After Richmond fell, the British reinforcements that would have defended it were forced to retreat. News spread like wildfire, and Patriot support poured into the city. By the end of October, the entire Virginia colony was back under Patriot control.
The British armies that had surrendered in the months prior were already being sent back to Britain with the news of their defeat. England himself reluctantly joined them. He spent the entire voyage trying in vain to prepare himself for his king's reaction. Meanwhile, Columbia returned to Philadelphia for the winter.
Hamilton and Greene saw to defending the Virginia border. Their task proved an easy one; the Loyalists never launched a single attack. The Patriot army spent the whole winter on alert, in anticipation of surprise raids or attempts to retake land, but the attacks never came. Then, in early March, just when General Hamilton was about to restart the southern campaign, he received a letter from the president of Congress announcing Britain's official surrender.
The war was over.
Hamilton did not completely disband the Continental Army, however. The men whose enlistments were almost expired he allowed to return home, but the rest stayed to protect the Virginia border. He stayed as well, and sent letters to Columbia and to Congress requesting further instructions. About a week later, Congress sent instructions to try to open negotiations with representatives from the southern colonies.
While Hamilton sent a party into North Carolina under the flag of truce, Columbia headed to New York with two representatives of his own. They spent only one night in the city before going straight to the harbor. From there, they boarded the first ship bound for France.
Several weeks later, after arriving in France, Columbia and his representatives met with England and his representatives in Paris. After completing the negotiations, they would finally sign the peace treaty to end the war. At last, seven long years after the last revolution, the North American colonies would finally have their independence.
Columbia sat at the table in the center of the room, staring intently at the door. Though he kept his expression blank, his whole body was tense with nervous anticipation. He watched the door for a minute in total silence, sitting absolutely still except for the index finger of his right hand as he tapped incessantly on the table's edge. When the door finally opened, Columbia jumped. Quickly regaining his composure, Columbia fixed his attention on the person now entering the room.
England took half a step inside and pivoted slightly. He glanced behind him as if waiting for someone else, but then walked further into the room, leaving the door ajar. As he placed a hand on the back of the nearest chair, he looked in Columbia's direction, and the two nations locked gazes for a second.
England looked away first, and quietly sat down in his chair. He spent the rest of the time before the meeting started staring at the wall. Columbia forced himself to stop tapping on the table, and took to playing with the edge of his sleeve instead.
The rest of the negotiators on both sides eventually filed in and took their seats. England tore his gaze away from the wall to pay attention to the proceedings. Columbia stopped fidgeting.
The meeting went on for quite some time while the two nations mostly just listened in. But as the subject moved on to the issue of the southern colonies, Columbia suddenly became visibly agitated.
"Those colonies have already declared their loyalty to the Crown," one of the men from England's side said. "Do not force them to join themselves to your nation against their will."
"The Tory militia declared their loyalty to the Crown, and forced the inhabitants of our sister colonies to cooperate," Columbia's representative shot back. "I tell you right now, there is as strong a Patriot presence there as there was in 1776."
"And what of the colonists who still wish to live as British subjects?" the English negotiator said. "If you take those colonies, you leave them nowhere to go."
"They can return to Britain, along with the rest of your armies."
"Nor are these colonies the only British possessions in the New World," Columbia's other representative added. "Our fellow colonists will not be left without recourse."
Columbia lowered his gaze. He stared at his hands, which now rested idle on his knees. Meanwhile, the memory of the sight of Alexander after the Battle of Richmond suddenly forced its way into his thoughts.
He was still alive when I took Virginia back, he thought. Could he still personify the southern colonies, even if they were returned to my control?
The argument over the southern colonies went on and on. By the time the meeting adjourned, the issue was still unresolved. Columbia and England's representatives left, but the two nations remained at the table. They sat in uncomfortable silence for a minute, until Columbia finally got up and headed for the door.
He placed his hand on the handle, but hesitated to open the door. He turned his head slightly, and he and England exchanged glances for the first time since the meeting began.
"They won't stop, will they?" England said.
"They intend to have one united country," Columbia replied. "The southern colonies fought for independence in the last war. We won't leave them to continue to suffer under British rule."
"And what of the Loyalist Confederation?"
Columbia tightened his grip on the handle.
"He survived the Battle of Richmond," he said. "I left him in General Hamilton's custody. When I return, I will meet with him to discuss… postwar arrangements."
England's eyes narrowed into an accusatory glare.
"And what might those be?" he demanded.
Columbia's hand turned and pulled a little too strongly on the door handle. The door slammed into the adjacent wall, damaging the door's hinges. When Columbia released the handle, the handle had also deformed under his grip.
"I'm not going to kill him, if that's what you're asking," he said curtly.
With that, he strode out of the room. Leaving the broken door hanging open behind him, Columbia hurried down the hall, not stopping until he reached his private quarters. He went inside and promptly locked the door.
Meanwhile, England remained seated in the meeting room for a little longer. Half a minute after Columbia had gone, England slowly rose from his chair and made his way to the door. He halted at the door, looking at the damage Columbia had done to it.
America used to do this, before he learned how to control his strength, England thought. What is happening to Canada? First his eyes, now the strength… even his personality seems to have become more like America…
And what of Alexander? Even if Canada himself doesn't kill him, the loss of the colonies will…
After several weeks of negotiations, England and Columbia finally reached an agreement, and the peace treaty was signed. England ceded the three southern colonies to the newly independent United States of Columbia. In return, Columbia arranged for colonists wishing to remain loyal to the Crown to have safe passage either back to Britain, or to the British colonies in the Caribbean. Immediately after seeing the treaty signed, Columbia returned to New York.
Jubilation filled the air wherever he went. Independence celebrations lasted for days in some places. But Columbia wasn't ready to join in his people's festivities just yet. There were a few things he needed to do first. He saddled up and rode south.
Upon returning to Virginia, Columbia went to General Hamilton's headquarters in Richmond and immediately arranged a meeting with him, asking about Alexander.
"Alexander Jones? The child we took into our custody after the Battle of Richmond?" Hamilton said.
Columbia nodded, and Hamilton let out a heavy sigh.
"I released him and the other prisoners of war a month ago," Hamilton said.
"Do you know where he went?" Columbia asked. "I need to speak with him."
Hamilton shook his head slowly. "Unfortunately, I don't think that's possible," he said. "According to the latest reports, he's dead."
That's not possible; only another nation could have – oh… no... what have I done...
"Just a few days ago, I was informed of the death of a young Loyalist leader named Alexander Jones," Hamilton said. "Unless it's just a coincidence, and there was someone else by the same name – "
Columbia shook his head.
"No," he said. "He… was the Loyalist Confederation. It makes sense…"
"He was one of your kind?" Hamilton asked. He looked thoughtful for a second, then confused. "Then that report may be mistaken. If you didn't kill him – "
"He has nothing left. Every British colony on this continent is part of me now."
Hamilton didn't say anything, but the realization quickly showed on his face. Columbia stared at the floor for a minute, then abruptly stood up and made his way to the door.
"What are you doing?" Hamilton asked.
"I have nothing else to do here," Columbia replied. "I'm going back to New York. There's someone else I need to visit…"
He dismissed himself and started down the corridor, headed for the exit. He only made it halfway before abruptly stopping in his tracks. Burying his face in one hand, he leaned against the wall and slowly sank to his knees as he silently cursed himself and wept.
Columbia arrived in New York in early July, still reeling from Hamilton's news. Instead of going into the city, however, he went straight to Fort West Point. Since the war ended, and Lafayette returned to France, the fort's garrison was almost completely gone. Only a token handful of soldiers remained to keep an eye on things. The rest had since returned home to their families.
Still, Columbia never went to the fort itself. He wandered along the paths leading to it, but stopped at a familiar spot. He wandered off the path and into the woods. Eventually, he reached a clearing.
He halted briefly. Reaching into his satchel, he felt around for a certain roll of parchment. When he found it, he closed his fingers around it, but did not yet withdraw it from the satchel. Slowly, he walked further into the clearing.
As he reached the far side of the clearing, he halted once more, and knelt in front of America's grave. At last, he withdrew the parchment. He broke the seal and unrolled the paper, placing it in front of the grave.
"I've finally done it, Alfred," Columbia said. "Here is the peace treaty. The war's over."
A smile briefly tugged at his lips, but it didn't last.
"Our people are free," he continued. "But I made mistakes on the way, and I've paid for them dearly."
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath as if to steel himself.
"I fought this war to avenge you… but now I too have a nation's blood on my hands. Tell Alexander… I'm sorry."
Columbia heaved a sigh. He stayed where he was for a few moments longer, staring absently at the inscription of America's name on the wooden cross in front of him. Not wanting to leave yet, he lowered himself into a seated position on the grass.
I should return to New York, he thought. I can't torture myself like this forever…
Several minutes later, he gave up, rolled up the copy of the treaty, and put it back in his satchel. He then rose to his feet.
But he still hesitated to leave. He turned slightly as if to go, but did not leave his spot. As he continued to stare down at America's grave, a summer breeze blew through the clearing, ruffling Columbia's hair. Off in the distance, there was a low rumble of cannon fire. Yet there was no battle – these were shots of celebration.
"They're celebrating our independence today," Columbia said. "And it sounds like the celebration has started."
He allowed himself to smile, even if it was only for a second.
"Happy birthday, America."