear, something Corentine had never seen before.

“My love, this will be hard to hear,” the young woman continued. “I have found your papa, though he is not well. Your father is also nearby, but we must search for him. Can I trust you to be silent and helpful as we aid them?”

Vanessa realized that was a lot to put on such a small girl, but she supposed if Corentine had ridden out here of her own volition, then she could be strong enough to handle the sights she was about to see.

“I-I… Yes, miss.” Corentine answered, uncertainly, a thousand questions buzzing in her head. If her fathers were out here, then they were certainly ill or injured, and Corentine wasn’t sure how to emotionally handle something like that yet. Though, it wouldn’t stop her from trying her best, she decided.

“Good, dear. Now please, stay on your horse. I’m going to have your papa ride with you. I do not want you to ask him questions, do you understand? I want you to only help him sit up and speak kind words to him. He has been through much.”

“I understand,” Corentine breathed.

“Then, come.”

Vanessa began to lead the horses back through the tracks she had just made, thought they were already filling and fading away as the blizzard raged on. Just a few feet further and Corentine saw their lantern, lighting what appeared to be a body in the snow. The little girl gasped, but quickly reminded herself to be silent. She had been right, her fathers did need her, and now they needed her to be brave.

Corentine watched in shock as Vanessa helped her papa stand up, her father noticeably relying heavily on his maid for support as they began to walk. Vanessa handed the reins of her horse to the girl and urged the party to follow the faded tracks Alexander had left, guiding them straight to John.

It only took them mere minutes to shuffle back to where John lay, on his side and silent, almost completely covered in snow. If they had been any later, they may have never found him.

With the meager strength Alexander had left, he assisted Vanessa in moving John’s limp form and lifting him onto the woman’s horse, laying him over the saddle like a deceased body. The sight was a somber one, full of uncertainty. Simply recovering John and Alexander from the forest did not guarantee their survival after so long in the elements, though Vanessa couldn’t understand why John would be in such a poor state compared Alexander, considering all he had been through. These questions would have to wait, however.

After John’s unconscious body was secured to her horse, Vanessa supported Alex as he clamored weakly onto Corentine’s mare, settling in behind his daughter, too delirious and far-gone to offer her a proper greeting. Within moments, the young man began to lean to the side, seeming to lose consciousness, but both Corentine and Vanessa held him steady.

Corentine’s heart began to race as she realized her papa’s large tummy was now gone, its absence overwhelmingly obvious as Alex leaned forward uneasily, his wet clothes the only thing pressing into the little girl’s back.

She wanted so badly to ask where the baby was, but kept her manners about her as Vanessa used some supply rope to secure Alex to the saddle.

The intrusion of Vanessa’s voice brought the little girl out of her concerns and back to the present, “Corentine, I want you to ride swiftly, just as I’ve taught you, but be mindful of your father - do not let him fall. Slow down if he is too unsteady.”

“Yes, miss.” Corentine answered, dutifully, taking her father’s slack arms and wrapping them around herself to further steady the man behind her.

Vanessa nodded, a serious note in her often soft voice, “then let us make haste.”

Chapter Text

Alexander couldn’t register all that was happening before him. He had seen Vanessa. He as given her the baby… why had he done that?

Oh, yes… because she could keep him warm, save him. That was all that mattered.

But where was she now? And where was he, for that matter? Everything appeared to be moving, the ground beneath him rushing by, a glimpse of hooves here and there. Was he mounted on a horse? He certainly wasn’t in any shape to be, pain shooting up through his hips and spine with each gallop. Perhaps he should get off, but where were the reins? He wasn’t holding them, couldn’t feel his own hands… and his wrist… it was throbbing.

But then who was steering the horse? Was it Vanessa? No, it was… Corentine? Her fiery curls were unmistakable. His little Corentine, keeping him steady with one hand, driving the horse with the other. If he lived, he would be sure to tell her how proud of her he was.

Until then, remaining conscious would be the true battle.

Chapter Text

The door to the main house burst open as Vanessa and an unsteady Alex worked to support John’s limp body between them, shuffling through the door and effectively collapsing in front of the fireplace.

John had since lost all consciousness, though Alexander, himself, was not far behind. Slightly delirious, Alex clutched tightly to his partner, shivering helplessly and struggling to take in air, the exertion of helping move John’s weight too much for his tired body.

“Mr. Hamilton, you must breathe slowly,” Vanessa coached, though her own voice shook with worry.

Alexander gasped as he took in a full breath, the delicate skin around his lips cracked and bleeding, snowflakes clinging to the man’s hair and eyelashes.

Once Alex seemed to be breathing with some normalcy, Vanessa turned back see Corentine closing the front door behind her after hastily sheltering the horses in the stable.

The girl did not speak, only locked eyes with the maid, obediently waiting for her command. Corentine was small, but she understood her role here, how dire it was that she follow Vanessa’s every direction. Her assistance could mean the difference between life and death for her fathers, as Vanessa surely couldn’t handle healing the two men on her own simultaneously.

Vanessa would have to remember to compliment Corentine on her conduct later, though, as their task for the night had now begun.

“Corentine, I need you to fetch me all the warmest quilts in the house. Strip them from the beds if you have to.”

“Yes miss.” Corentine nodded, taking off at a run down the hall and to the linen closet first.

Vanessa then turned back to Alexander, who seemed more or less unconscious, laying slumped forward against John’s body, still clutching his partner’s lapels protectively.

“Mr. Hamilton?” Vanessa spoke softly as she shook the young man’s shoulder. Alex groaned in protest, blinking heavily before locking eyes with the raven-haired woman.

“Sir, what are your injuries?”

Alexander glanced around blearily, eyes half open, his words coming slowly and deliberately. It was all he could manage, Vanessa guessed.

“My injuries are… inconsequential,” Alex breathed. “See to the baby and John first.”

“Sir, I-”

“Promise me, Vanessa. Care for them first. I assure you… I can wait.” Alex said, trying to disguise a grimace as a smile.

Vanessa scrutinized her master’s words, not failing to notice his bluff.

“That’s an order, Vanessa,” Alexander breathed, sternly.

“I… y-yes, sir,” Vanessa complied, though her words were wracked with sorrow. Obligated to follow her master’s wishes, she still felt that the young man needed more attention than he let on. Though, she couldn’t dwell. It was obvious that time was fading for John… rapidly.

“What are Master Lauren’s injuries? What happened, sir?”

Alexander elected to only partially answer his maid’s questions, lacking the energy and time to explain everything, though his embarrassment and shame held his tongue, too.

“John… hit in the head… with a pistol.”

“Lord!” Vanessa exclaimed. “Hit in the head by whom?”

But Alex appeared to be struggling to stay awake, obviously choosing his phrasing wisely to best aid the woman who would likely save their lives.

“Something is… wrong. He could not stay conscious… was dizzy, weak. I fear he is close to death. Please, give your attentions to him and the baby.” Alex eyed Vanessa’s coat wildly, hyper-aware of the child hidden beneath the heavy wool. Whether the babe was alive or not at this point, no one seemed to want to look.

Instead, Alexander continued feebly, “John may also… suffer from frostbite, as I fear I do as well,” Alex continued, pausing to stifle a cough. “But I implore you… tend to my family first.”

“Alright, yes. I promise you this, Alexander. Rest now.”

Seemingly satisfied with Vanessa’s promises to neglect his own needs for the time being, Alexander finally allowed himself to drift away, his mind closing off the world around him, his work finally done.

Chapter Text

It was fortunate that Vanessa had some basic medical experience, sharing an affinity for the field with John, the two discussing different methods of healing at length on many occasions. The two had even extended their studies together as the birth drew near, though, that was immaterial now.

There was no longer a baby to deliver, but rather, a baby to warm up, if it wasn’t too late.

In the frigid silence of the room, Vanessa began to peel back her lapels, her heart racing as she pulled away each layer. The babe had long since fallen quiet, and she had felt no recent movement in her garments. What if the baby had passed? Sadly, it was very likely that it had.

There was no telling how long the couple had been abandoned in the cold, or how long the babe had been exposed to the elements, but if the state of the men was anything to go by, it certainly looked to have been quite awhile. Far too long for a newborn, surely.

With shaking hands, Vanessa drew back the last layer of clothing, revealing the serene, angelic face of Alexander’s baby, ghostly pale and still.

Please, please, please, please…

Vanessa hesitantly reached up and began to nudge the babe, removing it tenderly from her coat. Suddenly, the child began to fuss, loudly.

In a second, Corentine was at the door to the main room, her mouth agape. “Is that the baby?” The little girl asked, innocently, forgetting her task for the moment, concern for her sibling mounting with each little cry.

Vanessa’s head snapped up, breaking away from the sheer relief the little newborn had just given her. Well, perhaps ‘little’ wasn’t the best phrasing. The babe was undoubtedly hefty, perhaps a fortunate trait that guaranteed the infant’s survival in the harsh winter blizzard. Vanessa found herself very grateful for the baby’s size, though she was sure Alexander hadn’t been at the time of its delivery.

“Yes, my dear. The baby is well, but please, continue to bring us blankets. You may assist me with the child after we have tended to your fathers.”

“Yes, miss,” Corentine answered dutifully, rounding on her heels and rushing back down the hall in search of more blankets, though Vanessa caught her peeking back excitedly just as she cleared the doorway.

It was natural for the little girl to be curious about the baby, though, Vanessa was hesitant to let her become too fond of the child too quickly. After all, the fathers and their new addition weren’t out of the woods yet, so to speak.

Chapter Text

In Corentine’s absence, Vanessa worked to unravel what appeared to be John’s undercoat from around the baby’s robust body, quickly grabbing a small blanket on top of the set Corentine had brought a moment ago, now warmed by the fire.

Carefully examining the baby, Vanessa found it to be more or less healthy, miraculously only sustaining mild frostbite on its little fingers, toes, nose and ears. The caretaker could also not help but notice that the baby was also unmistakably a carrier like Alexander. Interesting, Vanessa thought as she swaddled the child tightly in the fresh blanket.

Grabbing a quilt from the stack Corentine had left, Vanessa laid the swaddled infant on the folded layers of the blanket, close enough to the fire to warm on its own and rest. There was nothing much more that she could do to treat the child at this time. If anything, it would be best for her to focus on improving Alexander’s condition so that the babe could feed and be held by its mother, though Vanessa had to respect her employer’s wishes and work to heal John first, who looked almost hopeless as he lay motionless on his side, Alexander’s body slumped over him, uselessly.

Vanessa looked over the men, calculating her next approach, knowing well that she would have to work quickly and efficiently to revive them.

The first step, she decided, was to make sure the couple were as warm as possible, as well as dry. This posed an immediate challenge, as both men were nearly frozen, their clothes soggy and icy from the snow and… other fluids. John’s coat in particular seemed to be heavily tarnished with afterbirth, presumably because the garment had been beneath Alexander while he astoundingly gave birth in the woods with only John assisting him.

Vanessa pushed down her feelings of sympathy, remembering sadly that Alexander had looked so forward to a safe, calm birth at home with his family supporting him. Things shouldn’t have happened this way, but they did. Now was not the time to dwell on what opportunities had been lost when there was so much more they could lose.

So, as much as Vanessa valued modesty in their household, the men’s damp clothes had to be removed.

While Corentine was away filling their largest kettles with snow as Vanessa had instructed, the young woman began to work. Utilizing three layers of quilts as a makeshift bed on the floor in front of the fireplace.

With a little difficulty, Vanessa was able to successfully roll the blonde man onto his back and onto the bed of blankets before setting herself to the task of removing her master’s soiled clothing, assessing the man’s injuries at every step.

Alexander appeared to have been right; aside from frostbite, it was largely apparent that John had suffered some sort of trauma to his head, the obvious gash in his hairline now scabbed and rough.

Who on earth had done this?

Moving to her master’s chest, Vanessa began to undo the buttons of the man’s sullied coat, successfully pulling the heavy material down his shoulders and off each arm, then out from under John’s frozen body.

The man wore no undercoat, having sacrificed his own warmth for the safety of his child, a selfless act that likely saved the baby’s life. After undoing John’s cravat and shirt ties, Vanessa leaned in to the man’s chest. The young woman rested her ear to her master’s alarmingly cold skin, listening earnestly for a heartbeat.

Concerningly, the man did not outwardly appear to be alive, making no noise or movement as he lay unconscious. A faint, weak heartbeat thrumming in her ear was the only indication of life left in the frozen body before her. That was enough for the time being, Vanessa decided, as she continued to strip the man of his shirt, waistcoat, boots, breeches, stockings and undergarments, taking care to cover the man with a blanket to preserve his modesty and keep him warm as she worked.

Finally, John lay naked and dry under two woolen blankets, as comfortable as Vanessa could manage for him on their common room floor.

Corentine entered the room in separate trips, hauling the kettles full of snow and placing them by the fire to heat as Vanessa had told her. The little girl was unsure what they were for, but asked no questions as she was promptly ordered to fetch four of their soup bowls from the kitchen.

Vanessa kept a close eye on the kettles as the snow slowly melted within, waiting. In the meantime, the young woman began to examine John’s toes, noticing that they were not as affected by frostbite as she would have expected, thanks to the man’s wool socks. That was one good sign, at least.

Moving on to her unconscious master’s fingers, Vanessa noticed quite a bit more damage, the digits an angry, puffy red, with blotches of dark purple discoloring the fingertips. The man would be lucky to keep all of his fingers in the end, though Vanessa knew a nifty trick for curing even the most aggressive frostbite.

The water in the kettles had reached a slightly elevated lukewarm temperature when Vanessa removed them from the fire. Corentine had since returned with soup bowls from the dining cabinet, and assisted in pouring a liberal amount of water into each, wondering what Vanessa would be doing with them.

After sending the girl off once more, the young caretaker gently removed John’s arms from under the blankets and brought the bowls of nearly room-temperature water to his side, placing the man’s fingers into the liquid and resting them there before repeating with the other hand. When she was done, John lay comfortably under a pile of blankets with only his arms and upper body exposed, his hands laying at his sides with his fingers submerged in the bowls.

Aside from his head injury, that was the best Vanessa knew to do for John, or anyone suffering from frostbite. With any luck, the man’s fingers would thaw in the water and he would still keep the use of his digits, though only time would tell. First and foremost, he would have to wake up.

Corentine returned promptly with a pitcher, wash bowl and many clean cloths before being given another task and scampering off. It was for the best, Vanessa decided, as she began to inspect John’s bloody wound. It would do no good for the little girl to see the extent of her father’s injury, especially the mess it may create when agitated.

Vanessa paused to breathe deeply before dipping one of the fresh white cloths into the wash bowl, now filled with her fresh snow water, and brought the cool fabric against John’s forehead, brushing lightly across the dried blood, attempting to clean and get a good look at the laceration.

Regrettably, as soon as the scabbing was cleared away, the wound beneath began to bleed anew, dark crimson now running back into the man’s hair and down his cheek. The gash was much deeper than the maid had thought, with what looked to be shattered bone partially exposed in one area.

Vanessa cursed under her breath before calling for Corentine to hurry and fetch the basket of medical instruments and supplies she and John had, ironically, compiled for the birth. At least the tools they had gathered would be put to some use, though Vanessa wasn’t entirely sure what she could do for such a horrendous wound. She would simply have to try her best.

Corentine returned within the minute, handing over a large woven basket that held all sorts of rather disturbing looking instruments of medicine. With one hand pressing a cloth into John’s newly opened wound, Vanessa rummaged around in the basket with her other hand, quickly finding the suture kit that John had brought back from a trip to France. The maid had never used such a thing before, but supposed this was the best time to try. After all, it couldn’t be that much different from sewing, and she had read journals on how to stitch skin before. Though, she was slowly coming to realize that working with raw flesh was vastly different from simply studying it.

Her hands shook as she threaded the curved, demented looking needle with the suture thread, made from treated and stretched cat intestines. Vanessa set the instrument aside for a moment as she produced a small set of forceps from the basket and began to inspect her master’s wound more closely, searching for any debris before closing the still-bleeding wound. To her horror, Vanessa found what she hoped she hadn’t seen before: bone fragments. John’s skull had been fractured during the impact of the pistol, causing small fragments to stick out in odd angles and ridges.

Vanessa had never been one to become ill at the sight of blood, but the prevalence of the protruding bone made her slightly dizzy. She wasn’t equipped to handle this. She didn’t even know if anyone knew how to handle such a wound. There was a general understanding in the medical community that injuries to the head and skull carried problematic and often deadly consequences, yet there was very little that was known about how to treat such ailments.

Vanessa could only do her best. She had promised Alexander, after all. So, with the use of the forceps and a deep breath, the young woman began to separate the broken bone from the bone still secured to John’s skull. Unsure of what to do with the detached fragments, the maid decided that it would be best if they were removed, so she did just that, placing each chip of bone on a bloodied cloth at her side.

Smoothing out the remaining bone as best she could and again dabbing the gash with a fresh cloth, Vanessa began cleaning and preparing the wound for suturing. The young woman held the cloth tightly to her employer’s head to slow the bleeding, again taking the suture needle and thread into her hand as she prepared for the feeling of torn flesh being pulled back together beneath her fingers.

While Corentine was still away, Vanessa made quick work of the wound, starting from one end and whip-stitching all the way to the other. The young maid wasn’t sure if this was right, but it was the best she could manage with her limited knowledge. The bleeding, at least, seemed to stop.

Being careful not to jostle the poor man any further, Vanessa lifted her master’s head briefly to wrap a bandage around his crown, binding the wound tightly so that the area would hopefully be barred against infections.

Vanessa sat back on her heels to observe her work. John’s frostbite and head wound had been addressed, and the man seemed to have no other injuries that were more pressing than a few scrapes and bruises. Not much could be said for John’s state of mind when he awoke, though only time would tell if this was something that any man could truly recover from.

For now, Vanessa pushed away the unsettling possibilities gnawing at her, and instead turned her attentions, finally, to Alexander.

Chapter Text

Alexander lay right where Vanessa had left him, unconscious and unmoving on the hardwood floor next to John, a meager blanket thrown over him to keep him at least stable while his maid’s attentions were elsewhere.

Wasting no time, the young woman began the same process she had utilized with her employer's partner, beginning first by laying out a few layers of quilts and rolling the young man onto the makeshift cot before removing his soaked and soiled clothing.

It was at this time that Corentine appeared once more, having been sent away while Vanessa tended to John’s disturbingly gory wound.

“How may I assist, miss?” the little girl asked, timidly, approaching the scene before her with caution, obviously trying not to eye the swaddled infant beside the fireplace.

Vanessa, now working quickly to remove Alexander’s heavy outer coat, cast her eyes about the room, seeking any further task that Corentine could take up. The child had already proven herself to be mature and composed when under pressure, even when her entire family was on the brink of death. In this moment, Vanessa was so proud of the little girl, and she was sure her fathers would be, too.

Smiling, despite herself and their situation, the young maid answered, “you have done well to help, dear. Go tend to your new sibling. Keep them warm.”

For a moment, Corentine looked shocked that she would be allowed to hold her new brother or sister, but elation was soon replaced the uncertainty as she approached the swaddled bundle and gingerly took the baby into her little arms.

The little girl made a huffing noise as she struggled to lift the babe to her chest, “they’re heavy!”

“Indeed.” Vanessa answered absently, now hurriedly removing Alexander’s undercoat. “The baby is larger than usual for a newborn, but you yourself are also very small, little one.”

“I don’t mind.” Corentine answered, awkwardly adjusting the babe in her arms and gazing at them in loving wonder. “I’ll keep them safe,” she said in a tiny, whisp of a breath, kissing the sleeping newborn’s forehead.

Vanessa smiled to herself, knowing that Corentine was already falling in love with her new brother… or sister. The issue of gender would have to be addressed later, but for now, the young maid was happy to see that the little girl was accepting her new role as an elder sister.

Turning her full attention back to the unconscious man below her, Vanessa made quick work of the rest of Alexander’s clothing, suddenly noticing as she removed the young man’s shirt that his left wrist seemed to be rather stiff, swollen, and tainted purple. Startled, Vanessa gently handled her master’s arm and inspected the area, coming to a terrifying conclusion. Lord, the poor man’s wrist had been broken.

Having no knowledge of whether Alexander had any other hidden injuries, Vanessa instructed Corentine to turn away while she stripped the child’s father completely bare and searched his pale, clammy body for any other areas of trauma.

Aside from Alexander’s wrist, there appeared to be no other significant injuries, other than the presence of frostbite on his fingertips, toes, ears, and nose. Vanessa would deal with all that momentarily, but first, peeking back to make sure that Corentine was not looking, the maid gently lifted Alexander’s knees, holding them open and back as best she could while she respectfully probed the carrier’s opening.

It was obvious that the young man had given birth recently, his vaginal passage loose and still bleeding lightly, but not enough for concern. It didn’t appear to Vanessa that Alex had torn during the delivery, which seemed miraculous, considering the size of the newborn.

Alexander would never cease to amaze her, from his stunning brilliance to his astonishing physical resilience. Many women and carriers died while trying to deliver such large children. Alexander had either been very lucky, or very determined to not only give birth, but to then manage to make it nearly all the way home in a devastating blizzard, with his baby still alive, no less.

The newborn could be heard cooing and fussing from where Corentine rocked them, clearly alive and fighting. Alexander had done well.

It broke Vanessa’s heart to think that Alex had to endure so much pain without the comfort of even a bed or shelter, but remembered that John had at least been by his side. The two men truly were extraordinary.

Vanessa’s sympathies were suddenly interrupted by the piercing wails of the newborn, its cries quickly ramping up to angry hiccups and distressed chuffs.

Corentine looked horrified as she fruitlessly tried to console her unsettled sibling, frantically looking to Vanessa for help.

“I-I’m sorry, I don’t know what I’ve done,” Corentine called over the child’s cries, obviously upset, herself.

Vanessa hastily covered Alexander’s nudity and turned to the young girl, taking her shoulders and smiling at her warmly.

“Do not worry, child, you've done nothing wrong. The babe is likely hungry. They want their mamma.”

Corentine looked to be on the edge of tears, “b-but Papa’s asleep. What can we do?”

“I will finish helping your papa feel better first, and then we can try to feed the baby, yes? I know it’s hard, m’lady, but while I work, I need you to comfort your little brother or sister, alright?”

Corentine sniffled, despite herself. “Yes.”

“They may not stop crying, but just you holding and talking to them will help.”

“Alright,” Corentine confirmed, though she looked unsure of herself as she continued to rock the babe, now speaking to the fussing newborn in a hushed, soothing tone.

Satisfied that the little girl could handle the baby, at least for the moment, Vanessa turned her attentions back to addressing Alexander’s broken wrist, but nearly jumped out of her stockings when she noticed Alexander’s eyelids fluttering, a light groan escaping his lips.
“Papa?” Corentine was back at Vanessa’s side in an instant, watching her father shiver and moan just as intently as her caretaker, worry creased in both women’s faces. The newborn continued to wail loudly in the little girl’s arms.

Suddenly, Alex took in a shuddering breath, the air passing from his lips sounding raspy and wet, his lungs garbled. The young man coughed weakly into his shoulder before blearily opening his eyes and weakly searching the room for the source of the crying.

Understanding this instinct, Vanessa shifted back into her role of leadership, facing Corentine once more and again giving the child a string of commands. “My dear, give me the baby. Go fetch me two rods from the spinning wheel, some twine, and lots of pillows. Make haste.”

“Yes, miss,” Corentine replied, handing over the fussing infant before hazarding another glance at her papa. He certainly looked worse for the wear, unable to even make eye contact or acknowledge who was around him. All of this was incredibly upsetting to the little girl, now fully realizing that her family could still die at any moment. Overwhelmed, Corentine ran off just in time to conceal her tears, excusing herself to the upstairs where she could collect her emotions, then search for the items Vanessa had requested. Her fathers were always so good at being strong. She could do it, too. She would do it. For them.