Actions

Work Header

Want Ad

Chapter Text

Aaron

*

Aaron notices the want ad three days into his quest for oblivion.

He’s more than a bit tipsy at this point, when he thinks he’s almost found it. He stumbles his way to the bar’s bathroom, intent on emptying his insides into the toilet, when the world sways suddenly and he catches himself on the wall. That’s when his nose practically lands on the haphazardly stapled flier.

Caretaker Wanted

Seeking organized, dependable person

For full time, live-in position

Strict disciplinary skills required

Republicans need not apply

Contact A. Ham - 555-704-1776

It’s the last part that makes him snort out loud. He’s fumbling for his phone, imagining Theodosia’s reaction when he sends her a picture, when reality hits him.

He sobers instantly. A new sort of sickness creeps into him as he jams his phone back into his pocket.

In a fit of rage, he snatches the flier off the wall, crumpling it up with a snarl. He means to throw it away. Perhaps if he had, that would have been the end of it.

But, for no discernable reason at all, he tucks the wad of paper into his jean’s pocket rather than tossing it on the floor.

So this is how the story begins.

 

*

 

Some days later, Aaron wakes up to the sound of Theodosia screaming. His head pounds at him as he lurches out of bed to her room - or tries to.

He’s half off the couch before he registers the cramped space of their one-bedroom apartment. The familiar dingy walls surround him, lined with boxes stacked high and neat or hanging half-open, acting as makeshift dressers. Books and homework are strewn across the floor, belying the attempt at order, and it all smells faintly of sweat and grease. It’s a sight that makes his skin flush with shame.

“Daddy?”

That’s Theo, tucked into the bed in the middle of the room, peaking up at him with wide eyes from beneath her covers.

“Daddy, are you okay?”

Theo hasn’t called him Daddy since she entered the fifth grade, but her face is dry, showing no sign of tears, much less the horrid screaming still hanging in his ears.

It must have been a nightmare then, though he can’t remember a second of it. He forces himself to breathe, drawing up a lukewarm smile to assuage Theo’s concern.

“I’m okay, Theo, go back to sleep. Today’s Saturday.”

At least, he thinks it’s Saturday. The days have been blending together, beginning and ending much the same way, neck deep inside a bottle.

Theo tilts her head at him, chewing on her lip. She has her mother’s doe eyes, dark orbs framed in steep lashes. He feels bare under the gaze – and small.

“Go back to sleep,” he repeats. “I’ll get you up when breakfast’s going.”

She’s a good girl. She settles herself back down obediently, rolling up in her favorite blanket, purple and fuzzy of course. When she’s turned away, Aaron picks himself up off the couch and tiptoes his way through the boxes until he reaches the bathroom, sliding the lock shut behind him.

He braces himself on the sink, dunking his face under the cold spray of water. His hangover is pushed down, though his headache kicks up another notch. As he straightens, he catches a glimpse of the sunken-eyed man in the mirror, mouth thin and startling. The image breaks as he yanks open the medicine cabinet, digging for his pills.

When he’s popped two, he lets himself sink back against the wall, sliding down until he can wrap his arms around his knees, tipping his head back as he waits for his heartbeat to slow. He ignores the urge to go out and check on Theo, knowing his anxiety will only frighten her. Instead, he draws in deep breaths, counting at a steady pace as he brings the oxygen in, holds, and releases.

Time must pass. It’s only when the woozy feeling in his head dies down that he notices the uncomfortable bulge in his back pocket. He reaches around to pull out the crumpled wad of paper from however many nights before; unable to help the snort he makes when he reads the end of the ad again. Theodosia really would have liked it.

It seems a preposterous classified, especially given its location. He doesn’t want to imagine the parent who would advertise in a nightclub for a nanny, though he can’t help the bitter sting of pleasure at the thought of a parent doing an even shittier job than him.

The more he stares at the paper, however, the less ridiculous it seems. Its mere presence as an employment ad is a reminder of the bleak state of his bank account, a fact only cemented by the cramped space of the bathroom.

The apartment is crap. He hates living in it. He hates that Theo has been such a trooper about it – never complaining, never throwing a fit. It grates at his skin the level he’s been reduced to, but trying to find a place in New York City without an income to speak of has been no easy job. This apartment had been the only thing within his minimal means that still qualified for Theo’s school district, and now even those funds were running dry.

With its promise of boarding, the flier in his hands suddenly becomes less and less a laughing matter.

It isn’t a commitment, he tells himself, as he texts the number on the flier. It’s just an inquiry. He isn’t even sure if the position is still available – or how much it pays – or even how many children there would be.

But still, when his phone buzzes back with a time and a place to meet on Monday, he can’t help the hope that rises in him. If this works out . . .

He tries to keep the thought quiet. His life rarely had a tendency of going the way he planned.

 

*

 

So, this is how it goes.

On Saturday, Aaron makes Theo cereal for breakfast and they spend the day reading books and watching cartoons. Aaron finishes his last bottle of Jack after Theo goes to bed and almost falls down the stairs trying to throw away the bottle, intent on making sure she never sees.

On Sunday, the liquor comes back to haunt him as Aaron oversleeps morning service. They end up going in the afternoon, essentially killing their whole day, especially when Theo gets roped into an extra choir practice and Aaron is drafted into the kitchen baking for a charity drive.

On Monday morning, Aaron ties Theo’s hair into a ball on top her head and walks her to school, straightening her uniform tie and ignoring the stares of the disapproving PTA parents in khaki’s and bob-cuts. When she’s safely through the doors, he turns heel back to the apartment where he showers, dresses in a tie for the first time in several months, and arms himself with his resume and a bland smile.

It’s a process he’s depressingly familiar with.

He isn’t supposed to be nervous for this not-interview interview, but he winds up showing up to the designated coffee shop thirty minutes early anyway, fiddling with his drink as he waits for A. Ham - ‘long-hair, green-scarf’ – to roll in.

Half an hour later, the clock reels past 1 o’clock. Another fifteen minutes into the hour and Aaron goes up and purchases a second cup. Twenty minutes past that, he’s privately steaming, pride smarting within his chest.

He’s just chugging the last dregs of his coffee when the doorbell jingles. A slight man with wild hair and a long emerald scarf comes crashing through the door, cursing loudly. Aaron freezes, watching as the man’s eyes circle the room, seeing the exact moment when they catch on Aaron’s designated blue tie. The stranger charges to the table without so much as a byword to the barista, pulling out the chair opposite Aaron and shrugging out of his heavy over coat all in one hectic movement.

Up close, the man’s prominent nose and dark circles are strangely familiar. Aaron is still trying to place him when the stranger throws out his hand.

“Alexander Hamilton,” he says, shaking Aaron’s hand vigorously. He has braces on his wrists and ink stains up his arms and suddenly Aaron knows exactly who just sat down across from him.

“Aaron Burr,” he responds, automatically.

Hamilton nods quickly, as if he already knew the name though Aaron knows he’d refrained from giving it over the texts. It’s disconcerting to see the same face so often printed in the tabloids in full motion before him.

At least now he knows why he’s been called here – the Reynolds Affair; Mayor Washington’s own Director of Communications caught cheating on his wife with a woman half his age. Aaron’s co-workers had had a field day with it, laughing until they’d nearly choked. How Hamilton had ended up with custody of the kids after all of that confounded him.

Power, he supposes, and money. The Schuyler family is old enough to bleed blue.

Hamilton licks his lips – a nervous habit? - and leans forward. His enthusiasm is jarring.

“Aaron Burr, sir!” he echoes, grinning. “I wasn’t sure you’d show. It’s been – well, it’s been some time since I put up the ad. Where did you end up finding it? Wait, no – it doesn’t matter anyway. You have a resume?”

The words hit Aaron in a barrage. He slides his resume across the table, eyes narrowing when Hamilton’s eyes skitter over it, too fast to be reading.

He speaks up. “Sir, if you look at item one, you’ll notice my duties while I worked for Prevost & Barlow. While the occupation itself wasn’t directly related to childcare, I believe the organizational and negotiation skills I applied while – ”

“Don’t call me sir,” Hamilton interrupts sharply. “Hamilton is fine. Or Alex. No sir.” He looks up from the paper, setting it aside. “You’re a lawyer? What happened?”

The insinuation of fault prickles at him.

“I decided to spend more time with my daughter, Theodosia.” The fabricated line rolls easily off his lips. “Her mother passed away and my hours at the firm were too demanding to spend sufficient time at home.”

“A daughter?” It’s remarkable how Hamilton’s whole face brightens. “How old? Do you have a picture? And I’m sorry to hear about your wife.”

“She’s eleven,” Aaron says, flatly.

If anything, Hamilton’s smile grows. It wipes years off his face. “That’s my Philip’s age,” he says. “He’s my eldest, though not by much. Angie – that’s Angelica – is ten now and Alex Jr. is seven. James, my youngest, is five. Hold on. I have a picture here somewhere.”

He digs into his pockets, swiping open his phone so show off a background of four smiling children wearing ridiculous Christmas sweaters. Behind them, with her arms around the tallest boy, stands Elizabeth Schuyler in all her glory, long black hair and demure smile aimed at the camera. She looks good as a mother, at in ease in a way Aaron doesn’t remember. He’d met her briefly at Princeton, when she’d visited her sister Angelica. From what he recalls, she’d gone to Columbia with Hamilton.

He wonders if this was the last picture Hamilton had of his kids. From what Aaron remembers, the scandal had hit the papers early last spring, the divorce following on its heels soon after.

The reality of this job hits Aaron in that moment. Four kids – somehow, he’d just thought it would be . . . less.

“I see,” he says. He’s still stalling when Hamilton stores away his phone and looks back up at him.

“Anyway, Burr, I think I like you,” Hamilton says. “You were saying something earlier? About being organized?”

So Aaron spends the next ten minutes warping his career skills to fit into an entirely different field. He’s surprised when Hamilton shuts up and just listens, fingers tapping against the table as he nods along.

Aaron talks about his punctuality and promptness, his ability to work under deadlines, his skills in negotiating with other lawyers in favor of his client, as if that were in anyway similar to handling a child. He’s lucky he has Theodosia, able to pull in his experience as a father while trying not to explicitly name her, not wanting to seem like he is milking his own daughter for interview points.

It actually isn’t that hard to twist his experiences. He’s spent far too long corralling unruly clients, and he knows that the few friends he had in college always called him the “mom friend” even though he’d been several years their junior. Well, that and pain-in-the-ass prude. He doesn’t quite mention that part.

Hamilton’s only real reaction comes when Aaron delves into his ideology surrounding high expectations and positive-reward systems, recalling the ad’s specific mention of discipline. Hamilton only cuts him off once, when Burr begins going into the more specific reprimands he believes in.

“What about corporal punishment,” Hamilton asks. “You know – spanking?”

There is something edgy in his tone. Aaron shakes his head.

“I don’t believe in hitting children,” he answers. “Time-outs, taking away privileges – I find there are many ways to get the behavior you want without resorting to inflicting direct pain.”

It seems to be enough for Hamilton, who hums and waves at him to go on. Aaron talks a little bit more about his methodology before his well of things to say begins to dry up. He’s grateful when Hamilton stops him.

“Okay, okay, that’s enough. I think I got it.”

Hamilton leans down, digging into his jacket pocket to pull out a stapled packet folded in half. He sets what Burr instantly recognizes as a non-disclosure agreement on the table with a pen.

“Given your background, I know I don’t have to tell you what this is,” Hamilton says. “I’ll need you to sign it before we go any further.”

“Sir, I don’t – ”

“Not sir.”

“Hamilton, then. I’m not sure what this is concerning, but if this has to do with Mrs. Reynolds – ”

“Ah, so you do know me. I wondered.” Hamilton’s mouth takes on a bitter twist. He shakes his head, kneading his fingers together. “I can’t say more until you sign. This isn’t about Maria though. That’s over.”

There’s a dark finality in his tone.

“Right,” says Aaron. He glances over the papers, but he knows just by looking at them that everything is in order. He picks up the pen, then sets it down again, hesitating.

“I have a daughter,” he says.

“This is just about me,” Hamilton answers. “You don’t like it you walk, just like that.”

Just like that. Aaron frowns. He picks up the pen, scribbling his name where he needs to, watching as Hamilton reclaims the papers and folds them back into his coat pocket with a cold sense of dread.

Hamilton leans back in his chair, rubbing his hands on his thighs. He licks his lips again, eyes flickering between Aaron’s face and the quiet coffee shop around them. Aaron can’t help but look around too, but whether by luck or providence they’re seated in a secluded table in a nook by the window. The nearest people to them are a couple making eyes at one another a few tables over and a college kid wearing headphones.

“Right,” Hamilton says. “So, I guess, just to begin, I’ll give you this.” He takes a napkin and jots down a number, sliding it across the table. Burr’s eyes widen.

“For the month? That seems quite high for this type of position.”

“That’s for one week, payable every Monday. You’ll also need to stay in my home, so your rent will no longer be an issue. I have several empty bedrooms; you and daughter will be quite comfortable. And there is an extra room that I don’t use which could be a study, if you need a place to work a side job from home.”

“A week,” Aaron repeats. He stares at the napkin in his hand. It isn’t quite what he was making at Prevost & Barlow, but it isn’t that far away either. He looks at the other man. “Mr. Hamilton, what exactly are you hiring me to do?”

The response is instantaneous.

“Me.”

Aaron freezes.

Hamilton blanches, lurching forward. His hands wave wildly.

“Shit! Sorry, not me, me! That came out wrong. I’m not hiring you to be a callboy. I swear.”

Aaron doesn’t move, waiting for the other shoe to drop. He watches Hamilton take a deep breath, his shoulders squaring.

“It’s what the ad said. I need a caretaker. Just not for the kids. It’s me. I need you for me.”

“You.”

Aaron’s thoughts are wheeling. He has half a mind to get up and walk away right now, but the napkin in his hand sits like a dead weight.

He runs a hand over his scalp, breaking eye contact.

“I’m going to need you to explain this to me, Hamilton,” he says finally, fixing the man with a level look. Hamilton fidgets under his gaze, but doesn’t glance away.

“My wife left me,” he begins shortly. “Eliza – I’m sure you know – when she found out about the affair she moved out with the kids. I don’t blame her. I fucked up. She was right to leave but . . . ”

He trails off, taking a moment for a fortifying breath. “I’m not . . . good at living by myself,” he finally admits. “I have – well, I work a lot. Odd hours. And sometimes I forget to eat or shower or sleep. It’s a thing. Eliza used to remind me, but now she doesn’t, of course, and it’s becoming a bit of – maybe not a problem, but definitely an issue. My boss has noticed. And my boss can’t notice. I can’t afford to be a burden right now.”

“So you’re hiring me to what, be your wife?” Aaron’s tone is incredulous. Hamilton flinches.

“No. Not exactly.” He sighs, fidgeting with his fingers. “Look, it’s everything you were talking about before. Taking care that I follow my schedule, making sure that I eat something healthy, keeping up the house.”

“And disciplining you,” Aaron adds. Something in his mind clicks. He leans back, rubbing his arms. “I was wrong. You’re not looking for a wife. You’re looking for a Dom.”

Hamilton’s eyes are wide and dark. He closes his mouth and doesn’t say a word, though Aaron can see his throat working.

This, weirdly, helps Aaron find his feet again.

“There’s a reason you advertised where you did. You put your fliers up in all the clubs with that sort of a reputation, didn’t you? Not enough to fully advertise, but certainly where any one who sees it will be at least familiar with the idea.”

“So you are then,” Hamilton says, voice small. “Familiar with it?”

“In theory,” Aaron answers. “In practice . . . ”

He trails off. For a split-second he gets a flash of soft skin pulled taut against black rope. Theodosia’s laughter tickles his ear, the whisper of her nails running across his neck. He shakes his head.

“I have a daughter.”

Hamilton practically jumps. “I know, I know – it doesn’t have to be weird. I’ve got the kids every other weekend. Sometimes more if Eliza is busy. I’d never ask you do something in front of them. It would be private – strictly between the two of us. I’ll say I’m renting out the rooms, if anyone asks.”

And it does, in a way, make sense.

Aaron can read the desperation in every line of Hamilton’s body. The exhaustion practically drips off his thin frame, visible in the faint tremor in his hands. His eyes are sunken into deep bruises, slightly bleary even as he tries to focus a great deal on Aaron’s face. This is a man at the end of his rope and Aaron –

Aaron knows how to tie the right knots.

And he can’t forget about the money. He’d have enough to build up his nest egg again – even begin saving for Theo’s college fund. It would be enough to cover the tuition for her private school without hassle. Even if it didn’t work out, in a few months he’d have enough to put a down payment on a new apartment and cover six month’s rent easily. He’d be able to pay off his creditors – and once that was done there would nothing holding him back from seeking a real job.

It is, in a sense, the solution to all of his problems.

He also isn’t blind to the fact that Hamilton could easily ruin him.

“Burr, please,” Hamilton says, drawing him back in a low voice. His eyes are intent, face stone serious. “Please. I’ll give you a month’s wage in advance for a one trial week. No funny business. You can walk out at anytime, no questions asked.” He pauses.

“I think this could work – you and me. Would you give me a shot?”

Aaron’s nails rake across his skin as he drags them over his skull. He sighs loudly, thinking thinking thinking . . .

“Okay,” he says - deep breath in, release. Across the table, Hamilton tenses like a bow drawn taut. “I’ll accept your one week trial.”

Hamilton’s face splits, overwhelmed by the force of his smile. Aaron stops him before he can say anything, holding up his hand.

“I have three conditions.”

He waits for Hamilton to nod.

“Number one, I want to be paid up front in cash. Number two, I’ll need you to sign a non-disclosure form for me, as well. And number three, you’ll prepare a preliminary contract of soft and hard limits, as well any particular tasks you believe you want help with. I’ll review the contract before the week begins with any adjustments for my own limits. Are these terms agreeable to you?”

Hamilton nods quickly. “Cash, form, contract – got it. That’s fine.”

They shake hands. It seems a bit ridiculous given the subject matter.

Hamilton is practically vibrating in his seat. “I’ll make up a full itinerary and send it to you. Text me your email? I’m thinking start Monday. Unless you can begin earlier?”

“Sunday would be easier,” Aaron says. He watches the flurry of Hamilton’s nerves, wondering what he’s gotten himself into. “I’ll need the non-disclosure and the contract by Friday at the latest. The money before I walk in the door.”

“Right, right. Okay.” Hamilton bites on his lips, brow furrowed as he pulls out his phone and starts typing. His eyes widen suddenly. “Shit! Is that the time? I’m late!”

In the next moment, he’s out of his chair, wrapping himself up in his coat and scarf with same manic energy that carried him into the shop. Aaron’s faintly disturbed and a little bit annoyed if he’s being honest. He’d rather hammer out details now than leave things to chance.

But Hamilton is clearly intent on getting out fast. He stutters his apology to Aaron, muttering angrily about the time and his appointments. When he gets his scarf around his neck and turns for the door, Aaron moves.

“Wait.”

He catches Hamilton’s wrist. He can wrap his pinky to his thumb even over the thick material of the brace.

Hamilton looks back at him startled, eyes darting from his wrist to Aaron’s face with an exposed expression.

Time to test the waters.

“You’re going to leave your office no later than 8pm tonight. You will go home and you will sleep for at least eight hours. Do you understand me?”

Hamilton’s mouth closes. He nods his head once, sharply, eyes darting down to his wrist again.

Aaron almost squeezes – almost – but holds back. Not yet. If he’s doing this, then he is going to do this properly.

“Good,” he rubs his thumb over Hamilton’s palm, watching the man’s eyes zero in on the movement. Very good. He continues, “Only after you have slept for eight hours will you write your contract. If I read it and I think you haven’t slept, or didn’t sleep enough, the deal is off. I won’t do business with someone who can’t think. Say that you understand.”

Hamilton’s voice is very quiet.

“I understand.” A beat. Aaron waits. “Sir. I understand, sir.”

“Good.”

Now he squeezes, very gently, not enough to jar the obviously delicate wrists. When he releases, Hamilton pulls the limb to his chest, cradling it in his other hand.

He stares at Aaron with wide-eyes for a moment, before nodding sharply and fleeing the shop.

Aaron listens to the doorbell jingle and let’s his shoulders drop. He stares at the napkin in his hand, before standing up with a sigh.

He has work to do.

Chapter Text

Alexander

*

Alexander’s back is aching by the time he’s scrubbed down the counters, scraping away weeks of coffee stains. He tosses the last sponge in the trash, ties the bag, and is startled to see the sun peaking out above his neighbor’s rooftop when he steps outside to throw it away.

But the house is at least livable when he comes back inside again, which is more than he could say when he’d stumbled in last night. He’d meant to go to sleep by three, left most of his notes at work even, but that’s before he’d tripped over several pairs of pants walking in the door.

Now, his stomach twists in that familiar all-nighter way. He pulls out the coffee machine, throwing grounds on the filter, before dragging himself up the stairs to shower. When he emerges, he gets as far as tying his hair up in a knot, before the next obstacle hits him. His eyes flicker between the lines of pressed suits and the open drawers of ratty sweats, wondering where all of his normal-person clothes went.

Probably with Eliza in the divorce, along with his kids, his reputation, and any remaining scrap of his dignity.

He swallows the bitterness down, throwing on an old grey sweater and jeans. When he checks himself in the mirror he swims in the clothes, but that isn’t exactly unfamiliar to him either.

He makes his way down to the kitchen, coffee scalding as he turns around and heads back upstairs. He peeks in on the two guest bedrooms on the second floor, grateful that he hadn’t had cause to go inside and mess them up since the split.

They’re done in the same dark wood furniture as the rest of the house – one painted a light green with a plain white duvet and the other boasting cream walls and a quilt patterned with tiny lilac flowers. At least it will be easy to determine which room Burr’s daughter will sleep, though Alex doesn’t mind making changes if Burr decides to stay.

There are a few family pictures that have found their way on top of the dressers, which Alex piles up in his arms. After a moment’s deliberation, he also opens the curtains and windows, letting the breeze in. Hopefully, it will be enough to bring some life into the space.

He dumps the photos on his own bed – he hasn’t bothered cleaning his own room or study yet and the mess of books and laundry is impressive. But he isn’t quite up to that right now either. He mills around the house straightening book piles, lining up old issues of the Times, and righting throw pillows.

It isn’t long before the puttering around makes anxiety crawl up his throat. When he glances at the clock, it’s just past seven. The Burrs aren’t expected until nine. He thinks about settling down to read some briefs, but he can feel the shaky course of adrenaline already rushing through his veins. Bereft of a better option, he settles down in the kitchen and begins jotting out notes for Washington’s meeting with the teacher’s union.

Time flies.

Alex bites at his pen, feeling his wrist creak at him. He rubs the left absently, switching the pen to his right hand as he flips over a new page. A knock on the door disrupts him.

“Betsey, can you get the door?”

He finds the line that’s bothering him; scratches out outstanding for distinguished. The ending is messy too. It isn’t campaign season quite yet, but the sloppy language gnaws at him. He crosses out the whole last paragraph, flipping the page to a clean slate and pressing his pen to the pad.

There’s a knock at the door again.

“Eliza? Honey, I’m right in the middle of – ”

Oh. Right.

Alex throws the pen and paper down, scrambling out of his seat and all but running to the door. He pauses there, hands flying to his hair, smoothing it back. His back cracks as he straightens up. He pulls on the sweater, forcing the collar in line.

Okay, big smile, Alex. You can do this.

He opens the door.

Aaron Burr stands on his doorstep, the downturn of his mouth disappearing as his eyes run up and down Alexander’s frame. His expression is more closed off than Hamilton remembers, his gaze a little more analytical. He’s also toting two large suitcases, a duffle bag, and a messenger satchel strapped over his chest and he still manages to look impeccably neat in a navy peacoat and shining shoes.

He’s also alone.

“You didn’t bring your daughter? Is something wrong?”

“She’s at Sunday School,” Burr says easily. “I thought it would be better to come by alone first.”

“Right.” Alex is strangely disappointed, but it’s smart really. The type of protective parenting that he knows he wouldn’t think of on his own.

There’s a pause. This is awkward. Alex bites his cheek and shifts his weight, thinking of something to say. Burr just looks at him flatly – patiently – waiting. Whatever thoughts he has kept carefully hidden behind a veneer of civility.

It takes a beat before Alex, like an idiot, realizes he’s blocking the door.

“Right! Sorry, sorry! Come in. Can I help you with your bags?”

“I can manage,” Burr replies. He steps into the foyer, eyes sweeping down the hallway. The townhouse is old, the floor plan more closed off than most modern houses, with the kitchen, living room, and dining hall all separated by their own doors. As such, there isn’t much for Burr to see, but Alex fidgets anyway.

“You have a lovely home.”

Alex isn’t sure if it’s just good manners or genuine approval, but he feels a little tension drip away anyway. His smile comes easier.

“Let me show you to the guest rooms.”

He turns and leads the man upstairs, pointing out rooms as he goes. The second floor has the library he calls his study, a full bath, and the two guest bedrooms usually kept ready for long visits from Angelica from France. Lafayette used to be a frequent visitor too, though less so since he and Adrienne had had little George. Occasionally, other friends from the army would drop by when the needed a place to crash, but since Mulligan had gotten set up in a tailor shop in New Jersey, even those visits haven’t been much of an issue of late.

Alexander turns the doorknob to the green guest room, suddenly uncertain when he’d last had a visitor in his home at all.

“They’re both pretty similar,” he says, gesturing to the door across the hall. “My room is upstairs on the third floor with the kids’, though sometimes they like to play in the guest rooms. You might find some of their toys kicking around. The door at the end is my study, and you already saw the bathroom. Feel free to make yourself at home. The kids are mostly here on the weekends, but even then there should be plenty of space.” He laughs uncomfortably, trying to relieve the building tension.

Burr doesn’t say anything at all. He walks into the open room, dropping off the duffle bag and suitcases. Almost immediately he crosses the room to close the window, which Alex just realizes has been letting in a light snowfall, making a puddle on the windowsill. He flushes, but Burr isn’t looking at him. Burr shrugs off his coat, placing it neatly on the bed, revealing a dark button-down shirt below. He tucks his hands into his pockets when he turns around to face Alex, eyes openly examining him.

Alex twitches with things to say. He thinks for a moment of Burr’s tight grip around his wrist at their last meeting – the gentle promise of strength restrained. It’s been a tantalizing memory for nearly a week, leaving Alex with half a desire to just demand the same treatment right now. He’d slept so well, though the guilt had nearly strangled him when he’d slept past eight the next morning. But how could he ask for such treatment, even in this strange set up he himself has arranged?

He stares at Burr, hoping the man can read it on his face. Surely the man won’t make him ask. It must be clear what Alex is looking for - just a little something to take him out of his head.

Burr’s finishes his examination, meeting Alex’s eye. Alex straightens up, preparing himself for the first command.

Burr says, “When did you last sleep?”

What?

“What?”

Burr doesn’t repeat himself. He just continues to stare at Alex, face indiscernible.

Shit.

“It was last night. Yesterday.”

It’s even almost not a lie. He fell asleep at his desk at lunch yesterday, until his secretary had shaken him awake for his next meeting. He had caught at least four hours the night before last too, so he did technically sleep yesterday, though it wasn’t exactly a good night’s rest.

“I see.”

There’s something unnerving in the bland quality of Burr’s face. He takes his hands out of his pockets, walking towards Alex until he’s forced to step out into the hallway. Burr closes the door to the guest room quietly and then gestures up the stairs.

“Go to sleep, Hamilton,” Burr says. Alex’s entire being jerks at the idea. Short of collapsing, Alex does not sleep in the middle of the day.

“Burr, I know we’ve hardly met. If we did, you’d know I’m a very busy man. I really think that we should take this time and get to know one another, don’t you think? Sleeping can hardly be the most effective use of our time and I really didn’t take today off of work to spend it doing nothing.”

He doesn’t know why, but talking makes him angry. He’s trying not to scowl at Burr, wrapping his arms around his middle to keep from lashing out. He feels like he has been whiplashed – all his desire to submit suddenly turning course against this ridiculous proposal.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, it occurs to him that he hasn’t been this close to snapping since just after the war. It’s the part of his mind that registers that his hands have been shaking all day and that he’s had to blink several times for the last few hours just to get a clear focus on things.

His teeth grit when Burr’s expression doesn’t change.

“As I’ve said before, I won’t do business with someone who can’t think.” Burr cuts over Alex’s response, without even raising his voice. “You’ve already lied to me once today, Hamilton, do you really think this is going to work if you do it again?”

That shuts him up.

He thinks of the hefty sum he’d wired to Burr’s bank account just last night, the hours he’s spent pouring over his lists of do’s and don’ts, the butterflies in his stomach he’s carried all week just thinking of the other man’s arrival.

The anger is still there, churning low in his belly, but it’s confusing itself with another sick feeling in his gut.

“Fine,” he bites out, turning on his heel. His neck burns when Burr follows him up the stairs, getting a full view of the mess that is his bedroom when he opens the door and throws himself on the covers.

“I’m sleeping. Are you happy? Get out!”

He buries his face in the pillow, turning his back to the other man, snarling into the fabric. He doesn’t know why he’s so upset, but to his horror he can feel wetness on his pillow as he presses his face away from Burr.

He’ll just get out his laptop when the other man leaves, he thinks with triumph. Burr will never need to know.

It’s the last thought he has before the darkness drags him down.

 

*

 

When he opens his eyes, his bedroom is soft and dim around him. The air hangs warm and thick over his limbs, pulling them down against wakefulness. Slipping around the edges of his closed curtains, the sky shines in brilliant stripes of orange against the walls.

Consciousness returns to him slowly. Unless he’s had a nightmare, that’s usually the way.

He isn’t sure what wakes him, but he kicks off his blankets and sits up, feeling his head swim with the movement. When he reaches for his phone on the bedside table, his palm hits empty wood. It isn’t there. That’s the thought that rouses him up. Sitting up sharply, he spots his laptop cord sitting lamely at the end of the bed.

Fuck.”

He heaves himself out of bed, pushing away the last tendrils of sleep. His body buzzes pleasantly, skin warm and soft, though his eyes still have that scratchy, dry feeling.

If Washington had called while he was asleep . . .

The thought makes apprehension bubble in his stomach. He stumbles out of his bedroom, frowning when he smells something delicious as he down blunders the stairs. The low undercurrent of voices confronts him as he reaches the ground floor.

Instinctively his steps grow quiet. He spots his computer and phone sitting on the entryway table and scurries to them, relieved when he sees he’s only missed a few non-urgent texts from the staff. He has to check his email and twitter before his anxiety finally simmers down. He’s still refreshing the page just in case when he peeks his head into the dining room.

Burr is seated with a little girl at the table, wearing a smile Alex has never seen before. It vanishes like smoke upon his entrance as both Burrs look up, faces showing remarkably similar schooled expressions. Burr’s daughter resembles her father a great deal, with a pointed chin and a thin mouth. Her hair is pulled into two pom-poms on top her head and she’s wearing a green school uniform and a white collared shirt, though her sneakers seem to be the light-up kind that James loves.

They’re sitting across from one another at one end of the long table. A mixed salad and a store-bought lasagna in a tin tray sit on the table between them. They’re even eating with real plates, which is more than Alex can say of himself in recent months. Alex doesn’t know quiet what to make of the domestic scene of these two strangers happening in his own home, but it leaves something nervous inside of him.

It’s Burr who manages to speak first.

“Theo, this is Mr. Hamilton. Hamilton, this is my daughter, Theodosia. Say hello, Theo.”

The girl stares at him dubiously. She’s quite cute, but her expression is anything but welcoming.

“Hi.”

“That’s a really great name,” Alex says, putting on a grin. “Can I call you Theo?”

The girl doesn’t smile.

“No.”

Ah.

Burr takes that as his cue. “Theodosia, go and get Mr. Hamilton a plate and cutlery from the kitchen please.”

“Yes, Dad,” she says, sliding out of her seat and glaring at Alex when he isn’t quite fast enough getting out of the doorway. He hears Aaron sigh and watches the man gesture at the many empty seats around the table.

“You should sit down and eat,” he says. “I apologize for Theo. That’s unusual attitude for her.”

Hesitantly, Alex takes his seat at the head of the table. It’s a position that places a Burr on each side, but he wouldn’t know which side of the table to choose otherwise.

“I’m sure she’ll stop biting once she’s settled,” Alex excuses. “Angie doesn’t care much for strangers either.”

Burr just hums. The door swings back open as Theo reenters, setting down a plate, fork, and glass of water before climbing back into her seat. Burr steals the plate before Alex can move, serving him a portion of each without asking.

“What if I was a vegetarian?” Alex mutters.

“Then eat the greens,” Burr replies.

“I’m not,” Alex says, and then, because he is unable to stop himself, “This isn’t what I meant, you know.”

“Actually, I know exactly what you meant.”

Burr’s look is flat – and a warning. Right. Theodosia’s at the table and Alex has already almost broken the agreement not to do this in front of the kids.

Alex shuts up and digs in. For several minutes, there is nothing but the clinking of cutlery on ceramic. Neither Burr seems inclined to continue their conversation in front of him and he doesn’t know how to approach a conversation with Burr with Theodosia in the room.

It’s frustrating, as everything had seemed so clear at the coffee shop. Alex had liked Burr’s succinct, well-argued positions and the line of authority in his straight shoulders. Now, he can’t remember one thing he learned throughout the interview that would actually be useful in a normal conversation.

Lacking something else to do, Alex focuses on shoveling food into his mouth, savoring the taste of eating something home cooked and warm. He doesn’t realize how hungry he was, until he reaches for his second plate and devours that too.

He’s never been comfortable with silence though, and it begins to really get to him soon after. He goes to open his phone and refresh his email again when Burr stops him.

“No phones at the table, Hamilton.”

“Excuse me?” Even Eliza had given up on that rule eventually. It simply wasn’t feasible.

Burr raises his eyebrow at him, unimpressed. Alex tucks his phone away, vowing to argue later.

Or maybe his chance will come sooner rather than later, he thinks, as Theo sets down her fork.

“May I be excused,” she asks her father, ignoring Alex completely. “I still have math homework.”

“Brush your teeth before you get settled in,” Burr responds nodding. “I’ll be up before you go to bed.”

She collects her dishes and slides out of the dining room, leaving Burr and Alex alone again. There is a bated sort of silence, as they both seem to listen to her shuffle in the kitchen for a moment, before the sound of her footsteps lead upstairs.

Alex let’s his tongue fly the moment privacy descends.

“You move in quick, don’t you?”

He doesn’t mean to sound bitter, but his tone comes out biting regardless. Apparently his anger hasn’t as diminished as he’d thought.

Burr pauses, lowering his fork back to his plate. He turns and faces Alex directly.

“I apologize if I overstepped, Hamilton. I assumed because this trial is only a week long that you wanted me to begin my duties today.”

It makes an annoying amount of sense.

“No. You’re right. That’s true,” Alex agrees. He doesn’t quite know how to say that Burr has done exactly the opposite of his job, pushing Alex to worry even more about his job rather than help him support it. He shakes his head, biting his tongue, “You’re free to move about the house as you want of course too. You live here now.”

Burr, frustratingly enough, doesn’t move to confirm this. He turns back to his food, resuming eating.

“How are you liking the house?” Alex continues, needling, when Burr says nothing. “Anything I need to get? A color you’d rather have the walls, maybe?”

“It is a lovely house,” Burr answers, echoing his words from the morning. “Though it must have been very empty with just one person.”

Ouch. Alex flinches, having to pull his gaze away when it automatically looks at the long expanse of empty seats at the table.

“Thank you,” he says, forcing himself to smile. “And it’s not so bad. I spend most of my time at the office anyway. I’m only really here when the kids are around.”

The conversation deteriorates as Alex’s words dry up in his throat. It’s a sensation that has been happening far too often for his taste, and always, it seems, in Burr’s presence. He waits for Burr to say something, but the man seems content to focus on his plate, leaving Alex to pace his glance between his own food and the smooth lines of Burr’s profile.

Silence is one of Alex’s least favorite things.

Finally, Alex watches Burr finish his meal, tilting back the last of his water and setting the glass on the table. The man turns to him, one hand tapping on the glass’s rim.

“That’s the second time you’ve lied to me tonight.”

Alex’s head shoots up. “Excuse me?”

Burr ticks them off calmly. “First, you told me you had slept the night before when obviously you hadn’t. And now, just then, you lied when I asked you about the house. We aren’t off to a good start, Hamilton.”

“And you think I’m the one to blame!”

It’s unbelievable. After everything Alex had done to get ready for this day, Burr wants to do nothing else but critique him. He doesn’t know the effort Alex had put into getting the house ready – the hours he had pulled so that he could take this day off and be present. To say that he was the one fucking up, when he’d put so much time into making things work! He sees red.

“If you want to talk about blame, Burr, let’s talk about that stunt you pulled right before this! What gives you the right to move my things? Did you even think before you did it?”

“You’re going to want to watch your tone in how you speak to me,” Burr warns quietly.

Alex outright snarls.

“I’ll speak any damn way I want. Let me put it this way, Burr. You don’t get to touch my stuff or move my belongings, especially my phone. If an emergency had happened when I was asleep and I wasn’t able to respond I’d be fired, quick as that.”

Burr doesn’t shrug, but his expression seems to convey the same meaning.

“When we met before, you made it sound as though you’re going to be fired anyway, if you don’t get more sleep.”

True. “That’s not the point!” he insists.

“Then please reach it.”

“You invaded my privacy!” Alex exclaims. “You moved my personal belongings without permission – without thinking of the consequences or asking me about them. I realize that what I am hiring you here to do is a little odd, but if this is the way that you go about it I’m not really sure this is going to work out after all!”

He doesn’t realize he’s started yelling, until the silence rings after he finishes. He watches as Burr deliberately sets down his utensils, turning to face Alex fully.

“I see,” he says, tone low. He pushes back from his chair, rising.

“It’s clear to me that there is more to discuss than simply what was in your contract. I’m going to tuck my daughter into bed now. I suggest,” he pauses, lets the emphasis hang on the word, “that you finish eating. Then, if you still want to hire me, you’ll wait for me in the spare study and think about exactly what it is that you want out of this. If it’s a housecleaner and a cook, I can do that, but if you really want more, you’re going to have to think hard about what exactly that means to you.”

He quits the room after that, picking up his plate and glass and ignores the way Alex no doubt gapes after him.

Alex watches the door swing shut behind him and let’s his head drop.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

Aaron

*

He shuts the door to Theo’s new room, letting himself sag against its frame for a moment. She hadn’t wanted to settle, though it had been a long time since he’d had to wait with her as she fell asleep. It’s clear from her behavior at dinner that despite Aaron’s attempts throughout the week to explain their new situation, her confusion has taken a turn to angry frustration.

He really can’t blame her. It’s hard for him to wrap his head around this move himself.

As if on cue, Aaron’s thoughts circle back to Alexander Hamilton. He resists the urge to express his own frustration, fingers itching for the bottle he has hidden in the foot of his suitcase. He stops himself before the thought can run its full course, but his throat swallows reflexively.

He opens the door across the hall, letting himself into the guest bedroom Hamilton has given him. He crosses the room to one of his bags, pulling out a printed copy of Hamilton’s contract. It’s twenty-three pages long and incredibly well written. Unfortunately, given what he’s seen of Hamilton’s behavior thus far, it’s also entirely useless.

He slips the contract inside one of the many legal pads he’s found lying around the house and leaves the room, heading back downstairs. It’s one good sign at least when he sees that the table has been cleared in the dining room and the dishes are in the machine in the kitchen. The clock on the microwave shows the time as just past ten. Dinner had ended several hours ago now.

With that in mind, he fills a glass in the sink and then pads toward the study’s door down the hall. He knows from peeking around the house previously, that it’s a small, well-lit room in the daytime, lined with two brimming bookshelves, a desk against the street side window, and two reading chairs in red upholster. When he pushes open the door, he finds Hamilton sitting on one of the those chairs, knees tucked up beneath him, expression blank as he stares down at an open book on his lap.

That head swivels up to face him as he steps into the room. Hamilton’s face is unusually empty, the anger from earlier hidden for the moment. He’s stopped shaking at least, a sign that putting him to sleep earlier had definitely been the right decision. It gives Aaron courage enough to sit down opposite the man, careful to keep his own nerves tucked away.

He hands over the glass of water, watching Hamilton take it hesitantly, setting his book aside.

“So, that didn’t start well.”

Hamilton huffs in amusement. Aaron allows himself a small smile.

He studies the man opposite him, wondering how exactly this is going to work.

“No,” says Hamilton. His voice is quieter than before, maybe a little hoarse. He takes a sip of the water, hunching his shoulders over the glass. The man is a mess, no doubt, but Aaron is beginning to wonder if Hamilton even knows how much.

“I have your old contract here,” Aaron says, showing the papers.

“Old?”

“Yes.”

That, at least, draws a twist to Hamilton’s mouth. He straightens up, eyes narrowing, “I slept before I wrote it. We had a deal.”

“I know,” Aaron says. “Did you think about what I asked you to?”

Hamilton’s eyes lose their challenging glint. His gaze wanders away from Aaron to look out the window.

“Yeah.”

Aaron waits, letting the silence speak for him as Hamilton gathers his thoughts. After a minute, Hamilton turns back to him.

“I don’t want a housekeeper,” he says, finally.

“No,” agrees Aaron. Okay, progress.

“I still want to do this,” Hamilton goes on. “It was – I did sleep, after the interview.”

“That’s good,” Aaron nods.

He turns to the contract, flipping through the now familiar pages. It reads like an itinerary, more than half of it a list of Hamilton’s list of duties and meetings for the next week. There’s also a least three pages of hard limits – most of them things Aaron doesn’t want to think about, much less perform. It looks like Hamilton downloaded a list of every conceivable kink possible and then crossed a black line through them all.

Conspicuously missing is any mention of what Hamilton actually wants.

“Let’s talk about tonight,” he says.

Hamilton blanches, but recovers quickly. “I’m sorry,” he says quickly, licking his lips.

Aaron sighs. “Hamilton. . . ”

He let’s his voice trail off, not knowing how to correct the other man one yet another lie.

The idea comes to him quickly.

“Up. Get up.”

Hamilton blinks at him incredulously, but slowly rises from his chair. Aaron follows suit, crossing the room to pull out three medium-sized books from the shelves.

“Down,” he says, returning to the other man. When Hamilton looks at him blankly, Aaron reaches out and physically pushes down on the man’s shoulder. “Down, Hamilton. Kneel.”

Comprehension blooms on Hamilton’s face in the form of a scarlet blush. He drops gracelessly to the floor, the sound of his knees smacking the wood making Aaron wince. Hamilton doesn’t seem to notice, looking up at him with a transparent, nervous expression. His hands twiddle in his lap, shoulders hunching up to his ears.

But it isn’t an unwelcoming picture that he makes, kneeling on the floor. Aaron nods to himself, circling to the front.

He ignores the way Hamilton freezes, eyes darting from his face down his body in thinly viewed trepidation. It’s a natural response, given their positions, one that Aaron doesn’t acknowledge.

“Lift up. Come off of your legs,” he instructs, watching Hamilton obey wordlessly follows his commands. “Good. Now lean back – farther – yes, like that. Arms behind your back. You aren’t to drop down to rest on your legs, understood? I want you to hold this position.”

Hamilton looks at him incredulously.

“What is this? Is this supposed to be hard?”

Aaron carefully does not smirk. “Wait for it, Hamilton.”

It’s the simplest stress position that Aaron knows – nothing more than a modified kneeling position that taxes the upper leg muscles, much like a wall sit. But he also knows that it can be very, very effective – particularly for what Aaron has in mind.

“We’re having a communication issue,” Aaron states, tapping his finger against the spine of one of the books. “That’s lie number three of the evening. Lie number three, Hamilton.”

Hamilton’s tongue darts out, licking his lips. His dark eyes track Aaron sharply, drowsiness shoving off in a fit of new adrenaline.

“I’m sorry, sir,” he says.

“No you’re not,” Aaron replies. “Not yet.”

He holds up the three books, before setting them on the table to the side. “We’ll get to your punishment in a moment, after we’ve spoken more. If you drop that position, your punishment will only increase – understand?”

“Yes,” Hamilton says.

“Yes?”

“Yes, sir,” the man corrects quickly.

Aaron nods. “Good.”

He sits back down, settling back in his chair easily and allowing himself to wait. Hamilton is shifting slightly, no doubt already beginning to feel the burn in his thighs. He’s still foolishly confident in the position though; a smug confusion that makes Aaron smirk.

"Now,” he begins, “What happened today, Hamilton?”

Hamilton frowns. “I don’t see what good will come from rehashing it, sir. I’ve told you I want you to stay on as you are.”

“Yes, that doesn’t work for me,” Aaron replies shortly. “You were angry with me today.”

“Yes,” says Hamilton, squinting at him. Aaron waits. “You took my phone. If trouble had happened at work and they weren’t able to reach me . . . ”

“Is it often that you get called when you’re off work?”

“It happens.”

“Even now? Outside of election season?”

“Yes.” Hamilton hesitates, “It could happen. I can’t risk the possibility that it does. I need to be in touch with Washington – if he calls and I don’t answer, I’m ruined.”

It’s a dilemma that Aaron’s familiar with, though he isn’t quite happy about it. Hamilton is a classic case of work-obsessed. If Aaron can’t even take away his phone, his job is only going to be that much harder.

“Okay,” Aaron decides finally.

“Okay?”

Aaron flips open the legal pad, writing out the agreement in large letters. “I’m going to write down ‘Any activity that jeopardizes work’ as one of your hard limits. For your phone specifically, would you feel comfortable if I confiscated your phone while promising to monitor it for important messages or calls?”

“I need my phone,” Hamilton repeats again.

“Yes,” Aaron replies. “But you hired me to help you turn off. This would be a good place to begin trusting me, Hamilton.”

Here Hamilton blinks, looking at him with something close to a sneer. There’s that anger Aaron knew was hiding. “I just met you, Burr.”

Aaron doesn’t quite shrug, but the meaning is clear.

“And yet here we are.”

He lets their positions speak for him, gesturing at the space between them. It’s gratifying to see sweat begin to pool on Hamilton’s brow, his cocky expression from earlier dulled under a flush of exertion as he fights against the position.

When Hamilton doesn’t respond, casting his eyes away from Aaron and to the carpet, he moves on.

“Let’s talk more about your work.”

Hamilton's eyebrows furrows, but this time he looks up, meeting Aaron’s gaze again.

"What do you need to know? Most of my work is confidential."

"I really don't care what you do for a living, Hamilton. It couldn't interest me less." He gestures at the contract. "Your entire contract reads like an itinerary though, if you were trying to keep it a secret you haven’t done the best job."

Hamilton looks affronted. Aaron continues, bulldozing over the coming response, "How often do you sleep, Hamilton? Truthfully."

It’s enough to throw Hamilton off his track. The man lifts a shoulder, “Five hours? On a good night at least. A lot of the it’s time less, especially if work gets busy."

Aaron just hums. "I notice that you didn't put anything in your contract about rewards. What did your Mrs. Schuyler do for you?"

Hamilton scowls. Aaron enjoys the clench of the other man's jaw, watching the shake in his legs. Not so cocky now, is he?

"It wasn't like that," Hamilton finally bites out. "Eliza wouldn't - we weren't like that. It was, you know, vanilla. She wouldn’t be into this kind of thing."

It's Aaron's turn to frown. "I was under the impression that you've done this before."

"Yes," Hamilton says.

"Yes?" Aaron repeats. He sits back in his chair, frowning. "What were the terms of your last relationship of this nature? Do you have any references? An old contract maybe?"

It’s Hamilton’s turn to frown. "No. It - "

" - Wasn't like that either," Aaron concludes for him. He sighs, rubbing his brow. "Hamilton, have you ever had a Dom before?"

"I've done this before," Hamilton repeats stubbornly.

"But you've never had a Dom," Aaron recaps. "Or a safe word, I'll take it. Or any idea how this is actually supposed to work."

"Well maybe I would if you would just get on with it! Stop talking down to me, Burr."

His form wavers. Aaron can see the tension suddenly ripple in his thighs as he quakes. Hamilton almost straightens up, before deliberately leaning back down to the correct position. His face is flushed down, sweat trickling down his neck.

Aaron carefully does not get up, keeping an unaffected face. He speaks calmly, "I'm not speaking down to you, Hamilton. I'm correcting my information. And we are, just so that you know, in the middle of it."

"This doesn't change anything," Hamilton insists.

"Hamilton, this changes everything," Aaron counters. "Do you even know what these kinds of relationships are built on? Is that why you're afraid of corporal punishment? What did you do, just read the first page on Google and decide that this was the cure for you?"

"I've done this before."

"No, you really haven't."

Aaron sighs, sitting back in his chair. He rubs his head, trying to think through the mess he's just been presented with. For all the disaster Hamilton has been, he has never assumed that Hamilton would be naive about this though.

It's a whole new headache he isn't sure he is ready to deal with. He has never been the more experienced partner in this kind of relationship. The responsibly daunts him.

But here is Hamilton, already straining against his position within the first five minutes - a fraction of what Aaron knows he's capable of. Hamilton's not complaining though. Aaron isn't blind to the way Hamilton's gaze has focused - the more coherent his answers have become since putting him down. He suspects it isn’t a problem of Hamilton’s potential for this lifestyle, but the way that he’s gone about it thus far . . .

There are reasons why newcomers are so hesitant about entering into the scene. Hamilton is beyond lucky that it was Aaron that found him, before anyone else did.

And he has a terrible feeling that even if he leaves, that isn’t going to stop Hamilton from reaching out.

“Right.”

He stands up, scrubbing a hand down his skull as he paces to the window. He ignores the way Hamilton’s eyes track him, the desperation on his red face. He reaches out and draws closed the curtains, taking a moment to collect himself.

When he turns back to Hamilton, he’s formed half a plan.

He picks up the legal pad, scribbling out his message quickly. Then, without further ado, it takes Hamilton’s old contract and carries it to the trash.

“Here,” he says, thrusting the legal note at Hamilton. “This is your new contract. If we can make it through the week on this, then we can open up new negotiations.”

“This?” Hamilton says, lifting it up skeptically.

“Just read it,” Aaron says. He waves a hand. “You can rest while you do, but read it aloud please.”

Hamilton’s form collapses with a groan. He rubs at his thighs, collecting his breath, glaring when Aaron waves at him to hurry up.

At least he’s smart enough not to move off of his knees.

At last, Hamilton straightens up, holding out the note before him. He clears his throat, reading it out without preamble.

“‘One – The Dominant will not engage in any activity that jeopardizes the submissive’s occupation. Two – The Dominant will not engage in any physical activity that both parties have not mutually agreed to. Three – The submissive will agree to respect, obey, and communicate honestly with the Dominant.’ This is it?”

Hamilton’s voice is incredulous. Aaron nods, “Until you understand what a relationship like this means, I can’t trust you to dictate what you want.”

“There are no limits in here. I’m basically giving you free reign.”

“This is where the trust begins, Hamilton,” Aaron replies. He can’t say he isn’t nervous about all of this either, but he keeps a tighter lid than Hamilton, who is openly disarmed. “We will also be using the stoplight system for safewords. You do know how that works, correct?”

“Yeah,” Hamilton says, which is something, at least.

“Repeat it for me.”

Hamilton rolls his eyes. “Red means stop. Yellow means slow down. Green means go.”

“Close,” Aaron answers. “Red does mean stop, as in the entire scene will stop instantly, in its entirety. Yellow means pause, check in, but that we may continue in the scene. Green means, as you said, go.”

“Yeah, that’s what I said,” snaps Hamilton

“And you’ll have the greatest safeword of all,” Aaron goes on, ignoring the temper. “Firing me if things go wrong.”

Hamilton is silent. He’s mulling over the page, hunched like the words might reveal something new to him the more he stares at it. Aaron leaves him to it, needing him to make this decision voluntarily.

At last, Hamilton nods. His head comes up, meeting Aaron’s eyes.

“Do you have a pen?”

Aaron passes one over, watching the man sign his name on the bottom of the page. He passes it back to Aaron, who signs just below him and then sets the paper and pen aside.

“Okay,” he says, leaning forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “We’re done with that for now. Do you still want to continue tonight?”

Hamilton licks his lips. He straightens up, expression clearing to something more curious, than stressed.

“You said there’d be a punishment?” he says.

“There will be if you feel up to continuing tonight,” Aaron affirms. This part, at least, is easy. “If you do not feel confident continuing, I’m sending you straight to bed to sleep and your punishment will happen in the morning. If you do, then we’ll continue with your punishment immediately. What would you like to do?”

Hamilton is studying him warily; glancing over to the books Aaron had first drawn from the shelves. But his eyes are wired open and he’s practically buzzing with energy, so Aaron isn’t surprised when he nods sharply.

“I want to continue.”

“Good boy.”

The words slip from his lips in a familiar cadence. He watches them strike Hamilton, suspicions confirmed when the man at once straightens, breath stuttering as he stares wide-eyed at Aaron.

Good.

As he’d thought, the potential at least is there.

He reaches over and holds up the three books he’d selected before. “You’re being punished for lying to me tonight. You’ll hold one of these books for each lie that you told me for a total of three minutes. If you drop the position, then you’ll start again until you manage all three minutes consecutively. Is that clear?”

Hamilton eyes the books, but nods.

It’s almost good. “Is that clear?” he asks again.

Hamilton starts, before nodding sharply again. “Yes, sir.”

Aaron hums. “Good. Now get up into position for me again. Same as before.”

He watches Hamilton rise up on his knees, before leaning back. This time Aaron reaches over, pushing down on Hamilton’s shoulders until he sinks lower, thighs already shaking under the strain of it. He bends Hamilton down until his thighs hang only two inches above the back of his calves, a much harder position to maintain. But Hamilton stays where he is when Aaron let’s go, clenching his jaw and glaring out in front of him.

“Lift your arms straight out ahead, palm up,” Aaron commands.

Hamilton lifts his arms as instructed, unclenching white fists to hold up his palms. Aaron doesn’t waste any time, taking the first book and laying it down across his palm, catching Hamilton by the elbow as he instantly begins to dip under the weight.

“Keep your arms straight,” he corrects, “If your posture isn’t perfect, we’ll only begin again.”

He lays the second and third book on top the first, and then sits back, watching Hamilton rapidly begin to tremble under the weight.

“You’re time begins now,” he adds, looking at the clock across the room, conveniently positioned on the wall behind Hamilton’s head.

He lets the first thirty seconds trickle by in silence, watching Hamilton squirm, face turning a deep red in effort.

Forty-five seconds in, Hamilton groans, making to rise on his knees. Aaron pounces, catching a hand back on Hamilton’s shoulder and pushing him down to position.

“Stay,” he demands.

He can feel Hamilton shaking under his palm, the skin of his shoulder hot and clammy. He keeps it there, squeezing the tensed muscle, meeting Hamilton’s eyes when they jump to him in surprise.

“Stay right here, Hamilton,” he repeats, squeezing again.

He looks over Hamilton’s shoulder. Two minutes left.

He draws back, Hamilton leaning after him before he quickly self-corrects, straining back into position.

“You’re here right now because you lied to me,” Aaron reminds him. “Do you remember your first lie?”

Hamilton’s eyes glare narrowly at him. “What?” he breathes out from behind clenched teeth.

“You’re first lie was telling me that you had slept yesterday,” Aaron answers for him. “Tell me why you didn’t.”

It’s with obvious strain that Hamilton opens his mouth. “I me-meant to,” he manages, the tension clipping his sentences short. “House was dirty. Had to clean it.”

Aaron nods, ticking it off his fingers. “That was lie one. You lied to me again. Do you remember what it was?”

Hamilton nods in a choppy motion, eyes rolling as he looks around the room. His head is bowed forward, shoulders hunched as he struggles not to drop his arms.

“Tell me.”

“You asked about my family,” Hamilton answers.

“And you said?”

“I’m fine.”

“And are you?”

Hamilton’s face is screwed up. He doesn’t look at Aaron as he bites out his answer.

“No.”

“Good boy.”

Hamilton shudders. Pinpricks of tears have gathered at the corners of his eyes, though out of exertion or the questioning it is hard to say. Aaron glances back at the clock; they’re almost done here.

“Final lie, Hamilton,” he begins again. He leans in close, bringing a hand under Hamilton’s chin and lifting it up until the other man is forced to meet his eyes.

“You told me you were sorry for your behavior before. Was that the truth?”

He can feel the fluctuation of Hamilton’s throat against his hand. “No.”

He holds the eye contact.

“Are you sorry now?”

“Y-Yes!” Hamilton sobs, voice breaking. Aaron moves his hand, brushing Hamilton’s sticky hair of his forehead. He lets the authority bleed out of his voice, gentling his tone.

“Thank you for being honest with me, Hamilton. I forgive you.”

Hamilton’s shoulders shake. Aaron gets up, lifting the books from Hamilton’s hands and tossing them on the chair. His other hand comes down to snake in Hamilton’s hair, keeping him down in the position. Hamilton whines, openly squirming, clearly expecting the punishment to be done.

Hamilton’s eyes are blown wide now. His chest pants heavily with his mouth open, looking at Aaron in a way Aaron knows only too well.

“A moment longer,” he promises, even as he tugs Hamilton’s head back, forcing him to lean even further. The man’s back arches, neck exposed and vulnerable as Aaron leans him further and further back, drawing his spine down like a bow.

He can feel Hamilton’s tremors all throughout his arm. Hamilton tensing as Aaron continues to pull him back, eyes roaming to the side to check his balance.

Aaron shushes him. “Lean on me, Hamilton. I have you.”

The words do the trick. Hamilton’s arms go lacks at his sides. Aaron feels the weight on his arm increase as Hamilton abruptly let’s go, trusting his body to the hand under his head.

His eyes stare up at Aaron, blown wide, face open. His body quakes under Aaron, tears leaking openly from his eyes. Hamilton is silent, tracking his eyes with a dark and vulnerable gaze.

When the levee breaks, Aaron is ready for it. Hamilton collapses inwardly, face screwing up as his breath dissolves into fractured sobbing. Aaron lets him down gently, keeping his hand entwined in Hamilton’s hair and directing him further down, letting him rest on his knees and then pushing his head even further, until his forehead brushes against he carpet – child’s pose.

He kneels next to Hamilton as the sobbing works it’s way through him, letting his other hand stroke Hamilton’s back, waiting.

Hamilton doesn’t cry for long. A scarce few minutes pass by before the noise tapers off. When it does, Aaron feels Hamilton go lax under his hands, though he doesn’t move.

Aaron lets him be, waiting as Hamilton comes back to himself. He knows when Hamilton returns, when the muscles under his palms abruptly tighten. He let’s Hamilton rise without resistance, letting his own hands fall away.

Hamilton’s face is red and wet, blotched and puffy. His eyes are on the carpet.

His entire body jerks when Aaron reaches over, lifting his chin again.

“Color?”

Hamilton blinks at him, brow furrowing.

“What?”

“Color, Hamilton.”

Life snaps back into Hamilton’s face. He flushes again, tugging his chin out of Aaron’s grip.

“Oh – g-green. I’m green.”

Aaron let’s his hands drop again, leaning away now that he can see the awareness sparking in Hamilton’s eyes.

“You did well, tonight,” he says, “Are you ready for bed?”

There’s another beat of silence before Hamilton’s voice comes - small, quiet in a way unusual for him.

“Yeah.”

Aaron rises to his feet, holding out a hand, slightly amused when Hamilton doesn’t take it, rocking to his feet and swaying precariously.

“You’re legs will be sore. Do you want to sit?” Aaron asks.

Hamilton shakes his head stubbornly.

“I can make it.”

Aaron takes him at his word, though he curls a hand against Hamilton’s back and follows behind him as they walk up the stairs. Aaron escorts the man to his bedroom door, smiling when the other man stops outside, waiting for him.

“Get some sleep, Hamilton. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Hamilton’s voice is still small and soft. When Aaron leaves him, he almost misses the other man’s response.

“Yes, sir.”

Chapter Text

Alexander

*

He’d forgotten the sound of his own alarm clock.

Alex groans, rolling onto his stomach until he can smash his fist into the monstrosity, silencing the beast.

He blinks stupidly at the glaring red numbers: 7:00AM. He can’t remember the last time he slept past six.

It’s ridiculous how close sleep still feels.

He grumbles again, before pushing himself out of his covers, stumbling as he gets out of bed. His legs ache in a manner he can’t remember since his time in the army, like bruises have set down deep in the muscle. It’s nearly religious the way the hot water of his shower hits them, flooding his body with relief as the tensed muscles release and unclench.

The sensation is almost enough to shake off the deep humiliation of the night before; the remembrance of breaking down and sobbing in front of Burr. He hasn’t cried like that since the day Eliza served him the divorce papers – and before that, there was only the time when the letter came.

His own reflection scowls at him, all crow’s feet and furrowed brows as he deliberately shoves the memory away.

By the time he buttons his suit, he almost feels like he’s mastered the shame, pushing it back into the far reaches of his consciousness and pulling forth his Monday agenda to the front.

All of that’s forgotten the minute he walks downstairs and finds Burr in the kitchen, a white apron tied over clean slacks as he flips pancakes on the oven. Theo is sitting on the counter, her bright grin sliding off into an open scowl when he enters the room.

Burr turns to look at him, granting him a warmer welcome than his daughter.

“Good morning, Hamilton. Two or three?”

Alex fidgets, glancing over at Theo. She glowers back.

“Uh, two. Thanks. I didn’t know I had pancake mix.”

“You didn’t,” Burr says. He taps Theo on the shoulder, reaching up when she bends down to pull out another plate behind her. “I took the liberty of shopping yesterday. The receipt is in the hallway table.”

He shovels the pancakes onto the plate, before setting it on the counter. Alex edges closer, mindful of Theo’s heavy gaze on him, not quite certain when he began to fear this stern little girl his son’s age. He grabs the plate, before retreating back to the other end of the counter, eating them plain to save time.

“I have to get Theo to school,” Burr says, pulling the apron over his head and putting the pan in the sink. It’s alien to Alex to eat a hot breakfast – Eliza and he had quickly settled on the merits of cereal and toast when herding the kids out the door. He wonders absently if this is something that Burr did just for him or if he was just the domestic type.

He doesn’t really know what to do at this point, feeling more awkward by the second.

“Yeah,” he says lamely, “I’ve got work. I should go.”

“Here, I packed you a lunch.”

“Really?”

Burr tosses a brown paper bag at him, picking up an identical sack and passing it to Theodosia. The insinuation that he needs a child’s treatment prickles at him. He opens his mouth to protest, when he notices the message written in pencil on the bag.

Text me when you eat lunch. – B

He shuts his mouth with an audible click.

“Why are you making him lunch?”

The judgment in Theo’s voice is evident. Alex looks up to see Burr place a hand on her shoulder, smiling at her.

“It’s part of my new job, Theo. We talked about this.”

She kicks at the cabinet behind her, shoes lighting up purple.

“When I’m grown up I’m going to make my own lunch.”

The glare she throws him is withering. Alex can feel his neck heat up, all the shame from earlier pouring down his spine.

He straightens, nodding once to Burr without meeting his eyes, before he flees the room. At least the sharks at work are familiar ones.

 

-

 

Jefferson is circling him.

Bullet hands him his second coffee as he makes his way to his morning meeting with the Senior Staff. The anxiety in her jaw alerts him that there’s an issue, but he doesn’t get a chance to question his secretary before Jefferson is there, catching the doorknob to Washington’s office before Alex even registers his presence.

“Mr. Jefferson,” he growls, rolling his eyes openly.

“Hamilton,” the deputy mayor returns. His ever-present smirk looms as smarmy as ever.

They enter the room together, Alex making sure to push pass Jefferson to claim the space immediately before the mayor’s desk. Jefferson, the asshole, just pulls out one of the chairs, relaxing into it like a man on a throne.

It’s a space traditionally meant for the first deputy mayor, but Adams, as usual, is a no show. Alex would be angry, if it didn’t mean he actually got to do something useful with his time, instead of cleaning up after the second-in-command’s mess.

Washington himself steps into the room a few seconds after they arrive, the storm on his brow making Alex’s posture come to attention with an unnerving familiarity. The mayor doesn’t waste anytime with preamble, throwing down the morning issue of the Times with blatant abhorrence.

There, beneath the fold, reads the headline Alex had bemoaned over on his morning commute: Mayoral Marriage? The Washingtons’ Struggle to Connect to Family Values.

“Explain this.”

Alex jumps right in. “Sir, I’ve already begun drafting a response reiterating to the press how much you value your personal privacy. We’ll need to remind the press how seriously we take keeping the spotlight on the issues and not on any personal matters regarding your family.”

He pauses a beat, knowing his next suggestion is less likely to fly. “In addition, it also may be opportunistic if we release a few picture of your and your wife. Nothing too spectacular, but perhaps dropping a photographer line the next time you take Martha out to a place with nice lighting. Remind the press that your marriage is strong and not open to public scrutiny.”

Washington favors him a severe look.

“So you want to save my privacy by invading it, Hamilton?”

Alex can’t do more than shrug. “If we don’t feed the press, they’ll only come out to bite us later, sir. I’d rather get ahead of the story.”

“I couldn’t agree more, Mr. Mayor,” Jefferson adds in suddenly. He catches Alex’s eye, grinning.

“You do,” Alex says, flatly.

“Talk to me, Jefferson,” Washington commands.

“It’s not a serious piece,” Jefferson resumes, waving his hand. “We hardly need to address the private relationship between you and your wife. The more important thing here is setting out good publicity to counteract it. A photo shoot, as Hamilton says.”

Washington leans back, studying them both. “What did they put in the coffee that has you two agreeing this early in the morning?”

“Oh nothing, sir,” Jefferson smiles. “In fact, I can think of the perfect place for this. Your wife works at an orphanage, isn’t that right Hamilton? Oh, pardon me, your ex-wife.”

“Jefferson.” Washington’s voice rings in warning.

Alex doesn’t hesitate. “If you have something to say, Jefferson, just say it.”

“Why, you seem upset, Hamilton,” Jefferson pronounces, brimming with false sincerity. “I didn’t mean to bring up such terrible memories. You must be so relieved to see that the news cycle has moved on. It must have been a constant reminder for you. Of course, not as much a remind as it must have been to poor Eliza and your dear Mrs. Reynolds.”

Alex sees red.

“Mention my family again, Jefferson. I dare yo – ”

“Gentlemen, enough!”

Washington’s voice cuts through his response, cutting him off abruptly. The mayor pinches the bridge of his nose, squeezing his eyes shut against the both of them. Alex bites his tongue and glares at Jefferson, wanting to wipe that stupid smirk right of his face.

Finally, Washington drops his hand and looks up, fixing them both in a tired stare.

“Hamilton, I want a draft of our response ready to print within the hour. Jefferson, reach out to your contacts at the Times and the rest of the usual suspects reaffirming my right of privacy. It may be time to remind them that their press passes only get them so far without our generosity.”

He sighs, picking up the newspaper and tossing it in the trash. “We’re rolling with Hamilton’s idea. Martha is taking me to the Met on Thursday. You get one photographer – one – and that’s it. This is all the attention I’m willing to give to this story.”

“Very good, sir,” Alex says, allowing himself a victory smile pointed at Jefferson. The man just meets his eyes and smirks, the expression playing sour in Alex’s belly.

Washington just sighs, picking up his pen.

“What’s next?”

The meeting goes on, the thrilling battle of push and pull leaning just slightly towards Alex this morning. They affirm the morning agenda quickly, before breaking up the conference.

Jefferson is just out the door with Alex hot on his heels when Washington calls him back.

“Hamilton, stay a minute.”

Alex returns, settling into the chair across the Mayor’s desk trying not to feel smug. The lines around Washington’s eyes seem deeper than usual this morning, but Alex can’t think of a reason beyond the paper that would have him off balance this early.

Washington favors him with a flat look.

“I’m telling you this because Jefferson already knows and it’s likely to get around the office by noon. This is not a show of preference on my part; I want you to know that up front.”

Alex nods slowly, triumph slipping off. He straightens up in his chair, anxiety suddenly twisting through him.

“Sir?”

“John Adams is resigning,” Washington says flatly.

“What?” Alex gapes He flutters for a moment, “You’re sure about this? He isn’t just playing for another raise?”

“Abigail called this morning,” Washing sighs. “I’ll be getting his letter by the end of the week.”

“Is he intending to run? He must know he’ll never make it against you.”

“I don’t know, Alex. I really don’t.”

Washington’s posture stiffens into a familiar soldier’s pose, the sort Alex recognizes in himself when he’s stressed. Alex doesn’t have to wonder how bad this will look, when the press finds out Washington’s first deputy, the second most prominent face of their office, has quit before the term ended.

It sparks of a familiar anger in his gut.

“Well, good riddance, I say,” he mutters. “Adams never knew what he was doing anyway. Hell, I’ve been running half his office for the better part of the past year. We should have known when he came in offering to carry the Conservatives for us that he was no good.”

For once, Washington doesn’t rebuke him for talking trash. “You’ve done more than your share, son,” Washington remarks, gaze drifting out to the window. “Especially in light of everything.”

Alex can feel his jaw clench. He hides his white knuckles under the desk, fixing the mayor with his extreme attention.

“Thank you, sir,” he manages, grinning tightly. “I’d like to do more.” He takes a deep breath, squaring his shoulders, “Sir, please accept my formal application for the first deputy mayor position. I know this is sudden, but I would like to think that my past work has shown that I am fully capable of fulfilling the duties of your second in command.”

Washington just nods, still looking out the window. “I know I’ve been pushing you too hard, Alex. I know you’ve taken over the Housing and Economic Development Department as well, in addition to managing the Communications Department with a short staff.”

“John Jay has been sick for the past few months,” Alex quickly brackets. “I’ve just been sitting in on the meetings, making sure things don’t get lost.”

Finally, Washington looks at him, spearing him with a sharp stare.

“Alex, I’ve seen more progress in that department in the past five months than I have in all my time in office. If I could, I’d let you have it.”

A thrill runs down Alex’s spine. He licks his lips, heart beating furiously, “I know, sir.”

Washington sighs again, gaze coming down to the papers on his desk. “I’ll take your application under consideration. That’s all for now.”

“Yes, sir.”

Alex rises from his chair, but hesitates, turning back to the mayor.

“Sir? I have to ask – Have you thought any more about the State Senate race? I still think – ”

“I have a job, Hamilton,” Washington cuts in sharply, not looking up.

“Yes, sir,” Alex concedes deflating. He fidgets, “It’s just – If you were to run, I’d be with you one-hundred percent, sir. You’d have my full support.”

Washington’s face lifts from his papers, made of stone.

“That’s all for now, Hamilton.”

“Right, sir.”

 

-

 

The hours spin by with all the grace of a plunging boulder.

Alex jumps from committee to committee, jotting down speech notes under the table as he argues his points across the board. It’s the sort of sprinting, toilsome work that he excels at, letting him dig his teeth into the obstacles in his path. He feels more alert than he has in weeks, landing punches he knows he’s been missing recently. The thrill of the game courses through him, filling his limbs with a buzzing energy.

He’s just passing by his office on his way to his next appointment when Bullet catches him, taking the files out of his hand with one arm while depositing a new load.

“Madison’s in your office,” she warns him.

Just as Washington predicted, news of Adams’ departure had swept through the building, raising hackles on nearly everyone. Bullet’s anxious face hasn’t relaxed since her attempt to warn him this morning, though from the harried looks she’s been sending him he gathers she isn’t so much concerned for the first deputy as what she suspects Alex will do to him when he finds him.

“Madison? What does he want?” Alex asks, frowning. Though he and Madison had worked closely together on the campaign, since the man had been appointed the Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services his relationship with Jefferson had only grown.

Bullet shrugs, shoulders brushing against long golden earrings. “I didn’t ask. Also, you told me to remind you when lunch was. It’s one – take lunch. I don’t have anyone in your schedule though.”

Lunch. Right. And Burr.

Alex glances at his watch – he’s got an appointment he’s already running late for. Shit.

“Is there someone your supposed to be meeting?” Bullet inquires. Her eyebrows have come up, fixing him with her patented exasperated expression.

“Don’t worry about it,” Alex says. He hesitates, before shuffling the files back into her arms. “Here, I’m going to see what Madison wants. Can you call down to the School Finance Committee and let them know I’ll be fifteen minutes late. Actually, you know what, you go. Sit in, take notes. I’ll be there shortly.”

She gapes at him, floundering suddenly under the paperwork. “You want me to go? But sir - ”

“Just go, Bullet. You’ll be fine.”

He turns her around, pushing on her back until she starts walking, her owl-eyed gaze turning into a narrow glare as she goes.

Alex smirks watching her, before turning to glare at his office door. He finds Madison’s slight frame hunkered into the chair in front of his desk, having moved the stack of files that had been previously sitting there to the side.

Madison stands when he enters, going to shake Alex’s hand before he breaks down into a coughing fit, burying his face into a blue handkerchief.

The part of Alex that remembers spending nights up late with the man, frowns at him.

“Can I get you some water, Madison?”

The deputy mayor waves him off, settling down into his seat again as Alex clears his desk, sweeping the stacks of files onto the sofa in the corner, ignoring the innocuous brown bag that sits on the side, mocking him.

“I’m fine,” Madison wheezes. “I apologize for taking up your time. I know you’re a busy man so I’ll keep this short.”

“What do you need?” Alex asks, cutting to the chase.

“I trust you heard Adams’ announcement,” Madison returns, too casual for Alex’s comfort.

He scowls, “It isn’t really his announcement if the bastard can’t even show up to work to make it.”

Madison inclines his head. From behind his hunched shoulders, his gaze finds Alex directly. “Any idea who’s on the short list?”

Alex’s eyes narrow. It’s that kind of beguiling directness that makes Madison a dangerous opponent, though he can’t quite tell his angle. He tilts his head, studying the man shrewdly.

“Are you planning on taking it?”

“Hamilton, please. Look at me. I’m lucky if I make it to my own office most of the time,” Madison gestures to himself, his diminutive frame that has been infamously racked by epilepsy and a whole host of other ailments. He shakes his head.

“I’m assuming you’ll be after the post,” the deputy mayor continues, disarmingly forward. “I’m only asking if you know who your competition will be.”

Alex straightens. “I don’t see why that’s any of your concern, James.”

“No,” says the other man, after a pause. “I don’t suppose you would.”

He stands before Alex can refute him, inclining his head with a simpering smile.

Madison’s eyes cut to the bag sitting on Alex’s desk, too deliberate to be accidental, dropping a cold weight into Hamilton’s stomach.

“Enjoy your lunch, Hamilton. Good luck with your promotion.”

He sweeps out of the office. Alex sits there, feeling his heart beat in his throat. He stares at the lunch on his desk, only now noticing that Burr’s message is facing outwards, in clear view of anyone who might step into his office.

It isn’t hard to imagine what anyone who saw it would think – another sex scandal from an already disastrous, cheating pig.

Any appetite he might have had it gone. Alex’s hand smashes into the bag, hurling it into his trashcan, feeling a dull, red flush roll under his skin. He digs his fingers into his hair, squeezing his eyes shut.

He feels suddenly unbearably hot in his suit, tugging off his tie before it strangles him. His mind is humming, anxiety a swarm of flies granting him no peace. He shudders, trying to block out the world, not able to stop the barrage of his own thoughts.

Sometime later, he isn’t sure how long, his phone buzzes. He hand reaches for it automatically, reading a frantic message from Bullet asking where he is.

He pulls himself together after that, stitching himself back into function. He texts her a reply robotically, before retying his hair up and straightening his tie. Pushing himself out of his seat feels like stringing his body up on hooks, but he stands ignoring the sudden burning in his thighs. He feels worn, as if someone had scooped out all of his insides, and nauseous, head swimming with insinuations and doubt.

He hesitates, eyes landing on the trash for a moment, before sending a text to Burr.

To A. Burr: Eating lunch now. Got to run. It’s delicious.

There. He’s done it. A little white lie to get him through the rest of the day.

He tucks his cell back into his pocket, ignoring the swell of trepidation that rising in him.

His phone buzzes as he exits the door.

From A. Burr: Good boy.

From A. Burr: Message me the time when you leave work. I’ll keep dinner warm.

Guilt twists in his chest. He pockets his phone, shame dragging down his head before he shoves it away. He doesn’t owe Burr anything. And he isn’t really hungry anyway.

 

-

 

The rest of the day passes by in a blur.

He stumbles home sometime after midnight, collar crusted to the back of his neck with sweat. His energy from the morning is gone, leaving him wracked by the sort of cold tremors he knows stem from an overdose of caffeine and stress.

He’s glad to kick off his shoes in the hallway, squinting blearily into the darkness, unwilling to turn on a light and announce himself.

It isn’t sneaking if he just wants to go to bed. He’d told Burr when the man had messaged him again around seven that he’d have to stay late.

It isn’t that he’s avoiding the man, exactly. He just doesn’t have the mental fortitude to deal with him tonight. Let him bother Alex about eating tomorrow, when he doesn’t feel queasy at the mere thought of stomaching food.

He’s just tip-toing down the hall, when the tinkling of glass halts him.

He turns. The noise comes from the kitchen. It could be Burr, but all the lights are off.

He fumbles in the foyer, finally picking up a long umbrella perched against the wall. It feels comical, but Alex tries to relax, minding the combat skills he has under his belt. His phone sits in his pocket, a safety line to the police if he needs it.

He pushes open the kitchen door, heart beating in his chest as he searches for an intruder.

A small figure stands on the counter, head whipping around to stare at him as he enters.

They both freeze.

“Theodosia?”

She recovers her wits before him, hopping off the counter swiftly. She crosses her arms, hiding her surprise behind a scowl.

“I was just thirsty,” she says quickly. “I couldn’t find the cups.”

Alex turns on the light. They both squint against the intrusion; Alex taking in Theo, whose sporting purple pajamas and bare feet, her hair freed in a halo around thin face.

He sets down the umbrella, feeling foolish. “Here, let me get you one,” he covers, crossing the room and filling up a glass in the sink.

She takes it from him slowly, keeping several feet in distance. Under his scrutiny, she takes several, delicate sips, letting the silence hang between them.

“Where’s your dad?” he asks, shifting awkwardly. With nothing better to do, he fetches his own cup, leaning his back against the counter.

“Asleep,” she replies primly. At least for once she’s not openly scowling at him. Her eyes narrow at him, chin tilting up. “Do you always work so late?”

He shrugs, fidgeting. “Not always. Sometimes though, yes.”

“My dad says you need someone to take care of you. That’s why we’re here.”

Alex can feel himself flush. “Your dad’s just helping me out,” he says quickly, licking his lips. “I work a lot.”

“My dad has better things to do,” she tells him, tone turning harsh. “He shouldn’t have to help you. He’s important.”

“It’s – uh, it’s just a job, Theo,” Alex says, swallowing. He can’t meet her gaze, taking the moment to glance at his drink.

“It’s Theodosia.”

She glares at him, their temporary truce apparently broken. Alex crosses his arms, wondering when he became so bad with children.

“Sorry, sorry.” He thinks of the old house, all it’s creaking noises that used to keep him lying awake as Eliza slept, jumping at the hiss of pipes in the dark. Maybe she’s just frightened. “Do you want me to walk you back to bed, Theodosia?”

“I’m fine.” Her tone is brittle. She turns her back on him and stalks out of the room, shoulders a small line of anger.

Alex watches the door swing shut and sighs, dumping his glass in the sink. A harsh smell of liquor distracts him, rising up from the sink when he pours the water out.

He frowns, brow furrowing. On a hunch, he opens the cupboard beneath the sink, pulling out the trashcan there.

Glass tinkles as he does so, three empty bottles of liquor resting innocently on top.

Well.

Shit.

It doesn’t take long to connect the dots. Alex’s throat tightens, but he straightens up, going over the cupboard Theo had opened. Mugs line the bottom shelf, but up top, where Theodosia had no doubt been digging, Alex spots the tawny color of several unopened bottles.

The sight hits him like a hammer, pressure suddenly coming down and crushing in his chest.

He curses loudly, slamming the cabinet closed. It isn’t like the man is liable to hear him anyway.

Fuck Burr! And fuck the noise!

He storms up the stairs, hesitating only when he passes the second floor, wondering if he shouldn’t go back and finish what Theo’s started – dump out all the alcohol and just fire Burr on the spot.

He doesn’t even know why he’s upset. There’s just some part of him that feel outrageously betrayed, anger mixing with the guilt still sitting low in him.

He keeps climbing. He reaches his room, throwing himself into his bed, squeezing his eyes shut against the onslaught of anger. He knows before he hits the mattress that any attempt at sleep will be futile, but he grits his teeth and fights for it.

After a fruitless twenty minutes, he gives up. He heaves himself out of bed again, jamming his things back into his bag, throwing on his coat.

He’s out the front door before an hour has passed, making a beeline for the nearest bar. After all, if Burr can do it, why can’t he?

He isn’t even sure what he’s feeling, just that he wants it all to go away right now. He realizes ten feet out the door when the night air pinches his skin that he’s forgotten his coat, but stubbornly walks on.

Let Burr have the fucking house. It was never his place anyway. He’ll sleep in his office instead.

Chapter Text

Aaron

*

“Dad? Dad, are you awake?”

Consciousness comes to Aaron with a rude start. Blinking open his eyes turns out to be a mistake. Light pierces through his corneas and straight into a budding headache. His mouth feels dry and sticky, much like the rest of his skin. It’s disgusting. Sadly, he’s grown far too accustomed lately to the effects of a hangover.

He forces his rebelling eyes to open, squinting through the haze in his head until he sees his little girl standing at the foot of his bed.

“Theo?”

He pushes through this nausea until he comes upright. Theo steps back from his bed, arms falling away to play with the straps of her backpack. Her shoes light up as she goes – she’s already dressed for school.

Shit.

“Theo, what time is it?”

The little furrow between her eyebrows answers the question. They’re late.

“After seven,” she says, very calmly, as if he doesn’t know she’d inherited his strain of anxious punctuality.

He scrambles out of bed, ignoring the way his head spins. He finds his phone sitting on the side table nearby, innocuously unplugged.

Beside it stands a half-empty bottle of liquor.

Aaron very carefully does not look at it. He smiles at Theodosia feeling a weight drop heavily into his stomach. He hopes selfishly that she hasn’t been there long.

“I’m so sorry, Theo,” he says, wondering how to salvage this mess. “I’ll get dressed. We’ll get you there on time.”

“It’s okay, Dad,” she says kindly, but the little furrow is still between her brows.

He takes a deep breath, steadying himself, before reaching for his drawers, biting back a groan as the world spins. Carefully, he takes Theo by the shoulder and nudges her towards the door, at the same time turning her back to the bed.

He keeps talking – stalling – hoping to keep her attention on him.

“We’re going to have to skip making breakfast this morning. We’ll grab you something on the way. Is your backpack all packed up?”

“Yes, Dad,” she answers. “And I made cereal. I’m okay.”

“You did?” That sets him on pause. “Why didn’t you get me up?”

She just shrugs, fidgeting with the straps to her backpack. Any other day, Aaron might have pushed. Today, he’s in too much of a woozy state of hurry.

He turns his back and pulls on a new shirt, deciding the pants he’d fallen asleep in would have to do. When he turns around with socks in hand, Theo’s already handing him his shoes. Her small smile sends a shard of shame through his chest. He forces himself to smile back.

When did she get so big?

“I’ll give you money for lunch today. Don’t spent it on sweets, okay? And get something green.”

She knows all of this already.

“I will,” she says.

“You’ve got your homework?”

“Yes, Dad.”

“And your reading log? Did I sign that yet?

“That was yesterday.”

“Right.”

Yesterday is all a bit of a blur. After Theo had gone to bed, he remembered waiting for Hamilton for a time. He doesn’t remember when he started to drink, only his half-shuffling mess as he tried to make his way to bed quietly.

At least no one had been around to see him.

He gets his shoes on before standing up and shoveling his wallet and keys into his pockets, carefully shielding the dresser and the bottle with his body as he plugs in his phone.

He breathes a sigh of relief when they finally step out of his room. It’s a rush then. They practically run out of the house once they get their jackets on, swallowing up the not yet familiar path from Hamilton’s house to Theo’s school with short, quick strides.

They make it to the school after the first bell, Theo taking off like a shot towards the doors before Aaron has a chance for their usual goodbyes. A gaggle of PTA moms glance at him before turning pointedly away.

The walk back to the house somehow feels miles longer.

 

*

 

Without Theo, Hamilton’s house is far too quiet.

He kicks off his shoes in the foyer and then fidgets, going up stairs to retrieve his phone before wandering into the kitchen for coffee with little else to do.

There’d been no sign of Hamilton this morning. No doubt the other man had headed off to work before Aaron had woken. He feels a moment of guilt for not catching the man for breakfast and makes a mental note to remind Hamilton to eat something for lunch today. He isn’t completely convinced the man had remembered to eat dinner last night, having stayed in the office so late.

That’s another conversation altogether they need to have.

His phone rings when he’s filling his second cup. Looking at the caller ID, he almost doesn’t answer it. Almost.

He grimaces, pressing the phone to his ear.

“Mrs. Prevost.”

“It’s Louise, Aaron. Good morning. I trust this isn’t a bad time?”

Whatever veneer of civility Louise Prevost spared him while he dated Theodosia had vanished the instant she passed. Now, Theodosia’s ex-mother-in-law didn’t bother to disguise the distain in her voice.

Aaron braced himself against the kitchen counter and tried not to sigh into the phone.

“No. Now is fine. What is it?”

“I have a present for my granddaughter. You remember that I missed her birthday? Yes, you never did tell me where you were hosting her party, if I recall correctly.”

“Theo had a very happy birthday, thank you for asking,” Aaron grits out, sweet as sugar. “It was a small affair. Friends and family only.”

She sniffs – barb struck.

“Well, regardless. I have a present for her. I attempted to have it delivered yesterday, but I’m quite sure the address on file was wrong.”

Aaron’s grip on the phone hardens. “You don’t have visitation rights, Louise,” he reminds her, stiffly.

“Oh, none of that now,” she replies, simpering. “We’re out of the courts, remember dear? You’ve quite made your point. I only want to give my granddaughter a present for her birthday.”

She pauses, triumph in her voice when she continues, “You should have seen the crack den I pulled up to yesterday, Aaron. And the people! Gangbangers and thugs. Absolutely no place to raise a child – much less a Prevost! What could the courts have been thinking, mistaking your address for such a hovel?”

For the first time, Aaron is truly grateful for Hamilton’s walls around him. It helps him keep his voice steady as he replies, trying to bite back the indignation at her classification of his neighbors – poor as they were – as indiscriminate criminals.

“I’m sorry that you had such a terrifying experience, Louise,” he manages drily. “I’ll have to correct the file.”

The file she shouldn't even have access too. Jesus, he’d have to call the courts again.

“Make sure you do,” the woman snips. “You wouldn’t want CPS dropping by and finding that, now would you? Now, about my present.”

Aaron’s stomach clenches at the thinly concealed threat. He closes his eyes, breathing deeply, before reluctantly giving her Hamilton’s address.

He gets at least some satisfaction when she goes quiet.

“That’s a lovely part of town, Aaron. How on earth can you afford it?”

He can hear the disbelief in her voice. She knew as well as he did that what was left of his savings after Theodosia’s medical bills had been spent on the legal fees of their custody battle.

He cannot stand this woman.

“That’s not your concern, Louise. Is that all?”

“Yes, certainly,” she answers primly. “In fact, I’ll come by with Theodosia’s present myself. You don’t mind do you? I know I don’t have the rights, but it would do me so well to see her healthy after that scare over the address mistake.”

As in she wants proof that they live where he’d said they do. And if he says no, she’d only have more reason to call in CPS. She’d effectively boxed him into a corner.

“Of course, Louise.”

“Lovely. I’ll drop in sometime this week. Give my love to my granddaughter, Aaron. Goodbye.”

The line went dead.

Aaron throws down his phone in disgust, elbow knocking against his coffee mug sending it to the floor to shatter. He curses, hot liquid splashing against his bare feet.

He presses his palms flat against the counter, struggling against his anger.

Every time. Every time he thought he was done with her, she appeared again.

He breathes deeply, not letting himself move for some time. When his fingers no longer itch to destroy every dish in the kitchen, Aaron pushes himself away from the counter, methodically picking up the broken pieces and shoveling them into the sink. He sops up the coffee, before throwing the rag away. Then, just as calmly, he walks back to his room and found the bottle on his dresser.

 

*

 

At some point, he must fall asleep because he wakes up to the sound of a phone ringing.

He stumbles out of bed, following the noise bleary eyed to the kitchen. For a moment, he thinks it’s Louise again, but he finds his cellphone sitting quietly on the counter.

A second later, the ringing stops as Hamilton’s landline beeps. Eliza Schuyler’s soft tones float through the machine.

“Alex? It’s me. I just wanted to confirm that the kids are going to your place this weekend. I’ll be in the city at noon to drop them off. Don’t forget to be home – and put something in the fridge. I’m going to ask Bullet to remind you, I . . . ”

Her voice pauses.

For a moment Aaron thinks she’s going to say something intimate, a declaration of lost love maybe – something he definitely doesn’t want to eavesdrop on – but when she picks up again her tone is firm. “I’m picking them up Sunday night at nine. Goodbye, Alexander.”

She sounds like her older sister, a woman Aaron hasn’t thought about since his mostly unsuccessful pick up attempts back in college.

It’s a message Hamilton will no doubt want to know. Aaron glances at the clock on the microwave – almost two o’clock. He’ll have to pick up Theo soon.

He gets his phone first, sending Hamilton a text.

A. Burr: We missed each other this morning. Have you eaten lunch?

He pours a glass of water, glad that his nap seemed to have wiped away some of the alcohol, and makes his way over to the study to wait for a response.

It takes longer than he expected. After scrolling through his phone for several minutes, he frowns, deciding to sweetening the bait.

A. Burr: Elizabeth Schuyler called.

His phone buzzes almost immediately.

A. Ham: What about Eliza?

Aaron frowns, typing out his reply.

A. Burr: She left a message reminding you about your kids this weekend.

A. Burr: Did you eat?

There’s another long break. Several long minutes pass before Aaron gets a text back.

A. Ham: Yeah.

That’s all he gets. He types out another response, hesitates, deletes it. He’d rather have a conversation in person than nitpick over the phone.

He’ll talk to Hamilton when he gets home tonight.

 

*

 

Hamilton does not come home that night.

Aaron picks up Theo from school and spends the night cooking dinner and reading while she works on her homework. She seems happy having the house to themselves two nights in a row, climbing next to him on the couch and leaning against his side as they both work in peace. He’s feeling a bit more together, having taken a shower and put on clean clothes, scrubbing his teeth before he brings her home and hiding the bottle in his dresser and out of sight.

Aaron is highly cognizant that Hamilton never comes home.

He keeps an ear perched for the door throughout the night, sending another text message around dinnertime, and then calling twice as the hours tick later and later without response.

He calls again once Theo’s in bed, listening as his call goes to voicemail.

“Hamilton, it’s me. Call me back. This behavior is unacceptable.”

He hangs up angry and worried. His mind mulls over the last time they were together – their one and only scene, which really, was hardly a scene at all. If Hamilton was ignoring him because he was embarrassed that he’d seen him cry . . .

He goes to bed mad and wakes up pissed. As predicted, Hamilton has clearly not been home.

Aaron gets Theo off to school without a hitch, before returning to Hamilton’s house. He fries eggs and beans together in a protein scramble before shoveling it into a tupperware container and throwing it into a brown bag with a fork, an apple, and a bottle of water. Good enough.

He pulls back on his coat and heads out the door, catching the first train he finds downtown. The mayor’s office is not hard to find. Aaron had been there several times when he still worked for Prevost & Barlow.

Today, he doesn’t bother to go inside. No use pushing that boundary. Instead, he finds a coffee shop across the street, mumbles his order to the barista, and gets a table, pulling out his phone.

A. Burr: I’m across the street. You have five minutes to meet me before I come in and find you myself.

He sets his phone face up on the table, setting a timer just for efficiency’s sake.

Hamilton blows in with fifty-seven seconds left on the clock.

His eyes alight on Aaron and Aaron knows two things at once. One, Hamilton is pissed. Two, he is also barely standing. 

Hamilton scrapes back the chair when he sits, openly scowling. He’s forgotten his coat and Aaron can see how skinny he is in the way his expensive suit hangs off him. His shoulders are vibrating, face pinched red from the cold outside.

The man’s eyes dart around the café hurriedly, wide and worried. He leans in, licking his lips, and hisses, “What are you doing here?”

“Hamilton, shut up,” Aaron says shortly. Pissed as Hamilton may be, he is nowhere near Aaron’s level.

Hamilton clearly hasn’t gotten the memo. His face screws up, hands clenching into fists on top the table. There’s a manic energy around him – a bitter twist in his expressions that Aaron knows he could break with a push. The man is spooked, plain and simple.

He keeps on hissing. “You can’t be here! I need to go. Now.”

Aaron catches his wrist as Hamilton starts to rise, pinning the limb to the table. He digs his nails into the soft underbelly of his wrist, feeling the tendons in Hamilton’s hands stiffen. The man’s bracers are curiously missing, but Aaron isn’t gentle.

“Burr, let go!”

Hamilton’s eyes flicker around the café, voice hushed and furious. No one is glancing their way – yet. But it is only a matter of time before even Aaron’s purposely-secluded table won’t protect them.

It all reminds him of their first meeting, though there is nothing testing about his grip this time.

“Hamilton, sit down,” he barks, feeling his temper flare.

When Hamilton hesitates, Aaron increases his grip, pressing his nails into Hamilton’s pulse point. He knows it’s painful, gaining satisfaction when Hamilton’s finger’s tense and spasm. The man flinches, tugging back. Aaron doesn’t let him go.

Hamilton sits.

For a moment, silence encircles them. Then Aaron spots the barista coming their way and casually releases Hamilton’s wrist, leaning backward.

“You ordered the omelet. The only words I want to hear out of your mouth are thank you. Understood?”

Hamilton sends him a scorching glare, but the barista arrives before he can respond. She smiles at them both, setting down Aaron’s coffee and making to place the plate before him.

“Thank you, miss,” Aaron says, smiling at her. “That’s actually for him.” Aaron nods to Hamilton.

The barista smiles back, charmed. “Oh, my mistake. Here you are. Can I get anything else for you gentlemen?”

“No, thank you,” Aaron says. When Hamilton doesn’t say anything, Aaron takes the proactive approach, finding Hamilton’s foot beneath the table and pressing down hard.

Hamilton jerks, pulling his feet away. He glares while Aaron takes a moment to pick up his coffee and smile at him.

Hamilton turns to the barista. “Thank you,” he mutters, waiting until she turns to leave before turning his glare to Aaron.

“I don’t appreciate you playing games here,” Hamilton says, voice low.

Aaron stops smiling. “I’m not playing a game, Hamilton. I’m working.”

Hamilton’s face goes funny at that, eyes finding the table, defensive posture drooping.

It’s an odd reaction, though Aaron welcomes the reprieve. He picks up a fork, sliding it across the table. “Here. Eat.”

Hamilton takes the fork, stabbing it into his food after a few beats, jaw working aggressively. Aaron waits until he’s swallowed a few bites, before moving in. He glances around the café, making sure no one is looking their way, before he slides his legs forward under the table, finding Hamilton’s knees and pressing them open wide with his own.

Hamilton’s fork clatters to his plate. His head whips up, cheeks coloring.

“What are you doing?” he hisses, trying to move backwards. But the table is small and he has a wall against his back. Aaron keeps his knees pressed against Hamilton’s, forcing his legs to spread, while he hooks his ankles around the front legs of Hamilton’s chair, keeping him from moving away.

It’s a vulnerable position – and an embarrassing one. Best of all, it allows Aaron to assert his dominance in no uncertain terms even in a space a public as this, with little reason to fear for the casual observer.

Aaron leans across the table, picking up Hamilton’s fork and offering it to him again.

“Eat, Hamilton.”

It’s gratifying to see his orders being taken. Hamilton seems to have caught the drift, taking his fork and continuing his meal, albeit slowly and without looking at Aaron.

Aaron will take what he can get. He keeps the pressure up on Hamilton’s legs, while he sips his own coffee. Hamilton’s thighs are tensed against his knees, twitching when Aaron moves. Aaron doesn’t doing anything overt, merely maintaining the pressure and watching as Hamilton eats, but the position does its job. Hamilton finishes his plate within minutes, setting his fork down and fidgeting uncertainty.

Normally, this would be a point of praise for Hamilton. Today, Aaron holds his tongue. He isn’t finished yet.

“Look at me.”

That seems a hard command. Hamilton’s eyes cast around the table.

He repeats the order. “Look at me.”

Slowly, Hamilton’s eyes rise. His face is flushed, a deep red that trails down his neck. His gaze catches Aaron’s eyes and then darts away. Aaron clears his throat and Hamilton’s eyes drag themselves back with obvious reluctance.

“You’ve been avoiding me.”

Hamilton’s throat works. His eyes drop down, only flickering up when Aaron leans against him, pressing their position.

“I’ve been at work,” he says. Aaron shakes his head.

“Yes, I know. That’s part of the problem.”

Hamilton’s expression of distress turns into a scowl. “I’m just doing my job.”

“And I’m just doing mine,” Aaron returns. Hamilton flinches, shoulders hunching. Aaron loses his eyes back to the table. It takes everything in his body not to reach across the distance and force his chin up.

Aaron sighs, glancing around the café. This really isn’t the place to do this. Even now, he doesn’t have nearly as much leverage as he wants.

“Here.”

He passes the meal he’d prepared at home. Hamilton’s head jerks up, surprising dotting his face.

“That’s your dinner. From now on, I’m requiring picture proof that you’ve eaten.”

Hamilton nods slowly. He takes the bag, glancing up at Aaron suspiciously.

“That’s it? That’s all you wanted? You came all this way for me to what – eat?”

“Hamilton, we haven’t even gotten started,” Aaron says, honestly. He pulls back his legs suddenly, releasing Hamilton, and stands in one smooth motion. Hamilton immediately shifts back, a wary expression overtaking him.

“Don’t think we’re done here. Unless you want me in your office tonight, you’ll be home by nine tonight. I highly suggest not being late.”

He turns without looking back, letting himself out into the biting New York air. Hamilton will come or he won’t but either way, Aaron has work to prepare.

Chapter Text

Alexander

*

Alex fidgets on his own front step, staring at the door like one might a dragon’s mouth.

He drags his hand over his hair, flattening the fly-aways. He doesn’t know why he bothers; he knows he looks a mess despite his suit. He’s tired. The bags under his eyes seem permanent. He feels hunched over, shoulders tight from typing, leaving an ache under his spine.

He looks down at his phone, frowning as nine o’clock ticks closer and closer. His eyes catch on the yellow bruises budding on the underside of his wrist. Without thinking, his other hand reaches out and touches them.

There’s a strange disappointment when they don’t ache under his fingertips. He can barely feel them, though he’s been thinking about the bruises all day. He shifts his weight as a phantom feeling of exposure overtakes him, his mind darting back to Burr’s knees pressing against his own.

He catches his own thoughts as heat races across his face. He lets go of his wrist abruptly, raising the bruised limb to rap against the door.

The absurdity of knocking his own home hits him as seconds trickle by without response. He should just open the door and let himself in. It’s his house. But his hand doesn’t move to take the handle, hanging stupidly by his side.

He’s inexplicably nervous; dread and anticipation well up in a sick feeling behind his tongue. He thinks he should be angry – and in part he still is – but he can’t seem to latch onto the feeling, as if the fight has been dug out of his skin.

He doesn’t know what to expect, except his mind keeps racing back to the night he’d broken down and that stupid punishment that shouldn’t have meant anything, but had left him in tears. The ache has gone out of his legs now. He rubs them absently, thinking of it.

The door swings open.

Alex drops his hands, palms skittering apart. Burr’s expression is neutral, the lines of his face relaxed, even as he looks Alex up and down. Alex can’t meet his gaze, focusing instead on the dark charcoal v-neck the other man is wearing. It’s the most casual he’s ever seen Burr dressed. He isn’t sure whether to be relieved or disappointed at the lack of leather.

Leather. God. He swallows, blinking the surge of images down.

When he glances back up, Burr is still staring at him. He isn’t smiling.

Alex fishes for something say, settling on the obvious. “I’m not late,” he says. It comes out more uncertain than he wanted.

Burr raises his eyebrows. “That makes this twice in one day. Should I be impressed?”

His tone is stony. He doesn’t seem angry, exactly, but there is a weight behind his words that presses down on Alex.

He ducks his head, staring at his shoes. “Can I come in?”

He isn’t sure why he asks – no idea what he’d do if Burr said no – but Burr opens the door with a sigh, gesturing him inside.

“Shoes off, please,” Burr says, when he’s closed the door behind him. “Leave your bag and phone by the door.”

Burr talks politely, but there isn’t a hint of question in his voice. Alex hesitates, not sure what it says about him if he obeys – uncertain what precedent he sets if he follows the command. He makes his decision, stripping out of his shoes and socks and lining them neatly by the door, letting his work things gather on the side table. He would have done it anyway. No big deal.

“This too,” Burr says, suddenly close behind him. He must have snuck closer when Alex’s back was turned. Alex freezes, feeling the warm touch of Burr’s fingers on the back of his neck. He doesn’t understand until Burr tugs at his coat, stripping him of the bulky material as he stands numbly by.

When Burr has hung up his coat he steps back in front of Alex, again surveying him up and down. Alex fidgets, feeling as though Burr’s gaze has climbed into every crevice of his appearance, breaking him down into every flaw.

“I’m going to assume zero-experience from this point onward,” Burr says finally. “So we’ll start with the basics.”

Alex dissents immediately. “You don’t have to go slow,” he argues. “I’m less fragile than you seem to think I am, Burr.”

“Is that so?” Burr questions. He doesn’t seem impressed.

The dismissal annoys Alex. He huffs, putting up his hackles, trying to reclaim his lost ground. “I’m just saying you can put away the kid’s gloves. You don’t have to do this dance around me.”

“If you knew the first thing about BDSM you’d know how ridiculous you sound,” Burr counters, warmth draining from his tone.

“See! You’re doing it right now,” Alex accuses, pointing his finger at Burr’s chest. “Stop treating me like I’m an idiot. I’m not stupid.”

Burr knocks his hand aside. “Who said anything about stupid? I’m treating you exactly as what you are – inexperienced and reckless.”

“I’ve done this before!” Alex protests, crossing his arms.

Burr isn’t moved. “You keep saying that. Give me one credible Dom that I can reference who will tell me that’s true.”

One Dom. One name. A million memories rush before him.

Alex can’t. He bites his tongue, casting his eyes astray. His anger is still smoldering, giving him something to stand on against his nerves.

“Can we just get on with this? I don’t really see the point.”

Burr sighs loudly. “Fine,” he agrees. He rolls his shoulders, taking a moment to collect himself. When he continues, his voice as frustratingly returned to neutral.

“With your permission, I’d like to blindfold you tonight.”

Alex feels adrenaline prickle through arms, calling up gooseflesh. It’s like someone spiked his veins with champagne. The question itself embarrasses him. Not because it’s scandalous – he can handle a blindfold – but at being asked the question so blatantly.

Talking had never been a part of this before. He remembers rolling around, knees pressing into his back, sand grating against his skin as the winner took what he wanted. There’d been no asking for permission, no need for special words – just a struggle between the two of them, Alex losing far more than he probably could have. It was the sweet taste of failure. The quiet sound of John’s laughter pressing against his ear . . .

He shoves back the rest of his memories before they can catch him. He doesn’t dare let himself speak, swallowing back the knot in his throat. Instead of replying, he nods stiffly.

“I’m going to need a verbal response, Hamilton,” Burr presses.

So much for demonstrating experience. His face flushes.

“Yes,” he says quickly and an ounce too loud. He backtracks. “Yes, that’s fine.”

Instead of looking pleased with him, Burr just nods, as if it’s expected. The man’s indifference vexes him.

Alex waits, expecting the blindfold immediately, but one does not appear. Burr takes a sudden stride towards him, making him step back instinctively. His shoulders hit the front door even as Burr encroaches further into his space, stepping well into arm’s reach.

“Easy,” Burr says, holding up his hands as though Alex were a spooked horse. He lets his palms fall onto Alex’s suit, sliding his fingers under the edge of his lapels.

“What are you doing?” Alex asks nervously, staring at the hands on his suit. He’s unprepared for this kind of physical intimacy, uncomfortable with the sudden close contact. He and Burr are near the same height, placing their faces uncomfortably close. He can’t help but hunch over, dropping his chin, uncertain what lines Alex imagined that Burr’s planning on dashing in the sand.

He isn’t certain why he doesn’t just move away.

“You’ll need to take this off,” Burr says. He runs his hands down from Alex’s chest until he finds the front of the suit, tugging gently.

“I can do that,” Alex says quickly.

“Let me.”

He doesn’t wait for Alex’s response, already undoing the first button, then the second. He pushes the suit jacket off Alex’s shoulders, tugging him bodily away from the door so he can pull it down his arms. His hands seem hot when they press against Alex’s shirt. He’s acutely aware of how long it’s been since another person was this close to him.

Burr hooks his suit onto the nearby coat rack without moving away; he then takes Alex’s tie in his hands.

“And this.”

But he doesn’t just remove the tie. He runs his fingers to the back of Alex’s neck, circling his palms around slowly. His thumbs dip into the hollow of Alex’s throat, warm and terrifying. Alex swallows. He presses back against the door, unable to look away from Burr’s face, feeling his heart beat in his neck, thudding in the arteries beneath Burr’s hands. He doesn’t understand what Burr is playing at.

But Burr isn’t asking for permission. He doesn’t exert pressure, even as his hands fully circle Alex’s throat. Alex freezes, a hot shiver rushing up his spine.

He swallows again, trying to read the expression on Burr’s face. Burr meets his eyes, staring at him with a critical intensity Alex doesn’t understand.

“Good,” Burr says quietly, almost gentle, like it’s his first time pleased tonight.

His hands slip down too casually, reaching Alex’s tie and loosening it. He strips it off of him, wrapping it around one palm, and then stepping back.

The sudden absence of his body heat leaves Alex feeling cold. He shivers, wrapping his arms around his stomach, hunching over further.

Burr’s eyes continue to roam over him. “I’d like you to take off your shirt, next,” he says. “Are you comfortable with that?”

No. No, he’s really not – but he’s never been ashamed of his body before and that’s just stupid.

“Please, Burr, I’m not a child,” he gripes, pushing back his own nerves. He reaches for his buttons quickly, not looking at Burr as he strips out of his shirt, letting it fall to the ground.

Burr merely quirks an eyebrow at him. “And your pants, if you please,” he adds.

What? Alex goes rigid. “Excuse me?” he asks, stalling.

“I’d like to tie you up tonight, Hamilton,” Burr explains calmly. “And I’ll need access to your skin.”

He pauses his inspection abruptly, tilting his head and favoring Alex with a narrow look. “I’m not going to have sex with you. You know that, right? I won’t have sex on a salary.”

Alex blanches, backtracking quickly. “I didn’t – Jesus, Burr, that’s not what I meant,” he sputters. “I didn’t mean to say you were. I know that.”

Burr frowns, withdrawing even further. “If you’re not comfortable, Hamilton, we can negotiate. You can still say no to anything tonight. You have your safewords.”

Alex has had enough humiliation, thank you.

“No, no, it’s fine,” he sighs.

He hooks his thumbs into his pants, pushing them down in a swift movement, trying not to think about it. He’d gotten used to nudity in the army, but Burr’s close scrutiny leaves him wrong footed. He knows he’s too skinny – the weight he’d gathered in marriage deserting him in the divorce. There are also his scars: the white line of a stab wound near his hip, the raised skin on his thigh where a bullet had grazed him, older marks from his childhood that he doesn’t want to think about. Burr scarcely looks down, still studying his face with a sharp frown.

Alex keeps his mouth shut. He doesn’t want to fuck this up any more than he already has.

He’s still gloriously thankful when Burr doesn’t ask him to remove his underwear.

“I’m going to blindfold you now,” Burr says, finally. “Come here.”

Alex slowly peels himself off the door, stepping hesitantly towards Burr. The other man has Alex’s tie in his hands, unwinding it as Alex comes closer.

When Alex is within arm’s reach, Burr stops him, walking behind him. Darkness descends as he drapes the tie over Alex’s eyes. It isn’t perfect blindness – Alex can still see a sliver of the floor out of the bottom of his vision – but Burr ties the silk tightly, building pressure with the thick material that encourages Alex’s eyes to stay closed.

“Ties aren’t perfect for this sort of thing,” Burr tells him, as though he can read his thoughts. “But needs must.”

He removes Alex’s hair tie; Alex trying not to shiver when Burr’s fingers slip through his hair. He’s surprisingly gentle, no doubt from having a daughter, and strictly effective. He secures the knot with a firm tug, testing its hold.

“How does that fit?”

Alex doesn’t have much experience wearing blindfolds. He finds he doesn’t mind it. The pressure on his eyes feels settling, though he isn’t looking forward to having to move anywhere.

“It’s fine,” he answers. “Good. It’s dark. What else is there?”

Burr chuckles, Alex following the sound as the man circles around him.

“Patience,” Burr says. “I already said I was going to tie you up, didn’t I?” His voice seems louder now that Alex is blind. There’s a smooth quality to it that Alex envies.

The words themselves dig into him, pressing down the reality of the situation. Bondage. Definitely not something he’s done before. He’d been held down before, of course, and held others, but never with anything but hands.

“So you say,” he manages, smirking where he thinks Burr is. “And yet here we still are.”

“You’re a brat,” Burr laughs, which probably means something, though what Alex doesn’t know.

“And there we go, we’re back to being condescending,” Alex mutters.

He jolts when Burr grabs his wrist. Burr lifts it up, turning it over to expose the injured underside.

“Keep that attitude up, Hamilton. Are you asking for more bruises?”

There’s a teasing lit to Burr’s voice that scratches against Alex’s pride. He scowls, trying to tug his arm back, only for Burr’s grip to tighten again, mimicking their position at the café. Alex can feel the warning in the pressure. Burr isn’t digging in with his nails – yet.

“You know, you’re allowed to say yes,” Burr remarks, frustratingly calm. “You’re allowed to want that.”

“Let go of me,” Alex snarls.

Burr hums, as though in contemplation. “No,” he says, falsely sweet. “I don’t think I will. Try asking nicely next time.”

That’s enough. Alex jerks back, cursing when Burr’s nails immediately press into his bruises. If he couldn’t feel them before, he can now.

When he struggles again, it’s in real protest against the pain exploding in his wrist. He tries to pry Burr’s hands off him with his other hand, only for the man to twist his arm, sending red sparks of pain up to his shoulder. His other wrist is captured; Burr’s nails now digging in to that limb as well.

“Stop struggling, Hamilton,” Burr orders lowly.

Alex squirms. “Screw you, Burr,” he spits.

Burr twists his arm further, paralyzing Alex as pain flares sharply in his shoulder. He pants, scowling, regretting the blindfold if only because he can’t glare at Burr.

“Are you done?”

There isn’t any where for him to go. He swallows back his first wave of insults, feeling his anger flicker and die as the hold continues.

“Let go of me,” he says, as the pain blows his pride away. “Please.”

“That’s better,” Burr says. He relaxes Alex’s arm while keeping a tight grip on his wrists. “But not perfect,” he adds.

He pulls suddenly, forcing Alex to stumble forward. Burr doesn’t go slow, walking Alex down the hall without giving him a chance to second-guess the darkness. It’s unnerving. With every step he expects to hit something, tension somehow building when he doesn’t – his own home suddenly made unfamiliar.

Burr doesn’t release him at the end of the hall, but he does loosen his grip, sending relief flooding through Alex’s arms. It doesn’t take much for him to realize which door they’re standing in front of, especially when Burr releases one wrist to open it and cool air rises up to greet them.

“Watch your step,” Burr warns, leading him down to the basement.

Alex descends carefully, taking each stair slow. He can’t remember how many there are, thankful once his feet touched the cool wood floor of the bottom.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I made a few adjustments,” Burr comments, pulling him further in.

Apart from throwing his clothes in the laundry, Alex hasn’t been in the basement in a while. His old files are boxed down here, along with the Christmas decorations, but neither he nor Eliza had used the space for much beyond haphazard storage.

“What changes?” Alex asks, mulishly.

Burr doesn’t answer him immediately. He drops Alex’s wrists at last, leaving Alex to rub at them trying to relieve the ache. He frowns, unwilling to move around while blindfolded, as Burr makes noises away from him.

“What are you doing?”

“One moment.”

He has no choice but to shut up as he listens to the other man shuffle nearby. Alex tracks Burr’s footsteps as he comes back a minute later.

“I’ve put two hooks above your head,” Burr finally answers, once returned. “I would like to tie you up today. Are you willing?”

It’s a good enough distraction as any, draining away the last of Alex’s irritation.

“Up?” he asks. “What do you mean, up?”

In answer, Burr takes Alex’s wrists again, dragging them up until they’re held wide above his head.

“Your arms will be like this,” Burr says. “And your feet like this.”

He nudges Alex’s ankles, encouraging Alex to step a little over shoulder width apart. It’s a classic spread position.

“Of course, you’ll be on your toes as well,” Burr adds.

“I don’t get it. That doesn’t sound so bad,” Alex says, doubtfully.

Then he remembers the last time he’d thought that and the resulting burn in his thighs when Burr had pushed him down, leaning him back like a string, punishing him for his lies.

Instead of fear, he feels oddly anticipatory. He bounces on his knees, testing their strength. He thinks he could do it.

“You’ll feel the strain in your legs first,” Burr promises. “And as they begin to strain, you’ll begin to feel it up through here.” He runs his hand down Alex’s arms, before pulling away. “You won’t like it.”

That sounds like a challenge. Alex scowls.

“I can take it.”

Burr’s laugh sounds just in front of him. He hadn’t realized how close the other man had come.

“I know,” Burr says. “Now drop your arms and stand still.”

The rope Burr found is softer than Alex expected. Burr ties it heavily, building cuffs around his ankles. It’s feels more intricate than Alex expected, but it doesn’t take long either. Burr talks to him as he’s tying, asking him about pressure and constriction, telling him the warning signs of a bad tie, making sure he’s not putting strain on previous injuries. His cadence reminds Alex of a practiced script – he wonders for the first time how many people Burr has done this to before. He probably should have asked.

“I have safety scissors right here,” Burr adds, as he finishes Alex’s last leg. “If you need to safeword, I can get you out at anytime.”

Alex isn’t worried. He shifts once his feet are tied, experimenting with the give.

“It’s fine,” he mutters, wetting his lips. “Let’s just do this.”

“Alright,” Burr answers easily. “On your toes, please.”

Alex lifts himself up. Burr plays with his position, tugging his legs until he’s satisfied, before warning him not to move.

He takes Alex’s left arm next, threading it with the same careful efficiency he showed to his legs. Alex’s wrists are still sore from Burr’s bruising grip, but the rope doesn’t hurt so much as act like his braces might, keeping up a solid pressure. Burr finishes building the cuffs on both arms, before going to string them up. Alex’s back straightens as his wrists are secured, leaving his chest eerily exposed. Burr steps back when all his limbs are secured, leaving Alex not-quite dangling.

“How does that feel?” he asks. “Can you move all of your fingers? Any tingling or numbness?”

Alex wiggles his fingers. The ropes are tighter than he expected. He doesn’t have the give to move much at all. Already he can feel his calve muscles working, holding him up on his toes, but it isn’t hard yet. Though the blood seems to have rushed from his arms above his head, they don’t hurt either.

He remembers the pain in his thighs from the last position Burr put him in and hedges.

“How long?” he asks.

“Until I’m done,” Burr answers. Which really isn’t an answer at all.

Alex waits, shifting in the ropes. He never expects the silence, yet here it is again spreading thickly between them. He knows Burr is still in the room – he’d have to walk past Alex to get out – but he can’t hear him. Wherever he is, he’s being very, very quiet.

He wants to say something, but he isn’t sure of what. This isn’t like the last time, when Burr had asked him questions, making him correct his earlier answers. Now, Burr doesn’t seem to be asking for anything at all.

It alarms him. He becomes distracted by his own heartbeat, which seems louder than it should. He can hear himself breathing and focuses on that, trying not to panic. The darkness that hadn’t bothered him before now seems all encompassing. The room around him feels large and predatory – himself on display and powerless.

“I really don’t see how this is helping me,” he says aloud, when the silence threatens to drown him.

He strains his ears, listening for an answer.

“Burr?”

Wherever he is, Burr doesn’t reply.

It’s as though the darkness deepens. Along with it the strain in his calves begins to take a toll. He welcomes it at first. The tension is grounding. It reminds him of his own body, giving him something to focus on beyond the blackness.

Then it begins to grow.

He shifts, swaying. Without meaning to, his heels try to lower, only for the ropes to pull his arms taut above his head. His shoulders twinge a sharp warning. He’s forced to correct himself, finding his toes again, unable to relieve the demand on his legs.

Very soon the burning in his calves and thighs is all he can think of. He’s acutely aware of the sweat gathering on his skin, though time seems to slip by without notice. At some point knees begin to shake, pleading with him to give out, but there is nowhere for him to go.

He learns he can relieve the stress on his legs by grabbing the ropes above his wrists and pulling himself up with his arms, but it’s a draining endeavor. He can’t keep it up for more than a few moments at a time, after which he’s forced to put all the weight back on his legs. Soon, the muscles in his arms begin to ache too, right where Burr had promised.

Burr was right. He doesn’t like it.

The first cramp takes him by surprise. It seizes his left thigh, muscles locking rapidly. He cries out as his form collapses, leg refusing to take the load. His shoulders jar as all of his weight suddenly drops. The ropes dig into his wrists. For a moment, as he struggles to get his right foot back into position, he can’t breathe. His lungs are held in a tight cage between his ribs, stopped from expanding with his arms stretched above.

He grabs the robes above his wrists, straining to lift himself up. He relieves his shoulders only through the combined exercise of his right leg and arms, gasping in air as he straightens. His whole body burns, though nowhere nearly as much as his left leg, which screams at him to stop.

“Burr!” he hollers. “Burr – Let me down! I can’t do this!”

Burr can’t possibly mean for this to happen. Something must have gone wrong. Maybe Burr just hasn’t noticed?

But Burr doesn’t answer.

He twists, straining against the ropes, feeling every muscle in his body shriek at him. The floor beneath his feet has become slick with his own sweat, making it that much more difficult to grip it with his toes.

He loses focus again, unable to think past the immediate pain in his body. He wants down. He doesn’t understand what Burr is trying to achieve here. He doesn’t get it. It hurts and he doesn’t know what Burr wants.

He’d thought he was strong, but this wasn’t . . . there wasn’t anything he could do. His body was failing him and he was going to fall and he couldn’t do this anymore . . .

“Slow. Shh, Hamilton. You’re okay.”

Burr’s voice sounds so close in front of him Alex almost loses his grip. He wobbles precariously, leaning towards Burr, cursing the stupid blindfold.

A warm hand presses against his ribs, steadying him.

“You need to breathe, Hamilton,” Burr’s is saying. “Slow down. You can do this.”

He speaks with utter conviction. Alex strains, trying to listen. His heart is thudding too hard in his chest. He shudders, pressing into Burr’s hand, trying to ground himself.

His pride is gone, gone, gone.

“Let me down. Burr? Please? Let me go.”

Burr’s hands cup his face, pulling his chin up. His thumbs run back and forth on his cheeks and it’s only then that Alex realizes that he’s been crying. He tries to jerk his head away, but Burr holds him tight.

“You have your safeword,” Burr reminds him quietly. “Do you need to use it?”

There is no judgment in Burr’s voice, but protestation abruptly wells up in Alex. He isn’t a quitter. He isn’t weak.

He shakes his head stubbornly. His body gives another full tremble in complaint.

Burr is quiet for a beat. “I’m going to take this off,” he says. “Close your eyes.”

He releases Alex’s face, fingers finding the knot of the blindfold behind his head. Alex closes his eyes, relieved when the tightness around his skull releases. One of Burr’s hands comes up to cover his eyes.

“Open slowly. Give yourself time to adjust.”

Alex blinks open. Burr’s hand blocks the light, letting only a little shine through his fingers. He draws his palm away after a few seconds, leaving Alex to squint against the brightness.

He finds Burr’s eyes, confused by the soft expression there. Burr’s face is smooth, though he smiles slightly when Alex looks at him. It isn’t what he was expecting.

He casts his eyes around, finally able to see the dark rope Burr has used to tie him and the twin hooks installed above him. The basement has been cleared, storage stacked neatly along the back wall, leaving the floor empty of everything but himself and Burr.

Burr must have been standing right there in front of him the whole time.

The novelty of sight quickly wears off. His calves and thighs are burning, shaking underneath him. He fixes Burr with a pleading look he couldn’t send before.

What had Burr said? He needed to ask nicely?

“Please, Burr,” he tries. “I can’t do this much longer.”

A second later he knows he’s failed.

Burr’s smiles at him, amused. “A minute ago you said you couldn’t do this at all. Which one of you should I listen to?”

He’s fucking teasing him.

Rage flares through his exhausted frame.

“You son-of-a-bitch! Let me down, right now, or – ”

Burr’s strike catches him off guard. His hands dart out, pushing Alex sideways. Alex’s words are lost as his balance his knocked off, knees folding beneath him as he’s forced into a hang once again. His shoulders scream at him, biceps burning as he struggles to pull himself up. He scrabbles to find his feet, panting terribly.

“Language,” Burr tells him mildly. The bastard is even smirking.

Fuck you,” Alex bites out. He braces himself for the next shove, glaring at Burr in fury. His bravo dims when Burr’s smile grows.

“That one’s going to cost you,” he declares.

He takes a few steps to the side and then vanishes from Alex’s sight, passing under his hung limbs. For a moment, Alex braces himself for the next push. Then he hears the stairs creak behind him and feels his stomach drop.

He twists, trying to see behind him. He can’t do it.

“Burr?” he calls out.

No one answers. Panic swarms up his throat.

He clamps down on his own tongue, taking loud breaths through his nose. This silence is worse than any blindfold. There is nothing grounding about being left alone – helplesss.

He can feel his breath-quickening, mind running through ways of escape. He has to get out. He can’t be here any more. He has to –

There’s a creak behind him. Alex freezes, entire being suddenly invested in that sound. He tries to cover his shudders, plastering on a scowl as Burr reappears in front of him holding a bowl of something Alex can’t make out.

The man’s eyes dart over his face, lips dipping down. He sets the bowl aside, hands coming up to grasp his face again, forcing Alex to look at him.

He’s rubbing away tears again. Dammit.

“Color?” Burr asks.

Alex takes a breath, ignoring the way it stutters in his lungs. He is not weak. He is not.

“Green,” he grounds out. He meets Burr’s eyes, challengingly. “I’m fucking green.”

Burr pulls away, still frowning, though now Alex can detect a hint of annoyance playing on his features. He picks up the bowl again, holding it close to Alex until Alex can feel the cold permeating within.

Ice. That shouldn’t be so bad.

“You need to cool off,” Burr says. “Open up your mouth.”

Oh.

Burr’s stare is indifferent to Alex’s scowl. When Alex hesitates, Burr’s other hand reaches out, grabbing his jaw.

“That wasn’t a question.”

He squeezes. Alex’s jaw opens reluctantly, unwilling in Burr’s grip. Burr holds up an ice cube, forcing it into Alex’s mouth without preamble. His hand slaps down over Alex’s lips before he can spit it out.

“It you spit this out for anything less than a safeword I won’t let you down until you’ve choked on three.”

He isn’t joking. He very clearly isn’t joking.

Alex nods his head slowly and Burr pulls back, smiling again in a way Alex is beginning to hate.

The ice in his mouth quickly goes from a soothing coolness to a burning freeze. It’s too large a piece to manipulate easily. He tries to keep it from pressing against the roof of his mouth by holding it on his tongue, but his he feels the bite of brain freeze anyway. Ice water slips down his throat as he’s distracted, causing him to cough a and nearly lose his footing. He’s forced to breathe out of his nose, making his position only that much more difficult.

While he’s struggling, Burr takes another piece of ice, pressing it against his chest near his collar. He runs it down Alex’s ribs, spreading lines of cold water over his skin, before stopping on Alex’s hip. He holds it there as the ice melts, cold burning the longer it presses against Alex’s skin. After a few more second he slides it away, finding a new spot to attack, repeating the assault until the first piece runs out. He continues with another.

Alex is fighting to keep on his toes, his legs entire body now shuddering uncontrollably. His legs give in sporadically, forcing him to pull up with his arms or feel the suffocation of hanging. Burr’s movements are distracting – the ice in his mouth not melting anywhere near fast enough. When he forgets to swallow, he ends up drooling all over himself.

Burr doesn’t seem to mind. He rubs the ice across his chest, covering the spittle with fresh melted water. He stops between his collarbones, pressing the ice there, and Alex is horrified to notice that his nipples are hard. Burr hasn’t even grazed them, moving across his chest without apparent interest.

That’s when he notices the heaviness between his legs. Shame and disgust wash over him as he realizes he’s half-hard. He doesn’t even know when it happened. It’s drowned out in the flood of sensations throughout the rest of his body.

Burr must know. Alex ducks his head, embarrassment blooming across his face. He can’t meet Burr’s eyes – not about this.

The ice in his mouth melts away, leaving his tongue numb and still. He has no words to say.

So he doesn’t say anything.

After a while, he’s lulled into the rhythm of Burr’s movements. It’s methodical. He can time his breathing to Burr’s movements, waiting as he finds a new place to burn, feeling the soothing relief as he glides away again.

He lets his head hang, soon unable to focus on anything beyond the immediate strain of his legs and arms and the searing sensation of ice on his skin.

Burr keeps going, rubbing down his arms next. Alex can’t help but groan when the other man presses the ice against the back of his neck, rubbing it in circles there.

His brain is slow. He misses it when Burr’s bare hands replace the ice. He slides them over Alex’s chilled flesh, sometimes squeezing, sometimes scratching, bring new heat to the surface.

The touch confuses the pain in his body. Alex clings to the sensations, giving himself something else to focus on. The burning of his muscles has settled in inches deep. He’s shaking without control, but all of the pain seems distant – muted. He’s taking deep breaths, head down, pressing against the warm skin that rubs at his shoulders.

He tries to remember what he was angry about, but the thought slips away like water. He wants to rest, but he hasn’t asked nicely yet. His tongue rolls around, maybe mumbling the words. But he can’t find them, or he doesn’t know them, because Burr doesn’t say anything. The pain in his legs goes on and on.

Time passes oddly.

Alex loses minutes focusing on the scrape of Burr’s fingernails down his side. He likes the way they bump over his ribs, picking them out. It tickles the part of his skin still numb with cold.

The water cools as it dries. It feels sticky. He waits for Burr’s palms to slide over everything, reveling in their warmth, secure in the tight grip around his wrists.

He drifts.

Some while later he realizes Burr is speaking to him. He blinks, raising his head sluggishly.

“Hi there,” Burr smiles, hand stroking back the hair that’s fallen into Alex’s face. Alex makes a shameless noise, pushing his hand into the stroke, rewarded when Burr’s fingers stay, scratching against his scalp.

Alex thinks Burr asked him something. He can’t remember what it is. He wobbles, eyes rolling around the room.

“More ice?”

He doesn’t really want it. Burr’s hands feel much better warm. But Burr told him he had to ask nicely.

“Please?” he adds. There – that should do it.

“Not this time,” Burr says. His hand departs Alex’s hair, making him groan.

“Easy, easy,” the man instructs. “I’m going to untie you now. Don’t lower your arms until I say to, okay?”

Alex nods obediently. Burr steps even closer to him and Alex gets to rest his head against the other man’s chest as he reaches up. It’s good. Alex let’s himself relax into it, enjoying the softness of Burr’s shirt.

Something shifts. Burr grips Alex’s left wrist, keeping it high, while his other hand does something to Alex’s right. After a second, the tension breaks, only Burr’s arms keeping his hands elevated. Alex frowns, suddenly unbalanced.

He’s knees start to bend before he corrects himself, coming back to position. He’s tired. He lets his body rest against Burr’s, closing his eyes. Nicely. Nicely.

“Please?”

He doesn’t quite remember what he’s asking for.

Burr pulls his arms down slowly, sending sparks of fire down Alex’s shoulders. He doesn’t complain, letting the man move him, confused when Burr wraps Alex’s arms around his neck.

“Hold on,” Burr orders. Alex nods, weary, pressing his forehead against the strong shoulder before him. With the warmth of Burr’s body against him, he scarcely feels it when his feet leave the floor.

Chapter Text

Aaron

*

It’s strange to see Alexander so quiet.

The man’s legs are stretched out in the bathtub under a simmering haze of cooling water. His chin hangs low against his chest, expression obscured by the thick curtain of hair falling down across his face. He hasn’t done much more than mumble since Aaron brought him up the stairs, only whining when Aaron set him down to draw water for the tub.

Aaron perches on the edge of the bath, keeping watch over the man’s awareness as he rubs down Hamilton’s coiled muscles. He’d started with the legs, efficiently smoothing out the stiff joints while Hamilton sat there wordlessly, tracking him with glazed eyes. He’s since moved onto the man’s upper body, releasing the tension stored in the overworked tissue.

He dips his palms together under the water, cupping his fingers to rinse suds off of Hamilton’s biceps. His eyes catch on the budding purple imprints left by the ropes on Hamilton’s wrists and ankles. He should probably feel guilty, but he can’t regret how hard he’d pushed. Not when Hamilton had surrendered so utterly.

Beyond that, there’s a part of him that simply likes how sharply they appear on the man’s paler skin.

He gathers more soap, moving on to massage the tight muscles of Hamilton’s shoulders. He goes gently at first, feeling out the enemy knots lodged along the man’s spine. Since he’d met the man he’d wanted to straighten out his bent back – the one that Hamilton only seems to square when he’s pissed off. Now he gets the chance. Hamilton’s shoulders twitch when he finally digs in. His head rolls back. Aaron raises a hand to brush Hamilton’s wet hair out of his face, rewarded when Hamilton’s dark eyes drift in his direction, blinking sluggishly.

“Welcome back,” Aaron greets, smiling at the sleepy expression. “You fell down deep, didn’t you?”

The man sulks. “I didn’t fall,” he announces, petulantly affronted. His voice is small, but indignant; pouting enough to let Aaron know he hasn’t fully surfaced.

Aaron hides his amusement, pushing his fingers into a new knot, feeling the man quake underneath him as the rigid muscle cracks beneath his thumbs.

“No, I guess you didn’t,” he pacifies. “You held yourself up quite well,” he amends.

The praise brings a closed-lip smile floating across Hamilton’s face. He squirms back, pressing himself harder against Aaron’s fingers, sighing when Aaron obliges and applies more pressure.

“I probably shouldn’t have pushed you so hard,” Aaron mulls aloud, more to himself than anything. “But you did very well for your first time.”

“ ‘S not my first,” Hamilton objects, mumbling.

He really seems to believe it.

Aaron sighs. “As you say.”

He’s trying to be diplomatic, but Hamilton’s protest burrows into his mind like a splinter. He’s tired of hearing about Hamilton’s vague previous partner as a defense against his clear inexperience. Whatever had happened before it wasn’t BDSM and Aaron was ready to hit the person who’d led Hamilton to think so.

He can’t hide his dissent, turning his back for more soap so Hamilton won’t read his grimace. “He must have been some Dom to have even you defend him,” he mutters under his breath, frustrated.

He doesn’t really mean for Hamilton to hear it, but when he turns around he finds a pair of wide eyes staring owl-like at him.

“John’s my friend,” Hamilton proclaims, voice loud and firm, but slow, as if he was explaining something obvious. A second later he frowns. The displeasure seems a troubling mar against his blissed state. His eyes slip off Aaron, dipping down to the water.

“John was my friend,” He repeats, quieter. “I loved h– ”

“Hamilton, stop!”

The command slips out before he can think, ringing too loud in the bathroom. Aaron nearly slips into the tub when he turns and grabs Hamilton’s shoulders, not quite shaking him.

Hamilton breaks off, head turning up to look at him in innocent confusion. Aaron flounders, forcing his grip to relax.

“Sorry,” he apologizes, stumbling. “I didn’t mean to scare you. Sorry, I just . . . ”

He takes a deep breath, closing his eyes. He’s rambling and from the dazed expression on Hamilton’s face the man comprehends none of it.

When he reopens his eyes, he runs a hand down Hamilton’s face, brushing more hair off of his forehead.

“Let’s not talk about that, right now, okay?” he says, softening his tone. “You don’t really want to tell me that. And I don’t want you to say something that you’re going to regret. You can tell me later, if you want to, all right?”`

He’s trying not to scare him, cursing himself for the misstep. Aaron would have killed someone for invading his privacy while he was down like that. He’s holding his breath, waiting for Hamilton’s response.

The man yawns, startled air sliding off.

“Okay,” Hamilton says easily, eyes already slipping closed. He twists, rolling his shoulders in invitation, “Keep going?”

Aaron watches him for a minute, making sure he’s not faking it, before letting himself relax.

“Yeah, sure,” he agrees finally. “I’m sorry.”

Hamilton doesn’t say anything to that. Aaron exhales, gathering himself up again. Hamilton wriggles when he presses his fingers back into the meat of his shoulders, giving out a happy sigh when he resumes kneading.

His mind paces as he works the muscles absently. Now that he’s no longer afraid of accidentally violating Hamilton’s privacy, he gets to enjoy the sweetness subspace has brought out in him. Hamilton’s face is more relaxed than he’s ever seen it. He hums when Aaron finds a particularly rough knot, pressing back against Aaron’s palms.

Over several long minutes, Hamilton’s contented noises fall silent again. He works until Hamilton’s shoulders have turned soft and loose beneath his fingers. Then he pulls back, resting his hands in his lap for a moment, before reaching for a nearby cup to rinse the man’s hair.

He gently takes Hamilton’s chin and leans the man’s head backward to keep the water from running into his eyes. Hamilton’s eyelids twitch as Aaron pours water over his forehead. That’s the only warning he gets before Hamilton’s body suddenly tenses. Hamilton’s eyes open narrowly, jolting up to Aaron’s face with a gleam far more alert than before.

“Burr?” Hamilton’s voice croaks. Aaron can see confusion and apprehension warring on his face as he comes back into himself.

“It’s okay, Hamilton,” he reassures him. “It’s normal to feel disoriented. Relax for me, if you can.”

Aaron keeps his tone welcoming, bracing one hand under Hamilton’s neck in support while holding up his other nonthreateningly. He can practically see Hamilton’s mind at work – watching as his eyes dart from Aaron, to the underwear he’s still wearing, to the soapy water all around him. His gaze returns to Aaron’s face with a pulled brow, mouth turning down.

“Why am I in the bath?” he asks first, guardedly. It’s followed by a quick succession of, “What happened? What time is it? How did I get here?” and most importantly, “What are you doing?”

“Slow down,” Aaron responds, taking the rapid fire calmly. It’s a little odd, but not unheard of, to watch someone emerge so abruptly from subspace. He’s used to a more gradual procession, but he’s sure he can handle it. “It’s still Wednesday night. I brought you here to wash off after our scene and let your body relax. You did very well. Everything’s fine.”

He rubs the back of Hamilton’s neck trying to be soothing, frowning when Hamilton nearly yelps, jerking forward.

“What are you doing?” the man barks, face heating up.

Aaron draws back both of his hands slowly, baffled by Hamilton’s continued confusion. He’s never been with someone who rejected contact after a scene. It’s almost fundamental that subs would crave it more.

Looking at Hamilton’s flushed face, it takes him a moment to register the emotion there as embarrassment. The next realization hits him more suddenly. He almost can’t believe it – but no, of course it would make perfect sense.

He rubs his eyes, for a moment not believing that this is his life.

“Hamilton, please tell me you know what aftercare is.”

He’s afforded a familiar glare.

“Yes, of course I do,” Hamilton replies stiffly. Aaron stares at him, waiting. It takes a moment before Hamilton’s eyes widen. His face turns an even deeper red as his eyes skitter away.

“Oh,” the man says, voice small.

“Yeah,” Aaron sighs. At least that’s cleared up.

Aaron waits another moment, but Hamilton won’t meet his gaze. He draws his knees under his body, hiding his chest with his arms. After a second, the dark-haired man clears his throat, shifting.

“Thanks,” he mutters, staring down. “You can go now, though. I’m okay.”

Aaron looks at him in bewilderment. “I’m glad to hear you’re feeling well, Hamilton, but I’d rather stay. Aftercare is important.”

Hamilton licks his lips. His eyes fly up above Aaron’s shoulders as he draws his knees under his body. “Thanks, Burr – really – but I don’t need any of that. I can handle myself.”

That’s ridiculous. He intends to say so. “As your Dom, part of my job is providing aftercare. I understand if this is new to you, but I have to insist – Hamilton!”

He’s showered in a wave of droplets as Hamilton stands up abruptly.

He just manages to get to his own feet as Hamilton tries to step out of the tub. Aaron can see the moment that his legs give way, only just moving in time to catch the other man before he falls. He gets an armful of wet skin against his chest before the other man immediately begins to squirm.

Hamilton scowls at him, pushing against his arms incessantly until Aaron is forced to step back. He doesn’t like it. He keeps close, watching Hamilton for any sign of sudden movement, concerned.

“It’s fine, Burr,” Hamilton asserts, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m fine.”

“You just fell,” Aaron says, stating the obvious. “You need to sit down.”

Hamilton shakes his head stubbornly. Aaron can see his jaw working.

“I’m going to bed now. I have work tomorrow,” Hamilton insists. He hesitates, wavering, “Thank you for your services. Tonight was . . . ” His voice trails off, a heavy blush spreading across his cheeks. He clears his throat, shaking his head. “I appreciate what you have done, but you can leave now.”

Hamilton’s attempt at a lofty tone does little to impress Aaron. He crosses his own arms, making his voice firmer. “Hamilton, sit down before you fall down.”

“I said I’m fine,” the man mutters. His eyes are focused on the door behind Aaron’s back.

Aaron is pretty sure his eleven-year-old daughter is more reasonable than this. He clenches his jaw, checking his patience, before deliberately placing a hand on Hamilton’s shoulder, ignoring the resulting flinch.

“Hamilton, you can barely stand,” he says, forcing himself to calmness. “You were in a stress position for nearly an hour. Your body is exhausted and your mind isn’t much better. What are you trying to prove here?”

Hamilton’s head swings towards him. His expression seems shocked.

“An hour?” he repeats.

“Yes,” Aaron affirms. He presses down on Hamilton’s shoulder, urging him back. “Now will you please sit down? You’re body needs rest. Your legs are still shaking.”

Hamilton frowns at him, looking down at himself as if he hadn’t noticed his own thighs were quivering under his weight. There’s a pause where Aaron can practically see Hamilton weighing his options, before he reluctantly steps back into the tub, letting Aaron support him as he sits back down.

Aaron takes his previous seat cautiously, watching Hamilton closely. Hamilton won’t look at him, staring at the murky water above his lap.

Aaron sighs. He can feel the water from Hamilton’s body seeping through his own clothes, making them cling against his skin. The bathroom floor is also soaked. What a mess.

“I should probably apologize,” he says, after a moment. That gathers Hamilton’s attention, drawing the man’s gaze towards him. “I pushed you harder than I had initially planned to tonight. You might have trouble getting around at work tomorrow.”

Hamilton frowns at him. “I’m strong. I’ll be fine,” he says stubbornly.

This time, Aaron really does roll his eyes. “I know that,” he says, exasperated. “I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think you could take it.”

Now Hamilton scowls. “So what are you saying? You’re not sorry?”

If Aaron didn’t know better, he’d think Hamilton’s only form of conversation was arguing.

“What I mean is that we probably should have discussed if you were okay with markings before this,” he replies, defusing. “That, I apologize for.”

He braces himself for Hamilton’s next complaint, but curiously the man does not take the opportunity to jump on him. Aaron watches as Hamilton lifts his wrists, examining the impressions left there for the first time. A blush crosses his face. He crosses his arms around his chest, hiding the marks.

But he doesn’t object. It strengthens a suspicion he’s been harboring.

“Can I go now?” Hamilton asks, after a scarce pause.

Aaron does not sigh.

“No, Alexander. Aftercare is non-negotiable.”

For once, Hamilton doesn’t argue with him. He stares at him with an unreadable expression before hunkering down in the water, turning his face away. He says nothing.

Aaron lets him sulk. He reaches for the shampoo, pretending not to see Hamilton’s eyes tracking his hands. He doesn’t disguise his movements, squeezing out a handful of the soap before beginning to lather Hamilton’s hair. He ignores it when Hamilton freezes under his touch, keeping his movements steady as he works the product into the man’s scalp.

It takes several long minutes before Hamilton starts to relax again. Aaron lets him take it, content to perch here until Hamilton calms down. Eventually, he’s rewarded with Hamilton’s head turning ever slightly in his direction.

“ . . . So what’s the point of all this?” Hamilton begins, lowly. Aaron takes what he can get.

“Well, for one thing, I get to take care of you,” Aaron says honestly. He’s always liked aftercare. He tries to explain it simply, without assuming Hamilton’s base knowledge. “I can make sure nothing carried over from a scene in a bad way. Make sure you’re in a stable headspace. And I can thank you for giving me your submission and for behaving so well for me.”

He trails off. Hamilton’s expression is one of befuddlement. He’s clearly not explaining this well.

He can’t help but ask.

“You’ve really never had aftercare before?”

Hamilton hunches, ducking his head. “I mean, not in so many words,” he says, after a beat. There’s a smattering of pink over the bridge of his nose. “Betsey - er, Eliza, that is – she would check in on me. She was always worried I was working too much. She’d remind me to come home to our family; pull me out of my work and ask me to take a break.”

Aaron already knows how much Hamilton valued his ex-wife’s concern. He’d said as much at their first meeting. It’s also not what he’s looking for.

“And before her?”

Hamilton’s lips dip down.

“What?”

“You said you had a pretty vanilla relationship with your wife,” Aaron clarifies. “So her actions, while commendable, were not aftercare. I’m talking about your last relationship where there was a power exchange dynamic. What did your partner do then?”

Hamilton’s expression shutters. He draws back, pulling his head away from Aaron’s hands, eyes narrowing.

“You’re talking about John,” he accuses flatly.

Aaron’s attempts at subtly fly out the window. He leans back, spreading his hands.

“You mentioned the name earlier,” he admits. “I didn’t want to pry while you were still under.”

“Well don’t,” Hamilton bites out. He’s all tensed up again, shoulders by his ears, rigid lines around his eyes.

Aaron knows he should let it go, but it’s still biting at him.

“Hamilton . . . ” he starts, not sure where he’s going. Hamilton stops him before he can decide.

“Just drop it, Burr!”

Aaron drops it.

He’s mad at himself for pushing. Even more frustrated at being blind in this relationship. He hates the feeling of fumbling in the dark – even more so when his hands seem to keep landing on all of Hamilton’s sore teeth.

He reaches out and works his fingers through Hamilton’s hair in a silent apology, disappointed that he’s already lost the sweet boy he’d glimpsed earlier that night. Hamilton’s tension lessens without disappearing. Aaron can feel the man’s guard in place. He’s angry with himself for putting it there.

After a few minutes he knows Hamilton won’t relax any further. He washes the suds off his hands before gently taking Hamilton’s jaw again, encouraging him to tilt his head back. Hamilton goes reluctantly, eyes refusing to even look at Aaron as he rinses the shampoo out of his hair. When he starts in with the conditioner, Hamilton folds himself over his bent legs and says nothing.

Aaron lets his hands run through the thick locks of Hamilton’s hair. He’s never felt hair this inky smooth before; it slips through his fingers like silk. The sensation reminds him of the old red ribbons he’d once played with.

He wants to apologize, but he knows that won’t do anything. His mind is still wandering, hands gliding through Hamilton’s hair, when he thinks of a way.

“My wife used to love this part,” he muses softly. He runs his hands up to Hamilton’s scalp, scratching his nails down to the other man’s neck, feeling him shiver beneath him. Looking at the gleaming white wall of the shower, Aaron can see the dark blur of his own face reflected. He ignores the ache in his chest as he lets himself remember.

Hamilton shifts ever so slightly under his hands.

“She had an entire shelf lined with bath salts,” Aaron continues. He can see all the little bottles and bars of soaps lined up in a colorful row. He knows every story behind each one – memories tied up in street fairs and beauty boutiques. “I used to go to work smelling like citrus or vanilla – it was always something different. Some guys would hassle me for it, but she loved it. She said they were very relaxing, but I think she liked hunting for them at least half as much.”

He pauses, pulling one memory to the front. “She tried to make one herself once. It was awful. We ended up smelling like Pine-Sol for a week. It was in our hair and everything. She gave it to her mother-in-law for Christmas.”

He smiles, remembering her wicked laughter. He ignores the ball forming in his throat, blinking hard. When he looks down he finds Hamilton staring at him.

“What was her name?”

“Theodosia,” Aaron answers.

Hamilton’s lips twitch. “Your wife named your daughter after herself?” he asks, incredulously. “Like in Gilmore Girls?”

Aaron is not even a little bit ashamed. “Actually, it was my suggestion. And I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Hamilton’s eyes narrow at him, before he breaks out in a wide smile.

“You’re a terrible liar,” he snickers.

“Do shut up.”

“Make me – ow!”

Aaron lets go of the lock of hair he’d yanked, smirking when Hamilton glares at him. He rubs his thumbs over the sore spot in a peace offering, enjoying the man’s furiously betrayed expression.

“You ass,” Hamilton grouches, but his shoulders are relaxing. He splashes water at Aaron, smattering him on his already-wet chest. Aaron rolls his eyes and grins, letting his fingers go back to work.

“So this is aftercare?” Hamilton ventures, several long minutes later. Aaron shrugs.

“It changes,” he answers, diplomatically. “Tonight, there’s this. Next time? Whatever we need.”

Hamilton hums. He’s quiet for a moment, playful expression giving way to something more contemplative.

“John liked to play with my hair too sometimes,” he says finally. Aaron’s hands still. “It was shorter then,” Hamilton admits on a rickety sort of laugh. He shakes his head, something rueful in his tone. “We were in the army.”

Aaron mulls over the revelation. It’s both less and more than he’d hoped for. He marks the past tense carefully, filing it away for later consideration.

“Does it bother you when I touch your hair?” Aaron eventually ventures, stepping lightly. He’s prepared to pull his hands away, though he doesn’t really want to.

Thankfully, Hamilton shakes his head. “I like it,” he decides quietly.

It’s permission.

“Okay.”

Aaron starts his motions again, same as before, though with new meaning. He slips the ends of Hamilton’s hair between his fingers before going up and running his nails down Hamilton’s scalp. Hamilton shudders. It’s a signal Aaron realizes Hamilton’s been giving him all night.

“Like this?” he asks softly, repeating the motion.

The man shivers again, pressing up against his nails as they touch the crown of his head. Hamilton’s head gives a small nod, not saying anything.

So Aaron does it again, and again, until Hamilton’s shoulders are quaking and his head is bowed.

“Thank you for sharing this with me,” Aaron says quietly. “We can be finished now.”

He pretends not to notice the beads gathering in Hamilton’s eyes as he tips back Hamilton’s chin, letting the water rinse down.

Hamilton, the sweet thing, lets him.

Chapter Text

Alexander

*

Bullet is staring at him through the glass window of his office.

Alex ignores her, gnawing furiously on his cheek as he types his way through Washington’s next set of talking points. His knee taps viciously under the table, sending little shockwaves running up his spine and down his fingers. The muscles in his leg complain, tensed and still sore from the night before, but he ignores it. He’s grateful to be sitting down; glad that he made it to his office before anyone could see his strained walk.

His phone sits face up on the corner of his desk. Its dark and silent surface draws his eyes against his resolve. He is not going to touch it though. He put it there for a reason. He can’t let it distract him any more. He needs to get this finished.

“Hey, boss?”

Alex’s hands jerk, elbow narrowly missing a cold cup of coffee that he’d forgotten about. That’s fine. He’s already had two cups this morning. He’s less fine with the interruption itself. He picks up the coffee and drops it into the bin beneath his desk. He goes back to typing without looking up.

“What is it, Bullet?”

His annoyance does nothing to stop his assistant from striding into his office and depositing several bursting files onto his desk. Rather unfortunately, Bullet hasn’t feared him since last year’s Christmas party when she’d held back his hair as he puked into the rose bushes. The less he thinks about that night the better.

This time, however, he’s grateful for her brazen nature. A cursory glance at the files instantly lets him know they should be sequestered in Adams’ office.

It’s exactly what he’d asked for.

“You’re incredible, Bullet,” he breathes as he abandons his computer, already reaching for the first file on top. His jubilation turns brooding as he reads through the first page of numbers, glancing at the rest of the files speculatively. “Is this all of them?”

“Just what I could grab while Adams was out,” she says, shrugging. “Did you know he actually went to a meeting today? And not even on a golf course. I think he might even stay past lunch.”

She’s perched herself on the arm of his visitor’s chair, hands crossed primly over a yellow pencil skirt, precisely manicured nails threaded together like lattice. Fantastic. She’s made herself comfortable.

“It’s his last day, he can’t stay long,” Alex mutters, but he’s distracted, flipping through another file and grimacing at the clear neglect. At least he’ll be able to do something about it now. “See if you can’t sneak more out during lunch. I’ll need all of his priority files – especially anything that showed up on the news with bad press. The faster I can fix his mistakes the sooner Washington will realize I’m the most qualified replacement. If the press gets wind of the good news churning out of our department suddenly, even better.”

“I could get fired for this, you know?” Bullet says, not sounding too concerned. “I’m a thief because of you.”

He waves her off. “Unlikely, seeing as how I’m the one who hired you. Just make sure Abigail Adams isn’t lurking around. She’s the one you really have to worry about.”

Bullet snorts. “Tell me something I don’t know. That woman can practically smell opportunity from three miles away.”

He finishes flipping through the files, shuffling them into a half-full file box out of sight under his desk with the others. He doesn’t have time to find the solutions to all of them during the day, but he knows if he stays late and works on them at home he’ll be able to make at least some headway.

The clock on his computer reads 11:56. He glances at his phone, sitting unobtrusively just out of arms reach. Underneath the table, he thumbs at the circle of bruises he knows are hiding under his braces.

“Boss? Are you feeling okay? You’ve been looking a little peaky today.”

Alex jerks down his sleeves, scowling at his desk. “I’m fine,” he answers briskly. He doesn’t bother trying to chase her off, well aware that it won’t work, but he does turn back to his computer, scanning his work to catch where he’d left off.

“Well, you look tired,” Bullet announces. She narrows her eyes at him, head tilting. “Please tell me you haven’t been sleeping in your office again. That’s not healthy for a man your age.”

“Excuse me?”

“You did, didn’t you?” she accuses. “You told me you were going to stop doing that. You’re going to throw out your back or something.”

Alex glowers at her. “Just how old do you think I am?”

She just stares at him, annoyingly uncowed, until Alex sighs, deflating.

“I went home yesterday,” he concedes.

“You promise?” she asks, still staring at him shrewdly.

“What are you – twelve?”

She laughs. “And you say you aren’t an old man. Come on. At least let me get you something to eat. You want Thai? I can get an order here in thirty.”

“Actually,” Alex says, “I brought lunch with me today.”

You did?” There is nothing subtle about her disbelief. “Bull.”

“I’m not going to prove myself to you,” Alex grumbles. He makes a shooing motion with his hand. “Now leave me be. I need to finish this.”

“Yeah. Alright.” She slides off her perch, towering annoyingly tall over his desk in her heels. She is just turning to the door when she pauses, twisting around.

“You’re not taking that whole box home with you, right?”

Alex looks up at her, puzzled. It’s not exactly unusual behavior. She knows that.

“Why not?”

Bullet’s expectant air falls into disapproval. She places her hands on her hips, stepping towards his desk. “Please tell me you didn’t forget.”

Alex blinks at her, stumped. “What?”

“Your kids,” she says, exasperated. “The fact that they’re coming over to see you this weekend. I told you about this. I spent fifteen minutes yesterday assuring Eliza you’d remember.”

Shit. Alex’s train of thought abruptly smashes into dust. Bullet must read the panic on his face, because her expression goes stone cold.

“You cannot bring all this extra work home with you!”

Her chiding jars against his own sense of pride, sparking off an answering storm in his scowl. Alex despises ultimatums – and he certainly isn’t going to take one from her.

“I’ll do what I have to,” he says, voice hard. “Just like I always do.”

Bullet stares at him. Her strong jaw works, expression steely. “That doesn’t always work out well for you, boss,” she says tightly. Alex glares at her, daring her to continue with that thought. She exhales, some of the hardness leaving her face. “I just think that you should take a break, spend time with your kids. Remember what happened last time. Washington knows you’re the most qualified person for the job. You don’t have to – ”

Alex’s phone beeps.

“That’s enough, Laurel.”

He stands, summoning every inch of his authority. Bullets cuts off abruptly, startled by the rare use of her first name. He meets her gaze steadily, unflinching when she glares at him.

“Fine.” She turns on her heel, stalking towards the door. “Have a good lunch, sir.”

The windows rattle as she slams the door behind her. Alex ignores it, lunging for his phone. He glances at the clock – 12:00 – and opens it. There are two messages.

A. Burr: Good morning. I’m reminding you to eat lunch today. Don’t forget to send me a picture when you’re finished.

A. Burr: I imagine you’re sore. Enjoy it. You earned it.

Heat floods through him. Alex gets caught on a rush of endorphins, only noticing his face stretch into a smile after the fact. He tries to shove it down, reaching into his desk drawer for his lunch and spreading the bounty on his table. He takes the first bite of his sandwich, suddenly realizing how hungry he is. He has to tap down on the ridiculous urge to take a picture of himself eating – wondering what Burr might say if he did. He’s curious about the other man. He doesn’t understand how he works – or what he wants.

He doesn’t know what to think about last night. There’s a part of him that’s deeply ashamed. It had him run out of the house with only a few mumbled words to Burr this morning and an apple tossed his way. At the same time, he finds himself warm whenever he thinks about it. He can’t stop thinking about the marks on his wrists or flexing the ache in his limbs.

You’re allowed to want that, Burr had said. Are you asking for more bruises?

He really doesn’t know.

But he doesn’t send the picture. He pulls his computer closer and types with one hand, eating voraciously. He doesn’t have time to sit still, not really. If he were smart, he’d be at a meeting right now, but he’s afraid of walking too much and being caught half-hobbling. Still, he’s surprised when he goes for his next bite only to find that he’s eaten it all.

His stomach flutters. He takes his phone out and snaps a picture of the remains, hesitating before he sends it. He feels ridiculous. He’s a grown man.

He sweeps away his trash, setting up his desk for some real work. He looks up and sees Bullet typing rapidly at her desk, not looking at him. He thinks about Eliza and his kids and this weekend. His tapping leg jostles the file box under his desk.

His phone buzzes a short time later. There are just two words: Good boy.

It’s a long time before he can get back into his work.

 

*

 

At nine, he gets home lugging the now full file box. He’d wanted to stay later, but he wasn’t sure what Burr would do it he did and he didn’t want to test him so soon after last time. The ache in his body that’s haunted him all day protests the extra work, hissing at him as he trudges back from the subway. He sets the box down in the foyer, listening for Burr or Theo while he unwinds his scarf from his neck.

Burr finds him as he’s hanging up his coat. He comes down stairs, again dressed more casually than Alex expected in a t-shirt and jeans. Princeton is spelled out in fading orange letters across his chest.

“I just put Theo to bed,” he says in greeting. “Did you eat yet?”

Alex shakes his head no. He’d spent the rest of the day holed up in his office haranguing people over the phone. He’d only reluctantly stepped out for a meeting with Senior Staff where Adams had regaled them with his regret at leaving office, all the while sneering at Alex whenever Washington had his back turned. The only pleasure he’d gotten was watching Jefferson grow more and more annoyed – their mutual distaste for Adams being one of the only things they agreed on.

Jefferson, the bastard, had laughed at him when he’d winced getting up – accusing him of having yet another ‘rough weekend’ with a too obvious leer. Alex still burned under the speculative glance Washington had thrown him and the warning in his tone when he’d told him to be more careful next time.

Fuck that. Next time. As if getting his name dragged through the mud hadn’t quelled any appetite he had for going out and getting laid. He was infamous now. He could practically see the dollar signs alighting in the eyes of the desperate and single of New York’s hookup scene. He was a walking tabloid ready to be sold.

“Hamilton?”

Alex shakes himself, forcing the scowl off his face. “Sorry. No. I didn’t eat yet.”

Burr sighs. Alex feels something wilt inside his chest. “Alright. Come on. I can heat something up.”

Alex obediently follows Burr in to the kitchen, cringing when he sits down on one of the stools at the bar. Burr, of course, notices and grins. Alex can feel his face heating up in response.

“Shut up, you ass,” he mutters.

Burr laughs, swatting him on the arm. “Watch your mouth,” he says, smirking. “How are you feeling?”

Alex rubs where Burr hit him. He barely felt it, but his skin seems to tingle, hairs rising up beneath his suit. He ducks his head, fiddling with his phone instead.

“Still sore,” he admits lowly. “Thanks a lot.”

“You’re welcome,” Burr hums, walking over to the fridge.

He turns and begins fishing out several Tupperware containers, making Alex a plate of leftovers. Alex’s stomach rumbles watching him. He hadn’t realized he was hungry. Burr slides it into the microwave before turning around, leaning on the kitchen counter and examining him.

“I don’t like that you’re eating so late,” he says, after a moment.

Alex shrugs. “It’s not a big deal. I can get something at work. You don’t have to do this for me.”

“Actually I do,” Burr disagrees. “It’s what you’re paying me for.”

Alex’s stomach cramps at the reminder. He nods, looking away. He hates how dependent he is. Of course he’d have to pay for someone to take care of him. There’s no one else to do it.

“What I mean,” Burr says, catching sight of something on his face, “is that it would be nice it if you could eat dinner with us. I’d prefer it if you came home from work by six anyway.”

It’s a request Alex has heard before. He hunches over, shrugging.

“I can’t,” he says.

He stops himself before he can say anything else. He knows trying to argue about it will fail. He’s had this discussion too many times before, all with the same result. He can’t just take a break. He has to get his work done. If he doesn’t, he’ll let Washington down, not to mention the real people that benefit from his work for the city. Sick days and vacations aren’t for people like him, they’re for folks like Adams and Jefferson, people who could retire now and still have enough to take care of their children for life. He isn’t like that. He knows he has to work twice as hard, be twice as good, to get anywhere in life. It all the reality he’s every known.

He sees all this, just as he knows it’s all an excuse. Other people came home to their families. Even Washington managed to prioritize his wife. He knew it was something wrong with him that kept him from connecting the way he wanted to. No doubt he’d inherited it from his own deadbeat dad. It’s perfectly clear that Burr has no problem prioritizing Theodosia. He’d left his job for her. Alex can’t even imagine.

He waits for Burr’s disapproval to come, staring hard at the countertop before him. He really, really doesn’t want to fight about this.

Out of the corner of his eye, he watches as Burr takes the plate out of the microwave and sets it in front of him. He leans against the bar opposite Alex, forearms resting casually on the countertop.

“What if you brought your work home with you?”

Alex stills. He looks up from the counter, trying to see the catch on Burr’s face. He doesn’t seem annoyed, but then Eliza never seemed so either.

“You want me to work at home?” he asks, incredulously. He finds his fingers twisting together, fidgeting. He picks at a torn cuticle, ignoring the sting that comes when he pulls it off. His knee picks up, rocking nervously out of sight.

“Well no. It’s not ideal,” Burr admits.

Alex knew it. He tenses, waiting for the shoe to drop. He finds his stomach squirming at the thought of running through this argument again. He always loses, even when he gets his way.

“It would be better to separate your home from your work entirely so you don’t entwine the two spaces,” Burr says, “but it’s more important that you get regular meals and come home at a decent hour.” He gives Alex a stern look. “I would still expect you to stop working before it got too late, however. You do need some time to turn off.”

It’s not what he was expecting.

Alex blinks rapidly, dropping his eyes to the floor. He clasps his hands under the counter, digging his nails into the meat of his palms.

“I mean, I could try it,” he manages. He risks glancing up at Burr, still waiting for the signs of displeasure to come. He can’t find it. There is a relaxed slope to Burr’s shoulders. His face seems a picture of patience. It throws Alex off, making him uneasy. “I probably couldn’t do it all the time,” he adds quickly. “Sometimes I have to stay late. And there are some things I can’t do outside of the office. And election seasons are rough, I don’t know how often I’d make it.”

Burr smoothly cuts through his rambling. “We’ll try it. That’s all I expect.” He taps the counter. “Now eat. You must be hungry.”

The truth is, Alex barely feels it. He mechanically shovels food into his mouth, alternating between staring at his plate and watching Burr bustle around the kitchen when his back is turned. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand the man at all. He doesn’t even seem frustrated.

He thinks about Eliza. The way her face would crumple when he’d let her down. She was always so kind. She’d smile at him or rub his shoulders or tell him it was okay, but he could tell she was disappointed. Angelica had never held back – calling regularly to reprimand him for making her sister upset, as if he didn’t know already.

She hasn’t called him since the divorce. He misses her wit, even when it was turned against him.

It reminds him.

“Eliza is bringing the kids over this weekend,” he says, lifting his head. Burr turns around from the sink to look at him. He’s drying a dish, forearms gleaming wet from the washing.

“I know,” Burr says. Right, he had given Alex Eliza’s message, hadn’t he? Apparently even Burr remembered Alex’s family better than him.

“Do you need me to help with anything?” Burr asks. “I was planning on taking Theo to the zoo. We haven’t been for a while. I didn’t want to intrude on your time together.”

That’s probably a good idea. Alex nods. “Thank you.”

“Sure,” Burr replies easily. He reaches up and puts the dish away. The hem of his shirt rides up a moment. Alex looks away.

“I’m going grocery shopping again tomorrow,” Burr says. “Is there anything I should pick up? Are your kids picky eaters?”

Alex doesn’t cook. The kids all know which drawer the delivery menus live in and they’d ordered in every other weekend they’d come over.

“Um. No,” he says. “That’s alright. We’ll manage.”

 

*

 

He is not managing.

Alex works well into the night the following evening, only stopping when Burr finds him hunched over a stack of files as tall as his knee and forces him to go to bed. He spends the night tossing and turning, before finally waking up well before his alarm with an impending sense of panic.

He rolls out of bed before the first rays of morning can even break across the rooftops. His foot lands on several pens he’d scattered from his nightstand days ago. He kicks them away, cursing, but they don’t roll far, caught up in the piles of laundry he’s scattered on the floor.

Eliza would kill him. Not that she would know, but the thought of her peeking into their room and seeing the ruin strikes him. He hastily begins to clean: overloading his hamper with dirty clothes and stuffing it in his closet, stacking his paperwork as neatly as he can on his dresser, filling up his bathroom trashcan with the remains of months old take-out boxes and depleted coffee cans. He even strips the bed, pressing new sheets into precise, military lines before delicately arranging the fourteen pillows Eliza had once bought that he’d kicked underneath the bed ages ago.

It’s still nowhere near as tidy as Eliza once kept it. He has no clue where she’d stored the vacuum and there’s a large coffee stain on the carpet where he’d knocked a cup off his nightstand. He opens up the window, trying to air out the feeling of congestion that’s been lingering, but when he opens the curtains, a cloud of dust comes up, throwing him into a coughing fit. A cold breeze comes sweeping into the room, sending him to shivers, but this time at least there’s no snow falling.

That’s when he realizes he’s still in his underwear. He turns around, throwing open the doors to his closet. Instantly, he’s confronted by the monochrome wall of suits hanging there. Their uniformity daunts him. He squeezes past their bulk until he finds the rack of casual clothing hung at the back. He pulls out the first shirt he sees, only to find a ring of tiny holes around the hem. He frowns, tossing it on his bed, before digging deeper.

There’s a knock on his door sometime later.

Alex lurches in his closet, hitting his head on the hangers swinging above. He curses, scuttling backwards, feeling his heart beat up in his chest. He glances for his clock but he’s buried it under the clothes he’s torn out of his closet. It can’t be ten yet. It’s too soon.

But Eliza is never late.

“One second!” he says, loudly.

He scrambles for the first thing he sees, jumping into a pair of jeans and yanking the nearest shirt over his head. He nearly runs to the door, pushing his hair back, wishing he knew where his tie was.

He pauses when he gets to the door, suddenly realizing the new mess he’s made on his bed. He looks at the stack of clothes forlornly, but there is no time. He opens the door, angling his body in hopes they won’t see.

Burr slips his phone inside his pocket as Alex opens the door, giving him a once over. Alex breathes a sigh of relief, hanging onto the doorframe.

“Oh thank god.”

“I was wondering where you were, it’s getting late,” Burr says. “Theo and I are just about ready to go.” His head tilts. “Are you alright? You have a stain right there.”

Alex looks down. He finds the classic pattern of a coffee spill decorating the lower half of his shirt.

“Crap.”

He turns, stripping out of his shirt and tossing it to the ground. He begins to dig through the pile of clothing on his bed, searching through he rejects for anything that screams capability and stableness.

He barely notices that Burr follows him inside, until the man speaks. “Can I help you find something?”

“No,” Alex says quickly. “I’m just looking for – ah, this will do.”

He holds up one of his old college shirts. Burr coughs, pointing, and that’s when Alex notices the hole in its armpit.

Dammit.”

He crumples the shirt and throws it down, frustrated. Anxiety is crawling up and down his arms, making his fingers tingle. His head feels light. He tries to pick up the next shirt, but his hands don’t want to listen to him. It slips through his fingers. He curses again, bending down to retrieve it.

“Hamilton, I think you should sit down,” Burr says, coming closer.

“Hang on a minute.”

He picks through his pile hurriedly. He can’t find anything that doesn’t proclaim disaster.

“What time is it? Betsey didn’t call, did she?”

There must be something clean and whole – something he didn’t just hang up instead of running through the washer. Eliza must have left something in his closet for him. He just needs to find it.

“Okay, Hamilton. Stop.”

Burr’s tone has gone hard in a way Alex hasn’t heard in days. He falters, turning automatically, already shaking his head.

“I’m sorry, Burr. I just need to find something to put on. It’s no big deal. I just need to find something clean.”

Burr frowns. He glances at Alex’s pile, reaching in to pull out a navy sweater near him. “How about this? It looks fine.”

Alex shakes his head furiously. It’s the sweater from their Christmas cards three years ago. Eliza had given it to him. She liked the color against his skin, he remembered.

So had Maria.

“Can’t. Not that one.”

Burr sets the sweater down, eyeing his pile speculatively. “What about that one?”

He points to a green shirt. Alexander picks it up. No holes or stains appear. It doesn’t smell. Then he remembers the last time he’d worn it, when he’d hugged Angelica goodbye as she set off to London.

“No.”

He drops it. There has to be something in his closet – something that isn’t torn or stained or ruined with memories. This couldn’t be all there was.

He paws through his clothing frantically, feeling the passing of time thunder pass with every second he fails to find something. He nearly destroys his lamp chucking another useless article to the floor. He’s almost mad it doesn’t.

“Enough,” Burr tries. “I said, stop that, Hamilton!”

Alexander’s hands jitter to a stop. He jerks up when Burr touches him, pulling him by the arm away from his bed. He snarls, but Burr’s face doesn’t lose its lines of concern. He pulls him harder, until he takes a few reluctant steps away from the pile, feeling as though the floor is crumpling underneath his feet with every one.

Burr squeezes his elbow. It’s distracting. It doesn’t feel right.

“Follow me,” Burr says, stepping close to him. “I have an idea.”

He tries to keep moving, but Alex digs in his heels. His distracted by the grip Burr has on him, looking down at it. He wets his lips, lifting up his face to Burr’s.

“Could you . . . ” Release him? No, he doesn’t think that what he’s looking for. He can’t complete the thought.

He looks down at his arm again. Without his bracers, he can see the fading ring of bruises around his wrist.

Burr gets it. His face softens, even as his grip moves down, latching on tightly over the sensitive flesh. A dull pain thuds up Alex’s arm, leaking away his tension as his mind fixates on that point of contact. He sighs, shoulders slumping. His arm goes lax under Burr’s command.

“Come,” Burr says. His voice is changed, soft silk replaced by hard diamond. He yanks Alex’s arm and Alex stumbles willingly after him.

They descend down the stairs to the guest bedrooms, past the closed door of Theodosia’s room, and into Burr’s. Burr releases him as they enter.

“Lock the door,” he orders, without turning around.

He begins to rummage through the suitcase propped open on his dresser. An oily sensation curls down in Alex’s belly looking at it. He’s jarred suddenly by the transience nature of their agreement.

Their trial week is ending.

Alex had forgotten.

He turns around and locks the door, grateful for the time to hide the blow. It’s not as easy as he’d thought it would be. He still feels shaky when Burr finds what he needs and turns around to face him.

“Good, Alexander. Now come here.”

His first name strikes him, as it always does when Burr uses it. Now it feels like a taunt; playing at a faux intimacy that Alex bought and paid for it.

He clenches his jaw until his teeth ache, before turning around and shuffling over to his employee. He can’t look Burr in the eye, glaring at the floor.

Burr presses a shirt into his hands. It’s soft and gray and when Alex unfolds it he recognizes the v of the neck. Three days ago he’d pressed his face into this shirt and fallen apart.

“You’re going to wear this today,” Burr says.

He doesn’t ask. If he had, Alex would have had to say no. He can’t keep taking things from this man – this stranger. He’ll burn him up. It’s what he does.

But Burr didn’t ask. He said it in the same way he’d told Alex to wait and to endure. If Alex has only a short time left with this Burr, he’s going to take what the man will give him.

He pulls the shirt over his head. Underneath the scent of laundry detergent there is something distinctly Burr about it, though maybe he’s just imagining it.

“Good boy.”

A shiver runs through Alex. He bends his head, but Burr is there, forcing fingers under his chin lifting him up.

“Look at me when I’m speaking to you,” Burr says calmly. Alex hates this. He nods reluctantly, rewarded when Burr pulls back.

Alex can’t avoid the smile he gives him. Burr doesn’t smile like most people Alex has met. He doesn’t show his teeth or strain his expression. It’s manifests in the deepening crinkles around his eyes and the softening corners of his thin lips. Alex doesn’t think he’s ever seen anything quite like it.

“I’m going to put you down for a minute,” Burr says, quietly. He seems much closer than Alex remembers, enough that Alex can feel the heat of his words. “I want you to kneel, right here, until I get back.”

He reaches over and takes a pillow off his bed, placing it on the floor between the mattress and the dresser.

Alex still doesn’t get it. How is kneeling supposed help anything? He’ll never fix anything sitting still.

“Why?” he asks. Then he’s shaking his head. “I have too much left to do. Eliza will be here soon with the kids and I still need to get ready. I haven’t made them breakfast. And the house is a disaster. I don’t have time for this right now.”

He makes to leave, but Burr grabs him by the shoulders before he can step past him.

“All you need to do right now is listen to me.” He squeezes Alex’s arms. “Kneel down.”

“But Eliza – ”

“Let me worry about that. What I need you to do right now is to kneel for me.”

For him.

Burr’s hands are a constant pressure on his shoulders. Alex feels his resolve caving slowly. He gets to his knees heavily, still looking up as he sinks. Burr follows him down, keeping his palms pressed against Alex’s back.

He’s smiling again. Alex’s insides ache. He doesn’t know what he’s done to deserve that look.

“Good boy. Now down,” Burr coaxes. “That’s it. All the way down.”

His smooth voice lures Alex lower, until his forehead is pressed against the floor. He’s been here before, he remembers. The first time Burr had broken him.

This time, Burr takes his hands, encouraging him to clasp them over the back of his head. They build a weight that keeps his body to the ground, a constant pressure for him to stay down.

“Settle,” Burr says, somewhere above him. A hand runs down Alex’s back, slipping over his tensed muscle. It’s repetitive. Alex sinks deep into the position, feeling the tightness in his thighs and back give way as he burrows out a space for himself on the ground.

“You don’t have to do anything, but stay here and wait for me. You can do that, can’t you?”

Can he? It goes against everything he believes in. Things don’t happen – good things don’t happen unless he works for them. There’s no way to stay above water if he stops kicking.

But he wants Burr to stay and Burr asked him for this. He doesn’t know why, but he want to give it to him.

He lets out a shuddery breath and nods the best he can. After a moment, he hears the floorboards creak as Burr stands up and walks to the door. Folded down between the bed and dresser, no one is likely to see him even if they do come in. He is hidden.

The lights flicker as Burr leaves him in the dark. Alex ignores the last strings of panic, letting his eyes slip closed and waits.

Chapter Text

Alexander

*

Alex comes back to a heavy hand resting on his back. It draws him away from the warm, dark place he’s been drifting, where the center of his universe is the press of his forehead against the ground and the swell of his chest as he breathes in and out. The new weight on between his shoulders fishes him out of the darkness slowly, reeling him in until he finds himself staring at the individual lines of the wood floor beneath him, not certain when he’d opened his eyes.

His arms have gone numb; his hands left as foreign and immobile weights on his skull.

“Time to get up, Hamilton.”

Burr’s voice is smooth. It breaks against his ears gently, waving a new wash of awareness over him. Spots of discomfort that had quieted begin to awake. He notices his arms now, which had fallen asleep crossed over head, leaving his hands like foreign anchors mooring his skull to the floor.

Burr pulls his arms down, squeezing the blood back in his shoulders, making pinpricks rush through his limbs. Without them, Alex’s spine arches up automatically. He sits slowly, woozy as the blood in his head rushes back down his body. Burr kneels in front of him. This close, Alex can see the thin lines of worry that ring his gaze, though his expression is soft.

He stumbles for a question, fighting back against the lethargy that wants to roll over him. “What time is it?” he finally settles upon. He straightens his shoulders, stretching, enjoying the feeling of his bones and tissue settling back into place.

Burr places a hand on his shoulder, squeezing the muscle there. “Nearly ten. You have time,” he answers. Alex stills - already? – but his answering anxiety thunders only distantly. He’s more immediately concerned with where he can feel the bare press of Burr’s fingers slipping under his shirt – Burr’s shirt – to curl around the back of his neck.

Burr seems to notice his lack of articulation. Alex watches in fascination as the rivets around his mouth fold, burrowing crevices around his smile, upper lip vanishing as his teeth appear. “How do you feel now?” he asks.

It’s a strange question. Alex takes it quite seriously, turned inward as he is already. He can still sense a lingering panic, but everything seems muted. It’s as though he were huddled inside a warm ship while a storm raged on outside. He still feels rocked, a bit unstable, but he’s dry. In this moment, there isn’t any danger of drowning.

It’s incredible.

“How do you do that?”

Burr smiles enigmatically. “You let me.” He draws back and stands, offering down a hand as he rises. “You’re ready,” he says, decisively. “Let’s go.”

Alex would much rather not, but he can’t reject that hand. Alex’s knees crack as he rises, legs stretching grumpily. He shakes them out, while Burr bends down to return the pillow on the floor to his bed. Alex has only a moment to mourn for the loss of their contact before Burr places a hand on Alex’s lower back and leads him out of the room.

They walk downstairs together. Burr withdraws his hand as they pass into the kitchen. Alex wonders what he’s done now, before he notices Theodosia sitting at the bar, the remains of breakfast on a plate before her.

For once she doesn’t glare at him. Rather, she doesn’t even look at him. She beams at her father, bouncing on her seat.

“Finally!” she crows. “Can we go now?”

“Finish eating first,” Burr says, relentless against her mournful gaze. He turns to Alex, gesturing at two covered pans on the counter. “I made extra.”

Alex follows his gesture to the stove, lifting the lids to see two generous portions of eggs and pancakes ready to be served. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that Burr did this just for him, all because he was feeling overwhelmed.

“Thank you,” he says sincerely. Burr just nods, as though it were nothing. Alex wants to do more, but between Theodosia and the reminder of his family’s imminent arrival he can feel the swell of his anxiety beginning to rise. Even now, he still feels woefully ill prepared. He tries to wrangle the dark relaxation Burr had just given him, but finds the tendrils are slipping off his skin too quickly.

He fidgets, glancing at the clock on the microwave. Eliza will be here any minute - and the kids. His stomach knots, filling not so much with butterflies as with worms. Burr notices his stare, brows pulling together.

“Okay, Theo, finish up. We should get going,” he says. “Do you have your backpack?”

She shakes her head rapidly, jumping off her stool even as she shovels down her last bite. “I’ll get it!” she says, darting out of the room, foot steps sounding on the stairs. Burr shakes his head fondly, carrying her plate to the sink and rinsing it.

“Sorry,” he tells Alex. “We’ll be out of here in a minute.”

Alex shakes his head, but Burr has turned his back. He steps closer, wanting to apologize some how. He raises his hand. “That’s not what I . . . ”

The doorbell rings. He twists, gesture dropping away as he zeroes in on the noise.

Adrenaline floods through him, raising the hairs up and down his arms. He straightens, hands flying to his hair. He shoots a strangled look at Burr, unable to contain his grin.

“How do I look? Am I good?”

Burr smiles at him. He steps forward, pushing back a few hairs that have fallen loose, before trailing his hands down and straightening his shirt.

“I like you like this,” he confirms.

Alex stares at him oddly, not sure what that means, but Burr doesn’t elaborate. It sounds like a compliment though, which doesn’t really make sense, given the state that Alex knows he’s in.

For a moment, he’s torn, pulled between the desire to stand here with Burr’s warm hands and gentle voice and the overwhelming rush of excitement that calls him towards the door. He bounces, rocking from knee to knee, but eventually the desire to see his kids wins over.

He settles for smiling at Burr tightly, unable to stop from whispering, “They’re here!” like it’s some sort of great conspiracy. Burr indulges him – smiling at him as though he wasn’t a complete idiot. It gives him just enough of a boost to break his gaze, stepping back from Burr and hurrying to the front door.

He has to collect himself as he reaches for the handle. His excitement has taken on a tang of anxiety that he has to forcibly swallow down, drowning out the bitter feeling with a constant reminder that his kids are here!

The doorbell rings again as he steadies himself. His jubilation rises as he catches the babble of voices on the other side. He takes a shaky breath, letting his smile take hold as he opens the door.

“Daddy!”

The scream is all the warning he gets before James comes barreling towards him. He barely manages to catch him, swooping him up into a hug before the five-year-old can slam into his knees. He squeezes him tight to his chest; burying his face into his youngest’s mass of curls. A second later, another body hits him as A.J. wraps his skinny arms around his waist, grinning widely up at him. Alex meets his grin, letting go of James with one arm to give A.J. a half-hug.

“My boys,” he exclaims, grinning. He jostles James, reaching down to ruffle A.J.’s hair. “You’ve both grown so big.”

It doesn’t even seem like an exaggeration. He can’t remember James ever feeling this heavy in his arms, though he has absolutely zero plans of letting him down ever again. His youngest sons beam at the praise, A.J. visibly straightening up under the complement, displaying a gap beside his front teeth proudly.

Alex finds himself grinning wildly when he finally looks up, taking in the rest of his family.

Eliza’s hair is twisted up, wisps falling down to play against her nape. Her eyes are careful when she meets his gaze, mouth tilting into a small smile – the likes of which is a quarter of what he was once graced with, though he’s thankful they’re back to anything at all. Still, the absence of what was once there gores into him, dimming his own smile accordingly.

He looks away, focusing instead on his two eldest children. Eliza has her hands placed on Angie’s shoulders, who’s staring down at the ground, long hair pushed back with a shiny headband. Philip stands by her side, stepping around his mother to smile brightly at him. His hair is even longer than Alex remembers, bushelling up on his shoulders like a cloud.

“Hey, Dad,” he says, stepping up to get a hug far more sedately than his two brothers. Alex squeezes him the best he can with one arm, reluctant when his eldest pulls away far too quickly for his tastes.

“You’re getting tall too, son,” he says and it’s true. Philip’s head rises to his chest now, which seems absurdly high though he knows it’s natural. He can see the stretch happening in his boy’s limbs, socks peeking out beneath his pant legs.

Philip’s grin is proud. He steps back, father and son turning to Angie, but her head is still bowed. Alex wants to frown, but hides it. She’s always been quiet, but never with family.

On her shoulders, Alex can see Eliza’s hands tighten.

“Alexander, how are you?”

It draws his attention back to his wife – ex-wife, he corrects viciously. He shrugs the best he can with a child on his hip and another still clinging to his waist. He doesn’t want to lie, but he doesn’t have an answer that seems right. “Come in?” he offers instead.

She nods. The kids are already kicking off their shoes in the foyer, their familiarity warming him. He sets James down so he can join his brothers, frowning when he notices Angie’s still pressed up against her mother’s side.

“Hey, Angie. Going to come say hi to your old man?” he jokes.

It falls flat when Angelica refuses to look at him, almost hiding behind Eliza’s frame. Eliza notices, drawing her back with a hand on her back. She bends down, saying something that Alex can’t catch.

He finds he doesn’t need to when he hears Angelica’s whispered response.

But I want to go with you!”

For the first time, Alex’s smile stutters and falls. He tries to contain it, swinging his head around to watch his other children before they can see that he’s heard it. It hardly works. He sees Philip glaring at his sister with a look too harsh for his young face, mouth bent and eyes thin. Eliza catches his gaze when he glances back, shooting him an apologetic smile, before she bends down in front of their daughter, taking her hands.

“Angie, we talked about this,” she says quietly, but it’s impossible for Alex to pretend not to hear. He looks away again, bending down to busy himself with lining up his young boys’ shoes. Eliza’s voice is kind, but firm – the tone of which Alexander is intimately familiar with. “It’s your dad’s weekend to see you,” she continues. “You have to stay here tonight.”

Angie’s response is high and pleading. “It’s not fair!” she complains, loudly. “I don’t even want to see him!”

Alex winces, trying to cover up the expression when he sees Philip looking at him, though his brothers have turned to watch their mother.

“Angelica,” Eliza reproves, hardening. “That is enough.” She straightens up, drawing all of their attentions. Alex watches as Angie quells under her mother’s warning look, subsiding to stare mulishly at the floor.

Eliza looks up, opening her mouth to say something more, when his eyes catch on something over his shoulder. Her eyebrows raise, expression closing.

“Alexander, who’s this?”

Alex turns around, noticing for the first time that Burr has followed him out into the hall. He’s standing back unobtrusively, hands tucked into his pockets with a neutral expression. His eyes are already on Alex when he looks back, jarring him with the realization that he’s likely been watching the whole time. He isn’t sure whether to feel comforted or annoyed, but a sudden sense of disruption ripples through him as Burr steps closer.

It seems unfathomable that Burr and Eliza should exist in the same place – it feels for an instant as though he were being stretched in two.

He flounders, losing his words in the collision. “Oh, um,” he stalls, looking back and forth between the two uncertainly. “Betsey, this is Burr,” he finally manages, falling back on the old nickname, regretting it almost immediately. She’d asked him to stop calling her that, hadn’t she? Back when he was stuck pretending everything was still fine.

“Burr this is Eliza, my – uh.” The word ex-wife jams in his throat.

Luckily, they don’t wait for him to finish.

“Burr?” Eliza says, raising her eyebrows. Her gaze slides to Alex, expression politely demanding answers. Alex is absurdly grateful when Burr steps in, close enough that Alex can imagine to feel his body heat. He offers out his hand, an easy smile stretching across his face. It shows more teeth than Alex is accustom to.

“Aaron Burr,” he says. “Alexander offered to let me rent out the two guest bedrooms. It’s a lovely home.”

“Elizabeth Schuyler.” She shakes his hand, smiling politely. She shoots Alex a look. “Alex didn’t tell me he was getting a roommate.”

“They just moved in this week,” Alex explains quickly.

“They?” Her tone dips down.

Burr intervenes smoothly. “My daughter and me. In fact, you’ll have to excuse us. We were just about to leave.” He looks up the stairs, raising his voice. “Theo? Are you ready?”

Her response is immediately.

“Coming, Dad!”

Theodosia’s footsteps thunder down the stairs as the girl herself appears, more excited than Alex has ever seen her. Her thin face is pressed into the widest smile Alex has seen yet, though it slips as she skids to a stop when she reaches the ground floor. Her eyes widen at the crowd. She reigns herself in visibly, walking quickly to her father and latching onto his arm.

“Theo, this is Mr. Hamilton’s family,” Burr introduces, calmly pushing her forward. “This is my daughter, Theodosia.”

“Theo,” she corrects quickly, eyes jotting across Alexander’s children. They look back, similarly assessing, even Angie who glances up from the ground long enough to send her mom another pleading gaze. Theodosia looks at her father, craning her neck back, pulling on his arm. “Dad, can we go now?”

Burr isn’t bowed. “In a minute, Theo. Be polite.”

When Theo nods, subsiding reluctantly, Eliza smiles at her kindly.

“It’s very nice to meet you, Theo. This is my daughter Angie, and my sons Philip, Alexander Junior, and James.”

“Hi,” Theo says quietly. She hasn’t let go of her father’s hand. Alex notices she glances at him, before darting away when she sees he’s looking. He can’t read her expression.

“We’d better go,” Burr concedes, filling the impending silence. “It was nice to meet you all.” He turns, meeting Alexander’s gaze significantly. “Let me know if you need anything while we’re out. I have my phone on me.”

Alex nods. Relief, intermingled with reluctance, blossoms in his chest. He watches as they don their coats, waving as they slip out of the house. Almost before the door closes, he regrets the loss of their presence, though it’s immediately less awkward. He turns back to Eliza, a million words bubbling up on his tongue. None of them seem the right ones.

“Are you hungry?” he settles on lamely. “I have pancakes.”

“Oh, they already had breakfast,” Eliza begins apologetically. She’s drowned out as James jumps up and down, yanking on his arm.

“I’m hungry!” he hollers. “Pancakes!”

Eliza smiles. “Never mind then.” They follow down the hall as James pulls A.J. along to the kitchen, disappearing behind the door. They pause near the frame.

“Philip, Angie, will you help your brothers serve themselves, please? I need a moment alone with your father.”

It’s impossible to miss the glance their oldest children share, before Philip nods reluctantly. Eliza has to push Angie, but she eventually follows, glaring at the ground as she and Philip push through to the kitchen.

Alex is left alone with Eliza for the first time in months. He’s acutely aware of the space between them; intimacy lost more in the careful walls around her expressions than the physical inches that separate them. When she sighs, crossing her arms almost defensively around her chest, it’s all he can do not to go to her, wanting to console her in his arms the way he’d used to.

But he’d lost the right to do that a long time ago. He tucks his hands into his pockets and stares at the floor.

“You didn’t tell me you were thinking about renting out the guest rooms,” Eliza beings. Her tone isn’t resentful, but it isn’t pleased either.

Alex winces. He should have known this was coming. “I’m sorry.”

Eliza exhales heavily. Alex doesn’t look up to read the disappointment on her face. “I don’t need an apology, Alex. I just would have liked to know that there would be someone new around the kids so I could warn them.”

Alex frowns, defenses bristling uncertainly. “Burr loves kids. He’s an excellent father.”

“I’m not saying he isn’t,” Eliza agrees, unapologetically, “but I would have liked it if you had at least called me before deciding to invite a stranger into the house where our children stay. The kids need stability more than ever right now.”

There’s something strained in her voice that’s too easy to pick up on. He stops, letting his defenses drop, changing course.

“What’s wrong?”

Eliza sighs. After a moment, she uncrosses her arm, drawing him away from the kitchen door and lowering her voice.

“Philip’s been fighting at school,” she says, finally.

“Philip?” he echoes. “Our Philip?” There’s no way. Alex’s mind immediately begins to race through the possibilities, too many variables tossing up in his head “Is he being bullied?” he asks. “Who have you talked to? I’ll set up a meeting with the parents if I have to. Do his teachers know?”

“Alexander,” Eliza says. The slow down is implied. “Philip threw the first punch - unprovoked, according to his homeroom teacher. They suspended him.”

“What!”

That’s impossible. Philip is a gentle soul; he never got angry. Alex had seen him rescue spiders, rather than swat them. More importantly, the boy Alex knew did not start fights at school.

“There must be a mistake!” he says quickly, shaking his head. “I’m calling the school first thing on Monday – and the school board, if I have to! I don’t want any of this going on his record. We can’t let them do this.”

And he has the contacts to make sure they never do. A quick call to some allies in the teacher’s union, an email to the superintendent – Alex has the resources to make sure this all went away, though he was spoiling for a fight.

If this was some kind of twisted power play against him . . . !

“Alexander, stop. I believe them.”

Eliza cuts through his rushing thoughts effortlessly. He gapes at her.

“Betsey, Philip would never – ”

“He’s been fighting with Angie too,” she interjects, sharply. Her tone softens when he jerks back, startled. “I’m worried about it,” she confesses.

It’s more open than she’s been with him since the divorce and Alex is at a loss as to what to say. He can’t wrap his head around the notion of Philip and Angie fighting. Philip’s never shown any proclivity to anger before, and Angie had always been the type to burst out into angry tears when upset, rather than lash out.

“But why would they . . . ”

Eliza shakes her head. She won’t meet his gaze for a moment, which only sends him into harsh spiral, anxiety growing when she finally looks at him again. “Angie’s teacher says there are rumors going around the school about the divorce,” she says all at once, like ripping off a band-aid. The words certainly sting like one. “The school’s tried to stop it, but you know how kids can be. That’s why Philip was only given a one day suspension, instead of three, but that’s not going to work a second time.”

“Do they know?” Alex asks quietly, as if his world wasn’t crumbling around him. He’d never thought the kids would know. Even back then, when everything was up in the air . . .

Turns out, he hadn’t anticipated a lot of things.

Eliza’s face is grim. “I haven’t told them about the affair, Alex. That doesn’t mean no one else has. It’s not exactly a secret.

Her voice sharpens around the last word, flinging it at his feet. He knows she doesn’t mean to be cruel – he can read the regret that forms near-instantly when the word escapes her – but her intent to be kind doesn’t erase the honesty of her anger in that moment.

She’d said she’d forgiven him. He hadn’t believed her, though he’d accepted it.

For once, there’s no victory in being proved right.

Alex buries his face in his hands, unable to look at her. “Eliza. I . . . ”

“Don’t, Alexander,” Eliza commands tightly. “I don’t need an apology. I’m not blaming you. I just need you to be aware of what your children need.” Her face softens. “I know you love them, Alex. Just . . . think about them next time. They don’t need any more changes right now, alright?”

He nods silently. She sighs.

“I’m going to say goodbye. Spend time with them this weekend, okay? I’ll pick them up tomorrow.”

“I will,” he promises.

It’s the very least that he can do.

 

*

 

The kids disperse after a quiet breakfast. Alexander’s too caught up in his regrets to make anything more than passing attempts as conversation, and now that he knows where to look it seems clear that neither Angie nor Philip seem inclined to speak with each other.

Angie disappears up the stairs to her bedroom almost as soon as he enters the kitchen, not saying a word. James and Alex Jr. are the next to fly, abandoning half-empty plates to drop in front of the living room TV. It’s Philip that stays back as Alex confronts the dishes, moving eggs around his plate without eating.

“Mom told you, didn’t she?” he says, a few minutes into the silence.

The question draws Alex away from his own guilt, landing him in the present. Now that he thinks about it, he does have a lot to say to his oldest son. He turns his back to the sink, drying his hands with a serious frown.

“You shouldn’t be fighting as school, Philip. You’re way too smart for that.”

Philip’s shoulders pull back. “You told me never to let anyone talk down to you,” he argues.

He’s right. Alex sighs. “Your mom told me you threw the first punch,” he reminds him.

Philip’s eyes spark. “You would have too!” he states, drawing himself up. “You should have heard the shit they were saying, Dad!”

There is real anger in his voice, something Alex has never seen in him before. He’s aghast, not used to this response at all. Philip, of all his children, used to hang of his every word, acting like their dad hung the moon.

He’s not sure what he’ll do if that’s no longer the case.

“Philip! Language!”

His son’s shoulders slump, though his expression remains sullen. “You would have done it,” he mutters.

“Yes, well, clearly I’m an idiot!” Alex snaps. He instantly regrets it when Philip hunches, face dropping. Alex has never yelled at his son like that before. He feels like he’s kicked himself in the gut, deflating immediately.

“I’m sorry,” he says, after a pause. He reels himself in, breathing deeply.

“I’m sorry,” he repeats. “You’re right. I probably would have punched him, but that doesn’t mean you should have. You’re better than that – better than me.”

Philip doesn’t meet his gaze. He looks down at his eggs, pushing them around half-heartedly. “Are you mad at me?” he finally asks, “Like Mom is?” Alex sighs.

“Your mother isn’t mad at you.” Of this, at least, Alex is certain. “And I’m not either. I’m worried, Philip. This isn’t like you.”

Philip just shrugs. He says nothing to the evaluation of his character.

Alex isn’t sure what to do. His own memories from Philip’s age are few, but stark. He does remember feeling like a livewire a second from combusting at any time, but his childhood was much different than the life he’s tried to give to his children. He’d made sure of it.

He sighs. “You know, I was about your age when I got in my first fight.”

Philip perks up. He peeks at Alex. “Really?”

Alex nods stiffly. “A boy called me a name” – bastard – “and insulted my mother” – whore.

Philip’s eyes are wide. “Did you win?” he demands, eagerly.

That Alex does remember. He nods. “I punched him right in the nose.” He should probably sound less proud that he does.

Philip meets his grin, but it fades quickly. He looks down at his plate. “I didn’t even win,” Philip admits, voice small.

“You’re probably lucky about that,” Alex says. “Mine had two older cousins. They got me the next day.”

Got him in a way he hopes his son will never experience. Getting into a school yard fight is nothing like the beating he still remembers. Some neighborhood boys had had to drag him home to his mother, after they founds him lying behind the dumpster. He hadn’t been able to walk for a week.

Philip hangs his head. He clearly does feel the same. “I don’t feel lucky.”

He stares down at his plate, before pushing it away. He chews on his bottom lip for a second, before his eyes peek up at Alex.

“What did they say about your mom?”

Alexander can’t help his scowl. He turns his back, picking up a dish and shoving it in the cupboard. He doesn’t like to talk about his childhood – least of all about this.

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” he says.

Philip’s head cocks. “Well, was it true? What they said about her?”

Yes. “No,” Alex growls. He closes the cupboard door louder than he means to, twisting to face his son. “Let’s not talk about this, alright? Let me have your plate.”

He pulls away the plate quickly, using the excuse to face the sink. He ignores the way his son is staring at him, trying to push down the irrational anger he’s built up around the memory.

There’s nothing to be done. It’s over.

They’re all dead anyway.

He clenches his jaw until his teeth ache, finishing the dishes with a clang. He braces himself against the sink when he’s done, trying to keep calm. He turns, looking at Philip.

“The point is, fighting only makes it worse,” he says. “You don’t want to be like me. You can be better.”

Philip isn’t looking at him. He’s staring at the counter with a deep frown on his face, only compounding the guilt that Alex is already experiencing.

Philip looks up after a long moment, expression vulnerable. “Dad, you didn’t really cheat on Mom, did you?”

Of all the things he ever thought his son would say.

Alex freezes. All anger rushes out of him, leaving him cold.

“Philip, I . . . ”

What can he say?

Philip doesn’t wait, taking his stalling as confirmation. His expression shutters, eyes darting away.

He jumps down from his chair, shoving his hands in his pockets. He avoids Alex’s reach, never looking up from the floor.

“Never mind,” he mutters quietly. “I’m going to go find Angie.”

He leaves the room without looking up. Alex feels something fracture as he goes – something irreparable. He wants to reach out, but the door is already swinging closed.

He doesn’t have the words to draw him back.

 

*

 

He stands at the base of the stairs for a long time, debating following up after his son, before ultimately turning and walking in the direction of the living room. He finds his two youngest kids flopped out in front of the TV, James on the carpet surrounded by a 64 pack of crayons while A.J. slumps on the couch, a forgotten drawing on his lap.

James zeroes in on him the moment he steps in the room, abandoning his brother to come barreling once more into his knees.

“Daddy! Daddy! Look!”

He shoves his drawing forward, nearly tottering backwards in his enthusiasm. “That’s Jack!” he declares, pointing to an orange blob. “He’s mean.”

His earnestness does something to ease the tightness in Alex’s chest. He bends down, ruffling his son’s hair as he examines the drawing. “It’s wonderful, James,” he praises. “Who’s Jack?”

“Grandpa’s cat,” supplies A.J. helpfully, putting on the airs of a very knowledgeable seven-year-old. He presses up his glasses, holding out his arm to display several raised pink lines. There’s something in his appearance of nonchalance that hints at his pride in their appearance. “I tried to hold him and he scratched me.”

“He’s blind,” James chirps in, grinning widely. “I’m gonna add blood!”

He bounds back to the floor, snapping several crayons in his path. A.J. rolls his eyes, pulling his own selected crayons away. He gives Alex a put upon look when Alex settles onto the couch next to him, as if to log his general complaint against all little brothers.

“I didn’t know they had a cat,” Alex ventures. A.J.’s always been a quiet one, harder to relate to despite their shared name. “Your sister must love that.”

A.J. shrugs, looking down at his drawing. “She doesn’t really like him,” he disputes.

Alex finds that hard to believe, given what he knows about his daughter. “But Angelica loves cats.”

“She stays in her room all the time,” A.J. says. “She’s boring.”

“She’s mean,” James pipes up, whining. He holds up his picture, which now as the addition of several overlarge drops of blood. “Look!” he demands, proudly.

Alex tries not to feel queasy.

“Very realistic,” he grants, forcing a smile.

James bounces to his feet. “I’m going to put it on the fridge!” he declares and runs out of the room. Without him, the white noise of the TV is the only real distraction.

“What are we watching?”

Dog Cops,” A.J. says, eyes glued on the screen despite the crayons in his lap.

“Is it good?” Alex can’t remember the last time he actually had time to watch TV – though he spends enough hours following at the news.

A.J. shrugs. “It’s fine.”

Clearly, there’s no point of entry there. Alex looks around; noting all of the coloring material he knows wasn’t here before.

“Where’d you find all this?” he asks.

“I dunno,” A.J. shrugs. “Mom packed it.”

“Can I see your drawing?”

“Yeah, sure.” He shifts, passing his picture over without looking away from his show. Alex isn’t sure what he was expecting. Part of him wondered if it would be just like the movies, a full line up of their family sans him – but of course that’s not what he’s found. Instead he finds a wobbly picture of a Rottweiler dressed in Kevlar, barking at what seems like a very intimidated poodle. A quick glance at the TV confirms a much-less-wobbly version of the first dog speaking (barking?) with a gritty, hyper-masculine voice.

He isn’t sure whether he should be relieved or not. “It’s nice,” he settles on. “Want me to put it on the fridge?”

A.J. glances at him, biting his cheek. “It’s not very good,” he says, embarrassed. “I’ve done better.”

“Well, I’m keeping it,” Alexander declares. He stands, ruffling his son’s hair as he walks out to the kitchen, just passing James as he wanders back towards the TV. James has hung his bloody cat blob as high on the fridge as he could get it. Alex moves it up for him, pinning it to place on the freezer door next to an old poem of Philip’s and a picture of Theo in her softball uniform, hair pinned back in two tight braids. He clips the Rottweiler in place beneath an old report card, feeling a little foolish, but still proud.

He’s coming back down the hall to the living room when a knock on the front door distracts him. He frowns, turning back around, not expecting company, when James blows past him.

“I’ll get it!” he hollers, running full speed as the door.

“James, wait!”

Alex manages to scoop his son up before he can actually open the door, though just barely. “Is it Mr. Washington, Daddy?” James asks, bouncing in his grip.

“I don’t know, kiddo,” he answers, though he doubts it. He opens the door, even more confused when he sees an elderly white woman standing on his porch dressed in an obviously expensive green suit, white hair pulled back in an elegant up-do like some kind of severe Professor McGonagall, though without the hint of underlying pleasantness. More unusual to her appearance was the sullen, dark-skinned teen standing a foot behind her, hands wrapped around a large pink present.

Alex opens his door wider, tilting his head at the strangers. “Can I help you?” he asks.

The elderly woman squints at him, some how managing to look down her nose while scarcely coming up to his shoulders.

“Oh, my mistake,” she declares, voice thin and reedy. “We must been given the wrong address. I was told one Aaron Burr lived here. I can see that is not quite true.”

There’s something triumphant in her tone that prickles against Alex. He frowns, stepping out the door when she turns to go, the boy glancing at him as he goes to follow. There is something familiar about him.

“Aaron Burr,” he says, loudly, watching the woman’s steps stall. “Yes, Aaron does live here. May I help you?”

She turns back around, face pinched. Her eyes look him up and down, calculating. Her smile is sharp. “You’re quite sure Aaron Burr lives here?” she says, drawing out the name slowly, as if she doubted his comprehension. Behind her, the teen’s eyes lower to the floor again. Alex is sure of it now – there is something oddly familiar about him.

“Go back to your brother,” Alex says, placing James on the ground. The preschooler blinks at the strangers curiously, but quells under Alex’s tone, scampering off without complaint. Alex straightens up, folding his arms over his chest.

“Seeing as this is my house, I know who lives in it,” he tells the woman, tersely.

The woman’s eyes narrow. “Oh, of course,” she says, priggishly. “And you are? I’m sorry dear, I don’t think I caught your name.”

“Alexander Hamilton,” Alex grits out. He hates it when he sees the recognition bloom across her face.

“Ah, yes, of course.” There’s a tight twist to the lines around her mouth, as though she were trying to hold back a smile. “Louise Prevost,” she announces, not offering her hand. “You work for the mayor, don’t you? You must know my husband, Augustin – and my late son, Jacques. Their firm donated quite a bit to George’s last campaign, if I remember correctly.”

Actually, Alexander remembers a massive sum of money flowing from Prevost & Barlow into the pockets of their opponent, though he remembers a heavy set man bearing her name schmoozing at plenty of their fundraisers. Now that he’s placed her, he wants even less to do with the woman. He recalls that Burr used to work for a law firm with that name, but he doesn’t remember the details. He isn’t even sure if that was his most recent job or not, though he knows he went over Burr’s resume diligently at the time, a copy still tucked away somewhere in his study.

“May I help you with something, Mrs. Prevost,” he says at last. “Aaron is not currently home.”

The woman’s smile turns simpering. She turns to the young man behind her, edging him forward. “My John has a late birthday present for his sister. You wouldn’t mind if we came in and said hello, would you?”

Actually, he would. “Theodosia is with her father,” he says firmly, narrowing the gap in the door. He glances at the teenager, letting his voice soften. “I can give that to her if you’d like though?”

John looks up, nodding quickly. It doesn’t take a genius to see that none of this was his idea. He shoves the box forward, letting Alex take it.

“Right,” Alex says. “I’ll make sure she knows it’s from you, John,” he adds. He turns, smiling pleasantly at Mrs. Prevost. “If that’s all?”

Her smile pinches. “Tell Aaron we’ll try again soon. Do let him know we stopped by, if you would.”

“Of course.”

He keeps his fuck-you smile on until the pair close the door to their town car, disappearing around the corner. Alex sighs, kicking the door closed as he steps back inside. He drops the box on a side table, getting out his phone. He contemplates his message to Burr, before ultimately deciding against it. Whatever their relation, Alex doubts Burr will want to be disturbed on his trip with Theo.

He slips his phone back into his pocket. He’s just about to head back into the living room, wondering if he shouldn’t try to draw out his two older children, when his eyes stall on the other box sitting beside the foyer table.

It’s his file box. Bullet’s warning rings in his ears, even as he bends down, hefting it up. He glances once more up the stairs, before trudging down the hall to the living room. There’s no reason he can’t do work and spend time with his kids, is there? At least, until his other children come down.

 

*

 

“Dad? Dad, there’s someone at the door.”

Alexander draws his eyes away from his work with some difficulty. His eyes feels strained. It takes him a moment to focuses in on A.J.’s face, frowning.

“What?”

“Someone’s here,” the boy repeats.

“Again?”

Alex sets his pen down, moving his files to the side. His spine twinges as he stands, cracking audibly. His wrists ache – he must have forgotten his braces upstairs.

He steps over the mess of crayons and paper James’ has left on the floor, A.J. following him when he steps into the hallway. He’s surprised to see Angie already there, James at her side, closing the door herself.

“Angie, who was that?”

His only daughter turns around. In her arms she carries a white plastic bag. “Dinner,” she says, shortly.

Alex stares at her. “You ordered dinner without telling me?”

“You were working,” she says, shrugging her shoulders.

“You should have told me you were hungry,” Alex insists. He steps forward, noticing when Philip appears on the stairs behind him. He looks at his eldest. “Philip, why didn’t you get me?”

Philip ducks his head and doesn’t answer. Angelica steps past him, angling for the dining room, only for Alex to step in her path.

“Where did you even get money to order?” he demands.

“Mom, gave it to us,” Angelica says, unapologetically. There is judgment dripping off her voice, daring him to argue. Alexander understands the implications immediately, feeling his face flush. He can feel his temper rising – incensed at being undermined in this way. Angie has never spoken to him like this before, none of his children have.

There was an article he’s once read, back when the divorce was only days old, about a woman complaining that her ex had turned their children against her. He gets a flash of something close to that, before he shoves it down. He knows that isn’t true. Eliza would never; she is far too kind.

It had been naïve to imagine his children would never pick up on his flaws, all by themselves.

“You should have told me,” he repeats again, lamely. Angie rolls her eyes, scoffing.

“Whatever. Can we eat now?”

“I’m hungry,” James chip in, standing a step behind his sister. At his side, Alex notices A.J. perk up, though the boy tries to hide it.

Alexander looks around, feeling his grip lessen. He doesn’t even know what time it is. He’s surprised to see the dark sky outside when he glances at the window.

Hours must have past. The day is gone. He’d failed them – again. The shame of it digs low and deep into his gut.

“Yes, of course you can,” Alex finally relents. James cheers while Angelica’s expression grows victorious. She pushes into the dining room, James and A.J. trailing after her.

Philip comes down the stairs slowly, glancing at him warily.

“We ordered you something?” he offers, tentatively. “I told Angie we should have asked first.”

Alex shakes his head. “It’s alright, Philip,” he says, forcing himself to smile at his son. “You’re sister was just looking out for you.” Philip still looks at him uncertainly. “Go on,” he encourages, “You’re food will get cold.”

Philip reluctantly follows his siblings through the door, leaving Alex standing alone once again in the hall.

 

*

 

Tucked away in the downstairs’ study, he hears Burr come home before he sees him. Alex has perched himself in one of the red armchairs, sequestering himself with his files away from his kids, not wanting to spoil their evening. He’d heard their laughter in the dining room – even Angie’s. He doesn’t want to ruin that, not when it’s so clear that his presence has only made things worse.

That was a few hours ago. Now, he’s watching the clock as it ticks past ten, the noise from the living room having died off some time ago, when he hears the door jiggle open.

He’d left the door to the study open, just in case one of the kids needed him - they hadn’t – so now he gets a full view when Theo troops passed towards the stairs, shoes lighting up the hallway purple as trudges by. She doesn’t notice him, but a few seconds later Burr does. He pauses, arms ladled down with Theo’s backpack and a bag of souvenirs.

He meets Alex’s gaze, surprise wearing off quickly into concern. He glances away, no doubt looking at Theo, before coming back.

“Ten minutes?”

Alex just nods. He can wait, though what for he’s not sure. Burr’s stare is worried, but he keeps his word, backing out of the doorframe and following his daughter up the stairs. Alex lets his gaze turn back to the file in his lap, staring at his notes without comprehension. He’d been chasing the answer to something, but it all seems like gibberish.

The time before Burr returns seems to pass in an instant, but when he glances at the clock he can see that in fact it’s been several minutes. Burr comes into the study, closing the door behind him and taking the seat opposite Alex without comment. His eyes roam around the near empty box at his feet, to the files upon files scattered around the space. They aren’t judgmental when they travel back to Alex, but neither are they pleased.

Alex can tell he wants to say something. He’s just not ready to hear it yet, though he feels like he’s been waiting all night. He stalls, fishing for the first topic that comes to mind.

“How was the zoo?”

Burr must know what he’s doing, but he leans back, letting him ask anyway. “Chilly, but the crowds weren’t terrible. Theo had a good time.”

Alex just nods. He’s fidgeting, picking at his nails. “What did you see? Were all the exhibits open?”

Burr’s face remains frustratingly blank, no hint as to his emotions either good or bad.

“Theo likes the penguins,” he answers, neutrally.

“And you?”

Alex has run out of time. Burr’s mouth flattens. “Are you done stalling for time, Hamilton, or do I really need to tell you my favorite animal?”

Alex presses back into his chair. He laughs, looking down, watching his nails bite into his palms, leaving little crescents. “I fucked up,” he says, humorously.

Burr’s head cocks. “Can you tell me what happened? Are your kids alright?”

Alex nods automatically. “I’m a bad father,” he admits, quietly. It’s devastating to hear aloud – ringing with truth. “I’m just a really shitty parent.”

“Somehow I highly doubt that,” Burr says. Alex looks up, scowling.

“How would you know?” he demands.

“Because bad father’s rarely admit it,” Burr answers calmly, as if that logic solved everything. It didn’t.

Alex growls, pushing his paperwork off his lap, unable to keep seated. He paces to the window, feeling slightly hysterical, shaking his head rapidly. “No, you don’t understand. I’m fucking my kids up. They’re going to hate me.” Or end up just like me, he doesn’t say. The thought makes his stomach clench.

He doesn’t notice Burr get up, until he feels a hand against his shoulder. He flinches, looking down, but doesn’t move away.

“Your children love you,” Burr assures him. “You’re their father. It’s what kids do.”

Alex shakes his head. “Well, maybe they shouldn’t,” he snaps.

“They’re going to be okay,” Burr continues. “It’s going to get better.”

It’s that sort of empty platitude that he’s been getting his whole life.

“That’s easy for you to say,” Alex growls, shaking off Burr’s hand. He turns around to face the other man, glaring. “Things don’t just magically get better. That’s not how life works. Sometimes things get worse.”

“I know,” Burr says. Alex glares even harder, shoving at Burr’s chest, suddenly feeling far too constricted by his proximity.

“How would you know?” he snarls. “My dad left us! You think I love him?” He shakes his head, turning away. “I bet you had the perfect fucking family. You wouldn’t know struggle if it came up and bit you in the ass!”

He’s just so unbearably angry – Burr’s passive face makes the perfect target. He’s unprepared for it to suddenly harden, hands reaching out and shoving Alex backward, pinning his shoulders to the wall.

His eyes slit, mouth twisted out of its customary smile into a snarl that curls his upper-lip, showing teeth. There is nothing gentle about this Burr. Alex freezes, feeling for the first time a very real threat of danger.

My parents died when I was a child,” Burr hisses, low and angry. “You don’t get to presume to know a thing about my family.”

Alex swallows thickly. His anger vanishes as he feels a new sort of connection forge between them.

“You’re an orphan,” he states, eyes wide. “Of course.”

Burr’s eyes narrow, the pressure against Alex’s shoulders increases. Alex squirms, backtracking quickly. “I just mean to say that I am too! I get it. I’m sorry.”

Burr pauses, grip lessening incrementally. The anger in his face drains out, though he doesn’t let Alex down.

“You aren’t going to speak to me like that again, understand?”

Alex nods. “Yes,” he answers quickly. He licks his lips, wondering . . . “Sir,” he adds.

He waits for the response, heart pounding. Burr breathes out harshly, but slowly lets him down. He shakes his head, something bitter around his mouth. “I forget, at times, that you have no idea what you’re doing.”

He wanders back to his chair and sits down, holding up a hand against Alex’s protests and serving him a flat look. He points at the space in front of his legs, eyes hard.

“Down. It’s time you learned your manners.”

His look doesn’t lessen when Alex hesitates, unrelenting until Alex folds his legs in front of him, sinking down onto the carpet. Burr audibly sighs, before reaching down and jerking his arms back, waiting until he clasps his hands.

“Back straight. Spread you legs wider – that’s it. Eyes up!”

It’s that last instruction, bitten off on a harsh growl, that makes Alex jump. He quickly lifts his eyes, following Burr’s instructions as best he can.

This is what I mean when I ask you to kneel,” Burr says. “From now on, bad posture will be taken as a sign that you’re not listening to me and will be punished accordingly. Do you understand?”

Alex nods, ears ringing with the word punishment. He yelps when Burr’s hand suddenly drags through his hair, yanking his neck back. Alex isn’t used to this sort of anger in Burr. It scares him, but he doesn’t have a thought about leaving.

“That’s another thing. When I ask you a question, I expect an answer.”

“Yes, sir,” Alex says catches on quickly.

Burr releases his hair. He nods. “These are your new rules. You won’t like my reminders, so I suggest you remember them now.”

He pauses waiting. “Yes, sir,” Alex confirms, filling the beat. He’s rewarded when Burr nods again, this time with his hand coming down to stroke through his hair, playing absently. Alex shivers, flinching back.

Alex doesn’t understand his sigh. “You’re new to this,” he says, “so I’m ready to forgive some missteps, but I don’t enjoy being goaded into a scene. If you want a punishment, you can ask for one. It’s my job to determine whether you deserve one or not.”

“I wasn’t asking for punishment,” Alex denies swiftly, drawing back as much as he can, foiled when Burr’s grip in his hair tightens. “I’m sorry,” he apologizes again. “I didn’t mean to.”

“Yes, you did,” Burr says. “And I don’t mind if you disagree with me, but I do expect you to address me with respect.” He looks at Alex expectantly.

“Sorry, sir.”

“Better,” Burr praises. He waits a minute, still playing with Alex’s hair, distracting him. Eventually he continues. “Tell me what happened tonight,” he asks again.

Alex feels his walls slam up. He tenses, looking down, only correcting his gaze when Burr’s nails dig in to the back of his neck. He sighs, jaw clenching.

Burr exhales. “Okay,” he mutters, more to himself than anything. “Where are your kids now?” he asks.

Alex shrugs. “In bed,” he says, remembering to tack on a sir at last moment.

“You don’t sound certain,” Burr observes.

“It’s late, sir,” Alex says. “Where else would they be?”

Burr looks at him in warning, but let’s the sarcasm slide. “Alright. When was the last time you saw them?” he tries again.

That’s harder to answer. He stares stubbornly at the wall over Burr’s shoulder, frustrated. “A few hours ago. Before dinner.”

“What happened after dinner?”

“Nothing.”

“Hamilton,” warns Burr lowly.

Alex frowns, exasperated. “Nothing happened!” he says, louder than he means to. “I was working. They ate dinner and went to bed. It’s fine.”

“Clearly it’s not, or else we wouldn’t be here.” Alex says nothing. “I can’t help you if you don’t talk to me, Hamilton.”

“I don’t need your help!” Alex snaps.

“I think we both know that’s not true.” Burr sighs again, this time drawing back altogether. Alex immediately misses the hand in his hair. “I refuse to fight you on this, Hamilton. I am not going to punish you without knowing what went wrong and I am not going to waste my time while you debate whether or not you want to tell me. I can’t help you tonight. Not unless you talk to me.”

His tone ends imploringly, but Alex clenches his jaw and stares at him obstinately. He doesn’t know what Burr is talking about. He doesn’t want to be punished, no matter what the other man might say. Normal people didn’t want that.

“Fine,” Burr says. He stands.

“Until you learn how to talk to me, I am forbidding you from talking at all.”

Alex’s mouth opens. He closes it when Burr send him a vicious look.

Burr steps behind him, pulling a pillow off one of the chairs and dropping in a corner. “I want you to kneel there,” he says, voice firm. “You aren’t allowed to turn around. You aren’t allowed to get up. I don’t want to hear any other words from you unless it’s a safeword. You’ve lost your right to explain tonight. I’ll release you when I deem it’s time for bed and you will not argue with me.”

Alex scowls at him. He thinks about disobeying him, just to see what he would do, but at the look on his face is decides otherwise. Fine.

He looks at the pillow in the corner, lip curling. Burr truly is treating him like a child. He refuses to rise to the bait. If this is what Burr wants, this is what he’ll get.

He goes to stand, only for Burr’s hands to descend on his shoulders, slamming his knees back down. “Did I give you permission to stand?” Burr asks, tone cold.

Alex glares at him. He wants to say something, but he keep his jaw stubbornly closed. He can play this game.

He stares at the pillow, then at Burr, waiting for the man to give him permission. But Burr just stares at him expectantly.

After a moment, the man’s eyebrows lift.

“Well? I’m waiting.”

The realization that no permission is coming hits him, at the same time that his whole body seems to flush. Burr expects him to crawl? Like some kind of animal?

He won’t do it. Not even to win. He won’t.

He isn’t ready for the blow that lands on his back. Burr forcibly pushes his chest down, Alex almost slamming his face on the ground before he catches himself with his arms. The physical blow startles him, scaring him in a way it shouldn’t. It hadn’t even hurt.

His body doesn’t seem to care. He can feel his heart beating loudly as shame prickles through him. Burr doesn’t even need to say anything. He stays on the ground, pinned as if Burr’s stare had real weight.

He suddenly, undeniable uncertain of what Bur might do if he stands. Worst of all, he’s not even sure if he fears that, or revels in it.

Alex clenches his jaw. He keeps his eyes on the ground as he moves one arm forward, humiliation pouring down his spine as he begins to crawl.

It takes far too long to cross the small room. All the while, he can feel Burr’s gaze boring into him, though he can’t bring himself to look up. He knows his face is red. It’s almost a relief when he finally faces the wall, bring his knees up beneath him as he assumes a kneeling position. At least now he has an excuse to hide his shame.

He hears Burr moving around behind him, but doesn’t turn around. This doesn’t matter. Burr acted like this is so hard, but Alex doesn’t care. He has nothing to be sorry about.

Except Angie and Philip and the boys.

His stomach squirms.

He clasps his hands behind his back, straightening his spine into position stubbornly. He won’t be cowed. Not by Burr. Not by anyone.

His own resolution echoes hollowly in his head. Without Burr, without his own voice, he’s left with nothing, but his own unrelenting guilt.

Chapter Text

Aaron

*

Aaron waits for the clamor of feet down the stairs before emerging fully dressed in his Sunday best from the guest room. He steps across the hall to Theo’s room, spying her suitcase sitting half eviscerated on her bed. She’s digging into a pile beside it, but despite the disorder she’s already clad in a light green dress speckled with white flowers.

She spots him as he peeks in, looking sheepishly up from the mess she’s made.

“I can’t find my church shoes.”

“Are you sure you packed them? We might have left them back at the apartment.”

She shakes her head. “I had them last Sunday.”

He eyes the mess speculatively. “Well, if you can’t find them just wear your tennies this time. We’ll need to get going soon.”

Her nose wrinkles. “They won’t match,” she warns him. She eyes her tennis shoes dubiously, but turns back to her pile without further protest.

Aaron leaves her to it. He follows a swell of young voices as he descends downstairs, three heads swiveling towards him as he enters the dining room. Sitting at the table are Hamilton’s two younger boys and the girl, Angie – named, he presumes, after the woman he’d once known at Princeton. There’s cereal scattered on the table between them, though the main culprit seems to be Hamilton’s youngest son, James, whose mountain of cheerios must have suffered at least one landslide.

Their conversation cuts off at his appearance. He hovers near the doorway, not wanting to spook them.

“Good morning,” he says, “I’m looking for your dad. Do you know where I can find him?”

He directs his questions mostly at Angie who nods, though she doesn’t look happy about it. She’s inherited her mother’s strong jaw, but Aaron can see her father’s stubbornness in the way it works.

It’s James who speaks up before she has time to answer.

“Who’re you?”

He looks around five – fearless in a way Aaron remembers Theo most certainly wasn’t at that age. His eyes spark under a mess of curly black hair, looking Aaron with open curiosity.

The other boy – Alexander Junior – flushes and nudges him. “We met him yesterday, dummy,” he mutters lowly.

James rounds on him, indignant. “No we didn’t,” he denies obstinately. “At least I’m not boring.” He throws out the last word like it’s a curse, smashing his fist on a handful of cheerios, sending them flying off the table.

A.J. sinks low into his seat. “Knock it off,” he mutters. “I’ll tell Mom you made a mess.”

James turns red faced. Aaron can smell the impending meltdown.

“I’m Aaron,” he intervenes quickly, relieved when their attentions shift back, breaking the standoff. “Aaron Burr. My daughter Theo and I are your dad’s new roommates. We moved in earlier this week.”

The explanation does nothing to calm the little one down. “Not in my room,” he states, shaking his head. He turns to his sister. “Dad can’t give away my room. It’s still my room.”

“Shut up, of course it is,” A.J. says, looking up at the table. “He’s in Uncle Laf’s room.”

Angelica finally cuts in, rolling her eyes. “It’s not Uncle’s room. It’s a guest room,” she corrects pointedly, glaring at her brothers. They both wilt under her gaze. She turns to Aaron, expression aloof. “He’s in the kitchen.”

She clearly has no interest in dealing with him further. Aaron thanks her briefly and backs out, respecting their space. He hears the children begin to bicker the second he’s gone.

He steps across the hall to the kitchen, pushing open the door to find Hamilton near the sink with his eldest – Philip – standing by the fridge. Whatever Philip is saying cuts of when Aaron enters, earnest expression shuttering closed. Hamilton, on the other hand, appears relieved.

Aaron curses his bad timing. “Sorry for interrupting,” he says, turning to Hamilton’s son. “Would you mind if I borrowed your father for a minute?”

Philip glances between him and his father before slumping. “Sure.” He walks out of the room without looking at either of them.

Aaron watches him go regretfully, before turning his gaze on Hamilton. He takes in the dark smudges under his eyes and the scruff building alongside his jawline. He’s still wearing Aaron’s old shirt from yesterday, now significantly more ruffled. He crosses his arms when he notices Aaron looking, pink rising along his nose.

Aaron doesn’t call him on it.

“Come on.” He jerks his head, leading Hamilton out of the kitchen and up the stairs. Hamilton doesn’t question him as when they stop on the second floor, meekly following Aaron past Theo’s closed bedroom door to Aarons’ room. Hamilton briefly wavers in the doorway before shuffling past him. Aaron flicks the lock once he’s through, though he doesn’t expect to need it.

Hamilton’s silence both pleases and worries him.

He relishes in the simple obedience, but it’s marred by the downcast tilt to Hamilton’s bearing. Whatever disaster happened yesterday still lies heavy on the man. It hollows the thrill of Hamilton’s submission, given out of distress rather than any true desire to please.

Aaron knows what Hamilton needs. Even if Hamilton hadn’t tried to pick a fight last night, the plain guilt on his face would have clued him in. He’s seeking punishment – and absolution – for his failings.

Unfortunately for Hamilton, until he’s ready to admit this, Aaron refuses to give it to him. He won’t bend in his command for silence or rescind on his demand for honesty.

He doesn’t bother to sit down. He doesn’t plan on being here long.

Rather, he crosses the room to his suitcase, picking out his old Princeton t-shirt he’d worn a few days ago. He’d contemplated giving Hamilton one of his unworn shirts, but there’s something in the intimacy of Hamilton wearing his scent that he enjoys.

It’s possessive, but he is a Dom after all. He wouldn’t be any good if he didn’t get something out of it himself.

His instincts prove him right. Hamilton’s shoulders drop when he sees the shirt. His eyes light up with want that Aaron can read as plain as day. Though he still feels the fissure of silence between them, it relieves him to have understood this much at least about the man.

“You’ll wear this today,” Aaron says, passing the shirt over without preamble. It’s not a question. He’s seen how easily Hamilton’s pride can smart at even the hint of weakness. Given his spiraling out yesterday morning, this is a routine Aaron wants to establish without adding extra stress.

Hamilton takes it gingerly, as if afraid of brushing hands. He pulls his prize close against his chest. His eyes flicker up to Aaron’s face, a caution hinting at suspicion on his face, but Aaron doesn’t want to play games here.

“Get dressed,” he says simply. The command is all the release Hamilton needs to conquer his embarrassment.

He turns his back, exceedingly modest given their history, and strips out of Aaron’s last shirt and into the new one. Aaron frowns to see how well it fits him. Despite their similar heights, Hamilton was built to be naturally bigger than Aaron’s own thin frame. The material should be tugging across his chest at the very least.

He hides his concern when Hamilton turns back around, holding out the first shirt nervously. Aaron takes without comment. With that out of the way without incident, he can finally move on to what he really called on Hamilton for.

He steps closer, knowing physical intimacy rattles Hamilton. Using that to assert his authority without actually touching Hamilton. As anticipated, Hamilton swallows, edging backwards with nowhere to go.

“Are you ready to tell me what happened yesterday yet?”

Aaron keep his voice level, expression neutral, but Hamilton still retreats. At once his spine hunches, shoulders drawing up to his ears.

Hamilton hesitates again, eyes scanning across Aaron’s face swiftly, but they drop to the floor just as quick. He shakes his head.

Eyes up!

Hamilton jumps at the sudden, harsh reminder. His eyes jerk up, widening, eventually settling on a spot near Aaron’s chest.

Aaron wants to sigh, but he’d expected this. He carefully conceals his disappointment, gentling his voice.

“I can’t give you what you want until you’re honest with me.” He skirts an inch closer, the door rattling when Hamilton abruptly backs into it. He presses further, using that illusion of height as Hamilton continues to shrink beneath him. This close, he could pin Hamilton with barely any effort, but he restrains. He won’t touch Hamilton – not until this is over. His contact is a privilege that Hamilton must earn, even if he hasn’t realized it yet.

“There’s a part of you that needs this,” he continues, lowering his voice even more. He’s finally caught Hamilton’s eyes, watching the dark pupil blow wide. “You’ve shown it to me before. And I can give you what you need. You only have to ask.”

He waits, seeing if his words will prove the tipping point. He can feel Hamilton’s shaky breathing against his collar. He knows the man is not unaffected, but finally the man breaks their gaze, biting his cheek and staring stubbornly ahead.

This time, Aaron does sigh. He withdraws, Hamilton spine dropping from the door as if he were pinned. He erases the warmth in his tone.

“Very well. Then you choose silence. Until you are ready to be honest, you may speak to me only when spoken to. Do you have any thing else to say?”

Hamilton’s head shakes. “No, sir,” he says, quietly.

“Then we have nothing more to talk about,” Aaron says finally. “I’ll be back after church. You’ll have another opportunity to speak honestly with me then.”

Hamilton cringes, though he tries to hide it.

“You may leave,” Aaron adds coolly. He says nothing as Hamilton slowly turns, exiting the room with his head bowed.

He sighs when the door is finally closed. It’s not his favorite way to end a conversation, but Hamilton needs to learn. They can’t move forward until he learns to trust him.

 

*

 

His disappointment with Hamilton has well faded by the time he and Theo make their way back from service.

They’d forgone the subway, taking advantage of the fact that Hamilton’s house lies closer to their church than their own apartment. A sharp wind bites against his nose, but the sky has brightened up. A jay’s blue stretches unmarred over the rooftops, carrying the last of the autumns leaves rolling down the streets. The last snowfall has nearly melted; leaving only remains of dark sludge struggling for existence under benches and beneath trees.

He lets Theo’s play-by-play of choir practice roll over him, relishing in the rare peace of the moment.

“ . . . And Miss Tanya said I should audition for a solo in the Christmas pageant this year. I want to be the angel, but Phoebe says that usually goes to an older kid. I’m thinking of going for one of the Wisemen. They get a real solo, not just a line like the animals.”

Aaron grins, bumping her shoulder. “A Wiseman, huh? You know, I have been noticing a bit of a beard coming in right there.” She squeals as he snatches her up, tickling her chin with a look of mock seriousness. “And here and here and here.”

Dad!”

She wails at him, wiggling wildly in his grip. He lets her escape, watching her skip several steps ahead of him. She makes a face when she’s gotten away, grinning when he laughs.

“At least I have hair,” she taunts and shakes her mane as proof.

“I’ll have you know baldness is a choice, young lady,” he defends, playing up his affront. “Not all men have the skill to pull this off.”

“Or you’re just old!”

She cackles, dancing away when he feints a lunge. He can’t even pretend to be mad. Watching her bounce around brings an unstoppable grin to his lips. It’s been far too long since he’s seen her act this silly. He knows she tries to be mature for his sake.

Church had been rejuvenating. Even though he kept a quiet presence, Theo had no such qualms. It felt good to reconnect with the people there – folks who had known and loved both of his Theodosias for years.

This weekend together had been good for both of them.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said for everyone.

His mind wanders back to Hamilton as they turn onto his block. In their week together, Hamilton hadn’t once mentioned any connections outside of his work and family. Given that he rarely came home to his own house, it was hard to picture Hamilton making time for friends. It was clear that Aaron was the first person Hamilton had invited close in a while. And even given the business nature of their relationship, Hamilton wasn’t willing to let him in.

He can picture with clarity the excitement in Hamilton’s eyes when he’d learned about Aaron’s parents. Aaron didn’t like to talk about his youth. It had offended him at the time. He’d been outraged that Hamilton would dare prescribe him some fairy-tale story, the kind Aaron would have killed for as a child.

Now the memory just makes him tired. He knew what it was like to feel alone, to have to fend for yourself because there was no one else around who could care to do the job.

He’d gotten lucky. He knows that.

His name had money and connections. Though he’d bounced around as a child from relative to distant relative he’d never ended up in the system, another dark face ready to fall through the cracks.

Though he’d been lonely, passed off to boarding school at his grandfather’s earliest convenience, he’d never lacked for anything monetarily. He’d been able to strike out on his own early, passing through Princeton before he’d barely hit puberty.

When he’d met Theodosia it was like coming home for the first time. She’d given him that family he’d always longed for – as fraught and short-lived as the struggle to be together had been. Though he’d lost her, she’d left him Theo – a promise that he’d never be truly alone ever again.

To be Hamilton, to have his family, every orphan’s dream, taken away from him - and to know it was entirely his fault . . .

Aaron couldn’t imagine.

“Dad?”

Aaron shakes himself out of it, summoning a smile when he sees the uncertainty playing on Theo’s face. He loathes that he’s dimmed her happiness. He catches her by the shoulder, reeling her in for a half-hug. “So, do you want to be gold, frankincense, or myrrh?”

Theo’s expression relaxes. “Frankincense,” she chirps.

“Not gold?”

“Frankincense gets purple robes,” she says, looking at him seriously.

“Ah. Of course.”

They climb the steps of Hamilton’s house together, Aaron squeezing Theo’s shoulders once more before releasing her.

“You remember what I told you?” he asks as they reach the top.

Her mouth thins. “I thought you said they were leaving today.”

Theo shrinks under his look.

“It’s Mr. Hamilton’s house,” he chides. “He’s welcome to have his children as long as he’d like.”

“We live here more,” she mutters, kicking the ground. “It’s not like he’s home much anyway.”

“Theo!”

He hates that she won’t meet his eyes.

“Sorry.”

So much for upbeat.

“Just be polite.” he sighs, drawing up, “and be yourself.”

She doesn’t respond to that. He reaches for the door, then, mindful of Theo’s eyes on him, pushes it open without knocking. He does live here after all.

They step in to a noticeable change in the atmosphere. Aaron has to dig to find a free hook to hang his coat and scarf, but for a full house the air is oddly subdued. There’s no sound of kids playing, though he can hear the blare of the television down the hall. He toes off his shoes and walks towards the living room, snagging Theo before she can disappear upstairs, much to her displeasure.

“You’ll have to meet them eventually,” he reminds her as she sulks, hanging back. He knows she’s shy, but she can’t hide in her room forever. “You might even like them.”

Inside, they find the three Hamilton boys piled up in front of the screen, the oldest two playing video games on one couch while little James lays out on the carpet watching cartoons on an iPad. Their faces are bland, bored, even as their fingers move rapidly. Their father and sister are nowhere in sight.

It’s Philip who notices them first, pausing the game to A.J.’s great dissatisfaction.

“Hey! I was winning,” he complains, turning on his brother. His annoyance tapers off when he sees they have company, subsiding back into the couch reddening.

“Hush up,” hisses Philip, a beat too late. He looks up at Aaron, smiling apologetically like he thinks he’s going to get in trouble. He’s a cute kid; it’s no doubt a grin that’s worked for him many times before. “Our Dad’s upstairs.”

Of course he is.

Aaron shouldn’t be disappointed. He covers it before the kids can see, looking over the room appraisingly. “Missing out on the fun?” he asks lightly.

“He’s working,” Philip hedges, shoulders rising defensively. “Dad’s busy. He’s important.”

Aaron backs off, smiling pleasantly. “You’re still missing one,” he counts. “Where’s your sister?”

“Being boring,” James drawls from the floor. On the couch, A.J. rolls his eyes before he realizes Aaron can see. That seems to be James’ favorite insult.

“In her room,” Philip clarifies, shooting his brother a dirty look. The older boy’s gaze travels back to Aaron, before falling down to Theo.

Aaron takes that as an opening, nudging Theo forward. Her heels dig in, all the way until Aaron successfully pushes her out from behind his back, where she immediately plasters on a stiff smile.

Aaron claps his hands on her shoulders, keeping her in place. “This is Theo. You met her yesterday.”

“Hi,” Theo adds, looking at the carpet.

The boys obediently chorus a greeting.

“What are you all playing?” Aaron continues, glancing at the screen.

“Mario Kart,” Philip answers.

“Theo, you like that game, don’t you?”

The glare she sends him is intense and clear: stop helping. He grins, unrepentant, especially when Philip looks her over, shrugging.

“We have an extra controller,” Philip offers. “You want to play?”

Theo hesitates. “I’m not very good,” she denies, but edges forward.

A.J. shrugs. “Neither is Phil.”

“Hey!”

As the boys squabble, Aaron prods Theo, gaining her attention. She looks up at him, reproach evident, but eventually steps forward. The fight breaks apart as she approaches, the boys shoving over to make room between them on the couch. A.J. hops down to find her a controller, while Philip grins brightly, already asking about her favorite racetrack as he clicks out to the main menu.

Aaron withdraws from the room, smiling. As much as he’d planned on giving Hamilton and his children space, he’s glad to see Theo build at least some rapport with the other kids. Ever since they’d lost the house, she hadn’t been able to bring any of her friends home. It feels good to see her with kids her own age.

He’s entirely less pleased to find Hamilton missing in action once again.

He climbs the stairs to the second floor, almost heading straight to Hamilton’s room before deciding he’d better change first. He pushes open the door, only to forcibly draw up when he walks into a cold, hard breeze.

His eyes catch on the white curtains blowing around the window. There’s only one person he knows who has a tendency to leave windows open in this weather.

“Hamilton?”

He steps fully into the room, closing the door behind him quietly. He hits the light switch, hearing a muffled grunt near the floor.

That’s when he spots Hamilton, wedged between the bed and dresser, knees folded up to his chest. His head down in his arms, not lifting even as Aaron carefully walks towards him.

There’s a part of him – a very large part – that immediately rears to comfort the man. He wants to sit next to him, pulling the clearly distressed man in for a hug. He can see himself running his hands through Hamilton’s hair, picking him off the floor, providing that basic care.

He doesn’t.

Aaron forces his gaze away, struggling down the impulse. He steps back, unbuttoning his suit jacket under a pretense of calm and laying it neatly on the bed. Reaching his suitcase causes him to draw nearer again to Hamilton, but he ignores the way the other man tenses. He fishes out his jeans and a shirt, changing clothes as if the man weren’t in the room. It’s easy enough when Hamilton doesn’t budge.

He puts away his suit, finally turning his gaze back on the other man. He calls forward his built up frustrations, letting them flood over his concern. They respond swiftly, stirring up his anger like baying dogs on a hunt.

He’s had enough of this.

“Get up!”

Hamilton jerks, ratting the dresser. His head jumps up. He seems startled by Aaron’s anger, but Aaron bites down the pity that tries to answer. He takes in Hamilton’s red and puffy eyes and his disheveled hair. He looks a mess. It doesn’t take a genius to realize he’s been crying.

Unfortunately for Hamilton, Aaron is an expert in breaking people down. These tears – as pathetic as they appear – strike him as nothing more than self-indulgent sulking. He knows what a broken person looks like and this frankly isn’t it.

When Hamilton just looks at him, aghast, Aaron reaches down, grabbing Hamilton’s arm and forcibly yanks him to his feet. Hamilton stumbles, eyes going wide, swaying when he’s up because of course he hasn’t eaten, why would you expect otherwise?

Aaron lets out a hard breath. He lets go of Hamilton, crossing his arms.

“What do you think you’re doing in here?”

Hamilton gawks at him, apparently stunned by Aaron’s ire. Tears aren’t a safe word, however, and Aaron is running out of patience. “That was a question. Speak. Now!”

Hamilton jolts. His eyes skitter away from Aaron’s face as he flushes, but his mouth opens, words spilling out shakily at best. “It was nothing. I wasn’t – I was just trying to do what you . . . but it’s not working.”

His eyes trail across the floor; more specifically the space between Burr’s bed and dresser.

Aaron understands immediately.

“You were trying to put yourself down?” he asks, incredulously. Hamilton’s face is beet red, but he nods his head, clearly frustrated.

“I couldn’t do it.”

“You idiot!”

Hamilton recoils under his outburst, stepping back until he hits the dresser. Aaron doesn’t bother to pull his punch, feeling no sympathy for an utterly careless act.

“You can’t just drop into subspace whenever you feel like escaping your problems,” he snarls, “and you certainly shouldn’t try to do it alone!”

He’s more frustrated than he wants to admit. He has to stay angry; otherwise this would all just seem too pathetic.

At the very least, Hamilton manages to keep his mouth shut. Aaron’s not sure what he would do if he tried to argue – again – that he knew exactly what he was doing.

Aaron draws himself up. “So let me get this straight. You came up here trying to run from whatever issue it is you’re having with your children. And you decided, that rather than trying to work through that issue with me, you’d rather run from it – trying to get what you want again from me, using a method I showed you, while refusing to let me in. And now, because you failed, you expect me to feel sorry that you couldn’t to reach a state it isn’t even safe for you to be in by yourself? Is that right?”

Hamilton’s mouth hangs open. His eyes are shiny, fresh tears gathering. He shakes his head wildly. “I wasn’t – ”

“Yes, you were,” Aaron continues, cutting him off sharply. “And you’re not ready to tell me why you’re avoiding your children, are you?”

Hamilton’s face drops. He looks away, some tears leaking out of the corner of his eyes.

“I – ”

“No, of course not.”

Aaron’s fuming. He takes Hamilton by the arm, spinning him around to the door, before releasing him sharply.

“Go,” he orders. “Wash your face. Fix your hair. And then go and be with your fucking family, Hamilton.”

Hamilton stares at him, wide-eyed. He looks hurt, vulnerable, and Aaron is past playing this game. He crosses his arms, denying Hamilton the comfort he seeks. Now is not the time to be gentle.

“I told you,” he says, “my services aren’t something you get to demand. I’m not a knife you can cut yourself on when ever you feel like it. You get your punishment and rewards when I say. And you’ll get nothing from me until you’re ready to trust that.”

Hamilton’s face is sticky with tears. He seems to have forgotten – or maybe he never really understood – that a side of Aaron likes to see him cry just as much as he likes to fix him. When Hamilton doesn’t move, Aaron yanks open the door himself, physically shoving Hamilton out into the hallway.

He slams the door on Hamilton’s shocked face, falling down on his bed heavily. It’s only when he hears the footsteps slowly shuffle away and the sound of the pipes running upstairs that he relaxes.

He shakes out the adrenaline in his hands, thoughts about the bottle in his nightstand creeping into his mind. He shouldn’t – he knows that – but that doesn’t stop the rising need. He reaches for his nightstand, staring at the amber liquid inside, before abruptly slamming the drawer shut.

He can’t. Not when he might have to really put Hamilton down. Not with so many kids in the house.

But it tempts him. He stands up, pacing. He’ll just give Hamilton enough time to follow through with his demands, before he goes and checks on him himself.

 

*

 

The world is running a beat smoother by the time he slides into the living room a few minutes later.

Hamilton is sitting on the far sofa, James sprawled in his lap, blankly watching the TV when Aaron walks in. He glances up briefly, but buries his face in James’ curls when Aaron parks himself on the other end of the couch, leaving a space between them.

Seated between the two boys, Theo perks up when he sits down. She isn’t the only one who seems happy to see him. He notices A.J. glance nervously between his older brother’s stormy brow and his father, before skittering briefly over him.

“Who’s winning?” Aaron asks lightly, settling down.

Theo straightens. “I got second,” she says, though her tone is more subdued than her victory calls for. Clearly, she’s picked up on the increased tension too. She turns on the boys, “Hey, can my dad play? I want to beat him.”

“We don’t have any more controllers,” A.J. begins, looking around as if relieved for a task.

Philip abruptly shoves his controller to her. “Here, he can play as me.”

Theo blinks. “You don’t want to play?”

“That’s alright,” Aaron intervenes, even as Philip shakes his head. “I’m terrible at these things. Maybe your dad wants to play?”

Hamilton’s head whips up, startled. “I don’t – ”

“Dad doesn’t play video games,” Philip cuts in, expression closing even further. Hamilton’s face freezes. Aaron can see his arms tight around James, drawing comfort.

“You could teach him.” The suggestion fails.

Philip shoves off the couch, dropping his controller. “I’m going to go see what Angie’s doing.”

He keeps his eyes on the floor as he walks out the door. A.J. tracks him, perched to follow, but hangs back with another lost look at his father. Meanwhile Theo’s gaze has swung around to him, expression uncertain.

“You know,” Aaron says, breaking the tension. “I just realized I didn’t make lunch yet. Theo, are you hungry?” She nods quickly, though Aaron knows she’d had snacks at church. Aaron turns to the boys. “Either of you hungry?”

James’ hand immediately shoots up. “Me!” he shouts, wiggling off his dad’s lap. A.J. nods shyly, fiddling with his glasses once he sets his controller down.

It’s good enough distraction as any. Aaron claps his hands together. “C’mon. I’ll need some help. Let’s go kids. Into the kitchen.”

The kids go willingly. Aaron waits until Hamilton stiffly stands up before following.

 

*

 

It takes a moment, but the ice eventually breaks.

Aaron set the boys up with a bowl of fruit to slice, keeping Theo to himself as they stack grilled cheese and tuna sandwiches near the over. He’s been listening with half an ear as Hamilton quietly talked with his sons.

Once Hamilton seemed to realize his youngest boys were not planning on storming out, his words had flowed easier. Aaron can hear how hard he’s trying – pleased with how much attention Hamilton’s giving them, even drawing out A.J. to participate between gaps of James’ excited chatter.

He’s reluctant to break them up, but there’s more to be done.

“And that should be enough of those. Thank you.”

He stops Hamilton before he can cut into another orange, drawing up their attention. He smiles kindly at the trio, “Boys, why don’t you help Theo carry the sandwiches over?”

“Okay,” James agrees instantly, sliding off his stood. Aaron turns on Hamilton, who’s tensed again under his gaze.

“Hamilton, go and invite Philip and Angelica down.”

It’s very clearly not a question. He leaves no room for Hamilton to protest, staring down hard at him. He stands slowly, jaw tensing, before walking out of the room without a word.

There’s that hollow obedience again. Aaron turns back to the remaining kids.

He’s ill prepared for the rapt way A.J. is staring at him.

“Are you dating my dad?” he asks, head tilting.

Aaron stalls. “What?”

A.J. doesn’t seem upset. He isn’t frowning, though his brow is furrowed. “My dad never listens to anybody but Mom,” he says. “He listens to you.”

Theo shakes her head sharply, cutting in before Aaron can formulate his response. “They’re not dating. My dad’s married.”

A.J. frowns at him. “You are?”

“I was,” he says. He has no idea how he’d suddenly lost control of the conversation.

Theo bulldozes ahead. “To my mom,” Theo says firmly. “They’re like soul mates. I’m named after her because he loved her so much he wanted more of her in the world. Isn’t that right, Dad?”

There’s something in her voice of a braggart, which he doesn’t. That’s not like her. Aaron nods, frowning. He opens his mouth, but A.J. cuts in.

“Do you work with him?” he asks.

“No.”

“Oh.” A.J.’s look is assessing; staring at Aaron like he’s a puzzle he can’t solve. For a kid in grade school, his scrutiny feels far too dissecting.

Aaron’s mouth is dry. “I’m not dating your father,” he tells A.J. finally. “Now, come on. We need to set the table.”

 

*

 

They eat a tense meal.

Only Philip eventually trickles back down the stairs, hands shoved deep into his pockets, choosing the seat farthest down the table. Hamilton finally follows a minute later, avoiding Aaron’s eyes as he sits down.

Conversation remains stilted. Philip isn’t rude, but the tension between he and his father brings the whole table down. A.J. withdraws back into his shell, while Theo keeps her eyes on her plate, not speaking. Only James is unaffected, chowing down happily. Meanwhile, Aaron has to glare at Hamilton when he tries to do nothing more than pick at his food.

There’s a palpable relief when it’s over. Aaron has the kids carry their plate to the sink, before he starts the wash up. He hears Hamilton come in behind him, though he doesn’t turn around. After a long pause, Hamilton shuffles over, silently taking over drying.

“You could be with your kids, you know,” Aaron says. Hamilton still, shrugging. His eyes finally meet Aaron’s willingly, as he gives a small, tired smile.

Aaron can tell that he wants to say something, pleased that he’s waiting for permission. He’s almost about to let him, when the doorbell rings.

The noise is followed by a gust of commotion. James’ voice rings out in the hallway, a second before there’s a thunder of footsteps rushing down the stairs. Aaron inspects Hamilton’s paling face, letting the moment pass.

“I’ll finish up here. Go.”

Hamilton moves reluctantly. He glances at Aaron again, before heading for the door, pausing at its frame as if drawing up strength before stepping out. It’s a complete reversal of his reaction yesterday, when the kids had arrived. Now he drags his feet, clearly dissatisfied that his children were leaving despite the disaster of the weekend.

In spite of his own frustration, Aaron’s sympathy is piqued. He has to remind himself that he can’t help here. He knows his presence makes Eliza Schuyler uncomfortable anyway.

He’s done this before – every other weekend. He doesn’t need you to get through this.

Despite his thoughts, he still finishes the dishes is record time, listening as the kids loudly greet their mother. James startles him when runs into the kitchen, yanking a picture off the fridge with a toothy grin, before racing out again. Aaron can’t take waiting any more, drying his hands and following the little boy out.

He lingers in the doorframe, immediately confronted with a scene of certain chaos.

Elizabeth Schuyler stands in the foyer, the center of a storm of noise as her children rush around her. She has little trouble conducting it, face serene even as James tugs on her dress, waving his picture as he fights for her attention. Angie has parked herself by her mother’s side, bag already slung over her shoulder, arms crossed and mouth sour. She’s pointedly angled away from her father, who’s standing further down the hall, wringing his hands, nodding along to something his ex-wife is saying.

His eyes catch on Aaron, freezing, but Eliza seems not to notice his presence, distracted as the ceiling rumbles. Philip comes pouring down the stairs a second later, backpack in tow.

“Can we go now?” Angelica demands, cutting in.

Eliza deflects her with ease. “If you’d like to leave sooner you can help James get his shoes on,” she says, not unkindly. “Philip, do your brothers have everything?”

Philip’s curls fly as he shakes his head. “A.J. can’t find his jacket.”

“Well, help him look,” Eliza sighs. “Tell A.J. to check his backpack.”

“He already looked there.”

“Again, please.”

Philip huffs, dropping off his bag at the end of the stairs and then running back up. James takes advantage of the commotion, tugging more adamantly on his mother’s skirt.

“Mom! I drew Jack! Look!”

He shoves his picture forward, bouncing when Eliza takes it, smiling. Movement catches Aaron’s eyes. He finds Hamilton’s reeling back a hand, expression stricken, and frowns. Eliza doesn’t notice.

“It’s lovely, James. We’ll put it on the fridge at home. Now lets get your shoes on please.” She turns on her ex-husband, still smiling though her eyes have tightened. “Alexander, can you please help find A.J.’s jacket?”

Hamilton nods quickly, pulling his eyes away from the picture.

“I – yes! Yes, of course!” he says, too eager. He starts up the stairs. “A.J?”

“No, Alex,” Eliza’s voice is kind but firm. It yanks him to a stand still. “Philip can help A.J. check his room. Is there anywhere else he might have left it? Did you take them anywhere?”

“No,” Hamilton admits, stepping back down the stairs.

Eliza’s head tilts. “What about to the park? Angie has a basketball game on Tuesday.” She frowns at the blankness on Hamilton’s face, turning to her daughter. “You didn’t tell your dad? I thought you wanted to practice this weekend.”

Angie just shrugs. “Can I go wait in the car?” she demands.

Eliza sighs. “Alright. Take your brother with you,” she concedes. “And say goodbye to your father.”

Angie scarcely glances back, muttering her goodbye under her breath before stepping out the door. James, on the other hand, runs into his father’s arms. Hamilton swinging him up and squeezing tightly, slow to let go even when the boy starts to squirm.

“Bye, Daddy!” he hollers, racing out the door. Hamilton’s eyes trail after him, distracted only when Eliza turns on him. She confronts him as soon as the kids are gone, voice dropping low, smile waning.

“You promised you’d spend time with them this weekend.”

Hamilton’s hands rise defensively. “I know, I know,” he says quickly, gaze scattering.

“Alexander.”

I did,” he insists, on a thin voice. His throat works. His mouth opens and closes several times as he searches for an explanation. “Eliza, I – I just have so much on my plate right now.”

Alexander.”

Her voice has turned to stone. Aaron watches the tone hit Hamilton, bowling him over, eyes dropping to the ground. Aaron knows that expression. Something possessive slithers through him. He’s out of the doorway without a second thought.

“Ms. Schuyler!”

Aaron steps forward loudly, extending his hand with a wide smile on his face. “It’s so good to see you again. How are you?”

Eliza’s eyes widen when she notices him. She takes his hand, smiling back on reflex.

“Mr. Burr!” she exclaims. “Excuse me, I didn’t see you there.”

“It’s just Aaron, please,” he returns. He meets Hamilton’s eyes over Eliza’s shoulder, pleased to find the man staring at him in full confusion. He can’t help himself, grin twisting into a smirk. “It looks like you’re all tied up,” he adds, watching as Hamilton’s face blooms into a ferocious blush. “Can I help you find something?”

“Oh no, you don’t have to do that,” she assures him instantly, “And Eliza is fine.”

“Of course,” Aaron smiles. “I really don’t mind. We were just having lunch. Can I get you something?”

“Really. We’re fine,” Eliza insists. She glances at Hamilton, lips pressing together. He can tell she wants to say more, but Aaron isn’t going to give her the chance. He was just making progress with Hamilton. He hates that she’s able to swan into Hamilton’s life and instantly command his attention.

This was the woman Aaron had once joked about replacing. He hadn’t realized it might be a reality.

“Ah, well. Maybe you can help me then,” he says smoothly. “I can’t seem to find my wallet,” he confesses, patting his pockets with a sigh. “Hamilton? Maybe you could help me look?”

He meets Hamilton’s eyes again, waiting for him to get it.

“Yes,” Hamilton says slowly, after a beat. Comprehension – and relief – flash across his face.

“I’ve already looked down here,” Aaron continues. “If you could you check the third floor?”

Hamilton nods swiftly. “Of course.” He glances at his ex-wife, before shimmying up the stairs. Aaron watches him disappear, turning back to Eliza with a jackal’s grin. He’s won this one – even if she doesn’t know what game their playing.

Eliza frowns at him, the severe line marring her naturally pleasant face. “I’m sorry,” she says, not sounding sorry at all. “I don’t know you well. How did you meet Alexander again?”

“It’s a work connection,” Aaron replies easily. It’s not even a lie.

“You work with the mayor?” she drills. “Alex never mentioned you.”

“No.” He shakes his head. “I’m not one for politics.”

“Then you’re a lawyer?” Eliza frowns when he nods. “I didn’t know Alex kept in touch with many of his friends from Columbia – apart from Gilbert and Hercules.”

Aaron has no idea who’s she’s referencing. He tucks the names away for later, not letting his confusion show.

“Actually, I went to Princeton,” he says. “In fact, your sister might have mentioned me. We were in the same class.”

Her eyes widen. That seems to throw her. “You know Angelica?”

“Only briefly.” He lets his smile turn self-deprecating. “She’d probably remember me as the short kid with horrible pick up lines.”

Eliza blinks at him. She pauses, drawing back.

“I’m sorry,” she says. Her tone has changed, softening. “I don’t mean to interrogate you.”

“It’s all right,” Aaron says. He honestly doesn’t mind. “I’d do the same if a stranger were around my daughter.”

She glances at him, finally offering a small but real smile. Her whole aspect changing as a weariness cloaks her. She sighs heavily, wrapping her arms around her middle.

“I’m sorry,” she says again. “I’m not sure how much you are aware, but Alexander has a history of poor decision-making. I don’t mean to offend you. Its just that Alexander’s acquaintances have not always the best for our family.”

“I understand,” he answers, and he does. That doesn’t stop a part of him from smarting anyway – for himself and in defense of Hamilton. “I’m not offended.”

Her gaze pierces him shrewdly, sensing the falsehood. “How much did you hear before?”

“Some.” He shrugs. “Enough.”

Whatever she’s about to say is interrupted as Philip comes thumping down the stairs, A.J. hot on his heels wearing a bright blue jacket. Theo follows a beat after, smirking softly. Aaron hadn’t even realized she’d been with them, assuming she’d retreated to her room.

“We found it,” Philip announces as they hit the ground floor. He jerks his thumb at Theo, who ducks her head. “Well, she found it.”

“It was under the bed,” Theo says, grinning shyly. He can tell she’s quite proud, smiling back.

Eliza immediately straightened when the group came into view. She’s carefully hidden her fatigue, smiling at them brightly. “Thank you, Theo. That was very nice.” Aaron is impressed that she’s remembered her name, more so when Theo preens. Eliza looks at her son. “Did you tell your father you found it?”

Philip’s face closes. “No.”

“Would you?”

Philip groans but turns, scaling back up the stairs. Theo hesitates, glancing at Aaron, before following him up, taking several large strides until they’re climbing side by side. Eliza turns to the younger boy. “Is that everything?” A.J. pushes up his glasses, nodding. “Okay. Shoes on please.”

She looks at Aaron as A.J. drops to get ready, gesturing up the stairs with her chin. Her smiles flow more naturally now. With it, she’s beautiful. Aaron can see why Hamilton would love her.

“They seem to be getting along like a house on fire,” she states, brows rising. “How did the weekend go? Honestly?”

Aaron evades the direct answer. “Theo and I spent most of Saturday out. I wanted to give Hamilton and your children some space.”

Her eyes crinkle as she smiles. “I appreciate that,” she says. “I really do. They miss him.”

“He misses them too,” Aaron replies.

She sighs. “I know. I just wish he would spend more time with them.”

Aaron wavers. While he agrees, it feels like a betrayal to admit it. “He’s very committed to his work,” Aaron finally says, hedging. She doesn’t call him on it.

“Yes,” she says, turning away. “That’s the problem.”

Something dark in her tone makes Aaron frown. He hides it when they are interrupted once again as Philip, Theo, and Hamilton all appear on the stairs.

Hamilton’s attention immediately hones onto his ex-wife. There’s an eagerness to his expression – a desire to please Aaron has rarely seen so open in the man. Despite his sudden cordiality with Eliza, it sends a dark feeling twisting under his skin – jealousy.

“Is that everything?” Hamilton asks, wringing his hands. “Can I get you something for the road? A cup of tea? There’s still some of your favorite in the cupboard.”

Eliza lets him down gently. “We’re meeting my father for dinner tonight,” Eliza says, regretfully. “We should go.”

“Right. Of course. Sorry.”

The apology sends up a warning flag. Aaron frowns, examining his housemate, not liking the way his shoulders have dropped. He’s not the only one who’s noticed.

Eliza stares at Hamilton. Rather than looking at his face though, her eyes have drifted to his chest and the faded orange letter resting there. Her gaze flickers to Aaron.

“Princeton, huh?”

Aaron starts, but not nearly as hard as Hamilton, who quickly begins to mutter something about Angelica. Eliza just nods, eyes darting between them, her smile unreadable.

Aaron is happy when it’s time for her to go, though the goodbye hugs go by far too quickly. A.J., naturally shy, begins to fidget after only a brief embrace, while Philip remains stiff in Hamilton’s arms, barely hugging back. He does wave goodbye to Theo though, who ducks her head and waves back.

Hamilton walks with them to the door, standing there until their car pulls all the way out, disappearing down the road. Aaron waits for him. The house seems eerily quiet without their presence. Aaron can’t imagine how it feels for Hamilton, who’d once lived in this big house alone.

“They forgot something.”

Theo steps around Aaron, picking up a pink package from the side table. It gathers Hamilton’s attention as he finally steps back from the door. Hamilton sends her a shaky smile, though his eyes glance to him. “Oh. Actually Theo, that’s for you.”

Her eyes widen, examining the box in a new light. “It is?”

“You bought Theo a gift?” Aaron frowns.

Hamilton shakes his head quickly, drawing closer. He’s begun to fidget with his hands again, expression guilty, though he manages to peek at Aaron’s face.

“Not me,” he admits. “A woman came by yesterday, while you were out. She said it was a birthday present from John?”

The statement ends in a question. Aaron is too busy reeling to answer. He turns on the other man, feeling his stomach drop.

“And you didn’t think to mention this earlier?” he demands.

The abrupt shift in his voice seems to spook Hamilton, who shakes his head quickly. “I’m sorry,” he begins.

“What did they want? Did she say anything?”

Hamilton looks panicked. “I don’t know. She was looking for you. There was this teenager with her. He didn’t say anything. She asked me to let you know she stopped by. She seemed like . . . ” There are more words on the tip of his tongue, but he swallows them, glancing at Theo. “I’m sorry. I should have told you sooner.”

“Yes, you should have!” Aaron snaps. Hamilton jerks back, wilting, but Aaron doesn’t have time for that. He turns to Theo, whose enthusiasm is rapidly dwindling. She holds out the present stiffly, clearly torn.

Aaron swallows down the bile in his throat, pressing forward a smile.

“Go ahead and open it.”

She hesitates. “But, Dad . . . ”

“It’s alright, Theo,” he insists, forcing his voice to gentle. “You heard Hamilton. It’s from your brother John. He’d want you to have a happy birthday.”

That gets her.

She always did admire her cool, older half-brother, even though he’d visited only rarely. He’d been sent away by his father – and then his grandmother – to a boarding school upstate. Theodosia’s dream of fighting for custody had died the second she got her diagnosis. Aaron – with no direct bloodline – was left without a chance in hell.

Of course Louise would parade out the boy when she needed leverage. That was just like her. He wondered bitterly if she had even pulled him out from school just for the petty stunt.

He watches Theo’s curiosity overcome her hesitance, beginning to rip off the wrapping paper. Any last doubt vanishes when she finally opens the box. She gasps, eyes widening impossibly, before pulling out a red tulle dress pair with a large sparkling bow.

Theo – who’d seen the new Annie movie at least twenty times – was instantly in love.

Aaron didn’t need to see the designer label to feel the blow. The little orphan, taken in by the lofty well-to-do, offered a better chance at life. It’s easy to assign the roles.

He manages to keep his grin up as Theo squeals, racing over to hug him. She’s over the moon, charging up the stairs to change right that minute.

Aaron staggers back the moment she’s gone. He braces himself against the wall; head rushing, feeling the cold dread of anxiety drop down his spine. He presses a hand against his face, trying to breathe deep, shutting his eyes against Hamilton’s worried face as the man edges closer.

“Aaron?”

“Did I give you permission to speak?”

He spits the words out harshly, gaining a grim satisfaction when Hamilton rocks back. Footsteps ring above them. Aaron pushes himself off the wall, shoving his distress away as Theo comes bouncing down the stairs again.

She’s absolutely stunning, beaming from ear to ear. He knows he could never give her that, feeling his heart tighten.

“Look at the shoes!” Theo exclaims, twirling down the last step. She sticks her heel out, showing off dazzling red kitten heels. “I could have worn these to church!”

He swallows tightly. “You’re beautiful baby.”

She turns, hugging him again. She’s so giddy she’s practically vibrating. “John’s the best!” she declares, memorized by the flare as she twirls again. “Can I borrow your phone? I want to tell Phoebe. She’s never going to believe this!”

She’s too distracted to notice when he fumbles his cell. He passes over it over silently, straining to return her smile when she turns on him again. She takes the phone in hand, humming loudly as she rushes up the stairs again.

When she’s gone, Aaron bends down mechanically, picking up the box. There’s no note – Louise isn’t stupid enough for that – but Aaron knows with utter certainty that this was her doing, not John’s.

He hurls it down the hallway in a sudden fit of rage, ill satisfied when it thumps dully off a wall, leaving no impact. His fists clench uselessly. He longs for something to hit.

He almost gets his chance when Hamilton reaches out, touching his arm.

Aaron snarls, yanking his body away. He glares at the man. For a moment, he’s consumed with anger. It’d be easy – so easy – to work his frustrations out on the man who continued to vex him. His mind instantly drew forth the reasons – Hamilton’s argumentative nature, his disrespect, his utter inability to exist without taxing the resources of everyone around him. The bitterness of the morning comes pouring back.

It’s much, much harder to real himself in. He has to physically step back, drawing his arms close to his chest lest he lash out. He breathes deeply through his nose, trying to center himself.

When he opens his eyes a second time, the anger is still there – shimmering hot and volatile beneath a rapidly melting surface. He has just enough control to step sharply around Hamilton’s worried face without striking him.

“Don’t even think about speaking to me,” he sneers, watching Hamilton hunch down, folding.

He turns his back, leaving Hamilton’s troubled stare behind.

Chapter Text

Alexander

*

He’s not sure what wakes him.

Alex isn’t sleeping exactly, but his eyes are closed and he’s breathing steadily. Fog clouds his thoughts, making mazes out of sentences. It hides the lurking barbs until they dig under his skin, leaving him to worry at them.

He picks up his head slowly, unwinding from his curl. He doesn’t want to be caught sitting here – not in this chair that feels too much like Burr’s.

His limbs move stiffly, but orange daylight still shines through the study windows. It’s not clear how long he’s sat there, turning the weekend over in his mind. It’s almost freeing to realize what a mess he’d made of it. He’s back on solid ground, playing a role he knows. Accepting his guilt lessens the sting of betrayal, rendering Burr’s fury as harsh and good. There had been a moment when he’d thought – foolishly – that this thing between him and Burr might turn out okay. Everything falls into place when he realizes how wrong he was.

There’s a crash somewhere in the hall, followed by muffled cursing.

He follows the noise before he can think, slowing only when he reaches the hallway, palms pressed against the kitchen door. The low mutter of Burr’s voice is terrifying.

He steps back too late. The door swings open. Burr half falls through it, head and shoulders hung low as he rams into Alex like a lineman. Alexander’s head smacks the wall, but the sudden burst of pain is nothing compared to the way Burr sags against him. Alex grabs onto Burr’s arms instinctively, struggling to straighten them both.

Burr teeters forward. Alex abruptly registers Burr’s breath landing hot and heavy on his collar. Burr reeks of liquor, enough that even Alex’s nose curls. Burr seems to have no qualms against pressing closer, pushing his forehead into the crook of Alex’s neck and sighing heavily.

Alex freezes, fingers wrapped woodenly around Burr’s arms. He doesn’t know what to say – isn’t sure whether he can say anything.

He clears his throat uncertainly, pushing at Burr’s chest until he draws back. He’s expecting the glazed sheen on Burr’s eyes, but he’s ill prepared when they narrow on his face with a startling clarity.

“You!”

Burr’s face screws up. Alex fumbles for a grip when Burr suddenly jerks his arms away, nearly toppling them both over.

“Aaron, wait.”

Burr does not. He wrenches himself away violently, lurching back until he too hits a wall. They stare at each other across the narrow space, breathing heavily.

“Let go of me,” Burr snarls.

Alex can only stare at him, aghast. “I already have.”

“Stay away from me.” Burr pushes himself off the wall, only to stumble. Alex seizes forward, ignoring the way Burr growls when he catches him.

“I’m sorry,” he says. He doesn’t let go.

Burr shakes his head, but his body slumps onto Alex. He’s not looking at Alex anymore. His head swings down below his shoulders, face shiny with sweat. “You can’t be here. You have to stay away.”

Alex bites his lip, glancing around the hallway uselessly. There is no one else to play the adult. He can’t remember the last time someone trusted him enough to put him in those shoes.

He fumbles under Aaron’s weight, balancing precariously until he can get Aaron’s arm hooked around his neck. He slips his own hand around Aaron’s waist, trying not to think when his fingers press against the warm skin where Aaron’s shirt has ridden up. He isn’t sure why he cares, anyway.

“Let me just get you to bed, alright Aaron?”

Aaron shakes his head, but it’s a feeble motion. His voice is muffled against his chest. “You have to stay away.”

He can’t process those words and keep standing. “I know,” he says, pushing down the numbness that wants to spread through his limbs. It can wait – he can wait. Burr can’t. “Just let me get you upstairs.”

“I can’t touch you right now,” Burr insists stubbornly.

Alex curls his fingers, heaving them forward the first few steps. “Just up the stairs. I promise.”

Burr’s head rolls onto Alex’s shoulder, his eyes shut. “Not good.”

“I know.”

He’s grateful when Burr leaves it there, even more so for their relative same sizes when they reach the stairs. He’s able to help Burr stagger forward, taking more and more of his weight as they precariously attempt to summit the second floor. Alex hesitates there, seeing the light shine under Theo’s door.

He glances at the third floor, but there’s no way he would get up there even if he tried. He doesn’t have a choice but to lead Burr to his own room, past Theo’s door.

Hushing Burr, Alex starts them shuffling down the hall as quick as he’s able. They’re too slow, or perhaps too loud. The door to Theo’s room creaks. She freezes in the doorway, eyes going wide at the sight of them. Her mouth pinches tight. Alex thinks of her glee when she’d dashed up the stairs to brag to her friends about her new dress. There is none of that youthful excitement now.

“Daddy?”

Her voice warbles, small in way that doesn’t suit her. Burr doesn’t answer, though his head makes a valiant effort to rise.

Alex’s stomach plummets. Aaron, with his head hung down, doesn’t seem to notice. He grumbles when Alex jerks them to a halt, leaning even heavier against him.

Alex’s mother didn’t drink, but his father did. He thinks he can feel his mother’s smile stretching across his face as he meets Theo’s gaze, trying to be reassuring. If she’s anything like him, it won’t mean a thing.

“It’s alright, Theo. I’ve got him.”

Her fingers curl around the doorframe, bloodless. Her waits for the inevitable scowl, but it doesn’t come. She drags her eyes only reluctantly from her father, fixing him in a stare he can’t interpret.

Instincts scream at him to go to her, but Burr weighs heavily on his shoulders. He’d stopped drinking seriously when Eliza first got pregnant, terrified of being in exactly this situation.

He can’t just stand here forever. And he can’t just drop Burr.

Theo stares at them as they shuffle past, tense as a rabbit preparing to flee, the white of her eyes grossly displayed. She slips out of his peripheral vision a few beats before he hears the click of her bedroom door.

He swallows down his guilt, refocusing on his task. It’s touch and go balancing Burr and getting into the guest bedroom. Alex deposits Aaron as gently as he can on the bed, spine cracking when he straightens up without the extra weight.

There’s a routine to handling a drunken bender that Hercules imbued in him throughout his college years. Alex finds himself repeating the motions he’d too often had performed on himself, trying not to think too hard about it.

He tugs off Aaron’s socks – wet and smelling strongly of whatever alcohol he dropped in the kitchen. He doesn’t dare undress the man, but he does pull a quilt out from the linen closet and drape it over Burr’s chest. He turns the man on his side, just in case, and snags the bathroom trashcan for the side of the bed.

When he’s sure the man won’t accidentally choke, he peeks out in the hallway. The light to Theo’s room has gone out. He garners up his courage and knocks softly on her door anyway.

“Theodosia?” Her full names feels awkward in his mouth, but it’s what she’s asked him for. “It’s me, Alexander.”

There’s a poignant silence on the other side. He faintly hears the squeak of mattress on the other side, but nothing more. After a long minute, he turns away, going downstairs.

In the kitchen, he picks up the shattered remains of a whiskey bottle before mopping up the mess. The top shelf calls to him, but he can’t bring himself to open it and face the bottles there. Theo’s bravery trumps his own.

He returns to the second floor with a glass in hand. Aaron is just as he left him, curled onto his side, eyes half open but clearly not all there. Alex helps him sit up and take a few swallows of water. Burr’s coordination is so clumsy Alex has to help him hold the cup in a gesture that feels far too intimate. Aaron pushes him away after a few mouthfuls, throwing his head down on his pillow in a huff.

Alex waits, setting the glass on the nightstand. It’s far too creepy to stand over Burr as his eyes close, but Alex balks at the idea of just leaving him.

He’s standing too close. His hand reaches out to check Burr’s flushed temperature, Burr’s skin clammy with sweat. He scarcely realizes it when his fingers trail down, smoothing over Burr’s face, nearly dancing over the man’s thin lips.

He shouldn’t be here, he thinks, as he watches the other man breathe. His chest feels tight, hollow and aching in a way he can’t think about.

This is an intrusion. He shouldn’t permit it. But his fingers remain, selfishly, taking things Burr hasn’t offered.

Burr rolls, murmuring something, and Alex jerks back as if struck. Burr’s hand twitches, almost rising, while his eyelids flutter. Alex only exhales when the lines in Burr’s face relax, eyes never opening.

Alex takes several steps backward, but finds he still can’t leave the room. If something should happen? If Burr should need him? If he woke up for just a moment and wasn’t displeased to see Alex there.

For the second time that day, he sinks into the space between the bed and the dresser, curling around his knees as he buries his head in his hands. Surely Burr wouldn’t be mad at him if he just sits here – just in case.

He wakes, somehow, to the pale blue light of morning and a burning crick in his back. Burr still dozes on the bed, turned on his back now with the blanket kicked off in the night.

Several inches of abdomen show from where his shirt has hiked up. Alex swallows thickly, scrambling up, his neck and back uncomfortably stiff. If Burr hears him, he shows no movement.

Alex takes one last glance and flees the room. He ignores the voice in his head that whispers that this will be the last time he’ll see him.

 

*

 

He’s almost surprised to see the extra pair of shoes lining the door when he staggers home that night.

The house is quiet, the tick of the grandfather clock drifting to the forefront of the hall. He peels off his outer layers, pausing to brush the thick wool of Burr’s coat before letting his hand fall. It doesn’t quite seem real.

There’s a light on in the study. His feet turn, carrying him there. His thoughts stay curiously empty.

He can’t look at Burr when he enters the room, though he registers the straight line of his posture from the corner of his eye. He’s seated in his usual chair. Alex will probably throw it out when he leaves. He can’t pretend that it belongs to him anymore.

The thought of sitting down opposite him makes his stomach twist. He knees twinge in some phantom memory of the last time they were in this room together, when Burr had bent him backward and taken him apart. For a moment, he pictures himself crossing the room and throwing himself at Burr’s feet. He shoves the thought away a second later. The image carries to much weight for him to bear. After a moment lingering, he crosses the room to the window, occupying himself with drawing closed the curtains. If he is to suffer this, he at least will keep the whole street from knowing.

He can’t quite bring himself to turn around after this, nor force his lips to form the shapes of vowels and words he’s not even sure he’s permitted to say. He’s broken the rules so many times he doesn’t know the point, but speaking fills him with an unnamable dread. He can feel Burr’s gaze heavy on his shoulders, but silence has always seemed to fit so much easier on the other man.

Tonight, Burr seems inclined to break it.

Alexander ducks his head as Burr steps up beside him. There’s a noticeable calculation in his movements. Burr turns to face him, but Alex – the coward – tilts his shoulders away, stubbornly averting his eyes.

Burr sighs. “Alright.” He takes a step back, not sitting down but leaving a new space between them, leaning against the windowsill. “I’ll respect it if you don’t want to, but I’d like to talk about last night, if possible.”

There is absolutely nothing less in the world that Alex wants than to talk about last night. Even with Burr’s permission, his tongue doesn’t want to move. Burr’s careful tone strikes him off balance. He wants to glance at Burr, to read his face, but he just can’t. He twists the curtain cord between his fingers, not looking up.

Burr sighs again – louder. “Very well.” The straight line of his posture bends slightly, enough for Alex to catch in the corner of his eye. Burr’s turned away from him.

“I already cashed the check you paid me last Sunday,” Burr says. “It’ll take me some time to solve the difference, but I can handle half of that sum today.”

Alexander’s heart plummets. This is it.

“Of course.” He squeezes his eyes shut a moment, before stubbornly shaking his head. He’s being an idiot. He pulls his hand away from the curtains, smoothing them down his suit. “Yes, of course. Your next payment was due yesterday. I’m sorry. I can write the check now.”

Burr turns toward him. “Hamilton, did you just hear what I said?”

Alex ignores the nip in Burr’s voice, soldiering on. He doesn’t understand why this is so difficult. It’s not like it’s a surprise. The thought doesn’t stop his breath from shaking when he straightens his shoulders.

“You’ll be paid for today, obviously,” he says. “I will need the key returned eventually. You can just put it under the mat when you’re done moving your things back to your apartment. Or mail it to me. That’d be fine too.”

“Hamilton, I don’t want your money.”

Burr’s voice cracks out, fast and stern. It kills Alex’s momentum in his throat, throwing him flatfooted. He looks up without thinking.

Burr doesn’t look angry exactly, but his brows are drawn together and his mouth is turned down. He looks much better than he did last night, now that Alex has finally seen his face. There’s a tired ring around his eyes, but his skin no longer shines with alcohol. He’s wearing a soft-looking sweater that clashes with the sour expression on his face. Alex hates himself for putting it there.

“I’m sorry?” he tries. He hopes it’s what Burr is looking for.

Burr shakes his head, sending Alex’s hope spiraling to his feet. “I’m trying to repay you the money you’ve already paid me.”

It’s Alex’s turn to frown. “It’s yours. You earned it.”

“Clearly not.” Burr laughs without humor. “I was unprofessional yesterday. Of course I’ll return your money.”

Alex winces. He drops his gaze to his feet, not sure why this of all things hits him. “Please don’t.”

“Hamilton . . . ”

Alex keeps his gaze firmly affixed to the carpet. “Thank you very much for your service. I . . . Despite my behavior, I do hope you understand how much I appreciate what you have done for me, though I understand why you want to leave.”

Burr’s voice turns incredulous. “You think I want to leave?”

Alex scowls, shoulders hunching. “You don’t have to mock me, Burr. It’s fine.”

There’s a break where Burr says nothing. Alex wraps his arms around his stomach, abruptly cold. Then Burr moves, raking a hand over his head as he steps around Alex, sitting down heavily in his chair.

“Okay, see, this is why I didn’t want to leave without having a conversation first. Hamilton, please sit down.”

He waves a hand at the seat across from him. Alex doesn’t want to go – he really doesn’t want to go – but his feet carry him over anyway.  He perches lightly on the seat opposite Burr, digging his nails into the meat of his palms.

Burr doesn’t say anything immediately. For once, he’s the one to look away, leaving Alex room to watch as he scowls at the air. He’s clearly chewing on something and Alex’s stomach clenches at what it might be.

At last, Burr shifts, catching him in a steely expression. He looks tired. “To be absolutely clear,” he says resolutely, “I am not leaving because of anyone’s actions besides my own. I am not leaving because of you. I am leaving because of the way that I acted towards you.”

Alex barely holds back laughter. He can’t stop his lips from twisting, ducking his head to hide his face. He should probably thank Burr for trying to spare him, even if he’s completely transparent. He doesn’t need Alex throwing his efforts back in his face.

“Right.”

The thinning of Burr’s lips is familiar. His stare turns flinty. “I got drunk around you – when I was angry with you.”

It’s nothing Alex doesn’t know. He’s just not sure why Burr’s bothering to pretend he still isn’t mad. He must look more pathetic than he thought.

“Yeah, I know,” he says. “It’s okay.”

Burr inhales sharply. Alex watches fascinated as the tendons in his hands pull taut, fists balled on his knees. It’s the only part of Burr he can look at.

“It’s not,” Burr says fiercely, startling him, “but that’s beside the point.” His next breath is long and heavy. His hands don’t relax even when Burr exhales slowly. “Hamilton, do you want for me to go?”

The question startles a snort out of Alex. He shakes his head, black humor tasting bitter between his teeth. “No, of course not.”

Burr mimics him. “‘Of course not,’ he says.” He shakes his head, gaze turning serious once more. “You understand that I could have hurt you last night.”

Alex straightens up. That’s a thought he won’t let Burr run away with. He’s done enough damage already.

He glances at Burr’s face, frowning at what he sees there. His easy defense dies. “You wouldn’t have . . . ”

“I might have.” Burr cuts through him with a swipe of his hand, face growing graver. “I have fewer qualms about beating someone than most people – and I was angry with you last night.”

Alex hangs his head, twisting his hands together. “I know. I’m sorry.”

It’s not what Burr is looking for. The man lets out another long sigh, shifting forward in his seat like he wants to reach out. He doesn’t.

“It’s not your fault,” Burr says. “Not really. And If I had been thinking clearly last night I would have known that.”

Burr’s voice is unbearably gentle. Alex hunches under it, nails sinking deeper into his palms. He licks his lips, eyes skittering to the floor. “I should have told you sooner,” he insists.

“You didn’t know,” Burr says firmly. “What to fear from a little present, right?” His laugh is bitter. 

“Burr . . . ”

“If you can’t see the danger in my actions at the very least you must realize that my actions were unprofessional.”

Alex hunches over, dipping his head low against his chest. “I don’t understand why this matters if you’re leaving anyway.”

If he comes off as petulant Burr doesn’t seem to mind. Burr leans in closer, hands flat against his thighs. “I know, which is why I’ll ask it again. Hamilton, do you want me to go?”

Alex bites into his cheek. He stares hard at the carpet, heat rising to his ears. “No. Of course not. You know that.”

“I didn’t,” Burr corrects gently. “I do now. And I’m sorry.”

He hand touches Alex’s knee. Alex jerks, feeling like a flock of birds has taken roost in his chest. He can’t look up. He just can’t.

“For what?”

“For the selfish thing I’m about to do.”

“What selfish thing?”

Burr’s hand squeezes his knee and Alex’s head whips up. Burr’s eyes are soft, meeting his gaze easily.

“You forgot to ask me what I wanted,” Burr says. “If you had, you would know that it was out of professional obligation, rather than desire, that I planned to quit.” He pauses, amusement flashing across his face. “I thought you were firing me.”

“I wouldn’t,” Alex says quickly.

“Oh, I know that now,” Burr says and waves a hand like it’s that easy. He leans back in his chair, crossing one leg over another. “That’s why this is selfish.  If I were truly looking after you I would point you in the direction of a better Dom and leave you in their capable hands. It would be the professional thing to do.”

Alex jerks up, shaking his head immediately. “I don’t want that.”

Burr smiles faintly. He’s regained the regal aloofness Alex’s been missing all night without realizing it. “I know. And that’s what I’m taking advantage of. Like I said – selfish.”

Alex licks his lips, throat dry. He glances at Burr through his lashes, uncertain with what to do with the gentleness on his face. “So you’re staying?” he asks, just to confirm. The words feel ridiculous in his mouth, like a kid wishing for Christmas.

Burr inclines his head. “I am,” he says. “Though not without a few ground rules.”

It’s like . . . Alex’s world changes tracks in one jarring motion that somehow shakes him to the core and leaves him finding his balance all at once. The burst of relief leaves his extremities tingling. He can feel a hysterical laugh building in his chest and has to swallow it down.

Burr’s staying. Burr’s staying and he has conditions.

He should probably not feel so thrilled.

He nods quickly. “Yes, of course. Anything.”

He probably shouldn’t have said the last thing. All the websites he warned him against promising too much. He can’t bring himself to care.

Burr, at least, is serious. His face shares none of the same relief as Alex’s, hardening even further when he speaks. “I’m quitting drinking. What happened last night will never happen again.”

He makes this pronouncement with all the solemnity of an oath. Alex’s face must do something in response, because Burr frowns at him. “What is it?”

Alex fidgets, the words crawling out of him reluctantly. “It just seems impractical,” he mutters. “Unrealistic.”

“Excuse me?”

Alex winces, cursing himself. How hard is it to keep his mouth shut?

It’s too late to take his words back now. He shifts in his chair, fumbling for the tact he’s never been able to master. “It’s just . . . going cold turkey is hardly the best way. I don’t – That’s setting yourself up for failure.”

Burr’s frown deepens. He leans back in his chair again, shaking his head. “I won’t repeat what happened last night. I can’t drink and be your Dom. It’s non-negotiable.”

There’s command in his voice now, but something’s missing. Alex frowns, shifting. “No, it’s not.”

“What?”

Alex risks looking at his face, finding him staring hard at Alex in return. But there’s no anger there, at least. Alex forges ahead, grimacing. “We’re negotiating right now.”

His words put a silence between them as Burr stares at him. Just as Alex is beginning to truly panic, Burr exhales sharply.

“Fine. What did you have in mind?”

His tone says he’s not very happy about asking. Alex bites his lip, thinking hard, wishing he’d just left it alone after all.

“There are meetings,” he offers finally. “I know they aren’t ideal,” he adds quickly, seeing Burr’s face darken. “I know that. I could come with you.”

“You really couldn’t.”

There’s a weight behind his words that makes Alex think of tabloids and daytime specials and the worst year of his life. Reporters still follow him on slow days, hoping for a news break. The last time he went to the grocery store he found his face plastered against a woman he’d never met before in a terrible misuse of Photoshop. He relents.

“You could come to me,” he says instead. It feels right when he does. “I mean, if you wanted to. You shouldn’t be drinking alone.”

Burr raises his eyebrows. “You seem to have forgotten that our problem stems from me drinking around you.”

There’s something Alex doesn’t like, though he can’t put his finger on it. He squirms, Burr’s eyes drift back to him, always assessing. “You wouldn’t have to be my – I mean, we wouldn’t have to do anything. Not if you didn’t want to. I have been known to be” – annoying – distracting in the past. I could help.”

Burr is silent for a moment. His expression clearly shows him considering it, relieving Alex that he didn’t misspeak for once. Eventually, Burr nods, decided.

“I’ll agree to quit in stages,” he says. “And I’ll think about meetings. Is that sufficient?”

He’s rejected Alex’s help. Alex carefully hides the disappointment that flutters through him. He’ll take a win on anything so long as Burr decides to stay. He shouldn’t be surprised if Burr doesn’t want to spend more time with him than he has to.

“So you’re staying?” he asks again, wanting the conversation over.

“There’s one more thing.”

Alex tenses without meaning to. More so when Burr stares at him, eyes boring into his face.

“This condition is non-negotiable. Either you agree, or I walk, understood?”

Alex nods, growing more and more taut as the seconds trickle by. At last, Burr finds what he’s looking for in Alex’s face.

“You have to promise to fire me if I get like that again. You may not think it’s dangerous, but I can’t be your Dominant if I’m not sober.”

Alex nods instantly, but Burr shakes his head, fixing him with a pointed look.

“I need you to take this seriously,” Burr says. “I’m trusting you with your own safety.”

Something in Alex wants to reach out. He shoves away the part of him that scoffs at the mere thought of firing Burr and settles for meeting Burr’s eyes, trying to convey that he understands.

“I promise.”

Burr studies him for a long moment, before nodding. Some tension releases from his shoulders. He scrubs a hand over his head, working out a kink in his neck.

“It’s late. We should both get to bed.”

Burr stands in one fluid movement that abruptly knocks Alex off course. He stumbles to his feet, off beat, the hair rising on his arms like he’s been swept by a cold gust of wind. The release in tension was too sudden. He brings his hands together, feeling his back bend, doubt and uncertainty stalking him.

This can’t be all, can it? They aren’t already finished?

He hides his hands when Burr turns around, gaze traveling over him. Burr smiles slightly and Alex relaxes on instinct. “Come on. I’ll get you to bed.”

It should chafe to hear those words – he isn’t a child – but he follows along as Burr leads them out of the study and up the stairs. The momentary relief leaves him the longer Burr is silent, not looking back at him as they reach the third floor. He picks at his suit, feeling ridiculously over dressed, though it’s what he wears every day at work.

Burr’s sweater is blue and looks soft. He thinks of the shirt he has hidden away in his drawer and sucks in a breath, grateful when Burr doesn’t notice. He doesn’t want it taken away.

Burr stops when they reach the bedroom, Alex flushing when he takes in the mess inside. He hasn’t had time to clean it. Isn’t that always his excuse? He avoids Burr’s eyes, squeezing past him to hastily shove a stack of books off his bed, wincing when one drops to the floor with a hard thump.

He tenses when Burr steps near, but he only picks up the book, then plucks the rest of Alex’s load and carries them to the nearby bookshelf.

“I’ll clean up here,” Burr says, stopping Alex from touching the rest of it. “Go clean up.”

Alex pushes his protests down, turning sharply on his heel to the bathroom. Splashing cold water on his face shocks him, icy against his flushed skin. He squints into the mirror, pressing chilled fingers to the dark smudges under his eyes, feeling the puffy skin there.

He pulls back, jabbing his toothbrush into his mouth and yanking out the tie in his hair. His hair sticks out wildly – sweat and gel mingling together unpleasantly. He ties it back again, still unsatisfied when he glances back in the mirror, frustration mounting.

He bows over the sink, fingers curling around the white porcelain. He doesn’t know what's wrong with him. He’d got what he’d wanted. Burr is still here.

His nails dig into his neck, smearing through his sweat to rake in pink marks.

He’s been in here too long. Burr will have noticed. Alex dunks his head under the faucet again, not looking at his reflection as he slips back out of the bathroom.

The bed has been cleared, his books stacked neatly on his bookshelves. Burr’s gotten rid of his trash too, his desk and floor cleared of crinkled paper and lingering take out cartons that’s littered them for weeks.

Burr’s back is to him, glancing down at one of Alex’s books with a neutral expression. He looks up when Alex reenters, gaze sweeping down his body.

“You’re still dressed,” Burr says, frowning slightly.

Alex shrugs, looking down at his own wrinkled suit helplessly. He doesn’t want to take it off. He’s sure he’s sweated through it enough to show.

Burr contemplates him, head tilted. There’s an unhappy slant to his mouth. The snap of the book closing startles Alex, though not nearly as much as Burr suddenly walking up to him and taking his tie.

They’ve been here before.

Alex tries not to breathe too quickly as Burr makes quick work of the knot, tossing his tie carelessly on the bed he’s just cleared. When he goes for Alex’s buttons, Alex tenses, almost drawing back.

Burr makes a humming noise back in his throat that stills him. Alex blinks down at Burr’s face, increasingly uncomfortable. Burr’s eyes are fixated on his task, letting Alex notice the slight stubble on his face, the lines around his mouth that hint at more smiles than Alex has ever seen in him. He wonders who put them there.

Burr pushes his jacket off of his shoulders, sending it away with his tie. His hands run down Alex’s arms and Alex jerks back unconsciously.

He regrets it the second he does. Burr stalls, pulling back, calculation running on his face.

“It’s not enough, is it?”

Alex shakes his head quickly. He’s already been given too much. “I don’t know what you mean,” he says. He busies himself by picking up his clothes, gaining distance to put them in his hamper.

Burr is still there when he turns around. “Come here,” the man commands.

Alex reluctantly obeys, unable to stop from stiffening when Burr puts a hand on his shoulder.

“I want to try something.”

“I thought you wanted to sleep.”

Burr swats him, not hard at all but so unexpectedly he jumps. Alex stares at him wide-eyed, suddenly uncertain when he sees the glint in Burr’s eyes.

He shivers.

Burr nods, like he’s said something. “I want you to trust me. Can you do that?”

Could he? Alex nods before thinking, not entirely sure if he means it. It’s too late to take back though and the small smile Burr graces him with makes him want to bundle the words up in his chest.

“Alright.” He squeezes Alex’s shoulder, before stepping back. “Take off your clothes. Everything but your underwear.”

Alex closes his eyes, tensing. He reaches for his buttons, heart fluttering, uncertain where this is going. Burr’s eyes remain heavy on him as he strips out of his shirt, staying silent when Alex hesitates on his pants, at last shucking them off in one quick movement.

He wraps his arms around his stomach when they’re gone, ducking under Burr’s scrutiny. The hair on his arms rises. The uncertainty makes his pulse race.

To his confusion, Burr steps around him, picking up the files on his desk and stacking them on the floor. He clears the desk efficiently, pulling away the chair last, leaving the smooth expanse of the dark wood gleaming in the low light. He turns back around, fixing Alex with an expectant stare.

It doesn’t take a genius to know what Burr is asking. Alex flushes, hesitating, before crossing the room to the desk.

He bends over slowly, unwilling to uncross his arms. He presses forearms into the table, craning his neck to see Burr behind him.

“Lay flat.”

Hands press between his shoulder blades, pushing his chest to the smooth wood. The desk is low enough that the bend is a stretch, his hips digging into the edge. At Burr’s urging, he stretches his hands above his head and presses his palms flat.

Burr’s hand withdraws. He kicks Alex’s legs apart, moving them just beyond shoulder length. Alex presses his cheek against the cool wood, straining to see Burr behind him.

Burr’s hand returns, smoothing a long line down Alex’s spine, stopping in the hollow of his back with just enough pressure to hold him down.

“We left things too long unresolved,” Burr says, body lost above him. His voice is too musing to be casual. “And you broke our rules, didn’t you?”

Alex abruptly stops searching for Burr’s face, squeezing his eyes shut. His body grows tense, Burr’s hand on his back the only thing keeping him from curling inward.

He wants to say, I’m sorry, but the words get caught up in his throat.

Burr’s thumb works a circle into the small of Alex’s back. “What’s your safeword?”

“Red.” He croaks the word, head spinning. “I don’t – ”

The pain hits before he hears the crack. It takes him a moment to register the sensation; a burning that quickly spreads across his thigh, growing, rather than fading as the seconds pass.

Burr hit him. He jerks only belatedly, nails digging into the desk. He doesn’t straighten up, but he should. He wants to. Burr’s thumb is still rubbing circles into his back.

“That was one,” Burr says calmly. “Give me a color.”

Alex squirms. The pain is fading, but his thigh still seems to tingle. He shakes his head, face screwing up. He takes a deep breath.

“I don’t – I told you I didn’t like that.”

“I’m not asking you what you like. I’m asking you for a color.”

There’s some betrayed feeling clawing in his chest. His ribs feel too small and too sharp, digging against the desk, not letting him draw a full breath. He shakes his head again, biting his lip.

Burr’s hand runs up and down his back, squeezing gently. Alex has to close his eyes, confusion welling in him.

“Give me your color, Hamilton – now.”

“Green.” It escapes him in a whisper. He doesn’t know why he says it, but Burr’s hand slips back down again.

“Good.”

The word spreads like a cool wave through his limbs. The relief lasts only a second, before Burr cracks his hand down again, this time on the other leg.

This time, Alex hears it. The pain yanks him out of his head. Two more bursts of pain land rapidly, sound muted by the material of Alex’s briefs.

“Ow, Jesus!”

He squirms away instinctively, only for the weight on his back to increase, pinning him.

“There’s your warm up. It will be ten hits today. Count them, or we’ll start over.” Burr pauses. There’s no nonsense in his voice. “Color?”

“Green, but – ”

His protest is cut off as Burr hits him again, harder this time. Alex’s palms squeal across the table, scrambling out.

“Fuck!” He ducks his head, shoulder’s curling. The word stop is on the tip of his tongue, but it doesn’t come out. “I don’t – ”

Another blow, even harder this time, lands atop the first. He chokes on a sound, staying down only thanks to the pressure of Burr’s hand on his spine.

Count them, Alexander,” Burr drawls. “Let’s try again.” He’s far too gleeful at the prospect.

He has to brace himself. He tells himself this as he locks his knees, tensing terribly in anticipation. It’s all he can do before the next hit lands on his thigh. His knees quiver. His skin crackles then throbs, hot and painful. This doesn’t feel like a game. This is painful. He gasps down another breath, chest heaving.

There is a pregnant pause above his head.

“One,” he grounds out, defiance bubbling beneath his skin. His instincts tear between fight and flight.

“And again.”

The same crack of pain – a strike like lightning followed by a smoldering burn.

“Two.”

He grits his teeth, turning his forehead onto the desk. He can take this. This is nothing.

“Three.”

A familiar rage is building inside of him. Why is he just sitting here? He’s just going to let someone hit him?

“Four – Five!”

The fifth hit centers on his ass, driving his hips against the desk. A gasp escapes him – the pressure suddenly awakening a heat low in his belly. Almost the second he realizes it, he feels his cock swelling between his legs. Shame crashes down after it. He’s pushing back against the desk, burying his face in his arms before he can think.

“Hands flat,” Burr barks, suddenly sharp above him.

He’s too slow complying. Burr reaches across his body, chest aligning briefly against his back, pushing Alex down. He breath stutters out when the pressure forces his hips down, grinding his cock against the desk as Burr yanks his arms up, stretching Alex’s body.

“Stay down,” Burr commands lowly. His breath tickles Alex’s ear. He wants to press up – wants to feel the full length of Burr’s body against his own. He fights the inclination down, humiliation welling deep within him.

He squeezes his eyes shut, fingers clamping down on the edge of the desk when Burr pulls back. His thighs are trembling to stay where they are – every inch of him wants to pull himself closed – or threatens to rut against the desk. He can’t remember the last time he felt arousal like this. It’s taking his first gasp of fresh air after month and months of breathing in fog.

The pain – when the next strike hits – it almost secondary.

It blooms white and delicious across his thighs. He quivers, pressing himself harder against the unforgiving surface, refusing to move an inch.

“S-Six,” he squeaks. If Burr notices his growing problem he says nothing.

The next strike lands firmly on his ass and he squeals. He can’t help it. There is nothing gentle about Burr’s actions now. He stutters out the count, panting. He turns his face into the desk, running from the humiliation that chases down the pain pleasure.

He wishes he could see Burr’s face. What a sight he must make, stretched out and sweating across the dark wood. He wants to see if he’s made any impression on Burr – if Burr has even noticed. What would Burr’s expression look like if he knew?

He twists, but he can’t twist far enough in the position to make out Burr.

There is no getting away from this. He tries to close his legs just once. Burr’s feet are there immediately, relentlessly spreading him again. His voice is cool – calm and collect – and distant, as though he hardly cares about the mess Alex is making.

“Such a fragile thing, you are,” Burr says, and the hand on Alex’s back lightens up just enough for Burr to continue his little circles. He’s mocking. “I’ve barely even struck you. I thought you were so strong.”

There is no chance for Hamilton to reply. Burr’s next strike lands solidly on his ass, filling his world with a flash of pain that somehow drips itself directly into Alex’s cock.

He doesn’t understand. His body is betraying him. It’s doesn’t make any sense.

“You don’t need any help, do you? You can do it all yourself.”

Burr’s voice is too gentle for his sneer. Alex buries his face in the crook of his arm, mortified when his cheek slides on the desk. He’s crying.

He’s pathetic.

He misses the next strike.

Burr tsks, nails tapping against the hot skin of his thigh, sending little shock waves rattling through Alex’s world. “Too bad,” he chides, “that was number nine. You nearly made it. I suppose you’ll simply need to pay more attention next time.”

The words muddle in Alex’s head. As if to demand that attention Burr lays three blows in rapid succession – all on the same spot on his ass until Hamilton’s knees actually buckle. Burr braces him easily, two hands on his hips keeping him from sliding off the table.

“One – Two – Three.”

He’s gasping now. The desk under him is wet with sweat and tears and saliva. He can’t seem to close his mouth. Everything is too hot. He’s burning up inside.

Burr must be able to see his state. His erection is too heavy – his body is too warm – for Burr not to notice. He’s holding himself on a knife’s edge, trying desperately not to move. Every blow sends his hips against the table, the sweet friction mingling with the pain in his ass and thighs.

And now Burr’s hands are on his hips, holding him up. Holding him down, Alex realizes suddenly. Burr’s fingers dig into the skin in his hips, holding him down at the same time as he waits for Alex to get his feet underneath himself. It traps Alex’s erection against the table, the pressure strong and uncomfortable and perfect.

Alex straightens up his knees with a gasp, regaining himself. He regrets it the instant Burr’s hands pull away, squeezing his skin before withdrawing. One hand returns to his back while the other draws up, away, before descending with the full force of Burr’s weight against him.

“Four.”

And again, quicker this time.

Five.”

They blur after. Alex must get the numbers right because the hits keep coming. He doesn’t know when his trickle of tears turns to sobbing, only feels it when he moves his head and spit strings up from the desk.

Burr’s hand is heavy on his back again, confusing against the blows that land. He isn’t tense. He isn’t bracing. Burr’s practically holding him against the desk as he reigns his way across Alex’s body.

There’s a balloon in his chest that keeps expanding, pushing out his lungs until his ribs creak.

“Nine,” his lips say from under a great wave. It doesn’t sound like him. Nothing sounds like him. He isn’t like this. He isn’t.

The hand on his back squeezes. He doesn’t understand how that pressure manages to ring out from the haze of his burning skin.

There’s no mercy in the last blow. Burr puts his weight behind it, hollowing Alex’s world into a flash of white heat, leaving him gaping against the table. It silences the shivers in his body, muting the thudding rush of his pulse. Even after the initial sting begins to fade, he floats under the low swell of the pain, riding the warm ebb and flow.

This time, Burr’s hand doesn’t lift. It stays there, a warm pressure against his throbbing ass.

It takes a minute to hear Burr’s voice over his own ragged breathing.

“It’s alright, Hamilton. It’s over. You did so well.”

Alex doesn’t feel like he’s done well. The words drag him out of that warm daze, leaving him shaking and cold with regret.

“I’m sorry. God, I’m so sorry. I was terrible. I – ”

The hand on his ass lifts, slipping upwards to glide through his sweaty hair. “It’s over, now. I forgive you.”

Has Burr always been this close? He doesn’t think so.

The sudden realization that he can’t see Burr’s face irks him. He squirms, attempting to roll himself over only for his ass and thighs to light up, shooting sparks up and down his spine, sending him hissing back to the table.

Burr’s on him in an instant, firmly keeping him down. “Careful,” he says, before he slowly helps to peel Alex’s skin from off the desk, helping him to his feet. It’s a painful mockery of their positions last night, with Alex’s arm draped across Burr’s shoulders as the other man bears his weight.

For Alex it’s delicious. He buries his head against Burr’s sweater, shuddering when Burr strokes his hair. His eyelids are heavy. He thinks he could fall asleep just as he is. Burr would catch him, wouldn’t he?

Burr chuckles, his chest humming beneath Alex’s face.

“Come on,” he says. “Let’s get you laying down.”

A brilliant idea. A wonderful, excellent, million-dollar idea.

He nods eagerly, stumbling along with Burr as they step to the bed. Burr stops him before he can collapse down on it, pulling back the comforter and sheets.

Alex heaves himself forward with a sigh, burying his face in a soft pillow. His ass smarts at him, the erection he’s almost forgotten about really smarts at him, but for a moment everything is perfect.

He fumbles out a hand, reaching for Burr, frowning when he doesn’t find him. His eyes squint open, but he can’t see Burr either. He jerks up with a start, grunting when the pain flares white-hot again.

Burr is several feet away from the bed, which is several feet too far. He turns at Alex’s grunt, eyes widening comically when he sees Alex valiantly struggling to get off of the bed. He rushes back, grabbing hold of Alex’s shoulders.

“Shh, no. What is it? What’s wrong?”

Alex isn’t interested in Burr’s gentle voice right now. He glares at the other man, impressing upon him his stupidity. His words are still there, but it seems like a tremendous effort to try to use them. They only get him in trouble any way.

Instead, he grabs hold of Burr’s sweater, wrapping his fingers firmly in the material. It’s as soft as he’d imagined. His arms are still tired, shaking while taking his weight. He drops to his chest again, keeping his fingers cinched and glaring up at Burr expectantly.

Burr gets the message, sitting down on the edge of the bed without trying to remove Alex’s fingers.

“Alright. Alright,” he says and this time Alex lets the soft sounds roll over him, raindrops on dry dirt.

Burr goes back to stroking him, long hard lines down his back. Somewhere in the haze, Alex’s arousal becomes secondary. He can still feel his erection trapped beneath his body and the bed, but it no longer seems urgent. Burr’s hands on his back are enough. He can’t imagine anything else as good.

“I’d like to clean you up,” Burr says, after a little while, and Alex’s eyes come right back into focus, narrowing at him. “Would it be alright if I go the bathroom? I’ll come right back.”

It feels strange to be asked to give permission. Alex doesn’t like it. He pulls his fingers away from Burr’s sweater reluctantly, hoping that's enough.

Burr squeezes his shoulders, before standing up. Alex watches him suspiciously as he leaves the room, already starting a count in his head. If he’s not back in ninety-seconds Alex will get him. Don’t think he won’t.

Burr comes back by the time he’s reached seventy-one, a damp wash cloth in one hand and a bottle of lotion Alex recognizes from his own bathroom.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Burr says and his lips twitch upwards. Alex ignores him, frowning until Burr finally settles back on the bed, close enough for Alex to reach him.

Burr starts in with the washcloth immediately, which is warm and pleasant for about half a minute before it cools. Alex doesn’t mind. Burr wipes away the sweat on his face first, before swiping down his shoulders. He chases it with a dry cloth Alex hadn’t noticed, which leaves him feeling nice and clean.

He levels up the lotion next, catching Alex’s eyes.

“You don’t have to, but this will feel good. Can I put this on you?”

On him. With this hands.

Alex nods without thinking. He only begins to realize his mistake when Burr settles more on the bed, squeezing out a quarter of lotion onto his hands before gliding them up Alex’s thighs and –

“Oh.”

He buries his face into his pillow, mortified. His arousal rushes from a pleasant hum in the back of his mind to a roll of heat he nearly presses into the mattress.

Burr’s warmed the lotion on his hands and it slides over the raw skin of Alex’s thighs in a stroke that feels far too familiar. The pressure instantly helps with the lingering sting, but it’s the glide, the way Burr’s palms stroke up and down his legs, that consumes him. Burr isn’t shy either. His fingers come up to the edge of his boxers, occasionally going too far and bumping his ass outright. Alex tries to hold himself still, trying not to tense too noticeably or do something truly embarrassing.

“Is this too much?” Burr asks. He’s at the hem of Alex’s boxes, stroking idly.

Alex shakes his head, wordlessly, not looking up. Burr makes a contemplative noise above him, still not moving his hands.

“Can I take these off? I could get up there too.”

Take off his briefs. Take off his briefs.

There is no possible way for Burr to miss his erection then. There is no possible way for Alex to hold himself back with Burr’s hands on his bare ass.

Alex shakes his head quickly, biting his lip when Burr’s hands instantly slip down away from the border. 

“Okay. Just a bit more then, I think.”

Alex doesn’t say a word. Burr continues his ministrations for a few more minutes, but his hands don’t skim the line of his briefs again. Alex tries not to feel disappointed.

When he finally pulls away Alex is a mix of arousal and regret. He watches as Burr wipes the rest of the lotion off his hands, too heavy to look away when Burr glances back at him.

“I should let you sleep, Hamilton.”

He knows Burr is right, but the idea sours in him. He reaches out, tangling one hand back in Burr’s sweater, pleased when it earns him a low chuckle.

“I’ll stay,” Burr promises. “You go to sleep. I’ll stay.”

Alex squints at him suspiciously, tugging on his grip. Burr laughs again, then exceeds Alex’s expectations by climbing onto the bed, putting his back to the bed frame with his legs tucked up underneath.

He reaches over, pulling out Alex’s hair tie with a gentle touch, before digging his nails into Alex’s scalp, instantly reducing him to a puddle of goop. His eyes close despite himself and he finds himself drifting, almost sleeping, the lingering pangs of his arousal and anxiety and guilt falling silent under a heavy stupor.

Only one last discomfort buzzes in his chest.

“Alex,” he corrects, mumbling the word into his pillow.

The hand on his head pauses, before the fingers dig in, scratching just slightly as Burr finishes the stroke.

“Alexander,” he agrees and Alex drifts off to sleep.