A/N: Hey people, here's a bit of Fluffy Lams for you! My Jeffergelica fic is on the way to being updated, but I missed writing about my otp, so here we have their victorious return! And Laurens has a secret! I hope you enjoy this, thanks so much for reading!
My Dear Laurens' (with an apostrophe after Laurens)
During the year since Alexander and John had first become a couple, so few problems crossed their joined path that their relationship became one of almost impossible delight. So impossible, in fact, that the perpetual pessimist and unrivalled polymath that was Alexander Hamilton began to suspect that it was too sweet to last, too perfect to actually be real, and so effortless that surely there ought to be some lurking danger, something large waiting in the wings to destroy the best thing in his life.
It was a tragic flaw created by a childhood in which nothing good ever remained constant, but the longer something so achingly pleasant as his relationship with John Laurens continued, the more Hamilton felt compelled to prepare for it to crumble into dust. He knew each time his thumbs traced constellations between the freckles peppering his lover's entire body could be the last, and that every time John's lips grazed his jaw, neck, hips, it brought them closer to what Alexander assumed was the inevitable end of their incomprehensible euphoria. It was a blessing in some ways, as it made him cherish each fleeting moment and encouraged him to fall even deeper in love with every passing day. But as much as he adored Laurens, he had learned early on that loving something doesn't automatically guarantee that you get to keep it.
Which is why he jumped to such a drastically wrong conclusion when he let himself into Laurens' apartment and overheard something which made his blood run cold in terror that his deepest fear had been realized:
Initially, there was no sign of the young man. Then, from the bedroom, there came a sound, muffled slightly by the door which Alex had never seen closed before, save for that occasion. John was laughing, yet there was no excesses noise from any device which might have brought such a sound to his boyfriend's lips and sent it spiralling joyfully into the air, no television, no music (which indicated no laptop or book), nothing whatsoever. Curious, Alexander approached the bedroom door, resolving to eavesdrop against his better judgment so as to understand what was going on to elicit these small but significant changes in his lover. As he neared, however, Laurens began talking, the words becoming increasingly identifiable as the shorter man drew closer.
"Martha! Shut up, you idiot, I told you I was going to call you," he scolded affectionately, his smile audible in his words even when visual aid could not confirm it. So he's calling someone. A phone call. It was nothing unusual to hear John so cheerful, but it was his next words that truly unnerved Alexander. "How's my favourite girl?" A short pause which seemed to stretch into an agonizingly long time, before John chuckled indulgently and replied, "I love you too, gorgeous."
Though he understood little, Alexander had heard more than enough. He felt on the brink of gagging as he turned away, hurriedly leaving the apartment and closing the door shut behind him, softly enough that Laurens wouldn't hear him and investigate - he didn't think he could stomach listening to John's denial, and he certainly wouldn't be able to make it through a confession. He rushed down the four flights of stairs between the place which had until two minutes ago been the home of something ethereal and heavenly where he could relish the adoration between himself and his lover, descending to the harsh, merciless reality of the world. Once he had escaped the boundaries of Laurens' domain, the place they had inhabited in such happiness, and found himself back on the New York streets, he discovered his legs were unable to function. He couldn't seem to function now that the man who held his heart had been torn away from him, leaving him a floundering corpse; Helpless, he sank to the ground, leaning against a wall regardless of the stench coming from the dustbin at his side and the grime which instantly coated his pale grey sweater and closed his eyes, trying to force oxygen into his lungs despite the fact that his chest felt as though it was closing in on itself and choking him; His brow was coated in sweat and his hands were shaking as he dragged them through his hair in distress, silently cursing himself for being so naive as to let himself love someone like John Laurens, so handsome that of course he would be in high demand and so impulsive that perhaps he was unable to resist when someone flirted with him. Someone like Martha, whoever she may be.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid Alexander, haven't you learned that you can never have it all? You're destined to be unsatisfied, fool, not exist in some bubble of domestic bliss," he muttered to himself, his lips moving so fast he would have seemed almost delusionally feverish to anyone who happened to glance at him for more than a heartbeat. All those unfortunate enough that their eyes did happen to land on him immediately looked away before that observation could really settle disturbingly in their minds, however: No one could stand to watch as a student so young visibly fell apart on the pavement.
All but one person, that is, the exception being a classmate he spoke to from time to time. Maria wasn't particularly familiar with Alexander, but she knew it wasn't normal for anyone to be shivering and gleaming with an unhealthy coating of sweat, particularly someone as intelligent and ordinarily rational, well maybe not exactly rational but definitely able to justify his every action without fail, as the student before her, she reflected as she noticed him. Unlike the countless others who pretended to ignore the sight, she made her way swiftly to his side, kneeling down beside him and inspecting him with confusion.
"Alex, it's Maria Lewis. What's happened?" She set a hand on his shoulder, in case he was so lost in the maze of his mind that he didn't even register her presence from sound or sight alone.
He groaned, a sound which caused her heart to clench in pity, before moaning, "John..."
Immediately Maria was alarmed. She, like everyone else she knew, had seen how besotted the young couple were, and any issue regarding Hamilton's boyfriend was definitely a major cause for concern. Urgently trying to get more information from him, she pushed, "What happened with John? Is he hurt?" Alexander shook his head but did not reply. She tried, "Have you had an argument?"
He shook his head, but reconsidered, and settled on shrugging. We haven't fought yet, but I think we will soon enough.
Sighing, Maria took his hands in hers, trying to pull him to his feet as she coaxed, "Come on, Alex, I don't know how to help you like this. Let's get you home, and I can call Hercules and Lafayette for you."
He reluctantly complied, at a loss for anything else to do, and allowed Maria to support the majority of his body weight on her shoulder as she wrapped an arm around his waist and lead him down the route to his apartment, vaguely recalling the address from when they had been on the same side of the debate team and she had visited him to go over their notes.
When they reached his front door, Alexander had come to his senses sufficiently to reach for his key, but his hands continued to quiver too much for him to be able to twist it into the lock. Maria helped him, and together they staggered inside, Alex collapsing instantly onto his sofa and Maria regarding him sympathetically as she stood trying to catch her breath after undertaking the exhausting feat of dragging the short but deceptively stocky young man down the street.
Remembering her intention to call his friends to help the student due to her absolute uncertainty, Maria asked, "Alex, can I borrow your cell? I don't have Hercules or Lafayette's number." He dug inside his pocket and tossed it poorly across the room. The dutiful woman retrieved it and discovered that the device was locked. Hardly expecting to be correct, she absently typed in four letters, J, O, H, N, and was overwhelmed with a fresh burst of pity as the screen brightened and his home screen, a selfie featuring Alexander's face up screwed tightly in an unabashedly enthusiastic laugh while Laurens pressed a kiss to his cheek. Having experienced more than her fair share of negativity in a relationship, Maria herself had learned to be sceptical about romance, but even she had to admit that when she saw the pair together, she could understand why people believed in soulmates and true love. What the hell could have gone wrong? Unwilling to dwell on the many ways she knew a relationship could turn sour, she instead entered the contact list and found the number for Hercules. She dialled, and he picked up almost immediately.
"Yo Alex where the heck are you? I thought you were picking up John then coming straight over?" His booming voice was cheerful, and other voices could be heard distinctly in the background, along with what sounded like the soundtrack to The Lion King II.
Regret echoing in her words, the girl apologised, "Sorry, not Alex. Maria Lewis. Are you with Lafayette?"
"And the Schuyler sisters. Why, what's up?" Hercules asked, his loud, abrasive demeanour replaced with an almost unrecognizable sensitivity, the polar opposite of his previously displayed enthusiasm.
"I wish I knew. I think Alexander's had some kind of disagreement with Laurens, I found him in shaking and muttering, hunched up in the street."
There was a pause as the tailor drew a sharp breath. Silence fell on the other end of the phone, including the noise of the movie. Then, he confirmed without even being explicitly asked, "We'll be right over."
When Hercules had said "we", Maria had expected himself and the Frenchman, which was what she had told Alexander when she fetched him a glass of water and squeezed onto the sofa, lifting his feet and setting them on her lap. Instead, the tiny apartment quickly became flooded with six newcomers: the two she had anticipated, along with Angelica, Eliza and Peggy Schuyler, and James Madison, who seemed undeniably out of place amongst the otherwise tightly knit group.
As one, the newcomers fell on the disconsolate man, embracing him and trying to soothe him when his undue self-blaming ramblings gave way to sobs, all apart from James, who busied himself as he set about the task of making eight cups of coffee.
"Mon Dieu, Alexandre, what has happened?" The Frenchman demanded as he slipped Alexander's head onto his lap and wrapped his lanky arms around Hamilton's face.
Strengthened by the presence of his closest friends, Alexander could be persuaded to attempt a coherent reply, "John... He betrayed me."
"How?" Peggy asked as she leaned into Lafayette to pet at Alexander's tangled mane, genuinely puzzled by the sudden unprecedented turn in what had seemed an idyllic relationship.
"He cheated," Alex moaned, mournful as he lamented the death of love.
Shocked at the very idea, Mulligan checked from where he kneeled on the floor and rested his head back against Alexander's stomach with palpable disbelief emitted from his words, "Did you find him with someone?"
The Caribbean boy shook his head, revealing, "I heard him on the phone - or I assume it was on the phone. He was talking to a girl, and laughing." He winced to recall it, hating that the thought of Laurens' laugh turned his stomach where it once warmed his heart.
Struggling to remain optimistic, Eliza, who had settled herself beside Maria with his knees on her lap, reached over and took his hands to squeezed them tightly as she gently suggested, "It could be perfectly innocent. You know he laughs when he talks to any of us on the phone."
"And besides, if it was definitely a girl, surely he couldn't be cheating. I thought he was gay?" Angelica added, stroking his shoulder as she leaned over the back of the sofa.
"Me too. But he's definitely not, going on what I heard," Hamilton muttered, defeated.
Maria tried to contradict his certainty, "Alex -"
"He said I love you too."
The pile of limbs bundled onto and around the sofa exchanged looks ranging from bewildered to furious, none of the ordinarily verbose cluster of friends able to find the right words for the occasion.
Eventually, it was the quietest of them all, James Madison, who broke the stunned silence, making his was over to Alex and passing him a steaming, sweet mug of coffee and sadly murmuring, "Sorry, Hamilton."
His dark eyes flicked up to James, and he mumbled his appreciation as he grasped the mug, not even considering how strange it was that he had decided to show up at his apartment, tagging along with the herd when he learned that something had happened to the man he worked with from time to time.
Chipping in with something equally well-meaning but futile, Hercules remarked, "That really sucks."
"That boy's got some explaining to do," Peggy observed, watching as her eldest sister's facial expression quickly grew threatening.
Alexander noticed too, and grumbled, "Leave it, Angelica. Whatever you're thinking is a bad idea." He knew her well enough to realize she'd heed his advice to just about the same extent as he was prone to heed suggestions made by others. As in, it was entirely useless trying to interrupt when she had an idea in her head.
Sure enough, she retorted, "He can't just cheat on you and avoid our questions - he owes you that much at the very least after all you've done for him over the past year!" With that, she pulled out her phone and aggressively dialed Laurens' number. He answered before the first ring had even ended.
"Angelica, why is there no one at Herc's? I thought we were meeting there, but Alex didn't pick me up and now you're all -"
"- With Alexander. In his apartment," she replied curtly, interrupting whatever he might have been about to say disdainfully. "You'd better get over here too, we need to talk," she instructed emphatically.
Still at a loss for what had occurred unbeknownst to him, John clarified, "We need to talk as in you and I or we need to talk as in all of us?"
"All of us. Especially Alex. Now hurry up," she demanded, hanging up on him before he could even enquire as to why she was so obviously irritated with him.
The journey from Mulligan's place to Hamilton's was brief, but it was a long enough walk that the group had time to console their beloved Hamilton to the point where his tears were silent and his shaking was minimal. Even so, when the accused lover arrived and let himself in, the sombre atmosphere made it apparent to Laurens as soon as he entered that something was terribly wrong. As soon as he set eyes on his boyfriend, he was hit with a wave of fear as he stepped closer and demanded, "Alexander, what is it?"
His approach was blocked by Angelica, who came to stand in front of him and insisted, "You don't get to see him until he is ready to see you, we don't need you to make this any worse. One thing we do need, however, is for you to explain yourself." She stood with her chin raised defiantly towards him and her hands on her hips, trying and succeeding to intimidate the oblivious man.
Confused, he glanced past her, only for her to move and block him again, at which point he had no choice but to ask, "What am I meant to have done?"
Exasperated, Hercules called from his position on the floor, "Come on man, if you did it, at least admit it. You know he's not stupid."
"I do know that," he countered, "but what I don't know is what you're all suddenly accusing me of and what has apparently made my Alexander cry. So could somebody please tell me?" His own frustration was becoming more obvious as his words kept coming, more annoyed at being kept away from his love than at being blamed for some unknown crime, and he was almost shouting when he finished, which only made his boyfriend's tears fall faster.
Comparatively quiet after John's outburst, Peggy explained, "He thinks you cheated on him, John."
Initially came confusion, and then horror at the very idea of straying from the boy who had well and truly captured his heart. Shoving past Angelica and ignoring her indignant shriek of complaint, he made his way to Alex, crouching down so that he could stare directly into those deep, dark, hypnotic eyes and murmur truthfully, "I would never do that to you, Alex. Baby girl, you know I wouldn't - I love you, my dearest Alexander." No one dared to move and interrupt the sensitive moment, so Laurens slowly reached for his lover's hands, taking them from Eliza and kissing them fondly as he clasped them together.
Much as he wanted to believe it, Hamilton couldn't forget what he'd overheard. He remained stiff and afraid to relax into his gentle touch as he informed his lover, "I heard you talking to her. It was a girl called Martha, and I know it wasn't your sister because you never call her by her actual name, and you told her I love you too, so please don't lie to me if there's -" when I know there simply has to be "- someone else." He gazed reproachfully at the man he adored, sure that whatever his protests, John couldn't justify his behaviour as anything less than evidence of a sordid affair.
But on this occasion, Alexander Hamilton was wrong. John couldn't conceal his grin of relief as he repeated, "I haven't cheated on you, I couldn't, I promise. What you overheard..." He took a deep breath, preparing himself to admit that even if it wasn't exactly what Hamilton suspected, he had been lying to everyone ever since he met them. It was no easy task to come to terms with, but it was surely destined to have a slightly better outcome than the alternative of losing his lover. That is what he told himself as, with a slightly more nervous smile, he confessed, "I wasn't telling Martha I loved her. I'm gay, everyone knows that! I was telling it to her - no, to my -" Come on, John, just spit it out already "- my daughter." As soon as the shocking words left his mouth, the eight burning pairs of eyes staring intently into him shifted from expressing blame and dislike to being absolutely incapable of comprehending the unforseen news he had just admitted. Smile faltering as his former relief gave way to anxiety, he continued, "Yep, I have a kid. Her name is Frances Eleanor Laurens-Manning, she's three years old, her birthday is on February the 18th, and her mother was a good friend of mine in high school."
"And... You never thought to tell anyone?" Maria asked, feeling detatched enough that it wasn't such an astounding piece of news that it rendered her speechless like the rest of the sofa's inhabitants, but simultaneously feeling sufficiently part of the group following her valiant selfless efforts to getting Alexander home and rallying his troops around him to have the courage to ask the question all of them wondered about.
Shrugging guiltily, John pointed out, "It's not really the kind of thing you can just slip into a conversation."
"No, but I'd argue that it's the kind of thing your boyfriend should be aware of," Eliza suggested, uncharacteristically stern when it came to a very good friend of hers, matching Maria's expression of scepticism.
Laurens sighed, fully prepared to defend himself, until Alexander squeezed his hands, reclaiming his boyfriend's attention. His tears had stopped now thanks to the shock, but it left his expression hollow, practically unreadable, and his voice hoarse as he asked, "Can I see a picture?"
John nodded, pulling one of his hands away from Alex and reaching into his pocket. But instead of retrieving his phone, he went instead for his wallet, flipping it open and taking first a photo of himself and Alexander and then a picture of their entire group on the last day of term from the clear section, leaving a picture of a young child who could only be his: her skin was slightly darker than her father's, but her eyes were the very same shade of hazel, glimmering with mischief, her smile was wide and lit up her whole face just as John's had the power to do, her unruly dark curls were tied into two bunches, and her beaming face was adorned with a generous scattering of freckles.
His impenetrable gaze softening, Alexander commented sincerely, "She's very pretty. She looks just like you."
Laurens grinned, obviously proud of his little girl now that the opportunity to talk about her had arisen, as he confirmed, "Yes, she's beautiful. And already a talented artist, as I hear it." Becoming serious again, he continued, "I know I should have warned you about her, and I'm so sorry you had to go through all this to find out the truth. But please, don't think I don't still love you just because you've learned something new about me. I do, I swear."
"I know you do," Alex replied, glad to be able to believe him wholeheartedly now he was certain of his beloved's loyalty. Finding that his relief came accompanied by his ability to bargain, he begrudgingly admitted, "I love you too, but if you want me to understand this then you're going to have to explain it."
"I can, I will," Laurens assured, almost too quickly. Had he been hesitant, the huddle surrounding the sofa might have allowed the couple to proceed in privacy, but his eagerness to set the record straight made them confident that he was so keen to confess his secrets that he would do so regardless of an audience. And they were correct, as the only form of stalling for time that he undertook was to adjust from kneeling to sitting cross-legged so that he might be more comfortable before he began to recount his tale:
"Martha and I were good friends, we had similar interests, we were both sixteen, and we were both very, very gay. But we grew up in the south, and even though we were both lucky enough to have parents who at least pretended to be tolerant of same-sex attraction, there was still a lot of negativity surrounding our community."
"There would be where you grew up," James noted, nodding his understanding.
"So, I guess we felt like we were letting people down - don't look at me like that, I've not always been so proud of my identity as I am now - and we tried dating. Only for about a week, but my parents were delighted that I'd finally made a better choice," here he paused to sneer in disgust at Henry Laurens' exact words, before carrying on, "until our little experiment came to a very sudden stop when we actually decided to test whether we could manage to pass as heterosexuals."
Amused, Lafayette teased, "How romantically you phrase it. I presume you mean you -"
"Yep. That was what confirmed to me that there was no way I could ever be anything but a raving homosexual."
"Obviously," muttered Angelica.
"Obviously. Frances wasn't planned, but these accidents can happen when you're both just trying to get it over and done with and then forget about it straight away. There was no chance of us getting rid of her, not that either of us wanted to anyway, but our parents are very much against that, too."
"Is there anything your parents do genuinely support?" Peggy wondered absentmindedly, not really expecting an answer.
"Evidently not," Laurens chuckled, before continuing with his narrative. "Anyway, we worked at raising her together for a while, but when it came to applying to colleges, Columbia was the only place I could even consider attending, which meant that I had to move to New York, incidentally at the same time as Martha getting offered a job which paid too well to turn down in South Carolina, so she had to stay there. We decided that Frances needs her more than me, so now we live apart."
"Five states apart. How can you manage without her?" Alexander asked, narrowing his eyes as he pondered over his lover's story.
"Video calls, mostly. I know it's not ideal, and I know how you feel about Dads who can't be asked to be there for their kids, which is part of the reason why I was worried about telling you, in case you assumed the worst of me. But I do care about them both, I send them all the money I can spare and I talk to them whenever I get the chance." His voice held a pleading note, begging Hamilton to understand. A few calls here and there and some spare cash isn't much, I know, but it's more than his Father ever gave to him. I only hope it's enough to show him I truly care.
"Whenever you get the chance... Which is presumably less frequently since you've been with me," Alexander realized, connecting the fact that he had been spending any moment he could find with Laurens and the consequential reduction in opportunities to contact his child easily.
"Well, yes," Laurens admitted, clearly growing increasingly embarrassed as Hamilton inspected his strategy to fathering.
Alexander closed his eyes, mulling over the information as he wondered how to handle the thoroughly unexpected situation. Slowly an idea began to form in his mind. Curious, he enquired, "When was the last time you saw them in person?"
That question was one he was not immediately knew the answer to. Thinking carefully, he realized, "It's been over a year now." Since before I began my relationship with Alexander - not that it's his fault, because it definitely isn't, it's my fault for being so easily distracted by a daring man with sharp wit and shiny hair and eyes which seem to ensnare my heart.
His lover opened those enchanting eyes, now aglow with excitement as a tentative smile struck his tear-stained face and filled Laurens' heart with fresh hope. "You have a little girl, and she needs a Daddy. But I don't think I could send her Father down there on his own in clear conscience."
Laurens blinked, trying to rouse himself from what could surely only be a dream. "Wait, do you mean -"
"Yes. You're going to see your daughter, and I'm coming with you." His words held the kind of gravity that left no room for compromise or dissuasion, but more than that, his brown eyes sprinkled with glimmers of light like stars in a galaxy were infinitely more compelling to the man who adored him than any words ever could be.
Matching Alexander's infectious grin, John agreed in something of a disbelieving daze, "Alright. Okay. You're coming to meet my little girl."
Escaping the cage formed of limbs slung affectionately around him by his supportive friends, Hamilton struggled to sit up, unintentionally placing his feet in Laurens' lap due to the other man's position sat on the floor right in front of him. Leaning forwards with a smirk as the low beginnings of groans of irritation from the rest of their friends began to build, he murmured softly, "You'd better believe it." With that, he brought his lips to John's and kissed him sweetly, causing the full force of protests to be muttered by their audience.
Pulling apart, both men chuckled sheepishly, pretending to be oblivious to the mirroring blushes present on both of their faces. Trying his best to pass it off as nonchalance, Laurens stood, pulling Alex up with him, and suggested, "You guys can watch the movie without us. I think I have some serious making up to do for my boyfriend." He exchanged a playful glance with him, subconsciously biting his lip as Hamilton raised his eyebrows and began to make his way towards his bedroom.
Left abandoned by the couple, the group fell to a bemused silence, waiting momentarily before they heard the unmistakable sound of bodies thudding against the wall. Shaking his head fondly, Lafayette remarked, "That sounds more like making out than making up to me, non?"
It had seemed like such a brilliant idea when they had been sitting in Alexander's small apartment, but by the time Alexander and John stepped off their plane (having bypassed the hideous task of baggage collection thanks to the miraculous feat they achieved: cramming their combined supplies into one rucksack and calling it hand luggage.) and into a cab, both men were equally anxious, stomachs flipping with more than simply a late bout of travel-sickness.
Bravely leaning into Alex despite the odd look from the driver Laurens had forgotten to expect, he murmured against his boyfriend's neck, "Nervous?" The answer was obvious from those dilated pupils and the relentless bobbing of his knees, but Laurens knew he would avidly deny any fears and in doing so, Hamilton's persuasive words might even be capable of convincing the Caribbean boy himself that he had no reason to worry.
As predicted, Alexander muttered, "Why should I be? She's a tiny, cute three year old." My boyfriend's tiny, cute three year old. My boyfriend John Laurens, who is twenty, has a tiny, cute three year old. Shrugging off Laurens' affection, he continued, "Even if I was, and I'm not saying I am, nervous energy is still energy, which is crucial for making small children like you." Or for running away as fast as my legs can carry me after being intimidated by the reality that Laurens, turtle-enthusiast, mop-head, art-lover Laurens has a child. Forcing a laugh, he added, "It's not like she's gonna bite me!" Yet the mere suggestion reignited his fears, and he turned wide eyed to Laurens with adorable vulnerability as he clarified, "She is past the biting stage, right?"
Helpless to retain his own sombre mood in the face of Alexander's emotional exposure, John giggled indulgently and nuzzled his head further into the crook of Hamilton's neck as he assured, "I think so, baby girl. I know she'll adore you, and you'll fall for her just as much."
"How do you know?" Alex whined, dropping his poor pretence of confidence as he reached for John's hand, interlocking their fingers in a similarly knotted formation as his frayed nerves at that moment in time.
Smiling with genuine certainty in his claim, John simply remarked, "It would be impossible for the pair of you not to bond - I am told she takes after me, and I know how strongly I feel about you."
At that cheesy but doubtlessly sincere comment, Alex softened, closing his eyes in contentment, and the pair allowed the rest of the drive to pass in silence. It wasn't long before the car slowed to a halt outside a small house with a modest front garden in a small, suburban neighbourhood where each and every house was an exact replica of the one placed either side of it in a meticulously neat row, reminiscent of toy dolls' houses in their uniformity.
Taking a deep breath to steady his tattered nerves, Laurens dredged up a reassuring smile for Alexander's benefit, attempting to feign confidence and being far more successful than his lover. Then, releasing the hand still held tightly in his, he stepped out of the car, walked around to the driver's window to pay the extortionate fare, and then opened Alex's door.
"C'mon, baby, I won't let anything bad happen. Martha's lovely, and Frances loves meeting new people." He waited, but when Alexander made no move to leave the vehicle, he had no choice but to lean into the car and reached for the seatbelt, fully prepared to baby his boyfriend if it seemed he was experiencing crippling fear so strongly that he couldn't even bring himself to set foot outside.
Even so, that was deemed humiliating enough by Alexander to prompt him to nudge Laurens away and undo his own seatbelt, grumbling insistently, "I'm not a kid, and I'm not afraid. I was just... taking my time." His lies were easily distinguishable as just that, but John humoured him and allowed him to slowly exit the car.
"Hey," Laurens squeezed Alex's shoulder comfortingly as he murmured, "I know this is pretty insane, but please try to relax. We came all this way, we might as well try and enjoy ourselves." Alex nodded, the tension he carried within him setting the very air around them alight with electricity, and John made his way along the path to the front door, before ringing the doorbell. Instantly the sound of small but heavy footsteps drawing closer at speed emerged, and through the frosted glass there appeared a smudge of colour, a small arm trying fruitlessly to reach the door handle. It was a few more seconds before a taller figure emerged, who presumably moved her daughter aside and proceeded to reach for the door and open it.
The door swung aside to reveal a slim woman with brown eyes and voluptuous black hair which fell all the way down to her waist in gentle waves. She smiled warmly in greeting as she opened her arms to envelope both men in a firm hug which sandwiched the small child between the three adults despite her indignant shriek, and Martha's enthusiastic exclamation was muffled slightly by the combination of Alexander's unruly loose mane and John's shoulder being placed inconveniently at the woman's mouth height as she welcomed, "Jack, and finally Alex! It's been too long. Even you, Hamilton, why have we not met sooner?" She pulled back, suddenly examining the stranger critically.
With an awkward laugh which came out as more of a strangled cough thanks to the way his throat tightened inexplicably, he excused himself, "It might have something to do with the fact that I only found out you existed last week."
She raised her eyebrows an pouted, silently accepting his alibi before glancing sceptically at John and remarking, "Why am I not surprised? You're always one for hiding things from your loved ones, aren't you, Jacky? And why you'd want to pretend you weren't the father of the most beautiful little girl in the world I can only begin to guess."
"Speaking of," Laurens replied, smoothly ignoring her gentle scolding and opting instead to kneel down before the three year old and smoothing her wild locks with a stroke of one of his large hands, he greeted, "I've missed you so much, my beautiful little thing!"
Frances grinned, evidently delighted despite the bashful blush appearing on her freckled cheeks, and leapt into John's torso, gripping to him ape-like as she hung her chubby arms around his neck and wrapped her little legs as far around his waist as their limited length would allow, giggling animatedly as she replied, "I missed you too, Daddy!" Her eyes were closed, blissful at the ecstatic reunion, but as she gradually opened them again, she released her Father promptly as she noticed the figure looming just beside them. Turning her inquisitive golden eyes on him, she enquired, "Who are you?"
John glanced up at Alexander and nodded his encouragement, prompting his boyfriend to join him knelt on the doorstep. Awkwardly, he began to offer his hand, then thought better of the overly formal gesture and snatched it back away, all the while introducing himself, "I am Alexander Hamilton. I'm... I'm in love with your Daddy."
He waited in anxious anticipation as Frances gasped, then proceeded to turn to John and clarify, "Daddy, do you love him too?" Laurens immediately nodded and opened his mouth to explain, but before he could the child had released a squeal of glee, jumping up and down rapidly as her eyes gleamed with disbelieving delight as she repeated time and time again, "Daddy's in love! Mommy, Daddy's in love! Daddy's in love with Ale -" here she paused, frowning in concentration as she slowly stated, "Al-ex-sanddd-er. Daddy's in love with Alessandra!"
Chuckling in amusement, Laurens began to correct her pronunciation, but the man in question quickly interrupted him, "Alessandra is perfectly fine, John."
Frances nodded smugly at her Father, which Alex had to snort at, causing the child to return her bright gaze to him. She hesitated momentarily, but she had taken an instant liking to this stranger, and she decided that if her Father loved him, he had to be nice. So, she wrapped her arms around him just as she had done to John, wisps of her hair tickling his nose, but he didn't dare pull away when she had accepted him without a second thought. When she released him, it was with a brilliant smile, albeit slightly anxious just like that of John Laurens when he was trying to paint on a brace face, and the suggestion, "You have lots of hair. I should braid it for you so it doesn't get in your way."
Though her voice was cheerful, there was a slight hint of rose dusting her cheeks, just like what happened to John when he was shy about asking something; she is presenting it as a suggestion, but it would massively upset her if I refused that sweet offer. He couldn't refrain from drawing comparisons between Father and daughter, and soon found himself grinning at the striking similarities. Most notably of all, Frances' readiness to accept and welcome others, just as Laurens did. Touched by her friendly response to him, Alexander confirmed, "I'd love that, Frances. You're so kind to offer!"
Instantly, her expression matched the delight in his, and she glanced up at Martha to excitedly inform her of the new development, "Alessandra said I could braid his hair, Mommy! Can you fetch the box?"
Martha smiled affectionately at her daughter and gently reminded her, "I can, but don't you think Daddy and Alex should come inside first? I'm sure they've had a long journey, why don't you show them to the sitting room while I get the box for you?"
Frances nodded obediently, turning back to the two men knelt in front of her. "The sitting room is this way," she explained, reaching for John's hand and pulling him down the hall. Just as Alexander rose to his feet to follow, he was stunned to feel a tiny hand wriggling its way between his fingers and clutching tightly to him. He gasped, just quietly enough that it escaped the attention of the small girl.
But Laurens noticed, and turned to him, smiling in relieved joy which Alexander swiftly mirrored. But his words were teasing and smug as he reminded, "I told you she loves new people."
Rolling his eyes, he muttered, "Shut up, Daddy."
Laurens laughed, but he had no time to fire back some playful retort before Frances was pulling them both to sit on the sofa. She looked from Alex to John and back again, passing her judgement: "I think you make a good couple. You both have long hair."
Chuckling, Laurens pulled his out of the tight bun he always kept it in for traveling and offered, "You can braid mine as well as Alex's if you like, sweetheart."
Frances nodded, just as Martha returned to the trio and remarked apologetically, "I wish the pair of you knew exactly what you were letting yourself in for..." Even despite her sombre warning, she passed her daughter the box she carried and continued, "There you go, baby. I'm sorry Jack, Alex, I can't watch her do this to you. I'll get you both some juice and leave you to it."
She left, and Frances clapped her chubby hands in eager anticipation as she ordered, "Sit on the floor!" Both men complied, neither fully heeding Martha's warning as they settled down, trusting the little girl and her mysterious box to do nothing terrible to them.
It was two hours later that Martha returned to the sitting room, and as soon as she entered, she doubled over, swarmed by an aggressive bout of laughter as her eyes fell on the gaudy sight of her best friend and his boyfriend: the infamous box, as Alexander and John had quickly learned, was crammed full with various hair clips, scrunchies, headbands, flowers and a plethora of things too obscure to name, in just about every colour, but most predominantly in pink. And with two clients, Frances had excelled herself, exhausting every effort and using exactly all of the items which had been inside the box, spreading them evenly across the heads of her Father and his lover. To her credit, she had braided, just as she had promised. But she had also completely covered both men's heads in a garish display of explosive colour, leaving only scarce patches of their hair visible here and there.
Scarcely able to breathe, let alone speak, through her laughter, Martha sarcastically checked, "Frances introduced you to the box, then?"
Alexander's head rattled with plastic beads and logos clattering together as he nodded his confirmation, and Frances bit her lip sheepishly as she excused herself, "There was so much hair, I had to tie it all up..."
Completely sympathetic after having experienced the way her daughter generously adorned her own hair with her assortment of accessories many times previously, Martha suggested, "I can help you both to remove all that if you want me to."
John shook his head as Alex replied, "I wouldn't dream of it. I think Frances has done a brilliant job. Just look at how gorgeous John looks!"
As soon as the words of flattery spilled from Hamilton's lips, Laurens began blushing furiously, the combination of his boyfriend's adoring compliments paired with the bliss of being near his daughter and his old friend leaving him highly vulnerable to remarks such as that one. Trying valiantly and failing miserably to feign nonchalance, he replied, "You don't look so bad yourself, baby girl."
It was Alexander's turn to flush a deep red at the flirtatious comment spoken in front of an audience of relative strangers, silently cursing Laurens' ability to prey on what he knew to be his weaknesses as he began, "You little mother-" only to be promptly silenced when John pecked him cheekily on the lips, a satisfied smirk on his own lips which seemed to scream, Checkmate. I love you, you tease.
Martha shook her head fondly as she regarded the couple, exchanging a brief look with her wide-eyed daughter as if to shake in her pleasant surprise at their playful exchange.
Sensing the muffled giggles from the two girls, Alexander grinned innocently at Frances and Martha in turn, all his earlier uncharacteristic shyness gone as he suggested, "Now John and I are equally beautiful and equally sappy, why don't we play a game?"
At the mention of that idea, Frances hopped down from the sofa and perched herself on John's knee as she babbled enthusiastically, "We can play Princess rescue! Alessandra can be the Princess, Mommy can be the Dragon who guards the tower, and I can be the Hero!" She smirked as mischievously as her Father had just seconds before as she decided, "Daddy can be the Hero's horsey."
John was all ready to agree, but before he could speak, Alex interrupted, "Hold on, I know I'm pretty enough to be a Princess, but it's not very... Democratic." As Frances pouted in confusion, Martha chuckled and Laurens quirked an eyebrow curiously, he elaborated, "These are the United States of America, after all. Why don't we play Elected Official rescue? The Whitehouse is on lockdown, rogue security agents refuse let the President leave, and military helicopters have to be called in to rescue him or her."
Frances appeared to ponder the slightly altered version of her game, considering it carefully and drawing the conclusion that, if she allocated roles properly, she could still arrange it so that she ended up getting a piggy back from her cherished Daddy in all his glorious height. Satisfied, she consented, "Okay, I can be the army soldier, Daddy can be the helicopter, Mommy can be the bad security lady, and Alessandra can be the President. Let's play!"
"General Laurens-Manning, are you on your way?" Hamilton called, voice ringing with urgency as he peered out from behind a small pillow fort assembled by Martha, while she herself paced in front of the structure, a fearsome expression on her scowling mouth, her eyes hidden by black sunglasses which supposedly imitated the outfit of a government security officer.
"Yes, President Hamilton, Sir!" Frances responded, pulling the neckline of her tee shirt to her mouth as she pretended to speak into a radio. "We can see the security lady outside, what do we do?" She squeaked, excitement mounting and causing a significant rise in pitch.
"Deploy helicopter systems to handle her," Hamilton instructed, laughing despite the supposedly high stakes situation as he watched Martha's face change rapidly from stern to horrified as Laurens charged for her, Frances seated upon his shoulders and holding one hand, while his other reached out to dramatically poke her in the stomach, flooring her instantly with an agonized scream.
"President Hamilton, you can come out now!" Frances informed him matter-of-factly, prompting him to crawl out from the pile of pillows. She tugged gently on Laurens' hair, and he set her down on the ground to greet Alex. She offered him a handshake, which he gladly accepted.
"Thank you, General Laurens-Manning," he murmured sincerely, fully embodying his assigned role. It was the fifth time they had repeated the scenario, with each of them assuming a different role each time, but still Hamilton could be nothing less than reverent of Laurens' daughter - and not just because of her courageous make-believe rescue of him. She is every bit as kind and radiant as her Father.
She stepped backwards, biting her lip as she continued, "Now you have to fly away in the Helicopter, Mr President..." Her hazel eyes were shining with an unspoken dare as she glanced between her Father and her new friend, keen to witness them express the affection they so obviously felt for one another.
Taking the hint, John stepped forwards to stand opposite Alexander, not at all reserved about indulging his daughter with a romantic display, and caught his lover by surprise, eliciting a high-pitched squeak as he brought one arm behind Alexander's knees and caught him with the other, straightening up and spinning around with Alexander perched bridal-style in his arms, helpless to do anything but hold on to the taller man for dear life. Once he felt safe enough in the conviction that he would not be dropped unceremoniously from Laurens' toned embrace, it didn't take more than a heartbeat for Alex to lean into him, pulling their bodies flush together and kissing him with soft, luxuriant passion, only remembering their surroundings when an accidental yawn which Frances' tiny fist couldn't quite muffle escaped from her. The couple pulled slowly apart and John set Alex carefully back on his own feet, both turning to the now pink little girl and regarding her with warm compassion. It was Laurens who asked, "Is it time for your afternoon nap, General?"
She shook her head adamantly, but another yawn pulling at the corners of her mouth betrayed the fatigue which was suddenly starting to creep up on her following the day's exhilarating but nonetheless tiring events.
"Come on, baby, it's three thirty, you're already half an hour late. Daddy and Alex will still be here when you wake up, I'm sure," Martha encouraged, hating to have to interrupt the fun but knowing full well that they would all regret it if Frances became so sleep-deprived that she transformed into a grouchy, unrecognizably disagreeable creature rather than the sweet, cheeky child they all adored.
Still, she refused, pouting while stubbornly insisting, "I'm not tired, Mommy, I want to play."
"How about a compromise," Alexander suggested, instantly earning her attention - so far, his ideas had proven to be brilliant. "You can go to bed for a nap, but before you do, I can tell you a story to help you get to sleep."
Frances frowned, carefully considering the offer to ensure it was not a poor bargain on her part, before another yawn seemed to agree on her behalf. Rubbing at her eyes, she mumbled, "Okay. But it has to be a good story."
"It will be," Laurens quickly agreed, exchanging an admiring glance with his lover. "My dearest Alexander has a wonderful way with words." With that, he knelt down and swept her into his arms just as he had done to Hamilton moments previously, carrying her to where he knew her bedroom to be. Without too much complaining, he coaxed her into her pyjamas and brushed any tangles out of her silky hair, then tied it back into bunches as it had been before. Obediently, she settled herself under the duvet, the pillows plumped and supporting her properly her as her unruly curls splayed out around her head in two little splashes of dark brown against the purple pillowcase.
Meanwhile, Martha and Alexander had remained downstairs, sharing a few words, small in number but significant even so. The woman had regarded her guest with a fond smile as she confessed, "I have never seen Jack so happy as he has been today. He smiles more than ever."
"Then I'm doing something right," Alex commented, not quite remembering that Martha had been unknown to him until a few hours ago as he added, gazing at nothing in particular as his eyes took on a misty appearance, "He has the most incredible smile. I do everything I can think of to make sure I see it as much as possible. It's infectious, you know, it catches you by surprise and somehow just seems to set your heart aflame and you don't even realize you're grinning like an idiot just because he flashed a smile until he laughs and kisses that ridiculous expression straight off of your lips..."
Martha's amused chuckle disturbed his train of thought, shocking him back to reality and reminding him that it might be advisable to exhibit at least a fraction of restraint when describing his boyfriend to the mother of his child, and he made to apologise before she interjected, "Well, I was going to ask you if you felt exactly as strongly about him as he does about you, but it seems there's no need. Now all I need to ask of you is that you take good care of him - though I think you've got that sorted." A call from Frances' bedroom reminded them both of the pressing issue of her story, prompting Martha to add, "And take care of my girl, too. She looks for a lot in a story."
Certain of his abilities, Alexander only smirked smugly as he insisted, "I'm sure my efforts will be more than adequate."
Following the sound of Frances' call, he made his way to her bedroom, and after a nod from Laurens, he joined him on the bed, sitting cross-legged and facing the girl, whose eyes were already beginning to droop. Still, she had been promised a story, and he fully intended to deliver on his word. Smiling as his own enthusiasm for storytelling, a skill he was rarely able to display, crept up on him, he asked, "What kind of story would you like, Frances?"
She cocked her head, slowly speaking as the ideas formed in her mind, "Something magic... With an island... And a hero." Another yawn distorted her mouth before she could voice any additional suggestions.
Instantly, Alexander's mind began trawling through his creative reserves, assembling a vague plot to ensure he would not end up following some vastly different track midway through the tale of his own invention. "Very well. Frances, John, you'd better hold onto your socks, or else this story will knock them clean off." He cleared his throat, and began to recount a somewhat familiar tale to his audience, as both listed in enraptured attentiveness, with matching wide, golden eyes:
"Once upon a time, a boy lived on a far away island. It was a beautiful place, surrounded by sparkling ocean for miles around and cloudless sky stretching endlessly above. But the island had an unfortunate curse. You see, to visitors, it was a paradise, a haven of sun and sand, but the longer you stayed on that island, the more it began to feel like less of a sanctuary and more of a snare."
A trace of concern crossed John's brow as he began to recognize the story, but he allowed his lover to persist uninterrupted.
"After many years, the boy became drastically unhappy living on the island. He no longer saw the shining blue sea and perfect sky; all he could see was a place which was losing what had once made it seem so beautiful: the island was slowly becoming deprived of its vibrant colour. He wished and wished to be taken far away from the island, and he did everything within his power to chase his destiny, and all the while his world lost its colour, until one day, eventually the grim, bland greyness grew so inescapable that it surrounded him on all sides. Even the formerly bright sky was dark and stormy, and from that storm came a hurricane. It tore through the cursed island, but it spared the boy from destruction, instead sweeping him far away with it and depositing him in a truly magical place where all of his dreams could come true."
Hamilton thought he noticed a misty sheen of tears clouding Laurens' clear gaze, but Frances stole his attention before he could be certain, gasping in awe at the story so far. His heart seeming to physically expand in reaction to her sweet response, Alexander was spurred to continue.
"There was only one problem. The island boy had no idea how to survive in his new home, and for a long time he felt very lonely. But, here is where we meet our hero." He exchanged a sincere glance with his lover as he explained, "The island boy suddenly met another young man, who was tall, and kind, and intelligent, and had freckles which decorated his skin with magnificent sprinkles of glory like the stars in the sky. As soon as they met, the two boys became firm friends, the island boy quickly learning all there was to know about his new home. When he had learnt all of that, he began to learn about the freckled boy himself, and the more he learned, the more he wanted to find out." He tore his gaze from Laurens to Frances as he remarked, "The freckled boy had so many secrets, but slowly he opened up to the island boy, trusting him and letting him in, and knowing that the island boy would fall in love with each and every secret he revealed."
It was at this point that Frances Eleanor Laurens-Manning, her Father's best kept secret, fell asleep, her eyes fully closing and her tiny mouth opening just a centimetre to display a content smile. Unwilling to wake her, the two men made to leave her to snooze in peace immediately, both pausing to kiss her forehead before retreating and closing the door softly behind them. Alexander began to walk away to return to the sitting room where Martha was waiting, but Laurens grabbed his sleeve, stopping him as he whispered, "You can't leave the story there. What happened next?"
Alexander smirked, bemused as he murmured, "My dear Laurens, we both know what happened next." Even so, he didn't continue to walk away, but allowed his boyfriend to hold him close.
John leaned forwards, bringing his forehead to rest on Hamilton's as he pleaded, "Tell me the story. I have to hear it - what happened to the island boy and the freckled boy - in your words. Your perfectly crafted, eloquent, magical words." His golden eyes staring intently into Alex's left no doubt about him getting his way on that occasion.
Gladly submitting to Laurens' will, Alexander revealed, "The island boy fell so in love with each of the freckled boy's secrets, from his adoration of turtles, to his heavily caffeinated cookie recipe, to his incredible talent for drawing, and even his hidden family, that he couldn't help but fall in love with the freckled boy himself. Every last part of him."
As Laurens closed the narrow gap between their lips and brought the story to a definite end, it was abundantly clear to both the island boy and the freckled boy that the pair were destined to live happily ever after, the island boy happily getting lost amongst the galaxies upon the freckled boy's skin, and the freckled boy saving his lover from being lonely and having to survive in a bland, colourless world ever again by painting him a thousand pictures in every shade but grey to lift his spirits and warm his heart to no end.
It is a happy ending, Alexander reflected, his mind fleetingly flickering over something other than the enticing, familiar sensation of Laurens' mouth pushing back against his own. Unorthodox, to be sure, but happy even so.