This week’s flash fiction for Wednesday Briefs is semi-historical fiction, semi-Hamilton fan fiction. I doubt Lin-Manuel Miranda will read this one, but the Hamilton references are pretty clear.
Weehawken, Take Two. Prompts used: “Don’t you know there is no justice?”; “Forget it, this was a mistake.”
Aaron Burr’s shot misses. Not by much—it grazes Alexander Hamilton’s shoulder enough to leave a streak of burnt fabric in what had once been the man’s third-best jacket. The heat of it can be felt in the skin below the sleeve. For a moment, Hamilton stares dumbly at the spot on his body where Burr’s bullet strayed from its intended target. His arm hangs in the air, gun raised to the sky, wavering in the New Jersey breeze that carries the promise of the oncoming dawn.
The moment passes, and Burr is in his face, looking at the immigrant with a mixture of shock and concern.
“We go for a second shot—” starts Hamilton.
“We negotiate a truce.”
“A truce?” Hamilton’s brow wrinkles. “No, I would think that now that you have failed to meet your mark, you will want to try again at the task. Perhaps my heart, if you can aim for such a fleeting target.”
“We negotiate a truce,” Burr repeats. His eyes flicker over Hamilton like a pair of nervous moths searching for a flame. “Or, at the very least, the illusion of one. Dismiss your second, tell everyone we have reached an agreement. Let this go, Alexander.”
“Burr, sir, I am not the one who started this—”
Burr takes no pleasure in cutting off Hamilton a second time (okay, maybe a small margin of pleasure). “No, I did. And now I am bringing it to its natural end.”
“Its natural end is with one of us dead.”
“Not today,” Burr says. “I did not aim to miss, but I did. Perhaps a greater, unknown grace stayed my hand. Perhaps it was a kindness I did not think possible to afford you. Either way, you are alive, I am alive, and we have both thrown away our shots.”
Burr turns away. His gun hand is shaking. His gun—where is his gun? He dropped it, apparently, and it’s lying in the grass, still hot to the touch from his misfire.
“This was a mistake,” someone murmurs. It sounds like Hamilton’s second. Burr does not remember the man’s name.
“And what of my honor, Burr? Would you take that from me? Will you not take your own form of justice against the man who has apparently driven you to this state?”
Hamilton’s voice is cause enough for Burr to turn back. “Better your honor than your life, which has already been taken from me.” He laughs, voice bitter as racème amer and just as medicinal. “There is no justice here.”
“There was no justice for Theodosia,” Burr says, and the memory of his late wife closes his throat for a swift second in an unrealized sob before he continues. “There was no justice for my family, for my reputation, for my compatriots, and there will be no justice for the vice president of this newborn republic of ours. I won’t waste my time trying to kill you a second time.”
Burr takes no pleasure in rendering Hamilton, his friend and rival, speechless. He walks back to the boat, his second trailing behind him, silence ringing in his ears.
One week passes—one week of the usual back and forth missives between Hamilton and Burr’s homes, albeit a little more subdued than usual, one week of Burr’s office shuttered to new business as its usual occupant did the impossible and actually worked with President Jefferson in the capital city, one week of continual sightings of Hamilton walking with his wife Eliza and their children through uptown when he would normally be at home scratching away at another essay that will end up not being written. Burr stands with hat in hand at his old enemy’s door. He expects to be greeted by a servant, but when the door opens, it is Alexander himself, in shirtsleeves and vest, his graying hair hanging loose around his face.
“Aaron Burr, sir.” Alexander takes a step forward. “Please come in. It’s almost lunch time and we would appreciate the company.”
“It’s just Eliza and myself at the moment. The children are otherwise engaged in town.” A smile dares to take form on Alexander’s tired mouth. “And I know that Jefferson has not called on you all day, so you have at least the afternoon free.”
Burr doesn’t bother to ask how the other man knows such information, simply chalking it up to the prevalent Federalist presence in the White House, a network of Hamiltonians who still feed gossip to their favorite ex-Treasury secretary.
“Perhaps we can make this a business lunch?”
“What kind of business?”
Burr takes a keen pleasure from the confusion on Alexander’s face, if only because he knows what is coming next. “Seven days ago, we nearly threw away our lives in a petty duel. Today can be the day we change the course of our lives in a dramatic way, one befitting our fated escape from death.”
Alexander turns to let Burr inside. “All right, that sounds decent enough—maybe too decent for you. I should have guessed from our letters you’ve been thinking about that duel in New Jersey since it happened. What course-changing shift did you have in mind?”
“Partnership?” Alexander echoes.
Burr smirks. It is something he has been considering since that one moment between them, maybe even since he first met Alexander Hamilton as a young college student ready to take on the world. “What do you think of Burr and Hamilton, attorneys at law?”
They cross the threshold into the house together, the smell of baked bread and autumn soup sealing the deal.
“It sounds like we’re going to have our own dining table compromise. Imagine that, Aaron!”
“You finally made it into the room where it happens.” Alexander’s face looks a little less tired as he continues. “Although we might have to talk about the name…”
This time, Burr’s shot did not miss.
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