The ship is heading towards them.
Burr swears he’s dreaming, watching the ship slowly turn and make her way towards the island. He is distantly aware of tears running down his face, and he’s still waving his torch, laughing and crying all at once. Hamilton’s beside him in much the same state, and Burr drives his torch into the sand, embraces him, wrapping his arms around Hamilton’s shaking shoulders.
“We did it,” he cries into Hamilton’s neck, “we did it.”
Hamilton says nothing, just holds on to Burr like he’s drowning.
They part, eventually, and watch the ship come in. The ship stops and they hear a splash as the anchor drops, hear the shouts of the sailors. Other people’s voices sound so foreign and beautiful to Burr that tears sting at his eyes all over again. It’s too dark by now to make out much other than the hulking, shadowy enormity of the ship. They hear another splash, and a smaller vessel cuts across the water, the distinct slapping sound of oars on the ocean. A lantern at the bow of the small ship shows the silhouette of a man, but tells them nothing else. Still, Burr keeps his eyes honed on the shape, barely blinking, as if it might disappear.
“Hello?” a voice from that smaller boat calls, “hello?”
“Hello!” they shout back, almost in unison, voices cracked from their earlier screaming.
“Who goes there?”
“Alexander Hamilton! Aide-de-camp of General Washington! And Lieutenant Aaron Burr! We’ve been shipwrecked for…for months, at least.”
Burr hadn’t realized that Hamilton had stopped counting the days. He wonders when that had happened, and why.
The boat hits shore and a man climbs out. Burr can’t quite make out his features – they have only the light of their two sputtering torches. He can make out the pistol in the man’s hand, though. The lantern is still back in the man’s boat, and it serves only to backlight him, make him appear all the more odd – a stranger in their strange land.
“You’re Washington’s men?”
Burr feels a moment of dread, wonders if they’d been happened upon by some stray ship of the king’s – if they’d survived all this just to be shot down like dogs. But the man doesn’t sound disgusted, and his accent isn’t British, it’s something Burr can’t quite place.
“Yes,” Hamilton responds without checking with Burr, honest to a fault, “we were to be ambassadors, but there was a storm. We believe we’re the only survivors of the Pickering.”
The man laughs.
“You were Preble’s men?”
The world is a strange, small place.
“I wouldn’t say we were his men,” Burr replies, “rather, we embarked on his ship for France.”
That laughter, again. Burr wishes desperately that the man would step closer, reveal his features, so they might know if they are being laughed with, or at.
“Show you’re unarmed.”
They both raise their hands above their heads.
They turn, slowly, deliberately.
Satisfied, the man walks closer. He’s taller than both of them, slender. His eyes are still in shadow under the brim of his hat, but Burr can see well-cut features, refined.
“John Higgins, Admiral of the Wolverine,” he says, and shakes their hands.
“I’d offer you a drink, under ordinary circumstances,” says Hamilton, “unfortunately, I’m afraid all we have is coconut.”
Burr has to hold back a wild, near-hysterical laugh.
“No worries,” says Higgins, “but there’s not much time for niceties. The men are eager to be off again. Some of them even suggested sailing on past you, but lucky for you men captain Trumbull was curious. Now, are you folks coming? We can discuss details on the ship, but we want to be off soon.”
“Yes,” Burr says, “but can we grab our things first? It won’t take but a moment.”
Higgins takes his lantern from the boat and they walk back to their camp, Higgins following behind. Once there, Hamilton grabs his knife.
“May I?” he asks Higgins, wary of the pistol that’s still in Higgins’s hand.
“By all means,” Higgins replies, and Hamilton tucks the knife – crudely shielded – into his pants pocket.
“Not a bad setup,” Higgins remarks, looking around. The nuances of the camp aren’t discernible, but between the lantern and the moonlight the basic layout is clear enough. Higgins walks, examining their camp. In his inspections, he moves across the garden, crushing one of Hamilton’s plants under the heel of his polished black boot, which pains Burr in a way he can’t quite explain. He looks to Hamilton, to see if he’s noticed, but Hamilton is busy getting water, which he dumps over the embers of their fire. It goes out with a soft hissing noise and a final curl of smoke. Burr grabs his rope, a few of his smaller shells, a piece of sea glass – his sea-treasures, gathered on their walks. He leaves the red conch shell though, the one he’d placed upon the salvaged stack of boards. It’s too big to carry. Burr casts a look to the mouth of their cave, wanting to go in, to say goodbye to the place that had sheltered them, but Higgins is impatient to be off and there is nothing of importance stored in the cave, anyway. Only memories.
They walk back to the ocean, and it occurs to Burr that this is the last time they’ll ever walk this path, and it feels strange. The former elation he’d felt at seeing the ship has abated, instead he feels anxious, chest tight at the idea of going back on board a ship. His hand lifts from his side, as if to take Hamilton’s hand, seeking comfort, when he remembers –
They are no longer alone here.
His hand drops back to his side like a stone.
Higgins rows them to the waiting ship across the moonlight-stricken ocean. They climb up the ladder into a sea of curious faces, men laughing with surprise and delight at these newfound survivors. Burr shakes hands with men whose names he forgets almost immediately, overwhelmed at the sudden array of faces, of voices. A voice booms across the deck and a man strides towards them. The men part for him and Burr assumes this is the Wolverine’s captain.
“Sebastian Trumbull,” says the man, who’s older, or perhaps it’s just that the years of sun and sea have carved wrinkles into his face too soon. But he’s smiling, and Burr already likes him better than he had Preble.
“Aaron Burr,” he says, just as Hamilton says, “Alexander Hamilton.” A chorus of names.
“Gotta say,” says Trumbull, “finding you two was quite a surprise. It’s not every day that we find us some castaways!”
He laughs at his own comment, and a few of the sailors laugh with him.
“Higgins tells me you’re Washington’s men?”
“Yes,” Hamilton says, “we were sent as ambassadors to France when our boat took a detour, and was hit by a hurricane. We’d be much indebted if you’d see us back to the states.”
“Yes, well,” Trumbull says – an answer that’s not entirely comforting, to Burr, “we’ll talk more of this later. Right now we have to cast off. Get to it, boys!”
He turns, shouting orders, and the men scatter from where they’d encircled Hamilton and Burr, who are now left alone. They walk to the railing, and Burr is reminded of that morning aboard the Pickering, how Hamilton had greeted him with that gratingly cheery tone, rhyming his name; how Burr had fumed at the sight. An interaction between two near-strangers.
It feels like a century ago.
The ship begins to move, and a wind catches her sails so that they billow out like clouds. Hamilton moves from his side without saying anything, heading off to say something to Higgins, and Burr is left alone at the railing as the ship sails onward, taking them away from the island that had been their home for the better part of a year.
As they pull away, Burr turns. Like Lot’s wife, he looks back, but rather than turn into a pillar of salt, he feels a dreadful ache in his chest as he watches the island - their island - recede into the darkness, until he can no longer see it at all.
Higgins takes them to the crew’s quarters, which look much like the ones Burr had glimpsed on the Pickering.
“We’re a bit overcrowded at the moment, so you two will have to share a hammock,” he says, leading them to a rather grimy looking hammock strung near the corner of the room.
“That’s fine,” Hamilton says, something odd in his tone that Burr can’t quite figure out.
They place their few items on shelves near the hammock, and Higgins offers them new clothes – the clothes themselves are dirt-stained and ugly, but compared to their own sea-worn clothing it feels like fine silks on Burr’s skin. There’s even boots for them, and though Burr’s are slightly too small and pinch his toes, he’s still grateful to have anything at all. After changing, they move to the dining area, and they’re still twenty feet away when the smell hits Burr, intoxicating – the smell of cooking meat, of bread. He can feel himself salivating.
The meal is delicious. Burr feels awed by it – there’s a stew that’s thick with pieces of beef, biscuits, and each man is even allowed a pat of butter. Beside him, Hamilton groans in ecstasy as he shovels a spoonful into his mouth, and the groan sounds so much like the ones Burr had elicited from him on the island (for other reasons, of course; different things in different mouths) that he has to avert his gaze for a moment. Burr eats every bite and wipes his forefinger along the curve of the bowl, not wasting a drop. He’s aware of the sailors’ eyes on him, the way men at zoos watch the animals, but he’s too full and delighted to care.
After dinner, there’s rum – not much, barely a mouthful for each man, but the alcohol tastes sweet and burns at Burr’s throat. He feels lightheaded, unsure if it’s the alcohol, the food, or the feeling of being saved.
Hamilton fits right in with the men, discussing the islands and trade routes. The men talk less than Burr would have expected, but Hamilton speaks enough to fill their silence, talking of the Caribbean and the price of sugar cane. Hamilton looks bright, awake in a way Burr hasn’t seen him in a long time. This is a different Hamilton, the one Burr recalls from when they’d first met, the one who seems to always find his way to center stage and put on a show worth watching. Not that Hamilton had been quiet, on the island, not by any means, but there had been a less showy quality to his words. He had wanted Burr’s attentions, sure, but he hadn’t performed to get them, not in this same way.
Eventually they disperse, a few crew members going on deck to take the night shift. The rest of them – Burr and Hamilton included – make their way to the crew’s quarters. The room is dark, and they stumble to their hammock, bumping into several sailors on the way. Burr removes his boots but nothing else, climbs tentatively into the hammock. It swings as his weight slips into it, and he tries to stretch out as it rocks. He can hear Hamilton laughing.
“It’s harder than it looks,” Burr protests, but he’s laughing too. The swinging had slowed, but then the hammock dips wildly to the side as Hamilton tries to clamber in, nearly dumping Burr on the floor in the process.
“Watch out!” Burr hisses, hands grabbing at the fabric sides, and Hamilton hurls himself into the hammock in a sort of wild leap, ending up on top of Burr, which is not an unfamiliar position for either of them.
“Sorry,” Hamilton says, and shifts – sending the hammock to rocking again – before finally lying down beside Burr. It’s a tight fit, especially as they lay now – shoulder to shoulder – and the swaying is disconcerting. They lay in silence, listening to the sounds of the other men getting into bed, the eventual chorus of snores. It feels odd, having gone from near-solitude to being surrounded by some three dozen men. More minutes pass.
“Aaron?” Hamilton whispers.
“We were rescued.”
Hamilton still sounds like he can’t believe it.
“I know. I was there.”
A pause, then Hamilton speaks again.
“I’m going to talk to Trumbull tomorrow. Try to figure out a way home for us.”
Hamilton shifts, turns onto his side. The hammock sways again, but only slightly.
Burr repeats the word and tries to think of his little place in New York, and not the cave, or the garden they planted. He tries to feel happier about the whole ordeal, but really, all he thinks is that he’s sorry Hamilton has turned away.
“First, let me say we can get you men home.”
They’re sitting at a small table in Trumbull’s quarters. It’s an intimate affair, just Burr, Hamilton, Higgins, and Trumbull. Burr notices one of Hamilton’s legs jigging, impatient, and fights the urge to put his hand on it, steadying.
“I sense there’s more to be said, captain,” Hamilton says, eyeing the captain with a level gaze. Trumbull meets Hamilton’s gaze, nods.
“The passage won’t be free, of course. You men have no money to speak of, so we’d have to act on your word that we’d receive fare upon arrival. If we don’t, well, I’m not sure we’d let you go.”
“You’d ransom us,” Hamilton replies, and Burr startles, a little. He recalls Hamilton’s joke about Preble ransoming them - sorry, Aaron, but I don’t know how much Washington would pay for you… - and wonders just how common this practice is among sailors.
“In a word, yes,” Trumbull agrees, amiable enough, “but only if you men fail to turn up sufficient funds on your own. The second matter is, ah, the Wolverine isn’t exactly…welcomed at all docks. So we’d likely have to hand you off further out, unless you could convince the men to let us into port.”
Burr expects more questions from Hamilton, clarifications, but they don’t come. Hamilton instead looks pensive, before finally speaking.
“Do you have someone in New York who would be willing to come meet with us? I could negotiate your safe harbor into the docks. For a price.”
Higgins barks a laugh, and Trumbull shoots his a dark gaze. Burr is still unsure what’s going on, why the men are barred from their docks, why all this intricacy is even necessary. He looks over at Hamilton, who mouths I’ll explain later and that’s enough, because he trusts Hamilton now, trusts him in a way he hasn’t anyone else.
“They’re pirates, you moron,” Hamilton explains, when they’re on the deck near the railing, out of earshot from the other men.
“Shit,” Burr says. All he knows of pirates is what he read in books, and these men seem nothing like them. No eye patches, for one, no peg legs (at least that he’s noticed). No skull-and-crossbones flag flying, either (though the flag the Wolverine does fly is of some country Burr doesn’t recognize), “really? They don’t look like pirates.”
Hamilton rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling, too.
“Modern pirates aren’t so much about buried treasure as they are about more…modern crimes, like extortion,” he muses, “or ransom.”
“A few passed through St. Croix, but we weren’t a big enough hub to be worth their while. Don’t worry, Aaron, we’re likely not in danger. They just want money. You’ve got plenty, I’ve got…well, I’ve got Washington’s favor. Or, I had it. Hopefully he still thinks fondly of me, in my presumed death.”
“I’ll pay for us both, Alex. I’ll send letter to my banker as soon as I can.”
“I don’t need--” Hamilton begins to protest.
“I know you don’t need it, but I want to do it. I still owe you my life.”
Hamilton is quiet, then grins again.
“I can’t wait to see their faces when we return. Do you think they held a funeral for us? We have to have been presumed dead. Higgins told me there’s no word from Preble, the ship was assumed lost last he knew, and that plus the lumber we found…”
Hamilton talks on, and Burr muses over his words. Burr hasn’t dwelled on this, the implications of their return from the proverbial land of the dead. He wonders if Theodosia is still living in the area, if perhaps they could reunite, if perhaps that damned husband of hers was finally dead –
But he doesn’t feel joy at the thought of reuniting with her, not in the way he’d expect. In fact, his stomach feels a little ill at the thought– not fluttery, the way it once had, but rather a sort of dread.
Because there’s someone else, isn’t there? Someone impossible, standing on the deck before him.
“We’re gonna be famous, you know,” Hamilton says, “the sole survivors of the Pickering. We survived a hurricane, a deserted island, and now pirates! We’ll have to write a book, when we’re back.”
Burr pulls himself from his thoughts at this, nods.
“Maybe Washington will finally respect me,” he says, dry, and Hamilton laughs.
“I’ll put in a good word for you.”
Hamilton procures paper and a quill; even charms Trumbull into letting him use his office. Burr, with paper and quill of his own – intending to pen letters for Sally – follows, but when they sit at the table all he can do is watch Hamilton.
It’s like a whirlwind strikes as Hamilton begins to write furiously, unaware of Burr, unaware of everything except the words being born before him. Hamilton finishes one page, filled from top to bottom with cramped paragraphs, and when he puts it aside to grab a fresh piece of paper Burr catches a glimpse and realizes that, rather than penning letters to any loved ones, Hamilton is unbottling. It’s his ideas, all those ones he had on the island, the ones he shared with Burr at the fireside (and later on, when things changed between them, Hamilton would run his ideas past Burr while they were still naked, entwined). They’ve stayed pent up inside him for so long that the release is almost brutal – Burr watches the way the quill stabs into the paper, the way the words almost run together. It’s a fearful and fascinating thing to watch, and Burr finds himself transfixed, his own quill useless in his hand.
“You’re not writing,” Hamilton says, still writing, not looking up from his paper. Burr’s amazed Hamilton even knows he’s there at all.
“You’re distracting,” he says, which, while true, is more than he meant to say. Hamilton looks up from his paper at that, smiles at Burr in an odd way, but doesn’t respond. Burr looks down at his own paper, busies himself.
Dear Sally, he writes, I hope you are not too surprised to hear from me –
At Burr’s request, Higgins lends Burr a razor, and Burr takes his time shaving. He studies himself in the mirror – he’d gone months with no knowledge of what he’d looked like, and the face staring back at him is a little strange. His face is thin, cheeks hollowed, and his skin even darker from so much time spent in the sun. There’s some slight wrinkling at the corners of his eyes, barely noticeable. He’s changed.
He shaves his face first, glad to be rid of his paltry facial hair. His head is more difficult, he has no desire to place a razor to his scalp blind. At home, he’d always had the barber do it. Even in the army, he and the other men would help one another out, acting as mirror or barber, whichever the solider desired.
He walks down the hall, towel over his shoulders, and finds Hamilton writing.
“Can you help me?” he says, and Hamilton looks up, takes in Burr’s freshly shaven face. He looks surprised, a little fascinated, and Burr finds his body warming beneath Hamilton’s scrutiny.
“Ah, sure,” Hamilton says, rising out of the chair. He follows Burr down to the washroom. It’s a cramped space, and Burr bends awkwardly over the wash bucket. Hamilton’s hands are astonishingly careful, moving the razor slowly.
“I’ll miss it,” Hamilton sighs.
“That shitty mustache.”
Burr considers punching him, but thinks better of it, as Hamilton still has a razor to his skull. He sighs instead, while Hamilton laughs.
Hamilton finishes eventually, and when he’s finished Burr rubs his hand across his freshly shaved head, savoring the texture. Hamilton stands back, admiring his handiwork.
“You look good, Aaron,” he says, and Burr’s stomach flutters.
Hamilton looks at his own face in the mirror, considers.
“I guess I should shave,” he sighs, “or maybe I’ll keep it. I think the full beard is manly.”
“No one wants a lawyer who looks like a bear.”
“Poor analogy. Bears are terrifying.”
“I’ve heard their legal arguments suck, though.”
Hamilton sighs, dramatic.
“You win. I’ll shave.”
Burr watches as Hamilton shaves, keeping his goatee. He feels a slight pang, because he knows with a terrible acuity how that beard feels against him, the burn of it on his throat.
They both look into the mirror at the same time, eyes meeting but not-meeting in the glass reflection; their island selves, gone.
In some ways it’s worse, knowing. Knowing what Hamilton tastes like, what he sounds like when he comes. Because Burr is made to sleep next to Hamilton with that knowledge, made to sit next to him with that knowledge, made to talk to him as if they’re nothing but friends; all the time knowing these things, knowing them with a crystal clarity.
Burr doesn’t have a name for it, what transpired between them on the island. Had Hamilton been a woman he would have called it a romance, but romance cannot exist between two men, it’s simply unnatural.
No, it had been a matter of convenience. As he’d said. As Hamilton had said. The fact his chest aches sometimes, well. It doesn’t matter. It’s just stress manifesting in odd ways.
Hamilton acts strange, too. Begins to keep more distance between them. He spends most of his time in Trumbull’s office, writing. Burr tries to stay down there, but he doesn’t have the same commitment to writing so instead he grows restless, fidgets, until finally he can’t stand the silence and he slips away, back on to the deck, leaving Hamilton down in the office below.
But night always comes, and they’re drawn back together, bodies crammed in the hammock. Burr both dreads and looks forward to the nighttime. He looks forward to it because it’s the only time he doesn’t fret over touching Hamilton; yet he dreads it because being so close is an exquisite sort of torture, to be so near a body his hands and mouth once knew, all that knowledge piled in his throat, full of things he can’t say.
Tonight is no such exception; Burr is still awake, watching Hamilton in the near-dark. He knows he should sleep, but he’s had trouble, tells himself it’s the near-constant motion of the hammock, however slight. As he watches, Hamilton’s face contorts, looks pained. He shifts, though the hammock has little room, and one knee juts into Burr’s thigh.
“No,” Hamilton moans, quiet, and now his expression seems outright broken, “don’t leave me.”
It breaks Burr’s heart, a little, to have to bear witness to something so terrible and intimate as nightmares, to be unable to help.
“Aaron,” Hamilton says, and Burr checks – no, he’s still asleep. Asleep, and dreaming of Burr, with that pained expression on his face.
In the dark, Burr puts an arm around him, draws him closer, Hamilton’s head nestled into his chest. Hamilton’s movements become still, and Burr fears he’s woken him, but then he hears the steady sleep-rhythm of his breathing.
Burr falls asleep like that, and when he wakes, Hamilton has gone.
At dinner the next night, Trumbull makes his announcement.
“We’ll be stopping in Luisiana in a few days’ time, for trade purposes,” he says. Burr and Hamilton exchange looks
“What, did you think I’d be rushing to get you boys back? Seems like you’ve been away so long, a few more weeks shouldn’t matter.”
“My Spanish is passable,” Burr says, tentatively, “should you men need help.”
“It’s still not decided if you can be trusted off the boat.”
“Keeping us locked away would be a waste of your time and our talents. I can negotiate prices, Burr can translate, we’re both trained soldiers – you’d be fools not to take us ashore. We have no money to make an escape with, and we have every desire to return home.”
As Hamilton speaks, Burr wonders on that: every desire to return home. Part of him wants to be back in the states, of course. Yet the idea of returning is tarnished with uncertainty – Burr’s plans made stateside have long gone to ruin, and the idea of rebuilding seems strange.
And there’s the fact that stateside, he and Hamilton will part ways, and Burr will have to sleep alone.
“Take a break,” Burr tells Hamilton. Hamilton is in Trumbull’s office, writing again. Burr wonders how there’s any words left in him, as the man spends most of his days locked up in there, writing god-knows-what in that small, cramped hand of his. Trumbull had threatened to take the paper away – despite his small cursive, Hamilton was using it up at an alarming rate – but then Hamilton had offered to assist Trumbull with his accounts, thus currying more favor and paper from the captain.
“Just a moment,” Hamilton says, without looking up. Burr watches his hand move.
Burr sits across from Hamilton, begins to drum his fingers against the dark wood of the table. He keeps at it, feeling like their roles have switched – here he is, vying for Hamilton’s attention, a pest – until Hamilton finally looks up.
“Come above deck. You need some fresh air.”
Hamilton looks at his writing, the longing clear on his face (and Burr has to suppress an irrational pang of jealousy, at that), but does oblige, placing his quill down
“Ten minutes,” he says. A negotiator to the core.
Burr rises, and Hamilton follows. They walk out onto the deck, the sky an almost painfully beautiful shade of blue. Hamilton blinks in the sun, squinting, and the image makes Burr laugh. He’s in markedly better spirits, which he mostly chalks up to the glorious day and the sea breeze, and not so much the fact that he finally has Hamilton back in his company.
They stand near the bow, close enough that there’s an occasional mist of seawater on their faces. Burr looks out over the railing and Hamilton stands next to him, their shoulders almost touching.
“Teach me Spanish,” he says.
“What do you want to know?”
“All of it.”
Burr leans over, knocks him with his shoulder in mock exasperation.
“Be realistic, then.”
“Some numbers, then. Trade terms.”
“Okay,” Burr says, “numbers are kind of like they are in French. Kind of. One is uno, two is dos, three is tres…”
Hamilton is a quick study, though Burr expected nothing else. They cover numbers – up to a hundred, at least – and some basic bargaining.
“Okay,” Hamilton says. They’re sitting down now, backs against the railing, shoulders touching. His brow is furrowed in concentration. “Sell me something.”
“Tengo este pan--” Burr begins.
“Cuanto…” Hamilton begins, unsteady, “cuesta…?”
He glances at Burr who nods in affirmation.
“Cuanto cuesta?” he says, with authority, now.
“No, es justo.”
“Tres centavos. Si o no?”
Burr pretends to mull the question over.
“I sound like a child.”
“A savvy child, at least.”
Hamilton glares at him.
“See? You’re practically fluent already.”
The last night before they are to dock in Louisiana the cook serves up a small feast, emptying some of their stores in anticipation of new ones. There’s more meat stew, potatoes, even a small cake. And more rum – more than a mouthful, tonight, enough that Burr’s head is a little swimmy when it’s time to head for the bunks. Hamilton’s not much better off, swaying a little as he walks, bumping into Burr.
When they get to the hammock, Burr pauses.
“You first,” he says. He still hasn’t mastered the art of getting into the hammock while sober, much less like this.
Hamilton half dives, half falls into the hammock, making it sway so violently that it smacks Burr in the thighs even though he’d been a good distance away. Burr grabs the side of the hammock, stops it’s swaying, looks down at Hamilton, who is facedown and laughing and utterly useless.
“Turn over,” he says in a lowered voice – the men aren’t asleep, yet, but they try not to be too riotous, “I need to get in.”
“Come on in, the water’s fine,” Hamilton says – drunkard’s nonsense, though it makes Burr remember how Hamilton had looked in the water, wet hands on his skin, and ah, he mustn’t think of those things before he crawls into such a tight space. Hamilton rolls, awkwardly, ‘til he’s on his side, one eye peering brightly up at Burr.
Burr places one knee on the fabric, intending to slide himself in, but he takes the other foot off the floor too soon and the hammock rocks again, making him loose his balance. His chest thumps against Hamilton, making Hamilton mutter a soft oof.
Fuck it, Burr thinks, and pushes off, pulling his legs quickly into the swaying hammock. He’s on his side too now, facing Hamilton – kissing distance – and he meets Hamilton’s eyes, which is dangerous in itself, too intimate, because he knows his unnatural want must be written large on his face.
Hamilton grins – devastating – and places a hand on Burr’s hip.
“Steady, boy,” he says, as their rocking slows, and Burr doesn’t know if Hamilton’s talking to him or the hammock.
Burr should turn over but he doesn’t, he wants this moment, this dangerous moment, wants the weight of Hamilton’s gaze and the pressure of his hand on his hip. Hamilton closes his eyes, but his hand doesn’t move.
“Question or command?” Hamilton whispers, soft enough that Burr would not have heard it had he turned over, or had he not has his eyes fixed on Hamilton’s mouth.
“Question,” his own response, little more than a breath. His heart thuds.
“How do you say ‘island’ in Spanish?”
“Isla siempre,” Hamilton murmurs, and it’s almost nonsense, but it’s not.
“Siempre,” Hamilton murmurs again, and he turns over, the hammock shifting, Burr rolling into the space where Hamilton had been. He wants to ask the question, but is too afraid of the answer, so he lets the words die on his lips.
Burr wakes first, and carefully disengages himself from the hammock. He creeps down to the galley for a cup of coffee to take onto the deck. He moves slowly, savoring the drink – god, he’d missed coffee. He looks out over the water. It’s early still, and a fog has settled over most of the water, obscuring his view in any direction. It’s cooler, too – not cold, but after so many months spent under a tropical sun, Burr can feel the difference.
Higgins joins him at the railing, a cup in his own hands.
“Should be there soon,” he says, “are you excited?”
“It still feels like a dream,” Burr confesses. Higgins laughs, though Burr had been serious – he can barely wrap his mind around the idea that they’ll actually be on land in a matter of hours.
“The ocean’s her own world,” Higgins says, “endless and isolated all at once. I suppose it was even worse for you boys.”
“At times,” Burr says, but he feels like he’s lying, somehow.
“At least you got along. Had I been there with him, I might have killed him. Does he ever shut up?”
“I found a few ways.”
He says it without thinking, and is glad that Higgins is looking out at the fog rather than at him.
“Speak of the devil,” Higgins says, and there’s Hamilton, walking towards them. His hair is still messy, and he’s bleary-eyed, but he smiles when he sees them.
“Bit too much last night?” Higgins asks, and Hamilton glares briefly at him before taking the cup from Burr’s hands and taking a drink. Burr thinks nothing of it, but then notices Higgins watching this small intimacy and feels nervous, on edge.
“I’ll be off, then,” says Higgins, and slips away smoothly. Hamilton grabs the cup for another sip.
“Rum is awful,” Hamilton says, like some sage proclamation, and Burr laughs. The sun has begun to cut through the fog and it slowly clears, exposing more ocean, and then, in the distance –
The cry comes from the man in the crow’s nest up above, but is unnecessary – the fog has cleared enough that the dark mass in the distance is unmistakably land. Burr can see ships in the distance, and seagulls cry overheard, as if welcoming them to the harbor.
Hamilton looks at Burr, eyes bright now, excited.
“Land ahoy!” he repeats, laughing, like he can’t quite believe it, and Burr laughs too.
The land grows closer and larger at a seemingly impossible rate, and in no time they’re sailing into the docks, into the cries of men and gulls, the same bustling chaos Burr had left behind all those months ago. They glide to the dock, the sailors throwing ropes to men on the dock, anchoring the Wolverine. There’s a loud thud as the crewmen set up the gangplank.
“Come on, then!” Higgins calls to them, and they move towards the group waiting to disembark.
Hamilton looks once at Burr, a grin splitting his face.
Burr nods, and together, they disembark.