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took time off from my kingdom, took a break from the war

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Alex guesses Washington shouldn't make him feel so safe. He guesses he should have more reservations - as a general rule, he doesn't trust people, and he knows better than to trust people like he trusts Washington. Look where that's gotten him. He relies on himself. Other people are just a nice bonus, when they're good to him, or extra baggage, when they're not.

He guesses he shouldn't call him Washington, either. Not anymore.

But old habits die hard, and if there's anyone that knows that it's Alex. It took him a while to stop addressing him as Major General, sir, and this is progress, at least. Washington says it's fine. Alex isn't sure it is. He's been calling him George more, lately, but it still feels foreign in his mouth, the dissonance between the person and the shape of the word too strong. Sometimes Alex still feels like he should salute when Washington walks into the room. Go all "Sir, at your service, sir," go all puppy-eyed and excited over the prospect of pleasing him. Calling him George seems outlandish. Like he should be offended by mere suggestion of such thing.

Like he said, old habits die hard.

So -

Washington - George - makes him feel safe. That shouldn't happen. Strike one. There should be strike two, but he's not yet certain what it is. Perhaps it's the way his hands feel on his shoulders. Or a singular hand on his singular shoulder. Perhaps it's the way he's always warm, has enough body mass that he never seems to get cold, and the way his warm hand feels on Alex's bony shoulder. Or, not so bony anymore - Washington keeps commenting on how well he's filling out now that they're not required to ration anymore, now that they get to eat as much as they please, and with anyone else Alex might feel embarrassed, or insecure, but Washington makes it so natural. He makes the transition seem so easy. He makes it casual.

So strike two is -

He moves in. Alex moves in, that is. Washington doesn't move. He's got his roots deep in the soil, Alex thinks. Washington is unmovable. Alex, himself, is more vagrant - he doesn't like to get attached to a singular place for too long or too deeply. Washington settled himself down in this spot decades ago. He can't be moved. He's a permanent fixture on this land. There's a tree that looks like it could be hundreds of years old that he can see right out the bedroom window. Alex would think it's coincidence, but with Washington nothing is coincidence. He's studied him; he's gotten comfortable with him, his quirks, his hands, the texture of his skin. His chapped lips. His sweaters. Everything about every aspect of him feels purposeful. Something about that feels so comforting. Familiar. He has to catch himself before he stumbles over words like safe. These words are so subjective. Safety is so subjective.

Just because he kept him safe for one period of his life doesn't mean he will do so forever. Alex would have to be way more naive than he is to believe anything else. Washington doesn't try to tell him otherwise, not because he doesn't intend on proving him wrong, but because he believes in actions over words. He thinks the fruits of one’s labor are made sweeter by the wait. Alex guesses he understands. He doesn't, but he does. It's complicated. With Washington, everything is.

Like how he makes him tremble with submission with just one word sometimes. "My boy," he says, and Alex wants to drop to his knees, and he isn't sure why, or if he wants to know why. Washington knows, of course, and his smile always gets so soft right after the words slip or slither or tumble out of his mouth. No one else knows. It's just them. What a gentle secret to have.

Or how almost everything he does now he does with a lingering thought of Washington in his mind. Like he's made dependent on his approval. Like he's got his hands wrapped around his shoulders.

And he's so gentle -

There's something to be said about the way his mouth feels against Alex's. The way his hands feel around his waist, or in his hair, or cupping his cheeks. The way he moves. Something velvety about it. Something that feels familiar. These subjective concepts are going to give him a headache. There's something to be said about that too.

So Alex moves in. Strike two. He's got his big house he's grown his roots through and he's got his big garden and there the soil that his trees have grown their roots through. He's got a library. And the library's got Alex.

And Washington, too, has Alex, but the library -

"Would you like to read something? Anything?" he'd said.

Alex'd sucked in a breath through his teeth, and it had felt like a revelation. He feels like he exists in the spaces between his teeth these days. Like everything else is taken over by something larger than himself, something larger than the Caribbean, something larger than the sea, which has taken a reluctant home in his soul. Something larger than his heartbeat, still a nervous flicker just to the side of the middle of his sternum, as if it isn’t sure if it’s going to take root. He’s been uprooted so many times even his heart gets nervous these days.

Washington had eyed him, very carefully, and then he'd smiled. Alex's heart had thudded off-beat for just two counts. Reckless, Alex had thought, how reckless. How irresponsible of him to feel any emotion in response to that at all. But - and here's the thing - this wasn't new. The pin had dropped a long time ago.

Back when Alex had responded to Washington and Washington alone, he'd already known this was inevitable. Washington had known, too, he thinks. He's smart. Too smart, or maybe just the right amount smart. Alex likes to be challenged. Washington is a challenge.

So back when Washington was the only force Alex wasn't able to conquer he would make Alex's heart feel like a tambourine more often than he'd care to admit. Alex has always been bad with self-preservation, or maybe just a little too good at it. The line blurs a little too easily. Washington always thought he was a little too eager. A little too eager to put his life in risk. A little too eager to be the best. A little too eager to be around him.

Washington saying "would you like something? Anything?" like close range gunfire -

And Alex saying "yes," hungrily, like he couldn't get enough. Like the words were made of honey. Like he had been starving all his life and now he was being offered something meaty, something hearty, something delicious and glistening and right and he was gagging for it.

The words ringing in his ears. Washington's well-loved hardbacks in stacks on the nightstand. His nightstand. His side of the bed. Washington snores, but quietly. Alex re-loves his books as he sleeps. He makes it sound so intimate. Washington sleeps shirtless. He’s beautiful when he’s at rest. He always is. Alex’s nervous heartbeat becomes so sure of itself when they’re like this. Alex pets his back absently as he reads.

So here's strike three.

Washington knows all this, and he cares, and he doesn't. He knows Alex and he presses him into walls either gently or with more force than he needs to. He knows Alex and he curls under the blankets, solid and warm, puts a little distance between them and doesn't attempt to start a conversation when he’s quiet and on edge. He knows Alex. He does. He exists in those spaces between his teeth, too. Coexistence. Who knew it could be so beautiful.

Alex likes to think he's immune to vulnerability. He's not. Washington knows this. Washington allows him the illusion of being the only one aware of this vulnerability. This is something he understands. This is something he gets is important. He lets Alex have it. It's his to have.

He guesses there's safety in that, too. He and his infallibility. He and his immortality. Those are his to hold for as long as he needs them. Those are his to let go of when he needs to.

And Washington is there to have him. For as long as he wants him.

And he guesses that's safety, too.