Chapter 1: the fact that you're alive is a miracle
Alexander doesn’t really listen to his teacher as she talks in front of the classroom.
There is no need to. He doesn’t need to listen to a lesson about a war he had fought in himself, especially since they aren’t talking about a facet he hadn’t seen.
Honestly, working on his essays is a better option.
Until he hears the words “reports” and “50% of the grade”.
From that point onwards, he starts to listen. Everyone in the class is supposed to prepare a detailed presentation about a certain topic related to the Fight for Independence, which Alexander could do in his sleep.
The only ‘problem’ he could have is that the topics would be assigned and, with his luck, he’d probably get the Signing of the Declaration or something else he hadn’t been involved in, but even if that was the case, he wouldn’t need to do as much research as the others would have to.
“...Mr. Klein, the Battle of Yorktown...Miss Peterson, the Continental Congress...Miss Hamilton”
Alexander flinches, just like he always does. Why do so many people have to keep misgendering him? Really, what is the point of it all? What do they gain from it?
“Valley Forge…Mr. Axum, Peace of Paris...”
Fuck. Had... had he heard this correctly? Had she just said…?
Alexander can feel the color draining from his face. He starts shaking as the memory of the cold creeps up on him.
This is terrible. So much worse than he had imagined.
He leans over to his best friend AJ and pokes him with his pen.
“Can we switch?”
“I would, bro,” he explains apologetically, “but Henderson said no switching.”
Both of them knew that once Henderson made a decision, she stuck to it, no matter what.
“Fuck,” Alexander whispers. “Fuck.”
“I’m sorry, Alex.”
Alexander shakes his head. “It’s not your fault.”
Alexander barely speaks a word during lunch.
He replies when spoken to, but then he is more concise than he has ever been before. He almost sticks to single syllable words.
Of course their closest friends Walter and Oscar—although they sometimes call each other Wilbur and Orville for reasons that AJ had never thought about—worry, but they don’t know why this report is affecting Alex so much.
AJ, however, does know, because he recognized Alexander from his old life. It was kind of weird—he had been Alex’s slave after all—but they got over it fairly quickly.
He wishes he could tell the others what’s wrong, but they’d never believe them. (Or so he thought.)
Reincarnation is not really an acknowledged thing or anything and who would believe that this small Latino is a Founding Father?
Some history nerds might, but their group of friends lacked those completely, unless you count Alexander himself.
How he wishes he could switch his task with his best friend. As AJ had just been a slave in the Caribbean last time, he would have to do research either way and he would gladly spare his best friend the pain of reliving those memories.
“Listen,” AJ declares eventually. “There’s no point in this. We’re going to the nurse and getting her to call the Washingtons.”
The fact that Alexander doesn’t argue speaks volumes.
It is Martha who picks Alexander up, since George is busy at work at this time of the day.
“Oh, sweetie, are you alright?” she asks as soon as they are in the car, well aware that Alex likes to keep his sickness away from everyone. “Did you eat something wrong? Are you sick? Is it that time of the month?”
“No,” Alexander mutters quietly. “None of that. Physically speaking, I’m completely fine.”
“But mentally?” Martha prompts. Over the years, she has learned how to deal with Alexander and his reluctance to admit to his own suffering.
Her son swallows, seeming to attempt to find the right words. And considering this is Alexander, that is enough reason to worry.
“I have to do a detailed report on Valley Forge.”
It is a good thing the road is so empty, because Martha slams on the breaks and looks at her son on the seat next to her.
The last time she had seen him this distressed, it was when he had confessed to her and George that he was, in fact, a he this time around as well, even if his body disagreed.
“You will not be doing that.”
“It’s worth 50% of the grade and Henderson explicitly stated that there would be no switching,” Alexander replies, fidgeting as he always does, but shivering strongly.
“Does your teacher know…?” she asks as she starts the car up again. She has to get Alex as warm as possible as soon as possible.
“No. But I don’t want to tell her,” he argues his mother’s unspoken argument. “All the world would know in the span of a month.”
“You shouldn’t be forced to remember that . You might’ve been an adult once—and even then it would be terrible—but you’re just a teenager now. This is just—unintentionally—cruel towards you. You should argue. You do that for every other thing,” she points out.
“I know,” Alexander admits. “But I don’t want everyone to know all the things I did wrong. I’m a new person now and I’d like to use that chance.”
“You have a point there, I suppose,” Martha acknowledges.
“Plus, it’s not as if reincarnation is a widespread phenomenon.”
Martha nods, as she doesn’t think there’s anything she can say that can help.
Neither of them speaks another word as she brings him to his bed, covers him in several blankets, and goes to make him a hot chocolate and some cookies.
“Why did this have to happen in December?” she mumbles to herself as she stands in the kitchen and prepares as much hot chocolate as she can.
“And you’re sure you can just storm in there?” Walter questions. Because honestly, who does that? He knows that AJ and Alex have been friends since the latter started to be fostered by the Washingtons, but knocking should still be a thing after roughly three years of friendship, right?
“Sure.” AJ shrugs. “I do it all the time.”
Oscar accepts that with a shrug on his own. “And you promise you’ll tell us what’s wrong with Alex?”
Which was an important issue. How are they supposed to help their friend if they don’t know what’s wrong with him?
“I’ll speak with them about it.” AJ nods. “But I can’t make the decision for them. It’s not just Alex’s and my secret.”
“That sounds reasonable,” Oscar agrees. “Besides, we have a secret like that of our own.”
Walter looks at Oscar for confirmation before he proposes to tell them as a sign of trust.
“I’m listening,” AJ declares.
He is less surprised than Walter thought he would be.
“Can I tell them?” Was the first question he asked. “I can guarantee you that that’s going to help.”
“Uhhh, sure, I guess,” Walter responds.
When George arrives at home that evening, having collected Lafayette from school, the two of them worry.
“Alexander wasn’t at his school,” George explains to his wife the second he closes the door behind him and his younger child.
“I picked him up earlier, but I couldn’t get through to you,” Martha informs him, pushing a cup of hot chocolate in his hand and another one in Lafayette’s.
She ushers the two of them in the living room. The fireplace is lightened and most of the blankets they own are down here.
“Not zat I’m not zankful for ze ‘ot chocolate,” Lafayette states, gesturing around, “but why all of zis.”
Martha looks at them grimly. “You’re going to need this once you hear why Alexander is already home. Now sit.”
Obediently, George sits down on his usual chair while Lafayette does the same.
Martha places a blanket or two around each of them before she takes a deep breath.
“There is no way that I can say this without you freaking out, but Alexander has to do a detailed report about Valley Forge.”
George freezes for a second—and his choice of words doesn’t really help there—as he watches Lafayette snuggle deeper into xeir blankets and take a sip of xeir hot chocolate.
Which is a good idea, he supposes, following his child’s example.
George is immensely thankful that his wife had been so thoughtful during the process of explaining everything to them. The warmth helps keeping the memories (the blood, the pain, the hunger, the death ) at bay, at least for the moment.
For a minute or two, there is an oppressive silence in the living room.
“We can’t let him do this,” Lafayette eventually manages to say. “We just can’t let that happen.”
“It’s not that I disagree with you,” AJ declares as he casually strolls into the living room, “it’s just that Henderson will not allow to switch topics—I double checked—and it’s worth 50% of our grade.”
“In other words,” George sighs in realization, “Alexander will push himself through it.”
“So what can we do to stop that?” Martha questions.
All occupants of the room look clueless for a minute, until AJ remembers that the twins are waiting outside.
“They didn’t want to come in with me,” he explained. “I’ll go get them, but they want to know why this is affecting Alex so much.”
“Tell zem,” Lafayette basically orders. “Zey will believe us if they are true friends of you.”
“Oh, believing won’t be a problem,” AJ assures them.
“Why not?” George wonders.
“Because, as it turns out, they’re the Wright brothers,” AJ informs them with a smile.
“Why am I not surprised?” Martha shakes her head. “Go get them.”
Chapter 2: a skeleton of an army
Alexander enters a downward spiral and everyone else is hoping to stop it.
Look, they actually called them "a skeleton of an army" and it's gonna have a lot more meaning than any of you realise. (Unless I just gave it away with that, but whatever)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Martha had brought up Valley Forge, Lafayette had felt yellow.
Xey despises the feeling of yellow. It is a depressing colour for xem, even if the rest of the world thinks it a happy one,
Xey had thought that once, too. Back in xeir old life, when xey had been a ‘him’ permanently, if only for the lack of other options.
Xeir brain hadn’t been as weird back in that life, but Lafayette actually quite likes the way xeir brain is messed up this time. Seeing—well, not really seeing, not technically—colors with many sounds. Names, letters, word, and noises; there were few sounds that Lafayette did not associate a color with.
And this yellow—an obnoxious and bright one, yet far from the shade that was called neon—was one of the worst.
The warmth of the blanket and the taste of the chocolate give him a feel of turquoise, which already helps to get xem away from the yellow.
But now that Alex’s friends were here to help all of them deal with the cold, they spread some light pink.
And light pink is a very happy color. People should use it more often.
Lafayette shakes xeir head to clear xeir thoughts. They need to focus on helping Alex right now.
Nevertheless xey is more than glad for the hug xe receives from Oscar, Walter, and AJ once they have explain why that is so important and terrifying for the three of them. It spreads the pink and removes the yellow.
They hug xeir father, too, after asking permission from the man.
“Thank you, boys, but let’s get back to the topic at hand, shall we?” he proposes after a few seconds.
“Yeah, that sounds like a good idea,” AJ replies. “Any ideas?”
Walter shrugs. “None beyond telling your teacher.”
“Which Alexander doesn’t want to do,” xeir mother reminds them.
“Let’s file this away as last possible option, then,” Oscar suggests. “Because that seems preferable to him pulling through this alone.”
“It can be our last resort,” George agree reluctantly.
Alex sits alone in his room, hiding under his blankets and attempting to feel warm, when it occurs to him that, actually, how dare he?
How dare he sit here covered in blankets upon blankets and with a full stomach at that? Sure, all of the people who had been with him at Valley Forge had since died and most of them probably had not been reborn along with him and the others, but that didn’t mean that no one was suffering. Hadn’t he himself suffered like that before he had gotten to the States again? And after too, with his various foster parents, the Lees especially?
It is a more sudden realization than it should have been, but Alexander finally grasps how good he has it in this life.
And this would not continue any longer, he swore. Alexander would stop eating more than he required—to his shame he has to admit that he has acquired a small belly in the time he has been with the Washingtons—and he would begin to donate what time and money he could spare to help the people less fortunate than him.
It is the least he can do, honestly. He cannot expect others to help him rise and not provide the same for others, he thinks as he determinedly throws his blankets away, places the no-longer-hot chocolate on a random shelf that wasn’t completely covered in books and papers—or at least not yet—and gets to work.
The first thing Alexander does is to write a list of all the soldiers that died back at that horrible place. He had written almost all—if not all—of the letters informing relatives that their son (husband, nephew, father, brother, grandson, uncle) had died in their fight for independence. All those soldiers deserve to have their names and heroic sacrifice known.
The fact that they had not died in the battlefield but instead in the Winter quarters—if it could even be called that—that doesn’t make their sacrifice worth any less. Quite the opposite, actually. Their dedication to what were little more than ideas at that point had been more than admirable.
And if he is going to do this, then he is sure as hell going to do this correctly.
Ronald Scott Amundsen—a moment should be taken to admire the irony of his middle name in this life—is quite familiar with the cold. How can he not be, when he had been the first to reach the geographic South Pole in his last life—a fact that he is rather proud of. He likes to think that he has a right to do so as well.
The point is, Roald—he liked his norwegian roots, thank you very much, even if they were more metaphorical than reality at this point in this life—knows the signs when someone is suffering from the cold or even horrible memories of it.
He himself had liked his journey and had thought the cold more than worth the honor that being the first people to reach that place brought, but he had realized even then that not all of his crew had shared that way of thinking.
Some of them were plagued by the cold so much that they felt the need to move into the warmer areas of Europe once they returned from their quest—or journey? Was it the way to the destination that had been the goal? Sometimes Roald isn’t sure.
So yeah. He is familiar with the signs of someone suffering from memories of the cold. People tended to shiver a lot and be notably more quiet among other things.
It is no real challenge for him to realize that the Latino boy called Hamilton—who is a mere year below him—is showing several of the symptoms during lunch.
Were it not for the boy’s friends, Roald would have gone to Hamilton’s side right then and there, but the boy looked well cared for, so he decided to let it be for the moment. Hamilton had his friends, after all, and so did Roald. It was highly unlikely that the boy would appreciate his attempt to help should there be no serious issues.
He did, however, promise himself that he would intervene if there were still some signs by the next day. Should there be a real problem, he would never forgive himself if he ignored it.
Not after Scott and his crew had died. He would not make the same mistake twice, after all.
Oscar, Walter, and AJ head to Alexander’s room after a while, with Lafayette trailing behind them.
Walter is the first to knock on the locked door, while Oscar is listening to the list of a scratching pen.
“Alex?” AJ asks. “Can we come in?”
They do not receive an reply, but Lafayette makes xeir way to the front, opens the door and storms in.
“Mon frère, you cannot let ze yellow consume you!” xey exclaims as xey run over to hug Alexander “N'essaie pas de gérer les souvenirs de valley forge seul, laisse nous t'aider!"
AJ frowns. “Yellow? Why yellow? I don’t understand what yellow has to do with anything.”
Oscar shrugs. “Neither do I for that matter, but I’m not sure this is the relevant thing here."
“Todo lo contrario,” AJ argues. “Every single little thing is important when trying to care for someone.”
“That may be the case,” Walter acknowledges, “but you could directly as xem,” he points out.
Sueing this Alexander and Lafayette have started to grin and have let go of an arm each.
“She, right now,” Lafayette corrects. “And I have Synesthesia. Has it truly not come up yet?” she asks her brother with a frown.
Alexander shakes his head. “Don’t think so. I certainly don’t remember all of us talking about it.”
AJ raises an eyebrow. “What exactly is ‘it’?”
“It’s called Synesthesia,” Alexander repeats once a few seconds have passed..
“Yes, she already mentioned that,” AJ deadpans.
“As I was saying before Austin,” the boy in question loudly protests that he is to be called ‘AJ’, “rudely interrupted me, it’s a phenomenon where a person’s senses are mixed. Like hearing colour, tasting sounds, or, in Laf’s case, associating color with pretty much every sound.”
“I could have explained zat myself!” Lafayette exclaims the very moment Alexander stops talking.
“Then why didn’t you?” Alexander challenged, raising an eyebrow at his sister.
Lafayette actually stomps her foot on the ground. “I was trying to zink how to say it en anglais! Ce n'est pas facile!”
“Which is why explained it when I realised you currently weren’t able to,” Alexander argues, throwing his hands in the air. Then he winches and brings his arms back down. “I’m sorry, that sounded bad.”
“No worries, mon frère,” Lafayette says, hugging her brother.
“Yup, you’re definitely siblings,” Oscar confirms.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Walter questions, clearly offended, causing the rest of the room—with the notable exception of Alexander to laugh.
Alexander’s lack of amusement quickly sombers the group up.
“We’re here to help,” Oscar clarifies, even if he’s fairly sure that that is obvious.
“I know,” Alexander sighs. “And that’s exactly what I don’t deserve.”
The other four all protest, but Alexander is not hearing any of it. He just maneuvers them out of the room, shuts the door again, only he locks it this time.
“Well, that went wrong,” AJ states, brushing some of his hair aside.
“I know! And it looked so good for a while. I really thought it would work,” Walter admits.
“We will figure something out,” Oscar promises, locking arms with the other boys. AJ offers Lafayette his other arm before the girl has a chance to complain.
Translations (in order, but only Google Translate this time)
Mon frère - My brother
N'essaie pas de gérer les souvenirs seul, laisse nous t'aider. - Don't try to deal with the memories alone, let us help.
Todo lo contrario - Quite the opposite [this one is Spanish, in case that was not obvious]
en anglais - in English
Ce n'est pas facile! - It's not easy
Please comment bc I am needy like that.