Actions

Work Header

One Line to Keep Us Safe

Work Text:

Television journalist Aaron Burr was settling well into his new role as host of Meet the Press. He had worked hard for an entire career with this goal in mind, and now he was making sure he was a success. He would be like his predecessor, Benjamin Franklin, who had only retired when he was good and ready, holding on through the remainder of the last presidential administration even with Aaron already selected as his successor. Aaron didn't really mind the delay, there was something satisfying about closing out a full eight years in his prior role as the network’s White House correspondent. It felt like he and the new Washington administration were being inaugurated together, their first weeks in their new positions a test for them both.

Like any presidential candidate dreamed of being President from childhood, Aaron had dreamed of this job his whole life, from the first moment he saw his own mother on-screen, interviewing a politician with skill and grit. His dream had been a vague goal all through his early life and into his first years of college, where he majored in journalism. His parents supported him, and he knew in a sort of unbothered, unmotivated way, that he’d get there eventually, but when his parents were killed in a car accident his sophomore year, the dream had crystallized into the driving force of his life, and a determination to be the best.

He'd given up a lot to get where he was today, free time and casual friends the first to go as he pushed himself through college, managing to graduate a year early and land his first job as a local reporter. That had only been the start of what he had winnowed away to achieve his goal. The bulk of what he had given up had to do with the need to conform to the journalistic ideal of objectivity. Public political opinions were easy enough to give up, more difficult was coming to terms with how his personal life could be seen as a liability. The top levels of journalism were still dominated by straight white men, seen consciously or not as the most objective. Aaron could never be one of those things, but he ruthlessly stopped acknowledging attraction to anyone other than women. He could be straight as far as anyone knew.  

Even this wasn't enough to give up however. He hardly had time for romance, but in spite of his resolve found himself falling hard for Senator Theodosia Bartow. Even completely taken with her, Aaron refused to be seen as compromised by their relationship, insisting it stay private between them. Dating one of the people you might be called on to interview could be seen as a sign of bias, and Aaron wouldn’t give up his career, even for her. Theodosia understood at first, but the secrecy wore on them. Aaron might have continued forever in a relationship that hurt both of them more than it made them happy, but Theodosia was always stronger and she ended it. The experience left Aaron with a firm conviction that romance was just another thing that would get in his way, and for over a decade since he had stuck to casual sexual relationships, ideally with women who were uninvolved with either the media or politics.

Both Aaron and the new Washington administration had been settling in well, but this week, a month and a half into their mutual new term, Aaron was clearly doing better. For the last four days the news had been all about the Vice President’s careless remarks about the Canadian Prime Minister, which had then spiraled when Adams tried to apologize, but accidentally insulted Mexico. White House Communications director Eliza Schuyler had been working overtime to try to reign in the damage, but CNN seemed unlikely to let it die any time soon. It was with great glee that her sister Angelica Schuyler, who also happened to be Aaron’s producer, had announced on Saturday that the White House was letting them interview Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton on the show the next day.

Normally the White House kept Hamilton under wraps as much as possible for a number of good reasons, and Aaron had actually never managed to meet him, despite years of overlapping time in DC. Treasury Secretary was not generally a role inhabited by those who enjoyed the spotlight. They tended to wield their power quietly, avoiding controversy if possible, but Hamilton had a long history in the public eye as an outspoken finance lawyer, then in various roles in politics, and then the Washington campaign. His open bisexuality, and various romances had also set tongues wagging. Despite the mixed press he earned Washington during the long political campaign on the way to the eventual election, Washington had not hesitated to appoint Hamilton as Secretary of Treasury. There he was making more waves than the previous three treasurers combined, both due to his actions as Secretary and his complete willingness to publicly comment on every other aspect of government, whether he agreed with the administration's policy or not.

It seemed likely that Eliza was sending Hamilton out as a hail mary, figuring even bad press would be a distraction worth having. Angelica was nonetheless thrilled to have Hamilton on the show, sensing the potential to get one up on her sister in their long sisterly game of media cat and mouse. She gave Aaron a long pep talk before the show, the upshot of which was basically, be professional, but get Hamilton to say something stupid.

It’s an interesting interview. Despite Aaron’s best journalistic efforts, Hamilton mostly stays on message, but the interview is crackling, more fun than most of the interviews that Aaron does. Aaron pushes Hamilton with all the carefully neutral tools of journalism, and Hamilton pushes back with a charm that Aaron hadn’t anticipated. Hamilton was handsome, like most successful politicians in this media age, and had always dressed with style that most politicians lack, but beyond that he had a charisma that you didn’t really expect from someone in a mostly behind the scenes cabinet position. He had the kind of spark that winners of close elections had, the best Senators, Presidents.

The interview is unfolding in an informative way, but nothing that’s going to be shared online the next day, and then at the last minute, Aaron goes off his plan, asking Hamilton a question about an environmental bill that’s going to be debated soon. It’s nothing that Hamilton should have specific expertise on, but Hamilton gamely gives his opinion, which is exactly at odds with administration policy. Aaron pursues, pointing out the discrepancy, and Hamilton is perfectly willing to lay out all the reasons why he believes his own administration is wrong. He seems to know exactly why Aaron is asking, but is willing to be caught and unwilling to hide his own opinion, and there’s something wryly amused in his expression as he answers.

Afterward Angelica gives Aaron a subtle thumbs up, pleased.  

At the end of the show, Hamilton is still there, waiting to talk with Aaron. Many guests leave immediately after their piece is taped, but Hamilton seems content to wait. He follows Aaron back to his dressing room, saying that he’s a big fan of the show. At this point Aaron is sure that he wants something, and just mildly says that he’s glad to hear it, pausing outside his dressing room door to let Hamilton make his request.

Hamilton smiles, a little awkwardly, “I really am a big fan.”

Aaron waits patiently.

Hamilton leans into Aaron’s space, just enough to shift the interaction into something else, something flirtatious, “What I mean is, you are even hotter in person than on television.”

Aaron considers him, neutral, “I think I would’ve expected something smoother from someone in the line of Presidential succession.”

Hamilton laughs, ruining the carefully flirtatious posture, “Is that a no?”

He’s more attractive like this, laughing, artifice erased for a moment, and Aaron responds in kind before he can stop himself, “You didn’t ask a question.”

Hamilton smiles, “Let me take you to bed.”

Aaron feels compelled to point out, “It’s ten thirty in the morning.”

Hamilton smirks now, “So we’ll have all day.”

It’s a little bit sleazy, and a little bit hot, but Aaron only shakes his head, “I’m sorry Secretary Hamilton, you’ll have to find someone else to keep you entertained.”

Hamilton shrugs, philosophical, “Worth a try.”

Aaron is amused, but keeps his face neutral as he slips into the dressing room, “Good-bye Secretary Hamilton.”

Even if the man had more finesse Aaron would have said no, for all the reasons that had allowed him to make it to this position before fifty. Alexander Hamilton was a no on every level, no matter how good he looked in his perfectly tailored suit, or his personal magnetism, or his sharp intellect, or the curious charm of his terrible pick up lines.

#

Hamilton’s complete willingness to criticize his own administration pleases the network, which pleases Angelica. It presumably does not please Eliza, but it does push the furor of Adams’s comments slightly out of the public eye, and Hamilton makes two more visits to the show in the next couple of months. Both times the interview is a tug of war, with both Hamilton and Aaron making some good strikes. Both times Hamilton waits until after the show to compliment Aaron and the show, and to comment on the interview and the topics of the day. His commentary on the day’s politics is always incisively funny, and he becomes a favorite with the crew. He does not renew his advances, instead he’s merely friendly. This would not disappoint Aaron, who is of course completely uninterested, but it never has to, because despite the fact that Alexander never raises the issue, somehow Aaron is left with no doubt that if Aaron were to suggest a sexual encounter Alexander would be more than pleased.

#

Too soon (always too soon), it’s the White House Correspondents dinner. This event is one of Aaron’s least favorite parts of his job. It’s a night of making nice with all of his fellow reporters, even his competition, and it’s a night of making nice with politicians, all the people he’s supposed to be keeping honest. The awkward jokes, the awkward conversations, and the glittering excess are all a test of Aaron’s patience. However, he’s a pro by now, and he shakes the hands of all the right people, smiles at the terrible jokes, accepting the few tossed his way. He’s more on display this year due to his new position, and after awhile it wears on him, until he becomes determined to take a break.

He manages to find a back exit, sneaking past the catering staff and the security to find an alley outside the hotel. The night air isn’t precisely fresh, but it’s cooler, and he can just see barely see a star or two when he opens the door. He steps out, but pauses, there’s someone already out here, barely illuminated by the illicit cigarette they’re smoking. It’s Hamilton. He looks guilty, whether for hiding, or for the cigarette Aaron can’t say.

“Sorry,” Aaron says, turning to go back inside.

“No, no, feel free,” Hamilton says, gesturing with the cigarette. He catches sight of it, and then says, “Oh, does this bother you? I can head in.”

Aaron lets the door slip shut behind him, “No it’s fine, stay if you want.”

Hamilton nods, taking another drag on the cigarette, “I’d offer you one, but I only just managed to scrounge this up from the waitstaff. Normally I don’t but-” He gestures towards the door disdainfully, somehow managing to encompass the whole farce.

Aaron leans against the wall, careful of his clothes, with a laugh, “Believe me I know.”

He immediately regrets saying that much, when Hamilton turns a speculative gaze on him, “Not a fan?”

Aaron doesn’t want to lie, so he just makes a noncommittal noise.

Hamilton smiles, “Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.”

Strangely Aaron actually believes him.

Hamilton continues, “I saw you in there though, you were very convincing.”

Aaron doesn’t want to dwell on that, so he asks, “What about you? Hiding out here?”

“Yes,” says Hamilton firmly.

Aaron laughs softly, and Hamilton smiles at him, but it slips quickly away, “This is such a waste of time, I should be working,” And then as if they’re under the studio lights, Hamilton’s off, detailing the new policy he’s trying to implement and the resistance he’s facing.

Aaron easily meets him point for point with questions, relaxing into what he actually enjoys for a few minutes. They quickly go far beyond the level of detail and complexity allowed by television.

At the end Hamilton is looking at Aaron with a touch of wonder, “You really know your stuff.”

Aaron laughs at him, “I keep you on your toes every time you come on the show. Are you just now noticing?”

Hamilton raises an eyebrow challengingly, “This was a little beyond that. Besides you keep me on my toes with your notecards, and someone signaling you cues.”

Aaron gapes at him, “You mean the notecards I write, and the signals to tell me when to break for commercial?”

Hamilton looks chagrined, “Apparently I do.”

Aaron grumbles, “So this whole time you’ve assumed that I was just a pretty face.”

Hamilton huffs once, “Oh don’t be ridiculous, I saw how you grilled the last President at every press conference. I just meant- That was one of the best discussions I’ve had about this, and I’ve been trying to work it out for the last week.”

Aaron isn’t quite prepared to be soothed, and only offers, “Hm.”

Then Hamilton is leaning back, as if trying to find the barely visible stars, “Now I’m at least twice as sad that you aren’t taken in by my charms though.”

Aaron laughs, caught off guard, and the corner of Hamilton’s mouth lifts in a small return smile.

They should head back inside, but instead the moment stretches, Hamilton studying the sky, and Aaron studying Hamilton. He cuts a nice figure in his tuxedo, more style than most of the people here, and Aaron’s gaze keeps getting caught at the curve of Hamilton’s throat above his collar.

Then the moment has gone on too long, because Hamilton has turned and caught Aaron watching him. His eyes widen in surprise, but he doesn’t say anything, doesn’t push, and that more than anything makes Aaron want him.

Aaron wets his lower lip, unsure, “And would this secret be safe with you too?”

Hamilton hesitates, but then nods, his gaze fixed on Aaron’s mouth. Aaron breaks his own rules for the first time in a decade, in twenty five years, and takes the step needed to enter Hamilton’s space, leaning in for a kiss. Hamilton is an excellent kisser, despite the lingering taste of tobacco, and Aaron melts into it. The thrilling scrape of Hamilton’s facial hair is a sensation that Aaron hasn’t felt since college, but is somehow still familiar. Hamilton’s hands come up to cup Aaron’s face, large and warm, and Aaron slides his own hands along the smooth fabric of Hamilton’s jacket, feeling the planes of his chest underneath.

Finally Hamilton breaks away, looking dazed and hungry, “Wow.”

Aaron nods, catching his breath.

Hamilton, smooths the lapel of Aaron’s jacket, “Any chance you’d want to come back to my place tonight?”

Aaron reaches down, to still Hamilton’s restless hand against his own chest, “I have to put in at least another hour in there, and I won’t be seen leaving with you.”

Hamilton flinches a little, but nods, “I could give you my address.”

Aaron nods once, squeezing Hamilton’s hand gently, “Okay.”

“Okay,” Hamilton breathes and then leans in for one more kiss.

#

As Aaron works the room for the next hour he’s as professional as always, making the right connections and smiling politely, but a part of his mind is stuck on what he’s about to do. And he is about to do it. Even as he tries to justify breaking all his rules there’s no doubt that he’s going to return to that warm embrace, to take the offer that’s been hovering between them for months.

He keeps the thoughts off his face through his good-byes, and through the drive to Hamilton’s. He doesn’t run into anyone as he makes his way to Hamilton’s building. When Hamilton opens the door he’s still wearing the tuxedo, although his shoes and bow tie are gone. He smiles at Aaron, unsure, as if Aaron might have driven all the way here to tell him no after all. Aaron steps in the apartment, and when the door is closed he asks, “Still okay?”

Hamilton agrees, “Okay.”

Aaron is moving forward, even before he’s done with the word, backing Hamilton into the door. Hamilton reacts with enthusiasm, twining his arms around Aaron and pulling him in even closer as they pick up the kiss as if they never stopped. Aaron wants to touch every part of Hamilton, first that long, thick hair, that he can’t believe no publicist ever convinced him to cut. Then he’s unbuttoning the first few buttons of Hamilton’s shirt, trying to get to skin, but he’s foiled by an undershirt.

Hamilton is pulling out of the kiss, “Let me show you my bedroom.”

“Yes,” Aaron says, but then gets distracted by the urge to press a kiss into the underside of Hamilton’s jaw.

Hamilton laughs at him, a soft little laugh that breaks off into a softer still gasp when Aaron finds a sensitive spot on his neck.

“Come on,” Hamilton manages, turning them so he’s leading Aaron back to his bedroom. It seems like a nice room, but the large bed is all Aaron really needs to see. Hamilton stops by the edge of it, pulling off his jacket, and starting on his shirt. He lets the clothes pool on the floor, not watching where they fall, instead his eyes are on Aaron as Aaron watches him pull off his undershirt, and unbuckle his belt. Hamilton’s motions aren’t showy or seductive, but he’s clearly aware of Aaron’s gaze on him, and when he finally eases off his underwear, he’s hard.

Hamilton steps into Aaron’s space, and Aaron shivers at the contrast, him still in his full tuxedo, and Hamilton completely, unabashedly naked. It should feel like Aaron has the upper-hand here, but something in Hamilton’s dark gaze makes it feel as he’s the one in control. He rests a hand on Aaron’s lapel and asks, “Can I?”

Aaron nods, and then Hamilton is undressing him. He eases Aaron out of the jacket, and when Aaron goes to unbutton his own shirt, Hamilton pushes his hands away, unbuttoning it himself, and pressing a kiss into Aaron’s shoulder when it’s bared. He places a hand on Aaron’s belt, and glances up to check in with Aaron, who nods again. Hamilton, starts unbuckling, and then glances at Aaron again, “You know when I saw you today in this, I thought that was the highlight of my day, I had no idea I’d be the one who got to take you out of it.”

Aaron can’t help cupping his face and pulling him up for another kiss. Hamilton responds as eagerly as ever, but his hands continue to fumble with Aaron’s belt, and pants. Then he’s pulling away, guiding Aaron to sit on the edge of the bed while he kneels to slide off Aaron’s shoes and socks, and then slip the pants off. He pushes Aaron, now naked except for his underwear, back sideways across the bed, and carefully slides his underwear off, before settling himself on top of Aaron.

The sensation of all the places they are touching is driving Aaron wild, and he threads his fingers through Hamilton’s hair again, while Hamilton presses kisses into Aaron’s neck and shoulder. Aaron is so hard against Hamilton’s hip, and moves restlessly against him gaining what friction he can.

Then Hamilton breaks them apart again, guiding Aaron up to rest against the pillows. Hamilton slides in behind Aaron, draping himself over Aaron like a blanket, and looping an arm around Aaron to take hold of his cock. Aaron pushes into the sensation of Hamilton’s chest on his back, and up into Hamilton’s hand. Hamilton’s warm breath is on his shoulder, as Hamilton presses scattered open mouthed kisses there, his facial hair rubbing into Aaron’s shoulder. He’s hard against Aaron, his cock sliding along the back of Aaron’s thigh.

Aaron reaches back with his right hand, and grasps Hamilton’s hip, shifting so that Hamilton’s cock slides in the tight space between Aaron’s legs. Hamilton moans, forehead dropping to Aaron’s back, breath coming fast now. He thrusts once into the space, and then as Aaron squeezes his hip encouragingly, sets up a steady rhythm, his hand still working on Aaron.

The hand on his cock, and the feeling of Hamilton thrusting into him, his muscles shifting against Aaron, and the nonsense words he’s muttering into Aaron’s back are all too much. Although Aaron tries to enjoy it for as long as possible, he’s tilting over the edge soon enough, his fingers digging into Hamilton’s hip where he’s still holding him.

Hamilton works him through the orgasm, and then slides his arm up Aaron’s chest, pulling Aaron even tighter to himself as his hips speed up. Aaron covers the arm with his own shaky one, and squeezes, encouraging Hamilton. And then, with a muffled groan, Hamilton is coming in between Aaron’s legs, body wrapped tightly around Aaron.

They lay there for a minute, catching their breath, Hamilton absently running a hand along Aaron’s chest. Aaron wants nothing more than to drift off to sleep, but he should leave. He’s just about to pull away, when Hamilton, perhaps feeling Aaron tense in preparation, says, “If you want, you can sleep here.”

Aaron shouldn’t, but he’s half asleep already, and a mistake made might as well be made right, “Okay.” He’s drifting off to sleep almost immediately, unwilling to try to figure out if that was the answer Hamilton wanted or not.

#

When Aaron wakes, it’s early. The room is just taking on that pre-dawn grey, but Hamilton is awake, just lying with his head on Aaron’s shoulder. When he sees that Aaron is awake as well, he presses a kiss there, and then says, “Any regrets?”

Aaron clears his throat, and says, “No.” It’s not true, but it might be more true than not, “You?”

“No.”

Aaron wonders if that’s true, or just mostly true, or not true at all, but Hamilton shifts slightly, and Aaron becomes aware of the hard length of him against Aaron’s hip. He turns slightly on the pillow, and ducks enough to press a questioning kiss to Hamilton’s lips. Hamilton responds easily, and Aaron rolls on top of him, and they spend the next little while lazily making out, and grinding against one another until they come, sloppy and uncomplicated.

After, they are truly a mess and Hamilton takes a quick shower, while Aaron checks his e-mail and catches up on the news. He’s just flipping through pictures from the dinner last night when Hamilton returns. The Hamilton of the photos, sharp in his tux is quite a contrast from the wet-haired Hamilton who walks in wearing only a towel, and Aaron feels strangely honored to have seen both. Hamilton offers Aaron another towel, and then awkwardly suggests that Aaron might want to borrow some clothes so he doesn’t have to sneak out in last night’s tux. Aaron gratefully accepts and slips off to take a quick shower.

When he comes out, Hamilton offers him breakfast, and Aaron, still making the most of his mistake, accepts. Over breakfast, they talk about the latest stupid bill winding its way through the House as if they haven’t spent the last few hours together naked.

Soon enough breakfast is over, and Aaron takes the bag with his rumpled tuxedo in it, and promises to return Hamilton’s clothes. Hamilton brushes this aside, and then presses one soft kiss to Aaron’s lips, and says, “I had a good time.”

“I did as well. Good-bye Secretary Hamilton.”

Hamilton laughs at him, “I think you can call me Alexander at this point.”

Aaron can already feel himself slipping back into his carefully neutral mask, so it feels odd when he says, “Alexander then.”

Alexander smiles, and Aaron slips out the door and back to his car without running into anyone, ready to start his day.

#

It should be over at that point, but although Aaron washes the clothes Alexander lent him, something stops him from returning them. He should just mail them, he has Alexander’s address, but instead they sit in a neatly folded stack on his dresser.

This might have gone on indefinitely, but Alexander- Secretary Hamilton, is invited on the show to comment on some new economic numbers. Aaron is able to push Alexander out of his mind, and focus on Secretary Hamilton, the result being a decently informative interview, if not a particularly exciting one.

Afterward, Alexander is waiting for him as he always does, joking with the crew. Aaron isn’t sure how to treat him now, but he doesn’t protest when Alexander follows him back to his dressing room, and even lets him in this time. Alexander looks around the room, as if idly curious about what it would look like, and then turns to Aaron as if they hadn’t spent ten minutes sparring earlier, “Hi.”

Aaron shakes his head, amused, “Hello.”

“I need to file a complaint, I never got my clothes back.”

He’s smiling, clearly teasing, but Aaron feels awkward, “Oh I- I’m- You’re right, I’ll get them back soon.”

Alexander nods, but he’s assessing Aaron, and then he’s stepping into Aaron’s space, “Actually, I was wondering if maybe you wanted to bring them back yourself some night this week.”

They aren’t touching, but Aaron can feel the heat of Alexander’s body, and he’s forced to admit to himself that this is precisely why he never returned the clothes. He wants Alexander still, wants him more than ever, once wasn’t nearly enough, but not here. Aaron carefully steps away from Alexander, but holds his gaze and says, “I could do that.”

Alexander had started to look disappointed when Aaron stepped back, but now he looks pleased. They compare schedules, and manage to agree on Thursday night.

Alexander doesn’t try to get close to Aaron again, but on his way out his gaze absently lingers on Aaron’s mouth, as if he would kiss Aaron goodbye if given the chance.

#

Thursday is a success, even better than the first time. Afterward they are lying in Alexander's twisted sheets, still draped over one another and catching their breath when Alexander says, “Let’s do this again.”

Aaron laughs into his shoulder, “I’m not in my twenties anymore so you might have to hold that thought.”

Alexander shakes his head, “No I meant- I mean, you should come over again some time. Anytime.”

Aaron can’t deny the appeal of that idea, but he needs to be clear, “You know I’m not looking for anything public. It would be a problem for my career if people knew we did this.”

Alexander is silent for a moment, but then he says, “I know, but why would anyone have to know?”  

Aaron thinks for a moment, absently running his hand over Alexander’s chest, feeling the texture of the hair there. It’s been awhile since he had someone he could have a regular arrangement with, and although Alexander is really the worst person to try it with, he can’t deny the chemistry they have. “Okay,” he says finally, “okay.”

After that, they meet regularly. It’s good, as uncomplicated as something so outside Aaron’s personal rules can be, and satisfying. Aaron is at first nervous that someone will notice, but none of Alexander’s neighbors seem to take any interest in his visitors, and Alexander himself is more circumspect than Aaron would have thought, given his reputation.

At first they only meet for sex, and Aaron usually slips out before morning, but their schedules are so complicated that it makes sense that one of them will provide dinner first. So, a quick meal over take-out, or Alexander’s truly awful cooking becomes a part of the routine more often than not. Their conversations over these dinners range from Alexander ranting about the incompetence of various members of the government while Aaron tries not to laugh, to in-depth policy discussions. Aaron can admit to himself that these conversations set this apart from most of his past casual sexual relationships, but even at his most unreasonable Alexander is smart enough that arguing with him is worth whatever unease it gives Aaron.  

Two months in Aaron makes a mistake. He’s in charge of bringing food that night, but when he arrives Alexander has clearly forgotten Aaron was coming tonight. He’s on the phone, but absently waves Aaron into the apartment. When Alexander gets off the phone he explains that there’s some crisis that needs his attention. He promises it will only take an hour or two and asks Aaron to stay. Aaron should leave, schedule for another time, but instead he stays. They eat while Alexander absently explains the latest crisis, but one of Aaron’s questions seems to spark something in Alexander’s mind, and he jumps up, plate still half full, “God, you’re brilliant.” He drops a quick kiss on Aaron’s temple and then he’s back to the office, calling someone up with his new idea.

Aaron isn’t really sure what he said to cause that, but he finishes his dinner and puts Alexander’s in the fridge in case he wants it later. Then he starts in on some of his own work, planning a possible story for next week. He works for two hours, and feels satisfied with the idea, and the preliminary research, but Alexander is still in the office. Aaron wavers, not sure what he wants to do, but eventually he decides he’ll stay for one more hour, before giving up. He goes to the bedroom, and pulls up a book he’s reading on his tablet.

Aaron must fall asleep, because he wakes up in the morning with Alexander’s arm wrapped around him, and Alexander warm along one side. It’s very early, but Aaron has a morning meeting, so he gets up and takes a quick shower. Alexander is still asleep as Aaron slips out. It’s only after he’s sneaked into the office and changed into his spare shirt and tie, that he realizes they never even had sex.

That’s definitely outside the bounds of what Aaron should allow himself, but Aaron finds himself spending more nights with Alexander, regularly extending their time to comfortable hours spent asleep, enjoying the warmth of another person, of Alexander, in his bed at night. Alexander doesn’t seem aware of any change.

Aaron only really understands how far he’s gone from the path he set himself, when he finds himself heading over to Alexander’s one night when he knows he’s too tired to do anything other than talk, no pretense even in his own mind that this is about sex. He should just go home, but it’s been a very long week, and he hasn’t seen Alexander in eight days. Alexander doesn’t even seem to notice the change in agenda, seemingly perfectly content to go from dinner to reading on the couch, as if they’ve always just casually spent time together. He leans into Aaron’s side, as Aaron answers email on his phone, and when Aaron puts down the phone, Alexander puts on an old movie. Aaron should draw a line here, but he’s as weak as he’s been in every step of this relationship with Alexander. Instead, he just rests an arm around Alexander, and lets the movie and Alexander’s commentary on it lull him into a doze.

The next night, when Aaron is trying to fall asleep in his own empty bed, his mind keeps circling around the realization that for him this isn’t as casual as it should be, and the grim knowledge that he’s making the same mistakes he made with Theodosia all over again. Age has apparently not brought wisdom, and it certainly hasn’t brought strength, because just like with Theodosia he can’t bring himself to finish this before he gets hurt. In the end, he’s too charmed by Alexander, too drawn to the warmth of his bed, and the intensity of his intellect to break it off. Instead Aaron gradually expands the time he spends with Alexander, who never comments, but seems to welcome it as much as his schedule allows.

It isn’t until the beginning of winter, when Alexander is invited on the show to discuss the ongoing fight over the budget that Aaron realizes how truly deep he’s gotten himself. Despite the fact that two nights ago he’d been in Alexander’s bed, and before that laughing with him over some stupid movie, and before that fiercely debating policy over dinner, Aaron maintains the same journalistic professionalism with which he treats all his guests. But afterward, when Alexander is still there as always, bantering with the crew, Aaron gets distracted from the point Angelica is making about improvements for next week, by the sight of him across the room, laughing at something the camera person said. The laughter etches the lines around his eyes deeper in a way that Aaron normally only gets to see in the privacy of home, and Aaron realizes in that small out of context moment that he’s fallen in love with Alexander. And although he’s just realized it in this place, it doesn’t feel like a surprise. It feels like it was inevitable from the moment he’d kissed Alexander in that dark alley, from the moment Aaron stepped off his carefully circumscribed path for him.

And Aaron knows just as certainly that it will end poorly. Alexander will get bored of someone he can only see behind closed doors, and he’ll meet someone new. Aaron has been down this path before. But just as certainly as he knows he loves Alexander, and that it will end in pain, he knows that he won’t be the one to break it off. That he’ll stay by Alexander until Alexander asks him to leave.

All of this becomes clear between one breath and the next, a fundamental shift in the way that Aaron looks at the future, but aside from having to ask Angelica to repeat herself he keeps his feelings hidden behind the same smooth face he always presents the world. Even when Alexander stops him to congratulate him on the show as always, Aaron merely thanks him with a polite smile. No more or less than any other time they’ve had this exchange. Later though, when he’s alone in his dressing room, Aaron has to take some time to just sit still, staring at his own hands until his heart stops feeling like it will beat out of his chest.

#

Aaron manages to keep his changed feelings to himself going forward. He spends what time he can with Alexander, but otherwise he doesn’t think his behavior has changed. It’s a couple of months later, now coming up on a year since the first time he met Alexander, when Alexander makes him aware that in Aaron’s surety about how this would end he hasn’t been paying enough attention to Alexander’s opinion.

They are laying in bed, catching their breath after a satisfying encounter. Aaron is on his side, idly running his fingers through the silver threads at Alexander’s temple, trying to decide if they have increased in the year he’s known him. Alexander has his eyes closed, enjoying the soft touch, but his expression is not relaxed, and is only becoming more tense. Aaron watches him in concern, until Alexander finally opens his eyes and catches Aaron’s gaze, “I’ve done something foolish.”

Aaron swipes a thumb along his temple soothingly, “Does it have to do with the national economy?”

Alexander smiles distractedly, “No.” He takes a deep breath and then reaches up and catches the hand that Aaron has on his temple, he pulls it down and places a kiss in Aaron’s palm, “I’ve fallen in love with you.”

Maybe Aaron should have seen this coming, but he honestly didn’t think he stacked up to any of the pretty, exciting people Alexander had been linked with in the past. And given Alexander’s reputation, he hadn’t really thought Alexander would be focused on him enough to form any deeper attachment. Although he realizes now, his mind racing, that’s just willful denial. He and Alexander spend nearly half the nights in a week together, and unless he believes Alexander is lying about his schedule on the other nights, or screwing people regularly during the days, it’s not like he has the time for a wide range of others.

For a moment, for the first time, Aaron seriously considers breaking this off. He hadn’t meant to trap Alexander in this doomed situation, and he doesn’t want to hurt him the way he hurt Theodosia. But when he looks at Alexander, who is frozen in the too long pause that Aaron has allowed to open between them, still lightly holding Aaron’s hand, a pained expression expression growing as the silence drags on, Aaron can’t do it. He tells himself that Alexander has to make his own choices, that Aaron can’t lie to him for his own good, that Alexander is an adult, but it’s probably the same selfishness that led Aaron down this path in the first place that makes him turn his hand so he’s awkwardly holding Alexander’s and say, “I love you too.”

The rush of relief on Alexander’s face is both wonderful and painful to Aaron, because he can’t let it stand, “But I can’t- This doesn’t change anything.”

Alexander blinks, and starts to look stubborn, and Aaron won’t debate this with him, “I’m not going to change my mind, I’m not going to be introduced to your friends, or go on public dates, or attend events with you.”

Alexander’s face hurts to look at, he’s trying to be neutral but he’s so bad at it, and all the pain shows through. He clears his throat, “Can I- Can you tell me why?”

Aaron can’t look at him anymore, and he turns on his back, staring instead at the ceiling, “You know why .”

Alexander is silent, and Aaron has no wish to say it, but he supposes he owes Alexander something, “Because of my career. People already question the objectivity of every report I do on race relations, or on drug policy, incarceration, poverty, anything they see as a ‘black’ issue.” The bitterness of a career of slights is seeping into his voice, “I have no desire to be seen as suspect on every issue relating to sexuality that crosses my desk, and if it’s you? A member of the administration? That’s my whole job. Every report I do on the government will be seen as biased.”

Aaron runs a hand over his face as if he can wipe any emotion off of it, “I wouldn’t ask you to give up your career for me. You can’t ask me to do that for you.”

There’s another moment of silence, but Aaron refuses to look at Alexander, and then Alexander is tentatively smoothing a hand across Aaron’s chest, “No. No, you’re right. I can’t do that.” His voice isn’t quite steady, but he goes on, “This will have to be enough.”

Aaron turns to look at him, and the pained determination on his face makes Aaron’s heart ache. In another world this would be a happy occasion, but here it’s just the beginning of the end. Aaron reaches over to kiss him, for a moment it can be just the two of them, the rest of the world can disappear.

#

They go on after that, but there’s a new undercurrent to their interactions, an ache just below the surface, an awareness that they want different things. It manifests in various ways, sex that has a desperate edge as if it’s a goodbye, debates that would have been congenial turning sharp, and silences that would have been comfortable, instead feeling filled with all the things they aren’t saying to one another.

It begins to bubble to the surface around the White House Correspondents dinner. Maybe it’s because it’s an anniversary of sorts, or maybe it’s because neither of them enjoy the event, but it becomes a source of tension between them. Alexander makes it clear that he wishes they could go together, and Aaron, annoyed, makes it clear they won’t be doing that.

Finally, in the middle of another evening of tense silence, Aaron says, “Take someone else.”

Alexander looks up from where he’s working on his tablet, confused, “What?”

“Take someone else to the correspondents dinner.”

Alexander seems to be processing this idea, “You don’t care if I’m with someone else?”

Aaron keeps his face clear, “You want to have a date, take a date. That doesn’t mean you can’t come back to me in the end.”

Alexander’s voice takes on a mean edge, “And if I fuck them?”

Aaron shrugs, “So fuck them.”

Alexander just looks tired now, “And that doesn’t bother you.”

Neutral as always Aaron points out, “We’ve never talked about this.”

Alexander flinches, “No.”

Aaron shrugs again, “If it makes you happy, then fine.”

Alexander looks away, “If that’s what you want.”

Aaron turns back to his own work, “I just don’t want you to feel like I’m holding you back.”

Alexander doesn’t respond.

#

In the end, Alexander takes Senator John Laurens. Aaron isn’t sure if he does it to hurt Aaron, or because he and Laurens are genuinely friends, but the press eats it up, trying to find out if they are back together. Their relationship had been much gossiped about, back when Laurens was in his first term and Alexander was just getting into politics, but they’ve been apart for years. The press loves the idea of some grand reunion, and although Laurens and Alexander both insist they are just there as friends, the photographers spend time trying to capture a touch or glance that can tell a different story.

Aaron manages to stay as far away from all of it as possible. He does what he’s supposed to do, smiling at the right people, and saying the right things. He goes home alone that night exhausted, but unable to fall into a deep sleep.

In the morning he can’t help but reading the breathless speculation about Alexander and Laurens on the DC gossip blogs, and even on CNN’s website. When Alexander invites him over that night he can’t help but wonder if this is going to be a goodbye. If Alexander’s realized that he cares for Laurens most after all.

However, Alexander doesn’t seem inclined to say much of anything when Aaron gets there. Instead he takes the food Aaron’s brought and sets it aside, pulling Aaron into a long hug, as if one night apart had been too much for him. Aaron cautiously hugs him back, relaxing into the familiar feel of him.

When Alexander pulls back he looks tired, bags under his eyes as if he hadn’t slept, but he smiles at Aaron, and Aaron doesn’t ask. They have dinner, conversation more sparse than usual as they avoid talking about the night before. After dinner they watch a movie in theory, but, exhausted, Aaron can’t claim to be absorbing much of the detail, and halfway through, in the middle of some pointless car chase, Alexander asks, “It didn’t bother you?”

Aaron tenses, but answers, “If you found someone you wanted to take, then that’s what I want too.”

Alexander doesn’t say anything for a long moment, then says softly, “I found someone I wanted to take.” He’s not looking at Aaron, but Aaron knows he’s not talking about Laurens. He sounds resigned, defeated, and Aaron doesn’t answer, just leans into his side, heart aching.

#

Things remain unsettled between them for the next couple of weeks. It’s all too familiar to Aaron, a repeat of the slow destruction of his relationship with Theodosia, but he feels helpless to stop it.

Alexander is clearly trying to be happy with what they have, but he’s someone who shares his life, his opinions with the world. It’s what makes him an interesting politician, but it makes him ill-suited to the type of privacy that Aaron requires. However, he’s trying, and as part of his effort he suggests that they go away for a couple of days. He’s found a private cabin in the country, they can be alone, but somewhere new. Because Aaron’s show is on Sunday, his weekend is essentially Monday, and Alexander suggests they drive out after the next Sunday show, spend that night and come back Monday night.

It feels like a last ditch effort to Aaron, but he agrees, clearing his schedule. For the rest of the week he can’t decide if he’s anticipating it for the time spent with Alexander, or dreading it for the feeling of goodbye that he expects to linger over the trip.

But then on Saturday night, late, Alexander shows up at Aaron’s door. Normally they don’t see each other on Saturday because Aaron has to be at the studio very early on Sunday morning, and rarely do they meet at Aaron’s due to his nosy neighbors, so Aaron is both concerned and annoyed to be woken up like this. Further, Alexander has clearly been drinking, and Aaron is sharp when he asks why Alexander is there.

Alexander sits down on Aaron’s couch, he looks tired, and upon closer inspection it looks like he’s been out long enough that he’s sobering up. He squints into the light of Aaron’s apartment, “I don’t think I can do this.”

Aaron’s heart sinks, and he’s trying to come up with the right way to reassure Alexander that he understands without letting him see how much it hurts, when Alexander looks up and sees Aaron’s face. Whatever is there must give Aaron away, because Alexander jumps to his feet, “No! That’s not what I mean.”

Aaron swallows, trying to clear his face, “What do you mean?”

Alexander steps into Aaron’s space, cupping his face with one hand, “I want this, I want you, I love you, but I don’t think I can go on this trip. I need to take some time and think about what the future needs to look like.”

Despite the assurances at the beginning of that sentence it still sounds like the beginning of a goodbye to Aaron, but he just leans into Alexander’s hand, and nods.

Alexander runs his thumb along the side of Aaron’s cheek, and then leans in for a quick closed mouth kiss, “Washington invited me along for his grand inspire the youth speech he’s doing tomorrow, and then I’m going to take a few days to think.”

Aaron nods again.

Alexander looks at him seriously, “I’ll call you.”

Aaron nods one last time, but can’t help reaching up and pushing his fingers through Alexander’s hair, leaning into a deeper, desperate kiss. Alexander meets him kiss for kiss, until finally Aaron pulls Alexander into a hug, burying his face in Alexander’s neck. He stays like that, Alexander holding him close, until Aaron feels like he can show a neutral face, and then pulls back, “Okay.”

Alexander responds seriously, “Okay.” And then he’s gone.

#

Aaron can’t fall back asleep after that, only dozing fitfully until he’s woken up by his early alarm. At the studio the woman who does his make-up clucks disapprovingly at him, forced to spend extra time covering up the circles under his eyes.

However, Aaron is a professional and he powers through the show. He’s in the middle of the last interview of the episode, a Republican Representative with truly horrible foreign policy opinions, and he may be working out his feelings by very professionally (always professionally) backing him into a corner on the implications of what he’s saying. Angelica is nodding approvingly to one side, until she gets called off for a frantic whispered conversation. Aaron assumes it’s something to do with the lighting rig that’s been on the fritz, and ignores it in favor of paying careful attention to the Representative’s current answer, already marshaling the facts that will allow him to poke holes in it.

Before he can do that Angelica is signaling him to cut the guy off and turn to the teleprompter for breaking news. It’s unusual, and whatever it is probably isn’t good, but Aaron smoothly breaks into the Representative’s rambling on terrorists, “Pardon me. I’m sorry Representative, but I’m going to have to ask you to pause there, we have breaking news coming in.” The guy looks disgruntled, but nods, and as soon as the camera is off him his aide is hurrying over to pull him off set, whispering something in his ear.

Aaron turns to the camera and the teleprompter, steadily reading the, no doubt, hastily composed script there, “We are just now receiving reports that there has been a shooting involving the President and some of his top cabinet members, who were at an event for low income youth.” Sheer momentum gets him that far before he realizes what he’s saying, but the import is starting to sink in and halfway through the next sentence his voice is shaking, his cool professionalism lost, “Initial reports state that President Washington was unharmed, but that Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton was struck. His condition is unknown.” His voice cracks over the last word, and there are more words to be read, some empty nonsense about keeping the audience updated as developments occur, but Aaron can’t focus. “I- I can’t-,” he mutters, whether to himself or Angelica he’s not sure.  

He feels numb, but his heart is racing. Everything is slipping in and out of focus, but his one constant thought is that somehow he has to get to Alexander. He reaches up, pulling the microphone off his lapel, letting it fall absently, and stands up. Angelica is frantically signaling that they go to commercial, but Aaron ignores the chaos to make his way to his dressing room. He needs his keys. He only makes it a few steps before Angelica is grabbing his arm, “Aaron!” He shakes her off when she gets distracted by the associate producer who is telling her that the New York office is going to take over.

He’s most of the way to his dressing room when she catches him again, grabbing his wrist in a firm grip. She’s furious, and hisses through clenched teeth, “Aaron, are you trying to get us both fired, what the fuck was that?”

For a moment he feels clear, all the fear welling in his chest turning to anger to meet hers, and he spits back, “That was me learning that my lover has been shot from a fucking teleprompter.” And then just as quickly the anger is draining away, and he’s only afraid again.

She looks shocked, then disbelieving, then, taking in whatever horrible thing is crossing his face, shocked again. She looks down at where their hands meet, noticing the way his is shaking and drops his arm, “You-”

Free he’s heading into his dressing room not interested in what she has to say, and grabbing his keys, ignoring that she follows him in, until she’s taking the keys away from him. “You goddamn secretive asshole, you are in no condition to drive.”

“I have to-” he starts, but she lays a hand on his arm again, reassuringly.

“I know,” and she’s got her producer face on again. It’s a small relief. Angelica can make anything happen when she’s in producer mode, so he just lets her guide him out of the dressing room, taking his wallet and phone when she hands them to him.

She’s dragging him to the garage, and she says, “We’re sending a news truck to the hospital, you can go with them.”

He nods, “You don’t know anything else do you?

There’s a pause, “No. I’m sorry.” A few more steps, and she starts again, “If I had known, I wouldn’t have-”

Aaron makes a small noise of agreement, cutting her off. He knows, but he can’t think about it.

Her face is calm, but her hand is too tight on his arm. She pulls him into the garage, and deposits him by the van while she offers some explanation to the crew. Then she’s gesturing him into the van. She looks like she wants to say something as the door closes, but she doesn’t.

Aaron sits in the back of the van, still in his suit and stage make-up, clutching his wallet and phone as the van careens off. The newscaster is up in the front, and the editor and camera guy in the back with him are running last minute checks on their equipment, politely ignoring him as he stares at his phone.

He needs a plan, there will be security at the hospital of course, and no one knows that he means anything to Alexander. His chest tightens, air becoming scarce, when that thought occurs to him, but he forces himself to breath and to try to think. It’s not working, his mind just keeps catching on the phrase “condition unknown.”

Finally he manages to decide that he’ll call Angelica and have her try to contact Eliza when his phone buzzes in his hand. The caller ID says, “Alexander” and instantly Aaron knows this has all been some terrible mistake, and he’ll get to hold Alexander again, tell him how sorry Aaron is for hurting him, spend the rest of their lives trying to make him happy. He answers the phone as quickly as his shaking hands can manage, “Alexander?”

His voice cracks, unsteady and broken over that one word, and there’s a pause at the other end of the line, before a feminine voice says, “Shit. You’ve heard.”

All the relief leaves him, taking the air in his lungs with it, but he manages to gasp, “Is he…” He can’t finish that sentence, can’t make himself figure out the words that might fit there much less say them.

“No! I mean he’s in surgery. They took him to surgery. I don’t know more than that.” The voice sounds as unsteady as Aaron feels, but it’s telling him that Alexander is still alive.

After a few seconds he manages, “I’m on my way now. Will I be able to get past security?”

The voice seems to steady with a problem to solve, “Oh. Yes, of course. I’ll have someone meet you.” Then she’s talking to someone on her end, and then telling Aaron which door to go to.

He thanks her, and hangs up. The film crew are still testing the equipment, but there’s something even more deliberate about their inattention to Aaron now. He can’t worry about it, his mind is focused on the idea that Alexander is still alive, he’s still fighting.

#

When Aaron reaches the door the voice described, he’s met by Hercules Mulligan, White House Chief of Staff. He looks harried, phone in his hand like he’s only just ended a call, but he focuses all his attention on Aaron, “Aaron. Aaron Burr?”

Aaron nods.

Hercules nods back, thoughtful, and gestures him past the secret service guy, “Now we know why Alexander stopped pining over the ‘hot news guy.’”

Aaron doesn’t pay attention to this, “Anything new?”

Mulligan shakes his head, leading them to a waiting room.

“You’re Aaron?”

It’s the voice, and Aaron sees that it’s Eliza Schuyler, but whatever else she might be saying is lost on him. Her clothes are stained with blood. Her hands have clearly been washed, but there are streaks on the cuffs of her blouse, and there’s a dark patch on the knees of her gray skirt like she’s been kneeling in it. He can’t look away from it, his mouth feels dry, his heart is pounding in his ears, and he interrupts whatever she’s saying, “Is that…”

She looks down, her face crumpling, “Yes.”

He tries not to look at it, but it’s almost impossible. He’s saved from having to say anything more when she gets a phone call, and goes to the other side of the room to talk seriously with someone.

Aaron sits shakily in one of the empty chairs.

For the next stretch of time both Eliza and Hercules are making and answering a series of phone calls, although at some point Eliza disappears and comes back in a set of clean scrubs. Hercules leaves entirely around that time, and various people from the White House staff are in and out, some of whom he’s interviewed in the past, most lower profile workers. Eliza’s phone calls seem to mostly be business, although she gets a handful of personal calls, reassuring people in a soft voice that contrasts with the brisk business tone she uses in the other calls. He thinks one of them must be Angelica because he hears her say, “Yes, he’s here,” darting a quick glance at Aaron out of the corner of her eye as she turns away.

But then he loses track of her, because someone has turned on the television and it’s showing CNN. They’re covering the shooting of course. The television is on mute so he can’t hear what they’re saying about it, but they’ve cobbled together footage and they keep playing it. Aaron can’t stop watching.

The first shot shows Mulligan and the President walking together, talking casually, with Alexander and Eliza walking behind them, laughing about something. Secret service agents are escorting them, but everything seems fine, and Aaron wishes each time that he could freeze it there, but he can’t.

Instead, everyone on the screen tips into frantic motion all at once, presumably at the sound of gunfire. The secret service tackle the President, and, incidentally, Mulligan to the ground. A few feet behind them Alexander is clearly hit, pushed sideways into Eliza, by the force of it. His expression is impossible to make out, but Eliza’s surprise and fear are clear as she’s hit by the weight of his body. She tries for a frantic second to hold them both up, before collapsing under the weight of his slumping body, falling to the ground half underneath him.

At this point, whoever is holding the camera also starts to drop out of the range of the gunfire, and CNN cuts to another camera filming the capture of the shooter, apparently not far away. Secret Service tackle and handcuff him before blocking the camera.

Then the first camera person is apparently getting up, their first thought to film, and they capture the President standing up from the sidewalk, apparently unhurt and being escorted away by a ring of secret service. In the background of the shot you can see Eliza, who has pulled herself out from underneath Alexander and is frantically applying pressure to his side as he lays on the ground. You can just make out the dark stain spreading under her hands, before the camera turns to follow the President being put in a car.

CNN shows this sequence over and over, and even though it makes his breath short to watch it, he can’t look away.

They eventually cut away to a panel of people discussing the news, and then they are showing the footage of Aaron’s own announcement. He can’t look away from this either, watching his own face slip from cool professionalism to shock and horror. They run through the moment where he takes off the microphone, and stands out of the frame, and then the camera cuts out. Without the sound he can’t tell why they’re playing it, but the chyron under it says “America reacts.” They play it once, twice, three times.

Then they are switching back to the shooting footage again, and a soft sound next to him causes him to finally tear away his gaze. Eliza has sat next to him at some point, holding a phone with a half typed email. She’s staring at the screen, and she’s crying softly, shivering slightly as she watches herself get slammed with Alexander’s falling body again and again on the screen.

Aaron stands up, blocking her view of the television as he takes off his suit jacket and hands it to her without a word. She shrugs into it, wrapping it tightly around herself and keeping her gaze low, away from the screen as Aaron sits back down. He also avoids looking back up. After a minute she reaches down and rummages in her large purse before coming up with a packet of make-up removing wipes which she silently hands to him.

Aaron wipes off the stage make-up he’s still wearing, and they sit in silence together for a minute, both pointedly not watching the screen.

In this silence a thought occurs to him, “How did you know to call me?”

She starts to answer, clears her throat and tries again, “We knew Alexander was dating someone. He always just said it was someone who didn’t want to go public.” She smiles sadly here, “We had a betting pool. You weren’t in it, I think literally everyone picked a Republican congressman.”

Her smile slips away, “When-” She takes a deep breath, “He was conscious at first, and he kept saying to tell Aaron he was sorry.”

Aaron takes a sharp breath, feeling that like a blow. Eliza kindly doesn’t say anything for a minute as he tries to get himself under control, and then says, “Anyway, when we got here they gave us his phone. He’s been using the same passcode for years, and I found an Aaron under the frequent contacts and took a chance.”

“Thank you.”

She nods.

A silence opens up, but he feels compelled to defend Alexander’s honor, “He has nothing to be sorry for though. I’m the one who should be sorry.”

She darts a glance at him, “Alexander didn’t say anything specific, but I know you were having some problems.”

He fiddles with the cuff of his shirt, “I didn’t want to come out, and he wanted to be able to be open about his relationship. My fault.”

Eliza doesn’t say anything for a minute, then reaches over to still his hand with a gentle touch of her own, “Alexander’s my friend, and obviously I’m on his side. But I’ve been in the media business a long time, and it makes sense that you couldn’t just do that.”

“For my career.”

She makes a slight noise of agreement.

He gestures at the television screen, which despite his best efforts he’s still catching glimpses of. They’re showing the clip of him again, “Well, there’s my career now.”

She watches it once, and then looks away as they start to replay it, someone commenting on it in split screen. “That’s how you found out?”

She looks sad, but he just nods, “Right now, I do not give a fuck about my career. I would trade it in heartbeat for-” He looks away, trying to get his expression under control.

She squeezes his hand once, “I know.”

They sit in silence.

#

After a couple of hours the President arrives, flanked by secret service and Mulligan. He has a scrape on one side of his face where he must have hit the sidewalk, but seems otherwise unhurt. He pauses when he sees Aaron, his expression hard, “Why is the press here?”

Eliza stands, “Remember Alexander’s secret boyfriend?”

The President nods, and Eliza gestures to Aaron, the too long sleeve of Aaron’s coat slipping over her hand as she does.

President Washington studies Aaron for a long moment, before his expression softens to something like sympathy. He turns to Mulligan, “I think I had Republican congressman in the pool, who won?”

Mulligan looks up from his phone, “Everyone had Republican congressman in the pool. I think that means Alexander won.”

The President nods, and turns back to Aaron, “It’s good that you’re here. Alexander will be glad to have you here.” His quiet confidence that Alexander will have an opinion, will be well, is strangely soothing, and Aaron can see how the man got elected in a landslide.

He’s there to consult with Eliza about something, and they huddle on the other side of the room talking intently, while Aaron tries not to stare at either them or the television. Then the President and his entourage sweep back out, and an hour later he’s on the television, giving a press conference. Eliza unmutes the television, watching intently as the President gives a short speech explaining the shooting, what they know of the shooter’s motivations (some mishmash of rightwing conspiracy theories and prejudice), and Alexander’s condition. Aaron knows it’s mostly to reassure the public of Washington’s status, and he does a good job of looking healthy, confident, and untouchable.

Afterward Eliza mutes the television again, and they take up their silent vigil.

#

When the doctor does come out Aaron almost isn't expecting it, like maybe he'll spend the rest of his life just sitting in this room. She waves a hand at the room which also contains two aides consulting with Eliza, and a secret service agent on break, “Who am I talking to?”

Eliza and Aaron both jump up, and the doctor just nods and begins. She describes the injury, a punctured lung, a splintered rib, and the surgery they’ve done to repair the damage and remove the bullet. She says that Alexander will be kept under, on a ventilator for at least a day to allow the lung to heal, and that process and avoiding infection are the two biggest hurdles going forward. But she also says that he's stable, and that, despite the lung damage and blood loss, it is unlikely that he's suffered any brain damage.

It's better than Aaron had dared hope and Eliza’s eyes are shining with tears. The doctor tells them a nurse will be there in another half hour or so to take them back to the ICU to visit Alexander. After she leaves, Eliza reaches up and pulls Aaron into a hug. Despite the fact that they literally met a few hours ago Aaron gratefully returns it, holding her tight for a fierce, happy moment.

Then she's making a call, and ordering her extra people to make their own calls. Aaron doesn't have anyone he wants to call, instead he sits back down and enjoys breathing as if a weight has left his chest.

When the nurse comes back, Eliza tells him to go on ahead first, and he feels a rush of gratitude towards her. He follows the nurse, past the other beds to the glass walled room where Alexander is. She leaves and it's just Aaron, Alexander, and all the machines keeping Alexander alive and monitored.

He's propped up in nearly a sitting position, with the ugliness of the ventilator strapped to his face. It pumps with a soft mechanical sound, and Alexander's chest rises and falls with it. He's so pale, something waxy and unnatural about his skin under these lights. Aside from the small movement of his chest he's completely still in a way that is so counter to Alexander that Aaron feels a touch of panic, and has to step forward to touch. That doesn't fully help, Alexander's hand too cool and limp in his own. Nevertheless Aaron holds it tight, then presses a kiss to his palm, trying to find something familiar there. But even the smell of his skin is wrong, antiseptic and harsh. Aaron runs a hand down Alexander's forearm, through the hair there, and that almost feels familiar, but still too cool. He lays Alexander's hand down, and smooths his hand instead over Alexander's blanketed legs. Strangely that helps sooth the panic rising in Aaron’s chest. Through the blankets Alexander's knobby knee feels as bony as ever, the same as every time it's struck Aaron in the night, or jabbed him in the middle of a movie on the couch. Aaron stands there resting his hand on that knee until his breath, which had begun to quicken, slows. He forces himself to listen to the heart monitor and ventilator, trying to find their steady rhythm soothing.

Seeing Alexander connected to all these machines reminds him of his grandmother’s long, slow passing. It reminds him that Alexander's recovery will be slow as well, and exactly what a long hospitalization means for family. It means getting to know the uncomfortably personal details of another's body, in a way that probably neither of them would chose. It means fraying nerves, and bad moods from both patient and caretaker. It will be a test that Aaron never expected to face, given his pessimistic view of how long the relationship was going to last.

As aware as he is of the awkwardness and exhaustion to come, he is equally certain that he has no intention of backing away. So much uncertainty and doubt had been burned away in that one terribly public moment of realization and fear, and now Aaron has no intention of letting his own past, and hangups get in the way of his time with Alexander, even if it means hours spent in the hospital, or damage to Aaron’s career.

He leans carefully over the tubes and the rails of the bed to press a soft kiss to Alexander's temple, before going back to the waiting room to allow Eliza and company their turns.

#

Aaron stays at the hospital until the night shift comes on, making sure they have his number and know to call him in case anything happens. They reassure him with a practiced annoyed sympathy, and he catches a cab home.

His apartment is too quiet, but he tries to ignore it, instead flipping through all the missed calls and texts on his phone. He's been ignoring them all day, but it's what he expected, a few texts from Angelica and a series of calls from network people and his agent, an intimidating woman named Deb. He takes a moment to send Angelica a brief reassuring text and then braces himself and calls Deb.

It's late, but she picks up right away, “Aaron.” Her voice conveys supreme disappointment, but that's all she says, waiting for him to explain.

Despite having hours to consider this conversation he falters, “Deb.”

She huffs an impatient sigh and takes over, “I hope you realize the network is down our fucking throats about this.” Deb can appear very sweet when it suits her purposes, but it clearly does not today.

Aaron finds himself by the window, looking out into the dark, “I realize.”

She's really impatient now, “Well? You have to give me something. I can't save your job if I don't know what's going on.”

“I need you to get me leave, I need some time off.”

There's a pause and he can almost hear her changing strategies, “Aaron, where are you now?” Her voice has become sympathetic and warm, “Are we talking alcohol? Drugs?”

She's clearly prepared to spirit him away to a rehab facility, which he should probably appreciate, but it surprises a laugh out of him, “No I-” He takes a deep breath, “No. I need family leave. The thing is- The issue is, I'm in a relationship with Secretary Hamilton and I think you can understand that I want to be with him during his recovery.” There. It's the first time he's actually told someone, and it feels both terrifying and good.

There's a pause. This apparently wasn't on Deb’s list of possibilities. Aaron is sure there's a list. She clears her throat, “A romantic relationship?”

“Yes.”

Her voice is absent, clearly she's formulating a new strategy, surprise already in the past, “How long?”

A good question. Aaron's not sure how Alexander would answer it, but for him the start has to be the very first moment he allowed himself to kiss Alexander, in that dark alley where the stars could barely shine, “Just over a year.”

She hums thoughtfully, “Before or after the election?”

“After.”

“It's serious?”

He’d almost sure she's taking notes, “Yes.”

“For both of you?”

Irritated now, “Yes.”

She seems satisfied with that, “You know Aaron, this is the kind of thing you tell your agent.”

He doesn't say anything, and she switches from businesslike to sympathetic again, “How's he doing?”

He turns away from the window, back to his empty apartment, “Stable for now.”

“Good,” but she sounds absent again, already back on her plan, “So. Your best bet is to go public with this.”

He expected that, wants it even, but years of careful habit stop him from agreeing.

She tries again, cautious, “Is that something Secretary Hamilton would be okay with?”

He remembers the last time they talked, right here, strangely not even twenty four hours ago, and Alexander saying he wanted this, wanted Aaron, “Yes.”

She sounds relieved, “Then you need to strongly consider it, given your position with the network.”

He still can't quite make himself answer and she takes this for disagreement, “Aaron you know what shit you are in with the network. Your reaction got a lot of attention, but if we go forward with this, it becomes understandable. Besides that, the network can't fuck with you if you're the new Jackie Kennedy.”

It feels like a punch, his mind flashing to every picture he's ever seen of Jackie at the funeral, her black veil not able to hide her tears, and he gasps, “Jesus, Deb.”

“Shit,” and she sounds genuinely regretful, “Shit, I'm sorry. I mean, Nancy Reagan.”

He takes another moment to push the pictures away, and tries to laugh, “Much better.” He takes a deep breath, “Yes. Let's do this.”

She turns brisk and focused again and they quickly hash out the details. She probably has a long night in front of her, but she takes a moment at the end of the call to reassure him that everything will be fine.

#

Aaron tries to sleep, conscious of how very little sleep he had gotten the night before. However every time he drifts away he's overtaken by the images of Alexander being hit by the bullet. In the dreams sometimes he's in Eliza's place, unable to hold back the life that's pouring out of Alexander. Sometimes he's stuck behind secret service agents that won't let him go to Alexander and he fights against them, but only catches glimpses of the red pool spreading under Alexander, and of his ever paler face. When a dream comes that mixes these images with old, horribly familiar dreams of the crash that killed his parents Aaron gives up.

The dreams left his heart pounding and his breath shallow and too fast, but he slips on clean clothes with shaking hands, bundles up his phone charger, and goes back to the hospital.

The ICU isn't quiet, even in the middle of the night, but most of the people there are employees. Their steady purpose, the beeping of the machines, and the hiss of the ventilator soothe him. He slouches down in the uncomfortable visitor’s chair next to Alexander’s bed, and watches Alexander's chest rise and fall until he drifts into a light sleep.

Aaron manages a couple of hours like that until they kick him out for the morning shift change. He gets some food from the cafeteria and takes it back to the ICU waiting room, empty at this hour. His phone has started buzzing and he can only imagine that the news of his relationship with Alexander has broken. He tiredly flips through his email, skipping everything but the message from Deb that confirms his leave.

He reads through it and then sees she's just sent another. It's a link to the Today show’s coverage of him and Alexander. They've made Lee do the report which makes Aaron smile internally. He must have been pissed, probably already imagining himself escaping mornings to take over Aaron's position.

Watching people he knows, colleagues, report on his love life is awkward, but he tries to assess it with a professional eye. It's a sympathetic story, good press probably, although the position of the other networks might be more important. FOX is going to be interesting.

The best picture they've managed to find of Aaron and Alexander together is from the last interview Alexander had done on the show. It's from the end of the interview, Aaron thanking Alexander for joining with a smile. Alexander's return smile looks genuine. In the context of the story, it does seem like there's something warm and fond passing between the two of them.

Then they're showing the clip of Aaron finding out about the shooting again, and Aaron closes the video. Seeing it again made him feel shaky, but it's too soon to go back to Alexander's room. Instead he does an image search for Alexander and flips through until he finds a fairly recent one of Alexander smiling. He makes it full screen and absently traces Alexander's features, his smiling eyes, the proud nose, and full mouth, until he feels calm again.

#

The doctors are keeping Alexander under today, and there's not that much point to Aaron being there, but he doesn't want to be anywhere else. Other people drop by, Eliza, Senator Laurens, the French Ambassador, and even the President and First Lady. Each of these interactions is awkward in their own way, although Aaron tries his best, remembering how much Alexander wanted Aaron to know his friends. He probably also wouldn't want to be seen like this, so Aaron works to distract them in small ways.

That night is no better than the one before, and Aaron finds himself slinking back into the ICU before the sun is up to doze near Alexander again.

Late the next morning they take Alexander off the ventilator. They make Aaron wait outside and he hovers nervously outside the glass, but it goes off without a hitch. They tell Aaron that Alexander could wake later in the day, but for the moment he's content to listen to the sound of Alexander breathing on his own, enjoying the absence of the mechanical pump of the ventilator.

It's a few hours later that Alexander swims awake for the first time. It's only for a few seconds, and he blinks blurrily at Aaron before drifting back off. Aaron's not sure Alexander even recognized him, without his contacts or glasses he's pretty lost in the best of circumstances, which this certainly is not. Still, Aaron holds onto the memory of those dark eyes, confused or not.

The next time Alexander wakes, he's more alert, but he wakes with a start, breath too fast and rough, heart monitor beeping faster and faster. His teeth are clenched against any sounds, but when Aaron asks if he's in pain he nods tightly. Aaron flags a nurse and she adjusts the pain medication. Alexander's tension gradually dissipates, and he slowly slides asleep again. He still hasn't said anything, but even as the rest of him relaxes he holds tightly to Aaron's hand.

Aaron stays close to his side, but he doesn't wake in the next few hours. In the evening Eliza shows up, and watching Aaron's stiff movement suggests he go stretch his legs. He would argue, but his back is aching, so he volunteers to go get them some tea from the cafeteria. She nods, and promises to stay with Alexander until he gets back.

Aaron tries to take his time, stretching out his legs, and smiling at the woman who rings up his tea and protein bars, but there’s a constant thrum of need to be back with Alexander that pulls him back in less than thirty minutes.

When he walks into the room Alexander is awake. He squints confusedly at Aaron, while Eliza waves him in excitedly. Aaron’s heart thuds, and he walks closer to the bed, absently handing Eliza her tea, and placing his own to one side. She thanks him and says, “The nurse was here, he passed all the test questions with flying colors.” She smiles fondly at Alexander, “He even knew who the president is.”

Aaron tries to smile at that, but Alexander is still staring at him, as if he can’t understand why Aaron is there. At first Aaron thought it was just his lack of glasses, but Aaron is right beside him now, who else could he be? “Alexander,” he says, reaching to take Alexander’s hand, but Alexander pulls it away, and Aaron’s breath leaves him.

Alexander’s gaze darts back to Eliza, and then back to Aaron, and he says, “Aaron.” His voice is rough and small, little more than a croak, but hearing it is wonderful even as Aaron tries to figure out what he’s done to make Alexander pull away from him. Alexander’s gaze darts to Eliza again, and there’s something pointed in it, as if he’s warning Aaron.

A sudden, rush of relief pours over Aaron as he understands. Alexander is trying to protect him, he doesn’t know exactly how public their relationship has become, that there’s no point in hiding. Aaron reaches again for Alexander’s hand, taking it firmly this time, “Interesting news, while you were out of it, our relationship has become a matter of public record.”

Alexander’s hand is limp in Aaron’s, and he looks to Eliza again as if to weigh her reaction. She just smiles and chirps, “Very true. You trended on twitter.”

Her lack of surprise seems to settle the matter for Alexander, and he turns back to Aaron, taking Aaron’s hand in return with a look of wonder, “Well, okay then.”

Aaron smiles at him, an awkward broken smile, too filled with emotion, and then hides the whole mess by sitting at Alexander’s side and lifting his hand to press a kiss to the back of it.

Aaron apparently does a poor job hiding, because Alexander slides his hand from Aaron’s to brush a thumb over the twist of Aaron’s lips, looking fond and grave. He takes Aaron’s hand again, and lets their joined hands drop back to the bed, apparently tired by even that. He turns his attention back to Eliza, kindly letting Aaron regroup while he asks her a question. The three of them talk a bit, reassuring Alexander that the world is turning on without him, until Alexander drifts off again, and Eliza takes her leave. She hugs Aaron tightly on her way out, and tell him to get some sleep. Instead he drinks his, now cold, tea and eats a protein bar, watching Alexander’s peacefully sleeping face.

The fourth time Alexander wakes, it’s late, and it’s just the two of them. Aaron is sitting by his side still, not dozing, but drifting in and out of focus. He realizes that Alexander is watching him, and straightens up a bit, smiling at him. Alexander smiles back, soft. He holds out his hand, and Aaron takes it. They hold hands, watching each other, a pool of stillness between them in the middle of the nighttime beeps and fuss of the ICU, until they both drift off to sleep.

#

After that Alexander’s march to recovery begins. Alexander being Alexander, he’s always pushing himself, and his recovery is faster than the doctors suggested it would be. First he gets moved to a regular hospital room, then he pushes through the the in-hospital rehab, until they declare him ready for the physical rehabilitation facility. He also pushes to get back to work, and with the approval of his doctor an aide brings him a tablet from the office, and a pair of his glasses. Aaron returns his phone, cautioning him against the video he’ll no doubt find if he googles himself. Alexander seems struck, as if he hadn’t thought about that, but take the phone eagerly, flipping through the email for the hour allowed by the doctor at first, frustrated when it ends.

His recovery is as much of a test as Aaron knew it would be, Alexander is not meant to be trapped in a hospital, and the more he heals the more apparent this is. He wants to work, and wants to have some measure of control over his day to day life. Aaron tries to be as steady for him as Aaron can be, and tries not to smother Alexander, knowing that he thinks the doctors, therapists, and nurses are already hovering enough, but frayed nerves occasionally get the best of both of them. These moments of tension are always resolved, and at his best Alexander seems to appreciate the help and distraction that Aaron offers. He worries that Aaron is going to feel suffocated by the time he spends at the hospital, even though Aaron always protests this.

When Alexander tells Aaron that he doesn’t need to spend so much time at the hospital, that surely he would prefer to sleep in his own bed, Aaron agrees. Alexander doesn’t need to know that Aaron still can’t sleep through the night, that sleeping away from Alexander leaves him plagued by dreams of Alexander bleeding and dying. He doesn’t need to know that without fail, even if Aaron’s seen Alexander full of life only a few hours before, these dreams leave him with a bone deep certainty that something awful has happened, that he’ll never see Alexander again.

It doesn’t lead to much sleep, but Aaron adjusts. He spends hours at night running on his treadmill until he’s exhausted enough to catch a few hours of sleep. He reads when he can, and when things are really bad, he uses Alexander’s key and spends hours curled in Alexander’s bed, surrounded by his scent. 

Aaron’s doing okay, but he has headaches most days, he’s never hungry, and when he’s not at the hospital he feels jittery and unfocused, so he resists when Alexander suggests he goes back to work. The network is playing along, apparently the media coverage was sympathetic enough, and that jackass Lee is probably pleased as punch to be covering for Aaron, so he’s not worried yet. He’ll get it together soon.

That’s what he tells himself, but then one day he finds himself waking up at the rehab facility. He’s woken up by Alexander making his way back into the room, apparently returning from physical therapy. Aaron was supposed to go with him to the rehab session, and the last thing he remembers is sitting down by Alexander’s bedside a few minutes before they were supposed to go, watching Alexander answer email. He sits up, confused and ashamed, watching as Alexander jokes with the aide who is walking back with him. Alexander doesn’t even really need help anymore, but they don’t want him walking alone in case he does have trouble, and usually Aaron takes that role. But apparently today he’d fallen asleep instead.

Alexander sends the aide on her way, and sits carefully on the edge of his bed, studying Aaron.

Aaron tries to sit up straighter, and look less tired, more together, “I’m sorry.”

Alexander nods, still studying him. Alexander’s hair is escaping the sloppy bun he has it up in, and he’s a little sweaty. He’s also holding himself carefully, probably hurting after pushing himself to the edge at physical therapy like always. Aaron cautiously suggests, “You should lie down.”

Alexander shakes his head, “No. You come here.” He gestures Aaron forward.

Confused, but compliant, Aaron drags his chair forward so he’s sitting in front of Alexander, Alexander a bit higher on the edge of the hospital bed.

Alexander is wearing his glasses, and the intent way he’s peering through them at Aaron makes Aaron feel like one of Alexander’s budget reports. It’s the kind of focus, the kind of need to understand, that Alexander normally reserves for work. Aaron resists the urge to squirm under that gaze, and holds still as Alexander reaches out and touches Aaron’s face. He runs his thumb gently under Aaron’s eye, and then up towards his temple. Then he slides lower, tracing down from the corner of Aaron’s mouth, and Aaron realizes with a start that he’s studying all the lines on Aaron’s face, the circles under his eyes, all the places where his exhaustion must show. Aaron pulls back from Alexander’s soft touch, hating his own transparency, but not saying anything.

Alexander finally breaks the silence, “Aaron, what’s wrong?”

Aaron shakes his head, “Nothing’s wrong,” but he can’t meet Alexander’s eyes, and he doesn’t know why he bothered.

Alexander pauses, but when Aaron chances a look back at his face he’s still scrutinizing Aaron as if he can figure it out just by looking. “Something is obviously wrong. You’re tired all the time, you’ve lost weight.”

Aaron can’t look away, but he can’t answer either. Alexander doesn’t need this. He was the one that got shot.

Alexander is the one to break their gaze, he looks past Aaron and sighs, “Okay. Is it something with your job? Do you regret coming out? Or being here? With me?”

And he’s meeting Aaron’s eyes again, but his expression looks braced, as if he’s ready for Aaron to admit that he regrets their relationship. It’s so far from the truth that Aaron feels what little defense he has left crumbling, “No!” Aaron takes a deep breath and says again, “No.”

Alexander’s face looks less guarded, but no less worried, “So, what’s going on?”

“It’s....” Aaron trails off, not sure how to explain. He studies the fabric covering Alexander’s knees rather than meeting his eyes, and tries again, “I’m having a hard time sleeping.”

Alexander lets the silence grow, waiting for Aaron to fill it, and so he goes on, “When I sleep, I dream- I dream about the shooting.”

Alexander takes a sharp breath, but doesn’t say anything.

Aaron has already given himself away, he might as well get it out, “I dream it over and over, and when I wake up, part of me knows what really happened, but part of me-” His voice is wavering at this point, “Part of me is sure that you died, and I can’t relax until I see you again.”

“Aaron…” Alexander reaches out, cupping Aaron’s jaw, but Aaron can’t look up. The kindness in Alexander’s voice, and the warmth of his touch only make Aaron feel more unsteady, and instead of looking up, he leans forward, resting his face on Alexander’s legs and trying not to actually cry.

Alexander brings his hand up to rest on the back of Aaron’s head, soothing and warm, and Aaron more or less manages to avoid actual tears, and to get his ragged breathing under control.

After a minute Aaron pulls back, still unwilling to meet Alexander’s eyes. Alexander squeezes his shoulder, and then eases himself back to lay in the bed. When he has himself settled he says, “Come here.”

Aaron looks up and sees that Alexander has slid to one side of the bed, and is holding the hand on the other side out, for Aaron to join him. It’s ridiculous in the too small hospital bed, but the idea is too appealing for Aaron to even pretend to protest. He slides off his shoes and carefully slides in next to Alexander. It’s a tight fit, and Alexander placed him on the right, his uninjured side, when Aaron usually takes the left side of the bed, but Alexander pulls Aaron tight to him, and Aaron feels something that his been wound tight in his chest ever since the shooting, relax slightly.

They lay still for a minute, and then Aaron says, “I’m sorry.”

Alexander makes a small noise of protest, and says, “You don’t need to be sorry for being upset, I should-”

“No,” Aaron interrupts, “I’m sorry because this is my fault. If I hadn’t been so insistent on not coming out you wouldn’t have even been with Washington, you would have been packing for vacation.”

Alexander is quiet for a moment, then he says, “I want to tell you something, and then I want to ask you something.”

He sees to be waiting, so Aaron nods a little.

Alexander reaches over and places his hand over Aaron’s where it’s resting on Alexander’s stomach, “I want to tell you, I don’t blame you. It doesn’t even make sense, we were only going on that trip because we couldn’t be out in public. I was the one who decided not to go. And the only person who is at fault is the guy with the gun.”

Aaron makes a small noise of agreement. It sounds logical, but it doesn’t feel true.

Alexander goes on, “You know they have me seeing a psychologist to deal with the shooting, right?”

Aaron does know. He’s met her in the halls a couple of times, although he usually tries to give them space when he knows she’s going to be there. She seemed nice, and it’s a good idea for Alexander to be able to talk to someone, “Yes.”

“Would you consider seeing someone?”

Aaron probably shouldn’t be surprised by this suggestion considering what he’s just told Alexander, but somehow he is, “Me? I wasn’t the one who got shot.”

Alexander nods, “No, but neither did Eliza and it would make sense for her to go, wouldn’t it?”

Aaron doesn’t answer, although obviously the answer is yes. He was in a brightly lit television studio though, not actually being shot at.

Alexander tries again, “Even if you weren’t there, it was a traumatic experience. It’s obviously still affecting you. Would you consider it?”

Aaron doesn’t really have anything to lose at this point, “I guess so.”

Alexander reaches over to drop a soft kiss on Aaron’s forehead, “You can just try it. Find out if it helps.”

Aaron nods, and that seems to be the end of it, because Alexander says, “See if you can get some sleep.”

It’s almost embarrassing how quickly Aaron drifts away to sleep, grounded by Alexander’s arm around him, and his comforting scent. It’s the best sleep Aaron’s gotten since the shooting.

#

After that Aaron supposes they are both on the road to recovery. Alexander is pushing himself as hard as ever, although in the remainder of his days at the rehab facility he makes time for a nap with Aaron once a day. It’s embarrassing, but also a deep relief and so Aaron takes what’s offered.

Alexander is at the rehab facility for less than a week more, and then he’s allowed to go home. Without really discussing it, Aaron more or less moves in with Alexander. Aaron’s there to help Alexander with his physical therapy, and lifting anything heavy, and Alexander’s there at night so Aaron finally starts getting some regular sleep.

Meanwhile, Aaron starts seeing the therapist that Alexander’s psychologist recommended. It’s more useful than he thought it would be, not an immediate fix, but Aaron can see the shape of the problem now, and how to begin addressing it.

Alexander eases back into work, first working from home, then short days at the office, and then fully back on the job. After the first full week back, he seems on top of the world. He got in two public fights with other politicians that were reported on in the media, and it’s business as usual. He’s thrilled that people are no longer treating him with the extra care and respect as they had been immediately after the shooting, which he had found infuriatingly condescending. When the first negative story about him makes The Washington Post he’s positively gleeful.

Aaron also makes it back to work, The first day back in the studio, he gets briefly lost in the memories of the last time he was here, the fear and despair he’d felt, but he manages to put it aside and greet the crew. Angelica seems particularly relieved to see him, which she expresses by telling him that at least he’s not as terrible as Lee. He slides back into researching and preparing for the week’s show, although they keep him off camera when normally he would be doing spots for the nightly news. The network wants to have him come back on Sunday, apparently promoting it as his triumphant return. That sounds like they trust him, but it’s hard to believe that when it turns out they’re paying Lee to sit in the studio during the show in case he needs to take over. Aaron draws on his performance ability, doesn’t show that it bothers him, and turns out a great show.

Going forward the network seems to have regained trust in him, although the new edict is that he can’t interview Alexander himself. They do encourage Aaron to get him to join the roundtable occasionally, which they seem to feel will be good for their ratings. Aaron isn’t quite sure how he feels about his relationship being used like that, but Alexander loves destroying people in the roundtable, so whenever Eliza approves it he’s there.

Their lives slowly slot into a new shape together. Aaron officially moves in, and although they both still live very busy lives, they do ordinary things like grocery shop, or eat out together. Aaron attends formal events with Alexander, and Alexander clearly enjoys getting to show him off. Aaron doesn’t mind being shown off like he thought he might, it’s actually a little flattering. Anyway, Alexander usually makes these events more interesting than they might otherwise be, by gravely offending someone, or flirting with bored partners, only too willing to flirt back, which, again, usually leads to grave offense. Aaron’s presence adds a new wrinkle, and he loves watching people try to hold back their reactions in front of him, for fear that they’ll be in the news if they react as they truly wish.

The strangest part for Aaron is how often he’s now the subject of news. It’s not really often, but when he attends these events pictures are taken, and sometimes stories written that mention him. Twice he and Alexander get their picture taken while doing something totally ordinary like taking a walk. Both times the photographer looks vaguely sheepish, as if they too believe they could be doing something better with their time, but nonetheless these photos end up online.

The culmination of this strangeness comes when the next White House Correspondents dinner rolls around. Alexander and Aaron attend together, which feels satisfying after the last one, but they are are also the target of several jokes from the hosting comedian right off the top. They play along as nicely as possible, laughing in good humor even at the less than funny ones. Afterward, when the focus has shifted, Aaron whispers to Alexander that it might be more difficult this year, because people will actually notice if they leave, but he’s willing to sneak out to make out in an alley if Alexander is. Alexander smiles at him, fond and genuine in a way that he wasn’t when he was humoring the comedian a minute ago. It makes the lines around his eyes deep, and Aaron smiles back gently, before dropping a quick kiss on the edge of the laugh lines, and turning back to pretending to pay attention.

What he hadn’t realized was that the camera was on them again, and by the end of the dinner that small moment of intimacy has been giffed, and somehow has it’s own buzzfeed article. It’s not quite what Aaron meant when he was a boy saying he wanted to make the news, but in the end it might be better.