“She knows,” Burr tells Hamilton that night, as they lay in bed, “about us.”
“Well,” Hamilton says, “you didn’t exactly scream innocent, sprawled out all disheveled on the office floor…”
“It was more than that. I think she knew as soon as I talked to her about you, when I was talking about our time on the island. It was clear I liked you.”
“Aww, you like me.”
“Well, I don’t dislike you, Alex.”
Hamilton rolls to the side and kisses him, and Burr can feel Hamilton’s grin beneath the kiss. It’s silent, for a moment, and then Hamilton speaks again.
“Does it bother you?”
“Does what bother me?”
“That she knows?”
Burr considers. The first thing he’d felt was panic, heart crashing wildly in his chest as Theodosia alluded to her deductions. But once it was clear Theodosia didn’t mind – that she had her own secrets, in fact – he’d felt a sort of relief in knowing that this fear had been realized, and had not been so bad, after all. He realizes, of course, that she is an exception – liberal-minded, progressive, dangerously smart – but still. She knows, and he is still alive, still with Hamilton, their relationship undamaged even with someone else knowing of it.
“No,” he says, then, “yes. I don’t know. I guess I’m glad someone knows. Proof I’m not just making you up in my head.”
“As if you’re creative enough to dream up anything as fantastic as me.”
“Go to sleep, Alex.”
“Kiss me goodnight, first.”
Burr gladly obliges.
Burr receives a letter with no return address, an envelope fashioned from fine cream paper, his name written across the front in an elegant hand Burr recognizes immediately. He waits until he’s home to open it, heart beating just a bit too quickly as he breaks the seal and pulls out the letter within.
I hope this letter finds you in good health, and in a better position than you were in when we departed. How’s that law practice of yours? I do hope you and Mr. Hamilton are finding some success in that particular field.
I know my previous letter was a thing unanswerable, given the lack of a contact for myself (one loves and hates this transient lifestyle). However, I am very pleased to inform you that I have procured an address to which you may write - and I do hope you will write - and perhaps carry on a correspondence, assuming you weren’t simply pretending to like me. I also hope that in the time since you received my last letter that you and Mr. Hamilton have, shall we say, reconciled. You both still come up in our conversations - inquiring minds want to know, and all that - though you’re less the subject of gossip now, as we have moved on to other things. However, I do still miss our conversations, and remain curious as to the outcome of your situation with Mr. Hamilton, and am afraid I cannot rest until that curiosity is satisfied.
(I am, of course, curious as to other things about you, too, but I’m enough of a gentleman to let such things lie.)
Below, Aaron, is the address of a friend of a friend who agreed to receive my post until such a time that I can return and receive it. Do write to me.
There's a name under it, the address of a post office, which Burr notes as he puts the letter down. He hadn't quite realized that he'd missed Higgins - or, more precisely, how much he had missed Higgins - until reading the letter, the vague pretentious air of it mimicking Higgins's own dry tones.
His finger brushes over the letter, and he thinks, you were right.
Higgins had seen what Burr could not - or, more accurately, what he hadn’t let himself see. And would Burr have pursued this particular avenue were it not for Higgins's encouragement? He might have. He isn't sure, though. And to that, he supposes he is grateful to the pirate, for his words - of a more similar mind than you led me to believe, or indeed, then you may yourself believe. He rereads the letter, then folds it carefully and places it back in the envelope. Though he's eager to write back now - part of his mind already composing a reply - he knows Hamilton will be over soon.
When Hamilton arrives, Burr doesn't tell him about the letter, though he isn't quite sure why. He hadn't told Hamilton about Higgins's first letter, either. It hadn't been an outright lie - Hamilton had not asked (though why would he?). He knows Hamilton had not been overly fond of Higgins, though he thinks now it may have been because of jealousy. Hamilton had not confessed that fact to Burr (too proud, no doubt), but looking back on their time on the ship with all the clarity of hindsight, knowing what he now knows – mainly, that Hamilton thought Burr had been the one to unilaterally end their affair - he wonders if Hamilton didn't think Higgins was angling for Burr, and vice versa. Wouldn’t have been particularly wrong on that account, either. He wonders what the whole thing looked like, through Hamilton's eyes, recalls with a flush how Hamilton had burst into the cargo hold of the ship after Higgins had left, the fleeting, frantic look that had crossed his face, like he’d dreaded something.
God, how could Burr not have seen it?
Regardless - he is in no rush to bring Higgins's name back up with Hamilton, so he doesn't mention it, and soon enough Hamilton has him so distracted that he forgets entirely about the letter, anyway.
"I've got an idea," Hamilton says over breakfast one Saturday morning.
I've got an idea is always a worrisome thing to hear from Hamilton, so Burr steels himself.
"A place I want to go. And I want you to come with me."
"I want to see my grave."
"Jesus, Alex, why?"
"Washington said they buried me at Trinity Church. I want to see it."
"Don't you think that's morbid?"
"Aaron, we should fucking be dead. We're not. We're miracles. How many people get to see their own graves?"
"How many people would want to?"
Burr’s seen enough people die. He has no desire to see his own grave. Or Hamilton’s, for that matter. But Hamilton seems unaffected by Burr’s reluctance.
"Well, I do. And I want you to come with me."
"Because it's thanks to you that no one's buried in it."
They don't talk much about how fortunate their situation really is. Hell, Burr tries not to even think about it too closely, it makes him feel dizzy. There were so many chances for things to go wrong, so many chances for them to die, lost at sea or on a nameless island. It's a miracle they made it out alive at all, and sometimes Burr worries that if he thinks about it too much, tries to parse out every piece of luck and circumstance that kept them alive, it will all crumble under such scrutiny. But Hamilton is looking at him, big brown eyes as wide as they’ll go, and Burr sighs, helpless before that begging gaze.
"All right, I'll go."
Hamilton kisses him in the kind of way that reminds Burr just how much he'll do for him. Love makes fools of us all.
They get dressed and walk to Trinity Church. It's colder than Burr had anticipated. The winter had been surprisingly mild thus far, but the way the cold air nips into his skin he suspects the mildness is over. Burr glances up at the cloudy gray sky and finds himself longing for the hot Caribbean sun. They slip through the gate and wander the gravestones, reading the names and weaving the narrow dirt path worn down by mourners.
Burr's the one to find Hamilton's gravestone, and he isn't ready for the way it makes his stomach lurch, reading the epitaph:
To the Memory Of
The SOLDIER of approved VALOUR
May his Soul find rest at Sea
It's short, reflecting Hamilton's youth - in time, Burr has no doubt there would have been other accomplishments that might have adorned it. It makes Burr ill, the shortness of it. The permanence of stone.
“It looks real,” he says, before he can stop himself, and as Hamilton opens his mouth to speak he adds, “I know, it is real. I just mean…”
Look at how we could have lost you. How I could have lost you.
Hamilton looks at him with a great tenderness, then reaches out and squeezes Burr’s hand.
“It’s not real. Thanks to you. You gave me more time, Aaron.”
The whole situation feels surreal and dizzying and heavy. Burr’s knees feel weak and it takes everything he has to keep standing, to not sink to his knees like some grieving widow in front of an empty grave. His breathing comes quicker as his mind displays all the ways he could have lost Hamilton, or been lost from him.
“I’m here,” says Hamilton, placing his hand on Burr’s shoulder, warm and there, “Aaron, I’m right here.”
“I’m glad,” says Burr, and Hamilton guides them away, and with every step away from the gravestone Burr feels better. Steadier.
“I’m sorry,” he says, “it’s just...seeing it like that, writ in stone…”
“Don’t worry,” says Hamilton, and bumps his shoulder against Burr, “I plan on having a much longer epitaph before they get me again.”
That unsettled feeling remains with Burr, follows him like a shadow as they finish out the rest of their errands, and finally return back to Burr’s home. As soon as they're in the doorway, Burr grabs Hamilton, kisses him, roves his hands over Hamilton’s body, as if to reassure himself that Hamilton is real, Hamilton is here, that he is not there in the graveyard they had visited. The shadow seems to disappear with every inch of skin Burr touches, with every bit of pressure under his lips.
“Please tell me that seeing my grave wasn't a turn on,” Hamilton says, once Burr gives them a moment to breathe.
“Maybe once upon a time,” Burr jokes, and Hamilton shoves him playfully.
“And you get on me for bad dirty talk,” Hamilton complains.
“Maybe we shouldn't talk at all.”
Burr has other things he'd rather use his mouth for, anyway.
He takes Hamilton to the bedroom, undresses him eagerly, covers every part of Hamilton he can with his hands and mouth. Hamilton’s skin is warm under his fingertips, flushed with arousal, and when Burr pauses for a moment, resting his head against Hamilton’s chest, he hears the faint thud of Hamilton’s heartbeat. He inhales deeply, finally feels steady for the first time since seeing that damn gravestone. He stays there longer than he should, paused in the moment, listening to the life of Hamilton taking place beneath his chest. He isn’t aware that he’s closed his eyes until he feels a hand on his cheek, opens his eyes to meet Hamilton’s concerned brown ones.
“You all right?” Hamilton asks.
“I am now. I’m glad you’re here.”
Burr moves his head from Hamilton’s chest then, and continues to move downward, takes Hamilton into his mouth and quickly brings him to a sweet hardness, tasting the faint slick of precum on his tongue. He gets his forefinger wet and is lightly stroking at Hamilton’s rim when Hamilton pulls back.
“Hold on,” Hamilton says, and leans over to open the nightstand drawer, where he withdraws a small bottle of oil - when had that appeared there? - proffers it to Burr.
“Might make things easier,” he says, and Burr takes it, tentatively pours it over his first two fingers before resuming his prior activities.
It’s messy, but when Burr slides his finger into Hamilton, it’s much easier, and a second joins it quickly. Hamilton’s breathing fast now, as Burr’s fingers crook and drag over him, mouth working in tandem. Encouraged, Burr adds a third finger, stretching Hamilton, feeling him tight against his fingers. He stops once, to add more oil, then resumes his ministrations. The feeling of being inside Hamilton, even just a few fingers, has him hard and he grinds against the messy sheets as he flicks his tongue over him.
Hamilton comes with a shout, the orgasm seeming to go on and on, and Burr continues to fuck his fingers into Hamilton until he feels a hand on his arm.
“Mercy,” Hamilton groans, then laughs, an uncontrollable lightness. He pulls Burr up in a sloppy motion, kisses him deeply before letting his head fall back to the pillow, a smile radiating on his face.
“I’m afraid I may need that headstone after all,” Hamilton says, “because I think you just killed me.”
“Someone was bound to,” Burr replies, and Hamilton groans.
“Let me bask, god.”
“Am I stopping you?”
Instead of answering, Hamilton trails his fingertips over Burr, feather-light, the kind of teasing that inevitably makes Burr squirm, a fact Hamilton had quickly learned and just as quickly delighted in. The light touches continue over his chest, his hips, the inside of his thighs, everywhere but his rapidly-hardening cock. When Hamilton finally takes him in hand, his strokes are still light, easy, and Burr bites his lips to refrain from cursing.
“I love how much you want me,” Hamilton says, thumb flicking lightly over the slit of Burr’s cock, “and I love watching your squirm.”
Burr’s not sure he has the words for a retort.
Hamilton continues his teasing game, and just as Burr is about to beg for his own kind of mercy, he rolls to his side, pulls at Burr’s arm to follow until they’re spooning, hand then reaching back and guiding Burr’s cock in between his thighs.
Hamilton’s still slick and messy from the oil, and Burr thrusts eagerly, watching his cock disappear into the expanse of flesh. Hamilton moves again, rolls over onto his knees and elbows, thighs still pressed together, and as Burr drives in Hamilton thrusts his hips back, and Burr thinks about that tight, wet heat contracting around his fingers, which is what pushes him over the edge.
“Alex, fuck, Alex-”
He comes - adding to their truly wrecked bedsheets - and collapses on the bed next to him. It feels like every part of him has some unspeakable fluid on it, wrecked, but Burr thinks it’s the kind of mess he can live with, if it means he keeps getting to do these things with Hamilton.
They change the sheets and clean up the best they can, though when he crawls into bed Burr still feels a faint tackiness on his groin. Hamilton butts up against him as they sleep, Burr’s arm draped over him, and he is grateful, for the tenth or hundredth time, that Hamilton has not left him.
“Aaron, guess what?” Hamilton announces brightly as Burr walks into the office, though he answers the question himself, “I’m leaving!”
Burr’s body jolts.
“The constitutional convention? Remember? I was begging for an invite, didn’t know if they’d deign to admit a foreigner, but maybe the follow up letters worked because I’m going, Aaron, I’m going-”
Burr takes a breath.
“For how long?”
Hamilton pauses, as if considering this for the first time.
“A few months, at most.”
Burr tries not to let his dismay show. His first, selfish instinct is to ask - to beg - Hamilton not to go, to fall to his knees, to say no, stay with me. But this is what Hamilton’s dreamed of. Burr hasn’t forgotten the ideas Hamilton shared with him on the island, when they were in the infancy of their friendship, how he’d come alive in the firelight, hands waving as he laid out ideas for a new form of government. Burr can’t deny him that, he’s a fool for even thinking it. He swallows. He can be alone.
And he can hope, desperately, that Hamilton will not forget him when the distance is stretched between them. So Burr swallows, and embraces Hamilton. He tries to smile, and then the smile becomes real, because Hamilton’s grinning and alive, and will finally have an audience.
Burr’s happy for him. Really, he is.
(And if the months ahead suddenly seem bleak, if the fact he very pointedly did not receive an invite, well -- never mind that.)
“I’m happy for you Alex,” he says, and he is - but he’s a lot of other things, too. Hamilton finally seems to realize this, features softening, and he cups his hand under Burr’s chin.
“I don’t leave for a while yet,” he says, “and I’ll miss you quite dreadfully. But you’ll have your hands full with the office, and I’ll be back in no time.”
Burr knows this. And he knows the convention isn't as far away as it could be - only Philadelphia - but it feels like an ocean away.
He swallows this down, and takes Hamilton’s chin in his hand, looking him in the eye.
“You’re doing it, Alex,” he says, “just like you talked about. Changing the world. And I’m so, so proud of you.”
Hamilton smiles, and Burr notices his eyes shining wet, but before he can look too long Hamilton’s embracing him, face buried in his shoulder, and Burr simply stands there, holding him.
Time passes too quickly, after that; whenever Burr tries to slow it down it’s as if he’s grabbing handfuls of water, impossible to hang on to. Hamilton’s busy, preoccupied with getting his trip and ideas in order, which makes Burr feel as if a part of him is already gone. Hamilton certainly doesn’t seem to share in Burr’s anxiety, and Burr hopes this is simply because he’s busy getting ready for the convention, and not because he doesn’t care.
It’s not that Hamilton isn’t convincing in his tenderness for Burr, when they’re finally alone in Burr’s house Hamilton is more than attentive, generous in his kisses and eager with his hands. He waxes poetic about Burr’s beauty, even, which still makes Burr feel like some blushing maiden. But as attentive as Hamilton is, Burr knows part of his mind is already elsewhere, and this is what keeps him up at night.
Burr is so wrapped up in this anxiety that it takes him weeks before deciding what to pen in response to Higgins’s letter. Abashment also plays a part in his delay, for Higgins had been right - god, had he been right - and Burr’s never been fond of eating crow, but it’s something he must come to terms with. He’s grateful, perhaps even indebted to Higgins, who had seen what Burr had refused to let himself see, who had passed on a small bit of gossip that may have tipped the scale.
John, he begins, pauses, then adds Dear,
I lack the words to adequately express my delight at receiving another letter from you, as your first was welcomed, and indeed intrinsic to events that followed. You were correct, it seems, on the reciprocity of my feelings, and Mr. Hamilton and I have indeed reconciled, and are currently working together quite brilliantly.
I hope you and Mr. Trumbull are also working well together. I’m a bit surprised to find myself missing the ship (and its company) - after my previous ordeals, who would have thought a part of me would miss it, much less desire a return? It may simply be the anticipation of loneliness, as Mr. Hamilton will soon be at the Constitutional Convention, helping shape our new nation into some semblance of a country. While I am excited for him and this opportunity, I find myself a bit melancholic at the idea of having to work alone for many months.
Do not be surprised if you find yourself receiving many such letters for me - though you will likely receive them all at once, whenever you are in port to receive such mail - for there are few souls here who are privy to my workload.
And thank you, John. Your previous letter was instrumental in events that unfolded, and for that (and so much else), I am grateful.
He posts the letter the next day, and though he knows it will be weeks, if not months, before a response, he’s glad there’s something in the future he can look forward to.
As they approach the last few weeks before Hamilton’s’ departure, Burr finds himself less and less able to get work done; he’ll have a pen in his hand and paper before him with no idea what he’d intended to write. It’s better, when face to face with clients, because there he has an audience which forces him to school himself into some semblance of competent, but with paperwork, his mind drifts too easily, distracted by Hamilton’s presence, achingly aware of the hours slipping away. He’s in such a state now, watching as Hamilton shuffles through papers at the office, occasionally mumbling to himself but not saying anything to Burr. Burr is supposed to be working, but he’s distracted, fretting, and figures he’ll have plenty of time to work when Hamilton is gone. So he takes the moment to lean his elbows on his desk, watching Hamilton in his preoccupied state, and is actually a bit surprised when he hears his name as part of Hamilton’s mutterings.
“I said, are you in contact with John Higgins?”
Burr sits upright.
“John Higgins. Are you in contact with him?”
Burr thinks of the letter he sent - still unanswered, though it hadn’t been long - and flushes, feeling the smallest bit of guilt. Not that there’d been anything untoward in his letter (and only a hint of untowardness from Higgins), but still, he hadn’t mentioned it to Hamilton, had he?
“Why?” he says, without thinking. His cheeks feel hot. Hamilton finally looks at him, which makes his cheeks feel hotter still, an absurd guilt.
“Well,” Hamilton says, “I wanted to ask him some clarifications on the pirate code. I read it on the ship, and it was fascinating, and I think some of those ideas might be translatable into our constitution -”
Burr recalls this, faintly, how Hamilton had mentioned reading it when Burr had come into the ship’s office to apologize.
“- but from that look on your face I’m wondering if I should be asking other questions.”
Hamilton doesn’t sound angry, and the words aren’t accusatory. Burr finds comfort in this, and uses it to shape his response.
“Yes, he’s written to me a few times, and there’s an address where he says he can receive letters. I never mentioned it because you were always so cold to him on the ship; I thought you hated him…”
Hamilton’s face softens, and he leaves his work at the desk to come closer, take Burr’s hand.
“Well,” he says, “admittedly, I was a bit jealous of him on the ship, because he was constantly eye-fucking you, and the way you were flirting with him after you rejected me--”
“I didn’t--” Burr begins to protest, and Hamilton holds up his free hand.
“After you rejected me because you mistakenly thought I’d rejected you first which was totally wrong, whatever, you were flirting with him and ignoring me so yeah, of course I was jealous, but I’ve got you now, so no hard feelings. He’s got good taste in men, I’ll give him that.”
Burr flushes for a different reason, at that.
“So you’re not mad?”
“What’s there to be mad about? Are you hiding an affair? Would you rather be with him than me?”
“No, of course not, I-”
“Then I'm not mad, Aaron. There’s nothing to be mad about. So, can I have the address?”
Burr writes it from memory, though he double checks it against the letter in his desk drawer. Hamilton thanks him with a lingering kiss that leaves Burr’s stomach in knots, and then sets to drafting a letter of obscure questions about the pirate code and how one could best translate it into the democracy of a new nation.
Their last night before Hamilton is set to leave is dark and largely sleepless, as they lay side by side, quiet until a voice breaks through.
“It’s only a few months,” Hamilton says.
“I know,” Burr replies.
It’s the same mantra they’ve repeated to one another for months now, taking turns, convincing each other as much as themselves. Burr blinks furiously and stares at the ceiling, trying not to cry. He feels a hand slide into his.
“I’ll write,” Hamilton says.
“I know,” Burr replies. This is another mantra they’ve told one another, over and over again, but I know doesn’t mean I’m okay.
There’s nothing either one can do, and Burr knows this, too. Hamilton will leave, and take his brilliance into Philadelphia, and Burr will stay behind, and continue to grow their law practice. Eventually, Hamilton will return, and then –
It’s the and then that scares Burr. The fear that Hamilton will return a changed and unfamiliar man, that the popularity he’ll no doubt gain in this endeavor will lead him to reconsider their relationship. That it will no longer be worth the risk.
(They don’t talk much, of the risk. Of the distance they keep, in public. Of the story they have told their friends, that Hamilton rooms with Burr because the business is too small for him to draw much of a salary, that the arrangement is purely economical.)
“I’ll miss you,” Hamilton says. His hand is stroking across Burr’s forehead, down his cheek.
“I’ll miss you, too,” Burr says. Another mantra. Another hopeless truth.
Hamilton needs no light to find Burr’s lips, and they clutch at each other, hands moving across one another, gripping so tight on flesh that Burr can’t help but think of drowning men. Hamilton takes Burr into his hand, fingers running over his cock.
They’d done this twice already, earlier in the evening, and though the mind is willing, the flesh is weak. Still, Hamilton strokes Burr even in his softness, a different kind of pleasure, tender.
The night goes on like that, coming together and sliding apart. They cross a miniature infinity of emotional shades on this last night, laughing, kissing, talking about everything that comes to mind – and touching. They are almost always touching. There are tears, once – Burr’s. But he doesn’t want to talk about it, and so Hamilton pretends not to notice.
Burr must sleep at some point, because when he next opens his eyes the sickly light of dawn is coming through the window. The bed is empty, and he can hear faint sounds in the other room of Hamilton getting ready. Burr gets out of bed, splashes his face with water to rid it of the night’s residues. When he looks at himself in the mirror he looks like a sick man, the shadows under his eyes deep as bruises, a hint of redness in his eyes. He splashes his face again, but it does little good.
He pads into the kitchen, where a cup of coffee waits for him on the table. He sits down and savors the first hot sip of it. Hamilton sits across from him. He looks a good deal better than Burr, save for the dark circles under his eyes – hair brushed to a sheen and pulled into a ponytail, dressed elegantly enough that it distracts from the exhaustion in his face.
“The coach will be here soon,” says Hamilton. It’s not the most arduous journey – two days, if the weather’s good– but he’s still in for many hours in the cramped interior of the coach. Burr takes his hand, remembering fondly their last coach ride, the thrill of Hamilton’s hand brushing his beneath the jacket laid over their laps. When he looks up, he notices Hamilton’s luggage is already at the door, and suddenly the coffee feels like sludge in his stomach. He places his cup back down.
“It’s only a few months,” Burr says.
“I know,” Hamilton replies. The mantra, repeating.
The knock at the door startles them both, and they’re out of their seats in a flash, a remnant of their soldier reflexes. Their eyes meet and Burr sees something like panic in Hamilton’s eyes, and then Hamilton’s kissing him so deeply that Burr can’t breathe. It’s over just as quickly, a lightning strike of affection, and Hamilton’s headed to answer the door, leaving Burr standing alone in the kitchen. There’s no chance for a proper goodbye now, not with the driver in the doorway, impatient to be off. Burr sees Hamilton to coach, and Hamilton extends his hand in farewell. Burr takes it, and feels the brush of Hamilton’s thumb over the back of his hand. He meets Hamilton’s eyes, which are dry but desperately sad, and then he looks away, because the tears are coming again, and he can’t break down, not with the driver watching, he can’t –
“Goodbye, Aaron,” Hamilton says, voice just slightly hoarse.
“Goodbye, Alex. Be safe,” he inhales, gets control of his own voice, “don’t forget to write.”
Burr watches Hamilton climb into the coach, watches as the coach rounds the bend and disappears, then promptly turns and retches, nothing coming up but a thick, sour string of spittle, which Burr spits out onto the ground in disgust. Stomach still queasy, he makes his way inside, where two coffee cups sit on the kitchen table, growing cold.
He doesn’t go in to work that morning, spends most of it lying about in the bed, dozing for a few minutes at a time, only to wake confused and somehow more tired than he’d been before. He tries to read, but the words blur and jump about the page so much that he eventually throws the book across the room, a childish display of temper that he immediately feels guilty about. His hands, now empty, shift restlessly, desperate for something to do. He looks over to the desk, which Hamilton had largely claimed as his own (as he did with most open flat spaces, filling them with parchment and books). The desk is filled with paper, and a full inkwell. Burr pulls himself from the couch, sits down at the desk instead. He takes the quill in his hand, considers it, then pulls out a piece of paper, and writes to the one man who might understand his melancholy.
Dear John, he writes, Mr. Hamilton left for his Convention today, and I’m afraid I’m dealing more poorly than anticipated as I find myself without my colleague –
It’s calming, to write to Higgins, to express – albeit in roundabout ways – the threat of loneliness, his fears that all this will crumble. He finishes the letter and seals it in an envelope, planning to post it once he feels capable of leaving the house.
By midday, he’s sitting at the kitchen table in the middle of a heated staring contest with a bottle of wine (and losing) when there’s a knock at the door. He ignores it. The knock comes again, then, oddly, seems to redouble, as if his visitor is knocking at the door with both fists. He hears the distant strain of voices through the wood.
“Aaron, open this damn door--”
Burr gets up and trudges to the door, swings it open before flinching back reflexively at the raised fist, Theodosia standing there, ready to knock again, Theo perched on her hip and Mary Louisa at her side, hands on her own hips.
“Sorry,” he mumbles, “come in.”
Mary Louisa darts in before he even finishes the sentence, makes herself at home in his one of his parlor chairs. Theodosia follows, tipping the baby into Mary Louisa’s arms before turning to Burr and greeting him with a kiss on the cheek.
“Alex asked me to check in on you,” she says, voice low, “said you might be in a mood and could use some distraction.”
“So you brought the family,” he says.
“What’s more distracting than a baby and a nine year old?”
As if on cue, Mary Lousia’s shout fills up the room.
“Mooooom, Theo needs changing, ew--”
Theodosia grabs the baby back, hustles her out of the room, bag over her shoulder. Burr sits across from Mary Louisa, who’s watching him intently. The lull doesn’t last long.
“Mom says Mr. Hamilton left,” she says, idly kicking her feet, toes scraping at the floor.
“This morning, yes.”
“Where’d he go?”
“He had a big, important meeting.”
“Why didn’t you go?”
“I wasn’t invited.”
“Do you miss him yet?”
He feels a hand on his shoulder, and then, without asking, Theo is put in his lap. It’s his first time holding the baby, and though he’s more comfortable with babies thanks to his time with Sally and little Aaron, it still feels strange, because this one is his. She stares at him with those eyes that mirror his, then begins to babble a string of nonsense, grabbing at his shirt with small, chubby fists.
“She likes you,” Mary Louisa says, “she only talks when she’s happy.”
Burr smiles, and lets Theo’s fist wrap around his finger.
They stay most of the afternoon, talking and playing a game Mary Louisa invented, one with complex and constantly fluctuating rules that always seem to be in her favor, before Theodosia rises.
“I promised Isaac we’d be home before dark,” she says, as Burr hands Theo back to her, his arms feeling strangely empty without the girl in them. She looks at Burr then, that same unwavering gaze that could bring men to their knees.
“Stay busy. Go to work. Come visit. We’ll come over. Don’t wallow. The time will pass, Aaron, I promise. Take it from someone who’s used to people leaving.”
Burr flinches. Yes, she would know better than most, wouldn’t she?
“Thanks, Theo,” he says, “for everything. And…I’m sorry. That I left.”
She sighs, and softens, though he can still feel the barbs in his skin.
“I wasn’t trying to shame you. Just saying I know what it’s like. And that you’ll be okay. And hey, it’s only a few months, right?”
There it is again, that mantra. Instead of replying, Burr smiles, and kisses all three of them on the cheek in turn.
“Thank you,” he says to Theodosia, “really, thank you.”
“Anytime,” she says, “dinner Friday?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
The house is achingly quiet in their absence, and seems too large, as if it had grown without Burr noticing. But he does feel better, because one day has passed, and with it, the proof that he can survive one day, at least. He wonders what Hamilton’s doing now, if he’s still in the coach, or if it’s stopped for the night. He imagines Hamilton in some small inn, writing by candlelight; shadows flickering over his face in a way that’s always made him look almost otherworldly. Burr closes his eyes and sends a message to that imaginary Hamilton, as if sheer will could project his thoughts into the other man’s mind.
He changes into his nightclothes, and when he flops down on to the mattress the bed seems far too large. He remembers the weeks after returning when he’d slept alone, how restless he’d been, and feels much the same way now – worse, perhaps, because he’d grown accustomed not only to Hamilton’s presence and warmth, but to kissing him goodnight, to touching him in the predawn hours, a hand splayed for a moment against his back. It had been grounding, to find that solidity in the middle of the night, reminding Burr he wasn’t alone, that whatever dream or nightmare had woken him had been nothing but fiction.
Tonight, there is only empty mattress, and even as Burr lays with his limbs spread, trying to take as much space as possible, it still doesn’t feel like enough. His thoughts drift back to that morning, the last few moments before the coach had arrived. It hadn’t been enough, he’d wanted a longer goodbye with Hamilton, wanted to kiss him, touch him –
Tell him he loved him.
For everything they shared and said and did, neither one had said I love you. Burr had waited for Hamilton to say it, but he hadn’t, though his affections had always suggested as much. Burr had meant to say it, to tip his hand, because the words filled his throat so readily whenever he looked at Hamilton it felt nearly impossible not to say it.
But he hadn’t, had he?
The moment had slipped between his fingers, like water, all those chances gone, and now Hamilton’s in an inn somewhere and Burr hasn’t told him he loves him. He wonders if it would matter, or change anything.
Oh well. There will be time, when Hamilton returns. Assuming his feelings don’t change. Assuming he returns at all, and isn’t swept up into more political affairs. Assuming.
It’s only a few months.