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Wonders Great and Small

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Time, as a concept, lost a lot, if not all, of its meaning. As he drifted in and out, time did pass, not that he himself seemed to age at all. It was only the world that seemed to change and grow old around him. The world that had no place for a battered old soldier who never made it out of the war - and yet there was nowhere else he could go. Those around him grew up and grew old; creases appeared around once youthful eyes, threads of silver lined the dark hair now worn loose over the shoulders rather than being hastily tied back before a battle. But there were no battles now, at least not the kind he was accustomed to. The old uniforms were stashed in the back of closets, folded neatly into drawers, boots polished and lined by the door, guns mounted with pride above the fireplace. He supposed his own musket had been buried with him, or else it was abandoned on that battleground. Maybe it had just fallen like he'd just fallen and it had been left there after he'd been dragged away. It was no matter. The war was won. The war had already been won when he'd fallen - long before that.

He couldn't see himself, caught no glimpse of a reflection in a looking glass. If he stretched out his arms, he could make out the sleeves of his army uniform, the once bright blue dulled and the brass buttons tarnished. If he looked the right way, craned his neck at an awkward angle, he could just about discern the dark stain that spread across his side, no matter how much he tried to scrub it away or cover it somehow. He knew, without knowing how he knew, that he had no more blood to give, but the stain wouldn't go away. He still had a voice, though nobody else could hear it. So many times - was it many? - he yelled himself hoarse, shouting the most inane things at the top of his lungs, willing someone, anyone, to hear him. They never did. He stood in rooms where people walked through him. He stared straight into the eyes of those he'd loved most and they stared blankly back, like he wasn't there at all. Because he wasn't. Not really. Nobody could see him until one day, quite suddenly, somebody could.

He wasn't sure of the semantics of the situation, what or who governed what he could or couldn't do, where he could or couldn't go. It was something he had no choice but to accept even without understanding. At first he'd looked around hopefully for some sign of his mother or his little brother, once he'd established that he was, in fact, no longer alive. He hadn't found them. He'd caught a brief, passing glimpse of the rest of the family, huddled together, mourning at his funeral. He'd tried to touch them, to dry his sister's tears, to tell them that, yes, he was gone, but he was still here too. They hadn't heard him, and his father looked quite as broken down as when James had died, and that had startled him. Then he was gone, and he couldn't go back, no matter how hard he tried.

He thought about little Frances back in England or wherever she was, now that Martha was gone too and wondered, regretfully, how she would manage without the money he used to send every month. Had anyone even told her and would she even care? He was nothing to Frances, really, her father in name and nothing more. If ever she heard his story, she would have no reason or fond inclination to tell it. So he couldn't go back to South Carolina to his family, or England to his child. He couldn't follow the Marquis to France, or see his other soldier associates. He couldn't return to the battlefield where, by all accounts, he should have met his Maker. Couldn't meet said Maker either. Couldn't go to the supposed pearly gates where, as a heartbroken child, he'd been told his mother had gone. Couldn't descend to the fiery pits of the underworld where, he'd always had the fear, he might end up for all his transgressions.

Unless Hell wasn't the fire and brimstone he'd been taught about. Hell might have been being stuck here, watching forever but never being seen, shouting but never being heard, staying the same even as all his old friends and contemporaries moved on with their lives. Was this some kind of penance for all he'd done, all he hadn't done, all he'd thought about? To wander the halls of a house he'd never frequented in his lifetime, to bear witness to the kind of life he'd never had, but might have had should things have turned out differently. After all, how many times had he lain awake, his heart hammering wildly, looked all around and wished to stay in that moment forever? There were merciless, cruel, unforgiving winter nights, the war raging all around them, bullets flying over their heads - and he had the absolute time of his life. He'd longed to be able to stay in that moment for all of his days with his Alexander by his side, when everything was uncertain but made all the sense imaginable. When the world turned upside down, but finally seemed the right way up.

Well, he had his wish. He could stand at the back of Alexander's chair with the other man hunched over his desk, writing furiously. It was a familiar position to adopt, but now he could offer no suggestion, couldn't take over when Alexander's hand grew too cramped, couldn't take the pen and insist that enough was enough. He tried to do all these things, but his hands had no purchase and passed straight through everything like the insubstantial, non existent thing he was. Instead he stood in the small study, reading over Eliza Hamilton's shoulder as she read aloud the announcement of his own death. He watched, from behind, as Alexander's shoulders immediately stiffened, his grip on the pen so tight it nearly snapped in half. He watched the concern on Eliza's face, heard the genuine sadness in her voice even though they'd only met a handful of times. He longed to have his voice heard, to make his presence known, to let them know that he was here, but he wasn't really there. Not to them.

Until the little child in Eliza's arms, peeking over his mother's shoulder, looked him right in the eye.

He had a more solid way to measure the passing time now as the little baby grew into a little boy, but remained the only one ever to acknowledge him. It started off small, so small in fact that he couldn't be quite sure if that first time was just a fluke, or a trick of the light. The boy's bright eyes followed him round the room, small hands outstretched towards him, head cocked to the side as though trying to work the whole thing out. Children had a peculiar intuition, he remembered from his own siblings, and this little one seemed to understand something of the situation. He seemed to know that he was the only one able to see this strange, flickering person who was sometimes there and sometimes not. Neither of them knew where he went when he wasn't there, but that was no matter. When he was there, the little boy's face lit up and he smiled, but then he was always smiling and laughing anyway.

He sat on the edge of his bed one day, little legs swinging, and finally spoke to him for the first time. He couldn't be any older than four, a little person all of his own, asking his parents a hundred questions a day. Never about him though. That matter he took into his own two small hands.

"What's your name?"

"John."

He answered right away. It had been so long since he'd had to introduce himself to anyone, since anyone had spoken directly to him and he'd been able to respond.

"Oh. My name's Pip!"

The other children couldn't see him. He tried time and time again - and again, because Alexander and Eliza did seem determined to populate this new nation all by themselves - but to no avail. John wasn't sure if Philip was annoyed at this revelation, or secretly pleased that he got to keep something all to himself. He rather suspected it was the latter.

John still never knew where he went when he wasn't with Philip. He never knew that he'd gone at all until Philip appeared in front of him, missing both his front teeth now, cheerfully informing him that it had been weeks, and Mama had the new baby and he was called James, and isn't that a nice name for a little brother, John? He never felt like he was doing all that much but Philip delighted in the company and sometimes John himself would get so caught up in the moment, listening to Philip's rhymes and watching him play with his little army figures. He would forget, always for an all too brief moment, the circumstances that led him to this point. Until Alexander or Eliza or one of the other children came into the room, walking right through his cross legged figure on the floor, and he'd remember again. And again and again.

At boarding school, Philip sat on the edge of his new bed, swinging his legs like he always did, long after all the other children had gone to sleep. He was nervous about starting school, so he talked and he asked questions. That, at least, was something John could help with.

"You never seem to get any older, John," he said thoughtfully.

"No?"

"No," Philip said slowly. "Do you have a birthday? You're supposed to get older every year on your birthday. I just had mine."

"I remember. You just turned nine."

"That rhymes! John, you're a poet!"

"And I didn't even know it."

Philip was a bright boy, the perfect culmination of his mother and father, and it didn't take long for him to start asking more questions, questioning everything that anyone else might have accepted as simply strange fact beyond their understanding.

"John?" He asked one day, looking up from his desk where he was supposed to be doing his school work. "Did you die?"

Death was a foreign, unimaginable concept in Philip's sheltered little life. He wasn't like his father, or John himself, in that respect.

"Why do you ask?"

Philip gestured with his pen towards the dark stain on John's jacket.

"Oh."

"Papa has a uniform like that," Philip commented. "From the war. His is clean though. He doesn't wear it anymore."

"Yes, well, the war's over."

"Did you know Papa? Before now, I mean."

"I did, yes."

Philip sat up straight, abandoning the attempt at his school work. "You did? Were you friends?'

"The best of friends," he said softly. It was the best answer he could give.

"Really?" Philip's jaw quite literally dropped and it might have looked comical under any other circumstance.

"Really."

"He never talks about you."

John smiled, a little sadly, a little nostalgically. "No, I don't imagine he would. It was a long time ago, after all."

"How did you die?" Philip asked, then immediately seemed to regret asking. "Sorry - was that rude? I didn't mean...you don't have to..." he trailed off, looking embarrassed.

"It's fine to be curious," John reassured him. "It was a war, Pip. People died for what they believed in, so children like you could grow up in a free country. That's what we were fighting for, really. Freedom."

He neglected to mention that he died after the war officially ended in a petty little skirmish that wasn't about freedom at all. That his death meant nothing. Philip didn't need to know that, at least not now.

But that one admission seemed to open the floodgates in Philip's mind and he wanted to know anything and everything about the war. He asked his father, John standing awkwardly in the doorway, and then asked John to fill in the blanks. To Philip, the war was far away and exciting, full of dashing heroes like his father, as inconsequential as the games he set up with his little army figures. John could have impressed upon him the harsh winter nights at Valley Forge, the way the sunlight hit the enemy's bayonet, the feeling of a bullet coming so close it could kill you. The feeling of a bullet piercing right through the side and having the whole world pulled out from beneath him. But he didn't.

Instead he told Philip stories about his father and his friends. His favourite was the one about John and his father challenging the outspoken General Lee over the accusations he flung at General Washington. President Washington, as Philip gently corrected.

"And you shot him?" Philip exclaimed before casting a wary look towards the door. His mother and father, of course, were under the impression that he was asleep in bed.

John nodded and when Philip nearly rolled off the bed in his excitement, he realised that perhaps he should have saved that particular anecdote for a later date. "Yes, but he made a full recovery and it was a war, Pip, and - "

"But you and Papa were in a duel!"

"Well, yes, I suppose we were," John conceded.

The summer arrived as it always did, bringing with it the ninth year since John met what he thought would be his end, and the ninth year that Alexander chose to stay cooped up in his office and let the family go on without him. John remembered the frenzied, wide eyed look well, and the perpetually ink stained hands. Eliza entreated him, and the children implored him, and if it would have made any difference, John would have joined in. The pattern continued throughout the intervening years. If he had any sort of earthly purchase, John would have taken up his familiar position standing over the desk and told Alexander exactly what he thought. He might have said that the war was over and this was precisely what they'd been fighting for all those years ago.

John envied Alexander in a lot of ways. He got to work to work on building the new nation they'd all fought for, got to act as a monumental, leading figure whereas the best John could hope for was to be a forgotten footnote in history. Alexander got to do all the things they'd talked about in camp, push their idealised agendas, build the nation exactly the way they always dreamed. Even more, though, he envied Alexander the life he'd made for himself. It wasn't a life John ever could have imagined for himself, or even achieved, but the sentiments remained. He sometimes pictured himself as a real, frequent visitor to the Hamilton household, getting to know the rest of the children, properly speaking with Eliza beyond the perfunctory ballroom small talk. Conversing with his very dearest friend and not having Alexander's eyes slide right past him.

Sometimes he wondered if the whole point of his strange existence was just to torment him. It had been years now, and the pearly gates or fiery pit were just as elusive as they'd ever been. He was used to his lot in life, or death, but it was lonely. Lonely and frustrating and increasingly so. If it weren't for Philip and whatever loophole that permitted them to interact, John often thought he would have gone mad. Mad, itself, was a relative term of course. Perhaps this was all just some extensive illusion inside his head as he lay dying on that insignificant battleground. He might never know, but that didn't particularly matter.

The next time he saw Philip, John realised at once that this had been the longest time between visits yet. The young man perched on the edge of the bed was precisely that - a young man and not the little boy he remembered. It must have been a couple of years at least. He retained his old, childhood habit of swinging his legs though, even as he sat hunched over, reading. So intent was he upon his task, he didn't even notice that John had joined him in the room.

"What are you reading?'

Philip jumped, whatever he was reading clutched tightly in white knuckled fists, and looked up at the intrusion. He had to be around fifteen, John surmised, with his longer hair and gangly limbs he hadn't quite grown into yet. That paled into insignificance, however, when he realised the obvious. Philip was crying.

"Oh. Hello, John," Philip said quietly, roughly dragging the back of his hand across his eyes.

"What's wrong?" John asked urgently. "Philip? What happened? Is everyone -"

"Mama had the new baby," Philip said flatly. John's heart, if that were even possible, sank. He remembered this happening too often in his own childhood, but if anything bad had happened to Eliza or the children, he knew it would be a devastating blow. "He's called William, isn't that a nice name, John?"

"Of course," John said gently, waiting to gauge his reaction and see what was coming next. At that moment, there came the unmistakable sounds of a young baby from downstairs. So little William was fine. That was something, at least. "Pip, you're starting to worry me."

In response, Philip held out the crumpled papers he'd been reading. John glanced over his shoulder, confused, and read the line that jumped out at him right away.

"My real crime is an amorous connection with his wife for a considerable time..." he trailed off, confused. "I don't -"

Wordlessly, Philip pointed out the title of the piece, in neatly ordered letters so plain there could be no mistake.

The Charge of Speculation against Alexander Hamilton is Fully Refuted. Written by Himself.

Oh. Oh, Alexander.

"For a year," Philip continued, his speech flat and disjointed. "A year. That's what it - he - said. A year. Here in the house. Sometimes. And Ma didn't - she didn't know and she read it, and now everybody knows. We didn't know. But now we do." He finished quietly, his eyes fixed firmly on the floor.

"Philip, where's your mother?' John asked quickly.

"Downstairs with Aunt Angelica."

Good. That was probably for the best. God. Poor Eliza. Poor, poor Eliza.

"The boys are too little to understand - but they must know something is wrong. And Angie - but I made her promise not to read it."

"Good man. And your father?"

Philip gave an odd, jerkily little noise halfway between a laugh and a sob. "At his office. As usual."

They sat in silence for a while, the only sound Angelica's voice floating up through the floorboards. It was Philip who spoke first, his eyes still cast downward.

"Why would he do it?" He asked quietly. "You knew him. Back then. Why would he do it?'

'That was a long time ago," he said slowly, wondering just what he was supposed to say. Alexander was the boy's idol, the one he looked up to and emulated more than anybody else in the world. There was a time when John would have gone to the ends of the earth on Alexander's behalf. Would have gladly given his life to defend Alexander - and nearly had on more than one occasion. He was reluctant to admit that some part of him always would, metaphorically speaking, since he didn't really have a life to give anymore.

But this - this whole situation was something different entirely. This wasn't in the midst of a war with everyone running on high emotions and no disregard for a tomorrow they didn't think they'd get to see. Alexander had a tomorrow now, had decades worth of tomorrows, had people who needed him and looked up to him. And he'd thrown it all away - and written it all down for the whole damned world to read and laugh about. John could believe it of the man. He didn't want to, but he did. If his reputation was at stake, there was probably nothing he wouldn't do. It was just a pity Eliza and the children would be the ones suffering the consequences. It beggared belief how such an intelligent man could be so stupid. But then again, John himself wasn't exactly known for thinking rationally before charging head first into cataclysmically bad decisions.

Still.

He didn't know what he was supposed to do for the best, but he stayed. John didn't know if that was his choice, or the work of whatever strange forces had brought him here in the first place, but he was glad of it. He only wished he could do more.

Especially when Philip got sick.

It all happened so quickly, they were powerless to stop it. The sickness seemed to settle practically overnight, and Philip grew feverish, his eyes wide and glassy, unable to focus on anything. John hovered uncertainly at the beside, listening anxiously to what the doctor had to say. Dangerously ill. Best to have the other children stay elsewhere. In all likelihood, he won't make it through the night. He watched Eliza grow almost as pale as Philip, all the colour draining from her face, holding her son's hand in both of hers. John wished he could be of more use. If he'd been alive or real or whatever he needed to be, he could have taken care of the children, given Eliza one less thing to worry about. He could have sprinted to find another doctor, a better doctor, a doctor who was actually competent, rather than this idiot who seemed convinced that there was nothing he could do. Better still, he could have marched straight to wherever the hell Alexander was now, and dragged him back with his teeth if he had to, because his son was dying and there was nothing the doctor could do.

As it was, Angelica took the children, and the doctor remained adamant that he'd done all he could, and sent an urgent messenger to Alexander to come at once. It was only John, standing unseen as always, who heard the doctor's added whisper to the messenger that Mr Hamilton should come immediately if he wished to see his son one last time before he died.

As the long night wore on, the doctor sent Eliza from the room, explaining that the scene would be too distressing for her to witness. She fought against him, and John fought too, though of course he could do no good. He yelled, as Eliza cried, that Philip shouldn't be left on his on. But he wasn't alone. John could only watch, helpless as ever, as Eliza shut the door behind her, the sounds of her sobs echoing the whole way down the hall. The doctor packed up his things, with the air of one waiting for the inevitable. Alexander wasn't there. Philip himself lay utterly still on the bed, wide eyes travelling all around the room and seeing nothing, his hands already neatly folded on his chest. Waiting for the inevitable.

It wasn't fair. He was fifteen years old, for crying out loud. He hadn't even done anything yet, and he had such big plans for the future too. And there was John thinking twenty seven was too young to die.

"It's going to be fine," he said quietly, wondering if Philip could even hear him or if he was too far gone. "You're going to be just fine. Don't be scared."

Philip's eyes caught his for the briefest of seconds and then he was gone again. "Just hold on until your father gets here," he whispered, wishing he could emulate Eliza and try to cool Philip's burning forehead or hold his hand or something. Anything to comfort a dying boy until someone who could do it properly got there. "I'm here. I'll stay right here. Just hold on and let your father see you. You can do that, Pip, I know you can. Just you wait here with me."

Philip looked like he was trying to speak, but couldn't quite form the words. So they sat in silence together, but that didn't matter because Alexander came bursting into the room. He made it in time.

John hadn't gotten a proper look at him in a long time, but he sprang into action just like the Alexander of old. He seemed to have the entire situation assessed in five seconds flat - and the solution worked out in ten, barking orders at the doctor, calling for Eliza. Anyone would think he wasn't ruffled in the slightest. Alexander Hamilton, always the man with the plan. Only John, stood right beside him for the first time in what felt like forever, could see the almost violent trembling of his hands, the uncharacteristic sheen in his eyes, how he held onto Philip's hand perhaps a shade too tight for comfort.

When Philip's fever finally broke sometime the next morning, the boy himself simply shifted a little in bed, his tangled hair plastered to his forehead, and slept peacefully. He was entirely unaware of just how close he'd been to death only hours and even moments before. That horror was exclusive to his parents, and John himself, who hadn't moved all night. Now he watched as Alexander and Eliza covered their son's hand with their own, completely silent but for the sounds of Philip's slow, deep breathing. For all concerned, it was the sweetest sound imaginable, given how close they'd come to losing it, and him, forever.

It was perhaps regrettable that such an event had to occur to bring the unravelling family back to the tight knit little unit John had first encountered all those years before. Still. Philip was going to be fine, safe in his parents' arms, Eliza resting her head on her husband's shoulder, Alexander seemingly reminded of his place within the family. When the rest of the children came home, everything would slot back into its rightful place. Everything, it seemed, was going right and even John was smiling in a way he hadn't done since Philip was little, back before any of this had happened.

John didn't see Philip again until he was nineteen.

Chapter Text

When he did see Philip again, John barely recognised him, and could hardly get a good enough look at him. He wasn't in his bedroom, or at boarding school. In fact, he looked too old for school, maybe even college too. They were practically the same height now, able to look each other in the eye properly for the first time. Or at least they would if Philip would just slow down.

"Philip?" John asked at once, hurrying alongside him, wherever they were going. "What's happening?"

"Oh. Hello, John."

Philip didn't flinch or spare him more than a brief glance. His voice was deeper now, his once spindly arms and legs finally filled out - not even just a young man now, but a proper man. A man on a mission by the looks of him. Clearly something was going on and that old familiar unease was slowly beginning to settle over John. It could only have been four years at the most; just what the hell had happened? It had all looked well the last he'd been aware, the darkness finally beginning to clear and the light beginning to shine once more.

"Where are you going?"

"Nowhere. It doesn't matter."

John was about to respond that clearly he was going somewhere and clearly it did matter if the speed of Philip's movements was anything to go by. Then he noticed what Philip was unsuccessfully trying to conceal under the cloak thrown over his arm, and all other thoughts instantly vacated his mind.

"Philip? Why the hell have you got two pistols there?"

Philip didn't answer, his eyes only widening and his grip around the guns' handles tightening so much that it had to hurt.

"Philip?" John prompted. He reached out a hand as though he could stop him, as though he'd been able to make any sort of difference for the past nineteen years. "Philip, listen, whatever you're planning, whatever you're thinking, just stop for a minute. Just stop for a moment, take a deep breath and tell me what the hell is going on. Where did you even get those guns?"

"Pa," Philip muttered. "He gave them to me."

John stopped in his tracks, feeling as though the whole world had just been tugged out from beneath him. "I - what?" He spluttered, completely wrong footed. "Pip, for the love of God, just stop -"

"I can't!" Philip burst out, apparently indifferent to the wary looks being thrown his way by confused passers by. "I can't, John, I can't, because I'll be late and Eacker will think I've forfeited and then it all will have been for nothing -"

"Philip," John said quietly, fighting hard to keep his voice calm and steady. "Philip, please tell me you haven't...you haven't gotten yourself involved in a...in a duel, have you?"

He couldn't have. This wasn't supposed to happen anymore. Not to Philip.

Philip didn't answer.

"Philip!" John all but exploded. "What the hell are you thinking?"

"You weren't there, John!" Philip whispered out of the corner of his mouth. "You weren't there, you didn't hear him, the things he said about Pa. All these horrible things, things that weren't true, and he just said all these things for everyone to hear and believe!" His voice rose, edging towards hysteria. "And after everything that happened, I knew I had to do something. Otherwise Pa would. After it all, he still would, and that's not fair, because Ma...Ma hasn't been well and John, our John, was sick. And then Aunt Peggy -- Aunt Peggy got ill and then," his voice wobbled. "And then she died."

"Jesus. Jesus, Pip, I'm sorry."

Philip nodded grimly, his jaw set. "Ma can't take another heartbreak. So I'm going to make it right."

"Pip -"

"Philip," he corrected at once. "I'm not a child, John."

"Philip. I understand. Believe me, I understand, but this is not the way to sort things!"

Philip laughed at that, a choked off, jerky little noise that might just have easily been a sob. "You're one to talk, John."

"Exactly, and look how well that turned out. You don't think, you rush in like an idiot and you end up in a wooden box in the ground. I know how this story ends. And it never ends well."

Philip bit his lip so hard that a little bead of blood appeared. "That was the war," he said shakily, uncertainty and doubt creeping into every word. "It was different then. This is -- it's not like that."

If ever there was a time when it was prudent to tell the story he'd kept to himself for nineteen years, then this was it.

"When I died, the war was already over," he said softly.

Philip stopped dead in his tracks, finally turning to look at him for the first time. "What?"

John nodded, attempting a little smile he couldn't quite achieve. "It was already over. Everyone else had packed up and gone home. Your father had gone back to New York, back to you and your mother. You would have been only a few months old. Everyone had gone home. The war was over. We'd won. The British were retreating, but a couple of them -- there was a skirmish. A petty little fight. So I led the charge. I rushed in, thinking of nothing but the glory, about the cause we'd fought for. It had no sooner begun when..." He trailed off, his eyes and Philip's instantly drawn to the dark stain on his jacket. "And I was lying there, in the dirt, my men fighting all around me, and I realised how pointless it was. How stupid and useless and meaningless it was. I could have done things, you know? Your father wanted me to go to Congress with him. My father wanted me back down south with him. If I'd died at the height of the war, defending one of my friends, fighting for what I believed in, that would have been better. I think. But, as I said, the war was over. And then, without rhyme or reason, I was in your father's study, and you looked at me."

"I'm sorry, John."

"Well, it's not your fault, is it?" John sighed. "Not your fault at all."

Without John realising it, Philip had taken up his frantic pace once more. He had made his way to the docks at the Hudson, and John had, of course, followed him.

"Everything is legal in New Jersey," he offered by way of explanation.

"You don't have to do this," John said quietly.

Philip looked physically ill but when he spoke, his voice held firm and steady. "I have to John. I just have to."

"Philip -"

"It will be fine," Philip cut in quickly, and John wasn't sure who he was trying to reassure. He kept up the mantra the whole way across the river, muttering fervently under his breath and earning sympathetic looks from his second and the doctor. The same doctor, John grimly noted, who'd almost let Philip die when he was fifteen.

Philip practically stumbled off the boat, his knees knocking together as the grim little procession made its somber way up to the duelling ground, Philip, and thereby John, bringing up the rear.

"We can just turn around and go home, you know," John whispered.

"I'm not going to shoot him, John," Philip said quietly, his eyes fixed on the borrowed guns.

The admission momentarily wrong-footed John. He wasn't sure if he was relieved or even more worried. "You're not?"

Philip shook his head, murmuring almost inaudible so nobody else would hear. "No. Pa told me to throw away my shot. I didn't want to hurt him anyway. And then Pa said Eacker will throw his away too, and the whole affair will be over."

John frowned. He didn't like this situation, not at all. While the idea of Philip, the sweet and caring boy he'd watched grow up, firing a gun was enough to repulse him, he had to admit, he didn't much relish the alternative. Whatever Alexander had said, Philip's opponent didn't look particularly honourable. Who was to say that he really would follow suit and waste his fire? He thought of Philip standing there, a child with his his father's gun, and couldn't imagine anything worse. But he wasn't the boy's father, if anything he was some sort of glorified imaginary friend with no power to influence or sway the situation in any way.

He stood right beside Philip as the order of proceedings began to play out, familiar but alien all at once, because this wasn't supposed to happen anymore. John remembered standing on the duelling ground himself, a pistol he was all to comfortable with pointed straight at one Charles Lee. He'd had Alexander by his side, the two of them almost painfully eager and excited to make the outspoken General pay for his slanderous words. Then he looked at Philip, so pale he was practically grey against his white shirt, the pistol clutched in shaking, inexperienced hands. He was only a few years younger than Alexander had been then, yet he still seemed like a child. A child who hadn't spent years on the battleground, because he didn't have to, because they'd worked to make the world free and safe precisely for him.

"You will stay, won't you?" Philip asked suddenly, glancing frantically towards him as he took the required first pace back.

One.

"Of course," John answered at once, moving alongside him.

Two.

"Thank you."

Three.

"Anytime, Pip, though preferably you won't get yourself into another situation like this."

Four.

"Agreed," Philip attempted a smile that fell drastically short of reaching his eyes.

Five.

"If I weren't already dead, you would have put me in an early grave," John joked, trying desperately to keep the situation as light as was possible. Philip looked about a hair's breadth away from sinking into a dead faint. He didn't need to know that John hadn't felt fear like this in years, not since he'd been alive and realised, a split second before it happened, that the redcoat's aim had hit its mark.

Six.

"John, I'm scared," Philip finally admitted.

"I know," John said quietly, "but it'll be fine. I'm right here and it'll be fine."

"Promise?"

"I -"
Seven.

And suddenly, John knew what was going to happen before it did. He could practically see the bullet leaving Eacker's gun, see it travelling through the air -- and he was powerless to stop it. Never, in the nineteen years since his death, had he regretted his insubstantial existence more. John threw himself into the bullet's path, praying to a God who'd never listened to him before, that he could be its target instead. But God clearly wasn't about to start listening now. It went straight through him, bringing none of the pain he remembered all too well. He couldn't stop it, couldn't do anything, he'd never done anything, and Philip was going to get shot and there was nothing he could do. The only thing he had was his voice, and the only person who could hear him was --

"Philip!" It was the only thing he could think to do, if he could just get Philip's attention and get him to safety, then maybe, just maybe, this could still end well. "Philip! Get out of the way!"

Philip heard him, head snapping to the source of the noise -- just as the bullet found its mark, right in his side.

He stood still for a fraction of a second, borrowed gun still pointed skywards, eyes slowly wide ring in horror and realisations, before the pistol clattered to the ground, and his knees gave way. John was on his side in an instant, and even though he knew only too well that he couldn't do anything, he tried to catch Philip, to apply pressure to the wound -- the wounds, the bullet carried on through to his arm -- to try and staunch the blood. Christ. There was so much blood. It was like being back on the battlefield, like standing over the crumpled body of a redcoat, with a gun in his hand, taking stock of another hard earned victory.

But this wasn't a battlefield, and this wasn't a nameless, faceless redcoat. This was Philip. His best friend's child. Hell, his own and only friend for the past nineteen years. And this wasn't supposed to happen.

"Oh God, oh God, Pip, it'll be fine, you're going to be alright, you're going to be fine." John knew he was rambling, but what else could he do? His hands passed right through Philip's, but their eyes locked together.

"John?" Philip gasped, his voice already strained and barely recognisable. "John -- I -- he...he got me."

"He's already delusional," someone, the doctor presumably, muttered. "We have to get him back across the river if he is to have any hope of surviving."

"You're not going to die," John said quickly. "You're going to be just fine. I'll stay right here and you're going to be fine."

It was a horrible repetition of Philip's sickbed four years before, but for the dark stain spreading too quickly, much too quickly, across his shirt, and his broken arm lying uselessly by his side. John had never told Philip what it was like to be shot in the side, to be knocked clean off his feet, to fell the bullet worming its sorry way through his insides, wrecking havoc as it went. He didn't have to now.

Philip was remarkably quiet, his eyes at half mast so often that John was terrified he'd already slipped away. But he couldn't, Philip couldn't die, it just wasn't fair. He kept up a furious litany of reassurances as they carried Philip away, back towards the boat and back towards the city.

"Stay awake, do you hear me? Pip, you have to stay awake, please just stay awake. You can do that, can't you? I know you can. Just hold on for your mother and father. They'll be here soon, and I'll stay with you the whole time."

"John?"

Philip's second and his surgeon exchanged anxious looks, clearly believing he was delusional and hallucinating, but John leaned in close, knowing the words were meant for him alone.

"John -- it hurts -- it didn't -- I didn't mean --"

"I know. God, Philip, I know."

He stayed by Philip's side the entire time, hovering anxiously and unhelpfully on the sidelines as the boat finally hit the shore. They pulled Philip out, neglecting to be careful in their haste. Philip's second -- John never caught the boy's name -- accidentally jostled his side, where the blood was wettest and darkest. Philip let out a single scream that seemed to pierce the very air around them before promptly falling silent and still in their arms.

John was suddenly struck by the horrible thought that Alexander and Eliza weren't going to get there in time. They weren't going to say goodbye and Philip was going to die all by himself...because Philip was going to die. John knew it for certain, knew it just as he'd known in the moment, that he was going to die himself. There was too much blood. Philip was too pale. The doctor was already talking about dangerous infections setting in. Nothing more could be done. But he wouldn't be entirely alone, no matter what happened. John suddenly and fiercely decided the fact, running alongside Philip as the doctor hastened his own pace. John might come in as a very poor second to the boy's parents, but he would stay. He'd stay as long as he needed to so Philip would never have to be alone. He knew what it was to die alone, to be left to gasp out his last breath by himself, unnoticed by the fight continuing on without him.

John wondered if this was the real reason he'd had to stay behind, if this was the explanation for the most mysterious question he'd ever encountered. He didn't exactly like that idea because it implied that Philip was always going to die, that he was never going to have the grand future his parents had envisioned for him, and that he'd worked so hard to achieve. But if John could help in any way to ease the boy in potentially his last moments, then he would take the chance with both hands. Hell, if John had a life to give, he would trade it for Philip's without any hesitation at all. Somewhere in the nineteen years, Philip had ceased to be simply the son of his dearest friend, a pseudo nephew like figure had he been alive. Instead, he had become more like a friend himself and, quite honestly, probably the person John now cared for most in the world.

And he was going to die.

They were met at the door by Angelica Schuyler, who looked just as dignified as John ever remembered her. He remembered her taking command of more than one ballroom in her time, his fellow soldiers practically falling at her feet in desperate efforts to win her favour. None of them ever did with the exception, perhaps, of one Alexander Hamilton himself. Angelica looked just as composed now, her practically legendary countenance never faltering as she directed the sorry little party into her home. Only John noticed how her guard was dropped for the slightest of seconds once they'd disappeared into one of her bedrooms. Only he saw how her bottom lip trembled, how her eyes suddenly shone before she pulled herself together and called for her husband, and her own son presumably, to fetch Alexander and Eliza.

John stood at the head of the bed as the doctor carried out his work, murmuring to Philip the entire time, sharing funny little stories he remembered from Philip's younger days and fond memories of his own and above all, his unrelenting litany of reassurances. Stay awake. Stay alive.

Alexander came flying into the room, the hurricane of wild and manic energy he always was -- but immediately stopped dead in his tracks in the doorway. All the colour drained from his face and he practically swayed where he stood. If John had thought he could do any good, he would have pushed a chair beneath him before his knees gave way too, but as it was, he stayed by Philip. If it were possible for someone who wasn't even alive to have a heart, John was certain his was currently breaking for his dearest friend, and the boy currently bleeding out on the bed.

Eliza followed not long after, and John finally had to look away, to give the little family their privacy. It was a moment exclusively for the three of them, for a heartbroken mother and father to say goodbye to a beloved son. He turned away, staring at the wall, but he couldn't block out the sounds; Eliza was crying so hard she could scarcely draw breath, Alexander's voice was shaking and was barely coherent and above it all, John could just make out Philip's thin little voice, sounding most unlike himself, offering apologies over and over again.

"Ma, I'm so sorry -- I'm so sorry -- I didn't mean -- I was aiming for the sky." His words tripped over themselves, his speech hoarse and faraway, and every time, his parents hastily reassured him that there was no need for apologies, that it wasn't his fault, that he'd done everything just right.

Facing the wall, John felt a deep and burning shame inside him. He should be the one grovelling on his knees before Alexander and Eliza. He should have fought harder against Philip, made his feelings on the duel abundantly clear, stopped Philip from going to his doom at whatever cost was required. Things never should have turned out this way.

The afternoon dragged into evening, the room turning dark, and still Philip lingered on, held tight in his parents' arms as they lay either side of him on the bed. John stood just beside them, offering help whenever he could, whenever Philip's wide eyes finally fell upon him.

"You've been so brave," he said softly. "So, so brave."

Neither Alexander nor Eliza moved an inch during that long, terrible night. They kept a tight grip on Philip as though they could keep him with them through sheer force of will alone. Philip himself grew increasingly quiet as the time passed on when the pain sent his eyes rolling back in his head and he went limp in his parents' arms. Alexander gripped his hand tighter every time and Eliza kissed his burning forehead, whispering that she loved him, that she was proud of him, that he was going to get better.

John couldn't lie to him. He'd never lied to him before, kept certain truths from him maybe, but never outright lied, and he couldn't start now. He wasn't entirely sure that Philip could even hear him, if he could even comprehend what was being said through the befuddlement of his pain and the medicines the doctor had plied him with. It was worth a shot.

"They're so proud of you," he whispered. "Your mother and father love you so, so much and they're so proud of you. And so am I. God, Pip, I don't know what I would have done without you. I wish, more than anything, this didn't happen. I wish I could have changed things. I'm sorry, Pip, more sorry than you can ever know. I'm so, so sorry."

John couldn't remember the last time he cried, probably back when he was a child himself, before he'd been told that young men didn't cry. He didn't even think it was possible for him to cry now, and yet there he was. Hot tears burned in his eyes and slid down his face, because it wasn't fair and it wasn't right and Philip was dying, right before their eyes. He didn't bother raising a hand to wipe them away. There was no point. Nobody could see him anyway.

It was Eliza who noticed first, with Alexander and John half a second behind. It didn't matter. The fact still remained.

Philip's voice gave out in the middle of the song he always used to sing at the piano with his mother. John remembered it well, remembering Philip hammering it out at the piano before he'd perfected the skill, deliberately changing the notes to make Eliza smile and her only jokingly telling him off. It had never ended like this before with Philip's voice trailing away, ending in a soft little sigh that might have been perceived as peaceful if he'd just been drifting off to sleep and nothing more sinister. Eliza screamed, a sound so visceral and heart wrenching that John knew he would never stop hearing it. Alexander was uncharacteristically silent, his head bowed, hair falling in his eyes, shoulders heaving even as he continued to smooth Philip's tangled hair, as though that could make any difference now.

John stared at Philip himself, at the tear tracks drying on his pale face and his open eyes, gazing upwards at the ceiling like it was so beautiful he couldn't tear his gaze away. How he was totally oblivious to his father's gentle fingers carding through his hair or his mother's hands splayed on his chest, like she could force him to start inhaling again.

Then John felt something he hadn't experienced in almost twenty years.

A hand in his.

He turned to see a boy with a bloodstained shirt, gripping almost painfully tight to his hand, staring straight ahead at his grieving parents.

Chapter Text

John had no clear way to discern the passage of time anymore, not now that Philip was perpetually nineteen, and would never get any older. He would forever be two months shy of his twentieth birthday, however much older his mind grew to be. Forever on the cusp of turning twenty with a bloodstained shirt and a broken arm permanently hanging limp and useless by his side. It wasn't a fate John would wish on his very worst enemy, let alone Philip.

Philip himself was quiet at first, much quieter than John himself had been all those years before, when he'd screamed himself hoarse, begging someone to just listen and answer and acknowledge him. But Philip was silent. John had never liked the silence before, and Philip had never been silent before. It was unnerving, to say the least and did nothing to ease the grief and sorrow and guilt John was sure was currently eating him whole. It was strange to grieve for someone whom he now saw more than he ever had when the boy was alive. John supposed he was grieving for the future Philip might have had, was supposed to have, grieving for the career and the friends and the family he could have grown to have.

He followed Philip, in death as in life, to Trinity Church one rainy morning, and stood beside him, just watching. The Hamiltons, clad in their dark mourning clothes, were huddled together, the younger children held tight in the older ones' arms, Philip's absence growing more conspicuous with every passing moment. Philip himself darted away from John and stood between them, peering at each of his siblings in turn, attempting to touch their hands, dry their tears. John remembered the feeling well.

"Philip?" It was young Angelica who spoke, disrupting the grim quiet of the mourners gathered round the new graveside. "Philip? Where are you?"

"Angie?" Philip finally broke his silence. "Angie, can you hear me?"

It stood to reason that Angelica, Philip's closest sibling in both age and friendship, might be able to see him still. Philip looked almost painfully excited for a fraction of a second before his sister's eyes slid right past him, looking round at the rest of the graveyard. She tugged at her father's sleeve, sounding more like a child than her seventeen or so years.

"Papa? Where's Philip? Where did he go?"

Christ. Alexander might have aged thirty years in just a few days. His face seemed impossibly lined and old, his movements slow and measured, his whole demeanour shaken and uncertain. John suddenly found himself wondering if it was possible to grieve for someone who was still alive. He grieved for the Alexander of old, the hurricane of pent up energy, the man with the plan, the one who could always be counted on to make things better.

"Angelica, my darling, we...we spoke about this. Do you remember?" Even his voice had changed. John remembered a time, not too long ago, when Alexander spoke a mile a minute and his words almost tripped over themselves as he attempted to keep pace with his even faster mind. Now he spoke slowly, like every word cost him the greatest effort imaginable and he didn't know what to say next.

Philip's eyes darted between his father and sister, and John could practically see the panic and desperation beginning to build up in his head. "Angie? Pa?"

"Remember what?" Angelica frowned, her expression exactly mirrored on her brother's face. "Papa, I haven't seen Philip, where did he go? Philip?"

"I'm here!" Philip cut in, voice rising and beginning to waver slightly. "Angie, I'm here! Pa, you can see me, can't you?" He turned back to John, looking at him directly in the eye for the first time in what seemed like forever. "John? You can -- you can still see me, can't you? Please say you can, please."

"Of course," John said immediately.

Philip looked relieved for half a second before his face fell and he glanced frantically back at his family. "They can't hear me. Or see me. Why can't they see me? John, what's happening? Please, John, I don't -- I don't know what to do."

Philip had found his voice and the questions seemed to spill wildly out of him, just as they had when he was a little boy and had finally decided to befriend John.

"Philip," John said gently. "Pip, you don't have to look. You don't need to watch."

"John, why can't they hear me?" Philip sounded impossibly young, but all the excitement that had been so present as a little boy, pestering John and his parents with questions, had gone. There was no excitement now, just desperation and confusion and a hundred other things John didn't even know how to begin addressing.

"I don't know," he replied quietly.

Philip moved closer to Eliza. "Ma?" His voice was quiet, but edging towards hysteria. John took a step closer, unsure of what else he could do. "Mama, you can hear me, can't you? Please, Ma, please don't cry, I'm here, I'm right here, I promise, please don't cry."

John placed a hand on Philip's shoulder, a seemingly simple gesture he'd never been able to achieve before, and gently, but firmly, turned him around.

"Come on," he said softly. "Come on, Pip, let them be. Just for now."

Philip didn't argue or put up any sort of resistance. All the fight seemed to go out of him, and he let John lead him away, his eyes lingering on his weeping mother. John had never seen someone so utterly defeated or resigned before, other than maybe Alexander and Eliza in this moment. John himself, however, was incensed beyond belief. He was angry at everyone and everything that had allowed this to happen. It had been nearly twenty years and he still didn't exactly know why he was still stuck here. Clearly it hadn't been to act as some kind of guardian for Philip. If it had, then he had failed miserably to protect the boy. It wouldn't be the first time, he thought savagely. But he had absolutely no clue why Philip was here. He'd never hurt a soul, never done anything in his short little life to warrant such a punishment. He hadn't fought in a war, taking lives and injuring others, or run away from a wife and child who needed him, or let his little brother die. Perhaps John could understand why he was being punished for all eternity, but not Philip. Never Philip.

It was some time before Philip spoke again, falling into silence after being led away from his own damn funeral. He followed the family as they moved uptown, and John trailed behind him. They sat together in the garden only a few steps away from Alexander who seemed to spend as much time in silence as Philip these days. It was too quiet uptown and without him having to say anything, John knew Philip hated it, and hated everything about this situation.

"Why can't Pa see me?" Philip asked suddenly, his eyes still trained on his father who was sitting alone, head bowed as though in deep thought or perhaps, John felt almost ludicrous for thinking it, prayer.

"I don't know." It seemed to be the only thing John was capable of saying anymore. He used to have all the answers, in Philip's eyes at least, but now he could offer nothing more substantial or reassuring.

"I thought he might be able to. Or Angie. She talks to me, you know. Or at least, I thought she was. She can't hear me, but she talks anyway. I'm worried about her."

"Perhaps it's for the best they can't see you," John offered quietly, his eyes, too, focused on Alexander, watching as Eliza slowly exited the house and sat down heavily beside him.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, at least this way, they can perhaps begin to move on? If they could see you, and speak to you, even though I'm certain it's the very thing they want most in the world, they would be forever fixated on the past."

Philip smiled a little, the expression looking thoroughly out of place on his features. "When did you get so wise, John?"

John returned the smile, and wondered if Philip could see just how much effort it was causing him. "Yes, well, I've had nearly twenty years practice."

Philip's face fell again. "I'm sorry, John," he said quietly. "I never thought about it like that. I never thought about what it must be like for you all this time. Until now, I suppose."

"That's quite alright."

"Does it ever get any easier?" Philip asked hopefully, but John knew he understood the answer without it ever having to be said aloud.

From the house behind them, there came the sound of a baby crying. It wasn't a sound entirely unfamiliar to that particular household but one that hadn't been heard in quite some time, all things considered. Eliza stood up at once and hurried to find the source of the noise, Alexander just half a step behind her.

"Mama had the new baby," Philip whispered. "I didn't -- I didn't even know there was going to be one. What if she'd gotten sick again with the stress of it all? What if I made something terrible --"

"But you didn't," John reminded him.

"He's called...he's called Philip."

"That's a nice name," John repeated the same words Philip used to give with every announcement of a further addition to the family, once he'd made up his mind to tell him such things. Isn't Alex a nice name, and James, and John -- oh, that's your name too! Isn't William a nice name? Isn't Elizabeth the best name you could think of for a little sister? After Angelica I mean. It spoke of a time and a place and a family long ago.

"I thought Ma was talking to me," Philip said, his voice so quiet he was almost inaudible "Just for a second. She looked up, and she said it, and I thought she was looking right at me. But she wasn't. Obviously."

"Pip --"

"I know, I know," Philip countered quickly. "I know. I understand what you said. Really, I do. I don't want them to be sad anymore. But I miss them, even though they're right there, and I want to talk to them and let them know that I'm alright and that I love them, and that I'm sorry."

"They know all that already."

"I don't know."

"They do. Trust me."

"What about your family, John?" Philip asked after a while. "Don't you ever want to see them?"

"Of course," John answered quietly.

"Why don't you?"

"I can't." John saw Philip frown in confusion but his own thoughts were drifting away, back down to South Carolina, across the ocean to England. "I want to. I've wanted to, but I saw them once and then -- and then I was in your father's study and, well, you know the rest."

"Do you miss them?"

"Of course," John admitted, a little sadly, his thoughts dwelling on those he left behind, thinking about them clearly for the first time in what felt like an eternity. Frances would be quite grown up now, older in fact than he'd been when she was born. He could only hope she'd fared better than her unfortunate father. And Martha, and Mary Eleanor, and the boys would be twenty years older than when he'd seen them last. Were they married? Did they have children of their own? Were they happy? Did they stay down on the plantation, or escape just as he'd done, seen the world and found a cause they could pour their heart into and made friends and fallen in love? He'd never know, of course, and never get to experience any of those things ever again. Nor would Philip.

"Sorry you got stuck with me instead," Philip replied. He was clearly attempting to sound light and jokey, but it was a halfhearted effort at best.

"Don't apologise for that," John said, much sharper than he'd intended, but he was determined to make Philip understand. "I don't know why you could see me when nobody else could, and I probably never will, but I do know that I wasn't stuck with you, by any means. I meant it when I said I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't had you to talk to."

"That's a nice thing to say."

"It's a true thing to say."

Philip still didn't look entirely convinced but he nodded regardless. "Thanks, John."

John wasn't sure what exactly Philip was thanking him for, and perhaps Philip wasn't sure either, but the sentiment was mutual and returned ten times over.

"You know," Philip said eventually, his gaze drifting away from the home he was unable to call his own and out onto the vast garden. "I don't like it uptown."

"I know," John agreed. "Much too quiet for my taste too. But we -- you -- don't have to stay if you don't want to."

"Where would we go?"

The answer rose easily and immediately to John's lips. He didn't know where it had come from, or why it should seem so clear and apparent now, when it had seemed to elude him for almost twenty years. He couldn't place the sense of conviction that crept into his words, because it certainly was his own, but finally, it seemed like he had an answer Philip was looking for.

"You could just go on," he said simply. It sounded vague and noncommittal but it was an answer nonetheless and he knew, without knowing how he knew it, that it was the right one.

"Pa prays now. All the time. I'd never known him to pray before but now he takes the little ones to church and he prays at night time when he thinks that no one is listening. And no one is listening, except for me, and I don't really count, do I?" Philip spoke quietly, as though he hadn't listened to John at all, but John knew he had heard every word and was thinking hard. "He talks to his mother at night. I never heard him speak about his mother before. Ma said it made him too sad whenever I was little and she asked me not to bring it up. He talks to his mother at night, and he talks to President Washington and Aunt Peggy and..." Philip trailed off, his eyes on the floor. "Sometimes he talks to you too."

"I know," John nodded. "But he never hears when I talk back."

"You think it could work?" Philip asked, suddenly changing his train of thought.

"I do."

"And you'd come too?"

John wasn't sure how to tell him that he didn't have a hope in hell of following Philip beyond this point. Philip was good and innocent. He didn't know the half of the things John had done.

"I'd certainly try," he offered.

Philip nodded. "But not yet. I don't want to leave them. Not right now."

John didn't know how to put into words that it would only get harder the longer he stayed. That he would only grieve more and more as he watched the ones he loved slowly move on and get on with their lives. That as much as he wouldn't want them to constantly dwell, it would hurt almost as much to see them get on without him. They would never forget him, of course, but they would mention him less and less, and create new memories that he could play no part in. It was just how things would turn out. The newest little child, this Philip the second, would grow up without ever knowing him at all. Perhaps even young Elizabeth might forget him too, to say nothing of poor Angelica who had seemed to retreat backwards into her own mind and lost all sense of herself.

It didn't matter that John couldn't possibly express this in words because Philip seemed to understand at once without him having to say a thing.

"I know, John," he said softly. "I know. But not yet. Just a little while longer. Please?"

He didn't elaborate, but they seemed to have reached some level of understanding that no longer required words. There was some kind of unspoken agreement between them, and John knew that Philip was waiting for something in particular.

Or someone.

Chapter Text

Weehawken. Dawn.

The cold hadn't had any sort of effect on him for nearly twenty two years, but still John found himself give an involuntary shiver and felt a cruel shudder run up and down his spine. It wasn't the early morning chill that affected him so, or the fine mist that seemed to rise off the choppy waters of the Hudson. No, it was the familiar eeriness of the place, it was how he remembered standing almost in the exact same spot just a few short years prior. He remembered the pistols being examined, the seconds engaging in a pointless negotiation, a count to ten that was never quite reached, a gunshot he hadn't stopped hearing or regretting since. He had hoped never to see this place again, and was almost fearful to discover what had brought him back.

John could barely remember a time when Philip hadn't worn such a pained and weary expression, but he gazed over John's shoulder to something he couldn't, or just didn't, want to see yet, his eyes sad, his lips pursed into a tight line.

"No," he let out a quiet little moan. "No, Pa, please, no."

John turned, following Philip's gaze and felt, for the third time, that the world had been cruelly ripped out from beneath him. It felt like all the foundations he'd been shakily stood on for all this time, that he'd stumbled from when Philip was shot on the count of seven, had been truly obliterated. It was like falling, and being unable to regain his balance, the explanations for why this could possibly be happening too far away and impossible to understand.

Philip had left his side in an instant and stood right beside his father, as though he could put a stop to the whole affair. John knew better. He knew there was nothing he could do but watch and he wanted nothing more than to leave this place, but he knew he couldn't. He glanced across the field, morbidly curious to see who Alexander's opponent was, just who this foe was that it was so necessary to risk his life for.

Aaron Burr. He was practically a quarter of a century older since John had seen him last, but he was instantly recognisable. The lines of his face were sharper, his whole countenance more embittered but he was still the same quiet, calculating man of old. John remembered standing in a tavern with Lafayette and Mulligan, two names he hadn't thought of for so very long, already a considerable number of drinks under his belt, when the stoic, unassuming Burr had entered, an impossibly young and eager Alexander hot on his heels. He remembered Alexander and Eliza's wedding, how Burr had turned up that evening, how John himself, more than a little worse for wear, had teased the man mercilessly. He remembered how Alexander's face had lit up, how he was genuinely happy and pleasantly surprised to see that Burr had showed up to wish the couple well. Just what had gone wrong in the intervening years to lead to this?

John had to confess, to himself if not to anyone else, that he felt a strange sense of calm fill him once he saw Burr. Of course he was disheartened that Alexander had gotten himself into this situation when he had a wife and seven children at home, and one child watching him now with sad eyes and the unspoken anger that his father hadn't learned anything from his own agonising death three years prior. It was all very well grabbing one's pistol during the war when nothing was more important than honour and valour and duty. He was beyond angry that this had happened, that Alexander still believed he was young and reckless enough to get in such a scrape. John may have been perpetually twenty seven, young and reckless with the bloodstained uniform to prove it, but Alexander had people who relied on him and needed him and a family who depended on him. Just as John had had a family who depended on him too. A wife and a child and a father and siblings who all depended on him, and whom he hadn't given two thoughts about before rushing into that final battle. Alexander wasn't going to shoot. And neither was Burr.

"It will be fine," he told Philip quietly, standing on Alexander's other side, just like old times when they stood on the duelling ground, unstoppable and invincible and together.

"We said that before," Philip muttered, "and look at how that turned out." He gestured angrily with his good hand to the blood that still soaked his shirt and his useless, broken arm.

"This is different," John insisted.

"I said that last time." Philip was not to be dissuaded. He attempted to take his father's hand, to touch his arm, to pull the pistol from his firm grip. "Why can't you hear me? Just now, just this once, just listen!"

"Pip --" John began, but it was half hearted at best. If he thought he could do any good, he would wrench the pistol from Alexander's hand too, and Burr's for good measure. But that was precisely the problem. The same problem he'd always encountered, in death as much as in life. He couldn't do any good.

"Pa, please." Philip's voice had never sounded so plaintive and pleading before. "Please. You don't have to do this. We can just turn around and go home."

With a jolt, John recognised the words as his own, and they had just as much effect on Alexander as they had had on Philip.

"It will be fine," John repeated with a kind of firm insistence. "He's not going to shoot. Neither of them are."

John had never lied to Philip, kept certain truths from him perhaps, given a false reassurance when he still felt there was hope that the dying boy might be saved, but never outright lied. It was just a half lie he gave him this time, but it was the most devastating either of them could have imagined.

"WAIT!"

John couldn't say for certain who the cry came from, whether it was Philip or Alexander, himself or even Burr. All he knew was that the gunshot sounded, the cry split the air and Alexander aimed his pistol at the sky.

"No! Please, God, no, this can't be happening, it's going to be fine, Pa, you're going to be fine!" Philip was the hurricane of wild energy his father had been in his younger days, dropping to his knees beside Alexander on the ground, his good hand hovering uncertainly above the blood spreading quickly, too quickly, glancing around frantically for the doctor, for John, for anyone who could help. "Somebody, please, he needs help! Quickly! Pa, please, hold on, I'm here, it's me, it's Philip, I'm going to stay right here."

"Doctor, this is a mortal wound." Alexander's voice was hardly recognisable as his own, weakly raising his eyes to look at the surgeon, and looking straight through Philip in the process.

"No! It can't be." Philip sounded oddly defiant, as though he could fight against the inevitable through sheer force of will alone. He turned to look at John, his eyes shining. "What can we do?"

"Pip, there's nothing we can do. We can't do anything."

John had meant to sound gentle but instead he just sounded flat and bitter. He was rooted to the spot, unable to move, watching the scene unfold in front of him. He could hear Burr arguing vehemently with his second behind him, fighting to be allowed to speak to Alexander. The surgeon was discussing the plans to move Alexander back across the river immediately, Philip was cursing fervently as his hands passed through his father's again and again, but John was silent and still.

He could have been a soldier again, called to General Washington's side to discuss the latest developments from the Schuylkill River. He'd darted in and out of the returning soldiers, some nursing new injuries, others avoiding his gaze as he dropped under the flaps of the tent, reporting for duty. He remembered standing just as still then as now, listening to the General deliver the most impossible news, news that didn't make sense because it couldn't be true, because John didn't want it to be so. He'd nodded, felt the General's sincerely sympathetic eyes on him, and a firm hand on his shoulder, before hastily making his retreat, making his ungainly way back through the camp, barricading himself into the quarters he now occupied alone. John was selfish then, more selfish than he was now, and thought of himself first, before guiltily thinking of others in an afterthought. He'd thought of himself, and only himself, stupidly imagining that Alexander was his alone to lose. It was only afterwards, when the miracles of miracles happened and the man himself stormed back into their midst, sopping wet and thunderously angry that such a mistake had occurred, that he really stopped and thought about the true implications.

Now he knew that Alexander was no longer his to lose and perhaps, in a way, never had been at all. Now he thought of Eliza, who didn't deserve this, who had never deserved any of this, who was too kindly and good to have to endure such heartbreak. He thought of the children. He didn't know them very well, only knew them from a distance filtered through Philip but they would grow up now without a father. He knew the feeling well of losing such a loved parent, on top of a sibling, and in such quick succession too. They'd been through enough in their short little lives already. He thought of Philip, whom he did know, whom he knew and cared for with all his heart, and he was certain the boy would harbour some ill-placed guilt that this whole affair had been his fault, or at the very least, could have been stopped by him in some way. No child should have to watch their father die in this way and Philip, better than anyone else, knew exactly what his father was going through in these last moments alive.

Finally John thought of himself, and Alexander as they once were. Soldiers side by side on the battlefield, staying up to all hours discussing their grand plans for the future. It was a future neither of them really expected to see, but it was fun imagining it anyway. Back then they'd had nothing to lose and everything to gain. The idea of dying in battle, going out in one final blaze of glory, their hands intertwined as the lights left their eyes was deemed exciting and romantic. In truth, John could have thought of no better alternative at the time, having had no desire to return to the petty politics of South Carolina and his father's home. They'd always envisioned going together. That was at the core of it all. They hadn't known each other for very long, in truth, John had known Philip in death almost four times as long as he'd known Alexander in life, but that had hardly mattered. Time had meant nothing when tomorrow was never guaranteed. They made fast friendships and stuck rigidly to them, separated from the rest of the world as they often were. Throughout it all, throughout all the separations and the distances put between them, John couldn't ever imagine living in a world without Alexander; he'd come into his life so suddenly and it was like he'd always been there. Perhaps this was the real reason he'd stayed around. He wasn't living in the world, per se, but Alexander was still there.

But now Alexander was dying.

John had died alone. He knew that much. He'd been shot on the field, and someone had dragged him off to the side with a hasty reassurance that the doctor was on his way to help, before running straight back into battle. Whether the doctor had been nowhere to be found, or John had simply faded away before the man could get there, he couldn't say. But he'd died alone, miles away from anyone who might have given a damn. In the daze he'd slipped into between receiving the news that Alexander had been killed at Schuylkill and the man returning, he'd ruminated constantly on Alexander dying alone. Dying wasn't the worst possibility he could think of, but dying alone, or being left alone, was. He'd stayed by Philip's side the entire time, as much as it had pained him, because his own pain meant nothing compared to that of someone he loved. He'd stayed by Philip's side, and he'd stay by Alexander's too, just like the promise they'd made all those years before. Nobody deserved to die on their own.

"There must be something we can do!" Philip's frantic muttering snapped John out of the reverie he'd fallen into. He looked around, disoriented and wide eyed, and found that they'd ended up in an unfamiliar room in a house he didn't recognise. The house was new but the situation was, unfortunately, all too familiar. He glanced up to see Philip pacing wildly up and down the room, wringing his hands as best as he could. "We can't just sit here and watch, it's not fair! There has to be something, anything, he can't just die!" His eyes darted up, looking almost surprised that John was in the room too. "How do you stand it, John? All this time, just watching, how do you stand it?"

His tone wasn't accusatory, like it could, or maybe should have, been. Instead he sounded unbearably sad, his eyes flying wildly between John and the curtains surrounding the bed behind him. John didn't know how to answer, when the truth of the matter was, he couldn't stand it and had just had to bear it for all this time. He was spared having to make a reply when the door opened and Eliza hurried in, gently ushering the children behind her.

"Oh no," Philip whispered, watching his siblings traipse hesitantly into the room and line up at the foot of the bed. "Oh no. I should be there, I should be helping them, I should never have gotten into that stupid fight in the first place, they need me! No, they need Pa. Mama needs him, and he's going to die, and the children are too young to have to --"

"Philip," John said gently. "Calm down. You're here, aren't you? They're not alone. You're here with them."

"But they can't see me!"

"That doesn't matter," John insisted. "You're still here, and I'm still here, and we won't let them be alone. Not now."

Philip nodded, and though it seemed to take a great deal of effort not to argue, he stood beside his brothers and sisters. He seemed to have learned the horrible lesson that he wouldn't be able to touch them, and they wouldn't be able to hear him, but he still spoke gently to them, even crouching down beside his young namesake.

"Hello, little Phil," he said softly, adopting the affectionate name the other children used. "We never got a chance to meet, and I'm sorry for that. More sorry than you'll ever know. But you're going to be just fine. All of you. I'm going to watch over you all, and so will Papa, and John. You don't know him, but he'll be looking out for you too. I promise you, and a promise must never be broken, as Pa would say. I'll even look after Papa for you all, but if you just do me one favour, and take care of Mama, alright?"

John didn't have a son, and he'd never met his daughter, but the immense feelings of pride suddenly welling up inside him, surely, was how it felt to look at one's child.

"They'll be alright," Philip said quietly, glancing over at John as the children made their solemn, heartbroken way out of the room with their Aunt Angelica sometime later. "Won't they?"

"They will," John confirmed quickly. "They have each other, and your mother. If anyone is strong enough to get them all through this, then it'll be her."

The morning slipped into afternoon, which soon gave way to night, the passage of time marked only by the sun slipping though the bedroom's window. People traipsed in and out of the room all the while, people John didn't know, people who'd come into Alexander's life after his time. They offered their condolences and sympathies, various doctors bustled in and out, administering medicines and remedies that could do nothing but only slightly delay the inevitable. Throughout it all, Alexander's voice remained, he spoke whenever he was able, grasping the hands of those who'd come to say goodbye. His voice was hoarse and strained, growing weaker all the while, but still he spoke, offering his own opinions and commentaries, practically comforting those who'd come to console him on his deathbed. In spite of the whole situation, John smiled if only for a brief moment. The man who had so much to say was not going to go quietly into the night.

In the end, the room emptied, even the doctors and priests taking their leave and it finally quietened. Eliza lay on the bed beside her husband, currently propped up by pillows, with her head on his shoulder and their hands tightly intertwined. John and Philip sat on the other.

"I don't want him to die," Philip muttered sometime during the long night.

"I know. Me neither," John replied.

"But I don't want him to be in pain any longer."

"Oh, my darling, don't be frightened," Eliza said suddenly, and Philip started, his gaze flying instantly to his mother, but she was, of course, talking to Alexander. "Don't be frightened. We'll be fine, the children will be fine and they will never forget you."

"Perhaps it might be for the best if they did," Alexander countered, raising a feeble attempt at a smile.

"Don't say that," Eliza and Philip said in unison.

"They will never forget you, because they love you, just as I do," Eliza continued, her voice trembling but resolute. "I shall make quite certain nobody will forget your memory, my dear.So don't be frightened and don't worry about us, because they're all waiting for you, and when my own time is up, I'll be there waiting for you too."

"My love, take your time," Alexander whispered.

"Of course. Sleep well, my love, give our Philip a kiss from me, won't you?"

Beside him, John watched Philip bury his head in his hands, his shoulders heaving with the sheer emotion of it all. John patted him on the back, his own head bowed, tears slipping off the end of his nose, watching as his very best friend, his dearest Alexander, slowly drifted off.

As ever, it was Eliza who noticed first. Finally she let her tears fall, John recognised she'd kept up a facade for Alexander and the children's sake the whole time, as she leant in and pressed one last trembling kiss to her husband's lips. John could look no more, could only shut his eyes tight and continue to rub comforting circles into Philip's back, listening helplessly as Eliza called frantically for the doctor, for the priest, for her sister --

Until it all went silent and he felt Philip sharply pull away from him.

John jolted upright at once. The bedroom had gone, to be replaced by -- somewhere new. He didn't know where he was, or what had happened to bring this change of scenery about. The only thing he seemed to know for certain was that he was alone. Just like before. He glanced frantically around, wondering just where in hell Philip had gone, and Alexander and Eliza too.

"Philip?" John called, unable to keep the panic out of his voice. He tried to think clearly, to rationalise the situation before him. Had Philip finally gone on, just as they'd discussed? He'd promised that he would, that he'd stay as he was for just a little while longer, waiting for something neither of them could name. Perhaps he and his father had gone on together, hand in hand, probably just as a heartbroken Eliza had prayed. "Philip, where --"

The remainder of the question died in his throat, because it became wholly unnecessary. He finally saw him. Saw them. Just a few paces away from him, like they were standing at opposite ends of the duelling ground, but there would be no more fire now. He watched with a genuine, whole hearted smile for the first time in what seemed like forever, as Philip was reunited with his father. Philip held onto his father so tightly he didn't seem likely to ever let him go, holding on with all his might with two good arms, John noted, and the blood was gone from his pristine again shirt. A quick glance down confirmed that his own bloodstain was gone and the bright blue of his old uniform had been returned to its former glory, like it had never even heard of a battlefield.

He stood to the side, content to give the pair their privacy, to let them have the reunion he knew they both had so desperately needed. He was willing to wait forever, if that's what was required. He was well practised after all.

Eventually, John watched them slowly break apart, Philip gazing up at his father with such unabashed joy that John hadn't seen for so long. Alexander himself looked so much younger, relieved of all his earthly trappings and giving no evidence whatsoever that he had received a bullet to the spine in the not too distant past. He looked all around, those bright eyes John knew only too well slowly taking everything in, before finally falling upon John himself.

"Laurens?" Alexander said so quietly he was practically inaudible. "My dear Laurens, is that you?"

John didn't have time to give an answer, easy as it, before finding himself suddenly caught up in a tight embrace he couldn't have escaped even if he'd wanted to. Which he didn't. It had been over twenty years since he'd last felt Alexander's arms tighten around him. If he'd been alive, he'd probably have been in real danger of suffocating, but he couldn't find it in him to care about that very much at all.

"I almost didn't recognise you," John said lightly. "You're quite a bit older than the last time we spoke."

"And you didn't get old enough," Alexander fired back at once, his voice pleasantly familiar in John's ear. "Oh, my dearest, Laurens, I can't put into words how much I've missed you."

"That's not the Alexander Hamilton I remember," John teased.

"Give me a moment, it's been a rather strange day."

John felt like he should admonish him for the circumstances which had led to this meeting, but he just couldn't bring himself to do it. Not now, but that was just fine. John suddenly realised that they had time to talk about this later. They didn't just have a tomorrow. Time, as a concept had lost all its meaning again, but in the best way possible. They had time, something that had never been available to them before. They had endless time open to them now. They wouldn't get any older, but they would be together, and Philip too. They had time to talk and discuss now, when it had always been denied in their lifetime.

"I understand," John murmured. "I do. I must admit, of course, that I missed you too. With all my heart and soul, Alexander."

Finally they broke apart. John found himself grinning like an idiot, unable to compose himself or present any sort of dignified front. But what did that matter? He glanced over his shoulder at Philip, seeing his own smile mirrored on the boy's face. Philip seemed practically beside himself with joy, unable to stand still, continually shifting his weight from foot to foot and almost bouncing up and down.

Alexander glanced between the two of them as he returned to his son's side, throwing an arm round Philip's shoulders and pulling him close. "I almost forgot," Alexander said at once. "I wish you two could have met before, under some happier circumstances, but that can't be helped I suppose. Philip, son, this is Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens. John, this is my eldest son, Philip."

Philip laughed aloud, and John wasn't sure he had ever heard a more joyous, wonderful sound in an astonishingly long time. "Pops, it's fine, we already know each other."

Alexander frowned slightly, looking from one to the other. "I -- what?"

John recounted the story from the beginning, with occasional interjections from Philip. Alexander listened in wide eyed, uncharacteristic silence, speaking only when John's voice trailed off, unwilling to go into the details of Philip's ill fated duel.

"Thank you, John," Alexander spoke quietly, but his voice was true and sincere.

"For what?"

"I'd thought he was alone, Oh I know the doctor was there, and the others, but I'd feared he'd been alone. Just as you had, John. I thought about that constantly." He broke off, pulling Philip in tighter still. "I couldn't stop thinking about it, and I know it broke Eliza's heart that we weren't there right away." He sighed deeply. "I'm sorry, son. It shouldn't have happened, and I know it was on my account, but I never wished this for you. I hope one day you can accept my apology. Both of you." He raised his eyes to look at John again.

"You don't need to apologise," John said softly. "Not to me."

Alexander sighed again. "One day I hope I can make it right to everyone who deserves it."

"You will," John nodded. "But I'm sure they already know."

"Eliza," Alexander whispered. "She didn't deserve any of this. Perhaps now she can get on with her life. You know your mother, Pip, best of wives, best of women."

"And best of mothers," Philip finished with a fond, faraway smile.

"She's going to do so much," Alexander continued, almost dreamily. "Just you wait. She's going to do so much. She never needed me holding her back, dragging her through turmoil after turmoil for all these years."

"Then one day you'll see her again," John said gently. "After a good, long life, you'll see her again, and the rest of the children too, after they live their lives and fall in love and finally drift off. One day you'll all be together again, all of you for the first time, in one place."

"My dear Laurens, you've become very wise in our years apart," Alexander smiled shakily, dragging his sleeve across suddenly shining eyes.

"That's what I said!" Philip laughed.

"But you've forgotten one very important element, John," Alexander continued.

"Oh?"

"You'll be there too, won't you?"

John found his vision suddenly blurred, entirely overcome in the moment. He was unable to speak or move, but he felt Alexander on one side of him and Philip on the other, and that was enough. He knew he would stay with them. He'd made it this far, and he knew he'd follow them for forever and a day. Perhaps they would go on without him one day, perhaps they'd already moved on and this was all that came next. It would be enough. It would be more than enough, and John might just be happier here than he'd ever been before. Maybe he'd be able to find his mother and Jemmy some day, just like he'd hoped all those years before. He could apologise to both of them, he could be a little boy wrapped in the safe embrace of his mother's arms again. One day, he might find Martha, and Frances, hopefully many many years from now when she'd had as rich and full and long a life as she deserved. He'd like to speak to them, apologise profusely for the mess he'd left behind, hear all about the life his daughter had led in his absence. One day he'd like to speak to Eliza too, and the rest of the children Philip and Alexander so loved.

For the first time since he could remember, perhaps not since he was a very young man, John found himself looking forward. It wasn't a future, he hadn't had a future since he was twenty seven years old and decided to lead the charge along the Combahee River. No, it wasn't a future, but it was a forever. Moreover, it was a forever he could participate in, not just watch from the sidelines.

But for now, he had Alexander and he had Philip and that could be enough. In fact, it was more than enough.

"I must admit, I am curious," Alexander said, sometime later.

"That makes a change," John smiled.

Alexander rolled his eyes amicably, and John had missed this more than he realised, this easy back and forth that came so naturally even after so many years apart. "In all seriousness," he started again, "I am curious. Why did you stay around, both of you? I tried to console myself all this time that you'd gone on to some better, happier place where you could be at peace and free from pain. Why did you stay?"

The answer came easy now, even though it was the very question that had plagued John incessantly. He'd grappled with it, questioned it, raged against it. He abhorred the feeling of being stuck, of being unable to move on. He'd begun to understand when Philip had first started speaking to him. He was a friend and a confidante to a boy he'd never known in life. He was there to watch the boy grow into a man, and he was there to ease the boy into his death, providing guidance and comfort and company whenever he could, with what limited resources were available to him. He understood it, as much as he might ever be able to, now. He understood why he'd stayed put, and he understood why he'd remained with these particular people. Perhaps it wasn't a punishment, or some especially unique manifestation of his own personal hell after all.

The answer was deceptively simple but even as he said it, he was entirely certain, more certain than he'd ever been of anything before, that it was the right answer.

John smiled.

"Because I was waiting for you."