The weather that day had turned inclement with startling swiftness, unleashing enough rain to fill the ruts in the roads and keep the Continental Army trapped in its wretched encampment. General Washington ordered waxed canvas to be hoisted over the tents where the material could be found, but especially over the medics' tent, as the General believed that only the cleanest, driest conditions might hasten the recovery of the sick. To that end, Washington paid a personal visit to the place to ensure that his orders had been carried out with the proper care, and found that indeed the worst of the downpour had been thwarted inside.
It was dark within the tent, owing to the stormclouds blotting the sun from the sky so that even now at midday, the world seemed like a very damp night. That is why, though he passed right by him, Washington did not immediately recognize Colonel Hamilton, and perhaps would have missed him entirely if it weren't for the man's distinctive cough. The sound, however, caused him to finally take note.
"Hamilton," he said, "have you come to avail yourself of one of the doctor's cots?" For in truth, Hamilton appeared quite near to collapsing atop one. His eyes were sunken and ringed by deep shadows, his skin a sickly pallor. He stood leaning on a rough desk—a board slung between two barrels—and coughed into the sheaf of papers he consulted there.
"Not at all, Your Excellency," Hamilton replied once the worst of the attack had subsided. "I merely visited the medics here in their sphere to inquire whether they had received the latest shipment of supplies from Congress."
"And have they?" Washington asked.
Hamilton shook his head, another cough wracking his slight frame. While this news came as no surprise to Washington due to the sorry state of the roads, it was nonetheless unwelcome.
"We will need to take care in preserving what few items we still have," he said, mostly to himself. Then, peering closer at Hamilton's gaunt face, added, "Are you certain you are well, Colonel? I do not like to see you so pale."
"No one would, sir," Hamilton said, standing straighter at attention while smothering yet another cough under his breath. "It is just the close air of the tent, I assure you." A thin trickle of rainwater seemed to run from his unusually disheveled hair and down the side of his face. Fearing the waxed canvas was not doing its job, Washington reached out and brushed away the droplet with his thumb, shocked to discover it was not chilled rain after all but hot sweat.
"You have fallen ill," he said.
"Sir, I have not!" Hamilton protested. "There is a warmth in here—"
"If anything, the rain has turned a summer's day quite cool." Washington looked 'round the tent, where rows of sick soldiers were laid out on their cots, some moaning in pain, some tossing in fitful sleep. "And it appears you would not be the first to succumb."
Hamilton swallowed but did not press his suit in regard to his health. Changing tactics, he said, "There is so much work to be done, sir."
"I know," Washington said. "There is nothing you might do, however, that will win the war for us today. You should rest, son." He raised his hand once more, thinking to feel Hamilton's forehead for any telltale heat or clamminess, but the Colonel ducked away from the touch with a neat sidestep.
"Thank you, sir," he said with stiff formality. "I will do so very soon."
Satisfied at this capitulation if not its mode, Washington gave a parting nod and strode back into the rain, which sheeted down his hat and greatcoat in awful torrents. His business took him on a circuitous route through camp to meet with various officers and members of his staff, so it was not until he stopped at one of the working tents hours later that he saw his directive had been disobeyed: Hamilton was bent over a desk in a quiet corner away from the bustle of the others, absorbed with copying out some great length of text and most assuredly not resting.
Washington stood behind his chair for some minutes in stony silence before Hamilton at last, sensing a presence, turned to gaze up at him. For a moment, he merely stared with his bleary, blinking eyes; he appeared even worse than before. Sweat dotted his brow, and his lips were dry and cracked.
"Sir—" he finally said.
General Washington stopped him with a palm in the air. "Is it your habit, Hamilton, to lie to your commander?"
The beleaguered Colonel motioned to the papers which so held his attentions. "Your Excellency, I was waylaid only a moment to—"
"Your work is finished for the day. I insist you pay a visit to the medics' tent immediately," Washington said. His hand drifted to the hilt of his saber, which hung at his hip in a quiet display of his power. "Shall I escort you to make certain you do not find some other task along the way?"
Hamilton slumped deeper into his chair, seeming much smaller than was usual. Though a slight man, his carriage had always been one of self-assurance and Washington took no pleasure in seeing that lost to sickness.
"Your concern does me a great kindness, sir," Hamilton croaked, "but I promise you, it is misplaced. I would only steal a cot from a soldier who truly has need of it if I visited the medics now. My affliction is nothing more than a seasonal fever with which I contend every summer. It will not kill me; I can work."
Washington, who retained no small amount of medical knowledge from his years tending to his sickly brother Lawrence, looked upon Hamilton more closely. "A seasonal fever?" he asked. "The ague, perhaps?" He had suffered through the damned thing himself several times, and the signs were all there. Hamilton's hand, with its fine-boned fingers, was even now trembling on the desk where it rested.
"That, or perhaps a slight chill," Hamilton said, affecting disinterest in the difference. He remained sitting at his desk and repeated, "I can work."
Considering this, Washington felt his brow crease in thought. "You have not stood as you always do when your General appears." Then, realizing the reason, "Hamilton, are you unable to stand?"
"Of course not, sir! I— That is, my apologies. A gross oversight." Hamilton rushed to replace his quill in an inkpot and struggled to his feet, clutching the edge of the desk at first, then, seeing Washington's hard gaze, releasing it to stand at attention. "I...can work," he said again, even as his eyes clouded over with pain.
It was only Washington's quick reflexes that saved Hamilton from collapsing to the ground. His arms went 'round him just as he began to sag, and he allowed the Colonel to lean on him heavily. "My god, Hamilton, your work is not as important as your life!" he cried.
"I'm afraid that is another point of disagreement between us, Your Excellency," Hamilton murmured. His eyes fluttered opened and he untangled himself from the General's grasp, standing now under his own power. "Forgive me, it is merely a passing spell of dizziness. I am recovered."
Washington restrained his banked temper; it took a considerable amount of control to keep that part of himself in check, and it seemed that Hamilton, more so than any other, had a special talent for testing it. He balled one hand into a fist and clasped it behind his back with the other before he chanced speech. "Hamilton," he said, "this is a direct order."
Hamilton's eyes darted up at him, the plea evident there. "Sir—!"
"You will rest. Now. Do not make me repeat myself."
Hamilton relented, as was his role, and though his whole being seemed to deflate with exhaustion, his eyes still flashed with barely restrained acid. "I would never, sir."
Washington did not bother to protest, even with the justification he held. "Come, then, and find your ease." He marched Hamilton out of the tent himself, cognizant of the many eyes watching them. He paused only to throw a spare cloak over Hamilton's shoulders to protect him, however slightly, from the rain. They walked together through the deluge towards the medical tent, but Hamilton's apparent fragility—he stumbled several times—and the relative closeness of Washington's own quarters made the decision simple.
"We will stop here," Washington said, indicating his private tent. "You are near faint." And in truth, he worried that there would be no empty cot in the already bursting medical area, and that if one was produced, it would only place Hamilton nearer to myriad sicknesses which might also affect him in his weakened state.
"No, sir, it is only this mud—"
"Your excuses do not interest me. Do as I say." He reached into the folds of Hamilton's sodden cloak and grasped his elbow to offer some much-needed support if the man should again be afflicted with a dizzy spell. Yet it also worked as a way to steer Hamilton in the proper direction, which he balked at only with words now, too weak to pull free.
"Your Excellency needn't bother— I couldn't inconvenience you in this way, sir, please," he said even as they ducked under the tent flap.
"The greater inconvenience would be the necessity of finding a new right-hand man if you allow yourself to succumb to this illness," Washington snapped. He whirled on Hamilton, still holding him by the arm, and found the man struggling under some unknown pain, his Adam's apple working up and down. The immediate fear was that his throat had swollen shut. "Colonel—?"
"I have a list, sir," Hamilton finally choked out. "In my personal papers. A list of men who might be suitable, should anything happen to me."
Washington's anger rushed out of him in an instant, leaving behind only heartbreaking regret. It had not been his intention to have Hamilton think himself replaceable; quite the opposite. He removed Hamilton's wet cloak and folded it carefully in his hands, his eyes still fastened to that paled face.
"Burn that list once you are recovered," he said quietly. "We shall not have need of it."
"But sir, you always say that in war, any one of us might—"
"Not you," Washington said with unnatural sharpness. When Hamilton's eyes went wide, he amended, "Though you beg me for a command of your own where you might ride headlong into the most glorious dangers, for now you must be content here. Where your work matters most." He looked away and hung the dripping cloak on a peg that jutted from a tent pole. Nothing could shield all his men from harm, but if there was one he could keep alive, it was this one, his small, fierce, bright-burning Hamilton, though such words could hardly be said aloud.
"I see, sir," Hamilton murmured.
Shaking himself free of such conflicting thoughts, Washington turned now to his original task of seeing Hamilton safely abed. "Remove your wet clothing, Colonel. You'll feel much improved once we have you warm and dry."
Hamilton shuffled toward Washington's own low camp bed, then hesitated beside it. He looked over to the General as if for permission, which was granted with a wave of a hand, before sitting upon the stuffed mattress. He tugged his riding boots, caked in wet mud, from his stockinged feet, and then sat panting and glassy eyed, staring ahead at nothing Washington could perceive.
"Here: your coat first." Washington stooped to wrestle the thing from Hamilton's shoulders. It was like undressing some great, unmoving doll. "Come, Hamilton, assist if you can."
"Apologies, sir," Hamilton said, his clumsy fingers making poor work of his waistcoat buttons. "I must be very tired, as you say."
Pity moved Washington to bat Hamilton's hands aside. "No matter. I will do it. My god, you are soaked to the bone." His stocks and shirt were damp through and through, more from sickly sweat than rain, perhaps. Washington disposed of them in a pile on the tent's canvas floor.
Hamilton squirmed away from Washington's hands when they sought the buttons of his flies. "Sir, please, the humiliation could not be borne."
"Very well, if you can handle this part," he said, and stood to cross the tent to his chest of clothes. His private quarters were not so luxurious, but they were his own and contained at least the minimum of furniture he required to sleep and work in peace. "I can provide a clean shirt if you wish. Perhaps my banyan would be most comfortable?" He dug through the chest to find the long robe, but when he rose and turned with it clutched in his hands, he found Hamilton already burrowed underneath the bedclothes, the woolen blankets pulled up to his chin. His breeches and stockings lay atop the pile on the floor, and Washington perceived he must be nude.
"I'm afraid I am now too warm for further clothing," Hamilton murmured into the pillow against his cheek. "Sir," he tacked on belatedly.
Frowning, Washington moved to the bedside to consult Hamilton's forehead, which was dotted with a fine sheen and hot to the touch. "Your fever has progressed," he noted.
"The chills will follow soon, and I will swing between burning and freezing." Hamilton's voice seemed to be coming from the bottom of a well. "Your Excellency, please do not concern yourself any further. I need only a few hours' sleep and will be better directly. You need not remain with me."
"I...have some business to attend to here," Washington said, gesturing to his writing desk. "Personal letters, correspondence I have not yet reviewed. I will work a little if it will not disturb you?"
Hamilton shook his head, his eyes tight and his mouth a thinned line. Washington laid a hand to his heated temple once more just to be sure of its temperature, and Hamilton's eyes slipped shut.
"Rest. I will be here if you need anything," Washington said before retreating to his papers.
He had not prevaricated when he'd mentioned the work waiting for him on his desk; it had been days since he'd last had a moment to see to the various bits and pieces that pressed for his attention outside of the most urgent circumstances. There were letters from Lafayette abroad, and these he read with a smile touching his lips. He considered penning a reply that related the tale of Hamilton's ill health but decided not to unnecessarily worry the Marquis, who looked upon Hamilton as something of a brother. He would write the letter at a later date, when the news of Hamilton's recovery could be shared instead.
There were also requests from officers to review, updates from other battlefields in other states, petitions from the people who lived hard by the camp, manifests and manifestos. In this way, Washington sunk into the easy rhythm of work in the quiet near-solitude of his tent, dark and close with only the sounds of the rain falling on canvas and Hamilton's steady breathing in sleep to accompany him. Every so often Washington's gaze would flick back to the bed to ensure that Hamilton slept, albeit fitfully and with his hair working loose from his queue to spill across the pillow.
It was after an hour or so of this that a sound—small, barely a whimper—caused him to leave his desk with such swiftness. Hamilton lay on his side, the pillow clutched to his chest even as he curled 'round it, shaking and shivering beneath the blankets. The sickly pallor of his face and the sweaty bedsheets worried Washington; this fever would ravage the boy if left unchecked.
Wordless, his pressed his palm to the sleeper's forehead once more. The heat coming off Hamilton was unbearable.
Hamilton's sunken, dark eyes cracked open and sought him, though they did not seem to see. "Mother?" he asked in a small voice. "Is that…?"
Washington dredged a close-lipped smile for his charge and said, "Never have I been mistaken for a lady, Hamilton."
"Ah." Still Hamilton murmured to himself as if he was yet enfolded in his dreams. "It must be Mother. No one else would tend to me."
Washington's smile faltered, and he seated himself on the edge of the mattress. His fingertips caressed that flushed cheek. "Not so, Hamilton. It is your commander here with you now. Do you not know me?"
"It's too cold," Hamilton mused, a muffled whisper into his pillow. He shook all over. "Why is it so cold? Is this a root cellar?"
These distracted mutterings engendered no small amount of fear in Washington's breast, and he hastened to his washbasin to find a half-filled pitcher of cool spring water. This he poured into a clean goblet found among his effects. He held the cup to Hamilton's dry lips and urged him to sit up a little so that he might drink.
"A few sips, Colonel. You've become delirious with thirst."
But Hamilton pushed the cup away, saying under his breath, "Too cold, it's much too cold."
"It will soothe your throat and awaken your senses," Washington insisted. "Come. One mouthful."
Hamilton parted his lips, and the General placed a gentle hand on the back of his head to keep him upright while he drank. One gulp turned into several more, and finally Hamilton's eyes focused on Washington's close face.
"Sir?" he croaked.
"Good. You've returned," Washington said with a brusque nod. He set the empty cup on the floor and eased Hamilton back onto the pillow. "I should have been feeding you water all this time. I had no notion you were so deprived. You were speaking nonsense."
"What did I say?" Hamilton asked. His face was pinched with a sudden fear.
Washington waved a hand. "You merely asked for your mother. It is of no consequence; I have heard many injured men do the same." He loathed to tell Hamilton of how it frightened him, to know that Hamilton sought his mother in the same manner the torn and bloody almost-corpses on a battlefield might wail for theirs as they neared death. Washington never would do such a thing, he knew. His mother had been a tyrant, filled with hate for him and his meager talents, and he had learned quickly that she would scorn his skinned knees or bruised ribs or his heart's many hurts. He had only his brother Lawrence and, after his death, no one but himself on which to rely. At least, he thought, Hamilton had a mother for whom he could ask, a fact that had not occurred to him before as the Colonel never spoke of his family or origins.
"My mother, sir?" Hamilton sank into the pillow with a tired sigh. "I suppose the fever is worse than I thought."
Washington frowned down at him. "Why do you say that?"
"Because my mother is dead, sir, and I imagine I'd expected to meet her once my senses left me." His eyes closed, and so Washington allowed the horrified expression to show unnoticed on his own face.
"Apologies, Hamilton," he said. "I did not intend—"
"You could not have known, sir," Hamilton said, eyes still shut and shivers wracking his frame every few moments. "I rarely speak of her anymore."
Washington struggled with the words he wished to say; this was one reason why he could not bear to lose Hamilton: his skill at forming sentences for his General. Finally he managed to murmur, "It is not an easy thing, to be left alone in the world. I, too, lost my true family when I was a young man."
A huff of breath that might have been laughter devoid of kindness escaped Hamilton. "You were left with a sizeable estate to sustain you. There is a difference." Then, as if realizing what he'd said, his eyes flew open and he fought the bedclothes to sit up. "Sir, please forgive my disrespect! I was not—"
"Hush." Washington's hands fell to his shoulders and pressed him back to the mattress. "You are not yourself and, maddeningly enough, not incorrect." He fought the wave of shame that passed over him; had he really dared to compare his life's struggles to this boy's, of which he knew next to nothing, save that he had not the privileges of land or a fortune?
Even watching him shake and shiver in a little ball under his borrowed blankets, Washington could not help but see Hamilton as a true beacon of strength, that he had carried himself so far with so little help and with so much passion for his cause.
Hamilton blinked up at him with red-rimmed eyes. "The tragedies of your loss, sir, are no less so because of the existence of others. I should never have intimated otherwise. I am only very tired, and very confused. Is it daylight still?"
"Yes, though this storm makes it difficult to tell. Can you sleep again?" Washington asked.
Hamilton nodded. "I can try, sir."
"Then do so knowing that you have given no offense." He reached out and smoothed Hamilton's hair from his face, then left his hand resting on the crown of his head. "Rest well."
Those dark eyes closed, and Washington stayed on the edge of the bed for several minutes before he was satisfied that Hamilton had again dropped off into sleep. He then moved about the tent, restless for reasons he could not explain, and set to lighting candles against the gathering dark, putting his personal effects to rights, and the like. He was considering calling for a boy to draw water to be heated for a bath (for he knew of nothing better after a broken fever than a thorough washing) when another worrisome noise from the bed stopped him in his tracks.
The tremors that had plagued Hamilton off and on for the last few hours were now great convulsive thrashes. Hamilton moaned and kicked, and he would have succeeded in tossing the blankets to the floor if Washington had not rushed to pull up the bedclothes to cover his nakedness.
"Hamilton!" he cried. "Hamilton, what is this? What might I do?"
"F-fire," Hamilton bit out between his clenched teeth. "I am on fire."
Washington's temper flared once more, this time not at any man but at the circumstances of Hamilton's pain and Washington's helplessness in defeating it. "Tell me what would ease you," he pleaded. "More water? Here." He freed his own linen handkerchief from the inside pocket of his cutaway coat and thrust it into his water pitcher to soak it. He laid this cool cloth over Hamilton's heated forehead, holding it there amidst his fierce shaking.
"Thank you, sir," Hamilton choked out. "That brings some relief." It remained unspoken that this relief would not last for long.
It became clear to Washington then what he must do. "Hamilton, listen to me. That shipment that was due to arrive earlier—the contents included medical supplies?"
Hamilton's face creased in thought as he struggled to answer. "Yes, Your Excellency."
"And among the items, was there to be a cache of Jesuit powder?" Washington had requested the costly substance months before, knowing it to be an effective answer to the ague, and Congress had said a small amount might be procured via the Spanish colonies.
"I— I believe so, sir," Hamilton said. "Three hundred pounds in all, and that must be divided among the entire Army. Why do you ask?"
Washington was already rising, shrugging into his damp greatcoat. "I am going now to find that supply caravan; it cannot be too far."
Hamilton pushed the bedclothes to his waist and struggled to sit up against the pillows. "Sir, the storm— Why would you do such a thing?"
"So that you might have some medicine from the fever tree tonight." He buckled his coat to the throat.
"No, sir!" Hamilton cried. "This is not sensible, for a General to ride hard through the rain for the sake of one soldier."
"I will not sit in this tent and do nothing while you suffer, Hamilton," Washington said.
"But sir, the powder is so very precious! It is meant to be held in reserve should you or some other high-ranking officers have need of it."
"You have need of it. That is enough. Where is my hat?" As he passed by the bed in his search, Hamilton's hand shot out and arrested him by the wrist.
"Sir, please." His eyes, ringed with dark bruises, pleaded with him. "Stay here with me."
Washington nearly lost his nerve at that. The boy was so clearly frightened, so obviously desirous to never admit to it. Of course he didn't wish to be left alone. Would that Washington could entrust this task to another, but he knew of no one who would ride as hard to see the thing done.
"I will return shortly. Sleep if you can." Then, on a rare impulse, Washington lifted his arm and kissed Hamilton's damp fingers where they curled 'round his wrist.
Hamilton pulled his hand back with a small gasp. "Sir?"
"Drink more water," he said, busying himself with the cup and pitcher once more, then pressing the cup into Hamilton's slack hands. "I won't be long," he promised once more, then strode from the tent with his face burning as hotly as Hamilton's. He had forgotten his hat entirely.
The storm still raged with all its previous strength. Lightning lit the sky intermittently to create gnarled branches against the gray clouds. The water reached the ankles of his boots as Washington walked through camp toward the stables, where he ordered his horse saddled. The miserable looking stableboy could not complete his work quickly enough for his liking, and Washington took it upon himself to apply the bridle. He swung into his seat and was off without a word to anyone as to his destination.
Blinking the rain from his eyes, Washington rode hard through the forest, eschewing the muddy roads where his horse would not be able to reach a gallop. As half of his mind was occupied with directing his mount through the maze of trees and brambles, the other half concerned itself with Hamilton. It had been a terrible misstep to press a kiss, however innocent, to that trembling hand. Already his affections for Hamilton were too apparent, and if he could not marshall his heart in this matter, he risked losing not only his most intelligent aide-de-camp, but his most beloved. He would have to apologize upon his return with the Jesuit powder, or perhaps hope that in his weakened state, Hamilton would not remember what he'd done.
Hamilton being who he was, they would most likely never speak of it again if he did not mention it. The thought was both a comfort and a curse.
So entrenched in this was Washington that he nearly rode past the caravan. A handful of wagons had been arranged on the side of the roadway, their drivers huddled under a hastily pitched tent. Washington pulled back hard on the reins, causing his horse to rear with a frustrated whinny.
The drivers, needless to say, were not a little shocked to see General Washington standing before them in the middle of the rainstorm while lightning streaked across the sky.
"Which of you has the manifest?" he demanded, and they soon snapped to following his orders. The requisite medicine was located and a small portion of it, plenty for one patient, was handed over wrapped in waterproof oilskin. Washington shoved this into his waistcoat, the better to protect it under his layers of clothing, and rode off with no more explanation to the drivers than that.
It was well and truly night by the time he arrived back at camp. No time was wasted in depositing the horse back into the care of the stableboy and returning to his own tent. He realized as he entered that he most likely looked a sight: hatless, rainwater streaming down his face, his boots and greatcoat spattered with mud.
"Hamilton?" He peered into the darkness of the tent, allowing his eyes to adjust to the flickering candlelight. Once they did, they perceived Hamilton lying entirely uncovered with his back to Washington, the bedclothes kicked to the ground in a heap. Hamilton was curled in on himself so that the knobs of his spine made a sort of cobbled path that Washington ached to follow.
Instead, he divested himself of his sodden coats and picked up the blankets once more. As he spread them over Hamilton's sleeping form, Hamilton roused enough to mumble, "Cold again." Shivers and shakes still passed through him, ever more frequent.
"I have the powder. One moment." The packet was freed from his waistcoat and unwrapped. It had been years, but he still remembered the proper amounts he had administered to his ailing brother; no more than a coat button's worth should do. He found the goblet on a low stool near the side of the bed, a few inches of water still at the bottom, and stirred the powder into it with his penknife. With one arm, he held Hamilton 'round the shoulders and lifted him to a half-sitting position, then pressed the tonic into his hands. "Drink. It will take away the worst of the shivers."
Hamilton sipped from the cup and coughed. "Bitter," he whispered.
"Yes, it is. Drink the whole draught." Washington held him carefully as every last drop was swallowed.
"Thank you, sir," Hamilton said at last. The empty cup threatened to slip from his loose fingers, and Washington took it to set aside. "You did not need to go to such great lengths."
"You would have done the same for me, son," Washington said, then stilled in thought. "If only because it would be your duty," he added. Hamilton's bare body, he realized, was leaning very much against him, a trembling, too-warm shape.
"Sir…." Hamilton turned his head to meet Washington's gaze, and a strand of his hair brushed Washington's lips. That was enough of a reminder for the General.
"Here, let us get you situated," he said quickly, and laid Hamilton back on the mattress, his hands arranging the bedclothes around him with perfunctory care. "If you awake again with the shakes, I will give you more tonic, but I think this dose might be enough."
"It is night, I think," Hamilton said. "Where will you sleep, Your Excellency?"
A rumble of thunder passed over the camp, and Washington rose from the bed. "In my chair, I suppose." He might have sought a cot in some other tent, but he did not want to leave Hamilton alone again. "Or perhaps I will remain awake and see to some of this work I have left to be done. It is no matter."
"It is," Hamilton argued. "I should not force the General from his bed like this." He seemed to regard the bedclothes and the lump his body made underneath them with great distress. "I would have you reclaim it, sir, but I have sweated so much with this fever, and I know how much you value cleanliness— If you could excuse my awful state—"
"Hamilton," Washington said slowly, "are you asking me to join you?"
Hamilton looked up at him, his eyes red and wide in his flushed face. "That is, only if you would deign to, sir, and only because these tremors cause me such distress. A steadying hand would be…." He swallowed. "Very much welcome."
Washington did not speak. It would be a tactical mistake, he decided. He considered the boy in his bed, his lanky hair dark about his bare shoulders, his parted lips. The entire thing would be a grave mistake, certainly.
He sat down in his chair. Hamilton withered, his eyes falling to the bedclothes. Then Washington removed his filthy riding boots. Hamilton's gaze rose again, hopeful.
"Make a space for me," was all he said before unbuttoning his waistcoat and hanging it across the arm of his chair.
Hamilton wriggled over eagerly, and Washington climbed onto the bed atop the blankets, still wearing his breeches and shirt. It seemed odd; that state of undress was somehow more scandalous to him than Hamilton's nudity. Washington never appeared before others in anything less than immaculate dress but this, he considered, was a special case. For Hamilton, he would be a little less than the General, a little more than a man.
Without words, they arranged themselves thusly: Hamilton under the bedclothes with his back to Washington's chest, Washington's right arm snaking under Hamilton's head to act as a pillow (he would awake with pins and needles in that limb, but it concerned him not at all), his left wrapping 'round Hamilton's middle to keep him still should any shivers threaten. And they threatened even now.
"The tonic should begin its work soon," he whispered in Hamilton's ear. This close, it seemed wrong to speak aloud as normal.
"I have no doubt it already has," Hamilton said just as quietly.
A strong wind howled outside the tent and found its way through the flap. The candles guttered and died, leaving them in total, blessed dark. The smell of Hamilton's skin—soured slightly by sickness, yes, but still a wonderful intimacy—filled Washington's senses. He pressed his nose to the back of Hamilton's neck, inhaling the scent of his hair as well.
"Hamilton," he said, on the verge of his confession.
"Sir." Hamilton turned his head on Washington's arm and pressed a kiss to the soft skin revealed there by his loosened cuffs. "Hold till tomorrow."
Tomorrow. He would awake holding Hamilton in his arms tomorrow. He would have a bath drawn for him tomorrow. He would perhaps be allowed to wash him clean tomorrow. Hamilton's fever would hopefully break by tomorrow. Tomorrow seemed, for the first time in many months, like a place Washington wished to be.
"Tomorrow, then," he agreed as he fell into a deep sleep.