Sam considered the room, the delegates before him, the quiet arguments playing out between the men Sam had convinced and the men he hadn’t.
“There are still too few,” he said at last.
Hancock frowned at him and countered, “I feel we’ve made a great deal of progress, in all honesty. There are some holdouts, yes, but far fewer than we have had to this point.”
“Fewer, yes,” John countered, “but far harder to reach. Sam is right. We still have much left to accomplish and little time left to do so.”
Sam sat down on the edge of his desk, watching Dickinson confer with members from the Carolinas. “I don’t know how to reach them,” he admitted after a moment.
Franklin snorted, more amused-sounding than derisive.
Sam looked at him and shrugged. “Hancock has tried to appeal to their love of, what was it, economic opportunity? John’s tried to reason with them. I’ve tried fear and shame and ale. We’re running out of options.”
Franklin seemed to consider this, turning slowly about, studying their colleagues.
“I’m open to suggestions,” Sam prompted.
“Are you?” Franklin tilted his head, a slow smirk spreading across his face. Sam felt minutely uncomfortable, and chiefly as if he were about to sell his soul for independence.
“Well, then, Mr. Adams, I humbly suggest you consider appealing to them as an equal.” Franklin nodded, to himself and clarified, “Appeal to them as a statesman.”
“A statesman,” Sam repeated dully.
Franklin grinned. “Yes.” He clapped Sam firmly on the back, as if they had reached an accord and then strode off, calling out for Rodney to wait.
Sam looked at John and then at Hancock.
Hancock discreetly covered his mouth and tipped his head down, trying at least to hide his smile. John didn’t bother. He was grinning, a full smile that even reached his eyes. It’d been a long time since Sam had seen his cousin smile like that and it was probably worth the humiliation he was feeling.
“I think,” John said, “he wants you to make a speech.”
“Yeah,” Sam sighed. “I was afraid that was what he meant. I think I need a drink.”
Sam wasn’t one for rehearsing things. He said what he meant when he meant it. He wrote certainly, but it wasn’t the same thing. Not even close. When he wrote, he was appealing to men like himself. To the others in Boston who suffered the same slights and oppressions. These men were not of Boston. And nothing he had written had been this important. He needed to convince these men. He’d argued with them and he’d drunk with them. But there were still those he couldn’t reach, men who might be swayed if Sam only said the right thing. And so far they hadn’t found Sam too damn compelling.
“How many sheets of paper have you gone through?” John asked, as he stepped into Franklin’s parlour.
Sam leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. “Too many.”
His cousin took a seat near him. “And still nothing?”
John didn’t say anything for a moment, and then he placed a glass of wine by Sam’s hand. Sam took it gladly. “Franklin’s going to run out at this rate.”
“He said we were welcome to it,”John shrugged. “I was thinking about what he said, about you being a statesman like them.”
“I’m already writing a speech.” Sam took a long swallow of the wine.
“Yes, but…” John folded his arms over his chest and looked Sam over.
Sam looked back, not liking the expression on John’s face. That expression had never meant good things for him.
“Yes,” John said, walking back to where he’d hung up his jacket and bag.
“Yes?” Sam repeated, confused.
John dug through his bag and then came back with a small coin purse. He held it out to Sam.
Sam didn’t take it. “I don’t want your money.”
“You need my money, you don’t have enough,”John replied.
Sam tried not to take offense, being so sure that John meant well. But it wasn’t easy. “I’m fine, John.”
“You need to appeal to those men as their equal. You need them to see you as their equal.” John reached out and tapped a finger on Sam’s chest. “You need to look like their equal.”
Sam followed John’s gaze and really looked at himself. His clothes were serviceable, if worn, nothing he had any complaint with. But he could see what John meant, could imagine what a man like Dickinson saw when he looked at Sam.
“I’ve changed my mind,” Sam said, after a moment. “I think I’d like to go back to Boston now.”
John’s suggestion presented Sam with certain difficulties. In the years since he’d lost Elizabeth he’d found he cared little for his appearance. (He’d cared little for a great many things.) He didn’t shave as regularly as he should have, his hair was barely tied back, his clothes were patched in places and not exactly the latest fashion. He wasn’t sure he was able to do as John suggested, at least not without assistance.
Luckily for him, fate had long since provided the perfect mentor for such a situation.
“Clothes,” Hancock said, expression hilariously perplexed. His brow was furrowed, his mouth open a little too wide, and his eyes kept darting down to take in Sam’s clothes and then darting back up to study his face.
“John thought I should probably dress the part,” Sam said, smiling winningly at Hancock. The man blinked and there was a telltale flush across the top of his cheeks. Of late, Hancock had begun to respond differently to any attention Sam gave him. Sam wasn’t sure what line he’d crossed, but once he’d returned to Philadelphia with Hancock’s coin in his pocket, their interactions had carried a greater weight. One Sam hadn’t decided how to handle.
Hancock, in the beginning, had been a means to an end. A wealthy fop who’d bankrolled Sam’s freedom and then bankrolled their lucrative smuggling operation. Sam had liked him well enough for someone he considered ridiculous. When the smuggling ring had collapsed and Hancock kept trying to seek reconciliation with the government, Sam had lost interest and affection. Hancock had been just another wealthy man who didn’t give one damn about the people of Boston.
But somehow, over their months on the run and their time here in Philadelphia, they’d become friends. Hancock had changed, had started to believe in something greater than money and had even been willing to sacrifice his wealth for it. He’d become a man Sam was glad to call his friend.
Which made this attraction Sam felt all the more awkward.
“How might I help you in this endeavor, Mr. Adams?” Hancock pressed, folding his hands over the head of his walking stick and leaning in closer to Sam.
Sam dragged his eyes away from Hancock’s hands and back to his face.
“I, uh, can’t think of anyone more qualified,” Sam said.
“To... “ Hancock trailed off.
Sam shrugged.”To help me find clothes that even Dickinson couldn’t find fault with.”
Hancock’s eyebrows went up, his expression a familiar one. His face always seemed to be caught between surprise and understanding. “Ah,” he nodded. “I can see your point.”
Sam gestured to his current garments. “Think you can help?”
“Yes,” Hancock nodded. “Yes I do believe we can think of something.”
Sam handed over the coin purse with relish and upon assessing its contents John returned it and announced that they would purchase the fabric first before visiting a tailor. “Your cousin provided a decent amount to fund this operation but the few tailors in this town who do sell cloth lack as wide a selection as we may need.”
“I don’t, um,” Sam bit his lip and tried to figure out how to make his point without inadvertently insulting his friend.
“Yes?” Hancock prompted, unconcerned.
“I don’t think it needs to be as fancy as what you, or, uh, Washington wear. Just newer. Respectable.”
Hancock broke into a bright smile, looking entirely amused. Sam scowled at him. Hancock reached out and squeezed Sam’s shoulder reassuringly. “Mr. Adams, I have no interest in making you dress like myself, or General Washington, or even John Dickinson. Let us find, instead, the best version of you, if we may.”
Sam accepted this with a grin but felt the need to add, “This might be the best version of me,” he said, gesturing to his current state.
Hancock snorted. “You haven’t shaved recently enough for that to be true.”
Selecting the right fabric was an endeavor. Sam was never very picky but the same could not be said for Hancock. Sam had to remind himself more than once that this was precisely why he’d asked Hancock for assistance.
Hancock also had very strong feelings about the cost of such items, which Sam hadn’t expected. He haggled with a serene confidence that had the most stubborn of sellers capitulating. Sam wished he’d brought his cousin along because he desperately needed someone else to exchange disbelieving looks with.
“You look surprised,” Hancock said as they walked away with a few bolts of fine cloth.
“I figured you’d have opinions of the style of my new clothes not the cost of the cloth,” Sam shrugged.
“I am not a nobleman, Mr. Adams,” Hancock said. “I am a businessman. And I could not conduct my business ably if I was unaware of the true cost of the items I sold or purchased.”
“Sam,” Sam corrected.
“Pardon?” Hancock looked at him.
Sam shrugged. “You keep calling me Mr. Adams but there are two of us. Call me Sam.”
Hancock nodded at that, ducking his head a little. But Sam could tell he was smiling. “Yes. Quite,” Hancock replied. “I took the liberty of locating a tailor yesterday whom I believe will serve us well. Can you spare the time this afternoon for that stop as well, Sam?”
Sam beamed and then tried to reign it in, nodding and trying to look put out. “Let’s get this over with.”
Hancock and the tailor conferred quietly, not exactly leaving Sam out but Sam found his attention drifting anyway, away from the cut of his suit’s shoulders to the steady stream of people outside the shop, the children playing without fear, the women and men in good spirits. Philadelphia felt so different from Boston, the cloud of oppression was not so steady, so unrelenting.
“I think a little more room,” Hancock said, as the tailor measured his shoulder and sides. “He doesn’t have servants to assist him with coats or waistcoats.”
“You had help getting dressed?” Sam grinned.
Hancock tipped his chin up stiffly, mouth drawing down to a small line.
“No, no,” Sam shook his head, reaching out to pat Hancock across the chest. “I’m teasing you. Don’t get like that.”
Hancock arched an eyebrow and then shook his head and went back to conversing with the tailor and ignoring Sam. Sam was a little chagrined and disappointed.
Hancock was quiet when they left the tailor’s, eyes down and expression neutral. He steered them on the most direct route, walking at an uncharacteristically fast pace. Sam folded his arms across his chest, biting at his lip as he tried to come up with something to break the cold silence. Finally he settled on, “Thank you for your help, John.”
Hancock spared him a look, and then seemed to surrender his attempt at ignoring Sam. “You’re quite welcome. It is an area in which I do have a fair amount of expertise.
“My uncle was a firm believer in presentation. A well-dressed, reasonably attractive man may sometimes find himself more influential than an compatriot who is equally capable but less pleasing to the eye.”
“You said I was influential once,” Sam tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Was that only because I’m devastatingly attractive?”
“Oh, Mr. Adams,” Hancock shook his head gravely. “Who lead you to believe that you were attractive?”
Sam laughed, clapping Hancock on the back. “Well played, my friend.”
A few days later, Hancock came to a stop in front of Massachusetts’ seat. Only Sam remained, quill in hand, systematically crossing out every line he’d written on yet another draft of His Speech.
“I don’t believe Mr. Franklin’s suggestion was meant to include insulting your colleagues. Especially in such vulgar terms,” Hancock commented.
“But it’s so satisfying.” Sam threw his quill down on the table.
“Ah.” Hancock didn’t disagree.
“I’ll figure it out,” Sam hastened to add.
“I have no doubts.” Hancock smiled warmly. “I did come over to address a different matter.”
Sam straightened up in his seat, keenly interested. He was sure that the matters he’d like to discuss were not the same as Hancock’s, but he couldn’t help but entertain a brief hope. “Oh?”
“I have made an appointment with a local cobbler,” Hancock explained.
“I have shoes.” Sam kicked a foot up onto the table for Hancock to see.
Hancock’s mouth fell into a flat, unimpressed line. “Which I am certain remain quite serviceable. However--”
Sam lifted his eyebrows. “However?”
Hancock looked at the ceiling with a long-suffering sigh. Then he tapped the sole of Sam’s boot with his walking stick. “These men that you are seeking to emulate. They will use any excuse to continue to see you as a--a thug, if you will. A rebel. Someone with whom they share no commonalities. You are, I believe, attempting to show them that you are like them, so that they will realize that, in turn, they are also like you. But the image you’re trying to sway them with needs to be carefully constructed so that they will lack the luxury of dismissing that fact.”
Sam stared at old worn leather of his boots, at the scuffs he’d polished away so often. “I think they’ll always see me as a thug, a reprobate.”
“I don’t believe that,” Hancock replied without hesitation. “I was a man like any of them and I see you quite clearly, Sam.”
Sam looked up at Hancock. He was staring unflinchingly at Sam, color splashed across his cheeks but with his chin tipped high and proud.
Sam dropped his feet to the ground abruptly and stood up. Hancock took an instinctive step back.
“I’ll go to the cobbler’s tomorrow,” Sam said, as he picked his coat off the back of his chair.
“Tomorrow?” Hancock followed him out the door. “Where are you going?”
“I figured out what I need to say.” Sam stumbled backwards down the stairs so he could favor Hancock with a grin. “Now I need to go write it down.”
Sam finished a first and second draft before noon and gave the second to John for his perusal. Sam was an impatient man, so instead of pacing the room while John took a quill to his work, Sam pulled Hancock away from his luncheon with members of the Delaware delegation and dragged him off to the cobbler and the tailor again.
Hancock had hilariously strong opinions regarding footwear and Sam had one hell of a good time winding him up with terrible buckle choices and arguing about how good a quality the leather really needed to be. (The cobbler seemed torn between laughter and offense, but laughter eventually won out.)
When they were done and the cobbler sworn to a speedy turn around time, Hancock ushered him off to the tailor’s again. The structure of the suit was mostly completed but there were several fine alterations that were still needed and Sam had to stand there and let himself be measured and poked at for a good hour or more. Hancock seemed to think nothing of sitting in on the session and Sam had to keep reminding himself that if he decided to do something about his attraction then the tailor’s shop, while he was the only one without breeches, was not the place.
“Thank you very much, sir, for your fine work,” Hancock commended the tailor as they took their leave. The tailor preened, not a little, and Sam uncomfortably added a half muttered “thank you” out of obligation.
“You seem less than pleased,” Hancock commented after they left the shop and were well on their way back to Franklin’s for their evening meal.
“The clothes are fine,” Sam said. “I left John reading my speech. I’m just dreading the edits I’ll receive when we get back.”
Hancock lifted his eyebrows and then made a thoughtful, quiet noise. “Do you think there will be so many?”
Sam shrugged, kicking aimlessly at the dirt as they walked. “Maybe, maybe not. I’ve never really handled criticism well. John handles it slightly better, lets Abigail tear his writings down all the time. Elizabeth used to offer but I -- I just don’t like it that much.”
Hancock was quiet for a pace before saying, “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard you speak of her.”
“I couldn’t, not for a long while,” Sam admitted. Her name still made him ache when he spoke it but he was finally becoming accustomed to the pain, finally coming to a point where drink wasn’t the only answer to his grief. He couldn’t be certain if it was simply that having a cause had given him purpose enough again to want to live, or if his feelings for Hancock had helped ease his pain. Perhaps it was both.
“And now?” Hancock asked.
Sam considered his answer for a moment. “She deserves to be spoken of, to be remembered. Like Kelly, like Warren. If we don’t talk of them, then who will remember?”
Hancock made an understanding noise, nodding his head. But his expression was melancholy, mouth downturned and eyes focused on the ground alone.
Sam couldn’t resist reaching out and nudging his elbow into Hancock’s side. “You asked me before if I was afraid of dying.”
“Yes, and you said you hadn’t felt this alive in a long while,” Hancock replied.
Sam smiled at that, at the fact that clearly Hancock remembered the conversation as well as Sam did and that perhaps it meant something to Hancock too. “I still feel that. Only now, I think I’m finally starting to enjoy it again.”
Paul arrived two days later, bringing with him the news of the impending attack on New York. The redcoats were no longer only Boston’s problem and time was fast running out.
“I’m afraid our timetable has changed.” Franklin leaned back in his seat, drumming his fingers on his desk. “How is Jefferson faring?”
“He should be ready in a few days at most.” John sat down on the back of the sofa, folding his arms across his chest. “The draft I read this morning was compelling.”
“Excellent,” Franklin nodded before focusing on Sam. “And how goes your task?”
Sam scratched the back of his head and avoided Paul’s eyes. “A few days, I think?” He chanced a glance at Hancock.
“I will speak to the tailor in the morning,” Hancock volunteered.
Paul shifted his weight from foot to foot, making fists over the hat he held. “How’re these men still arguing when the war’s already begun? We have an army and Gage has a fleet of ships bearing down on New York. They still going to be arguing when the redcoats take Philadelphia?”
“It’s not inconceivable,” John admitted.
“We will convince them,” Hancock said, quietly emphatic. Sam smiled at that, at the transformation Hancock had undergone, at how much conviction he now seemed to possess.
Paul appeared mollified by that. “I’ll give the General your assurances.”
“We hope that soon you will be able to give him more than that,” Franklin said. “But for now, at least, we can offer hope and a place to rest your weary feet.”
“Thank you for the room, Mr. Franklin,” Paul waved his hat in Franklin’s direction.
“No thanks needed,” Franklin shook his head. “Now, gentlemen, we have a long few days ahead of us and I, for one, could use some rest.” Franklin stood and stretched. “Until the morning?”
They bid Franklin a good night and the man left the room at a brisk pace.
After a moment, Sam couldn’t resist asking, “He has a prostitute in his room again, doesn’t he?”
John sighed and sat down on the couch. “I think I’ll spend the night in here.”
Paul barked out a laugh, looking at all of them. “Living the fine life here in Philadelphia, are you?”
“Those are not the words I’d choose,” Hancock snickered.
Paul grinned at that and clapped Hancock hard on the arm. “I can’t say I’m surprised.”
“It could be worse,” Sam said.
John shot him a look. “Your room is on the whole other side of this house.”
Sam mustered the most innocent and offended expression he could. “I hear all of the noise from the street, John, truly.”
John didn’t look the least bit impressed.
Paul snorted and shook his head. “All right, I’ve had too much ale and traveled too many miles. I’m for bed. I’ll see you in the morning before I head out.”
“Night, Paul,” Sam said and Hancock and John echoed him. Paul left the parlour and John started arranging the pillows as if he really was going to spend the evening on the couch. Sam didn’t blame him.
“Jefferson better come through,” Sam said after a moment. “Just in case I don’t.”
Hancock squeezed Sam’s shoulder as he walked by, headed for his room across the hall. “You’ll convince them, Sam.”
Sam watched him go, hoping that surety would shore Sam up as well.
Sam was up at dawn to see Paul off and then went with the others to the hall for the morning. By midday, congress was embroiled in a bitter debate about whether the Rhode Island militia should be required to wear matching uniforms. Hancock looked like he was melting in the summer heat, and John looked like he was about to murder the next man who asked for Massachusetts’s opinion on such an important point. Sam, torn between rage and amusement, took his leave without John’s blessing and went to the tailor’s and the cobbler’s. As promised, Hancock had stopped by while Sam had been with Paul, and the tailor was nearly finished when Sam arrived. Sam was made to try on the suit again and when both he and the tailor were satisfied, the clothes were packed carefully and Sam paid the remainder of the bill.
The cobbler took longer, but Sam was able to leave with his new shoes before the close of day. Sam was only just able to drop off his packages in his room before both Hancock and John were dragging him off to the tavern for as much ale as they could stomach and afford.
“Didn’t get any better?” Sam hazarded a guess.
“Matching uniforms,” John said with great loathing.
“McKean and Read had a cane fight about it at one point,” Hancock said with a sort of morbid amusement. “Why do we think we can get all of them to agree on something so significant as independence when they can’t even have a pleasant conversation about clothing?”
Sam asked the waitress to bring more ale.
Before they retired to bed late that evening, John gave Sam back his fifth draft, this one with no extraneous quill marks to be seen. John squeezed his shoulder and told him, “It’s a good speech, Sam.”
“Let’s hope so,” Sam replied, already feeling his nerves start to crawl.
“You’ll do a fine job, Sam,” John said. “You convinced Hancock. You convinced me. You will convince them.”
Sam dressed himself that morning, though he admitted the coat would have been an easier fit with someone to hold it up for him. He tried to imagine what sort of ritual Hancock endured when preparing for a party or, hell, a coronation. How many servants affixed his wig, how many adjusted the garter strings about his calves, what pieces did he select and what pieces were selected for him.
The shirt and cravat were crisply white, the sort of white that wouldn’t last one day on the road or working in the harbor. The waistcoat, coat, and breeches were a dark brown but the material was quite fine and fitted more than well. Sam thought he did actually quite look the part of a congressional delegate, of a man like Jefferson or Hall or Morris.
The others had gone ahead that morning, and John and Franklin were already inside by the time Sam arrived at the congress. Hancock, however, was waiting for him in the hall. He was dressed as finely as ever, his coat a fabric that reflected the light and his waistcoat covered in detailed embroidery. Sam had seen the outfit several times before, but it still caught his eyes, especially when he considered that a man who had selected such an outfit for himself had helped Sam obtain one so sedate and plain. But still, Sam would admit, fine.
Hancock’s face lit up when he caught sight of Sam and Sam swallowed tightly at the sincerity and pleasure in Hancock’s expression.
“That is a fine suit, Mr. Adams,” Hancock said and Sam fought embarrassment and a thrill at the tone in Hancock’s voice, the appreciation.
Hancock assessed the room and then asked if Sam was ready. Sam felt as if he were on a precipice, as if this was the moment on which all things hinged and in which his life would be irrevocably altered. It made him straighten his spine and square his shoulders. He could -- he would rise to the occasion. He had to.
When Sam had finished his speech a quiet had fallen over the hall. Some men were nodding, some were avoiding Sam’s eyes. In the end, it was Lee from Virginia, who called for the debate on a resolution in favor of independence.
The vote was likely still a few days of debate away, and Jefferson would submit the formal declaration to the congress the next day, but there was a fervour in the congress, an unrelenting wave and Sam knew, in his heart, that their course had finally been set.
Franklin seemed to agree for he insisted on dining with a large group of delegates that evening, ordering wine for them all and telling stories and jokes to the group about his time in England. Hancock joined in with a detailed recounting of George’s coronation, describing the way sweat poured down George’s face under the baking sun. Sam hadn’t laughed that much in all his time in Philadelphia.
The four of them trooped back to Franklin’s on legs that were unsteady with joy and a little drink. Franklin poured more wine when they stumbled into his parlour, proposing a toast to Sam, and then a toast to Sam’s clothes, and then a toast to Hancock for his obvious effort in selecting Sam’s clothes, and finally a toast to himself for thinking of the whole idea.
Sam wasn’t quite drunk, but he was giddy with excitement, with the promise laid out before them of a new nation of their own devising. Self-determination felt more powerful than he’d really ever imagined.
But there was still work to be done and a vote to lobby for, so after a little while Sam stood up from his perch on the desk and waved off calls to stay for a while longer.
“Good night, gentlemen.” Sam gave a silly little bow. “I am to bed. Wish me luck in divesting myself alone, for I have it on good authority that sometimes whole teams of servants are needed for such a dangerous endeavor.”
“Or just one willing and resourceful woman,” Franklin quipped, chuckling to himself. John gave Sam a wounded look and Sam winced apologetically. They all tried, as a team, to block their first introduction to Franklin from their memories.
Sam tipped an imaginary hat at Hancock, who smiled distractedly, and then escaped to the room Franklin had granted him before he heard any other comments about the tasks a resourceful woman could accomplish.
Sam’s room was clear on the other side of the house from Franklin’s and the room John was loaned, with Hancock’s awkwardly situated near the parlour. Sam counted himself lucky, for John complained of Franklin’s snoring and carousing and Hancock had mentioned Franklin’s tendency to compose writings out loud when insomnia struck. Sam had the greater noise from the main road but he had slept through far worse.
And it made it so no one would hear him curse while he struggled to shrug off his coat. Both the coat and the waistcoat were a closer fit than he was used to. He suddenly found the idea of Hancock’s several servants assisting him less funny.
There was a soft knock at the door.
“Come?” Sam called out, loosening his cravat.
The door opened and John Hancock stepped inside. “I thought I should make sure no assistance is required?” he said with a smile as he closed the door behind him.
“Did you abandon my cousin to Franklin’s tender mercies?” Sam guessed.
“Franklin was asking very detailed questions about the Adams’ intimate marital relations. It felt rude to linger,” John corrected.
Sam snorted, turning to offer John his back. “John’s going to kill us both in the morning.”
John’s fingers tucked ably into the collar of his coat, gently pulling back until it slid off his shoulders. “He was already draining his wineglass when I left. I’m certain he has already quit Franklin’s presence. I merely retreated before Mr. Franklin’s focus turned on me.”
Sam glanced over his shoulder to see John hanging the coat, tugging at the sleeves to ease the wrinkles at the elbow. “What sort of questions does he ask you? He speaks to you in confidence more often than not.”
John tilted his head and seemed to consider the question as he walked back to Sam. “He tends to focus on my uncle and my family responsibilities. I think he means to be inspiring or at least offer himself as a confidant. He rarely is inappropriate.”
John reached out and started to unbutton Sam’s waistcoat, without hesitation or concern. Almost thoughtlessly. The coat had been a kind gesture, the brief press of fingertips against the back of his neck a rare thrill. But the casual intimacy of John working his way down the waistcoat made Sam swallow, made his skin go hot.
“I can’t be certain if I don’t invite that sort of connection or if your cousin’s dramatic response is simply more appealing.”
“John does rise to the bait,” Sam allowed, staring at John’s nimble fingers as they worked halfway down his chest. “But what offends him seems to appall you. Does no one make lewd comments in your presence?”
John’s hands stilled for a moment, his shoulders straightening and he blinked as if he’d been awakened to the moment, to his actions. Sam felt wrong-footed.
John’s hands dropped as he said, “Not the way Mr. Franklin does.” There were too many answers to hear in that and Sam found few of them to his liking. And the return of John’s old self-consciousness was even less pleasing.
He grabbed John’s hand before he stepped out of reach.
John startled and met Sam’s eyes.
There was a flush across John’s cheeks. A question in his eyes. His face was so open, always, that Sam could have no doubt of his welcome. Not that Sam was adverse to risk, but the confidence he felt made it so easy to reach out and pull John back to him. To cup John’s jaw with his free hand, to hold him steady as Sam closed the gap and kissed him.
John kissed back without hesitation, fisting his hands in Sam’s waistcoat and pulling them flush together. Sam smiled against John’s mouth, giddy at the way John didn’t even try to hold back his interest. Sam hooked his arms over John’s shoulders and deepened the kiss, learning the taste of John’s mouth, the feel of his body against Sam’s.
Sam pulled back to say, “Not just me then?”
John rolled his eyes.
Sam shook his head, struggling to make himself clear, make John understand. “This isn’t just -- I’m not celebrating today. This is --- more than that. To me.”
John’s eyes searched Sam’s face and he said, “Do you honestly have no idea? I haven’t been subtle, Sam.”
Sam waved a hand. “No, I know you’re attracted to me.”
John shook his head and said, “Do you remember the coin I gave you when you were headed back to Boston? The only coin I had left and it wasn’t worth any money, it was a symbol. I carried that in my pocket for months, Sam, because of what it meant to me. What you meant to me. I used to look at it to remind myself that even when you wanted nothing from me but my money, that together we had built something already. That we could do so again.”
Sam winced at the reminder of the early days after John had joined the cause, at how callous and careless he’d been. He held up his hands, silently asking John to stop but John, in a fervor now, didn’t heed him.
John put his hand on Sam’s chest and said, in a steady, strong voice, “I carried that coin because of you, Sam. Because of what you meant-- what you mean to me.”
Sam smiled stupidly at that and then dug in the small pocket of his waistcoat. He held that same coin up to John. “Same,” he said with a shrug.
John’s face went slack with surprise and he looked from Sam to the coin.
Sam smiled hopefully.
John was kissing him again almost immediately, hands in Sam’s hair, thumbs on Sam’s jaw. The smallest breath of skin on skin. Sam needed more than that.
He jammed the coin clumsily back into his waistcoat pocket and then reached for John’s coat. When that seemed impossible to pull off without letting go of John’s mouth, Sam instead started pulling haphazardly at the buttons on his own waistcoat, anxious to be free of it, to be that much closer to John.
“Stop, stop,” John gasped.
Sam pulled his hands back instantly, heart pounding suddenly for far less pleasant reasons. He was sure they’d just settled this. He was certain John had meant--
John reached out for Sam’s hands, pulling them away from Sam’s waistcoat, saying, “You’re going to tear off a button.”
Sam blinked. And then, entirely frustrated, he objected, “If they’re not well made enough to handle a little wear--
“You’ve worn this waistcoat once, Sam,” John said in exasperation.
Sam shrugged. “It did its job.”
John sighed, rolling his eyes, but the way he looked at Sam made Sam smirk.
“I will undress you, sir, and I expect to hear no objections to the process,” John said, already starting in again on the ridiculous number of buttons that fronted the waistcoat.
Sam’s breath went shallow, his blood going directly south. “Well, when you put it that way…” He winked at John.
John grinned in response as he went about divesting Sam of his waistcoat, his fingers almost clumsy with how often they caressed instead of unbuttoned. It was an exquisite torture. The waistcoat came away easily and John walked away to hang it with the coat. When he came back to Sam he stopped in front of him and then sank abruptly to his knees. Sam went perfectly still, aware of how obvious his lust was from that angle, how he pressed against the front of his breeches.
John’s eyes lingered on Sam’s groin but then he bent his head down pulled Sam’s shoe from his foot. Then his nimble fingers made their way across Sam’s calf, undoing the buttons on the leg of his breeches and then pushing them up to see the stocking underneath. John untied the garter and then slid the stocking down Sam’s calf, fingers ghosting across his flesh. Sam might have made a noise, he wasn’t sure, but he did grab at John’s hair.
John stilled and then looked up. “A problem, Mr. Adams?” he asked with such poorly feigned innocence that Sam fisted his hair harder. John gave him a pleased, wicked look in response.
“I think--” Sam began.
John removed his other shoe, thumb pressing into the arch of Sam’s foot. Sam bit his arm to muffle his groan. John was undeterred, ably unbuttoning the other leg of his breeches and then untying the garter string there.
“You have very fine legs, Sam,” he said softly, pressing a kiss to Sam’s shin as he pulled the stocking off, so the press of his lips was mingled with the rush of cold air. Sam cursed quietly, surprised at how much that did for him. It was such an absurd thing, but it made him imagine John’s mouth elsewhere, made him wonder about those clever fingers.
John straightened, so his face was level with Sam’s groin and then his hands were on the top buttons of Sam’s breeches, his mouth an ‘o’ of concentration. Sam’s patience snapped abruptly and he reached out to cover John’s hands, still them.
John froze, body language and expression changing swiftly from playful to hesitant. He was still fully dressed in that shining grey suit from the morning, the embroidered waistcoat, the perfectly polished shoes. Even his hair was still tied back, bow tied perfectly despite how Sam had tugged.
Sam didn’t mind being disrobed but hell if he was going to be the only one.
He tugged on John’s hand. “Off your knees,” he said.
John stood, not pulling his hands from Sam but making no motions to continue.
Sam rolled his eyes and tugged on the hand he held. “You’re still dressed and the bed’s right there,” he said in exasperation.
John’s eyes flicked to the bed and back to Sam.
Sam arched an eyebrow. “Object now if you’ve a mind, but I’ve wanted you naked on my bed for a good long while now.”
John very deliberately untied his cravat. “I have no objections to that. None at all.”
Sam reached out and started tugging John’s arms free from his sleeves and taking the opportunity to press kisses to his now bare neck. “I was hoping you’d say that.”
Getting John undressed was a harder task because Sam had more enthusiasm than skill and got too much in the way. John didn’t seem to mind, only laughing at Sam’s frustrated curses and covering Sam’s hands with his own when the task seemed beyond Sam’s patience.
John’s clothes were strewn about with less care than Sam’s, a trail across the floor to the bed. But when John’s pants and shirt were thrown to the ground, Sam’s weren’t a moment behind.
He pushed John back onto the bed and then crawled over him, kissing him fiercely while clumsily reaching for the drawer of his side table.
Sam had been surprised and a little put off by the contents of his side table (and his cousin had refused to speak of them beyond a disbelieving “honestly!”) but now he was glad for it. The bottle of oil would have been inconspicuous but for the other items in the drawer, but when he held it up, John let out a little sigh and his legs spread a little further apart.
Sam bit at his jaw, his ear, down the side of his neck. Soft little nips that would leave no trace come morning. “Yeah?” he asked, wanting to be sure, hoping not to have to plead his case.
John hooked a leg around him, pulling them flush together and kissed him enthusiastically in answer.
Sam thrust against him a few times, his nerves sparking up and down his spine. He pulled away with a rough gasp, struggling for air and steady hands as he opened the bottle and slicked his fingers. John let him in with an ease that suggested practice, and it made Sam feel more sure of himself, made him relax and ended the worry that had been lingering in the back of his mind.
“Right there,” John ordered, voice strong and clear, the way it only got when he was arguing. It made Sam smile, made him press a kiss to bare skin and crook his fingers as directed. The wounded sound he got in response was gratifying and he stretched and curled his fingers over and over until John was pleading nonsensically.
Sam pulled his fingers free, wiping them on the sheets before slicking himself up with more oil. John’s breathing was shallow and he was watching Sam through half-lidded eyes. Sam felt nervous the way he had the first time he’d bedded Elizabeth, the way he hadn’t the first time he’d bedded someone. Because this meant something and Sam was infamously good at ruining things like that.
But John reached for him and Sam went, bending down to kiss John, letting John adjust his legs until Sam could push in without breaking the kiss. He slid in easily, bottoming out and then rocking back and in again. John whispered against his mouth, breathy little encouragements that reminded Sam of the way he’d spoken when they first met, higher voiced and oh-so-exceedingly proper. It spurred Sam to instantly pick up the pace. Hell if he’d let John be anything close to proper at a time like this.
John seemed to appreciate the change in pace, digging his fingers into Sam’s shoulders and moaning lowly. He hitched his hips up when Sam thrust again and this time it seemed like Sam had hit that one spot because the sound John made was remarkably obscene. Sam broke the kiss so he could catch his breath and locked his hands on John’s waist to help him keep that angle, make him start to curse and to unravel so damn quickly.
John pulled at hand from Sam’s shoulder, letting Sam bear his weight, and started to fist himself roughly, trying to match the rhythm Sam set. Sam watched the unsteady motion of his hand, a hand he was sure was even still soft and smooth and unmarred from work or war.
It was a little difficult, to keep John’s hips raised with just one hand, but Sam managed long enough to hook one of John’s legs over Sam’s shoulder to take some of the weight. And then he had a hand free to join John’s, to cover those soft fingers with his own and to pull at the even softer skin beneath them.
“Oh god,” John muttered, pulling his hand back to brace on the bed. “Please, Sam,” he begged and Sam was obliged and gratified to go it alone. He wondered what John thought of his hands, the callouses on his palms that he hoped felt damn good on John’s skin.
John was fisting the sheets now, his face, neck,and chest flushed bright red. And maybe when he’d looked that way when they were training in the heat of Concord Sam hadn’t appreciated it. But now it took Sam’s breath away.
John came first, throwing an arm across his face to muffle his shout. Sam slowed his pace while John came down from it, gasping for breath, shuddering under Sam. It was long moments before John looked at him again, expression lazy and sated. He arched his eyebrows at Sam and Sam took it as his cue to pick the pace up again, thrusting hard and fast, the tension in his body building.
John dropped his leg and pulled Sam as close as he could, kissing him hard and with teeth until Sam gave in to his release with a gasp into John’s open mouth.
Sam slumped down onto John until his head cleared and his breath came back. Reluctantly he pulled out and rolled to the side. John was still breathing heavily next to him, and the smile on his face was something to behold. Sam kissed the side of his mouth, which was about all he had the energy for. John made a pleased sort of hum and perhaps he said something, Sam would never be sure, because Sam, deliriously giddy and exhausted, was already half asleep.
The next morning was a frantic rush to dress and ready themselves without alerting either of their housemates. John snuck out to get to his room and change clothes, but not before kissing Sam firmly. Sam found he couldn’t stop smiling all through breaking their fast and their walk to the congress.
“We haven’t had a vote yet,” his cousin said in exasperation but Sam’s smile must have been catching for soon all four of them were sporting one.
Jefferson caught them at the steps, ushering them in because the declaration was scheduled to be heard as soon as roll had been called.
Sam watched his cousin and Jefferson walk inside, heads bent together in conversation with Franklin only a step behind. John stayed behind with Sam, and when Sam turned to him, John’s face was finely flushed, his smile wide enough to make his eyes squint.
Sam adjusted the sleeves of his coat and pulled his waistcoat down. “You know, I never did ask…”
“Ask?” John prompted in good humor.
“Was it the speech or the clothes, Mr. Hancock?” Sam asked cheekily.
John’s expression turned mischievous, a match for the one Sam knew was on his own face. And as he threw open the doors he said, “Why can’t it be both, Mr. Adams?”