It had never been easy for him to keep friends. Most connections he had with others were fleeting, with the exception of a few, though when he thought about it, there weren’t many he would truly call close friends. Why was that? Why did the initial spark burn out so easily? Whose fault was it, his or theirs? Theirs. He thought determinedly, pushing down his anxiety. He tried everything in his power to be liked, to not make a fool out of himself. …not that it always worked… (It often didn’t). Jefferson suppressed a groan. This wasn’t helping him. Social situations were such a hassle that Jefferson sometimes wondered what had possessed him to ever get back into politics. Again.
Then he did remember. A flash, a memory, of a face he tried to erase. A name he vowed never to utter again, to not even think, lest the pain of loss return with it. He could feel his headache flare up again, head pounding so incessantly it made thinking almost impossible. Almost. It was good enough.
“This makes no sense. Why wou- Thomas?”
And then there was James Madison. The exception to the rule, it seemed. Not only did their spark ignite slower than most, it also remained – no, it had even grown over the course of the years, to the point that it felt like they had known each other since childhood when it had only been a matter of years. Or was it decades already?
“Migraine?” Madison checked, voice soft and low as not to aggravate Jefferson’s senses. Jefferson resisted the reflex to nod -too often had he regretted the simple action in his current state – and made a sound – a mixture of a groan and a whimper- to confirm. He heard Madison quietly close the book he’d been reading. “We should retire for the night.”
“Yes, Thomas, it’s been night for a few hours now.” Madison replied amused, a little chuckle at the end. Despite his pain, Jefferson smiled in response. It wasn’t rare for them to pull an all-nighter in his library. One didn’t read 400 books in a single year by going to bed early every night, after all. (Really, 400! It still amazed Jefferson that his friend had managed such a feat. It made his amount of read books pale in comparison.) It was rather easy to lose track of time in the windowless library. It was always dark, the only light coming from the candles they used for reading, as direct sunlight was detrimental for the quality of books, capable of degrading the paper. And so they relied only on the light created by fire.
Of course, fire had a rather destructive effect on books as well. They were always extra careful with the candles, making sure they knew where they stood at all times so as not to knock them over by accident. Jefferson preferred to avoid a repeat of his last library’s fate.
“No reason for you to stop. I’ll just go lie down for a bit…” Jefferson groaned as he rose just a tad too fast. There was a short silence as he staggered towards the sofa/bed (designed by himself) that he’d installed for precisely these moments. The candle in his hand swayed precariously. Madison let out a long sigh and was swiftly by his side.
“Let me.” He said as he carefully took the candle holder for Jefferson. “Before you get us both fired.”
Jefferson’s attempts to not laugh ended in a loud snort which reverberated in his head. “Owww… you’re so cruel, James.” He groaned. “Don’t make me laugh.”
Madison apologized though he didn’t sound all that sorry to Jefferson, the hint of amusement still present in his voice. He didn’t really mind. It was strange. Around nearly everyone else he would have felt terribly embarrassed by now. By the sound he’d just made, by being debilitated by a migraine attack (“Why feel guilty over something you can’t control?”), by being led by hand to a bed like a child afraid of the dark. (He carefully pushed another analogy away). But not with Madison. And yet, it was Madison whose approval he craved most. It was a paradox and no matter how hard he pondered it – oh, and many a night he had! – he, for the life of him, couldn’t figure it out. Normally he’d ask Madison’s opinion on the matter but he couldn’t very well do that now, could he?
It was also ironic how the roles had flipped over the years. At the start it had been Madison who kept sending him letter after letter to get his attention. Looking back on it, Jefferson felt honoured his friend had gone through the effort to keep writing and trying despite his initial neglect. Now, Jefferson wondered what massive fool would ever ignore Madison for even a second. He had to smile at the memory of receiving his first letter where Madison addressed him as a friend. That was always a tricky thing with any correspondence as you could never know how they’d react to your presumptions. Jefferson had been glad Madison had made the call. Lately, he’s heard talk about how their relation was one of a pure political nature. They were wrong. True, it had been through politics that they had first met, but it hadn’t been Madison’s political stances or ideas that had drawn Jefferson to him. (At least, not at the beginning. He only learnt to fully appreciate them later and now he couldn’t imagine not asking for Madison’s view on things). The initial spark had been their shared interest in a wide variety of topics. Perhaps best summarized as books, reading them and discussing them. Jefferson felt blessed that he had met such a kindred spirit. It was great. Everything about him was great.
Madison slowly sat him down on the sofa/bed before joining him. Jefferson looked over at him, suddenly very amused by the fact that his friend barely reached his shoulders.
“How are you feeling?”
Well, great except for his stature. But even that was…
Madison looked up at him, disbelief and a hint of confusion in his eyes. Those clear blue eyes. Every time Jefferson looked into them, he simply couldn’t look away. It was like gazing at the deep blue ocean on a windless day. The more he stared, the more relaxed he began to feel. (oh yes the roles had most definitely been reversed…)
Why couldn’t they both just quit politics and spend every day like today? Jefferson would be happy with such a life, a life away from public speaking, public eyes, away from politics and all the damage it does. Politics were really bad for friendships, John Adams came to mind, but so did Hamilton. He appreciated the irony in how they both lost a friend the other utterly despised because as much as he wanted to have all his friends get along, he knew Madison’s opinion on Adams would never change for the better. Then again, neither would his opinion on Hamilton and he was glad Madison no longer associated with him. And part of him was afraid that it would end up ruining theirs as well. Another part of him, a voice at the back of his mind, was afraid it was the exact opposite. That politics was the only reason their friendship persisted. He knew that it weren’t the case for him. But Madison… he hated the mere fact that he could even think it… but sometimes he wasn’t so sure. Sometimes, Madison acted distant, almost cold, and when Jefferson tried to grow closer to him, he pulled away. In those moments, the voice grew louder and he felt disappointed and strangely alone.
But then there were days like today when everything had been perfect and every doubt he had got pushed away into the dark corner of his mind again. Perhaps if they had more time, they could have more days like these. Yet Madison evaded his requests to move in with him. He didn’t even want to live on some ground next to him. Why? Did he not enjoy their time together? Was it really all pretend-?
“Thomas.” Madison’s voice cut through his thoughts. “Stop thinking and go to sleep.”
His head pounded so hard now that his vision began to blur. So he stopped thinking- just as Madison had said- and leaned over to his friend and put his head in the curve of his neck. The sudden weight unbalanced Madison and he fell back a little. Jefferson could feel him shift -he had closed his eyes to shut out the last remaining light- and for a moment he was afraid Madison would pull away and sneak from underneath him. But he merely repositioned himself. A deep sigh followed, one Jefferson couldn’t quite identify, before he felt a hand at the back of his head. It slipped through his mess of hair, entangling in it, and gently massaged his scalp as it pushed him closer. The touch was soft, comforting, familiar- A memory of another’s hand crashed into his mind but he pushed it away, redirecting his attention on Madison. He moved his head to rest on Madison’s chest and noted that the last candle’s flame had been extinguished, before closing his eyes once more.
“I’m sorry.” Jefferson whispered softly, surprised he’d actually said it out loud.
“Don’t be. It’s not something you control.”
Silence followed and Jefferson wondered whether Madison realized he hadn’t been talking about his migraine attack. You never knew with him. Banishing further thoughts from his mind, he snuggled deeper into Madison’s chest, his ear right above the other’s heart. Slow, steady, his heartbeat brought comfort to Jefferson. His breathing eased, adjusting to the rhythm, and he could feel the pain dull, if only slightly. He knew Madison would think it romantic nonsense but Jefferson genuinely felt better simply by being near him. That Madison was still there eased his worries as well. He was, above all else, a pragmatic man. Pragmatic and down-to-earth. And he knew- Jefferson didn’t doubt that he knew at all- that if he had simply left Jefferson to recover from his attack on his own, he wouldn’t consider him any less his friend. His loyalty would not waver. There was no logical reason for him to stay. And yet here he was, in the middle of the night, in a library, on a sofa/bed, with a migraine plagued man lying on his chest and with a hand still gently massaging said man’s skull.
That couldn’t be fake, right?
Jefferson smiled as he felt sleep overtake him. Perhaps he didn’t have a lot of close friends but that was fine. Be polite to all, but intimate with few, it suited him just right. After all, he had James Madison among those few and that was more than he could have ever hoped for.