James Buchanan hated Lincoln the first time he met him. Well, actually, he hated Lincoln for the first year and half of their acquaintanceship, albeit in a low level well. But he hated him on sight because he was so much taller than James was and he was making Rufus smile.
There’s no reason Lincoln and Rufus should have gotten along. Like James and Lincoln they were on opposite sides of nearly every issue. But Rufus had that southern charm going for him and Lincoln walked around DC like a really scrappy, really ugly puppy—the kind of dog Rufus could never never resist and was constantly trying to convince James to adopt.
To be honest, James was most surprised to even see Lincoln at a bar. He wasn’t the bar type and this particular bar was not only full of Democrats, but known for being where political machinations happened—the exact thing that Lincoln detested and publicly sniffed at. But there he was, 20 feet away, downing some gin and laughing at Rufus’ joke. James debated just acting like a child and calling it a night, but then Rufus caught his eye and waved him over and he sighed, grabbed his whiskey and braced himself to meet Lincoln.
“James!” Rufus said, clapping him on the back, “You must meet the charming Mr. Abe Lincoln. Abraham, this is my dear friend Mr. James Buchanan.”
“A pleasure,” James said amicably, but Lincoln’s eyes narrows as he said, slowly, angrily, “Oh, I know who Mr. Buchanan is. The Northerner who loves slavery. The Northerner who brought slavery to Cuba.”
Then he nodded at Rufus, finished his drink and stalked out of the bar. And well, after an introduction like that, how could he do anything but hate Lincoln?
Despite the fact that it was known in Washington circles that he and Rufus were….companionable, Lincoln continued to be Rufus’ friend. In deference to James’ moods, Rufus never brought it up and never forced them to interact again. But James knew that he enjoyed the tall, odd-looking man’s company and he knew that sometimes Rufus would come home late and crawl into bed smelling like whiskey and meat and muttering about log cabins. James tried not to hold it against him and tried even harder not to be too jealous.
Of course, during their next longest interaction, Lincoln had to go and be a big god damn hero.
They were at a bar and he and Rufus were trying to be discrete while having, well, a lover’s quarrel. Over drapes. It was ridiculous and James knew it was ridiculous, but it was his house and Rufus may have been his and he loved him, but he was not going to get a say in the drapery of the living room of James’ own family home. He wasn’t. And so they were bickering and were drunk and maybe a bit louder than they intended to be. So of course that’s when Jackson—the asshole—walked by.
“Oh what’s wrong, Aunt Fancy, your husband cutting off your allowance? Forbidding you from the quilting bee?” he said to Rufus, with a huge smirk. “Maybe if your maidenhead was still intact you could find yourself a better quality man than doughface here.”
No one, least of all James, least of all Jackson, expected Lincoln to deck him one after that, But James didn’t mind all that much either.
And after that, well, he could deign to give Lincoln a nod and a smile in public, even if he hated him. Even if he hated that he had been the one who defended Rufus’ honor. Even if he hated that Lincoln was kind about the horrible, shameful thing between him and Rufus.
It’s almost fitting that Rufus dies in Cuba. Almost.
James wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to make it to the funeral. And if he got there, he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to make it through the funeral without trying to throw himself into the ground. He was already out of sorts the morning of when there was a knock on the door and there stood Lincoln.
”Hello,” he said, eyes red like James’. “I thought. I mean. I thought you might like some company. On the way there. I know, you and I—but Rufus always said we’d get along if we only just talked and…” he swallowed hard before continuing, “I think he’d have liked it if. We went there. Together.”
And James was so surprised, so honestly touched that for the first time since he heard the news, for the first time since he saw the body—Rufus’ body cold and stony and not like him—he broke down and sobbed. Lincoln just through an arm around him and rubbed his back.
They maybe become friends after that.
It’s no secret that Buchanan hated Douglas, but Lincoln hated him too and so they bond over that. They argue a lot—they argue most of the time—but they also get in loud, exuberant discussions about what a dick Douglass was and how awful Jackson was and how they hated, well, most of Washington is. It’s nice and if it means James starts thinking of him as Abe and if it means they go out and drink whiskey too much together and if it means coming home to his home—Rufus’ home—a little less lonely that’s ok too.
He didn’t know Abe could arm wrestle until he saw him take down Millard god damn Fillmore in a bar match.
The thing about Fillmore is that he’s really, really boring and really, really forgettable, but he’s also built like a goddam Ox. And Abe, well, isn’t. Abe is awkward and gangly and tall and ok, he has some arm muscle (all that wood chopping!) but he’s not Fillmore. Fillmore who, James is sure, went into the Mexican War and just ripped people’s head off with his bare arms.
But Abe doesn’t even flinch when Fillmore challenges him, just grins, crazily, downs his shot (James may be a bad influence, in regards to drinking) and goes to town. It isn’t even close.
If afterwards James starts having dreams about tall bodies and strong hands holding him down, well. No one has to know.
It comes to a head in James’ study one night. He’s exhausted from the campaign, the speeches, the pandering and Abe is just as exhausted as he always is, like he’s carrying the world on his back and he wishes he didn’t have to. They’re barely talking, just sipping brandy next to each other, legs touching a little, books on their laps. It’s….nice. It reminds James a lot of Rufus and that doesn’t hurt nearly as bad anymore. It feels right, like it would make Rufus happy to know that James became friends with his friend.
Abe breaks the silence by clearing throat and saying “Want to arm wrestle?”
James doesn’t even know how to process that for a second and so he just stares and so Abe continues, more awkwardly, “I just….I can’t even focus on the words anymore. Sometimes doing something physical helps with being so tired. And you always enjoy watching me wrestle at the bar…” and then he shrugs and smiles a little.
“I….sure?” James says, because he does like watching Abe wrestle, but he knows he’s not going to win. He’s doughy and uncoordinated and it’s not even close to a fair match up. But then he thinks about those dreams and touching Abe, even a little bit, and smiles. He adds, more confidently “Yes, of course! But try not to break my hand—the future President can’t put a broken hand on the Bible, after all.”
Abe laughs, pulls over the coffee table and starts rolling up his sleeves. James does the same and then they’re sitting across from each other, staring into each other’s faces in a way they never had before and grasping each other’s hands. Abe tightens his grip and James shivers, just a bit.
“Oh my count,” Abe says “One…..two……three.”
And they’re off and James was right, it’s not even close to a fair fight, but Abe is going a little easy on him so they struggle for about twenty seconds before Abe easily slams his arm down on the table.
James loses track of what number loss he’s on before he finally wins one. It takes longer than it does with Abe, but after about a minute he’s successfully pinned Abe’s arm down and he feels pretty proud about that. Abe is still grinning and laughing and puts his arm up for the next round.
Only this time when he tightens his grip, Abe starts stroking his thumb on James’ hand. It startles James so much he loses in about five seconds and then his arm is pinned and Abe is still stroking with his thumb and then his other arm comes up and starts tracing designs on James’ pinned arm and suddenly James can’t breathe.
”James.” Abe says, softly “James, I….” and then he pulls the hand stroking James arm off, reaches across the table, cups James’ cheek in his hand and kisses him. Hard.
And before James can process it there’s tongue and his own hands are moving and it’s like they’ve been waiting for this moment for years, ever since that first night in the bar, ever since forever. They’re awkwardly making their way up the stairs, shedding clothes and shoes, murmuring things they can’t mean or hear and then they’re on the bed, naked, and Abe is pinning him down and kissing his neck and James feels like he might explode.
“Abe…” he starts to say, “Abe, Rufus…I. You know I—”
“it’s ok,” Abe says. “I know. It’s fine, it’s ok.” And then they don’t talk anymore.
It’s not the best sex James has ever had—and Abe is not Rufus—but it’s still wonderful to touch and be touched. He wakes up with the sun coming through red drapes (Rufus won that argument in the end) and Abe pressed against him and he smiles before he remembers to be sad. He smiles before he remembers that they should never do this again. They’re on opposite sides in a fractured country and James was barely holding it together after losing Rufus before he started running for President. And Abe is too kind, too sweet to be ignored for a campaign, for an office.
He sits up to start to say all this, but Abe looks him in the eye and smiles. Gives a small nod of understanding. James knows he gets it.
They don’t talk again until Inauguration Night and they don’t really talk much then either. Abe barges into his hotel room after the victory party has died down and kisses him his congratulations.
It definitely is the best sex James ever had, but he still wishes it had been with Rufus.
They see each other around town after the election, but being the President is time consuming and the country is falling apart and those differing beliefs they held—have always held—are getting harder to ignore. They make polite conversation in public and Abe will occasionally send him letters that show understanding and caring, even as James’ presidency goes to shit and Douglas starts to take it all away.
It’s petty and shows no party loyalty, but he cheers every time Abe wins a debate.
After the election—after his ousting, his humiliation—when James turns to Abe and says ”If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man,” he knows that Abe gets it. He wants Abe to love being the President like he loved Rufus, wants Abe to fix the country like he could never fix his heart after the loss.
And maybe he doesn’t love Abe, but he loves him for understanding him in that moment and smiling.
Which is maybe why they kiss after he says it.
Abe’s death doesn’t hurt as much as Rufus’ death did, but he breaks down all the same.