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A Night Between Battles

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Despite the blasting summer heat the last few weeks had cursed the American frontier with, the nights were getting colder and colder. The season was winding to an end, but the war was far from over. That’s how it felt, at least. Alexander knew it would end, and it would end with America as a free country. No matter what. Though the battle was honorable, and he wouldn’t rather be anywhere else, the chilly nights in thin tents with barely a layer to the hard, cold ground below could stand some complaining.

A troubled, long sigh escaped him. He was never an easy sleeper, often laying awake and restless at night, even sleeping with one eye open. Well, not really. But that’s what Laurens said.

His comrade had his back turned to him, his slow breaths making no sound as his back heaved up and down. He had his coat pulled all the way up to his neck, probably freezing in his sleep. Alexander noticed his own hands and toes felt as though they were about to be frostbitten, and frustration pulled up to a sitting position. He couldn’t sleep, it was time he accepted it and did something productive instead.

Outside the air was even colder than inside the tent. A mist in the distance unveiled the reason for the temperature. Dampness. Wonderful. Alexander had granted some mercy to his friend by not dressing in the tent, as to not disturb his sleep, but regretted it quickly when his naked feet sunk into the wet moss. Disgruntled he eventually begun a walk to higher ground. The camp was set at the base of a hill, sheltering from any winds and giving some camouflage to foes. When atop the hill he was slightly out of breath, only because it was nighttime and his body was drained and rebellious against nightly endeavours such as this one. But the grass was dry and welcoming to sit in, and so he landed softly in it and observed the peaceful camp with his hands curled around his knees. For a long time his eyes rested there, mind wandering and twisting and turning, all about the war. What kind of characters filled those tents and what their purpose could be. How to use them the best way. He knew he was a leader, he knew he was the wittiest in the lot. If only someone else could realize it!

Time felt slow and strange, so Alexander wasn’t sure for how he sat that way before his mind became a big knot of arguments and different strategies. Small soldiers were marching in his brain in all directions, it was hard to see where they were going now. His eyes turned to the sky, and immediately a sense of peace flooded him. The stars were beautiful. That mist must have lifted, because he could see what seemed like every single one of them. They were still. Peaceful. Oh, to be a star, he joked to himself.
“Why are you this way?” came such a sudden voice that Alexander jumped and clutched his heart. How long had he been daydreaming to become so distant from reality? It wasn’t like him.
“What way?” he challenged, meeting the kind, gentle face of John Laurens who was coming up the hill. His tall stature made it look easy and effortless, where Alexander had felt like a child crawling up the slope.
“This way,” Laurens repeated, voice slightly strained as he sat down next to him. Close by his side, as they should be.
“I don’t know, John. You know me better than I do. So you tell me,” Alexander sighed. It was dark, but he could tell John had just woken up. He had those drooping eyes, his mouth lazily turned upwards in the slightest of smiles. An expression he often carried these days.
“I think you care too much,” John shrugged. Alexander turned to him, a little hurt. Care too much?
“About the revolution, you mean? How is that even possible? We’re in the middle of-”
“Alright, don’t get fired up. I was only saying, everything is not your responsibility. Or well, it’s admirable. But you can work during the days. And rest at night, please” John explained calmly and with charming humor like he could when he wished, turning to look at Alexander for a moment.

It was here that Alexander realized again how close they were sitting. They had the entire hill. But they sat close enough to touch anyway, knees brushing against the other, shoulders too. And when he turned to look at him, with his high but drooping eyes, it was new. Even though they’d been friends for years now, even though they’d actually sat many nights like this, it was new. At the same time as it wasn’t, the only reason Alexander allowed himself to notice it properly was because he was getting tired, and he was far too tired to distract himself by talking about war strategies or complaining about the king or anything else. But by the time he’d sunk into the moment, John had already turned away again long ago. After all, it was only a brief moment. Alexander had a habit of getting stuck on details.

“I will interpret your silence as agreement,” John hummed proudly and leaned back into the grass, using his hands as a pillow of sorts behind his head.
“Are you tired? Why did you even get up?” Alexander realized he hadn’t even questioned this yet. Usually when they went out at night it was because they were both restless and awake. “Did I wake you?”
“Yes and no,” John answered, eyes closed.
“You can’t say both,” Alexander argued and layed down too, but on his stomach. It was good to stretch out his back. It wasn’t because he didn’t want Laurens to lay on the ground alone. Not because he didn’t want the conversation to end before it had even begun.
“And you decided this?” John sighed, casting a glance at him.

There it was again. That- that thing! Not a feeling, but not just a thought either. No, he couldn’t think it.

“Of course,” Alexander smirked back. His good smile. He used it all the time. Smiling that way as he was looking down at John from slightly above but not so far away that it was indistinguishable, when he was rested in the grass, it was nothing new but it was still a stranger of a feeling. A dangerous stranger that he’d met before. A stranger he’d seen in alleys, one he had duelled with and run from in the night. One who would stand outside his window and creep, or lay down next to him in a tent. Tense and reckless but calm and affectionate. Affectionate.

“What are you thinking about, Alexander? You look lost,” John informed him with a safe tone, but his expression was betraying him. His brows were furrowed, he had moved his head back slightly as if to get a little further away, even if it was just an inch. I am, Alexander wanted to say, but instead dragged his eyes away. He couldn’t ponder over this while John was here, he had to do it in private. “You can tell me,” John whispered.
“Are you reading my mind?” Alexander said abruptly and seriously, knowing he must look like a confused child. John’s face was baffled for a second, before breaking into a broad, wonderful grin. Laugh bubbled out quietly as he rolled his head around a little.
“You said it yourself. I know you better than you,” he said. It was a joke, but Alexander’s laugh was strained.

Was he really thinking the same thing? Was he feeling it too, the presence of that dangerous stranger that was always around him, and even more so when they were together, watching their every move and interpreting them like poetry? Who came in the night mostly, making Alexander gravitate toward such thoughts he’d never think during the day. That must be why he had to think about the war, about the politics. It was the only thing more infuriating and adrenaline-inducing he could think of. But laying next to Laurens in the grass when everyone else was sleeping was incredibly close to beating it. In fact, it was taking over his mind in a way it had never been controlled before.

“I think I need to sleep. I’m not myself,” Alexander said in a monotone voice, not sure if he trusted it not to betray his thoughts otherwise. He rose to a sitting position once more, brushing his stray hair back with his fingers.
“Alexander, are you alright?” John grabbed a hold of his arm as he rose too. Alexander froze for a heartbeat before relaxing, giving in without a single thought of fighting it. He’d never rudely pull his arm away from John, never snap at him to leave him be. With anyone else he could, but something stopped him from doing it with his best friend. He cared too much. He was right about that, after all. To his surprise, John didn’t move his hand away when he relaxed, but let it rest on his sleeve. Even making small movements with his fingers. He was worried about him. With anyone else Alexander would be defensive. Not with John.
“God, sometimes I don’t know,” he confessed. “But let’s not get caught in it. I’d be much worse off if not for you, my friend.”
“I am your friend. And I always will be,” John smiled.

Finally, a peaceful moment. Some comfort. Sure, they were sitting like children in the grass and gazing fondly at each other like star-crossed lovers. John’s fingers was softly brushing at his wrist, the lining of his sleeve. But they were friends, Alexander was John’s friend. But even so, God! Why couldn’t he help but want to just lean into this feeling? That was the first time he’d thought it this night. He must have blushed, for his face grew hot fast. Blushing, like a child! John noticed, like he always did, and Alexander could see it happen on his face. The thought entering his mind like a letter. He could hear in his breath when he opened it, see in his eyes when he read it. The confession. The truth. The sin. What Alexander was thinking, what his body urged him to do and his brain urged him to think as if he was some sort of - he didn’t even know what! Johns fingers left his wrist quickly, his eyes remained on him steadily. He must know now, he must know his thoughts and his feelings. So what was the point in hiding it?

Don’t speak, Alexander managed to think before leaning forward with force. He needed support to not to crash into him, and he grabbed a hold of John’s neck as he pressed his mouth to his. The pressure was hard, but his lips created a soft place to land. It was the same way he did everything; no matter how insecure he felt, he played at confidence and pushed forward before the consequences could form. He was needy, he knew that he was because he had been fighting against this for so long that he’d become like a desperate woman. He kissed him deeply and as strongly as he could, knowing it was destined to end. He thought it would feel shallow and just like skin to skin, because it was so impulsive. But it was the opposite. Time seemed to slow down. He could feel nothing but their mouths meeting powerfully and rather violently, despite the lack of movement from John’s part. He could feel his short beard in his hand as he clenched it slightly around his shoulder and neck. Not the cold grass, not their legs brushing awkwardly, barely even his pounding heart. It was all far away.

It wasn’t a long moment, but John must have been too shocked to do anything at first. A glorious but short moment. Alexander hadn’t had enough time! No time to take it in, feel euphoric to then panic. But when John pulled away, which he did hastily, the missing heat of his lips was so obvious that Alexander was close to tearing up. He could still feel the dewiness of his mouth on his lips and the pressure provided, the scratch on his chin from a coarse, short stubble. John said nothing, but his eyes said it all. Wide and afraid as he backed away on his elbows, leaving Alexander to lean back on his own the last bit. The fear that overcame him then, seeing that his friend was so hurt and at a loss because of him, it was overwhelming and harmful, already cutting through his heart. Neither of them spoke. The regret made Alexander the first one to move.

He stormed away, down the hill but not to the tent, or even the camp. He turned right, into the forest’s edge. He wouldn’t be stupid enough to walk into the woods at night alone, but he was stupid enough to cry. Kick a lone mushroom so it splattered into a hundred small pieces. Tear at his cheeks and hands with his nails in frustration. Why would he do that! His impulsiveness and recklessness and idiocy would be his death someday, if not today! The embarrassment was so dark he almost felt like he was dying, like his vision was blurring into blindness and his ears were becoming deaf, and finally his legs caved too. Alexander fell to his knees in the soaking grass. He knew he was being hysterical, but he had just ruined his own life, for God’s sake!

Hands and feet freezing to stone was such a strange feeling to have in summer. But they were far up north and the summer was ending. Clouds had crawled across the sky quickly, and now rain was threatening to open fire any second. Alexander dragged his feet across the ground, head hanging like an ashamed puppy, as he made it back to camp. He hadn’t been out long, only a short walk to a nearby stream where he’d gotten a drink. His eyes felt stiff and crusted, and without shivering he was cold to his core. That type of cold that no thick duvet or raging fire could obliterate. In fact, he wasn’t sure what could cure it.

Dawn was still hours away, too. The camp was silent except for low winds that rustled the tents every now and then. They were all dark. Could he find his way back to his own? Should he try? Alexander wandered a little aimlessly and halted when he recognized his sleeping place, only to gaze at it strangely for a moment. Was John inside, or had he run away in fear of Alexander had done too? All he wanted was to sleep, he must go inside.

Opening the tent revealed a sitting John Laurens, whose face was clouded with worry and only sparked with anger as Alexander entered. The light was low and silvery, but he could tell he was upset. He prepared himself for the worst. A terrible scolding. Or worse, silence.
“For God’s sake, where were you? I couldn’t go look because your storming off woke the lieutenant and he told me to go back to bed when he saw me!” John hissed, hitting Alexander in the arm as he went inside to sit on his side of the tent. He said nothing, his throat thick with embarrassment and guilt. What was he supposed to say? “Say something, then.”
“I’m sorry,” Alexander whispered quietly, face heating up and he looked away to hide it.
“What was that?” John hummed, inching closer. Had he completely forgotten what had happened?
“I said I’m sorry,” Alexander repeated, not daring to look John in the eyes, so his gaze landed on his legs. John huffed.
“That’s something I never thought I’d hear,” he whispered, also turning away. His bitterness was infuriating. And fire bred fire, Alexander had the impulse to scold him for - well he wasn’t sure yet, but surely it would make sense if he started talking.
“Aren’t you angry with me?” he asked, gaze now fixed on his chest instead. Bad idea, his undershirt was open slightly to reveal his skin underneath. They were barely men yet, and it showed in their bare chests.
“Angry with you,” John repeated, but with no question in it. It was rather a statement, like he was either agreeing or just thinking it over.

The silence was horrible. Alexander fiddled with his cold, stiff fingers, a deep sigh leaking his anxiety into the confined tent. And he was still cold like a stone, would he ever regain sensation in his feet? He thought his hands would become red and start to burn when he got inside, but they were still like icicles. At least it was distracting.

“I’m not angry with you,” John said at last, and Alexander was so surprised with his soft, kind tone that he had to look up at him. Finally. All he wanted was to meet those kind eyes and know that they were still friends. And to sleep. But mostly the former.
“You’re not?” he questioned and turned to him, desperate for more reassurance. He almost couldn’t believe it. If someone had done such a thing to him, he would have been at least offended. Even if it had been a woman. “Thank you, Laurens. I don’t know what came over me. It’s been - it’s been like a hurricane storming in my mind, I don’t know who I become when it happens.” He wasn’t sure where this new metaphor came from. He preferred it over the dangerous stranger, though. John was quiet, as to let him continue. Alexander sat up more comfortably, turning towards him more. John was his friend. They could talk about anything. He wasn’t angry, he would understand that it wasn’t his intention or anything malicious about it, it was like an instinct. Or maybe some sort of punishment from above. “You’re the closest friend I’ve got, and ever had. I simply make me happy. I suppose that’s...a little new,” Alexander breathed, face becoming hot again. Suddenly he felt touch, John’s hand over his own. Surprised, he looked up, only to see the shift of comfort straight to uncomfort happen in John’s face.
“Alexander, you’re like ice!” he exclaimed, still in a hushed tone, and moved closer to grab a hold of both his hands that had been wrapped around his legs in an attempt to heat up. It was truly like John had forgotten what had happened earlier, like he had no fear of being near him or touching him, no fear of what he might do. Maybe it wasn’t anything to be afraid of after all, Alexander thought briefly.
“I’m alright, John, truly,” Alexander assured, but John’s hands were almost like fire against his skin. The sensation was returning, and he realized he should kick off his boots as the leather was still cold. In fact, all his clothes were cold.
“You’re not, and not just your temperature. I can tell that you’re upset and I understand. But Alexander -” John moved closer to him once more, now entering that area where Alexander became self-conscious and he instantly became insecure. How could he know he wouldn’t kiss him again? How could either of them know? “I’m sorry I didn’t say anything earlier. That I was so shocked. I didn’t mean to hurt you,” John apologized, holding his hands together with his own around them like a shield.
“You didn’t hurt me,” Alexander lied. Of course, deep down, he was hurt John had reacted so negatively. Deep down, he’d hoped he would have kissed him back. That was the truth.
“I’m still sorry. I know you feel ashamed. So do I,” John whispered. They were close again, too close. He could see each individual eyelash on his beautiful, drooping eyes, the impurities of his young skin, the blue-turned-silver in the dim light of a distant dawn. In truth it was almost pitch black inside, but he could see him well in the darkness. In the privacy of this tent, in the intimacy of their closeness. He could see the thoughts crossing his mind, his eyes travels around Alexander’s face. He made it look easy, too. The confidence. But he must be faking it.
“Why? Why would you feel ashamed?” Alexander mouthed, barely a sound escaping him, his gaze resting on John’s mouth. He told himself it was because it was easier to make out his words, but he knew the truth.
“Because I missed it when it was gone,” John responded truthfully.

The deathblow.

The release of euphoria when John softly pressed his mouth to Alexander’s made it difficult to stay still, to stay silent. An almost whine hum out of his nose in response, and blood began coursing through his veins as he kissed back somewhat forcefully. John seemed to try and correct him by softly brushing his hair back and kissing slowly. It was much more peaceful, but Alexander was almost vibrating with excitement. He couldn’t believe this was happening. He couldn’t relax, and yet silently agreed when John wrapped an arm around his back and moved toward him, lowering him down onto the clothed ground below them. There was grass underneath the tent, so it wasn’t a hard landing. They broke apart for a moment, to look at each other and understand what was happening. Neither of them seemed to have any success, but John smiled eventually, making Alexander do the same.
“You’re absolutely freezing,” John whispered, now a worried hint to his tone. John’s hand was planted widely across Alexander’s chest, he’d dug it beneath the fabric of his shirt. A heated touch. Alexander breathed out in relief, afraid he would have said something like “this is wrong”.
“You’re burning up,” he countered, pressing a cold hand against John’s neck, making him squirm. It was both amusing and effective, as he could pull his head down again and kiss him. He never wanted it to end.

The sound was surprising. Not that Alexander had never kissed someone before, passionately or otherwise. But hearing the hums of two men rather than a woman was so different. So raw, exciting, even terrifying. Such an unusual sound. And the sensation of young, weak beard stubble against his own clean chin, for Alexander could not yet grow any. It was scratchy and sort of irritating, but in a way that made him want it more. Like dipping your fingers in melted candle wax only to feel the pain go away slowly.

Heating up slowly as his blood began to course through his whole body, Alexander pushed upwards so that he and John sat with their legs entangled around each other. His fingers slipped under the loose collar of John’s shirt, tracing the skin of his shoulder, sneaking glances every once in a while in the gloomy darkness. John’s hands fiddled with the buttons of Alexander’s shirt, all the way down to the line of his trousers, before pushing it off his shoulders to reveal his bare torso. Cold air washed him and his skin prickled like a plucked chicken. John pulled away briefly to catch his breath and observe Alexander with a focused, warm gaze. He was taller than Alexander, broader and more mature altogether. Alexander felt small and skinny, fragile and cold. All the shame he’d felt, the guilt and embarrassment, it was all gone now. In its place was desire. John had never been a very dominant person, in fact it was usually Alexander doing the bossing around in their conversations and such. But now he felt as though he wanted it the other way around, for the first time in his life he wanted the lesser hand. Therefore he leaned back, tilted his head down and looked up at John with a sort of puppydog plead. Push me back, hold me down, do whatever. John drew a hand over his wet mouth. Judging by his squinting eyes and whiny tone, it seemed to hurt him severely when he said,
”We should stop.”

Alexander furrowed his brow. They should? He’d been totally unaware of this.
”Why?” he asked, his voice a coarse whisper. His mouth was tired and felt swollen.
”It’s almost dawn. You need sleep, and someone might hear,” John reasoned, brushing his hand over Alexander’s cheek to comfort him. He leaned into the touch and closed his eyes. The need to argue was hard to fight, but John being right made it easier.
”Okay,” he agreed and opened his eyes again, trying to look as pretty as he could. He wasn’t sure why. John smiled, and they sat that way for a while, just looking at each other. John’s hair was disheveled and his face was flushed, but Alexander was probably twice as much so. When he began shivering again, John tutted pitifully and moved closer to him. Alexander gave in kindly when he laid him down and wrapped his coat and a thin wool blanket over him along with his arm. His arm was the best part, secure at the lower part of his back. They huddled together like birds in a nest and Alexander buried his face deep in John’s shirt in his chest. His scent was familiar and soporific, and he felt safe and calm with John all around him.
”When the war is over,” John whispered.
”We can do this in our own beds,” Alexander agreed.