Alexander knew that he was in trouble the moment he got told that he wasn’t allowed to talk.
Alexander Hamilton was an ensemble member of his college’s newest production, Assassins, a musical about assassinating US presidents. (Alexander hadn’t really questioned the choice in musical, settling for the explanation that it’d been picked by the drama club’s old director.) Sure, Alex wanted a bigger part, but that wasn’t going to stop him from throwing his heart and soul into being a background character.
It was kind of fun, actually, being in the ensemble. In his old high school in Saint Croix, he’d practically ruled the drama club. Any role he wanted was pretty much his, so he frequented as the leading actor. But that was before Alexander had moved to America and started attending King’s College. He was definitely not the biggest fish in the pond any more.
So he took his ensemble role with pride, using it to get his foot in the door. He showed up dutifully to rehearsals and came knowing his whole part by heart. The director of the show, George Washington, was as new to the group as Alex was, having “overthrown” (as some older members had put it), the old director George Frederick III the year before. It was Washington’s first show, so Alexander did his best to prove himself. The harder he worked now, the more opportunities he’d have in next year’s show.
It wasn’t like rehearsals were bad, either. Sure, they took away from the time Alex had to study and write and eat and sleep, but hey, Alexander managed to have fun sometimes! The main cast was intimidating and scary, comprised solely of names that were basically famous on campus (Jefferson, Madison, Burr, all stars of King’s College). But the ensemble was jovial and welcoming, and Alex could make friends with them all easily. Lafayette, Hercules Mulligan, and John Laurens were names that came to mind whenever Alex reflected on the good times he’d had at rehearsal.
Washington had noticed the camaraderie between the boys and planned his blocking accordingly. Or at least, that’s what Alexander was assuming, since he and John ended up next to each other in almost every scene. Admittedly, being next to a friend for the duration of the show did make acting a lot more believable and enjoyable, so Alexander didn’t complain. He liked being near John, even if all he was allowed to do was pretend to have a casual conversation and then accurately react to the scene before him. Seriously, not a single line.
If there was one thing Alexander Hamilton was bad at, it was shutting the fuck up. He wanted to prove himself, wanted to show that he could rise to become something bigger than himself. How was he expected to do that when the only thing he was allowed to do was to mouth “carrots and peas” over and over again in the background? So in classic Hamilton style, he took matters into his own hands.
He started to hold an actual conversation onstage. Not out loud of course, he still mouthed whatever he was saying, but he said more than meaningless repeated words. He spoke as if he were really relaxing in a bar in the 1800s or rallying at a political parade in the 1900s. It was to get himself more in character, more into the mindset of the time and place of the scene. He’d enter the stage and hug John like an old friend before settling down and immediately diving into a conversation about the politics of the time. As a law major, Alex knew American history well enough to be pretty coherent in what he was talking about. Not like it mattered, since John couldn’t have had a clue what he was saying anyway. Still, Alex felt good about his new tactic and John seemed to appreciate it too. He reciprocated Alexander’s historically accurate quips with mouthed dialogue of his own. Alex couldn’t read lips well enough to know if it was nonsensical or not, but he appreciated the kid’s vigor anyways. John seemed pleased as hell to be an ensemble member with Alexander, which made Alex feel a whole lot better about not getting a lead role this time around.
Still, rehearsals were long and frequent, and Alex could only deal with talking about the lingering consequences of FDR’s New Deal every night for so long without getting bored. So he started switching the topic of conversation.
It wasn’t like it mattered, not really. He could still act in character talking about whatever he wanted, and it didn’t affect John, so it was fine. It kept his passion alive, kept him from looking bored on stage. No one wanted that, right? So it was all for the greater good of the show.
Or at least, that’s what Alex kept telling himself.
It started out innocently enough. Alex would mouth how his day had went or complain about law homework, just normal things he’d say to John whether they were in character or not. John would smile and nod along, so Alex just kept talking. Considering how accurately John could react to what Alex was actually saying, Alex was confused as to why John hadn’t gotten a bigger part. John couldn’t have been reacting to anything other than Alex’s body language, since he wasn’t actually saying anything out loud. Yet John managed a fitting reaction to whatever Alex said, pretending to laugh when he told a joke and giving expressions of sympathy when he whined about being overworked. With the ability to read a person like that, John deserved to be center stage, or at least Alex thought so. He approached John one day as rehearsal was ending to say just that.
“Hey Laurens,” he smiled at his friend. John looked up from where he was sitting criss-crossed on the floor and beamed at Alex.
“Hey Alex!” John turned back to tugging on his boots and Alex’s smile widened. His friend was adorable and his good vibes were contagious. That was something Alex had learned from spending so much time next to John, and one of the reasons he loved being around him so much. “What’s up?”
“Oh uh,” Alex fumbled, feeling strangely shy. He cleared his throat- he was Alexander Hamilton, words did not fail him. He started again. “I just wanted to tell you that you’re a really good actor.”
John snapped his head up, his brow knit in confusion. “What?” he said, somewhere between a deadpan and a legitimate question.
“You! Acting! You’re good at it.” Alex smiled, but John still looked unconvinced and confused, so he elaborated. “I mean you have a real enthusiasm for it, I can feel it when we’re up there. You put so much dedication into what we’re doing. Like of course you don’t know what I’m saying to you, but you react so genuinely and correctly that I feel like we’re just talking. You have a real talent for picking up on the signals someone else is giving to you, my friend.”
John’s eyes were wide. “Oh wait you-? You don’t- you think... Ham, you know I can-” He stopped, taking a deep breath and standing. He looked conflicted, like he was trying to make a decision. Now it was Alex’s turn to be confused. Finally John sighed and smiled at Alex. He laid a hand on Alex’s shoulder, saying, “Thank you Alex, that’s really kind of you.” Alex relaxed, pulling John in for a hug. Something about John felt off, weirdly stiff and rigid, but Alexander disregarded it. John had smiled and thanked him, so that meant things were okay, right? He pulled back to see John smiling again, and decided that they were okay. He slung his arm around John’s shoulders, steering him off to find Lafayette and Mulligan.
Rehearsals sped past as they crept closer to the show, and Alex spent each rehearsal laughing and really enjoying himself. He’d been in a really good mood for the last few months, definitely aided by how awesome his new friends were. That’s why when Alex stormed into rehearsal uncharacteristically pissed, people weren’t sure what to do.
When even Lafayette couldn’t get Alex to talk about what’s wrong, his friends gave up, Laurens telling the group to give Alex some space. Alex didn’t show it, but he appreciated John’s kindness; what Alex needed was space.
They dove into rehearsal, no one else paying any mind to Alexander’s silent seething. The moment Alex took his spot next to John, he was ranting about what had gone wrong. “Jefferson,” was the first word out of his mouth. John was looking at him concernedly, ready to listen even though he couldn’t actually hear Alex. Alexander barreled on, thankful that John was there and understood that he just needed to vent. “That arrogant dick, thinks he’s so much better than the rest of us. Like sure, you have a lead role, wow good for you. That doesn’t entitle you to the right of being a total fucking asshole to everyone else in the drama club.” John cocked his head and Alex huffed out an explanation. “He and fucking Madison bumped into me on the way to rehearsal and were just total asshats about it. They called me a kiss up, said that I oversell my part and end up detracting from the show. Like how the fuck can I over sell something when I can’t even say things out loud? Tell me John, because I really don’t fucking know.” His shoulders were tight, his hands balled into fists. John frowned.
John reached out and took Alexander’s hand in his own, lacing their fingers with soft and delicate movements. “It’s okay,” John mouthed slowly and clearly enough for Alex to understand. For a second, Alex wished that he could actually tell John what was wrong, that he could use his voice and speak up. He also wished that John was allowed to speak too, so that John could give Alex consoling that was directly applicable to his situation. But Alex took what he got, a meaningful look and intertwined fingers, and it was almost enough. John squeezed his hand and let go, nodding at Alex to keep talking. Alex sighed and nodded back, diving into how when the next production rolled around, he and John were getting the two lead roles, no fucking question.
Alexander was happy to think of John as one of his best friends, if not his number one best friend. But when Alexander made a connection with someone as deeply as the one he and Laurens had made, he was never satisfied with just best friends.
Alex didn’t connect with people easily. The only other time he’d felt as passionate for a person as he felt for John was with Eliza, his ex girlfriend. They’d dated for a while but called it off, something about “family drama” on Eliza’s part. Either way, Alexander knew the feeling he had in his chest when he looked at John, the feelings of butterflies and warmth and happiness. He’d felt the same way when he looked at Eliza. Alexander sucked at having deep connections with people, but he and John definitely had one, and Alex knew it was special.
Knowing this, Alex might have let his silent conversations with John drift to… other topics.
He told himself it was all about story building. They wanted to cast him as a nameless, faceless character? Fine. Alexander would make his own character, his own intricate narrative within the larger one. He’d give himself a storyline to follow, give himself personality and motivation. He didn’t have any lines, but he wasn’t going to be erased.
And if the story that Alex came up with happened to be the story of him and John being gay lovers throughout history, Alex wasn’t to be blamed. His muse had spoken to him- Alex didn’t question it’s storytelling genius, he just took the amazing ideas that were supplied to him and made them a reality.
So at the next rehearsal, Alex put his story into motion. Or at least, did the best that he could since he couldn’t actually fucking talk.
He did his best to incorporate the story slowly, making sure John was comfortable in their shift in dynamic. If he wasn’t, Alex would stop right away, but so far so good. Through the duration of the rehearsal, Alex had chatted easily with John, mouthing nothing too different than their usual topics of conversation, but this time with some compliments thrown in. Nothing too crazy, mostly things along the lines of “Your hair looks really cute today,” or “Have I told you how adorable your freckles are?” Towards the end of the rehearsal Alex threw in a flirtatious, “I think your pants look hot,” complete with an exaggerated wink. Alex swore he saw John blush.
Rehearsal after rehearsal Alex continued like this, adding more compliments and flirts as the show got closer and closer. One rehearsal Alex did nothing but spit poetry at John, almost all of it about love and beauty (there might have been one about overthrowing corruption in the government, Alex’s brain sort of went on autopilot for a few minutes in the middle of that runthrough). Alex started to get physically closer to John too, taking to distractedly playing with John’s fingers. John seemed happy, and didn’t protest Alex holding his hand inside or outside of the theater, so Alex kept doing it.
It wasn’t until dress rehearsal that Alex pulled out the big guns.
He hadn’t really meant to, but he just distracted and mad at Jefferson again and had ended up letting some shit slip out that he probably shouldn’t have.
“Fuck Laurens,” he mouthed tiredly. He’d been awake for the past 36 hours and was functioning on coffee and self hatred. “Do you know how hot you are? Like seriously, it’s not fair. Like, it’s not fair to me, specifically.” John’s expression was levelled, unreadable. Alexander kept talking (or mouthing, whatever). “Seriously, like I have to stand here with you for hours, hours! Every day! And I have to look at your face and not kiss you. Do you even know how hard that is? It’s really fucking hard Laurens.”
For what felt like the first time, John gave a reaction that didn’t fit Alex’s words. He laughed, a clearly fake and over dramatic laugh that Alex had never seen him do before. This wasn’t the bright and perfect laugh that he gave when Alex said something funny, this was something forced and wrong. Alex knit his eyebrows in suspicion, but guessed that John just couldn’t read his body language. He set his jaw, determined to be clearer in his intentions.
“John,” he said, taking a step towards his friend and grabbing his hands. “Seriously. If it takes losing a part for us to meet, it will have been worth it.” Alexander meant it. Being able to be next to John, to stand in enjoyable silence with someone who enjoyed his company was a billion times better than being a lead role alongside jerks who hated Alex’s guts. If Alex had gotten the part he wanted, he and John would’ve never become friends, and Alex didn’t want that. Alex wanted- he stopped himself, remembering that he was supposed to be acting right now, furthering his character’s narrative, not projecting emotions onto John that might not have been requited. He let go of John’s hands, forcing a smile and thanking god that he hadn’t said that out loud. Sure, John had undoubtedly picked up on Alexander’s body language that time around, but Alex felt a lot better knowing that John didn’t know what he’d said. Holding hands and smiling a lot didn’t ruin friendships; unreciprocated declarations of love did.
Alex practically ran out of rehearsal that night, calling out a rushed “Goodbye!” to his friends before sprinting back to his dorm. His stomach churned, his legs ached, and his mind raced. He’d fucked up, he’d overstepped his boundaries and now Laurens was going to hate him forever. Alex had tried to fix his mistake by denying he’d made it, but he knew that John was reading into the situation almost as much as Alex was. He wanted to fix things, wanted to apologize and tell John what he was thinking. He pulled out his phone, going to text John. But as the screen glowed in his dark dorm room, Alex found himself unable to come up with anything to say. His fingers hovered over the screen but he couldn’t bring himself to type. For once, he was speechless. He had no words for the boy who’d always listened to him.
He locked his phone and crawled into bed, getting some well deserved rest. He hoped it’d clear his mind enough so he could formulate a plan to fix things in the morning.
Alexander had spent the whole next day drafting an apology to John in his head. By the time rehearsal rolled around, Alex had a cohesive speech prepared, something that accurately covered all he wanted to say and wasn’t any longer than an hour and a half. Concise and to the point, he thought proudly.
He ran into rehearsal breathlessly, searching for John. He asked Mulligan and Lafayette, but they shrugged their shoulders, saying he’s been missing all day. Alexander tried not to panic. He failed.
John didn’t show up until a few minutes after their rehearsal started. Alex was shocked. John would never be late to rehearsal, especially when the performance was so close. They took their spots onstage, Alex unable to be anything other than stiff and scared.
He had a speech prepared, he had the perfect apology for John ready to go. He just couldn’t deliver it because he couldn’t fucking talk. Alex was frustrated as hell because things could be fixed, he was supposed to be fixing things, but he couldn’t. “Carrots and peas,” he mouthed over and over, faking a conversation because it was all he could think to do. He couldn’t hold a real conversation after what he’d done to John yesterday.
John was giving him this look, something steady and firm and unchanging that Alexander couldn’t quite pin. John almost looked analytical, like he was trying to make sense of something. Before Alex could delve deeper into decoding John’s facial expressions, his friend was moving, getting close enough to Alex that their foreheads were touching. Alex’s gut twisted, afraid that Washington would yell at them, but no reprimanding came. He relaxed and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to focus on what was happening in the real world, not inside his head.
“Alex,” John said, his voice low and rumbling, barely above a whisper. Alexander shivered. He stayed silent, out of both fear of being caught and knowledge that he was a shitty whisperer. “You know I can read lips, right?”
Alex pulled back from John sharply. He could what? Quickly the pieces fell into place. John was good at reaching to what Alex said because he actually knew what Alex was saying, not because he was reading Alex’s body language. He had given that fake laugh when Alex complimented him to throw Alex off of his scent, to make Alex believe that he hadn’t understood his declaration so Alex had the option to back out. But Alex didn’t back out, and John knew it. John knew everything, every story, every compliment, every poem. John knew.
And yet, John didn’t seem mad. Or upset. Or scared. He just looked concerned, like he was more concerned about Alex’s well being than he was about how Alex had just declared his love for him the other day and neither of them had acknowledged it since. He looked like he always did, ready to listen to whatever Alex wanted to say, even when he wasn’t allowed to actually say it. John had always been there, always happy to listen to Alexander’s musings. He cared about Alexander too, he had to. And as he looked into John’s wide eyes on stage, Alex realized. John loved him. John loved him back.
Fuck Jefferson, fuck Madison, fuck ‘em all, Alex thought decisively, not giving a shit who called him a show stealer. Maybe Washington would yell at him for bringing his offstage drama onstage, maybe Burr would tell him that he was far too eager, maybe his own friends would make fun of him for months and months to come. Alex didn’t care. He grabbed John’s face and kissed him, right on stage. It was meaningful, slow, gorgeous, perfect. When Alex pulled away he half expected applause to fill the room. It didn’t of course, this was only a dress rehearsal and they were about as far from the main characters as they could get, but still. Laurens was smiling brightly and Alex knew that they was the happiest people on that stage, even though they weren’t in the spotlight. Maybe Alex didn’t need the spotlight. Maybe being next to John was enough.
Alex dropped that thought almost immediately. He wasn’t going to choose between John and the spotlight. He was going to take John into the spotlight with him, obviously. With kisses like the one they’d just shared, it was clearly where they belonged.
They spent the rehearsal talking about everything and nothing (or, Alex talked while John communicated through reactions because Alex still couldn’t read lips for shit), singing and dancing during their numbers and giggling offstage when it they weren’t needed. Mulligan and Lafayette had apparently seen the kiss, so John and Alex spent most of the night trying to dodge their incessant barrage of teasing and questioning.
At the end of rehearsal Alexander stood with John outside of the theater, their hands clasped as they faced one another in the brisk twilight. “So are we...?” John asked, letting the question trail off.
Alex was already nodding. “Yes,” he jumped in before realizing that John should have a say too. “I mean um, if you want to.”
John kissed Alex, softly and sweetly. “Of course I do.” He let go of Alex’s hands, turning towards the walk back to the dorms. Alex did the same, feeling like he wanted to start singing. He turned to look at John, asking, “See you on opening night tomorrow?”
John bumped their hips, grinning as he answered, “You know it, Ham.” They bid each other goodnight and walked their separate ways, going back to their dorm rooms and falling asleep almost immediately.
And then it was opening night. Alexander was nervous for a seemingly never ending list of reasons, but he could feel something below his nerves. Excitement burned slowly away at Alex until it took over his anxiety and he was practically bouncing off the walls waiting for it to be showtime. Waiting so he could see John again.
The performance went flawlessly; it really went on without a hitch. Alexander and John did what they usually did, never really paying much attention to any of the lead actors. And if Alex snuck in a few more onstage kisses, it wasn’t his fault. He was just staying in character. When he pulled away to see John’s smile, the bright stage lights twinkling in his eyes, Alex knew that he was doing the right thing. Maybe sometimes shutting up was the best thing he could do.