A/N: Merry Christmas, my glorious readers! I hope you have a really wonderful day, and that you and everyone you care about is safe and warm and loved!
It's been twenty-five days, but we're here - the final chapter! Thanks so much for reading this, I know we're all busy at this time of year, but it's been so fun to write this, and seeing your reviews and follows and favourites every day had just given me such a boost each day of the month!
I really hope this chapter does justice to the characters, and concludes the story in a way you're happy with! Now, without further ado, let's have a look!
In the distance, the bells tolling out from Trinity Church signalled that it was two in the morning. It was the night before Christmas, and all through the house not a creature was stirring - save for one surprisingly lithe tailor:
Under the cover of darkness, Hercules Mulligan was embarking on his annual mission.
Pausing to make sure the man beside him was soundly sleeping, he slipped from the bed he and Lafayette had been provided and made his way to the wardrobe situated in the guest room.
It was something he had arranged after extensive consultation with the eldest woman of the house, so though he hadn't checked beforehand, he knew to expect the supply he found inside, courtesy of Angelica.
Twelve stockings hung from the clothes rail, already filled to bursting point with a selection of small gifts. For the past six years it had been a tradition for Hercules to deliver them to the bedrooms of the Schuyler household, taking on the role of Santa Claus for the adults inside, and although they all knew that one of them had delivered the stocking, (they did not suspect more than one person had been responsible for orchestrating and carrying out the plan) Hercules had never once been detected.
Of course, in previous years, he hadn't been sharing his bed, but he deemed this to be an irrelevant obstacle as he donned the fluffy red outfit folded up neatly within the closet.
He had learned his lesson from the one faux pas he had ever made, which had brought him terribly close exposure on the first year he had become Santa, during which a gift had fallen from a stocking and little Peggy, just twelve years old at the time and filled with innocent determination to capture and interrogate Father Christmas, had raced from her room with a ferocious battle cry and forced Hercules to squeeze into the alcove of a disused fireplace to hide from her. Now, he knew never to try carrying more than two stockings at once, lest the contents should spill. So, after pulling on his hat to ensure there was no risk of it slipping off unnoticed and leaving an incriminating trail, he grabbed the first two, for Alexander and John, and crept from the bedroom and into the hall.
He couldn't afford to use a torch, but even in the dim dawn half-light he could see how the new couple had curled into one another, Hamilton's long loose hair splayed across Laurens' shoulder and Laurens' chin resting on Alexander's head.
With a chuffed smile, Hercules noted, really, nothing's changed at all.
Thomas and Angelica's stockings were next. Though Hercules had heard that on the first night at the Schuyler household the pair had spent most of the night in separate bedrooms, on this night there had been no question of enduring the night apart, hence the two snoring bodies, faces obscured by mountains of thick curls Jefferson refused to tie up, within Angelica's bed. Their stockings, like Alexander's and John's, were placed at the foot of the bed.
The third pair was Aaron's and Theodosia's. Though Aaron had previously told them he wouldn't be spending Christmas there, Angelica had still managed to assemble two generous stockings for Burr and even Theo, out of the spare gifts she always had stockpiled away in her own wardrobe in case the occasion for a last-minute present arose. Mulligan was certain he'd never seen Aaron look as happy as he did while he slept, his face bathed in moonlight and his hand still held by the woman he adored. Once their stockings were delivered, Hercules thought to take a quick photo of Burr's subliminal smile, before remembering it would be pointless since he couldn't show anyone without revealing himself as Santa Claus.
Next came Peggy and James' stockings. They were in separate rooms, having only really gotten together the previous day, so it was a quick drop-off for Madison and, remembering how she was prone to try and corner Santa, the fastest delivery within his power saw him depositing the stocking at the end of Peggy's bed undetected.
The final pair which actually needed to leave his own bedroom belonged to Eliza and Maria. To his knowledge, they had been in separate rooms, however he found the Schuyler sister's bed to be empty when he stopped in Elizabeth's bedroom. Not concerned, he continued on his way to the room Maria was staying in, to find both the guest and the resident of the house under the covers. Eliza's loud snores seemed disproportionate to her size, and he had to fight back the urge to chuckle at her. Evidently, the snores of her girlfriend provided no disturbance to Maria, since she was peacefully dozing in spite of the racket. Hercules left their stockings at the end of the guest bed, and returned to the room he and Laf were sharing.
He slipped back out of the Santa suit, removing everything including the hat and the beard, before grabbing up his and Lafayette's stockings. They were the last ones, and the tailor felt an enormous wave of satisfaction wash over him as he set the final ones in place.
He rolled into bed, reassuming his earlier position with his muscular arms wrapped around the Frenchman, and closed his eyes, ready to sleep as if nothing at all unusual had come to pass.
"Herc," Laf's voice was heavy with sleep as he mumbled, "It's Christmas day."
"It's still dark, go back to sleep," Hercules urged, suddenly concerned that this could be the night when he was finally discovered to be responsible for the Christmas stocking drop. With any luck, if he sleeps right now, he'll forget he was even awake at this time.
"I had a Christmas dream. You were in it, mon amour," Lafayette continued to explain as though his boyfriend had never even spoken. Hercules was too anxious to interrupt, allowing the Frenchman to elaborate, "You were Papa Noel, and you were delivering gifts on a reindeer named George Washington."
A muffled rumbling emanated from Hercules' chest as he did his best to keep from waking the entire house with the booming laughing he longed to unleash as he imagined the dream for himself. Once he had somewhat composed himself, Hercules remarked, "That's some dream, Gilly."
"That's because my mind is as beautiful as your face," Lafayette replied, words slurred slightly as he teetered on the brink of falling back to sleep.
Squeezing his boyfriend and laying his cheek against the nape of Laf's neck, Hercules agreed, "You do have a beautiful mind."
"Merci, my pretty Papa Noel. G'night."
The tailor was content to simply allow his boyfriend to drift back to sleep without any more words being exchanged. He merely whispered a sweet heartfelt, "Night, Laf, love you," before he, too, returned to the task of sleeping.
On Christmas morning, once stockings had been opened in bedrooms, it was customary to gather at the top of the stairs, waiting for everyone before venturing into the sitting room to see the tree for the first time that day.
For reasons best kept from the others, Mulligan was always the last to join the group (since his mission the night before had been tiring), but once he arrived, the already low murmuring disintegrated into silence. Following the lead of the Schuyler sisters, the troop of adults made their way slowly down the stairs, excitement crackling like electricity in the air between them.
When they entered the sitting room, a collective gasp rose from the group. The tree and all of the decorations had always been spectacular, but with the fairy lights being the only source of light, the presents gathered underneath the tree and quiet Christmas carols drifting from the stereo, it truly exuded a sense of magic which left everyone in silence during those first few moments.
The silence was soon brought to a rapid end, however, signalled by Jefferson's insistent cough, and immediately followed by renewed chatter as they all (for even the eternally patient Aaron Burr was caught by the excitement) hurried into the room, taking up positions on the floor sat around the tree and quickly distributing gifts to the rightful recipient.
To John's visible relief, the paintings he had poured his heart and soul into for the past two weeks were met with a great reception; as Alexander had suggested, he had chosen to give the portrait of him to Aaron, knowing that, though it would make Jefferson equally uncomfortable if he had received it, Burr was guaranteed to actually hang it in his home whereas Thomas would presumably throw it out.
Spotting that they both had a gift in the same shape from Peggy, Alexander and John ripped the paper from their matching stationary sets in tandem, chuckling to see the pattern of their preferred animal adorning the similar sets. Glancing to Peggy, she justified, "Well, you both write too much, and you both have a very clear favourite animal." With John wearing his turtle onesie and Alex still stained with grey ink upon his wrists from the previous day's work, there was no way they could say she was wrong.
For one another, the newly formed couple had bought gifts the other needed, for example Alexander had spent a ludicrous amount on a new set of paintbrushes he'd caught his new boyfriend researching longingly online on many occasions. Laurens, on the other hand, insisted that Hamilton was in desperate need of a onesie, for the long, cold nights he spent working. Naturally, he had selected a lion design, and after some encouragement, Alexander donned it then and there. Previously, he had been dubious about how practical or necessary they were, however with his new one he was instantly converted, much to his freckled lover's satisfaction.
Despite the pile of gifts laid out before him, Mulligan, remembering the day he had finally made his relationship official, didn't open his parcels as rapidly as his friends, for he paused whenever Lafayette selected a new brightly coloured present to watch his face light up with the jubilation he always showed when opening gifts. Therefore, he was delighted not to miss out on seeing his boyfriend's widest grin yet when he opened the gift from Hercules, a personalized silk shirt he had spent hours designing his own fabric for. It seemed to make everything worthwhile to see such appreciation from the man he loved.
To Maria, Eliza gave an excessively long hand-knitted scarf, with golden sparkles dotted here and there amidst the red wool. At the end, a small piece of embroidered cotton bore several small hearts, along with the message, "Maria and Eliza's scarf for two". The recipient read it and giggled, before bemusedly clarifying, "Does this mean you'll be borrowing this on a regular basis, or that we're meant to tie ourselves together with it?"
Eliza smiled, and assured her, "It's long enough for two to share at once. I just never want you to be cold!"
Clearly, she succeeded in her mission, as Maria melted at that, and leaned over to hug her girlfriend, before trapping her in a loop of the red material and pulling her close enough that they could share a smooch without the others seeing anything particularly graphic.
Angelica and Thomas exchanged their gifts slightly bashfully - they both had reputations for being unflappable and cool around anyone other than their closest companions. Yet for each other, they broke the rule, providing heartfelt, meaningful gifts: for Jefferson, Angelica had gotten a personalized trinket box lined with purple velvet, with a heart-shaped photo frame set inside the lid which held the first picture they had ever taken together, just seven days previously. As for Angelica, she received a small heart-shaped locket which contained the very same photograph, engraved with their names.
Not requiring an exchange of words to express their gratitude, the couple only kissed sweetly, before returning to their gifts.
Peggy hadn't bought her present for James since they made their relationship official, but she was confident in what she had chosen regardless, hence her smile of anticipation as she passed it to him. Madison opened the wrapped box to find a pair of sturdy roller skates inside. Picking them up, he turned to face her, slightly confused until she explained coyly, "I thought of getting ice skates, but I figured this way, you and I can practice all year round, and next Christmas you'll be an expert at ice skating!"
Madison beamed, touched by the thoughtful gesture, and dared to peck her cheek, before watching her open his gift to her, a silver bracelet bearing a variety of yellow beads.
Theodosia had bought Aaron a maroon tie and a jumper just a shade darker to compliment it. Her boyfriend beamed with honest adoration at he received it, and kissed her cheek with such visible adoration that for a moment, the strength of the love they shared reduced everyone else in the room to a suddenly hushed state.
And then Aaron was passing his girlfriend his gift to her, and the chatter had resumed by the time she discovered the crystal ornament inside.
The maturity of the presents Aaron and Theodosia gave one another did not go unnoticed, offering Alexander the opportunity to teasingly remark, "Well aren't those the most husband-wife-y gifts you've ever seen?"
For once in agreement (because he could never resist the chance to be critical) Jefferson snidely added, "Yeah. Chill out, Burr, she's not your wife - she's probably too sensible to be tied down by you."
Rightly offended, Theo chose to defend her love as she knew he'd have hated to get involved in an argument himself. Raising an eyebrow confrontationally, she seemed thoroughly vexed as she coolly informed him, "I don't think it's foolish to be attracted to a man as sweet, thoughtful and emotionally mature as my Aaron. Then again, if you think kind souls are so unappealing, you should explain to your girlfriend the implications that has on your relationship." She was a vastly intelligent woman, enough so to know that her words meant that Jefferson either had to retract his statement or tell Angelica he thought she wasn't a nice person. Theo also realized that only one of those possibilities was a viable option if he wanted to hold on to the merriness of his Christmas.
Thomas grumbled a reluctant apology under his breath, and returned to examining his trinket box to remind himself he was loved.
Trying to diffuse the tension, Eliza breezily declared, "I'm done with my gifts, so I think I'll make a start on the cooking." She left the room, pulling Maria in their long scarf along with her.
"Actually, there's something I've been meaning to check on - Alexander, Laurens, can I borrow you for a minute?" Aaron's request was very much unexpected, nevertheless the two men were happy, if not perplexed, to oblige, following Burr into the privacy of the hallway.
Defensive, Laurens was the first to insist, "Now if you're here to scold Alexander for the married couple comment, you'll have to go through me first." He stood protectively before his lover, genuinely concerned that they might come to blows - Aaron was smiling, and it was deemed suspicious.
It quickly became apparent that arguments were the last thing on his mind, however. Burr shook his head, dismissing the idea, before launching into his questions: "You two are the most impulsive people I know, and I'll admit that without you, Theodosia and I might never-"
"Might?" Alexander interrupted, challenging Burr with a sceptical expression.
"Okay, Theo and I definitely would never have gotten together. And when we did, you told me that if I cared about her, I should do everything within my power to make her feel the same." He paused, a hint of uncertainty holding him back.
Beginning to comprehend the unimaginable, John urged, "Where are you going with this, Burr, Sir?"
Aaron pulled out a small, velvet covered box from his pocket. His words were hushed, as though he hardly dared to speak them aloud. Regardless, his exhilaration was exuded in every syllable as he confessed, "I know it's fast... I know it's so unlike me, and I don't even expect her to say yes... But I want to ask her anyway."
Neither John nor Alexander said a word for almost a minute.
Laurens eventually sighed, "I knew you liked her. But this? Where's our Burr?"
"I'm right here, looking for assurance that this isn't an entirely stupid idea."
Alexander stared intently at the man, reading him for any trace of madness or irrationality and finding none. He knows what he's doing, and I know he definitely cares about Theodosia, more than he ever has done about anything else. If he's going to stand for something, it should be the one he's fallen for. Hamilton grinned, and offered his had for his friend to shake. The other hand he clapped firmly on Aaron's shoulder as he told him, "If you love this woman, go get her."
Christmas Lunch was cooked, served and devoured without a hitch (though admittedly it was a feast which lasted for hours), thanks to Eliza's expertise in the kitchen and the way she had enlisted the help of her girlfriend and sisters with bringing everything to their table. It was Peggy who insisted that the Christmas pudding should be soaked in brandy and lit, and that she should be the one to do it. Begrudgingly, the others gave in to her request, and allowed the youngest amongst them to be responsible for the lighter and the generous helping of alcohol she poured onto the dessert.
When the pudding inevitably caught light along with the flaming brandy, it was James who had been loitering by the fire blanket, and him who hurried immediately forward to extinguish the beginnings of the blaze. He also happened to be ready to offer open arms and words of comfort to Peggy when she clumsily apologised for nearly causing a larger fire.
The kiss he placed on her forehead earned a collective cheer of support from their friends, which caused the couple to collapse into a timid embrace, just a little bit too shy to kiss again in front of the crowd they were suddenly acutely aware of, but unafraid to gaze fondly into one another's eyes, conversing silently, sharing their apologies to one another for how embarrassing their friends were while expressing how it had no impact on how much they cared for each other.
It was clear that the newest couple were made exceedingly nervous by the pressure of many eyes upon them, so they were both intensely thankful when Burr cleared his throat, commanding the attention of the room by standing.
"I would have waited until after pudding, but since the pudding has been cremated, I see no reason to be unnecessarily patient." John and Alexander exchanged a knowing grin, before nodding supportively to Aaron. With a deep breath to steady the nerves he managed to hide so well, he took hold of Theodosia's hand and gazed into her deep, soul-snaring eyes before he continued, "I don't want to wait around any longer, especially when what lies ahead seems so enticing for as long as you're at my side, Theodosia."
Her mouth dropped open as he dropped to one knee and produced the box from his pocket.
"My Theodosia, I know this seems strange. But if you could find it within your astounding heart to love me like I love you, then I would be honoured if you would agree to marry me."
The dancer blinked twice. Understandably, she felt she couldn't trust her senses when they presented her with a scene so incredible. However, when the image of the man she cherished kneeling before her with a ring in his hand and his insecure half-smile on his lips didn't fade away like some ephemeral illusion, she knew she could trust what she saw.
She also knew she could trust her heart, which is why she replied, "Yes. Of course I will."
A moment of stunned silence followed in which the ring was placed upon her finger. It was immediately succeeded by congratulatory applause. John hurried from the table to the stereo and began playing some music, allowing the first track to blast loudly from the speakers in celebration of the engagement - fortunately, it happened to be All I want for Christmas is You rather than a less appropriate engagement song such as Fairytale of New York. Meanwhile, Eliza made straight for the kitchen and brought out her backup dessert, a large cheesecake, in one hand and a bottle of her father's refrigerated champagne in the other.
Theo took the bottle and popped the cork, sharing a laugh which became a kiss with her new fiance as it ricocheted from the ceiling to land amidst Jefferson's hair. Angelica reached up to pluck it from his mane, leaning her head on his shoulder as she did so and commenting, "I'm so pleased for you both."
"Yeah, that's really wonderful news," James added, extending the hand which wasn't holding Peggy's waist to shake that of his colleague.
"Burr finally made a stand, and look who he fell for!" Alexander was visibly chuffed for the development in his friend's love life. "See, this is all of our hard work finally paying off," he concluded, interlocking his fingers with John and clearly including him in that comment.
"We did tell you he was a good guy," Laurens pointed out to the new bride to be, as smug as his boyfriend the longer he spent thinking of how the two might never have fallen in love without their excellent services as Burr's wingmen.
"I know, and I'm so thankful for it," Theo responded. Though it was in reply to Laurens, she had eyes only for her future husband, and she wrapped her arms around his neck and bought her forehead to rest against his as she added in a more private murmur, "I don't think I've ever been happier in my life."
Elizabeth watched all this with a smile resting on her lips - until a hand brushed her shoulder and she turned around.
"Liza," Maria's gaze was shy as she mumbled, "I just need to get some air for a minute." She might have feared insulting the woman had she not suddenly felt so overcrowded, but as it was, she desperately needed some space.
Her concerns were unnecessary anyway. Elizabeth had understood for some time that after closing herself off from others, Maria might take a while to become fully comfortable around large groups of other people for long periods of time. She smiled and touched her girlfriend's arm affectionately while pointing beyond her, "You're welcome to go for a stroll in the garden. Take as long as you need, it's okay."
The other woman nodded, fully appreciative of her love's understanding ways. "I won't be long, I promise," she assured, and kissed Eliza's cheek before turning away and doing as had been suggested. Amidst the noise and jubilation, her exit was as inconspicuous as she had hoped.
When Maria set out into the darkness of that Christmas evening, it was to discover that small flecks of white snow were dancing majestically through the air, in elegant, haphazardly swirling circles, and that a layer of the white powder had already settled on the ground. She didn't wander far, just enough that the loud music and equally rowdy shouts could no longer be heard, and took a few minutes to breathe deeply, allowing the icy air and mesmerizing snowflakes to smother and infiltrate her, to wash away the pressure she always felt when surrounded by so many grinning, laughing people. It was not that she wasn't enjoying the company, but she simply felt that it was such a different atmosphere from the one she had grown unfortunately accustomed to that she needed a little while alone to calm down and prepare to return to that overly bustling excitement.
She turned around to find that someone else had just joined her. "Hey, you," she warmly greeted Eliza, instinctively offering a wholehearted embrace to her since she was clearly caught unprepared by the low temperatures, having almost curled in on herself in order to preserve a hint of body heat. Eliza gratefully received her girlfriend's arms around her shoulders, and held on tight to Maria's waist. In spite of how cold the teal clad girl was, it still warmed her companion to recognize how much she clearly adored being with her.
"I wanted to make sure you were alright," Eliza explained after a few minutes just holding on to and being held by the girl she cared for so deeply. "I know things got quite stifling in there, I just hope it didn't freak you out too much." Her words were muffled slightly since her forehead was resting against the guest's collar bone, but it didn't require perfect clarity for her compassionate kindness to be recognized.
"I'm fine," Maria assured, nodding though Eliza wasn't looking. "It's just so unusual to be surrounded with good, happy people, you know? Sometimes it's overwhelming."
Lifting her head to stare into her girlfriend's gorgeous caramel eyes, Elizabeth solemnly informed her, "I do understand, Maria, you don't have to justify yourself to me. But you need to know that I'm so proud of you - I know it can't be easy, but you're here, and that's enough. You are enough." She beamed to see Maria's enthrallingly beautiful expression soften with pure, unadulterated affection. Certain of the reply, she added, "I love you, Maria Lewis."
"I love you too, Elizabeth." It was still relatively rare that Maria didn't doubt her worthiness of Eliza's esteem, but on this occasion, on that snowy Christmas night, she was content to simply accept the declaration of love, and as the snow continued to fall majestically and cast a mystical silver glow of her love's face, she felt an irresistible desire to kiss her as though they were the only two people in all the world.
"Do you think that will be us one day?"
Angelica glanced up from the towel she was presently drying a plate with to see Thomas staring intently at a glass he was scrubbing with soapy water. He had volunteered to help her wash up, and so far they had exchanged few words, but those ones made Angelica pause to ask, "What?"
His face became flushed with an incriminating blush as he reiterated, "Do you think one day that you and I might be getting married?"
Angelica giggled, entirely baffled by his question. "Thomas, it's literally been a week, and even if we were as rash as Aaron and Theodosia, which we're not, that leaves at least a few days more before you start thinking of that kind of thing."
Shaking his head and mustering the courage to actually make eye contact, Jefferson elaborated, "I know that, and this isn't me saying we should rush this. It's just me asking..." By this point, he should have been accustomed to feeling so emotionally exposed by Angelica, but it still seemed unfamiliar for him to be so uncharacteristically reticent. Yet he knew there was no backing down from her once he'd embarked on a vein of conversation, so he explained, "Do you see a future with me?" She hesitated. He gushed, "I don't want to be all clingy and pathetic, but I have to know if you're just with me to have some fun or if you actually -"
"I actually do like you, Thomas," she replied, utterly sincerely. "I know I hide my feelings well, and that sometimes it's not clear whether I mean it when I say I care. But with you..." She shrugged, a rare sensation of complete helplessness surging over her as she admitted, "I think I love you, Thomas."
At once, his familiar confidence returned in the form of his lazy grin. Perceiving that response to be more than satisfactory, he set down his soapy sponge and stepped closer to her. Then, be wrapped his arms around her body, and responded with a low, flirtatious murmur, "In which case, I believe I love you too."
With Thomas and Angelica doing something that definitely wasn't washing up in the kitchen, Eliza and Maria forgetting the cold in the garden, Peggy and James curled up together in the loveseat, Lafayette trying to recall the dream he'd had the night before in more detail to recount for Hercules, Aaron and Theodosia continuing to sip at champagne while calling their various relatives, and John and Alexander taking a nap together in their onesies, peace and goodwill, not to mention love, seemed in abundance in the Schuyler household on that Christmas night.
And thus concludes the tale of the most merry and bright Christmas any of the twelve friends could remember.