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Sworn to the Sword

Chapter Text

Deep down you know

You weren’t built for fighting

But that doesn’t mean you’re not prepared to try

What they don’t know

Is your real advantage

When you live for someone you’re prepared to die


“Alright, I’ve had it.” Sam Adams cast a disgruntled look about what could be called the senior staff of his sons of liberty. “Where the hell is Hancock?”

The men muttered. Many of them suddenly felt the urge to inspect the floor or the ceiling of the barn they were assembled in. Others casually sauntered off to melt into the background.

Sam trusted these men. He also knew that none of them particularly liked Hancock. He was accepted because his money bought them weapons and provisions and a place to hide, and he was allowed to hang around them because really, where else could he go? And besides, they felt it was best to keep an eye on him. He was not their friend.

“Have you done something with him? I’ve been searching for him for the better part of an hour now, and none of you lot can tell me where he went. I need to talk to him about this recent shipment of guns. Our supplier thinks he can just double the price on us. Now where the hell is Hancock?”

He would not repeat himself again.

At last he was led outside, behind the barn and a little ways into the woods to a sunny little clearing where the men practiced shooting sometimes. They were rationing their gunpowder, but it was important that the men learned to actually hit the redcoats when it came to battle. Sam was surprised to find Hancock here, in the company of Paul Revere. The former was holding a sword in a way that betrayed a lack of enthusiasm.

“With real, proper swordfighting, it’s all in the stance,” Revere was saying. “You need to stand like this, with your feet like this, try it! No, no, look here…”

Sam wondered what was going on. The easiest way to find out would be to step out from behind the tree that he was currently leaning on, approach the two men and ask. But something kept him there in hiding, some feeling that he was not supposed to see this…

“Alright, that’s… passable,” said Revere. “It’s not like you will ever do any of this in a real battle. There just won’t be time. On the battlefield, people don’t fight fancy like in the books.”

“Then why do I have to do this at all?” Hancock asked in one of his more petulant tones.

Revere sighed. “You want to get a feel for the blade before we begin sparring in earnest. You want to know where your body is supposed to be, how the blade’s supposed to feel, so you can get it to go where you want it to. Just flailing around with this won’t do you any good.”

Hancock was trying to take a few experimental swings with the sword, in a way that – Sam assumed – was supposed to look casual and swashbuckling. He dropped it on his foot.

“See, we don’t want to do that,” Revere said. “Look. You think this is stupid.”

“The enemy has rifles.”

“Yes, and rifles can be fired once, at a middle distance, and when that one shot is fired, even the most skilled rifleman needs a minute or three or five to reload. These one or three or five minutes are the time when you come at him with your pistol or knife or with a sword like this here, and then you can basically go in wherever you want to. In up-close combat, a rifle’s just a stick.”

“Bayonets,” Hancock said sourly. Sam grinned. It was hard to imagine John Hancock coming at anyone with anything.

“Ah, yes. A stick with a knife at the end, then. With a bayonet he’s going to try to stab you like this and parry your hits like this. It’s still a more unwieldy weapon than the pistol or knife I mentioned. And sometimes, the British guy’s gonna have a sword like the one you’re holding… pick it up again. Show me how you think you can defend yourself, now.”

Sam stayed to watch. It was horrible. Revere feigned some very gentle attacks, not even working up a sweat, while Hancock mostly just flailed. Here was a man who had probably never held any sort of weapon in his life. It was very clear why they weren’t sparring out in the open in front of the other men. Everyone watching this bloody carnage would lose whatever shred of respect they had for Hancock faster than you could say “tax exemption”.

Sam waited until they had finished and parted ways, and then he caught Revere halfway back to the others.

“What are you doing here, Paul?” he asked, unwilling to skirt around the issue. “This is dumb. Whose bright idea was it to have Hancock fight?”

Revere had the decency to not pretend he didn’t know what Sam was talking about. “He volunteered.”

“He wanted to do this?”

“He asked me for help.”

Sam had no idea what to do with this information. Somehow this struck him as wrong. Why would Hancock suddenly develop an enthusiasm for fighting?

“Why?” he asked.

“He said… well, the boy’s got his reasons.” Hancock was not significantly younger than most of the men here. Yet Revere regarded him a boy. And he was a boy, a spoiled, pampered princeling who was as displaced amidst them as a bull in a china shop. “Look, you weren’t supposed to see this, Sam.”

I wasn’t supposed to see this? Am I leading this band of thugs or am I not?”

“Just yesterday you said you weren’t. Sam, just leave this alone. He wants to be… prepared. Nothing to it. At least he’s trying now.”

“Trying? Trying isn’t good enough.”



It was almost every day now that Sam was unable to find Hancock anywhere. When that happened and he had nothing better to do, he went to the clearing in the woods and hid behind a convenient tree or bush to watch the goings-on. To his surprise, a number of men seemed to have volunteered to help Hancock, to spar with him or to just stand by giving more or less helpful advice. Sam had thought that maybe they were there out of the same sort of strange morbid curiosity that drew him here, or they were amusing themselves by watching Hancock act a right idiot. Whenever someone knocked Hancock on his ass – which happened a lot and made Sam wince every time – he expected a barrage of mockery for the young peacock, which rarely happened outright. Of course, some of the men always laughed, but others also helped him to his feet, gave him his blunt sword back, encouraged him to try again or cheered him on in general, maybe because they genuinely wanted to help, maybe because they were bored and it was a good show.

Right now it was Revere again, and Sam watched as he made Hancock stumble and lose whatever semblance of balance he had had – once more.

“No, don’t keep looking around! Eyes on the opponent! Concentrate! Don’t you want ‘im to live?!”

“I do!” Hancock shouted back defiantly and got up.

This, again, struck Sam as weird. As far as he recalled, you got into a fight to ensure that the other guy did not get up again: “don’t you want him to live” was the opposite of what the men should be asking.

No one down in the clearing appeared to find anything strange about Revere’s words. They all seemed to be co-conspirators in this. Sam crept a little closer so he could hear more clearly what they were saying to each other, raised his head a tiny little bit above the shrubbery as the swords clashed again – and was promptly spotted by Revere. He felt skewered in place by the man’s glare.

“Alright, boy, you’re making a progress, it’s slow but it’s there,” Revere said to Hancock, lowering his sword. “Very well. Maybe we can move on to rifles by next week. Now look for someone else to play with, I have some urgent business to see to over there.” He looked at Sam again, his eyes daring him to try and go away. Sam stayed where he was.

Seconds later, there was rustling in the bushes besides him and Revere showed himself. “You really shouldn’t be here, Sam.”

“What do you mean? What is all this? What’s so important about this that it has to remain a secret?” With a sneer, Sam made a sweeping gesture that encompassed the whole scene below. “Ohh, there he goes again, right on his ass. Pitiful. This is a joke. Do you think he’s alright? He’s not getting up?”

“Oh, he’ll be fine,” Revere muttered. “All the swords are blunted. Maybe he doesn’t want you there because you insist on belittling his efforts? I don’t know.”

“It is not… I am not… I am saying what everyone here thinks.”

“And you’re really sure of that.” Revere shook his head. “But I do agree with you: I pity the boy.”

Sam had no idea what that was supposed to mean.



“What is that on your hand?”

Sam spent most of his time in the barn that housed their arsenal. The place was never silent, men were always coming in and going out and milling about here. Sam liked that; he found he was most at ease when there was a crowd of people all around him, going about their business, paying him no attention. He could sleep here, surrounded by the men. He had never been one to favor solitude. This evening, he had happened upon Hancock there, as always somewhat removed from the others as if he expected to be sent away if he tried to really join them. He was picking at his bandaged left hand. Now he looked up with a sheepish expression.

“It is a bandage,” he said as if talking to a schoolteacher.

“I can see that. What happened?”

“I was… I fell,” said Hancock, blushing lightly. “Into a sharp… rock.”

Sam knew, of course, that in reality Kelly had accidentally sliced up his palm with a sword that had not been as blunt as he thought it was. But day after day, Sam had been told by practically half of what was supposed to be a revolutionary cadre under his command not to mention the sparring in the woods, not to look at it, not to interfere at all. Why he went along with it he did not know. So he just accepted Hancock’s flimsy explanation with a thin smile. The man ducked his head and raised his shoulders as if steeling himself for a sharp reproach or a snide comment to come his way for having such a stupid accident. Sam gave his shoulder a few pats, not knowing why he was doing this either.

“Well… don’t do that again,” he said for lack of anything else to say.

“I’ll try. Thank goodness it is not the hand with which I… write.”

“Yes. Are you otherwise alright?” You’re black and blue under your fancy shirt, Sam thought. The others were not going easy on him any longer.

“I’m fine,” Hancock assured him, showing the ghost of a smile. He was very… pretty, for a man. “I’m just fine.”



“For someone who was told not to watch this at all, you’re here pretty often.”

Turning around, Sam sighed and looked into the face of the ever-present Paul Revere. “You know me, I have little liking for rules that make no sense.”

“Really! I would not have guessed.”

“What was this guy’s name again?” Sam asked, pointing out Hancock’s current sparring partner. “Eh, doesn’t matter. He’s being too rough with him.”

“Do you think so? I think the boy’s doing better. Doesn’t really need to be babied anymore.”

“And yet… he hurt his hand,” Sam remarked.

Revere waved dismissively. “The left. He doesn’t need that one.”

“You might see it that way. But – ah, he’s down again. Face-down into the dirt, oh damn.” It was not a pleasure for Sam to watch a man humiliate himself over and over again. He really only was here because they had tried to keep him from here. It was the blockheaded stubbornness that his cousin so often accused him of possessing.

“He’s still down,” he muttered.

“I see it, I don’t need a running commentary,” said Revere.

“What is that man saying to him? I should go down there and knock heads together.”

“No, you shouldn’t. You should not interfere with this.”

“What do you mean?” Sam was getting aggravated here, and Revere was starting to look like he was losing his quiet patience. “If I feel the need to go and—”

“Listen, everybody!” That was another voice, coming from the clearing. It was Hancock, who had stood up at last. There was dust on the costly breeches he still insisted upon wearing, and a smudge of dirt where his face had kissed the ground.

“I know there’s something you’re all thinking, that you’re not saying to me because you’re still, after all that happened, trying to goddamn spare my feelings. It’s about him.” It was as if Hancock didn’t need to say who he was. Everyone present already knew. He spoke the little word with something like reverence, and defiance at the same time.

“You think I don’t know that he doesn’t like me, or appreciate me. I know that well enough. I am not doing this because I want him to say anything or do anything or be my goddamn friend.” Two goddamns in a row, Sam noted. For Hancock, that was extreme. “I don’t want any of that,” he went on to claim. “All I want is to be there when it matters.”

Sam observed Hancock’s little white fists, the stubborn set of his trembling jaw. So did the men. There were smiles, but not of the malicious kind. Someone clapped him on the shoulder.

“We shall make a rebel of you yet,” the man said.



“Paul. Wake up. Wake up, Paul. I need to know something.” It was some time past midnight, and Sam was insistently poking the bundle that was a sleeping Revere. In theory, Sam could have waited until morning to ask his question. But in practice, he had been awake for hours now, glaring holes into the wooden beams that supported the ceiling, and he knew he would not be able to sleep until he had his answer.

“What?” Revere turned to face him, cracking an eye open.

“Who is he?”

“Who is who?”

“He. The man Hancock keeps talking about. The one he’s doing everything for.” Sam felt an all-encompassing anger towards the unknown man who had apparently caught, and rejected, John Hancock’s fancy. He didn’t give a damn about etiquette, and if anyone had called him a gentleman he would have laughed at them, but Sam Adams cared about loyalty. Hancock had spoken of that man as if he was willing to die for him, in the knowledge that his sacrifice would be to a man who neither appreciated him nor wanted his friendship, if he recalled Hancock’s words correctly, but actively despised him. That was fundamentally not right. Sam did not want to fight alongside men who acted thus.

“Sam, you really shouldn’t…” Revere said, still half asleep.

“No, I need to know. And if I ever meet the gentleman… I’ll punch him in the face.”

“That’s bound to hurt,” Revere muttered and went back to sleep.



“Alright, I’m going out again to meet our supplier. Paul, will you pick two men you can trust to come with us. One of you is driving the cart.”

For some reason, one of the two men Revere wanted to have on board was Hancock. “He’s the merchant,” he said. “If anyone can get our supplier to change his mind about the price, it’s him.”

Hancock nodded. “I am prepared to haggle like a fishwife.”

“Can you take this seriously?” Sam asked him. He didn’t wait for an answer. He had to go hitch two of their horses to a cart. They did not have a lot of horses, or a lot of carts.

“There might be redcoats. The woods are swarming with them,” he heard Revere’s voice behind him. “Are you up for a challenge?”

“I feel ready enough,” Hancock replied. “I can do it for him.”

Sam stopped in his tracks and sucked in a breath. There was that him, again.

“You could get hurt, you know. Make no mistake, you’re still far from what I’d call a fighter.”

“I can die for him.” Hancock’s voice had sounded amiable before. Now all of that was gone and replaced with as much steely resolve as a man quite unaccustomed to steel could muster.

“But only once,” Revere said curtly.

This did not seem to perturb Hancock overly much as he climbed upon the cart with a slight smile. He was wearing a cloak of dark blue wool that had probably cost him once upon a time, and Sam could not see if he was armed under the cloak. He stopped brooding about Hancock and his mystery man and started thinking of their route and the oncoming argument with their supplier.

They did not talk much as they drove the cart. The path through the woods was uneven and muddy in some places, and they were frequently jolted and not going as fast as Sam wished they would. Well, at least there were no—

“Redcoats. Behind us,” Revere hissed.

Sam peered over his shoulder for the widely visible glimpses of red and white uniforms. He counted five soldiers, on foot.

“Five on four, we could do that,” he muttered.

Then the first shot rang out.

Sam ducked. He could vaguely feel the men beside him doing the same.

They had two rifles with them. The enemy had five.

Revere’s friend (Joseph something-or-other, Sam really needed to start remembering the names of everyone who was with him) halted the cart. Sam hopped off and the others clambered after him. Hancock was last. He was trembling.

“Now? We just wait for them to come over here?” he whispered.

Sam gave him an impatient glance and turned to Revere, mouthing the word rifles at him. Revere understood and passed Sam one of the two rifles. He was about to aim at the closest redcoat when he felt a tug at his sleeve.

“Give me the shot,” Hancock whispered.


“But I can—”

“Shut up,” Sam told him and took aim. In his periphery he saw Revere do the same.

Two more shots. Two redcoats fell over. Dead or wounded, Sam couldn’t tell. That left three. And they were coming closer.

“Let’s go get ‘em.”

Later, Sam would always have a blurry memory at best of what happened now. He knew he dropped the rifle and fired his pistol at the approaching soldier, but missed him. Then the man launched himself at him, or maybe it was the other way around, but they were on the ground wrestling with everything they had, fists and feet and nails and teeth. The British guy artlessly kneed him between the legs which threw Sam off him, but he still managed to fumble out his second flintlock pistol and fire blindly. Someone above him groaned and then there was blessed silence. Revere and his friend had probably made short work of their opponents. That was everyone accounted for, right? Sam closed his eyes for a second, the tension evaporating off him like steam. He would just lie here for a moment and wait for the pain to abate…

Someone yelled something.

Was that Hancock?

Sam’s eyes snapped open. A man was standing right in front of him, and not to help him to his feet. Blood streamed from a horrible gash in the man’s face. His pretty uniform was covered in mud.

The one I fired at with the rifle… Sam thought, staring at the blood as if hypnotized. I didn’t kill him. Maybe I should’ve worked on my aim.

With a horrible smile, the redcoat raised his bayonet.



There, between Sam and the redcoat, was Hancock with a sword. Sam knew that Revere would’ve wept in joy at the textbook stance of his feet as he intercepted the bayonet with one purposeful swing of the blade. The redcoat stumbled and a shot dislodged from his rifle. It was impossible to tell if the man had planned to fire or if his grip on the rifle had just slipped. The crash of it rang in Sam’s ears like thunder.

Hancock stumbled and tripped but so did the redcoat. The recoil of his rifle had knocked him down on his ass and he stayed down, but not so Hancock, who got back on his feet with the fluid movement of one who had gotten a lot of practice in falling on his ass lately. Just like that, he stood over the redcoat and gave him the rest.

“Are you hit?” a voice asked. Sam realized it was his own. He got up off the ground just as Hancock, having quickly examined himself, tugged his cloak over his left arm.

“A graze shot,” he said. “It’s barely bleeding.” Then he giggled, a hysterical little sound. “But I did it, didn’t I?” He turned to Revere. “I did it for him.”

“Yes, yes, well done,” Revere muttered in a calming tone, gripping Hancock’s good arm. “We should have a look at that wound though.”

“It’s alright, really. It’s but a scratch. I would be mortified if we missed our appointment with our supplier on my behalf.” He went back to the cart on legs that seemed to be made of jelly. Revere helped him climb on and he reclined as they drove on, looking pale. He was silent as Sam talked with the two other men about this and that and they congratulated each other on the fight they’d given the redcoats – all these little human things that people did in the wake of a shock. There was no time to sit back and be shaken. They had things to do, so they talked loudly over the fresh, bloody memories.

“It’s only a short distance now,” Sam said. “Hancock, are you feeling up to getting us a deal?” He turned his head to where Hancock was lying limply against the side of the cart like a discarded ragdoll.

“Ah,” Hancock breathed, looking up at him with a smile on his face that was even more ghastly than that of the dead redcoat. It was the same smile, made infinitely more horrible by appearing on the face of someone Sam considered an ally – maybe a friend. It was the smile of a man who knew that there was only one last thing left to do before his death.

Sam’s eyes were drawn lower, to where Hancock’s cloak had slid aside to reveal a spot of startling red on the white fabric of his shirt. But he had said the wound was a graze… nothing to worry about…

Sam reached out and swept the cloak aside, revealing the entire left sleeve of Hancock’s shirt drenched in blood. He almost choked at the sight.


“Good lord…”

Sam watched as Revere bent over the boy, examined the wound as Hancock whimpered weakly and cut a strip off his own coat to fashion a primitive bandage. His mind was reeling. If Hancock were to die…

The money…

He tried to keep from dry-heaving at this vile thought from a dark part of his brain. Fuck the money. He would lose Hancock…

This ever-smiling boy with his softness in a world that had never been anything but hard. With his useless pleasantries and displaced manners that made men who were known for their ruthless fighting spirit give him smiles and help him use a sword. That made hard men softer for a moment. John Hancock had a talent, that he was probably totally unaware of, to shape the world in his image.

If all of that were to die…

“I-I seem to be losing an awful lot of blood,” he piped up now.

“Yes,” Revere muttered. “Hold still.”

“But he is not hurt? He is unharmed?” Hancock reached out feebly to grip Revere’s hand, his eyes intense with purpose.

“He’s alright, stay down.”

“Then all is well,” Hancock said, relieved, with another small smile. “I only… ever… meant to help Sam.” He exhaled, closing his eyes.

“Hold on. What did you say?” Hancock did not react to Sam’s words. He stayed silent, his breaths too shallow, his eyes still closed. But Revere turned his head and nodded sadly. All along, he had known. How many other men had known? All of them? Had Sam been the only one unaware that Hancock’s sudden desire to fight was born of the need to protect him? That he had been the mystery man?

It was as if someone had dumped a bucketload of ice into his stomach. His brain, however, had turned into a wad of hot cotton.

“Someone get him… somewhere. Safety,” he croaked. He couldn’t look at Hancock’s face. He couldn’t look at anyone else. So he stared at his own hands, folded uselessly in his lap.

“Sam, we don’t have much time. The supplier—”

Sam tried to gather himself together. He was still leading these men. “You’ll meet the supplier. You’ll take a horse to Boston and get Warren. I’m taking him back to the hideout.”

“We only have two horses, Sam,” Revere reminded him. “The supplier—”

“Fuck the supplier. I’ll take this horse. You two get the fuck to Warren. If you know another doctor who’s closer and trustworthy, fetch that one, but I’d prefer it to be Warren.”

“Of course.”

They heaved Hancock onto the horse in front of Sam, into his arms, where he slumped as if all life had already left him. It was unclear whether he was conscious or not. Sam tried to hold him tightly as he urged the horse into a canter.

“It’ll be alright, Johnny,” he muttered into Hancock’s soft hair. “I’ll get you home safe.”

He felt reminded of when Cousin John had still been a kid, and Sam, a gangly teenager back then, had taken him out into the fields to play, a lively, chubby little boy who talked his ear off. Once, Baby Cousin John had sprained his ankle and Sam had loaded him onto a horse just like right now and had brought him home, reassuring him that yes, they’d be home soon, yes, he’d keep the use of the leg. Of course, this situation was a bit more dire. And Baby Cousin John had not sprained his ankle while saving Sam’s life.

Had he even thanked Hancock?

Lord almighty, no, he hadn’t.

He was the asshole whose attention and friendship and love Hancock had so pointedly proclaimed he did not need. He was the asshole Hancock currently was bleeding out for. Could it get any worse?

“Hey, you there! Halt!”

Sam’s heart just about stopped in his chest. Icy dread took hold once more.

Two more redcoats. On horses.

He calculated his chances.

If he just kept going, they would pursue him. And shooting over his shoulder at a moving target with a dead weight in his arms and hitting something was nigh impossible. He couldn’t outrun them, either, his horse was already getting tired and carrying two people instead of just one. If they didn’t shoot him down halfway, he’d lead them directly to the hideout. Hancock would die, and Sam would be arrested to die later.

He sighed and slid off the horse, making sure that Hancock wasn’t badly jostled. The man gave no sign of life.

The redcoats dismounted also, and came closer. Fortunately, they didn’t seem to recognize him. Well, not every British soldier in the colonies could possibly know his face, and thank providence for that.

“Now what are you doing out here?”

He would rather bite his tongue in half than utter the word please to the enemy, but he did try to convey the sentiment. “I have… my friend here is injured. I was getting him to a doctor.”

“Let’s see.” The redcoats both turned to Hancock, away from Sam, which gave him a second to surreptitiously check on his two pistols.

“Goodness gracious. What did he do?”

“He fell on a sharp rock,” Sam said. Then he shot the two men. In the back, which he wasn’t proud of, but his time was short. He spurred his horse into a gallop, wanting nothing more than to get home as fast as possible.



It took way too long for Revere to arrive with Doctor Warren. Sam didn’t know how long it actually took, just that it was too long. Hancock could be dying, for god’s sake. The wound could have gotten infected. He could already be dead! Not that Sam knew, because he was holed up in a quiet corner of the barn and staring at nothing. If one more person came over to put a friendly hand on his shoulder and ask what happened, he would just screech. He kept thinking of all that had happened, how it all added up now, and how all of it was his fault.

“Don’t you want him to live?!”

“Trying isn’t good enough.”

“You think I don’t know that he doesn’t like me, or appreciate me.”

“You weren’t supposed to see this, Sam.”

“There he goes again, right on his ass. Pitiful. This is a joke.”

“Maybe he doesn’t want you there because you insist on belittling his efforts…”

“I can die for him…”

“I only ever meant to help Sam.”

He wished these voices would be quiet, especially the one that was his own, from several days in the past. He remembered he had thought that he did not want to fight alongside a person who treated his fellow people with such cruel disregard as the mystery man – he himself, Samuel Adams – had treated Hancock. What had Revere said? That if he were to engage this person in combat, he was bound to get hurt? Hah. Revere had probably had fun with the mental image of Sam punching himself. He had known, everyone had known. Why had they kept this secret from him? Had Hancock asked them to? Yes, that would fit in with all the rest. He had probably hoped to keep this a silent martyrdom, so that Sam would be none the wiser of what had happened when Hancock would rise in his regard or die trying, the melodramatic little shit—

Someone touched his shoulder. He flinched, ready to scream. It was Revere.

“Warren says he’s not sure if he’s going to make it,” he informed Sam.

Sam settled for a grunt of acknowledgement. Revere took his hand off his shoulder and turned away, looking slightly… disappointed. Sam didn’t care. Let people think he felt nothing over this. In truth, he was feeling way too many things.

Well, he knew what one did with superfluous feelings. One drowned them.



It was later, and dark outside. Most of the men who were not on watch duty were asleep. Sam was drinking whiskey, which was admittedly not his style, but there was a limited variety of alcohol available in the hideout. This, at least, was guaranteed to get a man very drunk very fast.

Cousin John often called Sam a drunk, and it was true to some extent. He hadn’t gotten well and truly drunk in quite a while. So much had happened recently that there had been neither time nor reason for it. Whenever he had felt the slight itch of a craving, he had told himself that a band of men now relied on him to be alert and in possession of his wits at all times. He would not lose this war by being plastered when the British attacked their base.

Tonight, however, he had caved, and damned all these good and noble reasons to hell. He was willing to gamble on his ability to sober up extremely quickly in the face of danger. He just needed a respite from all this… bullshit that had happened today. So currently he was suffering an unfortunate relapse.

Maybe, he considered as he watched the dark liquid slosh against the walls of his bottle, he had ingested enough liquid courage to finally check on Hancock. He had attempted it earlier, and had even made it all the way to the bottom of the stairs that led to where Hancock slept, but had then been forced to hurry outside to be sick. Not that this had stopped him from continuing to drink.

Now he got up very gingerly, supporting himself against the wall. He then pushed himself off and after a moment of uncertainty he had sorted all his limbs out and was independently upright. Maybe he was not quite that drunk yet – standing still worked. He fumbled a while to pick up the bottle without spilling too much of its contents. No existential crisis merited wasting good booze.

He somehow managed to walk all the way over to the stairs. Now stairs were a problem. Very aware that he might break his neck here, he slowly climbed the stairs with the over-exaggerated care of the seriously inebriated.

Hancock had somehow commandeered an actual bedroll that he slept on, in a place where most other men just curled up in the hay with their coat as a blanket. Probably by flashing that smile and those baby blues at some unfortunate bastard who had then helped provide superior sleeping arrangements for the rich boy, Sam presumed. A lantern was burning here, probably left behind by Doctor Warren, who was sleeping somewhere nearby. Sam couldn’t see him currently. The stairs had exhausted him, and the room was gently spinning. He crossed it and sat down by Hancock’s side.

“Ah. Much better. Hey Johnny,” he slurred, bending over Hancock and breathing whiskey and sick over his sleeping porcelain face. “Heeey Johnny. You can’t hear me right now, can you.”

Hancock stirred the tiniest bit and mumbled something unintelligible. Sam brushed his thumb over Hancock’s forehead and discovered he was clammy with sweat and burning hot to the touch.

“Oh,” he said, startled but unable to recall what one did in such a situation.

He watched, unmoving as Hancock’s eyelids fluttered (and what did a man want with such eyelashes, huh, so long and fragile) and his eyes blinked half open. They were clouded, no recognition in them.

“Please,” he whispered.


“Am I dying?”

In what should’ve been a dramatic moment, Sam suddenly felt another wave of nausea as his stomach contents violently tried to come back up. “Don’t know,” he wheezed, not sober enough for tact.

“Not… that it matters…” Hancock’s eyes were falling shut again. “’M nothing,” he breathed. Sam had to strain to hear him. “He is everything.”

Sam did not know what to say to that so he bent over and puked again with abandon. His whole body convulsed as he disgorged the mostly liquid contents of his stomach and still failed to not think about Hancock’s words.

“You know what, I think he’s not that great,” he said to Hancock, coming back up. But Hancock had already succumbed to sleep or unconsciousness again and Sam was neither likely nor willing to wake him another time. He groaned and patted Hancock’s limp, pale hand as he tipped back his head and watched the ceiling spin on.

“Johnny, I’m sorry,” he said. “This is the worst thing that ever… well, the second-worst thing…” He thought about it and concluded that on a list of worst things that had ever happened to Samuel Adams, this ranked a solid number three. He closed his eyes for a second, feeling almost as bad as Hancock looked.

He would not fall asleep here. Unthinkable that someone would find him here in the morning, holding hands with the boy. He would…



Chapter Text

I know this must come as something of a surprise, since all I've ever done is scorn you and degrade you and taunt you, but I have loved you for several hours now, and every second, more. (William Goldman, The Princess Bride)


He was shaken awake hours later to the blinding light of the sun and the not very understanding demeanor of Joseph Warren.

“What the hell are you doing here?” the doctor asked, his eyes taking in everything, Sam’s bedraggled state, the discarded bottle, the gross puddle in which somehow Sam’s feet had come to rest. His boots were encrusted with vomit now. Hancock, meanwhile, was still not awake.

“His or yours?” the doctor asked curtly, pointing an accusing finger at the puddle.

“Mine. Could you keep the voice down?”

“No. Now go be a good revolutionary and get a bucket of water and some rags and clean your mess up.”

This seemed to be asking a lot, first thing in the morning.

“Why do you think you can order me around?”

“Because I am your doctor, and I think doing as I say now would be… healthy for you.”

Sam peered at the bag of medical equipment Warren had brought. The first objects he noticed were a giant syringe (where on earth was that inserted?) and something that looked like a pair of steel pliers. They glinted sinisterly in the morning light.

“Alright, I’ll go,” he said.



Cleaning up his own sick from the previous night was a disgusting task, but it gave him an excuse to keep hanging around in Hancock’s vicinity.

“How is he?” Sam asked Warren, nodding his head in Hancock’s direction, which made him instantly regret doing anything that involved moving his head. It felt like there was a lead weight in there. Everything was sticky and disgusting and the sun was too bright. Sam tried to recall when he had last taken a bath, a real bath with warm water in a tub… maybe even a bar of soap…

Warren shrugged. “The bleeding has stopped, but I can’t bring the fever down.”

“So it’s not looking good.”

“Who knows. What even happened to him?”

“Got between me and a redcoat,” Sam admitted grudgingly.

“What? Him? How did he of all people get into that situation?”

Sam remembered that Warren spent most of his time over in Boston, and therefore was one of the few men who did not know what was going on here. Still he didn’t have the energy to enlighten his friend. “Why don’t you ask Revere.”

“Were you not also there?” Warren asked in a tone that Sam recalled from all the way back in his childhood days. Have you brought enough to share with the class? Are you sure it was not you who started the fight?

He found that he had to quickly excuse himself to go pour out his bucket.



For the rest of the day he tried not thinking of Hancock too much, and being seen in places other than Hancock’s quarters. Alert and in possession of his wits.

It was not going well. He was uncharacteristically jittery. He kept dropping things. Every second in which he wasn’t trying to occupy himself with a task, he was wondering if, at this very moment, Hancock was dying. He also felt like he could kill for another drink. For all these past weeks, craving had been a slight tug at the back of his brain that only made itself felt in a rare quiet moment, weak enough to brush aside and focus on more important things. Now, after last night, it was an agonizing thrum in his veins, and his every thought that was not concerned with Hancock went out to it. Last night had been a mistake, he thought idly as he clenched his hands into fists and shoved them into his pockets so that the men would not see him trembling. He remembered that his cousin knew a man who had written on – what was the word – dip-so-mania, the illness that drink wreaked on the mind. John had forced the book upon him once, for reasons apparent. Sam had not spoken to him for a week. Dipsomania. Hah. Well, now was not the time for any of that. Sam would have to grit his teeth and endure.



Night came, and he realized that he was unable to sleep without seeing Hancock. If something were to happen to Hancock overnight, Sam would probably, again, be the last to know. He could not bear the thought. Not after what the man had done for him. So he trudged up the stairs once more and curled up under his greatcoat on the hardwood floor, his eyes on Hancock’s sleeping form. Hancock did not wake during the night but he muttered things in his sleep, keeping Sam wide awake. He whimpered for his mother (which Sam would have gladly taken as another reason to find him pathetic a few days ago) or pleaded with imaginary enemies that haunted his fever dreams. General Gage’s name was uttered once or twice. Sam hadn’t thought he could hate Gage any more strongly, but now he found himself fantasizing about ripping the man’s throat out.

Then, the worst.

“Please, Mr. Adams…”

“Huh?” Sam propped himself up on his elbow and peered through the moonlit little room over to Hancock. But Hancock was not seeing him. He was talking to the other Sam Adams, the one who lived exclusively in his head.

“Please, Mr. Adams, I am trying so hard. So hard. I am so tired. I have already given everything. What more could you want?” He sounded like he was sobbing.

“It’s… alright,” Sam tried, hoping that maybe his voice could get through to Hancock.

“Do you require me to give my life also? Very well, you shall gladly have it…”

“No. No, you little twerp, you’ve done enough—”

Sam suddenly realized he was now next to Hancock, shaking him roughly by the shoulder. Hancock groaned, his head lolling, but he did not wake. As if coming back to himself, Sam recoiled and hid his face in his hands.

“God…” he gasped.

He had never seen the point in prayer.



When morning dawned, he had gotten about two hours of sleep and his whole body was sore from spending the night on the floor. He kept having visions of feather beds or even just comfortable heaps of straw. Bathtubs were also featured heavily. But it was no use. He had to stay where he was. That he had realized now. If anything changed, for the worse or for the better, Sam had to be there for it. Or else he would never be able to forgive himself…

He helped Warren in every way he could. For the rest of the time, he just sat, watching, his whole world shrunk down to Hancock’s deathly pale face. He didn’t know how long he did this. He didn’t care. Sometimes people brought him food, which he ate, because he had lived the sort of life in which if someone put food in front of you, you consumed it, whatever it was, and quickly, before someone else took it. If you didn’t like it, there were plenty of other people around who would. They also brought him the occasional ale, which was just barely enough to keep the craving at bay.

Sometimes the meals came with gratuitous conversation.

“Do you think we should go out again for the guns?” That was Revere.

“No. The man sold out to the British. That’s why these soldiers were there, and knew who we were right away.”

“Or the soldiers were there through pure coincidence and had seen us before, and our supplier has nothing to do with it. Sam, won’t you go out and talk to him again?”

Sam looked up from where Hancock’s hand was clasped in both of his (he had abandoned all shame). Revere irritated him. Couldn’t he see that this was more important than their stupid shipment?

“I won’t go anywhere. What’s wrong with you? He might die.”

“He wouldn’t be the first nor the last to. This is a war, Sam.”

“You don’t understand…”

“Of course I do. Look, I know you blame yourself for the death of… I mean, for what happened to the boy. But we need you to be with us here. And we need those guns.”

“You and Kelly do about them whatever you see fit,” Sam said dismissively. Somewhere into this exchange, he had started stroking Hancock’s hair without even noticing he was doing it. He sighed and brushed more strands out of his face before replacing the wet cloth on his forehead. Revere might have left; he did not know. He was blind to the world, blind to the riot that he himself had started, blind to all the other men that needed him.



Then at last, Hancock woke up.

The first thing he did was to grip Doctor Warren, who was bending over the bed taking his temperature, by the arm and ask where he was.

“You’re safe at the farm,” said the doctor. “You’ve been out for about three days.”

“I’ve slept for three days?” The question sounded perfectly John Hancock – wide-eyed, astonished, mortified.

“That wound of yours got infected. We thought we’d lose you to the fever, but it’s broken now. I think the worst is over,” Warren said, satisfied with having done a good job and saved a life.

“The wound – ah – that seemed to have been worse than I thought it would be… but thank you, doctor, thank you for your care, I will reimburse you for your efforts as soon as possible.” He was already sitting up in bed and talking, talking like a waterfall. Babbling like a brook. “But oh dear,” he said, “what is that stench in here? How truly rotten – is it coming from that heap of rags in the corner there?”

“Honestly, my nostrils closed up to it days ago,” said Doctor Warren dryly.

Sam, who had been watching from a far corner, removed his hat and sat up. “Heap of rags?” he asked pointedly. Hancock squeaked.

“Oh Mr. Adams!” he said, aghast. “What hell on earth has happened to you?”

Sam blinked at him. He wasn’t sure how this made sense. He tried to recall the last time he had slept properly.

“I did not mean to insult, it’s just that… you look as if you’ve been through a lot. And you smell… interesting.”

“He means like a compost pile,” Warren muttered.

“I have not… been through anything. I’ve been waiting here for you to wake up.” Now that Hancock was awake, Sam suddenly found himself tongue-tied in his presence. He had waited here all this time because he had things to say – but he had never thought about what these things might be. He became suddenly aware that his eyes were burning, and his skin was itching, and his hair was so unkempt and greasy it was practically dripping, and he hadn’t washed or changed his clothes since – good lord, since the day Hancock had been wounded. There was still dried vomit from three nights ago on his boots. Of course Hancock had noticed the smell, it was probably revolting.

Not enough sleep, he thought, dimly aware that he was swaying. For days, he had fought to stay awake as long as possible, all the energy usually devoted to other basic tasks going to that single endeavor. His being there to witness when Hancock took a turn – for the better or for the worse – had become of tantamount importance, more important than anything. The war – the British – his sons of liberty – his own tired, sore, ungroomed body – his mind had been severed from these things, adrift in a limbo where he existed only to watch over Hancock’s recovery. Now he returned to earth abruptly, noticing for the first time in a while how beat he really was. For days, his thoughts had chased each other in a circle, now they were ready to give out at the finish line. One after the other, they fell silent, even the voice at the back of his head that was still insistently clamoring for a pint. He blinked slowly. Keeping his eyes open had never been so hard.

“I… wanted to be there when you woke up, to thank you,” he settled for, “for saving my life.” Then he softly passed out.

He slept for twelve hours, and when he woke up he went outside, found the closest body of water and took a long swim. He exchanged his clothes, that were in a slimy sort of state, for fresh ones and, having thus cleaned up, he went around the farm and did the myriad things he hadn’t done during the last few days. The men were glad that their leader was no longer going crazy and that Hancock was no longer dying. Only when he had taken care of everything he had previously neglected did he permit himself to return to Hancock’s side.

Hancock was daintily sipping spoonfuls of stew, already looking a bit stronger. “Ah, Mr. Adams, do come in,” he said warmly, as if greeting Sam at a soiree. “You’re looking much better today.”

And that from a man who has just about risen from his deathbed, Sam thought. He had to have resembled a scarecrow the previous day.

“As do you,” he said as he sat down in what had become his usual place. “Look…”

If they were to talk about all this, now was an opportune moment. If only Sam knew where to even begin.

“First of all, thank you again. I owe you my life now.”

“You owe nothing, Mr. Adams. You carried me home, didn’t you? You ensured that I would receive quick medical attention. So you saved my life in turn.”

“That may be so. But I…” he sighed. “Johnny, I beg of you, what is that Mr. Adams bullshit? You know my given name, I heard you say it.”

“A… slip of the tongue, certainly. I was unaware that I was welcome to such familiarity, Mr. A—”


“Well – Samuel,” said Hancock, confused and blushing.

Sam laughed. “Samuel! Only my cousin calls me Samuel, and only when he’s cross with me. Call me Sam. You’ve earned it. I know that you…”

“Yes? What do you know?”

Sam sighed and began in earnest. “I know about the sparring in the woods with Revere and them. I know your thoughts about sacrifice. You talked a lot, when the fever was bad. I know I made you feel like you weren’t wanted here. I regret making you think you had to give your life so that I would appreciate all you did for… for the cause.”

“For the cause. Yes,” Hancock said, ducking his head. “That was my motivation. Except… ah, forget it.” He said it like someone who had decided to gather all his courage, only to see it slip out of his fingers in a matter of seconds.

“No, I want to hear it, whatever it is. In the past, I have looked down upon you. I have told you that you weren’t one of us. Whenever you tried to make an effort in your own way, I have belittled you, when without your money, nothing of all we have here would’ve come to pass. We’d still be sitting ducks in Boston without any real plan. You’ve given me everything you had and I have acted like it was nothing. How is the logical conclusion to such behavior to sacrifice your life? Why do you not despise me? Why haven’t you defected to the British yet?”

“I defect to the British?!” Now Sam had done it: he had upset John Hancock. “My good sir, you might think little of me, but I do have my honor.”

“Certainly. That was the reason you decided it would be best to learn to fight so you could put your life on the line to save me from the redcoats like a damsel in distress. Honor.”

“If you insist on wording it that way…”

“What was it? Some kind of hero worship? No, you’re not a hero worshipper, Johnny.”

“Why are you calling me that?!” Hancock was now blushing furiously. I’m so close to finding out, Sam thought. It is right there. I am close enough to put my finger on it.

“I just like it, Johnny,” he said.

“It is hardly proper,” Hancock snapped. “And to answer your question, no, I am indeed no hero worshipper. You are a man who has done a great deal already, and I’d like to watch what you’ll make of the future. But I adore men, not symbols.”

The way he said that…

I adore men…

There it was. That was what it was.

Sam laughed. He laughed like he hadn’t laughed in years. It was not a sarcastic, dry little laugh but a fountain of unbridled mirth that bubbled up from somewhere deep within him, from a place he hadn’t known existed anymore.

“Oh Johnny, Johnny,” he wheezed. “That’s good. That’s very good. You, John Hancock, adore men. That I can work with. Hero worship I could not have stomached. But simple, honest buggery… that’s just capital.”

“I don’t… think there’s anything simple or honest about…”

“But you don’t deny it?”

Hancock timidly shook his head.

“Amazing. Say, Johnny…”

“Oh no…”

“Have you thought of having me in bed? Of taking me like a woman as they do in the molly houses? Because I know how it’s done, you’d be surprised at what I’ve seen…”

“It has never crossed my mind!” Hancock claimed.

“You know, there are some taverns I know in downtown Boston… of course a rich boy like you would never be seen in those…”

“Oh please, will you stop taunting me!”

“I am not taunting you, Johnny. It saddens me that you think I am. I am propositioning…”

Sam leaned in, grinning. Hancock’s eyes immediately fluttered to his lips. Alright. This was definitely happening.

Or so he thought it was.

“Sam, could you please stop intimidating my patient?”

Sam snapped his head up. Hancock hid his face underneath his blanket. Warren was standing in the door, Revere looking in over his shoulder.

“I am not intimidating—”

“Whatever you were doing, do it later. He’s still not exactly stable.”

“You don’t think I’ve made him worse?!”

“Gentlemen, I’m quite alright.” That was Hancock, somewhat muffled by the blanket. “I’d be much obliged if you… left.”

“Oh, we’re leaving. And we’re even taking Sam with us, aren’t we, Sam? It’s time to talk about guns, finally.”

Revere left first, then Warren (after he had quickly checked on Hancock one more time and pronounced that he’d be fit to get up and walk around a bit by tomorrow), then, very briefly, it was just Sam and John again. But the moment had passed.

“Well, I’d… best be going,” Sam said, turning to leave. “I’ll be back.”

“Yes,” Hancock said awkwardly.

Sam was already halfway out the door when Hancock called his name.



“If you must know… since you asked…” Hancock said, fidgeting with the blanket.

“Yes?” Sam repeated.

“I might have occasionally fantasized… dreamed… of being taken by you like a woman. I am very sorry but you did ask.”

“Cute,” Sam muttered to himself as he headed out.



He needed several long strides to catch up with Revere. His ears were still ringing with what Hancock had said.

To his mild surprise, Revere put a hand on his shoulder. “Sam, you know how I served in the French and Indian war?” he asked.

“You told me the stories about a thousand times over, yes, where is this going?”

“You’ve got a good boy up there,” Revere said. “And he’s a… bachelor, right? There’s a handful of those in every militia. Two handfuls. They’re everywhere, actually. War… it brings men together. Some of them even stay together, come peacetime.”

“Why would I care if Hancock is a Meaningful Pause Bachelor?” I might have occasionally fantasized…

“Well, I see it that way. Here are two unwed men in the middle of a—”

“I used to be wed. She died.”

“I know. But him… I’ve seen this before. Men fighting for the fellow next to them. I knew what was up the moment he told me he needed to learn how to shoot a rifle. Do with that what you want.”

…being taken by you like a woman…

“Huh? Oh, yes, certainly. But, Paul…”


“Only last week you told me you pitied him.”

“And I did pity him,” Revere said, giving Sam’s shoulder a few friendly pats. “For his choice of lover.”




That night, when Sam found that sleep evaded him again, he snaked a hand into his breeches and recalled Hancock’s words. He tried to imagine taking Hancock to bed, taking him like a woman. He wasn’t quite as experienced as he had boasted earlier that day. But he, too, could fantasize.



The night was warm and dark and velvet, and Hancock was straddling him, pressing something hard into his thigh. Sam smirked. It was a miracle that this man wanted him.

Hancock wore his easy smile and his blue eyes gleamed with sincerity. It was the most endearing sight Sam had seen in quite a while. He reached out to touch Hancock’s face, almost mesmerized. For a moment, there was nothing but peace.

His fingers came away damp. Was Hancock crying? But no, the stickiness that covered his hand was not tears. It was blood.

His heartbeat quickened as he looked up and into Hancock’s face. Blood was running down the side of his face, sullying his porcelain cheek. But how? He had not been wounded there.

“You are everything,” Hancock whispered intently.

Behind him, a dying redcoat raised his rifle.

“You are everything.”


“Shut up!”

Sam shot upright, his hand still outstretched. One of the other sleepers nearby, having just woken him with his demand to shut up, threw an object into his general direction. It missed him.

“Sorry,” Sam said into the darkness, feeling stupid. He leaned back, listening to his rapidly thumping heart.

He let ten minutes pass before he got up and headed for the stairs again.



“You shouldn’t be up, Johnny.”

“Neither should you,” Hancock said serenely. “Don’t revolutionary leaders need their sleep?”

“Don’t you?” Sam asked, taking a seat on the floor near him. He had spent days sitting here staring at the ground, and felt like he knew every scratch on that floor.

“I’ve slept enough these last three days. But what brings you here? Did you want anything?”

“Just to sit here. To make sure everything’s… alright with you.”

“Oh please. What else should happen to me here?”

“I don’t know. Nothing. There was… I had a… nightmare. Nothing too important.”

Hancock smiled. “You’re having dreams about me?”

Nightmares,” Sam specified again.

“Hah.” They were both silent for a while. Then Hancock reached out and put his hand over Sam’s.

“You…do allow it?” he asked. “You looked so lonesome over there.”

Sam chuckled. “Do I allow it?”

“Why is that funny?”

“No reason. It’s just… you asking me if I allow it. You wouldn’t give me the time of day if we weren’t stuck here together.”

“Oh, don’t say that! I’m sure whatever you are normally doing, it’s… what were you doing before all this started?”

“Not much? If it were peacetime, I’d be brewing beer now.”

“Ah. Well. A worthy occupation.”

“A worthy occupation,” Sam mimicked him, smiling. “You know what, Johnny, maybe you'd make an excellent king. Like one of these fellows who drive around in an open phaeton and wave at the common folks and sometimes beckon one of them over and ask the poor bugger questions like ‘Oh, you’re a carpenter? Marvelous! What does that profession entail?’ Maybe we should just crown you in George’s stead.”

Hancock blushed yet again. “You have a strange imagination.”

Sam grinned and amused himself with the mental image of a crown on Hancock's golden head. It was not a bad look on him.

They sat together and talked for hours, and Hancock’s smile and his eyes full of life and something like joy willed away all demons, for a while. Oh, I’m in trouble, Sam thought. This was not lust. Well, not only. This was not even quite what Revere had meant when he had talked about men finding comfort in each other in a war. This was something bigger. I’m in so much trouble.



And then it was tomorrow. And Doctor Warren finally allowed Hancock to get out of bed and take walks on his own. Sam was positively giddy, but tried not to show it too much. Hancock himself was just relieved, but seemed to appreciate it when Sam offered his arm and carefully walked him down the stairs.

“Where are you taking me?” he asked as Sam led him outside and around the barn to the back. “There’s nothing here to look at.”

“Nothing, huh?” Sam replied, leaning against the wall. “Then I’m afraid there’s not much of a view for you to admire, except this one.” He leaned into Hancock, bringing their faces close. “We were quite rudely robbed of our moment yesterday, if I recall correctly…”

“Oh god,” Hancock breathed. “I will wake up and this’ll just have been another dream…”

“No, not this time,” Sam said and kissed him.

Sam Adams had not indulged in excessive kissing in years. He was not really a ladies’ man. He’d had his wife and then… he’d not had his wife anymore. Then there had just been a series of taverns. And he had brewed beer. And sold beer. And drunk beer. And then there’d been a riot.

But apparently he still remembered how kissing was done. And Hancock, wonder of wonders, knew what he was doing. He kissed back with ferocity, grabbed Sam by the lapels of his coat and brought them close together, snaked a leg in between Sam’s.

“You little minx,” Sam said, breaking away from the kiss, breathing hard.

Hancock – John – gave him a smile as his knee rubbed lightly against Sam’s inner thigh. An experiment. He was testing the waters.

“Go on,” Sam half-groaned. He could feel all the blood rushing south to his hardening cock, and wrapped his arms around John to convey how urgent this was getting.

“Has to be a quick one, eh,” Hancock gasped as Sam squeezed his ass. He rubbed his hand at the growing bulge in Sam’s breeches, making him squirm. “Someone could come back here any moment.”

“We’ll have all the time in the world – after –” After the war suddenly seemed but a thought away. Tomorrow they’d toss the British into the ocean and then seek out some nice place with a large, soft bed in which Hancock could teach him all about being taken like a woman. For now, Sam just mirrored Hancock’s actions and moments later found himself with a hand down the man’s pants.

“So now I just… like that? Alright… oh, Johnny, you’re so much better at this than… ah…”

“You’ll have time to improve your skills,” Hancock whispered, promised. “All the time in the world. After.”

None of them lasted very long. It occurred to Sam for a moment to be embarrassed that he came first, but he felt too languid, too grateful, too – dare he say it – happy to seriously consider competitiveness. In this moment there was just him, and John Hancock whom he loved, and the sweet summer grass and the sky.


Yes, he decided.

“I think I might be in love with you, Johnny,” he said and kissed him again.