Alexander had thought, before that fated day in Weehawken, that he knew about death. From the day his weak, fevered body had been peeled away from his mother's corpse, from the wreckage of the hurricane, the bodies he'd all but climbed on top of to get himself away from that island. From the brutal deaths of men on the battlefield and the festering deaths from infections and plague. From sitting with dear Peggy, calmly waiting for death to escort his sister and friend away from her pain. From the inhuman experience of Philip's deathbed, curling up next to his tormented son knowing how powerless he was to stop death's invasion. From the months after Philip's death, struggling to find light in the world even as new life grew inside Eliza, realizing too late that little Angelica had fallen too far inside herself for him to reach.
Dying, it turned out, was something that could only be truly understood from the inside. The world disappeared for a while after the punch of Burr's bullet finding his ribs, but he saw a hazy view of the Manhattan shoreline then faded away again for a while until he woke to the blinding pain of the doctor's hands on him. In him. He caught glimpses, through the roiling darkness of his last hours, of the people around him--his dearest Eliza, his sister Angelica and brother-in-law John, all of his children, even the smallest ones looking at him with their big, beautiful eyes. He heard little Angelica talking to Philip, and when he managed to push his eyes open he thought he saw his oldest son, strong and alive again. And then Philip was gone. Again.
Though he couldn't muster the strength to open his eyes, he thought he heard his mother praying at his side. He thought he felt John's hand in his hair, that fond voice whispering in his ear.
The last thing Alexander was sensible of was Eliza's slim, strong hands holding his. "I love you truly," she said, her voice choked. "You're a damned fool but I would choose you again."
You always were a headstrong woman, Alexander tried to say, but his throat wouldn't work around the taste of blood. He managed to catch Eliza's gaze, and in her nod and shaky smile he saw that she understood. The pain that wracked his body began to slip away, the room turned foggy around him, and his breaths began to lapse away from his body like the small waves of the river's tide washing away from the shore. Slow, gentle, intractable. And then nothing.
And then Alex sat up, gasping at the rasp of unfamiliar breath through his lungs and throat. In the dim light of one candle he could see that he was dressed in his best black suit, and as his gaze traveled past his own body he blinked at the shadowed form of his old friend, George Washington.
"I should have expected you to be with the hosts of angels in heaven, sir, not in whatever purgatory to which I've found myself consigned."
Washington smiled, that gentle smile that always meant Alexander had run too far past the best path. "There is to be no afterlife for us, at least not yet. This is purgatory only in the sense that this city has always been, compared to the peaceful spread of open fields and unmolested tracts of forest."
Alexander shook his head, preparing his argument for the vibrant life of the city and the beauty of his home uptown, before his mind returned to the mystery of their situation. "Sir," he said, his voice reminding him of himself in his most uncertain moments as a young man under the General's tutelage. "Please, I don't understand."
Washington stepped closer and put his hand on Alexander's chest, just over his beating heart. "You were dead, just for a while, and now you're not. I cannot explain how this has happened to you any more than I can explain how it happened to me that first time, years before we ever met. Whether it's a blessing or a curse, you and I are of the sort that Death declines to remove from the world."
"You don't mean that we're some manner of ghost or demon?"
Washington laughed. "No, we're simply men. Living men."
Alexander swung his legs over the side of the slab he'd been laid out on. "Then I must go home. There's so much work for me at home. My family--"
"No." Washington's hand on his shoulder was gentle but heavy, and the word brooked no argument. "In the eyes of the world, you are dead. They saw you die. You lay in state, men carried you through the streets, and you were buried in this crypt. The church bells cannot be unstruck anymore than the bells of Liberty could be. There's a life for you, but your old life is gone. You chose to trade it for some scrap of honor, and you cannot take it back."
Alexander shook his head. He argued until his words rung against the stone walls of the tomb, but in the end he walked out with Washington in the cover of darkness. He thought he might have well been a ghost, but sometime between getting into the back of a carriage with his old friend and walking into an unfamiliar house in the light of morning he came to understand that this was a new kind of living, a new world beyond the shade of death that had chilled him throughout his life.
Despite the ache of what he'd left behind, Alexander's mind raced ahead to what he could do next. He felt like the young man he'd been when he first stepped foot on New York soil--the young man who had been lurking under the weight of years and responsibilities, debts and regrets--began to wake again. There was a big world around him, a still-new nation, an infinite future. And breakfast. Good god, hopefully breakfast.
The house was on the outskirts of a small town in New Jersey, a narrow structure but sturdy and neat with a doctor's shingle hanging out front: L. Johnson, MD.
"I've had rather enough of doctors just recently," Alexander commented as he followed Washington out of the carriage.
"This is just a place for you to catch your breath and decide where to go next. You'll find an old friend inside, one who's been looking forward to seeing you again for some years."
"But I thought--"
"Patience, Mr. Hamilton."
They had no bags to retrieve from the carriage, and the driver left after a word from Washington. At the door, Washington knocked once then turned the knob to enter without waiting for a response. Alexander hesitated on the threshold as he felt something strange, like a vibration at the base of his skull. Nothing happened, and the feeling in his head settled so he followed Washington inside, and the sight of the young man he saw descending the steps left him feeling for a moment that he might die again, that his heart and lungs were trying to once again cease all motion.
The man's hair was cropped where it had been long before, and there was something of the weight of twenty years in his bearing but his face was as unlined as it had been the last time Alexander saw him, before his fateful departure for South Carolina. "John?" There was no breath behind the word, but the man nodded anyway as he reached the foot of the stairs and drew closer, his hand reached out.
"Yes. It's good to see you, my friend." His voice was different, that old southern accent weaker, but Alexander couldn't help the rush of fondness inside of him any more than he could help the flash of rage that followed it.
"God damn you, Laurens!"
John drew his hand back, startled. "Alex--"
"All of those years! Two decades I mourned you, and all that time you were alive!"
John looked down and didn't respond, but Washington murmured, "As your family mourns you now."
Alexander shook his head and reached out to grab a rough handful of John's shirt. "You left me. I needed you. God damn you!"
John looked up to meet his eyes, and the calm Alexander saw there cooled his own anger. "I've regretted my death for twenty years now, as I know you'll regret yours, but we can be friends again now if you can bear it."
Alexander let go of John's shirt and pulled him in for an embrace instead. "God damn you," he whispered in John's ear, but the anger was gone for now.
Moments later, the three men settled down for a breakfast of thickly sliced toasted bread with blackberry jam, fried eggs, and coffee. Alexander looked around the room which was well but simply appointed. "Have you been here all this time? Since the war? On your own, or--"
"On my own, yes. I have a girl from the town who comes to clean and cook a little, but I mostly get by on a bachelor's rations, besides what some of my patients foist upon me. Since the war, no, but I've been here for some years. Almost too many years, I think."
"I agree," Washington said around a sip of coffee.
"It seems like a nice enough arrangement."
"It is, but I've always known I'd have to move on. After the--after I died and after the General here came to spirit me away, I went further south for a while to study medicine. Once I finished my training, I came back up north to escape the fact that I had made no difference and could make no difference to the lives of so many people living in bondage. I'm not proud of that, but I built my practice here, and the town has been good to me."
Alexander nodded. "And you worry that soon they'll notice that you scarcely look a day older than you did when you arrived?"
"They already have, but I don't know how much longer I can laugh it off as the luck of a strong constitution."
"Not much longer, son."
John tipped his head to acknowledge Washington's words. "I've answered an advertisement recently, from a town out west seeking a doctor. Dr. Lawrence Johnson has recommended his young apprentice for the position, and I expect I'll be departing by next spring at the latest. There, I'll start fresh again." John looked more resigned than pleased at the prospect, but it made sense, to the extent that anything in these last hours had made sense.
Alexander looked over at Washington. "May I ask what your situation is, sir? Surely your face is one of the most recognizable in the whole of the nation."
"Lamentably, yes, but I get by."
In the morning light, Washington looked many years younger than he had the last time Alexander had seen him, just after Adams' damnable inauguration. "How long ago was it, sir, that you truly died?"
"Just over thirty years ago now, in a quiet spot in the woods with nobody knowing other than a slave woman who was one of us. I was 41 when it happened and by the time I left the presidency it was becoming clear to me that powdered wigs and dental implements weren't enough to continue making me appear to age. Martha and I made arrangements, and after my public death I moved north to rural Pennsylvania. I have a small farm, where I can work the land myself with the help of paid farmhands." A significant look passed between him and John.
Alexander remembered when he'd been courting Eliza, when he'd warned her that they might well end up as simple farmers, thought he'd never had any intention of allowing his life to go that way. He thought of the small crops he'd grown at the Grange in recent years, and as his thoughts went again to his family, an idea struck him with a jolt that he felt all through his body.
"What is it?" John asked, peering at Alexander from across the table.
"You say there are more of us. Are they all known to you, in the city and nearby at least?"
"I'm not in the city often, but I've recognized only a few of our kind in passing."
"And do you know? Can it be told if this is passed down through families? My son, could he be--"
"He's not," Washington said gently.
"But my daughter, she's never varied from the insistence that Philip is still alive." Alexander felt himself shaking, the adrenaline of long-lost hope rushing through him. "We've thought her mad," he whispered, "but what is this, us here, but madness?"
Washington lifted his hand to rest on Alexander's shoulder, and the weight of it pressing him down into the chair was a surprising comfort. "I'm sorry, your son is truly gone."
"I wanted very much to visit you when I read of his passing," John said. "I'm more sorry than I can say."
Alexander nodded his head and did his best to push away the thoughts that darkened his mind. "Thank you, my friends."
Soon after breakfast was completed, John's first patient of the day arrived at his front door. Washington was concerned the he or Alexander could be recognized, so they withdrew to the second floor where there was a spare bedroom with a small parlor. Washington, who had traveled hard from the time the news of Alexander's death had reached him, excused himself to the bed for some rest, but Alexander found that he couldn't even sit much less sleep. In stocking feet, to avoid disturbing Washington or creating undue noise for John and his patients below, he paced back and forth. He composed correspondence that he would never write down, for they would only be a waste of paper and ink since he could never send them.
He had thought his affairs were satisfactorily resolved before the duel, but there were so many more things he could think of to write to Eliza, their children, the Churches. To Jefferson, to Burr. To the grocer, even, but he could understand the logic of his new reality even if he couldn't quite believe it. None of those people could even hear from him again. So many words he had written as Alexander Hamilton, and now there could be no more.
He felt as though the words were filling up his chest, choking him, and finally his quick steps couldn't keep up with the pace of his heartbeat and his jagged breaths, and he stumbled down to sit in one of the chairs in the little parlor. He would have been surprised that the commotion inside him hadn't woken Washington, but the man had always been the consummate soldier, able to find sleep when he could. Alexander was watching the pulsing darkness behind his eyes, listening to the irregular gasps of his breathing, when he felt a hand on his knee and looked up to see John crouched in front of him.
"Breathe more slowly, my friend," John said quietly, calmly. "I remember this like it was yesterday, don't you?" John breathed in and out steadily, and Alexander endeavored to follow him. "Not before a battle, not you, but that time before you went to make your proposal to Miss Schuyler."
"Among others," Alexander gasped out, sick with shame that he could still lose control like this. He was no young man now, and still his mind could run away with his body like a horse that had snapped its tether.
"And every time you found your breath."
John's calm assurance transmitted itself to Alexander the way it had all those years ago, and he felt the grip on his chest loosen. "Do you think I can safely venture outside without being hung as a witch?"
John smiled. "I think some fresh air is worth the risk. Let's leave the General to his rest."
Alexander followed John down the stairs and out his back door to a cool, wooded patch not far behind the house. They sat down next to each other on a broad felled tree, and it felt like they were young men again, making what they could of a quiet moment between training and meetings and skirmishes. With the aftermath of his panic trembling through him and the realization of how many words he would never get to speak to people he cared about, Alexander couldn't keep himself from saying what was in his mind to the man beside him.
"Dear Laurens, I hope you don't take me for a twisted old man when I say that you're as lovely as I remember, if not moreso."
A slight flush bloomed on John's freckled cheeks, and he looked down. "You've always been a flatterer, Hamilton."
"I know I'm going to have to make a plan on move on from here sooner than later, but maybe we could have a few days? There was never time back then, but I always thought we could have explored, perhaps, the pleasures of the Greeks." Alexander's heart raced again, but not with the raw edge of earlier. He wouldn't admit this to John, but he'd lain with men a few times, back before he and John had ever met, but those had been rough tumbles. He'd always wondered what it might be like to touch a man with the kind of tenderness he felt for his dear friend.
"I've declined that offer from you before, Hamilton, and the answer hasn't changed."
Alexander swallowed hard. "I'm sorry to have offended you."
"I'm not offended," John said, sounding more upset at the prospect of offense than he had at the suggestion of buggery.
"I thought that in this world where everything, even death, is turned upside down, perhaps we could move beyond those common morals. And you have no wife or any such thing here, unless the girl who does your cleaning--"
"Dear God, Hamilton, she's barely 15 years old. It's neither moral qualms nor romantic attachments that stop me, and I've never loved any man more than I have you, Alexander. I'm simply not inclined, and it would be decent of you to respect that."
Alexander was quiet for a moment, absorbing that and breathing the earthen smell of the trees into his body. "Of course, John. I'd like to spend a few days in any case. We can be bachelors together, and you can tell your patients that I'm your eccentric uncle who doesn't care for company."
"I'd like that very much." John smiled, and Alexander felt the sweetness of that smile spread inside him like tea on a brisk morning.
That evening, after a simple dinner filled with conversation about Alexander's plans for the future, Washington left. His fields were calling him, and he prefered to stay farther from the city. Still, when Washington embraced him before taking his leave, Alexander found himself hoping dearly that their paths would cross again. He had spent so many years struggling under the weight of Washington's shadow and then those last few years wishing he could have that shade again. The one strange day with them both just being men, men who were somehow not dead, had given Alexander a hint of what it would be like to know Washington as an equal.
He thought about tracking down the man's farm in Pennsylvania once he was ready to leave John's house, but an invitation hadn't come, at least not quite. Alexander had instructions to write to Washington care of the post office in the nearest town to his farm, should he need any help, but that wasn't the same thing as a request for his presence as a dispossessed former soldier, attorney and statesman with an undependable record for pulling cabbages and squash out of the ground. Alex shook his head at the idea and watched Washington's carriage disappear down the dim road before following John back inside the house.
The few days that Alexander had with John in New Jersey were bittersweet. Aside from the mixture of the joy from spending time with his old friend and the sorrow of having left his family behind so irrevocably, he also couldn’t help imagining how the last twenty years might have been with John Laurens by his side. What might have been different in his career if he and John had risen up together, fighting side by side and back to back against Jefferson and others of his ilk? More painful was imagining what his personal life might have been with the trusted, steadying influence John had been for him during the war. He might not have let his sins lead him to tearing apart his family. They might not have--
Alexander feared he would lose himself to an infinite spiral of hindsight and blame, so when he found himself slipping into those thoughts he forced himself to look around at what he had: friends, a future, his life. He prayed that the years ahead of him wouldn’t grow to feel interminable. Late at night, mere hours before he was due to leave John’s home, and well into his cups Alexander leaned his shoulder against John’s. “What do you know of the natural laws of this new existence?”
“I know I crave food and sleep in the same proportions as before, but can we starve? Can we sicken? Can true death find us in any way?”
John sighed. “All I know is what I’ve been told and what I’ve observed in myself and the few others of my acquaintance. If you’re injured, as long as your head remains attached to your shoulders, you will heal. It will happen very quickly for a minor injury, over the course of a day or more for grievous damage. I imagine that there must be a level of bodily destruction that would be unrecoverable, but I don’t know where that line would fall. Illness, however, cannot touch us. No more summer fevers for you, my Alexander.”
“I won’t miss that, certainly.”
“You'll have no more children either. After our first death, that spark that can generate new life is gone.“
“But I can still…perform?”
John laughed quietly. “So I am told.”
It was good news, Alexander supposed, that he wasn’t at risk of leaving a string of bastard issue behind him. If we were to be forced by circumstance to move on every decade or two, he wouldn’t have to abandon children the way his worthless father had. Of course, if he were to fall in love with a woman, it also meant that he could never give her children, but he reminded himself that he’d been lucky to have that with Eliza. Twenty years of marriage and nearly half as many children would surely have to be enough for any span of lifetime.
John jostled Alexander’s shoulder. “I hope that you don’t plan on seeking the borders of this life. I know we’ll both be moving on to new places soon, but I like to think we’ll meet again one day. And we can exchange letters, as long as we keep each other current regarding mailing addresses. Washington gave you the address of the general mail drop he set up in the city?”
“For if any of his geese become disconnected from the flock, yes. It’s strange to think that in a sense I’ve exceeded Washington in age now. Perhaps I should call him George.”
“Perhaps,” John said, sounding doubtful.
In the morning, Alexander began his journey to a new life. First to Boston, where some of the funds Washington had left for him went to buy a new suit that would be serviceable for traveling along with the few other things he would need until he could establish himself in a new place. From there, carrying expertly forged identity papers arranged for by Washington, he boarded a ship bound for the continent. He didn’t know quite how Washington had made the arrangement, but the head of the Milan office of an import and export firm with ties to America had recently vacated the position, and Alexander was to be his replacement.
As he sat in his small cabin on the ship, he thought about his first long voyage, the one from St. Croix to New York. He’d been a boy then, on his way to start a new life in a new place, and his situation was strangely similar thirty years later. Those thirty years had given him strength and knowledge, but they’d taken some things from him as well. At least he still had his mind, he thought as he crammed over some slim texts he’d picked up in Boston. He spent long hours studying to turn his rusty but fluent French and his old schoolboy Latin into a working knowledge of Italian.
By the time he arrived in Milan, he was ready to push forward with building a new life that could also help to support the life he’d left behind. He worked to increase the profits of the business, easily replacing the business lost when he cut ties with any companies that traded in human flesh, and sent everything he could back to New York as anonymous donations to the fund that Washington had told him was established to support Eliza and the children. In his off hours, he gained fluency in his new tongue and studied the laws of his new home. He kept up correspondence with John, as much as was possible given the logistics of getting letters from the American Midwest to Europe and back, and if his communication with Washington was less frequent it came to feel like a touchstone in his life, a sense of a home he could return to one day.
Years passed, and Alexander’s spare funds went to the orphanage his dear Eliza had founded now that his own children were all grown. When it was time for him to shed the identity that had once been new, he moved to Rome and established himself as an attorney specializing in working with clients from English-speaking countries, travelers and expatriates both. Investments he made along the way matured, and he established an account for himself back in New York—a down payment on a future he hoped to have in the city he’d called home for so many years. He spent years shaving his face smooth twice every day and avoiding wearing his glasses in public and then more years growing out his beard and going about bespectacled to age himself. Some days it felt like a game, others a burden. Like life, really.
When his life in Rome was growing older than he could pretend to be, Alexander weighed his options. Italy had become home, and he was proud that much of the time he could pass for a native, the coloring he'd inherited from his mother along with his fluency in the language and culture allowing him to blend in with the society around him. Seeking counsel, he sent a letter to Washington, and the answer he received was surprising.
By the time this letter arrives, I expect that I will myself be en route to the shores nearer your location. I will rendezvous with an old friend in Paris then proceed to your fine city. I will send further word when we are on the road to Rome.
Alexander read the brief missive over and over again until the words began to make even less sense than they had the first time. Beyond the shock and surprising joy that Washington would be coming to visit him, he didn't know what to think about the prospect of an old friend. John Laurens was in California, having worked his way as far west as he could without leaving the continent. It was clear that Washington was acquainted with more of their kind, but it seemed unlikely that he would bring somebody Alexander didn't already know from Paris to Rome for a visit.
When the next letter arrived, it was with no more information but at least the anticipation was to be shorter. Washington declared their expected arrival date to be Wednesday the 11th, and the calendar read Tuesday the 10th. His flat was well-appointed but not large, two bedrooms being more than enough for Alexander and whoever he had warming his bed from time to time. He had the signora who kept his rooms clean air out the second bedroom and refresh the linens on that bed as well as his own, and early Wednesday evening he was anxiously attempting to distract himself with a newspaper when a knock came at his front door.
Washington stood on his doorstep, as tall and pleasantly imposing as always, and behind him was a man Alexander had never imagined he would see again. "Lafayette! My God!"
The Frenchman gave Alexander a sly grin. "Are you going to let us inside, mon ami, or must the general and I seek lodging elsewhere?"
"Of course!" Alexander stepped back and opened the door wide for the two men to enter with their bags. When the door was closed behind them, he turned to look at Washington. "Why did you not tell me?"
"It wasn't my business to tell. In any case, I thought you should have time to fully establish yourself here without too much by way of ties to your old life. God knows you didn't need to be tempted to engage in American politics."
Washington pierced him with a look, and Alexander felt his mouth drop open in disbelief. "You knew? How--but it was only the one letter!"
"The 'letter' was more of a treatise, and nobody else could have been so righteously smug about Madison's re-establishment of the Federal Bank. The only reason your name wasn't attached to it by the public at large is that they believed you eight years in the ground. There were rumors that one of your sons had written it, though none who were old enough shared both your facility with words and interest in financial systems, and I even read a rumor that your sister Mrs. Church was the author."
"Well, at least people were reading it, and I imagine Angelica was amused by the speculation."
"I've never known a woman with a finer mind," Lafayette added, and Alexander was confused until he remembered that Angelica had become friends with the Marquis while she lived in Europe.
"I thought I read of your death, what was it? Ten years ago now?"
"Twenty." Lafayette raised his eyebrows and nodded in understanding. The time passed ever more swiftly, it seemed. "Of course, my actual death was many years previous." Alexander couldn't quite guess the age from Lafayette's face, but he supposed it must have been at least thirty years before his official passing.
"The revolution? Yours, that is?" He could never think of the French revolution and his friend's role in it without a pang of guilt. Keeping the fledgling United States out of the conflict had been the correct path, but Lafayette had crossed the sea to support the colonies in their revolt. He had deserved better.
Lafayette gave him a lingering look that let Alexander know he was thinking the same thing but then his face relaxed and he shook his head. "Non. I survived that, and what I did not survive is perhaps a tale for another time. Right now, I am more interested in dinner. And drinks. Or perhaps just drinks."
They all laughed and Alexander embraced each of his friends in turn before letting them freshen up and then leading them on the short walk to his favorite quiet restaurant. They stayed for hours, eating their fill and drinking bottles of wine before finally making their way back to Alexander's flat. He showed Lafayette to the guest bedroom and then directed Washington to his own room.
"And where will you sleep, Hamilton?"
"On the chairs in the parlor. I've slept in far worse, certainly."
"There's no need. Your bed is plenty large for both of us to bunk together."
"Sir, I couldn't."
"Call me George, won't you? I'm just a farmer, visiting old friends from another life. I've slept next to laboring horses a time or ten, so I think I'll manage with you."
Alexander thought suddenly of his drunken conversation with John about calling Washington by his Christian name. "Well, Farmer George, I'm so flattered by that comparison that I must take you up on your offer."
Washington's--George's dignified face broke into laughter, and Hamilton left to snuff out the lamp in the parlor before returning to his bedroom. The tall man was stripped down to his underclothes, his strong thighs naked below his long shirt, and Alexander forced himself to look away before undressing as well. When they were both in the bed with the light out, Alexander forced himself to lie still while his mind buzzed like a tree full of bees. Enough time had passed that he was sure George was asleep when he heard the low voice next to him. "I can hear that brain of yours."
"I'm sorry, sir. George."
"You don't need to be sorry. What are you thinking about?"
Alexander sighed. "So many things. The time races by, and it's only seeing you and Lafayette, talking about the past and tallying up the years, that I realize I'm nearly a century old. How can that be?"
"I don't know. I don't think anybody knows."
"By all rights, I should have died before I was old enough to shave. Unknown and unmourned save by a few who might once in a very great while have thought fondly of a child they once knew."
"Alexander, I think I would have mourned you, even if I had never known your existence. Our revolution and our government would have suffered without you, and I'm more glad than I can say that you survived. And that you survive still."
Alexander's throat felt tight with surprising emotion that he would not express. He coughed to clear his throat. "I suppose, considering what's happened, that I wouldn't have truly died back then in any case."
"Not necessarily. To my knowledge, the first death has to be a violent one in order to trigger the awakening."
Violent death had been a possibility, Alexander thought. Tropical fevers weren't the only dangers he had faced, but that led to times he cared to revisit even less than the memory of his mother's deathbed. He needed something to distract him from his own story. "Will you tell me how you died, the first time?"
George nodded slowly. "It's not a very exciting story but not a very terrible one either, at least not for me. It was a period of peace, relatively, and I was at home. It was very early morning, misty and silent. I was riding cross-country in the fields around the plantation, and I lost my grip as the horse galloped over a stream. I cracked my head on a rock, and that would have been that."
Alexander felt his heart twist at the thought that he never would have met the man, had that been the end of his life. He thought he understood what George had meant about mourning him even if they hadn't met. "What happened?"
"I woke hours later, alone and disoriented, with only a gore-covered rock and my unblemished skull to tell the story. I made my way back to the house, and later that day a woman found me. A slave." George cleared his throat. "One of my slaves. She explained to me what I was, that she was like me and that she'd always been able to sense that I'd meet this fate. She said I'd been converted."
"From mortal man into whatever breed of immortal we may be. She had been converted by her first owner after she was brought to America. He was...one of us as well, and he could tell she had the same potential."
"So he--no." Alexander's stomach twisted.
"He murdered her so that she would stay young." George took in a deep breath and let it out in a sigh that jostled the bed. "I freed her, sent her north, arranged for her education, and for a long time I told myself it was enough. You and Laurens with your youthful northern ideals, that barely touched me. You know who changed my mind? Turned my heart into that of an abolitionist?"
It was strange and moving to hear George talk about this subject they had always done their best to avoid. "Who?"
"Your wife. Your Eliza."
The emotion that had threatened earlier suddenly swelled beyond the boundaries Alexander had built for it, and he let out a dry, sobbing breath as tears flooded his eyes. He rolled to turn his body away from his friend, hiding as best as he could from mere inches away, but George followed him. He fitted his larger frame in behind Alexander then put a hand on his arm, gentling Alexander as if he were a spooked horse. George didn't say anything else, just breathed quietly and steadily, close enough for Alexander to feel the wind of it on the back of his ear. The moment felt more intimate than any encounter he'd had in the last half century, and that made him squeeze his eyes shut tighter.
Slowly he began to relax, allowing some of his weight to rest back against George's body, and at some point without realizing it he fell asleep.
Less than a year later, another brief letter from George brought the news of Eliza's death. She was the last and dearest of his contemporaries, and he couldn't help thinking of their children. Even Little Phil would be past fifty now, but Alexander wished he could be there for all of them, all of his children whom he had held when they were moments old, all of his children who would think him a stranger. He had moved back to Milan to start a new incarnation of himself, but he was at loose ends, undecided if he should stay in Italy and what manner of career he should pursue now.
His investments had performed well enough that he didn't need an income to keep himself fed, but his mind required employment, and without it he had little to do but think of his erstwhile home across the Atlantic. In its way, the nation had been his child, and he'd had a hand in its first moments, too. Everything he read told him that the states were even more fractured than they'd been during Adams and Jefferson's presidencies. It alternately enraged and saddened him to think of the country he and Washington and even damnable Jefferson had built tearing itself into pieces.
He knew that he could never be Alexander Hamilton again, never again allow himself to rise to any kind of prominence, but there was so much work to be done, so much he could do.
It was time to go home. On the passage back west to New York, he thought of what he had managed to ascertain about his family through correspondence with an agent in the city. Of his children who still lived, his sons were all successful men living outside of the city. He remembered them as he'd last seen them, brave boys lined up to see him as he died, little Phil just a babe in arms, and he didn't think he wanted to see them now. A stranger with their father's face was the last thing any of them needed on their doorstep. Little Betsy was a matriarch in her own right with her home in the new capital.
The child who called to him was Angelica. Her nervous collapse after Philip's death had hurt nearly as much as the precipitating incident, and she was living in a hospital not far from the city. He knew that Eliza would never have left her to live in some horror of an asylum, and he didn't want to think that his sons would allow their sister that fate, but Alexander felt that he owed it to her. She was the only one of his children who could need him, and the thought of her being like an orphan, abandoned, tore at him all through the voyage.
He didn't send word ahead to let his small cadre of old friends know of his plans. He slipped into the city with newly forged papers and found lodgings only to have a place to leave his baggage before he made his way out of Manhattan and into the little hamlet of Flushing to find his daughter. To his relief, the facility looked less like a hospital than a grand estate with carefully manicured grounds. He acted as if he knew where he was going, and the staff ignored him as he made his way through the halls.
Alexander found her in a small, sunny room. She wore a simple smock dress and sat in a rocking chair with some lumpy crochet work in her lap. Long grey hair hung around her face, and when she looked up his heart clenched at the sight of his daughter's eyes in an old woman's face. Her expression was blank for a moment, but then her lined face brightened into a wide smile. "Daddy!"
Alexander knew in that moment that he couldn't stay, that he could never come back, but with his heart racing he crouched down in front of her chair and touched her delicate wrist. "I'm so sorry, my dear," he whispered.
"Excuse me, sir?"
Alexander stood and whirled around to see a nurse paused in the doorway. He found himself devoid of words, irrationally terrified of being found out.
"I didn't know that Miss Hamilton was expecting a visitor today." The suspicion in the woman's voice was clear.
Alexander forced his mind to return to its functioning. "I'm sorry, I was just traveling nearby and wanted to visit my--my aunt."
"Of course." The nurse's face relaxed. "It's kind of you to visit."
"I should be going."
As Alexander passed through the doorway he heard Angelica call out behind him, "Daddy!" And then louder, when he was several feet down the hallway, "Daddy!" He wanted to run to escape that sound but it came again, shrill enough to slice through him like Burr's bullet had fifty years before. "DADDY!" He heard a rush of feet and a door close behind him, and then the nurse from before rounded in front of him.
"Sir? Mr. Hamilton?" Being called by his name was startling, disturbing until he remembered that if he was masquerading as the son of one of his sons he would of course be a Mr. Hamilton. "Please don't concern yourself," the nurse continued. "You must bear a resemblance to your grandfather. It's not your fault."
Everything is my fault, Alexander thought, sick to his core. "My aunt, does she need anything? Is there any problem with payment since my, my grandmother passed away?"
"No, sir. Your family provides for her well."
"Thank you." Alexander heard a door open and one last, desperate DADDY that pierced him like a piece of shrapnel in his heart. He couldn't manage any more words for the nurse, so he simply left. He gathered up his rented horse and started back toward Manhattan. When he found a quiet spot along the road, he stopped next to a tree, dismounted and leaned into the horse's neck as he shook and his heart raced and his stomach twisted.
Perhaps his daughter had been born with an unseen fracture in her mind, destined to break from whatever sadness touched her life first, but if not then he had done this to her with his lust and his pride that had led to Philip's death and then his own seeming death. No matter how long he lived, he would never forget the sight of his daughter's face, an elderly, broken child. He would never forget the sound of her delight, the greeting that had welcomed him home for years, and then the sound of her pain as he abandoned her again.
Back in those first few days of Alexander's new life, John had cautioned him against trying to find the boundaries of their mortality, and for the first time since then Alexander felt that calling for him, like the dragons at the edges of an old map. If his Angelica had been born with a fault in her mind, then he was certain the fault had come from him. He hadn't asked for the ever-unfurling number of years that fate had given him, and he knew he didn't deserve them, but even in the depths of his grief and guilt he knew that throwing them away would benefit nobody.
Back in Manhattan, Alexander knew that he should find food and take advantage of the bed he had paid for, but as much as he'd wanted to be in New York City, he needed to go somewhere else first. He booked a ticket on a stagecoach that would take him most of the way to his destination, and in the time he had to spare before its departure he had one place to visit. He made his way to lower Manhattan and then to Trinity Church. Seeing his own name, his old name, on the spectacle of a monument was chilling but he did his best to ignore that. Instead he knelt and touched the letters of Eliza's name where it was inscribed in her gravestone. He imagined sitting at her deathbed as she'd sat at his, and it felt like another failure. He paid his respects at Angelica Church's grave as well and hoped that Eliza had been correct in her faith, that the sisters were at least together in some happy hereafter.
Alexander collected his bags from the room he'd rented and went to meet the stagecoach that would take him to Pennsylvania. He slept in little more than brief snatches of time during the journey, and logic told him that he should rent a room in the small town where the stagecoach left him, but he was beyond logic. He bought a horse and headed out of town toward the location of George's most recent farm. If George had moved in the months since they'd last corresponded, Alexander thought he would have to throw himself on the mercy of the farm's new owners and beg to sleep in the barn if it came to that.
He felt barely able to stay upright on his horse by the time the farmhouse came into view, and when he came to a stop in front of the porch he found himself reluctant to dismount. If George wasn't inside, Alexander wasn't ready to know that. A moment or an hour later, the front door of the house opened, and a man stepped outside. Tall, solid, familiar. He had a rifle in his hand, not aimed but hanging ready at his side.
"Can I help you?" George called out, an edge of threat in his deep voice. I hope so, Alexander thought, but he didn't have the words. George walked closer, holding a hand up to shield his eyes from the glare of the sun. "Who in creation--Alexander? What are you doing here?" When Alexander didn't answer, George tilted his head toward the house. "Come on inside. I'll take care of your horse."
Alexander nodded, or thought he did, and swung his leg over to dismount the horse. He felt his feet hit the ground, but the earth wasn't solid under him. The day grew dim, and he felt himself falling but suddenly George's arms were around him, and the darkness was from his face being pressed into the front of George's shirt. Right there, he was more comfortable and secure than he'd been in weeks, and he let himself go.
When Alexander woke, he found himself in a bed in an unfamiliar room. He was dressed, thank goodness, but he couldn't remember how he had found himself in this place until he heard a man clear his throat. He turned his head to see George sitting in a chair watching him, and the whole saga of his trip from Milan to New York City to rural Pennsylvania came back to him.
"Sir," he said, and his voice sounded strangely dry. He was reminded of waking up after a fever had passed, but that hadn't happened in a very long time. His body wasn't sore, but he felt like it ought to be
George stood and walked over to sit on the edge of the bed. "I thought we had agreed you would call me George."
"George. I'm sorry."
"You ought to be sorry, collapsing on my doorstep when I thought you were safe in Italy."
"How long ago did I get here?" Alexander had the disquieting feeling that it might have been days or years since he'd left that stagecoach.
"Just a few hours. I think the rumbling of your stomach woke you up."
Alexander put a hand on his stomach and realized that it was indeed painfully empty.
George nodded, unsmiling. "Stay where you are. I'll bring you something to eat."
Alexander had managed to push himself up to sit by the time George returned bearing a tray with a bowl of broth and a hunk of brown bread. Neither of them spoke while he ate, and his stomach and his head both felt more settled by the time the dishes were empty. "Thank you. I know I should have written to tell you I was coming back. I meant to write once I got settled in the city, but--"
"You should have written, yes, but you also should have slept and eaten in the last few days, and I suspect you hadn't. What happened?"
Alexander sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "I got off the ship, and I was in New York for less than a day. I wasn't, ah, I suppose I wasn't prepared for the elements of my former life that I left behind." He was silent for a moment, and George didn't press but he continued anyway. "I went to see my daughter. She's well taken care of in a clean, bright room, but of all the things I've seen in my life it was the worst."
"What do you mean?" George's words were painfully gentle.
"She is all of my failings and all of my faults purified and distilled into human form." The words were bitter in his mouth.
"You're wrong about that."
"Have you been there? Have you met my Angelica as she is now?"
"No." George held up a held up a hand to silence the retort Alexander was on the verge of spitting out. "You've learned a lot in the last fifty years, Alexander, but maybe returning to this country has made you forget one thing: you are not the axis around which the world spins."
"Your daughter is not a physical representation of your sins and more than you are of your own father's. Maybe you could have been a better father or maybe you had to be what you were the same way she has to be what she is. Her life may not be what you wanted for her, but she is a person, and her life could be much worse. You must know that."
Alexander nodded, accepting the logic of his friend's words even though he wasn't ready to let go of the guilt he carried.
"You're welcome to stay here as long as you like, though I'll likely put you to work once you've had a chance to get some rest. There's water in the pitcher on the washstand over there if you want to clean up, and if you want to sleep some more I'll wake you for dinner."
George left the room, and Alex thought that he ought to be a better guest--get up, wash his face, see what he could do to make himself useful--but he hadn't had a good night's sleep since well before leaving Italy. George's home was sparsely furnished but comfortable, and Alex couldn't help lowering himself back down to the mattress and surrendering again to sleep.
Though Alexander's body had reminded him that his health wasn't entirely impervious to mistreatment, it was nonetheless clear that this incarnation of his body recovered much more quickly than what he remembered from his mortal years. With sleep allowed and nourishment ingested, he woke the next morning feeling as well as ever. George served up a simple breakfast of eggs and oatmeal, and as they ate Alexander decided to ask about a subject he'd been puzzling over for years.
"Can I ask an impertinent question?"
George raised an eyebrow. "I don't see why not."
"Have you been on your own all of these years or have you, ah, taken wives or--"
"Taken wives? You make me sound like some kind of sultan."
"Well, living out here you're not likely to be meeting women casually. As, ah, one might in a city."
"As one might." George chuckled. "That's enough to tell me that the old tomcat never quite got tamed. To answer your question, I have no desire to bring a woman into my life only to have to leave her behind, and more casual relations have never been appealing to me. I've been alone since I left Martha."
"You don't miss being with women?"
George looked away and exhaled loudly through his nose before turning back to face Alexander. "Since you've asked an impertinent question--more than one, in fact--I'm going to give you an impertinent answer. I loved my wife, and I've admired many women, but I have never desired a woman the way other men do. Does that shock you?" There was a challenge in George's voice but vulnerability in his eyes.
"No, it does not. Here's another impertinent question: do you desire men?"
George's mouth tightened, and he looked around as if somebody might have crept up upon their conversation then nodded. "Yes," he said quietly, "I do."
"I do, too. And women too, as must be clear. Does that shock you?"
"It probably should, but I don't know that anything about you can shock me anymore."
In another tone of voice, from another man, Alexander might have taken that as an insult, but from George it just made him smile. "Well, we've had an interesting start to our morning. What can I help with around the farm?"
Alexander, who had imagined himself doing something heroically masculine like breaking wild horses or tossing bales of hay, was displeased to find himself picking stringbeans. George laughed mildly at his disappointment and thanked him for his help as they shared lunch with George's farmhand. The young man and his wife lived in a cabin on George's property, and she took care of some of George's household tasks while the couple saved up for their own farm. After lunch, George released Alexander from his labor and encouraged him to go back to the house.
"Write a letter to John Laurens, why don't you. You can ride into town tomorrow to post it, and I'll give you a list of supplies to pick up."
"Yes, sir," he said, smirking when he saw George open his mouth to remind him that he was no longer "sir" to Alexander.
"Go," George said in a mockery of sternness, and Alexander went. He wrote a long letter to John, and though John was on the other side of the continent Alexander couldn't help hoping that John would at least begin to make his way east again.
At dinner that night, as they ate a chicken that George's tennant had roasted for them, Alexander proposed to ask George another question.
"You and your questions, Alexander! Don't you think we both had enough this morning?"
"Not particularly, but this is a different topic."
"Okay," George agreed cautiously. "Go on."
"How is it that from the small group of us who were close to you during the war, at least three of us that I know of are somehow beyond death. Four, including yourself. It seems an unlikely coincidence."
"How long have you been wanting to ask that question?"
"Just slightly longer than I'd been wanting to ask the other questions."
"I suppose I deserved that. In any case, there's no coincidence. Surely, in your life abroad, you've come across people who are not like us but who you sense have the potential. Not the full buzz in your skull but--"
"More like a tickle deep between your ears. Yes."
"Right, well, I was in the position of having my choice of nearly all of the bright young men involved in the war, and I made it my business to meet as many as I could in person. I felt that it benefited us as a nation, though perhaps it only truly benefited my peace of mind, to have some of the men whom I trusted implicitly and about whom I came to care very much be safe in a way that most men are not. To be able to know that you few would come through the war no matter what, some days that gave me the confidence to push on."
"I know you feel it's not your place to share who else might be among us, but will you tell me plainly if Jefferson or Adams or Burr still walk the earth?"
"As far as I know, all three died as old men in their beds and stayed in their graves. I never got any inkling of potential from any of them."
"Thank God for small mercies. Especially Adams, that smug motherf--"
"PLEASE, Alexander. You know I never appreciated that language, and if I didn't approve of it in battle I certainly don't want to hear it in my kitchen."
"I'm sorry, truly."
"Thank you. As far as I know, nobody else of your acquaintance is among our kind. Just you and me and Laurens and Lafayette."
"Well, I couldn't have asked for three better men."
On his trip into town, Alexander picked up what newspapers and other literature was available and placed an order at the local dry goods store for more reading material. He had spent the last few decades quarantining his mind from American politics and the development of the nation in general. He had filled his mind with the laws and culture of Italy and its neighboring nations in Europe, but all of that fell away now that he had American soil under his feet again--and under his fingernails, thanks to George.
"These politics are perverse!" He railed at George that evening, which George accepted with a frustrating degree of equanimity. "Now the party of the North, the anti-slavery party, are calling themselves the Republicans? How can I be expected to align myself with such a party without feeling as though I'm capitulating to Jefferson and his toadying followers?"
"Thomas Jefferson certainly wouldn't call himself a Republican under these circumstances, unless he'd had a rather significant change of heart."
"That's what makes the whole situation so perverse!"
The more Alexander read, the more certain he became that an excellent use of his time would be to spend the next year writing a six volume collection of works titled Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton Was Correct About Everything. The fact that his contemporary adversaries were all dead and gone and that any men who spoke out against his legacy now had been at best mewling babies back when the nation was being built for them provided a certain amount of comfort, but that old enemy of wounded pride still rose up inside him calling for action and for words. For a flood of words that would wipe out everything in its path.
Alexander had to take a deep breath and remind himself that he'd seen the devastation that flood could leave behind. He didn't want to witness such again. He needed a direction for his thoughts, a channel for his energies, and finding that would mean leaving Washington's farm. He had a plan set in his mind, but he needed a few more days to fortify himself before he headed back to the city. The next evening, as Alexander attempted to help George with his nightly check of the barn animals before bedtime, George surprised him with a question of his own.
"What we spoke of the other day--" He cleared his throat before going on. "I can't stop myself from wondering if you've turned that desire, the one I share, into action."
"You can't stop yourself from thinking about me having sexual relations with men? Why, sir!" Alexander knew as soon as the words left his mouth that they, along with his light, mocking tone, had been entirely wrong. In the light of the lamp he was holding, Alexander saw Washington's strong jaw clenched tight, and some combination of anger and hurt flared in his eyes. "George, I'm sorry. That was both unkind and unjust of me."
"Not all of us know how to be as free with ourselves as you."
"I'm not quite as much of a libertine as you might think, but the answer is yes. Not very many men, but yes." Alexander's thoughts flitted to the first, a boy his own age before he left the West Indies, and the last, a rather pretty deckhand on the ship to New York. What an ill-advised mess that had been.
George nodded and tended to the horse in silence for a moment. "Were any of them ever more than a night or, ah--"
Alexander left the sentence hang for a few seconds before completing it, careful to keep his tone low. "Or a quarter hour?" At George's quiet breath of laughter, he knew he'd said the right thing. "Only once, maybe a decade ago. He stayed with me for a few weeks."
Alexander needed something to do with his hands, so he hung up the lamp, found a brush and began idly working on a horse that didn't need brushing at all. "He was an Englishman named Owen, and he'd fled to Italy to escape an indecency charge at home. He had expected his partner in supposed-crime to follow him, but instead he found himself alone. He was young and bright and sweet, and he shared my bed until his lover finally made his way to Italy. Whether his arrival was motivated by a guilty conscience or charges of his own I don't know. He seemed a bit of a brute to me, but it was clear from the moment Owen saw him that our time was at an end."
"I'm sorry," George said quietly.
"It's of no consequence. I was fond of him, but I didn't love him. I haven't loved any man or woman I've met since my death. I wonder if that was lost in the translation from one form of life to another, and my feelings for people I knew in that life are just a vestige."
"I wish I could tell you otherwise, but I honestly don't know."
Alexander put down the brush and rounded the horse to stand nearer to George. "If you want to find out what it's like, I would be willing."
"I won't use you that way."
Alexander thought of many things to say. I am yours to be used or The lines of your body in your uniform drove my dreams for years or Ask me to stay with you forever, and I'll try. All of them were true, but none of them were the right words. He could think of actions, too, that wouldn't be right: reaching out a hand to touch the bulge in George's breeches, dropping to his knees in the hay, and worse. Instead he just took a half step closer and raised himself up on his toes to press a light kiss to George's lips.
George kissed back for just a heartbeat then shut his lips and stepped to the side. "I'll finish up out here," he said, his words firm but not angry. "Alone. Please."
Alexander nodded and returned to the house where he sought out his borrowed bedroom. He knew that sleep would be a long way off, but he put himself to bed with a candle and a book, and he was several pages along when he heard a knock at the door. "Come in," he called as he set his book down unheeded.
George entered slowly but then sat down on the edge of the bed, much as he had a few days earlier when Alexander woke up from collapsing in George's arms. "There's something I'd like to do," George said, his voice steady.
"Anything. Well, nearly."
"Just this." George leaned in for a kiss, and again their lips touched. Alex let his mouth relax and felt George's tongue slip across his, soft but intent. Stubble brushed against stubble, and Alexander barely dared to breathe, but all too soon George pulled away, breathing unsteadily. He reached a hand out to smooth down Alexander's hair from his brow down to his shoulders, and Alexander held himself still against leaning into the touch like a purring cat.
George let his hand drop back to his own lap, but he didn't leave, and after a few beats of silence Alex offered, "It doesn't have to be just that."
"Yes, it does."
"Will you tell me why?"
George sighed but nodded. "Part of me believes that this." he gestured between their bodies, "between men is wrong. Wrong in the eyes of God and Nature and Man."
George touched one finger to Alexander's lips briefly before continuing. "And part of me believes that among all the wrongs in the world surely there's no moral consequence to actions taken in private, in agreement, between adults. Part of me believes that perhaps it's not wrong at all."
"And so that first part has a very loud and insistent voice when I debate this subject in my head. It's much like you, Alexander, in comportment if not belief. I fear that if I let things go too far between us and if that first voice wins the day, that our friendship will become tainted. We have few enough true friends, you and I, that I don't think we can afford to take that gamble."
Alexander thought about all the lovers he'd so easily walked away from and about Eliza, how difficult it had been to reestablish goodwill between them after he'd broken her heart. Without the things that had tied them together--their children, their home, their promises made before God--Eliza surely would have turned her back on him forever. He wouldn't have blamed her. Without those same ties, even loving her as he did, he likely would have strayed even sooner than he had.
All Alexander said was, "I understand."
George reached out as if to touch Alexander's hair again, but then he stood and withdrew from the bed. "Sleep well," he said, and then the door closed behind him.
Two days later, Alexander was making his way back to the city, this time with thick sandwiches George has pressed upon him tucked safely in his bag. This time, he would do what he should have when he first got off the boat: focus on building the next phase of his life, let his old life be behind him. Once he was settled into temporary lodgings, he found a forger who would create the documents he needed then purchased some textbooks to get his knowledge of the law up to date.
No matter how old he might be, he still felt an adolescent thrill when it came to studying under pressure, even if the pressure came from within. He liked the way his mind felt when it was crammed full of new facts, like a taut belly after an overly large meal. He would digest that knowledge every night and wake up hungry for more the next day. Before long, he felt competent to practice again, and he set himself up in a modest office with attached living quarters. It wasn't the Grange, but he wouldn't allow himself to even ride past the home he'd built so long ago.
New York began to feel like home again, and he and the city weren't so disalike after all. They both kept surviving despite what had been thrown at them, and they both managed to reinvent themselves over and over. He saw neighborhood streets where he remembered open fields, parks where there had been shantytowns, new shantytowns on land he'd once fled across with stolen canons. He noticed a bank where Hercules Mulligan's old shop had been and a butcher shop in place of the tavern where he'd passed many evenings during his time at King's College.
Keeping his voice out of the political theater was a constant struggle, but he constrained the worst of his rants to letters he sent to the few people who would be capable of understanding. The union they had fought and killed for and then so carefully constructed was fracturing, and Alexander couldn't see any way to stop it. Some days, the only balm to his bitter disappointment was to lose himself in drink, and if he rambled about the sorry state of politics to the barkeep then he was far from the only man to do so.
The city held its disappointments for him, too. More than sixty years after that smug Puritan John Adams had insulted Alexander for his status as an immigrant, the city was full of both more immigrants and more fervid insults against them. And then far too many of those very immigrants Alexander wanted to support were turning their fear and rage on the city's population of free negroes rather than focusing it on the men in power who were exploiting them for their labor and keeping them trapped in their filthy, dangerous neighborhoods.
Alexander did what he could to help, which was very little. The scope of the city's problem was crushing, nearly as large as the whole nation around them. Other than work and correspondence and drink, the only true antidote to the mounting anxieties of this era was to retreat to George's home in the country. There, it could have been the 1700s again instead of more than halfway through the 19th century. George neither offered nor accepted any more kisses and there was no sharing of the bed, but on his visits to the country Alexander felt an intimacy he hadn't known since the best years of his marriage. In a sense it felt like those last years he and Eliza had together, when they had weathered a storm together and come out the other side with a stubborn kind of love intact.
Bit by bit, Alexander learned more about the workings of the farm, and the days he was able to spend at George's side were the ones he looked forward to the most. As singularly competent as George Washington had been at leading troops and then leading the new nation, Alexander could see that the man was at his best on the farm. His body and his mind were both in their element, working to coax life out of his land and nurture it in his livestock. George's mind and body both being in very fine form, sometimes Alexander would allow himself to pause in his work and just watch.
Out in the world, the election of 1860 was bearing down on them. Alexander was nearly certain that Lincoln would prevail, and he both hoped for it and feared the consequences. Weeks after the election, when talk of secession was rumbling up from the south like a slowly-building earthquake, Alexander received a telegram at his office. It came from the Kansas territory--halfway across the continent, and the missive had been written that same day. The message was simple: Returning to NY via train. We have work to do. JL
The train schedules from Kansas to New York told Alexander that John would be arriving in about a week. It was astonishing, that a distance that would have required six weeks of hard travel at the beginning of the century was now accomplished within a week's idleness in a train car. The first half of John's journey from the west coast would have been much slower, but Alexander had little doubt that the steam trains would push straight through to the shores of the Pacific within another decade or two. The only thing that would stop them was if the nation crumbled to pieces beneath them first.
John was right. They had work to do.
In short order, Alexander shuttered his law practice, settled his accounts, and traveled with John to George's farm. He thought that he shouldn't have been surprised to find Lafayette sprawled on a chair on the front porch, and yet he was.
"Mon ami!" He called out as he dismounted his horse. "You haven't had enough revolutionary drama in your life?"
"Mon ami, it is unpleasant to see our work coming undone, but it is wonderful to see you." He turned to look at John. "And you, Mr. Laurens. It has been very long indeed."
"Since Yorktown," John agreed, and the two men stood awkwardly for a moment before embracing. It was astonishing, this life--that that old friends could go more than half a century between meeting and still fall in together like brothers.
"Speaking of which, the General and I have been talking plans."
Alexander nodded. "So have we."
"Then let us conspire together over dinner."
As George explained his plan over dinner, it became clear that he had been doing more than farming over the last several decades.
"Aside from Mr. Laurens here, none of us can afford to have our faces enter the history books again. And again, aside from Mr. Laurens, we all appear too old to be recruits."
"You have a way of making a man feel significant, General," John drawled.
"I'm not a general, and I never will be again." George pointed his fork at John and then Lafayette in turn. "Do you two understand that? Call me Washington if you must or George if you will."
Lafayette shrugged slightly, disaffected, and John looked startled but he nodded in agreement.
"Moving on," George snapped, sounding every bit the commanding officer, "we can be more effective outside of the military rank and file."
Alexander's mind raced with the possibilities. "How can we do that and not end up taken as the enemy by both sides?"
"During the revolution, you all knew I was working with a spy ring. Yes? The man who built that ring is like us. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we are like him."
"How so?" Lafayette asked.
"I don't know when the man drew his first breath, but I suspect it was a very long time ago. I wouldn't be entirely shocked to learn he'd whispered in Julius Caesar's ear. In any case, his organization remains, with hidden ties to the Union government, and he runs it from the shadows. Through my connection with him, we'll avoid running afoul of the Union military or working at cross purposes."
"You want us to be spies?" Alexander wasn't sure how well that would suit his particular temperament.
"On occasion perhaps, for some of us, but mostly I have in mind the kind of operations that we learned worked so well against the Redcoats. Sabotage, disruption, surprise strikes under cover of darkness. The kind of work that four good men can do more effectively than an army of a thousand recruits."
"We shall be snakes in the grass," Lafayette said.
John raised a glass to that and drank. "May we strangle them in their sleep."
"And what of the farm?" Alexander asked. He had grown to love the place in his way, but he knew it meant so much more to George.
"Tom and Jenny will take good care of it. We'll use the house as a homebase while we can, but I'm quite certain that this version of myself will not survive this war. They'll inherit the land and this house in my will. When this business between the Union and the Confederacy is settled, I'll find a new patch of land to tend. It won't be the first time and not likely the last. We're all giving up lives we've built, but unlike the men who are going to fall on those fields, unless we're very foolish or very unlucky we'll be able to build new lives when the war is over."
"And may that be soon." The thought of protracted years of fighting made Alexander's stomach sour, but he shoved a forkful of potatoes into his mouth nonetheless. If there was one thing he remembered about war, aside from the horror of the violence, it was that good meals could be few and far between.
Alexander would remember the next few years as long stretches of tedium mixed with brief flashes of exhilaration, terror and guilt. The best moments combined the terror and exhilaration into a heady mix: robbing supply transports to divert weapons to Union soldiers instead of Confederates, breaking canons so they wouldn't fire, laying boobytraps in the forest, silencing sentries so that Union troops could move in unobserved, planting false information in the highest levels of the Confederate military.
Some moments that Alexander wouldn't wish to repeat combined tedium and terror. Sitting a mile away while John went undercover alone as a Confederate recruit had been a torment of helplessness. The day and night he spent cramped in a wagon full of Confederate supplies had seemed to last years, especially considering that he had been covered in a thick layer of wool uniforms which were themselves infested with lice.
The worst were the things he never wanted to think about and never could forget. The haunted eyes of gaunt boy soldiers, starved even more than they had been due to the supply lines he had disrupted. The bloated bodies in the wilderness. The shock and blame in the eyes of the man he had to kill at close range to avoid alerting the rest of the camp to his presence. Alexander knew that those moments would never leave his mind.
In a desperate moment, shortly before the war finally found its end, Alexander hatched a wild scheme to detonate a cache of Confederate munitions. George declared the plan too risky, but Alexander was certain that the risk would be worth the reward. He'd become frustrated with George's attempts to assert authority, all while claiming they had no chain of command among them. If Alexander was a free agent, then he was going to see his plan through to the end and do his part to help stop the river of blood that this war had become.
He crept alone into the small hut that had been built for storage, and it was only as the munitions began to catch fire more swiftly than he had expected that Alexander remembered the conversation he'd had with John in those first days after his death and awakening. Their lives could be ended by decapitation, but if his body were to be sufficiently torn apart that would do the job as well. He closed his eyes, certain he was about to die his final death in the heart of a ball of fire, and then he was flying through the air. Alexander felt his body collide with something very hard, and then the world was gone.
When he woke, Alexander found himself stretched out on a bedroll on the floor of a tent. He looked up to see George looming over him with a truly remarkable scowl on his face.
"How are you feeling?" His voice was gruff, with a hard edge to it.
Alexander squirmed in place then moved his arms and legs. "Sore but not very bad. What happened?"
"Well, you sparked an explosion that very nearly caused you to become a charred patch of gore that had once been Alexander Hamilton."
Alexander winced. "But it didn't."
"No. Considering that when I found you at the edge of the woods you were a sack of broken bones with a back full of splinters, I suspect the blast threw you against a tree. You've been out for almost a day while your body put itself back together."
Alexander moved his hands over his body, pressing down to feel his bones through clothing and flesh. "Everything feels solid now."
"Good." George bit out the word then bent down and, with both hands gripped into the fabric of Alexander's shirt, yanked him from his supine position on the floor to stand on his feet then backed him against the wall of the tent. Alexander felt a breeze on his legs and realized that the shirt was the only clothing he wore. He blinked in shock at George's face, just inches away from his own and filled with a kind of rage Alexander had never seen in the man. "God damn you, Hamilton. You almost made me lose you. I cannot lose you." The last words were ground out through a clenched jaw.
"I'm sorry," Alexander said, and he was. Despite the things he'd seen and done since the start of this war, he wasn't ready to be done with life, and he'd never meant to cause his friend such anguish. He repeated the words, hoping that his sincerity was clear. "I'm sorry, George."
George released his grip and turned his back to Alexander, who stumbled for a second before finding his feet. George was taking deep breaths with his hands over his face, but when Alexander reached out to put a hand on his shoulder George spun back around and grasped Alexander's shirt again before pulling him into a kiss. There was no sweetness or hesitation this time, and Alexander met the challenge gladly. They warred with tongues and lips and clicking teeth, and Alexander knew for certain that in the century since his first furtive kiss he had never been claimed so thoroughly, so deeply by anybody's mouth.
He thrust his hips up against George's, and then they were bearing each other down to the floor of the tent. George moved his kisses from Alexander's lips to his jaw and neck, leaving Alexander to bit his own lip to stifle his cries as their bodies rocked against each other. His climax found him quickly, and George followed a few breaths later before slumping down on top of Alexander. He was the warmest and heaviest of blankets, and Alexander didn't mind at all.
When George hadn't moved after a couple of minutes, Alexander reached up to cup his hand around the back of the man's head. "Are you okay?"
George sighed a heavy, warm breath against Alexander's neck. "You have a way of exhausting a man. Do you know that?"
Alexander's first instinct was to turn the moment into a dirty joke, but then he thought of George carrying his shattered body then sitting by him as he mended. Instead of speaking, he bent one leg and levered himself up to roll George's long body onto the pallet of blankets next to them. "Get some rest," he said quietly. He put his hand on George's chest and watched as he opened his heavy-lidded brown eyes before letting them close again.
Alexander would take his turn waiting. They had plenty of time.
Alexander's near-disastrous display of heroism didn't manage to end the war, but soon enough the war crawled toward its own end. The four old friends found themselves in a country that was once again unified by law, but the land they loved was full of burned cities, starved people and fields soaked in blood. The south was as shattered as Alexander's body had been, but it would take much longer to even begin to heal.
George's old farm had been long ago turned over to his former tenants, so the four of them were occupying a rented house in New Jersey. They all knew it was no more than a chance to catch their collective breath before they moved on to the next phase of their individual journeys. The house had four bedrooms, and George avoided any hint of intimacy with Alexander. Lafayette was the first to leave, bidding them adieu before boarding a ship back to the continent. John was the next to choose a direction.
"I'm going home, to South Carolina. There has to be a way I can help with the reconstruction. At the very least, people will need a doctor." Alexander couldn't argue with the logic, and he wished John luck, promising that it wouldn't be another half century before they saw each other again.
When they were alone in the house, Alexander reached out to touch George's hand, and George pulled away from the touch. "I have to leave, too," George began. "John's right--the south is crippled, and I owe it to Virginia to do what I can."
"I could come with you. We could--"
"No," George cut him off. "I can't allow it."
"You can't allow what, precisely?"
"I can't allow myself to be near you. I can't trust myself with you. What we did, I could have hurt you."
"Not hardly. I got just what I wanted."
"And if you hadn't wanted it?"
"Then it wouldn't have happened. Of that I have no doubt."
George shook his head. "It doesn't feel right."
It had felt so very right to Alexander that the words stung. "I'm afraid I can't help you with that. Best of luck to you in Virginia."
"I'm not certain where I'll be or for how long, but I still have the mail drop in New York and an agent who can send me a telegram if anything urgent comes through. Let me know where you end up, and I'll do the same."
"Right, of course." George's paternalism on the heels of rejection left Alexander feeling ready to fight, but he didn't want to leave like that.
"I mean it, Alexander. We cannot allow ourselves to fall out of contact. Whatever else we are, we're family."
Alexander thought about never having contact with George again and shuddered at the prospect of being so unmoored then nodded in acquiescence. "Bound by the blood we've shed if not the blood in our veins."
"Yes." George's voice was heavy with sadness, and they parted ways with only a handshake rather than an embrace.
Alexander contemplated returning to his old standby of the law, but his heart wasn't in it. He needed something new, something that would thoroughly engage his mind, and as he looked around he found that the world was full of new things. He had never spent much time studying the sciences, but a period of fervent reading made it clear that his mind was capable of turning in that direction. It was like the law in some ways, with all of its myriad rules and the way it could be manipulated to serve one end or the other, though there was no judge to whom a scientist could plead his case. Alexander liked the thought of that, and he found that the events of the past few years began to fade just a little as he found a new passion.
George, John and Lafayette had all gone off to help the lands of their birth, but Alexander had no interest in returning to the island he had barely escaped. In a sense, the whole world was his home, and progress through science was the hope of the world's future. Once again, Alexander had work to do. After trying apprenticeships under a few different disciplines, he chose electrical engineering and threw himself body and mind into the pursuit of harnessing that hidden power. The spark of Benjamin Franklin's key and kite had kindled for a few generations and had now ignited into a conflagration of the brightest minds of the modern day.
Alexander specialized in pushing at the boundaries of what was possible, and he stopped his own heart with electricity so many times he got used to waking up to the bitter smell of singed hair. It was an easy death from which to recover, just a pause to reset the internal circuits that animated his body the way the electricity he harnessed could animate a machine. A burn could be painful, but the pain was momentary as his flesh would quickly right itself. Science was a glorious pursuit, and if he couldn't allow himself to become the face of any great invention he could write reams of laboratory notes and publish papers under a variety of names, contributing to the growing wealth of knowledge that was helping to bring about wonder after wonder.
Decades after the war, John and George were still laboring separately in the south but progress had made the distance less of a barrier to their continued friendship. Letters could be exchanged in a matter of days, telegrams in hours if necessary, and the first time Alexander heard George's powerful voice translated through the crackly medium of a telephone he thought those internal circuits of his would burst with joy. Faster trains made travel more feasible, and Alexander spent some holidays with George in Virginia. They didn't speak of what had happened during the war between the states, neither the horrors to which they'd been a party or a witness nor the events that had transpired between them. As years passed, they regained the easy physical familiarity they'd enjoyed before that mad rush of anger and fear and friction that had nearly burnt them out.
When he was with George, Alexander was more likely to dream of both of the wars they had weathered together, the eyes that haunted him, both living and dead. Yet, when he was with George he could stumble from his bed to the kitchen, and sooner than later his friend would join him at the table. The weight of George's broad hand on his shoulder could ground the wildest currents that sometimes tore through his mind, and he found that he valued that more than any other human contact in his life.
A few years after the century turned yet again, Alexander was living outside of Boston, and when he was preparing for bed one night he heard a motorcar sputter to a stop in front of his townhouse. The passenger side door opened to disgorge a man with a small suitcase, and as the man approached his door Alexander recognized the lines of his body underneath his coat. George. Alexander hurried to let him inside, and in the electric light of his small foyer George looked haggard, beyond the usual exhaustion of travel.
George shook his head, and Alexander took his coat and bag and guided him to the sofa in his sitting room. George slumped over to rest his head in his hands, and when he spoke his voice was muffled and dry. "I'm sorry that I didn't call or wire to tell you I was coming."
"I've done the same to you a time or three. I certainly don't mind." Alexander was torn between sitting next to George and giving the man some space and so hovered between the sofa and chair. "It's good to see you my friend, but what's happened?"
"I watched a man die."
Alexander waited for more. Terrible as it was, they had both seen many men draw their last breaths.
"They, the crowd of supposed good people, the citizens of this nation for whom we've fought during two different wars in two different centuries, strung him up, and there was nothing I could do to stop them."
George shook his head. "There was no good and no God, not there."
Alexander sank down to sit tentatively at George's side. "What had he done?"
"He was born," George spat out. He looked up then, his eyes red and haunted. "He was some shades darker than me, and that was his crime."
Alexander hung his head. Though his mind was consumed by science now instead of politics he still kept current with the news. He had read of the growing racial strife in the south, the repressive laws and the violence. The north couldn't claim innocence in such matters, but the problems didn't seem as pervasive as what he read about from the south. George's mixed heritage had always been a matter not discussed. His family had been well-off, owning land and owning people until George left that behind. He was considered white by the society around him, and if his skin was darker than average, well, he spent a lot of time under the sun whether it be the fields of battle or planting. A century ago a black man clearly couldn't be what George had been, and so he had clearly not been a black man. The math was clear.
Now, with the striations of society less marked, the gradations of color less clear, George had become blacker much as Alexander had grown shorter in stature. Their bodies didn't change, but the world around them did. "I'm glad that you're safe now," Alexander said finally.
"They could have hung me, and I would have lived, but sometimes--I've heard of worse being done to men by crowds like that. Things I might not have survived. I may be a coward, but I'm not ready."
"You're the last man who could be called a coward, and I hope you're never ready for that." Alexander put his hand on George's broad back and let it rest there for a moment before he stood up. "Let me get you a drink. Will you stay with me here for a while?"
George nodded heavily. "If you'll have me."
You won't allow me to have you, Alexander thought, but the time was far from right. He returned to the sofa with two fingers of scotch in a glass, and passed it over to George. The man was still hunched forward instead of leaned back into the upholstery, and the lines of his body radiated tension and exhaustion in equal measure. Alexander put his hand on George's back again and felt the layer of muscle through his shirt and jacket.
"I'll need to cobble together a new life," George said into the glass of scotch. "It's time for me to go back to farming. I've had enough of people for now." When the liquor was gone, he put the glass down and slumped farther forward.
"You can worry about that tomorrow. Come along, let me put you to bed before you're too tired to make it up the stairs."
George didn't argue, just went with the motion when Alexander stood and tugged on his arm. The stairway was too narrow for two men side by side, but George made it up on his own with Alexander chivvying him from behind. He shed his outer layer of clothes and rolled into the half-made bed without realizing that he was clearly in his host's bedroom then fell asleep before Alexander could finish pulling the covers over him.
George stayed for two weeks before departing for the small farm he'd purchased in Western Massachusetts. After that first night, George insisted on bunking on the cot in Alexander's study then gave in and agreed to share Alexander's bed after two night spent tossing and turning on a bed much too small for a man his size.
"We don't have to touch beyond what's necessary to share the space, you know," Alex reminded him. He felt a fond kind of humor about the situation, and he didn't want to make George uncomfortable.
"I know," George replied dryly.
"I've shared this bed with John a few times, and he and I are no more or less than good friends."
"I have to admit I've wondered about the two of you."
"John's not interested in that. Not with me, and I suspect not with anyone. When we were young I took his disinterest in women to mean a taste for men, but after all these years I don't think that's true. He's a neutral wire."
George wrinkled his forehead like he didn't completely understand but he nodded slowly. "You wanted him though."
"A long time ago, before I realized we're better friends and brothers than we could be anything else." Alexander waited for George's reply, wondering if changing the nature of their relationship might be on the table, but George just nodded again and slipped under the covers. They both slept soundly every night until George left, no nightmares breaking the stillness between them.
Alexander's secretary knocked on the door, and he barely glanced up from the circuits he was soldering. "I'm busy, Lillian."
"There's a long distance phone call from a Jack Hamilton. He wouldn't say what company he's calling from, but he told me to give you his name."
Jack Hamilton. He and John had both started new identities around the same time, and as a joke they decided to swap their names: Alex Laurens and Jack Hamilton. John was running a clinic in rural Georgia, and if he'd made his way to a telephone something had to be wrong. Alexander hurried to the office outside of his workroom to take the call. "John? What's happened?"
"Well that's a friendly greeting. I thought 'hello' was the standard."
"Damn the standard. What's going on?"
"If you've been taking your head out of your work long enough to read a newspaper now and then, you should know what's going on."
"This blasted war? The one that was supposed to be over by Christmas? The president's never going to agree to sending men overseas to fight in this mess."
"I don't know, but I'm not talking about fighting. There's an American ambulance unit that's formed, all volunteers, to support the French army."
It made sense, no matter how much Alex didn't want to get near another battlefield. "And we have a debt to pay to Lafayette."
"That we do. There are berths for us on a ship leaving New York in ten days. You'll be there?"
"I'll be there."
They worked out arrangements to meet at a hotel in the city the day before the ship sailed, and then Alex hung up the phone. He had another ten or fifteen years left in his current identity if he was careful, and he liked his life, but the debt to Lafayette had been hanging over his head for a century and a quarter. It was time to make good on the promise he'd given back in Yorktown, and if he could do it without a bayonet in his hands then all the better.
In short order, Alex left his job and sold his home and started his journey by going north and west, away from New York City. He'd sent a telegram ahead, so George wasn't surprised this time as he greeted Alex at the door. He told George his plans, and for a long moment there was no response.
"Do you think this is the wrong thing to do?"
"No." George looked up from the mug of coffee that had seemed to interest him deeply. "I just don't want to see you take me for a coward when I say I won't go."
"But I hadn't expected you to go. This is a matter of coming through on a deal between me and John and Lafayette. I know that you and Lafayette have your own history from before the revolution. And there is nothing that could make me see you as a coward."
"Would it be cowardice to say that I wish you wouldn't go, that I fear what might happen to you?"
Alex felt a pang in his gut and good and long slow breath in and out. "Not cowardice," he said finally. "Not at all. But I fear what might happen to my honor if I don't go. In any case, John and I will just be driving ambulances back and forth, safe as houses."
"You and I both know that when it comes to being near a war there's no such thing as safety."
Alex did know. He stayed the night, and as he turned to go into the spare bedroom George caught him by the hand.
"I should tell you. I should have told you years ago that I figured out my own mind on the subject of--of homosexuality. My own, that is."
Alex turned his hand to more comfortably join his fingers with George's. "What did you decide?"
"That there's nothing unnatural or wrong about it. That no God I believe in would damn me for loving as I do."
"I'm of the same mind."
George looked down at their linked hands and a small smile passed over his features. "I had a lover, briefly. Years ago now, down south. It didn't last, it wasn't meant to, but it was a beautiful thing in the moment."
Alex felt a twinge of jealousy at the thought of George taking a lover, but he knew his reaction was ridiculous given his own long and varied history. "I'm glad you got to have that." And that was the truth, too.
"Before you head off for France, I'd like to have something else. With you."
This is how war babies are made, Alex thought, but he spared George the quip. With their hands still linked, he pulled George closer and stretched up to kiss him.
They made their way into George's bedroom, Alex slowly stumbling backward as they kissed, George's broad hands on his back keeping him upright. Alex tugged on George's shirt, working the fabric out from beneath his belt, until he could put his hands on the warm skin of George's chest. George made a small sound in his throat then pulled away, and Alex feared for a moment that he had changed his mind, but then George tore the shirt off over his head.
"Oh," Alex said, and all he could do was stare at the expanse of George's body exposed in front of him. "Oh."
"Is turning you wordless a good or a bad thing?" George asked the question with a hint of a smile.
"Very, very good." Alex hurriedly unbuttoned his own shirt and pulled it off, all the time watching George. Watching George watching him until he decided to fill the gap with words. "What do you like do? In bed, that is."
"What I don't like to do--" George broke off and pulled Alex in for another kiss. "--is talk." The last words came out as a growl, and Alex bit his lip at the sound of it, arousal flooding his mind.
After that, they spoke with their bodies instead of words, and Alex understood everything George had to say.
As the ship powered its way across the sea, John and Alex made a pact to converse only in French. They both needed to shine up their rusty fluency if they were going to be working with French troops, and the language came back to both of them easily. It was like a game between them, but before they even reached land Alex knew that this war was no kind of game. They could hear the bombs from miles away, across the water. Soon after they reached land, they encountered troops in training, and the machine gun fire was startling in its intensity.
Alex could tell already that this would be like no other war he had seen or read about from history. This would be death mechanized, as efficient as an assembly line. His job was to thwart that as much as possible, and it was a challenge he was willing to accept. He and John checked into rooms where they would stay for the night before meeting up with their unit the next day for some training of their own, but before they could even freshen up a note arrived beckoning them to have dinner with Lafayette. They cleaned up and dressed for dinner as best they could with the clothes they had packed then found their way to the address they'd been given. It was a fine though not opulent home, and a maid escorted them to the sitting room.
Lafayette greeted them with open arms and the same broad, warm smile Alex remembered but when the smile dropped away Alex could see the weight of the war in his eyes. "I'm so glad you've come, my friends."
They weren't alone in the room. There was a woman sitting with her back to them, and when she stood and turned to face them Alex thought that he must have gone mad. Standing not ten feet away from him, wearing the crisp uniform of a military nurse, was Angelica Schuyler Church. She was as beautiful as Alex recalled, more beautiful perhaps, and it wasn't until John clapped him on the back that he realized he was in danger of passing out from failure to breathe.
"What?" He said finally, devoid of eloquence. "How? What?"
"Take a seat before you fall over, mon ami," Lafayette said, waving to an armchair.
"No." Alex glanced at John and saw that he was shocked as well, but Angelica's existence was clearly not news to Lafayette. "You knew and didn't tell me? And you call me 'friend?'" Alex shook his head. His heart was racing with a potent mix of enraged betrayal and startled joy, and he stumbled over to take the seat he'd been offered.
John followed and stood next to the chair instead of taking his own seat. "Breathe," he said quietly, calmly. "Breathe, Alexander."
Alex put his elbows on his knees and followed instructions until he felt that his mind and body were under his control again then he sat up and looked at Lafayette. "How long have you know?"
"For a very long time, but it was not mine to tell." He stood and looked at John. "Perhaps we should go have a drink, yes?" His hand briefly but clearly touching Angelica's arm before he strode out of the room."
"Alex?" John asked.
"Go ahead. Thank you, John."
John nodded and left, closing the door behind him, and then Alex was alone with his sister-in-law, whom he had thought dead for a century. She looked if anything younger than he remembered her being when he left them, and it didn't make any sense. "Angelica," he said, hating the pleading tone of his voice, "I don't understand. This--I was told it takes a violent death--how--"
Angelica closed her eyes for a moment then opened them and looked at Alex with the intelligence and compassion he remembered. "It was when I gave birth to my youngest child, my Richard." She sat down and arranged her skirts before continuing. "The doctor was one of our kind and knew what I was, or what I could be. The birth wasn't going well, and he had my sister leave the room."
"Angelica--" Alex remembered the letter from Eliza telling him of their nephew's birth, and he'd had no idea that whatever happened to Angelica took place in the spaces between the words of that letter.
"Finally he sliced me open like a flayed deer and tore my son out of me. My heart gave out, and he kept the family away until I reawakened."
Alex felt sick that she had endured such a thing and that they had come so close to losing her without even knowing. "That was more than five years before I died."
"And after that you knew that this strange fate was waiting for me?"
"Yes. After they took your body away, I slipped away at night to go wait with you, but I saw that a man was already there. Even in the shadows I couldn't mistake his profile for anyone other than our first President and so I left and returned to my sister's side. Was I wrong to have left you there?"
Alex sighed and shook his head. "No, but I wish you had contacted me sometime in the last century or so. Why didn't you?"
"The truth is that I was furious with you for a very long time. You committed yourself to that stupid, pointless duel. You were mortally wounded in such a public fashion that there was no covering it up, and then you left my sister and my nieces and nephews. And you left me, Alexander. I stayed for ten years after you were gone, until I felt that my sister and her children and my children would all manage without me, and then that same doctor who tore me from mortal life helped me to stage a quick illness and an easy death. Leaving was the hardest thing I've ever done, and it rekindled the anger I had for you, that you could walk away and leave your family to struggle for survival."
"It was a terrible thing, what I did," Alex agreed. "I hate it more than I've hated anything else in my life, including Thomas Jefferson and John Adams." The hint of a smile he got from Angelica gave Alex some hope. "And I tried to help as much as I could from overseas. As soon as I had money coming in, I sent donations to the fund set up for their support. As much as I could, until the fund no longer existed."
Some of the intensity in Angelica's face relaxed. "That account did seem to grow rapidly after a time, and they were able to get by well, but you have to know that those first weeks after losing you nearly killed Eliza." Angelica gaze turned sharp. "If she had died, I would have tracked down your location, and I would have found a way to end your life permanently. Believe that."
Her words filled Alexander with sadness, not anger. "I do believe it. And I would have wanted you to put me out of my misery, but I'm very grateful that the circumstances didn't require it."
"As am I."
"Will you forgive me?"
"I already have." She gave him a real smile then. "And Alexander, after all these years, it truly is so very good to see your face."
Alex felt his cheeks flush, and they moved on to easier topics. She explained that she hadn't returned to America since her official death. She'd moved back and forth between England and France, working as a nurse and midwife.
"Why avoid your home so completely?"
She raised one eyebrow at Alexander, as if it should be obvious. "My social status insulated me for the most part. As a Schuyler and then as a Church I was a respected woman, but living in the world on my own? Paris especially has been a much friendlier place for a woman of my complexion. Of course, as a trained nurse I never have difficulty finding a new place when I need one, and a nurse who doesn't have to fear infection is a valuable thing, but I wouldn't want to live this life in the States. At least not now. Do you think I'm wrong?"
Alex thought about George, what he'd seen, the less shocking but still unpleasant things he'd seen himself even in the new century. "No. I hope one day that won't be true."
"As do I. Now, let's go see if Gilbert and Mr. Laurens have conspired to overthrow the military hierarchy yet."
Alex stood and followed her out of the room, still marveling at the events of the last half hour. Angelica Schuyler Church, alive and well in the 20th century. The world was a strange and beautiful place indeed.
Life behind the lines was strange but almost never beautiful. Driving an ambulance pell-mell over blast-scarred terrain--often at night, often so close to falling munitions that he could feel the ground quake--was not for the timid, but timidity had never been among Alex's failings. Most of the time he and John worked as a team, and they were well-matched. Together, they would leap from the front seat of the ambulance, load wounded men onto stretchers and secure them in the back of the vehicle, and John would stay in the back, doing his best to keep them alive while Alex drove like the devil was behind him to get them back to the field hospital. Orderlies would help unload the men, John would return to the front to help Alex navigate, and they would repeat the whole process over again until there were no more casualties or until their ambulance failed them, whichever came first.
Alexander found that his work in engineering helped to make him a decent mechanic. His hands were often stained with blood, mud, engine grease or a combination of all three, he was rarely both warm and dry, and he never got enough sleep, but despite all that he liked the work. He saw men die, many of them terribly, but none of that was his doing. What was important to him was that some of the men survived, men who would have died on the ground without the ambulance corps to retrieve them and the field hospital to patch them up. The fact that he and John weren't prey to the illnesses that were passed among both military and civilians around camp made them all the more effective.
Despite ever more ghastly injuries, the cases that unnerved Alex the most were the men who sometimes rode in the front seat with him on the trip back, men who were ambulatory with perhaps a minor would, and yet they would sit disaffected as the ambulance careened this way and that, bouncing in and out of potholes. Or they were shouting or babbling nonsense. Or choking on sobs. Alex knew how the field hospital would go to work on the men with bullet wounds or broken limbs and the ones with pneumonia or trench fever, but he didn't know what they could do for these men who were affected in their minds.
Nights after he drove back with one of those cases, he was often haunted by thoughts of his daughter, her voice as she had called for him. He wondered if the echoes of her cries would ever entirely leave his head. The living Angelica, on the other hand, was a very welcome presence in Alex's mind. She was normally stationed at one of the established military hospitals, but some weeks she would travel to relieve the head nurse in the field hospital, and any opportunity to watch her work was a revelation.
John caught him watching her one day and leaned over to bump his shoulder against Alex's. "Are you still infatuated with her after all this time?"
"Can you blame me? She's a dynamo."
"Do you have any intention of--" John motioned in the air with his hand.
"I don't think I would have any luck if I tried, but no. Aside from whatever arrangement she has with Lafayette, something happened just before I came to meet you in New York."
"Something like what?"
"Something like George and exploring a new level of connection."
"Well, okay then. Honestly, I had thought he was like me, but now it turns out he's like you."
"No, he's like himself." Alex let the silence be between them for a moment. "So you're not offended?"
John laughed. "Don't be an idiot, Hamilton."
Alex bumped his shoulder back against John's and they went back and forth like boys until Angelica turned around to shake her head at them like a schoolmarm. Those were the moments Alex wanted to remember.
Time went by, and it was easy to lose track with the sleepless nights and with the scarred earth betraying little about the passing seasons. Alex wrote to George, and he treasured the letters he got in return, full of news about the farm and the small town nearest to it. None of the news was of any consequence to him, but it reminded him that things like golden fields and flowering trees and pristine snowfalls still existed somewhere, even if he couldn't see them.
When he and John were on runs, Alex's job was to stay with the ambulance. He normally didn't stray more than a few feet from the vehicle while they were on duty, and he could never explain why he decided to break protocol that one night. The front lines were under heavy fire, and Alex had loaded a head case into the front seat. The man--barely a man, more like a boy--had a bloodied bandage on his forehead and had been mumbling about dogs when Alex left him to help John load up the back. With a frustrated sigh John said, "We've got a runner."
The man Alex had just turned his back on was now running headlong back toward the front line and the barbed wire and the Germans. Alex didn't even think, he just sprinted off in pursuit. John called from behind him, but Alex was certain he could bring the kid back and get them all out of danger. From above and to the side he heard a crescendoing hum that resolved into a high-pitched wail, and then the earth exploded around him. He felt his body being thrown through the air, and his last thought before the darkness was, Not this again.
It wasn't this again. When Alexander woke there was no tent, no George, and at first he thought there was nothing at all. He wondered for a moment if he had died for real and if for people like him there was no such thing as heaven or hell, just a purgatory of utter darkness.
Then the pain hit. One of his arms didn't work, but with the one that did he felt around his midsection, discovering a mess of blood and what felt like parts that were supposed to be inside of him. He passed out and when he woke he groped around and felt skin growing back over the gaping hole in his gut. The pain had lessened enough for him to realize that his mouth tasted like dirt and blood, and he spat to clear it out. He tried to move the arm that was pinned underneath him, to push himself up from the mud he was laying in, but the pain came roaring back and again he was gone.
The next time Alex woke up both of his arms worked, and he could feel smooth skin on his abdomen under the ragged hole in his uniform. He pushed himself up from the muck but hit his head on an uneven wooden board before he was more than halfway upright. He felt around in his pockets until he found a box of matches that hadn't been destroyed in the blast and he carefully lit one of them to assess his situation.
He was in the bottom of a trench with dirt walls on two sides of him and a collection of collapsed dirt, rock and wood hemming him in on the other two sides and above. The area itself was about eight feet long and three feet high, and Alexander wasn't entirely alone. He shared the space with two dead men. One of them was splayed out with his feet closest to Alexander, and the other was facing him. The face had two wide eyes and nothing at all from the forehead on up. The match burned Alex's fingers, and finally he had no choice but to let it fall in the mud. He felt around in the box and counted three more matches.
He tried to push at the debris over and around him, but it was packed solid. He called out, but he could feel that the bombardment was ongoing; nobody could hear him. In total darkness, Alex wasn't sure how much he was awake and how much asleep. Time didn't pass so much as hover in place just above him, trapped in the pressing mud. A quiet voice startled him from his stupor, making him think for a moment that rescue was imminent, but then he heard the words.
"Ma chien. Ma chien," the man murmured, and Alex knew it was the injured soldier who had led him to this place.
"Forget your dog. Hey, what's your name?" Alex realized belatedly that he should be speaking French and repeated the words in the correct language, but that didn't get any more of a response.
The man faded in and out, but the content of his words never varied. "Ma chien, ma chien." Silence.
"Ma chien. Ma chien." Silence.
The dead man was between them, and Alex couldn't find enough space to crawl over him, so he was trapped in his corner of the mud-walled coffin.
"Ma chien. Ma chien."
"Shut up!" Alex screamed, and then he hated the silence that followed.
"Ma chien. Ma chien." Silence
Then there was a rapid patter of thuds, the man's body thrashing against the confines, his feet kicking out for long moments before he went still. Then there was silence. And no more words.
Alex began to worry if his little box in the earth was so snuggly enclosed that he would suffocate and only come back to life when he was discovered and exposed to the air again. He found himself hoping that would happen because when he was dead he didn't feel anything or smell anything or taste anything. There was nothing to see unless he used up another of his matches, nothing to hear other than more distant bombardments. Alexander waited for death but it didn't come, and that was his life in a nutshell. His little earthen nutshell.
He thought about skeletons that could be discovered in the ground decades after they were buried. Centuries. He wondered how that would work for a man such as him. Could his body persist in surviving until some farmer turned him up with his plow in some distant year? What would happen to his mind? What was happening to it already?
The sounds of bombardment faded entirely, and with it all sense of time. The next sound he heard was small, like crumbling gravel, and with shaking hands he lit a match to see what was happening--was it rescue or the walls of his tomb collapsing in on him? Neither. Alex tossed his still-lit match at the fat brown rat, and it skittered away as the light guttered out. He lay in the darkness and tried to believe that the small sounds he could hear at the other end of the enclosure were something other than the chewing of small, relentless jaws.
He didn't want to be there, couldn't bear to be there, and yet his prison had become the whole world. "Go away," he said, his voice rough and raw even though his vocal cords had to have healed from the abuse of his useless shouting earlier. "Go away, go away, go away," and after enough repetitions he didn't know if he was talking to the invading rats or to himself. "Go away, go away."
A sharp pinch on his arm jerked Alex back to awareness, and he felt a tail slither across the back of his hand. Sick dread filled his gut as he pulled out the box of matches and lit the second to last one, but what he saw in the flickering light was worse than he had imagined. A small army of rats were working over the corpses that lay so close to him, and the sightless eyes of the body facing him had been replaced with empty sockets. The light went out as Alex scrambled back the few inches he could and pulled his hands up to cover his face.
He drifted in and out, more aware than he wanted to be of what was happening a few feet away. Every time a rat tried to sample his flesh his movement would send the animal away, but he wondered what would happen if they managed to strip the corpses clean. He knew that for his body the tiny wound of a rat bite would heal almost as soon as it was made, and he imagined himself as an endless buffet for them, the meal that would never end. Go away, go away, he thought, beyond forming words now and he kept his hands over his face as he let himself slip away. Let them feast, but they couldn't take his eyes. Not his eyes.
Go away, go away.
He was gone.
Alex came back to himself to the pressure of hands on his shoulders, and he tried to move away but froze when he realized there was nowhere for him to go. There were sounds that he couldn't understand, and when the hands pried his fingers away from his eyes light sliced into his brain like knives through his eye sockets.
Eye sockets. The image of the blinded corpse rose up in Alex's mind then resolved into John Laurens' face. His lips were moving, his throat was making sounds, but Alex couldn't understand the words. He shook his head slowly and saw John frown in response. There were hands under his arms, tugging him up out of the pit, and he looked down to see John crouched below, just next to the two corpses. The rats were gone. John climbed up to the surface, and then nothing was alive in that pit.
John tugged him to his feet, and Alex found that he could walk. The ambulance was waiting for them, and John steered him to the passenger seat before going around to take his turn driving. I'm supposed to be the one driving back to base, Alex thought, and then he realized. I'm the head case now. Tears flowed out of his eyes, and he couldn't stop them.
Hands were shaking his shoulders again, trying to turn him, and Alex opened his eyes to realize that they were back at base, parked next to the triage station.. Alex was still in the passenger seat, and John was outside standing on the ground. He was talking, his eyes intent, but there were too many words turning themselves into a soup in Alex's mind. John went still and quiet for a moment, which was so much better, then he said one word. Stopped. Repeated it.
Oh, his name. Alex nodded.
"You can hear me?"
After a pause for the words to string themselves into a sentence in his mind, Alex nodded again.
"Can you speak?"
Alex's throat felt locked shut but he swallowed hard and tried. "Yes."
The answer didn't seem to relieve the concern in John's face, but he nodded. John began to talk again, but it was too much to comprehend. Alex let John lead him away from the ambulance to the the tent that was their assigned quarters near the field hospital. When he found a basin of warm water and a clean, folded cloth in front of him, he stripped down and cleaned his body the best he could. Dirt and blood yielded to unblemished skin, and somehow that felt wrong. There should have been wounds. How could he feel like a piece of shattered crockery and have no wounds?
He put on the clean clothes that John handed him and sat down on his bunk. He took a moment to put the words together, gathering them like scattered pebbles, then looked up at John. "How long?"
John spoke, and there were words and words and words and words, covering him like gravel. Alex shook his head, and John went quiet. He sat down on the edge of the bunk next to Alex and tried again. "Almost two days." Alex closed his eyes and lay down on the thin mattress. He didn't know if the time had felt like hours or like months, but he was too exhausted to try to figure it out. With his hands over his eyes, he let himself slip away.
John kept waking him up. He would make Alex sit at their small folding table and put food in front of him. He'd put the food or the utensil in Alex's hand and wait until a sufficient amount of it ended up in Alex's mouth. Everything tasted like mud but he chewed and he swallowed so that John would let him go back to sleep.
Attempting to communicate was frustrating, and even reading writing were impossible. John had handed him a pencil and a notebook, and Alex had hesitated with the pencil hovering over the paper. The words that had always flowed from his mind to paper with only the strength of his hand and the quality of his pen to regulate them were now stopped up and dead inside him; he handed the notebook back to John. The notebook was back in front of him a moment later with several lines of words written out on it, but the thought of trying to resolve the marks into meaning was exhausting.
John would make Alex dress and leave the tent to walk up and down the rows of tents, and that was almost nice. John had stopped burying him with words, and Alex could breathe in what passed for fresh air near a battlefield. He could see the sun and even close his eyes and see the light that seeped through the thin skin of his eyelids.
On one of these walks with John, Alex saw a rat dart out from underneath the edge of a tent, and he found himself on the ground. His legs folded of their own accord and he covered his eyes with his hands, pressing so hard that his cheekbones ached. Multiple hands were on him then, pulling him upright and keeping him that way until he was on his bunk again. He felt a weight on the mattress next to him and John's hand solid and still on his shoulder as he relaxed into the darkness.
Alex surfaced from sleep to feel somebody touching his head, and the hand was too small to be John's. When he rolled over and opened his eyes, he saw Angelica standing over him, her bleached white uniform nearly glowing in the dim tent. At her urging, he sat up, and she pulled the rickety folding chair over to sit directly in front of him. She put one hand on either side of his face and turned his head side to side a bit before simply staring into his eyes for a long moment. Alex allowed it, too exhausted to bother shutting her out, and when his eyes burned and he had to blink he felt tears flow onto his cheeks. They wouldn't stop, and his chest ached like he was being crushed. He closed his eyes, wanting to disappear into the darkness, but the touch of Angelica's lips on his forehead anchored him to the world. His throat hurt, and he was making noise but then Angelica stood and moved closer. She let him bury his face in the front of her uniform, and her strong hands held him close.
After the noise faded away, she was still holding him, and Alex was breathing in time with the movement of her ribcage against the side of his face. She was speaking slowly, the same words over and over, and Alex focused on letting the words into his mind. "I'm taking you home," she said for what might have been the tenth time or the hundredth.
He sat back and looked up at her face for confirmation. Her cheeks were damp, but her eyes were dry as she nodded. He gathered up the words to express the need that had been pounding like a steady drumbeat under the disharmony of his thoughts. "I need George."
"I know," she said.
He closed his eyes and once again leaned into the damp fabric of her uniform. One of her hands cupped the back of his head, fingers threading through his hair, and Alexander suddenly missed Eliza with a pain like a knife slipping between his ribs. He was almost certain it wasn't possible, but he had to ask. When he made the words come out, they were muffled against Angelica's body. "Is Eliza like us?"
She hand stilled on the back of his head for a few breaths before she answered. "No, my dear." He nodded, and when she eventually let him go he surrendered to the gravitational pull of his bed and went back to sleep.
Later, John helped Alex pack his few personal belongings for the trip. It felt terribly wrong that Alex was going to be leaving him to continue on with this war, but at the same time he knew he was no good to anybody the way he was. He wanted to shake off the darkness that was clutching at him and make sounds and meaning connect in his mind the way they were supposed to, but he couldn't. He didn't have the strength, and he despised that fact, but what he had said to Angelica remained truer than anything else.
"I'm sorry," he said to John's back as John was bent over Alex's suitcase.
John turned around, and his face looked sad but not surprised. He opened his mouth like he was about to release a flood of words then closed his mouth and just looked at Alex for a moment before trying again. "For running that night? You should be."
Alex shook his head and looked down at his hands.
"You'll get better, you know," John said, but Alex didn't know.
John borrowed somebody's car to take Alex and Angelica to the port, and Lafayette met them near the ship. He came to Alex with a rockslide of words, and his expressive face twisted with concern when Alex didn't respond. John squeezed Alex's arm as Angelica said something to Lafayette, and Lafayette nodded then clapped both hands on Alex's shoulders. "I am sorry, my friend," he said, the words heavy with meaning.
Alex nodded and struggled to cobble together a few words to express his thoughts. "No more wars."
Lafayette pulled Alex in for a quick, tight embrace then stepped back and let him go. "For us friends, no more wars."
Angelica linked her arm through Alex's, and together they traversed the walkway to the ship. Alex had managed to comprehend that they were traveling as husband and wife in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety or the necessity of separate rooms. When the ship began to steam away from France, Alexander stood at the railing for a moment watching the continent drop away. When he finally fell into his bed, Alex's last thought was gratitude for the speed of modern travel. The crossing that had taken nearly three weeks in 1804 would now be over in five days.
The twentieth century was both terrible and glorious, and it was barely begun. Mostly, Alex didn't care what century it was; he just wanted to be with George on his farm. The farms changed, and even on the farms the technology changed, but the passage of years was softened, blunted along its edges. In France, the awful technology of modern warfare had turned peaceful, rolling fields into apocalyptic landscapes, and Alex didn't know how to believe that nature could ever recover from the assault. The farmlands of America hadn't seen war for several decades now, and most of them had never been touched by battle even within Alexander's lifetime.
Alex prayed, he didn't know to what, for that one thing to never change.
During the day, Angelica made Alexander stay out on the deck of the ship where the sun and the sea air could find him. Most of the time she let him sleep or float in waking silence as he chose, but she was inflexible about the need to go outside, to go to meals and to take occasional walks around the ship. She handled Alex's passive resistance with an ease and efficiency that spoke to her century of working as a nurse. She had seen far worse, and that was somehow comforting.
When she was plying him with tea one morning, Alex mulled over the words he needed for a while then took her hand and asked her, "Am I your patient or your friend?"
She squeezed his hand and said something that was too many words for him to absorb, but he caught Eliza's name. She stopped and gave him an apologetic smile. "You are my brother."
Alex held onto the warmth of that as he drifted off to sleep in the sun.
At night, when Alex found himself paradoxically lying awake and ill at ease in their small cabin despite the dim light they kept on all night, she would sit and let him rest with his head in her lap as she stroked her agile fingers through his hair.
"Will you stay?" he asked her one night.
"Where would I go?" She gestured at where they were.
"In the States."
"Oh." She smoothed her hand over his head. "No, I'm sorry." She was quiet for a moment, and Alexander was grateful for that despite his disappointment. He found that he could take in more words if he was given time between volleys. "I'll visit Trinity then return"
Alexander nodded against her skirts and her thigh below as he remembered paying his respects at those graves, six decades ago now. "I went," he said.
"To Trinity Church?"
He nodded again. "I saw Angelica."
"Alexander?" She spoke slowly, talking to him as if his sanity was far more damaged than it was. "You mean my gravestone?"
"Oh! Oh, you should not have."
"I know." Her young, old voice rang in his head again.
"It was very bad?"
"Yes." The word left Alex exhausted, and his chest ached as he finally fell asleep.
It was raining the day the ship steamed past the Statue of Liberty, and disembarking was a slow, damp, tiring affair, but it was worth it to find George waiting for him. It was more than worth it when he found himself in the shelter of George's arms.
"I've missed you," Alex said, trying to imply more with his few words.
George wrinkled his forehead in confusion and glanced at Angelica, and Alex felt his stomach drop until George smiled and answered. "I've missed you too." Still, there was a question hanging in his eyes.
"What?" Alex asked.
George pursed his lips for a moment then pushed on with the question. "Why are you speaking French?"
Alex jerked his head back at the non-sequitur. "I'm not."
Angelica put her hand on his arm. "You are. You have been."
Alex looked back and forth between two of the very few people he trusted in the world, wondering if they were playing some elaborate, unkind joke. "For how long?"
"Since John found you, he said." Angelica looked at George and said more, but it was too much.
Alex didn't want to believe her, but Angelica wouldn't lie about this, and George's confusion hadn't been feigned. "Repeat my words to me?"
Angelica smiled gently. "Répétez mes mots à moi."
"I'm speaking French?"
"Je parle français," she confirmed.
"I have gone mad." He looked around, wondering what else might not be the way he thought.
"No." George's voice was firm. "We'll go home. You'll get better."
Alex didn't know about that, but he knew he'd rather be insane at George's farm than on the streets of New York where they stood. He just nodded; he was ready to go.
Angelica pulled him into a tight hug then kissed him on the cheek. "Write me when you can," she said, and Alex felt dangerously close to losing his composure and becoming a spectacle in the street. He turned around and let the flow of words between George and Angelica go on without him.
Angelica must have assured George that she would be perfectly fine visiting the church and returning to the ship on her own because in short order they saw her to a taxi then George led Alex to a car. It was clearly new but very sturdy-looking, not flashy. Alex put a hand on the hood and looked at George. "Yours?"
George rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. He said something about time and trains, but it was too much, and Alexander just looked away, hating the difficulty. "Hey," George said, putting his hand on Alex's shoulder to get his attention. "Talking too fast?"
Alex nodded. "Sorry."
"Don't be." George looked around and put his hand on top of Alex's. "Ready to go home?"
"Okay, then." George stowed Alex's bag and shepherded Alex into the passenger side of the car before getting behind the wheel, and then they were on their way. The trip took two days of often slow travel on back roads, but even the roughest patches were smooth compared to driving over fields that had been blasted by shells. The trees were turning colors, and Alex realized it was autumn. He'd forgotten, somehow, how beautiful that could be.
He spent much of the trip dozing with his head leaning against the window, George's jacket folded up as a pillow between his head and the glass. When he was awake, all he had to do was watch the world go by. They rarely spoke, but it had never been about conversation between him and George; just sitting next to him was enough.
The car had a minor breakdown halfway through their second day of travel, and when he realized that George was peering into the engine with poorly-disguised confusion Alex got out of the car and nudged George out of the way. It was easily fixed, just a slipped cable that needed to be settled back in place, and it felt good to see George smile in appreciation when the engine started smoothly. It gave Alex hope that, even if his words were lost somewhere in that hole John had pulled him from, his mind was still good for something.
Part of Alex had thought that when he woke up his first morning on the farm he'd find himself back to normal, that his thoughts would become words and speech would become understanding and that he wouldn't feel exhausted by the need to keep breathing. When he woke that first morning, he was alone in the bed, which was no surprise given that the light coming through the curtains looked like mid-morning, and George had a farm to tend. Alex rolled up to sit on the side of the bed and stayed there for a few minutes, feeling gravity tugging him back down toward his pillow.
It didn't make any sense. His body was fine. His brain might have been rattled by the shell that sent him into that pit, but his brain was just a chunk of flesh in his head. Like the rest of him, it healed quickly--had healed quickly from worse. He'd seen unspeakably terrible things many times, even as a mortal, even as a child. Whatever was damaged in him had to be something beyond the physical. His soul, his spirit, his mind. There he was, as hale and healthy as a man could be, in a comfortable room in a sturdy home with food and clothing and a man who had held him through the night, and he felt as frail and bereft as he had when they'd pulled him from his mother's corpse.
Corpse. Alex shuddered and closed his eyes then snapped them open when the darkness threatened to populate itself with horrors. He heaved himself up out of the bed and had just started putting on a pair of pants when the door the bedroom slowly opened and George walked in with a mug and plate in his hands.
"There you are," George said. He put the dishes down on the bedstand and came over to press a kiss to Alex's forehead. "Good morning."
"Good morning." Alex listened to himself speak, and he realized that he'd actually said it in French. Again. He cleared his throat and focused on the forming of the words. "Good. Morning."
George kissed him again, on the cheek this time. "I don't mind 'bonjour.'"
Alex minded. He was back home; he should be speaking English; his mind should be doing what he wanted it to do. Alex pulled on a shirt then thought about shoes but decided he wasn't planning on going further than the outhouse. He thought about George being here, serving breakfast when he surely had work do outside. "You're not working?"
"I have help," George said, and then he picked up the mug of tea and held it out until Alex took it. "You're more important."
There had been a time when all Alexander had wanted was to be important, to be prominent, to be known by all for his legacy. He wasn't sure exactly when that had fallen so far away that he could barely remember how searing that need had been. Now--for a long time now--he didn't want prominence, didn't care about being important to the public at large. He wanted his work to be important, whether or not anybody remembered his many names, and he only cared to be known by a very few people: John, now Angelica, Lafayette to a lesser degree, and George. Wanting to be known and valued by George Washington was a habit he couldn't seem to shake. "Thank you," he said, and it wasn't enough.
George just nodded to the mug in Alex's hands. "Drink your tea."
At the farm, Alex found things that were good about every day. Even if it was raining or, later, snowing, he would go outside and look at the trees and the growing crops, smell them, feel them on his skin. George would put him to work feeding and watering the animals, and that felt good, too. They were so purely alive, existing just in the time and place where they stood, and even when they were loud and chaotic they didn't have any words that Alex was supposed to understand. He understood them just fine.
He started teaching himself how to cook. It wasn't anything fancy, but just being able to fry some eggs was a good reason to get out of bed in the morning when George did rather than staying in bed and letting himself drift in the soft morning sunlight. As fall turned towards winter, Alex found himself growing restless more often. His energy was returning, if not to what it had been then to a tolerable level that let him be productive around the house and the farm, but he wasn't truly doing anything. Endless puttering was better than sleeping through the days like an elderly cat, but it didn't feel right.
Being with George felt right. Sleeping next to him and listening to his heartbeat through the flesh and bone of his chest, that felt right. Surfacing from a dark mood to find George stroking his hair felt strangely right. Making love in the middle of the night when Alex had woken them both with a nightmare felt like the only way anything could be right.
But still, words evaded him. It was humiliating, speaking more slowly than a dull child in order to avoid inadvertently speaking French, and not being able to comprehend more than the headlines of a newspaper was sickening. George was far from a verbose man, and Alex rarely interacted with anyone else, especially once the harvest was done and the temporary farm hands had gone south. He and George could get through the day with George feeding him occasional handfuls of words and Alex forcing out a few words here and there, but the thought of staying that way for an indefinite and potentially infinite future was terrifying. Alex prefered to push it out of his mind whenever it nudged its way in.
George didn't have any close neighbors, but there were other farms on the outskirts of the small town where George went some days to shop for groceries and dry goods. The ground was covered in a thin, crunchy layer of snow the day one of the closest families came to visit. Alex would have stayed inside to avoid having to attempt conversation, but he'd been out feeding the chickens when their car pulled up to the house. Alex shook hands and let George introduce him as an old friend then withdrew as the conversation about some kind of Christmas something became overwhelming. He was trying to look busy around the henhouse when the little boy of the family wandered over to him. The kid was maybe five years old, and a scraggly little dog gamely jogged along at his side.
"Hi mister," the kid said.
"Hi there," Alex replied, nodding down at him, and for once he found himself more bemused than depressed that this was the level of conversation he could manage.
"This is my dog Sally."
"She's a pretty dog." Something dark was tugging at the edges of Alex's attention, but he tried to focus on what was in front of him.
"D'you got a dog?"
"No, I don't." Alex crouched down and reached out to pet her, but she bolted.
"My dog!" The kid cried out then turned and took off after her across the muddy snow. He was calling for her, calling for his dog, and Alex felt the bite of cold on his knees and the palms of his hands, but he couldn't see anything.
The day had gone completely dark, and all he could hear was a small, young voice calling for his dog. Ma chien. Ma chien. His face ached, and then he felt strong, warm fingers pulling his palms away from his face. Alex didn't open his eyes. Couldn't. "John?" he asked, feeling like somebody was crushing lungs.
"No, Alex. It's George." The words were slow. Calm. "You're safe."
Alex slowly opened his eyes and saw George's face in front of him, worried lines around his eyes. He looked past George and saw the yard, the hen house, the driveway that no longer had a strange car in it. He was sitting in the snow now, leaning against the side of the house, and the day had the same hazy kind of brightness that it had before everything went away. He shivered, frozen straight through even though the day was only cool.
There were questions in George's eyes, but he only stood and held his hand out for Alex to grasp then pulled him up to stand. Alex swayed and leaned against George's shoulder for a moment before allowing himself to be led inside. In the bedroom, he stripped out of his sodden clothes and climbed under the covers naked. He curled on his side and tried to let his mind float away, just go away somewhere he didn't have to live with the memories.
Then the bed dipped, and he felt George slide in behind him, his broad body fitted up behind Alex's, his arm heavy and warm around Alex's chest. "Stay here with me," George said quietly, his breath brushing Alex's ear.
"Nowhere to go," Alex said, and the words choked him.
"You go somewhere," George rubbed his thumb in a slow arc over Alex's skin. "Somewhere inside." Alex's throat ached with all of the words he couldn't get out. "I want you to stay."
There, in George's arms, Alex let himself cry for the first time since leaving France. He was never sure afterward how long it went on, but he was there--really there--the whole time. And so was George.
The next evening as they sat in front of the fire, George awkwardly cleared his throat and announced that Alex was going to have to start trying to talk more. He parceled out his words, slowly and relentlessly making his point that Alex couldn't go on keeping most of his thoughts buttoned up inside, that Alex wasn't built for reticence. It almost funny, considering how many times Washington had wordlessly or explicitly told him to keep his mouth shut during his presidency.
More than one person over the years had accused Alex of liking to hear himself talk, and maybe that had been true. Now, all he could hear most of the time was his thoughts, and they were becoming deafening. He had been choosing silence over the humiliation of his broken speech, but now George wasn't going to let him make that choice.
Alexander breathed in and out through his nose and made a frustrated hand gesture. "There's so much," he said, motioning to his head.
"So much?" George obviously knew what he meant and could have completed his sentence but was refusing to do so.
"In my head." He squeezed his hand around the arm of the chair then let it go. "Want to say," he finished, quietly.
"Then say it, Alexander." Alex glared at him, but George was undaunted. "Break it into pieces. I'm patient."
And he was, more patient than Alex could ever imagine being. "I'm tired," Alex said, and if he was ready to escape the attempt at conversation he was also ready to close his eyes and just not struggle for a while.
George looked like he was going to argue, but he must have read the truth in Alex's eyes because he nodded. "We'll talk more tomorrow." The words were a command and a promise and a piece of encouragement all at once, and Alex would take it.
Break it up into pieces became Alex's watchword over the next few weeks. Along with talking, what he truly wanted to do was write again. He started a letter to John, and it took him a week to complete. He would write a few words, breathe, look away, write a few more words. A handful of sentences was enough to send him away from his writing desk for hours but nonetheless his words were coming together on paper.
He thought about the way he used to write, hour after hour of furious scribbling until he'd feel nearly crippled when he tried to stand up. Working the way he was now, he couldn't have even dreamed of doing a tenth of what he'd done before. And yet, writing so slowly made every word count, every word deliberate, every word contemplated. Writing like this, he could never have defended the Constitution with the Federalist Papers, but he also never could have raced headlong into scandal or into the petty argument that took him away from his family.
Writing so slowly felt like harvesting all the apples from a tree but taking them to the barn handful by handful instead of loading them into a cart and pushing them. The process took a long time, but it was better than leaving the fruit to rot on the ground. Better than leaving his brain to rot inside his skull.
A few days into his work on the letter to John, Alex discovered that something else was happening. Putting the English words on paper, forming them, seeing them, was helping the French to fall away. His words were still relatively few and carefully chosen, but he found that he could trust that they would come out in the language he meant to be speaking. Soon, with that rediscovered bit of trust in himself, Alex found that he could string more words together. He was far from rattling off a paragraph in a single breath, but he could put together a sentence that wouldn't embarrass a six year old.
The competency of language that had been taken from him in two days came back slowly over the course of the winter. Alex found that the more he could say, the more he could listen to and understand. The more he could put words on paper, the more he could read. There was much less work for George to do on the farm, and they spent long hours at each other's sides. Alex told George what he could remember of what had happened in the collapsed trench, letting the story go in increments until it was all out, and the relief of being heard and known made him feel strangely lighter than he had since before those days.
With his ability to read returned, he found a new passion: the nascent fields of studying the brain and the mind. The war was giving scientists in those fields no shortage of subjects to study, and Alexander found it sickly fascinating, the things a man's mind would do to in the attempt to protect him. There was a comfort in knowing that he was far from the only man who had found himself so comprehensively broken all while being physically whole. Alex ordered in books, monographs, medical journals and then textbooks to help him fully understand the other sources. He still couldn't siphon the new information straight from the page and into his understanding the way he had in the past, but as with writing the slower reading had its benefits.
In years past, he would have spent the whole day sunk deep in whatever he was studying, taking time away from it for little more than food and sleep, maybe drinks, maybe a quick tumble. Now, as he moved through his studies more slowly and deliberately, he found he had time to truly digest the material rather than just using each piece of information as a jumping point to the next.
His past life working as an engineer felt distant, more like something he'd heard about rather than a series of careers over the course of decades. He caught George watching him one time when Alex was fixing the wiring in a lamp. "What? Am I doing something strange? Or are you just that bored?"
"Neither. I was just watching you work. Wondering if you miss the work you used to do. If you want to go back to it."
"No." That, at least, was a simple question to answer. He put down his tools and waited for George to join him at the table. "It was interesting. Thrilling sometimes. But I believed that everything I was doing was for good. That technology would save mankind"
"It does save people. My God, you know that what they can do now would have been miracles or witchcraft when we were born."
"Yes. But then I saw the other side of it. The efficiency of killing. The communications and transportation that made the troop movements possible." Alex paused for a moment to put his thoughts in order. "It made our wars here look like gangs of street fighters or tribes in a jungle."
George sighed and hung his head. "And now American boys are going over there."
"The government we helped to build is sending them. Sending them to a machine that makes death and destruction and cripples and madmen."
George didn't say anything for a minute, just reached over and squeezed Alex's hand. "Who would have thought," he finally said with a small smile, "Alexander Hamilton, the pacifist."
"I'm not a pacifist," Alex snapped, then regretted it. "I don't know what I am other than a man who hates this war."
"I know you're the man that I love."
Alex looked up to meet George's eyes then looked down smiling despite himself. Who would have thought, he mused to himself, George Washington, the sappy romantic.
Soon after the war finally ended, John made his way back across the Atlantic and paid a visit to George and Alex out on the farm. Alex didn't think he could ever not be glad to see John Laurens after a time apart. Every reunion was a repudiation of the loss he'd felt so keenly for so long. Still, he brought with him into the house reminders of things Alex would rather forget, even though it wasn't John's fault any more than it would be if a mouse had run through the door between his feet.
Or a rat. Damn it.
John looked older than he had the last time they'd seen each other, and Alex told him so.
"I know we're not supposed to change, not supposed to age, but I feel older. The world feels older."
Alex nodded. "I think sometimes that we're like statues, never dying but slowly degrading from exposure to the elements."
"Of course some of us are actually statues, myself not included." Laurens cracked a sly grin despite the gravity of their conversation.
"You should be, my very brave friend."
John didn't respond, and Alex stared into the fire for a long moment.
"I've thought about this a lot since leaving France," Alex said. "Our bodies heal from almost anything but there's somewhere inside that we're accumulating damage."
"You're proof that even that can heal. Listening to you speak is--is a very good thing."
"But I'm not the man I was. That might not be a terrible thing all told, but I don't know how many pieces of my mind I can take losing."
"What you said to Lafayette before you left about no more wars? I hope you stand by that. We've both given enough of our lives to the pursuit."
"This was supposed to be the war to end all wars, wasn't it? Maybe we'll never have to make that decision again." Alex didn't believe a word of it, no matter how much he wished it could be true.
"Right," John said, sounding no more optimistic.
"What are you going to do now? Go back to doctoring?"
"No, I've had enough of that too for right now. I'm going to travel, just knock around and see what other parts of our country look like these days, maybe make my way down to Mexico, South America. I'll be out of pocket for a while, but I'll send a letter or a telegram from time to time."
It was still strange to think that in their lives "a while" could mean decades. "Then I hope you have safe travels."
"What about you? Is there a new field for you to explore?"
"Maybe a new cornfield in the spring." Alex had thought about turning his interest in the mind and the brain into a new career, but he'd realized that he didn't want to tinker around in anybody's head, literally or metaphorically. This time around he would be an armchair scientist and leave the experiments to somebody else. "I know it won't be forever, but right now I don't want to be anywhere other than here."
Over the years, spending almost all of his time on the farm made it easy for Alex to forget that the rest of the world wouldn't understand the relationship he had with George. He knew logically that they wouldn't approve, but Alex didn't care about the approval of people who had seen so little. The residents of the nearby small town and the surrounding farms were decent people for the most part--helpful to their neighbors when necessary, minding their own business when not--but most of them had never left the county they'd been born in, never strayed from their small social circles. They were young and sheltered, and most of the time Alex hoped they could stay that way.
With the Great War falling into the past, the whole country seemed to bloom with startlingly new and beautiful music and art and pretty girls in scandalous dresses. Despite his original intention to avoid people, Alex found himself forming bonds with some of the neighbors and people in the town. It all started when Larry Wilcox's truck broke down near George's farm, and Alex got it running again. George had to mention that Alex had been keeping the various machinery around the farm humming, and bit by bit Alex became the man to see when you needed help with anything that ran on gasoline or electricity.
Alex started going to town to pick up hardware he needed or do other shopping, and it was strange to realize how long he had stayed away from people, safe in cotton wool at the farm. Safety and security were good things, and when he came back from France he had needed them as much as he needed to breathe. Now, that degree of solitude was a habit he intended to break. Trips to the hardware store turned into stopping for coffee and pie at the only restaurant in town and chatting with the waitress. It made him feel like a real person again, a whole person.
He had a corner of the barn that he used as his workshop, and it was little more than some shelves for his tools and a wooden table set up at a good height for working on his feet but that was all he needed. Alex was fiddling with a recalcitrant vacuum cleaner when George walked in and leaned against the edge of the door. After a minute of George not saying anything Alex finally looked up from his work to see George watching him with a soft smile on his face.
"What?" Alex turned to look behind himself and saw only the plain wall of the barn. "Why are you looking at me like that."
"Do you know how it makes feel me to see you so happy?"
"I'm not happy. I'm about to heave this thing into the creek."
"The creek's a mile away."
"It would be worth the walk."
George laughed, and Alex found himself joining in, his frustration fizzling out. "You like having something to fight with, even if it's a sweeping machine."
"Maybe, but I like you more." Alex abandoned his work to walk around to the front of the table, and George stepped further into the barn to meet him. As they kissed, George smelled like clean sweat and tasted like raspberry jam. "You had lunch without me?"
"I'm a hard-working man." George tilted his head to press a kiss to the underside of Alex's jaw, making him shiver. "Actually, I made lunch for both of us, and it's waiting in the kitchen."
"I'm supposed to care about food right now?" Alex pushed his hips forward against George's, and he found himself lifted a few inches up to perch on the edge of his worktable. Alex loved this, the way it turned around the usual dynamic of their heights. With Alex on the table, George was the one tilting his head up to meet Alex's kisses, and Alex was the one cupping the back of George's head to pull them closer together.
Alex's shirt had already been unbuttoned at the collar, but he felt George's fingers working the buttons and then warm breath on the skin of his chest. Alex hurried to undo enough of George's shirt to let it fall open enough to give his hands access to George's shoulders. He loved smoothing the palms of his hands over George's body and feeling the strength there. He'd always been so strong. Alex was just about to suggest moving over to a convenient bale of hay when he heard a voice call out, "Well, GOD DAMN," and looked up to see Frank Fisher standing in the doorway to the barn with a radio in his hands, shock and disgust clear on his face.
Alex felt the room spin as his heart pounded, and he saw George close his eyes for just a moment before shrugging his shirt up and turning around.
"Frank," George said calmly. "I didn't hear you knock."
"I guess you didn't. I was bringing this for your friend there to look at, but now that I think about it I'll just send it off to be fixed in the city."
Alex slipped down from the table to stand on the ground. "Mr. Fisher--" He struggled to regain his composure. "I'd be happy to work on the radio for you."
Alex reached out, and the man recoiled. "I said I'd send it off." He turned and hurried away from the barn, and Alex walked over to stand in the doorway with George as they watched him jump in his truck and pull away.
"This is bad," George said, his voice low as he buttoned up his shirt with brisky efficiency. "This could be very bad."
"He might not even tell anybody, at least not right away. Who's going to believe him?"
"I don't know." George sighed and ran a hand over his head. "We're going to have to work on getting ready to move. I won't have this hanging over our heads."
"If you think it's time then I'm with you. You know that."
George looked down at Alex and brushed his fingers over the exposed skin at the back of his neck. "I know," he said, but he didn't sound very happy about it. All of the happiness of fifteen minutes ago had been taken away down the road by Frank Fisher and his radio.
The next day, while George quietly but intently started work on finding a new farm in another state, Alex drove into town to deliver Mrs. Freeman's now-functioning vacuum cleaner. He wasn't in the mood to stop for pie, but he needed a few things at the store. Denny Johnson's daughter Lizzy was usually at the cash register, but Alex didn't see her or anybody else in the main area of the store when he walked in. Alex felt uneasy but he chided himself for his nerves. Lizzy had probably just gone to get something from the back or to check on her son. She was a nice girl, a war widow with a little boy who'd just started school, and a whole lot friendlier than her father.
"Laurens." Alex looked up at the sound of Denny's gruff voice, and the name reminded him that he was going to have to find a new one again and leave John's name behind.
"Good afternoon," Alex said. "I'm hoping you have some motor oil in stock."
The bell over the door rang as somebody came in behind Alex, and before he could turn his head to see who it was Alex felt something slam into the back of his head with a dull thump. The room turned over on its side, and then Alex was on the floor. Before he could shake off the impact, meaty hands grabbed the front of his shirt and hauled him up to stand then shoved him against a wall.
Ralph Johnson was standing next to his father, red-faced as he panted with a wooden mop handle in his hands. He swung it at Alex like he was batting for a home run and it slammed into Alex's arm with an audible snap. "That was for leading on my sister, you sick faggot."
Alex's arm was a hot mess of pain, but his head had already cleared from the first blow when Denny's first crashed across his face. "Or were you trying to get at my grandson?" He took a shot at Alex's ribs. "Goddamn pervert."
Through the shock and the throbbing pulse of pain in his face, Alex suddenly understood that they weren't just trying to scare him. He would be unconscious if he were any normal man; they were trying to kill him. Together, they were three times his size, and there was murder in their eyes. Unfortunately for them, Alexander Hamilton had been in tighter spots than they could imagine, and he was much, much harder to kill.
He slumped, pretending to pass out, then grabbed the mop handle from Ralph's hands. He jabbed his weapon forward and up, clocking Ralph under the chin then twisted and jabbed it back into Denny's gut. Without giving them time to recover, Alex scrambled past them and ran out the door. He sprinted flat out down the street, not daring to look behind them, then jumped in the truck, and he was on the road before he'd even gotten the door closed.
As he drove back to the farm, Alex felt like he was back in France, focused on nothing more than driving back to the relative safety of base camp with gunfire and whizzbangs close behind him. With a shaking hand, he pulled the handkerchief from his pocket and mopped up the blood that was starting to dry on his face. By the time he pulled up next to the house none of his injuries were more than a dull ache, but his shirt was bloody, and as soon as George saw him he came running.
Alex took in a deep breath and let it out. "Denny Johnson and his moron of a son decided to use me for batting practice."
"This was about what Frank saw."
George hadn't asked, but Alex nodded. "They had something to say about me being a faggot and worse."
"We're leaving. Tonight." George's eyes were wild, and when Alex put a hand on his arm he found that George was the one shaking instead of him.
"Hold on. We need to figure out where we're going and get the animals taken care of before we abandon this place."
"Where we're going is anywhere other than here, and let me worry about the animals. Go pack what you can from the house."
"I want to get out of this place as much as you do, but it doesn't have to be tonight."
"I'm not going to sleep while, as far as I know, we're sitting right next to a whole town full of people who want to kill us."
"Let them try!"
"They did! And I'm not going to let it happen again."
George's face was utterly resolute, and Alex knew there was no point in continuing to argue. "Then I'll pack the house."
Inside, Alex stood and looked around at the stove he'd learned to cook on, the fireplace that had warmed innumerable nights, the radio he had built himself from spare parts. He hadn't let himself get attached to a living space in a long time, but this one felt like home. He packed up their clothes and books, organized his papers and carefully tucked away the few old things that each of them had managed to carry around from life to life. He thought about his tools in the barn but all of that was replaceable, and it was always better to travel light. He took the radio though; some things were worth carrying.
They left at dusk and drove toward Boston, where they checked into a hotel. In their room with two small beds, George made a point of mussing the covers on one of the beds before they both climbed into the second bed. Even hours away from the town where everything had gone so wrong, sleep was a long time in coming.
In the morning, after they ate a glum breakfast in the hotel restaurant, George said he was going to take a walk. Alex read for a while then gave in and took a nap after the restless night until he woke to the sound of George returning to the room. He had a slim piece of paper in his hand, and he passed it over to Alex without looking him in the eye. Alex felt sick as he read what was in his hand.
"Why are you giving me a train ticket to New York?"
"I know you keep your accounts there."
"I can have funds wired here to pay my share on a new farm."
"That's not what I'm talking about," George said, as if Alex didn't already understand.
"How can you ask that? Two men just tried to kill you for what we were doing together in private. I can't risk that happening again."
"So we'll be more careful." It had been reckless, really, letting things go that far in the open barn in the light of day, even if they had been on their own property.
"No. I can't allow it. You've been hurt enough, and I won't put you at risk for what I am, what I want."
"What you want? I want the same thing, in case that's not clear."
"It's not the same. You could be happy with a woman. Happy and safe because a man could find you rutting naked with your wife in a horse stall, and you wouldn't get anything more than a wink and a nod."
Alex blinked hard, not wanting to believe that George would say that to him. "Yes, I like women, it's true, but I don't want to be with some random woman. I want to be with you."
"What about Angelica? You two always had something between you, and I know you love each other."
Alex shook his head, furious now. "We do love each other. But we--gah!" When he got too emotional, sometimes the words would still scatter in his mind, and though he tried not to let himself go that far he'd sailed right on past the point of coherency. "We're not--" He shook his head.
"Alexander, sit down for a moment. Breathe."
"Don't." Alex snapped. He turned around, paced to the other side of the room, and stood looking out the window at the street below with its passing pedestrians and cars until his mind settled. When the words would line up in his head again, he turned back to find George sitting on the bed, staring at the floor between his feet. "That's never going to happen for me and Angelica. Even if I wanted it, which I do not, Lafayette wouldn't be too pleased."
George looked up and blinked. "The two of them?"
"It was obvious. And they have a long history, you know."
"I had forgotten about that."
"Did you forget about our history?"
"No, but I want you to have a future. I love you, but I won't be in the same place as you when it poses this kind of a risk."
"This is wrong," Alex said, and he was already mourning the life he'd had two days ago.
"Just go to New York, get what you need, decide what you want to do next. Please let me know where you go; use the old mail drop until I can send you a new address. We'll see each other again, but I think we're both going to need some time before we can let that happen."
Alex shook his head, torn between I don't ever want to see you again and I don't ever want to leave your side. "I never thought you would be a coward," he said, and he knew the words were cruel but he hurt too much to spare George's feelings.
"I'm sorry to disappoint you." The words sounded like they were choking him. George looked around the room and sighed. "I'm going out again. Please--please get on that train."
Alex nodded curtly.
George stepped toward him holding out his hand. "Can we shake hands as friends?"
It was excruciating, but Alex took George's broad hand in his and squeezed it as they shook. He wanted to reel George in and kiss him until he changed his mind, but George's mind wasn't easy to change once he'd settled something, and Alex had to hold on to what little remained of his pride. "Good bye," he said, then turned around and listened to George leave the room.
In a daze, Alex sorted through their bags, transferring his clothes and personal items and the few books and papers that still seemed important into one bag that he could easily carry. They'd had to bring everything inside from the truck, so the radio he'd built sat on the little desk near the window. Alex found a piece of paper and a pen and sat down to write the one thing he had to say before he left town.
You're the last man I should have ever called a coward. I'm sorry.
Alex tucked the edge of the note under the bottom of the radio and looked at it for a minute. He wanted to write more, but if he started he'd be there for hours, and he needed to be gone before George returned. With his bag in hand, Alex left the room and the building and started off toward the train station. It was a long walk, but he needed some time to move on his own two feet before he sat down for another several hours. He needed to feel air on his face and let his life with George fall into the distance slowly. New York was once again ahead of him, once again the place where his life would start new, and he supposed it was time.
In the end, Alex didn't stay in New York for long at all. He sorted out a new identity, one Harold Milton for the simple reason that it was amusing, and he knew John would like it. George would act like he wasn't amused and then let himself be caught smiling, but Alex had to remind himself that Harold Milton and George would probably never cross paths. John was down in Argentina, and Alex thought about going to join him there but he didn't feel like going somewhere so entirely new.
When he saw the steamships in the harbor, Alex knew where he wanted to be, if he couldn't be with George. Angelica wasn't the potential lover George had thought her to be, but she was family. They hadn't been able to spend more than brief moments together during the war, and the journey home was like a landscape viewed under heavy fog. He'd been overwhelmingly grateful for her presence but he himself had been more absent than not. A recent letter had reported that she was living in London, so Alex sent word ahead and hoped she would be pleased to see him. He also left word at George's old mail drop, a venerable old law firm that Alex was sure had deep ties to the immortal community, such as it was.
Alex bought a suitable trunk for traveling, some new clothes that were more fashionable than a farmer's Sunday best and a ticket across the Atlantic. His heart ached, but the break was a clean one, and he thought it would heal--at least as much as anything non-physical seemed to heal anymore. On his way across the water, Alex thought about the things that had changed during his lifetime. The nation and the world were still terribly far from perfect, but slavery was long gone from the States, almost out of living memory already for people who knew how to die. Women could vote, and they were free to live more independently.
The progress was too slow, but it was all towards freedom, all towards equality. Maybe one day they could all be who and what they were without fear. He could only hope it wouldn't take another century.
Angelica answered her own door this time at the London townhouse, and Alex was trying to process the shock of seeing her in a loose, rose-colored dress that fell to just below her knees when she urged him inside and pulled him in for a hug. She stepped back after a moment but she didn’t hide that she was looking Alex over with a sharp eye. "Alexander! It’s so good to see you again. How are you doing?"
"I’m just fine, and--" Flustered despite himself, Alex motioned at her dress. "Angelica, you have legs!"
She laughed. "Did you have any doubt?"
"I had never seen evidence of anything other than very fine ankles."
"Honestly, I still feel close to naked sometimes, but it doesn’t do to fall out of fashion. I don’t miss having to cinch up a corset though, not at all."
"No nurse’s whites right now?"
She tilted her head back and forth. "I’m taking a break from that. I might actually try my hand at another career now that it’s not totally unreasonable for a woman to do something other than teach or nurse. For now, I’m happy to spend my time as a patron of the arts."
"And is our French friend sitting next to you at the theatre?" Alex could sense that there was another one of their kind nearby.
Angelica just raised her eyebrows, then Alex heard a throat clear and looked up to see Lafayette standing in the entrance to the next room. "Always so smart, Alexander. You figured us out."
"I wish you many happy centuries together," Alex said, making a droll joke and meaning it at the same time.
Angelica snorted in a decidedly unladylike fashion, and Lafayette strolled over to pick up Alex’s bag from where he’d dropped it on the floor. "Come along, I’ll show you to your room." Lafayette headed up the staircase, and Alex followed. "Life without servants," Lafayette called back over his shoulder, "it is tragic."
"I can see that." The house was spotless, and Alex doubted that Angelica was doing all of the dusting and polishing, but he supposed that a cleaning lady wouldn’t count as a servant to a marquis or a Schuyler sister.
Lafayette led Alex into a bedroom decorated lavishly in the modern style and set Alex’s bag down on the bed. When he turned around he leaned back against the bed and studied Alex with his arms folded over his chest.
"Is there something on my face?"
"Other than some whiskers you should take care of before we go out this evening, no. I wish to know if you’re putting on a show for us or if you’re truly well. I’ve not been able to forget the last time I saw you."
Alex sighed. "I don’t remember it well myself but I’m much better. There are some less than perfect moments still, but I’m well. I promise."
Lafayette nodded, looking marginally less intent on reading Alex’s mind. "And the fact that you are here, and the General is not here?"
That, the thing Alex had been trying not to think about, that he’d crossed the ocean to get away from, hit Alex like a punch to the ribs by a meaty fist. It was difficult to believe that only a week had passed since the incident that had set this all in action. "Did John tell you?"
"You are not the only man who can put together two and two."
Alex nodded. "That’s-- It’s-- I--" Words were failing him, not because he couldn’t put the words in order but rather because he wasn’t even sure how he felt. He had let his anger, more at the situation than at George, fuel him from the hotel in Boston straight through to that very moment, but he found that the anger had worn thin. From underneath the tattered fabric of his anger, he could feel other emotions pushing through to gain dominance. "It’s not so good," he admitted.
"Will you say what happened to send you to our doorstep?"
"Not the whole story, no. Suffice it to say that George decided that it would be safer for us to be apart and for me to go find a nice girl."
"It’s is still very strange to hear you call the man George, but you do enjoy women, yes? That was not a ruse?"
"Not a ruse. Not even I would have gone that far for a smokescreen." Alex shrugged. "But I don’t want a nice girl."
Lafayette looked like he was going to continue his line of questioning, and then the lines of his body loosened and gave Alex a sly grin. "We shall have to find you some naughty ones then."
Alex wasn’t really in the mood for that either, and he suspected Lafayette could tell but he laughed anyway. There would be plenty of time for sadness when he woke in the middle of the night and found himself alone. Lafayette showed him to the washroom and the water closet, and the prospect of enjoying modern city conveniences for a while after the rustic rural life was appealing.
Alex washed and shaved and changed into a smart suit for dinner, and it was only when he looked into his own eyes in the mirror that he could see the man who had spent the better part of a decade picking vegetables, feeding chickens, tinkering away in a corner of the barn and sharing George Washington’s bed and heart and life. He blinked and reminded himself that he was an expert at moving on.
After three weeks in London spent going to society parties and the theatre and listening to music of all descriptions, Alex bid farewell to his hosts. Unlike the last time he had left them, Alex was relieved to depart feeling like a man rather than like a lost lamb to be shepherded. He took a train south through England then sailed for Italy. He could have made the shorter crossing to France and then traveled overland, but he wasn’t ready to see France and whatever was left of the devastated landscape he’d left behind.
Italy, on the other hand, was a place that held good memories. An ordinary man’s lifespan had passed since Alex last lived there, but as soon as he heard the language being spoken around him he felt parts of his brain waking up, his fluency shaking off the dust of disuse. For five years, he ate and danced and took lovers. He dabbled in local politics and journalism and tried to pretend that he couldn’t see that the lingering infection left behind by the Great War was festering through much of Europe. He thought of all of those exploded trees on the battlefields falling like splinters under the skin of the world. The continent might be able to limp along for a while, but Alex could tell that the fever would return.
He thought he would be able to stay for a few more years but when the latest financial panic in the States failed to turn around--when the bottom fell out of the stock market and that became its own kind of spreading decay--Alex knew it was time to go back to New York. Transatlantic telephone calls reassured him that the investments he’d spent over a century growing were still solvent, but his balances were nothing like they had been. He couldn’t continue to live frivolously off the profits while still leaving most of his investments in place for when the market would inevitably turn around.
Once again, Alex packed up his life and boarded a ship bound for America. New York City was as it had always been: alive and dirty and in a constant state of flux. Once again, Alex took up the life of a student, studying law and living in spare but clean quarters in a boarding house populated by students and unmarried young professional men. He could have afforded better, but he didn’t need it, and there was convenience in not having to be responsible for a household. The excesses of his life in Europe felt dirty when the bread lines began to grow longer and shantytowns once again formed to house people who had nowhere else to go.
Studying wasn’t quite as easy as Alex remembered, the volumes of text less eager to absorb into his mind, the papers not able to be dashed off in breathless hours. Still, Alex had to admit that he seemed to have an easier time than most of his bright, young classmates, and he didn’t allow himself to grieve for his former preternatural ability any more than he grieved for everything else he had left behind. Everyone else. Then again, the city was full of men and women who had left their homes, lost their dreams, failed their families. If he gave in to despair or panic in the middle of the night, he wasn’t alone.
As much as the economic situation was hard on everyone, Alex could see how those who had already been at the bottom suffered more. The depths of racial inequality that he had thought were left behind in the last century or at least contained to the south were instead evident all over the city. People who were supposed to be enjoying the fruits of freedom were being drowned by a system that didn’t believe they deserved air. He found, too, the half-secret little clubs where men would go to meet and share a few honest moments together, all while hoping they wouldn’t be arrested by the police or worse--not for drinking bootleg gin but for wearing the wrong clothes or feeling the wrong kind of love.
As soon as he could manage, Alex finished his course of study and set up his practice in a tiny storefront downtown. Rent was low now that more shops were going out of business, and all Alex needed was room for a couple of desks, some chairs and a bookshelf. He took enough paying clients to pay the rent and the light bill and the salary of the girl he hired to do his typing, and he filled the rest of his time with trying to right some of the things that were still so wrong in the city he loved.
Years went by, and Alex found that he loved this kind of fighting. It was like the early days of the Revolution, except that back then he’d lusted for war, so eager to prove that he’d kill or die for the glorious cause of freedom. Now, he fought on paper, he fought in the courtroom, he fought at his desk as he worked long hours into the night before stumbling up the back stairs to his rooms above the office. He had bought the little building after the first year, and his upstairs tenants paid half of their rent in services, helping Alex stay fed and taking care of his laundry and housekeeping. The arrangement worked well, and as the decade drew to an end the breadlines slowly grew shorter, the streets less populated by hopeless, idle men and desperate women.
Alex would have felt optimistic about his future in the city if it weren’t for the fever of war rising up around him. War was declared in Europe again, France and Germany at odds again, and as much as Alex knew he wouldn’t go he couldn’t help feeling the pull of it, the guilt. Nobody around him expected him to sign up; he had been Harry Milton for too long to be a young man anymore. Lafayette had made it clear that any debt that may have been between them was long since repaid. He had sworn to both John and George that he would keep himself away from the battlefields unless the battlefields came to him, and even if he hadn’t seen either of them in a decade and a half or more those promises still meant something.
More than all of that, Alex didn’t want to think about what would happen if he couldn’t recover from the blows this time, if he were to be left endlessly alive but too damaged to truly live. He didn’t want to think about what waited for the young people in uniform who were suddenly everywhere. He didn’t want to look at a handsome man on the street and imagine him as an eyeless corpse, but it was happening more often than he wanted to admit to himself
Alex was working at his desk late in the evening when he heard the door to the storefront office open; Mrs. Novak upstairs kept telling him that he would end up murdered by ruffians if he didn’t start locking the door after dark. Alex looked up, wondering if his date with the ruffians had finally come, and saw the lanky form of John Laurens standing in his doorway.
"H. Milton," he said, "Really, Alexander?" And then they were both laughing and clapping each other on the back. Alex locked up the office and took John down the street to a bar for celebratory drinks and, as it turned out, planning the next chapter of their adventures.
John wouldn’t admit it, but Alex had a feeling that John had come to preemptively save him from himself and make sure he didn’t let himself be drawn into the war. Why else would he travel all the way from South America to New York only to convince Alex to relocate to the one place he never meant to see again? The prospect of returning to St. Croix wasn’t appealing, and he wasn’t ready to agree right there over drinks, but he wouldn’t say no to John so quickly either. Two drinks in, feeling a little bit slow and soft, Alex asked the question that had been on his mind.
"Have you talked to him?" Alex hadn’t spoken to George since that terrible day in Boston, and they hadn’t corresponded more than updating each other on their location in the world. George had been at the same farm he’d established after they fled Massachusetts, and Alex had been in New York for nearly ten years, and that told the story of how often they’d written.
"I have." John didn’t pretend not to know who the subject of the question was, and Alex appreciated that. "I visited last week on my way north."
At that news, Alex felt a surge of desire just to be in the man’s presence again. "He’s okay?"
"He’s about the same as usual, as far as I could tell. Lonely, though."
"He doesn’t have anyone…there?"
John shook his head dismissively. "You know damn well that he’s not going to marry any more than I am, and after what happened before? No, he’s alone."
Alex would have hated to learn that George had somebody in the place that had belonged to Alex, but it hurt to think of George being so lonely for so very long. Still, the man had made his choice, and if George was anything he was resolute in his decisions.
After a few days of John loitering around his apartment and eating Mrs. Novak’s pierogies, Alex gave in to the inevitable. He tied up his business in New York and prepared for the trip back to the home he’d run from more than a century and a half ago. He and John traveled by train to Florida, moving from the industrial north through the rural south, then boarded a ship, This wasn’t the sleek efficiency of a steamer to Europe; it was older, rougher. Alex felt the heat settling into his body, the water around them so big and blue, the ship groaning against waves. They were traveling back in time, and Alex let himself muse that it would make him new again
Back in Manhattan, Alex had been used to crossing paths that he had traveled in another life. In the Caribbean, on a very different kind of island, the experience was new and surreal. Much was different--grand hotels and shopping areas built for tourists, automobiles in the streets, women on the beaches in daring bathing suits--but digging deeper into the island revealed that many things were still the same. The hills were full of clapboard shacks that made the humble circumstances of Alex’s childhood look palatial, people rode donkeys to the market, and the sugar plantations were full of laborers, even if they were paid now instead of enslaved.
It was one thing to recognize bits of New York that remained from his time as a student, a soldier and a father, but to see the rocks he had played on with his brother, to pass the graveyard that had refused his mother’s body, those things were entirely different. Everywhere else in the world Alex had only experienced as a man, full-grown and responsible for his own fate. On St. Croix he had once been small and helpless and subject to the whims of the people around him, and no matter how many years had passed since those days they still lay at the core of him like seeds in an apple.
There was power, he found, in going back to that place as a man and making a difference in some small way. He’d been denied a formal education due to the illegitimacy of his birth, and now he was teaching in a school that didn’t ask for marriage papers at the door. Alex had spent very little time among children since he’d left his family so long ago, and Eliza might have argued that he hadn’t spent enough time with them even when he was there to do it. John spent nearly the whole first year of their time on the island laughing at the incongruity of the sight every time he caught Alex surrounded by kids, but the truth was that he wasn’t terrible at teaching.
Alex could be impatient with slow learners, but he also enjoyed thinking of different roads into understanding a difficult concept. Most of all, the children wanted to learn, many of them motivated by a desire to escape their circumstances, and Alex knew that drive better than anyone. John had taken up doctoring again, working in a clinic that served many of the same families that sent children to Alex’s classroom, and they would meet up in the evening to have a drink outside of the cottage they shared. Alex slept elsewhere sometimes, but it was pleasant to share a home with his old friend.
While the war abroad ground on with mounting horror, Alex did his best to throw himself into the work in front of him, and there was no end to it. By the time the war finally ended, he’d gotten into the habit of his new life in this old place. Time barely seemed to pass in the lingering summer of tropical weather, and it was only when one of the first children he had taught showed up at the school to enroll his own daughter that Alex realized how long he’d been there. John had left a few years past, drawn by the urge to wander, but Alex had been content to stay.
Somehow, the realization that he’d spent nearly a dozen years there broke the island’s spell. When the school term ended, he left. Children and young people crowded the dock, waving to him as his ship departed, and he didn’t know what to think about that. He waved and smiled at them until they were out of sight and then he found a place to sit with his head in his hands as emotions swamped him. He was more than ready to leave the island, and yet he felt a grief and remorse at leaving people behind that reminded him of leaving with George that first time, spirited away from his grave.
If his journey to the Caribbean had felt like traveling into the past, returning to America in the early 1950s felt like speeding into the future. He stopped in the nation’s capital before returning to New York, and everywhere around him were cars that looked like spaceships and prosperous people in smart clothes. Alex’s bank accounts had flourished in the years after the Great Depression, and he didn’t spare expense in buying himself a sharp new suit to replace his worn clothing from the island.
Alex had avoided this city for the most part, visiting only briefly, many decades in the past. It was utterly bizarre to be in a city named after the man he’d called George, to stand at the foot of a towering obelisk dedicated to the man who had been his lover, to visit a statue of the very man and stare into its calm, sightless eyes. Seeing the well-sculpted lines of George's body made his chest ache, missing the warmth of the living man.
Alex visited some of the others, too: Jefferson, who he was willing to admit had been a worthy opponent, and Lincoln, the man he had faithfully served but never met. He saw the blocky modern buildings of the US Treasury and temples that housed the legislative and executive branches of the government that he had once upon a time helped to cobble together from sticks and mud. He knew one thing from listening to people talk in the public spaces--he didn’t have the stomach for modern politics.
Back in New York, Alex settled in Brooklyn Heights for a change and then spent some time and money establishing a new identity. For the first time in a long time he was worried about being recognized from his previous life in the city, and he knew he probably should have chosen another place to live but instead he bought new eyeglasses that changed the shape of his face and found a new way to style his hair. In a city of millions, that was good enough. He would confess himself to be his own bastard son if it came down to that. He got George’s location from their tiny network of old friends and sent a postcard of the Washington Monument with his new address.
Teaching part-time at Brooklyn College filled up some of his days, and he spent long hours walking the city, learning it, relearning it. Inspired by his visit to DC, Alex pillaged the library for books about the revolution. He pushed past the names and the dates and the things that were patently untrue and sought out the primary sources. It felt scandalous, like rifling through his enemy's desk, as he read private letters and journals. He found that he cared less about what they had said about him than what they’d said about each other and what they’d done in the dark corners of their lives. They had all been imperfect, and so many of them had been glorious all the same. John Adams had managed to be perfect in his way but in no sense glorious; some things never changed.
Not much searching was needed to find a way into the burgeoning gay society in the city. Alex found more this time than seedy bars, though he had nothing against those little dives in the West Village. Through a fellow instructor at the college, Alex gained access to a society that was behind closed doors, yes, but far from underground. He went to parties full of brightly polished men and stayed in comfortable vacation homes where men walked around half-naked under the sun and didn’t avert their eyes from one another.
After mostly steering himself toward women during his years on the island, Alex threw himself into his new social circle and into this new time when people were beginning to talk frankly about things that had been hidden by so many layers of manners--and clothing--for so long. There were still manners, still standards to be upheld, but Alex melded into the world of parties and plays and sparkling conversation as if he hadn’t been commuting on a donkey the year before.
A few years went by, and Alex was attending a Christmas party in a sprawling penthouse when he set his sights on a man from across the room. He couldn’t see the man’s face but he didn’t care when there were broad shoulders filling out the sharp lines of a suit and the relaxed but erect posture of a tall, confident man. Alex was a sucker for men like that, every time. The fact that the man was already dancing with somebody to the tune of the four-piece band playing modern holiday music didn’t matter all that much; they weren’t dancing like men who were lovers.
He made his way closer to the pair, and when they turned he caught eyes with the tall man. Suddenly, Alex couldn’t hear the music over the pounding of his heart and the pneumatic pull of his breaths. George Washington. It had been thirty years since George turned away from him in that hotel room in Boston, and now he was six feet away, dancing with a man. Alex’s feet carried him closer, and then somehow he was in the place where that unknown other man had been, one hand in George’s hand, one hand on the fabric of his suit.
They had never danced before, not even to the radio at home, but they knew each other’s rhythm even after so much time. Alex stared into George’s eyes until he thought he was going to embarrass himself with one of the many emotions struggling for dominance inside his mind, and then he tilted his head forward to lean it against George’s shoulder. He could smell a hint of cologne but underneath that was the smell he hadn’t known he remembered. "How are you here?"
"I drove here in my car and rode up in the elevator."
Alex laughed despite himself. "I thought you didn’t like the city."
"I couldn’t live here without going mad, but I’m not far away. It’s a short drive on the highway from New Jersey but worth it. Even before now." The composure in his expression cracked, and George looked away before looking back. "Alexander, it’s good to see you. I’ve missed you--" He shook his head and sighed. "--very much."
Alex refrained from pointing out who had initiated their separation. They both knew that story. "I’ve missed you, too. But how did you end up being here in the city, at this party?" Alex raised his eyebrows. "In this society?"
"A friend of a friend made an introduction for me. An American friend of Lafayette’s, actually, if you can believe that."
"Yes. Yes, I can." Alex was beginning to feel that a hand other than that of fate had nudged the two of them into this place together. "I can’t believe you changed your mind." As lovely as it was within the bubble of social gatherings, the streets were no safer for two men holding hands. George’s concerns were as valid as they’d been before.
"Am I that stubborn?" Alex didn’t respond, and George continued, "Well, I decided it was worth taking some risks to be more free. I made that decision one time before, you know? I wasn’t eager for the revolution."
Alex nodded. "And I was spoiling for battle even before I knew what I wanted to fight for." He was neither proud of this nor ashamed; it was simply the truth.
"What a pair we make," George said, a soft smile on his face.
"Let’s get some air." Alex kept hold of George’s hand as they moved away from the dance floor and out onto the penthouse’s broad balcony. The December night was bitterly cold but the air was clear of the smoke that had hung in the air inside, and they could see several blocks of city lights sprawled out below them. Alex thought about military maneuvers carried out under nothing but starlight and the warm glow of the city by gas light, and then he felt George’s arm around his shoulders pulling him closer and the past grew more distant.
"I know that I hurt you, before," George said.
Alex gazed out at the lights and leaned back ever so slightly into George’s bulk. "I was okay, and you--you weren’t entirely wrong. You were wrong about me going off to find a wife, though."
"I shouldn’t have said that." They stood in the relative quiet of the night. Their breath clouded the air in front of them, but Alex wasn’t ready to rejoin the party just yet. George cleared his throat. "Would you ever consider coming back?"
Alex nodded wordlessly, but he didn’t know that he could go back to the insular life he’d had on the farm before. He had needed that, once, but he needed other things now. "I like being here in New York, but even the greatest city in the world can get old. I might have my weekends free for the next fifty years or so."
George tilted his head down to nuzzle at the sensitive skin behind Alex’s ear, and when Alex turned around to face him their lips met. Alex didn’t know if or when something would happen to push the two of them apart again; he didn’t even know if the world would make it through the next ten years without blowing itself up. He did know that for this moment in time he was exactly where he needed to be, with chill of winter at his back and the warmth of George’s body in front of him. Sometimes, that was all he needed to know
And so that's it! I had considered taking this further, closer to the present day, but when I got here it felt like a good place to leave them. I don't think there can be a happily-ever-after-forever for these guys because forever is just too long and their needs are too different, but they still always love each other, even in absence. Really, that's equally true of Alex/George and Alex&John.
Also, I have to say that I was 90% through writing this when Audible informed me that there's a history book called Washington's Immortals.
Thank you for reading!
Chapter 6: Fragment #1 - 1968
Hamilton vs. the Baby Boomers
I didn't intend to write more after What Would You Do If You Had More Time, but I started to get some ideas. My intention is to do a ficlet for each decade since the end of that story (meaning the 1960s-2010s), but they're not all coalescing so I'm posting them out of order. They each stand alone within the universe of the main story, but they won't make a great deal of sense out of that context.
Between his true age (over 200 years now, though at least George would always be older in that sense) and his position teaching undergraduates in Brooklyn, Alexander was in a better position than most to remark on the wonder of this huge new generation that was coming to adulthood. Yes, on the whole they could be fatuous and pointlessly reckless, but Alexander couldn't help seeing them for what they were: so many babies who hadn't starved for lack of milk, so many toddlers who hadn't burned out in their cots from fever, the product of so many parents for whom burying a child was an unthinkable possibility rather than a bitter likelihood.
Alexander could forgive them much for that, and when he couldn't, well, his identity was old enough these days that the "cool dude" professor could be crotchety at times without losing the approval of his students. He hadn't earned the moniker by giving out easy grades or forgiving absences; he certainly had not, not even for girls in devastatingly short skirts. They liked him instead because he helped them organize their protests and other actions, mostly anti-war at this point as they fought to avoid the death that had spared them so far.
Between his deep knowledge of classic military tactics and the new things he'd learned in the last decade about peaceful methods of resistance, he was in a good position to take his students' passion and energy and give it a shape and direction that could make a difference. He didn't want to think of them as his troops. In the context of his first revolution, they were an untrained, disheveled band in sore need of whipping, which is to say only slightly worse than so many of the farmers and roustabouts with whom they'd fought off the British. This new revolution was slower, less violent, and unlike the modern military it didn't require haircuts.
George was still living on the same farmland in New Jersey that he'd bought shortly before he and Alex reconnected in the early fifties, but the suburbs were encroaching on the borders of his property, and the city felt closer than ever. Most of the men in those suburbs commuted to Manhattan every day for work when two generations before them people lived their lives on that land without ever traveling to the big city. And Alex--he kept a tiny apartment in Brooklyn but more nights than not he found himself making that commute, going home to George. They stayed at his place too sometimes, evenings when they socialized in the city and didn't want to deal with the drunks on the highway.
Another piece of the puzzle of Alex's life dropped into place when he exited his classroom one afternoon to find John Laurens leaning against the wall in the hallway. He was wearing an Army uniform, looking exhausted and worn thin, and Alex hurried to embrace him. It had been too long, and every reunion with John was an echo of that first moment when he saw the dear friend he'd mourned for decades.
He heard unkind laughter behind him, then the voice of one of the young men who seemed to be in the peace movement more for picking up women than for making change in the world. "Faggot teacher loves a baby killer." Alex felt John stiffen in his arms, and he pulled away but kept one hand on John's shoulder.
"Harrison, you are an arrogant, ignorant infant. Call me what you want but save your hatred of the war for the men making the decisions. This man?" Alex tapped a badge on John's uniform. "This man is a medic. He saves people's lives. What do you do other than attempt to separate women from their panties?"
Young Harrison grumbled something indistinguishable and walked away. A long-dead part of Alex wanted to call the man a scoundrel and invite him to an interview at dawn, but those days were gone, and the kid was far from worth it. He turned back to John. "It's so good to see you. Are you on leave?"
"No, I'm out. Couldn't take another tour." John shook his head, looking like he thought he'd failed, and Alex squeezed his shoulder.
"How do you feel about a vacation in the Garden State?"
John stayed for weeks, spending what Alex was sure were quiet days around the farm with George while Alex was in the city. Alex knew how healing that pace of life had been for him, and if John didn't talk about what he'd witnessed Alex had seen enough on the television to guess. Nights when he heard John pacing the floor, Alex would slip out of George's bed and encourage John to rest. They'd share the bed like brothers, like they had so many times long ago when bed space was as much of a luxury as rest, if not moreso.
Alex would tell John stories of people they'd both known during their island days, two decades past now. Alex had stayed long enough to see toddlers John had vaccinated grow into unruly teenagers; between what he remembered and what he invented he never ran out of anecdotes. When John eventually left, the urge to wander taking him away as it always did, Alex was glad to see that he looked younger again, some of the weight of all of their years shifted from his shoulders.
Back in George's bed, Alex pillowed his head on George's broad, bare chest and tilted his head into George's palm as he stroked his fingers through Alex's hair. Custom had necessitated keeping his hair short for so many years, but he had missed growing it long, missed sweeping his hair across a lover's skin. "You know you love my hair," he murmured.
George chuckled, the movement jostling Alex's head. "But you were so dapper back when we were protesting for civil rights." It was an old, friendly argument, one they never tired of.
"I had to be a fresh-faced, upstanding young man then. Now I'm playing the aging hippie academic, and I get the hair to go with the role."
"Why do I get the feeling that you plan to keep the hair even when it's time for us to find new roles?"
"It'll be time, you know. Soon."
It wasn't a question, and Alex didn't answer. The years slipped away so quickly, and they had to discard identities like out of season wardrobes. He knew that he'd been too active in New York for too long, and even in the late twentieth century the teeming city could be a small world sometimes. He'd have to leave and start again somewhere new, but that was a worry for another day. When he was at home with George, Alex found it somehow easier to be an optimist. Despite the ongoing atrocities of the war, despite the never-ending struggle for civil rights, their species and their nation had avoided nuclear annihilation, had put men into space, had conquered disease. That had to be worth something. At the end of the day, Alexander knew it was worth something.
Chapter 7: Fragment #2 - 1994
Hamilton vs. Usenet
Alexander cackled to himself, attempting to keep the laughter quiet given that it was after 3 am, and the walls of his townhouse weren't especially thick. He couldn't manage to entirely stifle the sounds because his words were coming together perfectly, building up his argument and tearing down his opponents with ferocious elegance. These people wanted to talk about "flames," but Alexander Hamilton had lit things on fire. Alexander Hamilton could burn these assholes on talk.politics.misc to the goddamn ground.
The internet was amazing, utterly engrossing even though it was filled with idiots at nearly the same percentage as the physical world. Alexander had started tinkering with home computers while living quietly at George's vineyard in the late 80s, the engineering part of his mind waking up at this new technology even before he discovered what it was really good for. And now, several years later, he hadn't seen George in more than three years, hadn't seen John for longer than that, but he had Usenet and IRC.
He had thought that the early days of the new nation had been a freewheeling time, with opposing parties tearing each other apart in anonymous tracts and partisan newspapers. But this? He didn't even have to find a publisher. He could write and publish a post and agree with himself in the replies without even leaving his desk. With almost 200 years gone since his supposed death, Alex certainly didn't think he had to worry about somebody realizing that the dead former Treasury Secretary was alive and well, and it was nearly as long since anybody who had been connected to him could be blamed. In any case, his writing style had changed plenty over the centuries, so he was nothing but a user name. Or several. Perfectly unknown.
When the phone rang, Alex startled. He'd only added the second phone line a month ago, and he'd done it more so that he could order in food without having to disconnect his modem than out of concern for incoming calls. He stood, wincing at the ache in his legs from sitting in one place for so long, and went to grab the cordless phone from the kitchen. The caller ID (so useful for avoiding uninteresting people) showed an overseas number, and Alex felt his hand shake as he pressed the button to take the call. "Hello?"
"Alexander." The voice at the other end of the call was dry, feminine, dearly familiar.
"Angelica! What's wrong? Has something--" He wasn't used to having to worry about his old friends, but a call in the wee hours of the morning seemed to bode ill, and he couldn't calculate what time it might be in Europe.
"I'm fine. Everything is fine here. You, on the other hand…" Her voice trailed off.
"You need to get off the bloody internet, Alexander."
"What?" Alex looked at the phone in his hand then stumbled back over to his desk to sit down. "What are you talking about?"
"How many letters did we exchange back in the old days? And how long have we been corresponding since we met again?"
He sighed. "Nearly eighty years."
"Indeed. And really, Alexander? Publius?"
He grinned despite himself. "It's not as if anybody but you would make the connection. You know, I've only once found a reference to myself. The internet remembers me as 'the sex scandal dude who got shot by the vice president guy.'"
"Well, at least that's not inaccurate, but I'm more interested in your recent accomplishments."
"Meaning, I haven't put the time into understanding how this internet thing works, but I worry that there's a server somewhere that's overloaded by the sheer mass of verbiage you've produced in the last few years. And I worry that you can't possibly be doing much else."
"Of course you are. I know you and George are off right now, but have you seen John?"
"Mmm. And are you working?"
"I keep an eye on my stocks, but otherwise I'm between gigs right now as the kids say."
"Good God, Alexander! Disconnect your modem, go to bed, and when you wake up find something useful to do with your life. Create a new one if it's time for that. Go to New York or go find John or come here. I could certainly put you to work."
"I know you could," he said softly, humbled by the thought of Angelica working for more than a decade now in the fight against the same plague he had fled.
"Promise me you'll move on? Soon. Within a month."
"You're a troublesome woman." He didn't try to hide the fondness in his voice. "Yes, I promise."
"Now tell me, what about Lafayette?"
"Oh, he's having his own adventure right now, but we're good. We're meeting up for a holiday in Morocco soon."
"Swanky. You know, you could come for a 'holiday' here some day if you'd like. Things are, well, much better."
"I know. Honestly, I've been gone so long. I know that the New York I remember is as long gone as the London I remember from my first years there, but I'm somehow afraid to see it in person, to see it all gone."
"It's not all gone. Promise me that some day, whether it's this year or fifty years from now, you'll let me show you the bits of our youth that survive in the shadows of the present?"
"I promise. Now go to bed. And call me when you have a new address."
Alex hung up the phone and set it down on his desk. With his mouse cursor hovering over the button to refresh his news client, he sighed and instead disconnected from the internet. Angelica was right; as much fun as it was to use his words to run rampant over his faceless enemies, he was living a half-life. It was time to go in search of more.