Chapter 1: I just died in your arms tonight
A practice drill leads to some real feelings being awoken and hitherto unknown desires being stirred.
Chapter One : (I Just) Died In Your Arms Tonight
And I don't see an easy way to get out of this – (I Just) Died in Yours Arms Tonight, Cutting Crew
Trauma surgeon James Flint eyed John Silver across the room. The man was infuriating on so many levels. For one thing he never shut up; Max said he'd make a good salesman with that silver tongue that went with his silver name, and she was probably right.
They already had a pharmaceutical rep in the form of Jack Rackham, who in Flint's opinion spent far too much time at this particular hospital on account of whatever weird relationship he had with Anne (anaesthetics), and Max (trauma nurse), or so it was said. Also Eleanor was maybe involved but Flint was not going to touch any of that with a bargepole. It was none of his business and hell, whatever kept Eleanor mostly happy.
Officially Eleanor Guthrie's father was head of the hospital, but his prolonged illness – and God only knew there were rumours about that too – kept him away from work and Eleanor had been acting chief for so long that she was now widely considered to be the chief.
Right now Eleanor was outlining plans for a preparedness drill. A staged incident with multiple casualties to see how well the hospital could cope in a real emergency. She was quite certain there would not be an incident like last time when a fake patient got the wrong type of imitation blood and a real doctor got actually fired.
After that statement with its implicit threat, Eleanor began talking about benchmarks and scores and funding, but Flint kept looking over at Silver rather than paying attention.
Silver had relatively recently come to them from another hospital, the best of a bunch of bad candidates, and Flint had recommended him to Eleanor on the strength of his record, but with reservations. He felt Silver was skilled though he could also be capricious and cocksure.
"I happen to be a very good doctor," Silver had said at his interview and, when pressed about his commitment to Providence General, "It seems nice. I can certainly see myself working here. At least until the wind changes."
He clearly thought he was charming and able to get away with saying such things and, with that dazzling smile, there was no doubt he was used to pulling it off.
It wasn't just the smile either, but the brilliant blue eyes and that hair that aroused his distrust; Flint kept his hair tied in a neat ponytail at the nape of his neck, neat and tidy while Silver wore his hair even longer and the mass of shiny black curls was usually only half-pinned back. Silver was too pretty, though Flint would never say it to his co-workers; certainly never to the lovely Eleanor or the gorgeous Max or even Anne, who was really rather beautiful on the rare occasions when she wasn't scowling. It was wrong to think less of Silver because of his looks and yet...
"Does anyone have any questions?" Eleanor asked.
Silver's hand shot up. "What if there's a real incident?"
Eleanor gave him a withering look. "We will do our best to prioritise the actual patients over the practice ones. Doctors who can't tell the difference upon an initial exam will be put on immediate administrative leave."
There were a few laughs.
"Looks like you might get a week off, Vane," Silver said because apparently he felt like poking the bear today. There were a few more chuckles. Vane gave him the finger.
Eleanor rolled her eyes but otherwise ignored them. "Any other questions?"
There were none. They were dismissed. People headed off to do rounds, grab coffees; a few were going home while others finished preparing for their shift.
"Doctor Silver," Eleanor called before he could leave and beckoned him with one finger. "A word."
Vane snickered. "Detention again, Johnny-boy?"
Silver put on his best expression of hurt innocence; why was everyone always picking on him? It would work on Eleanor about as well as his charming smile or his puppy dog pout did, i.e. not at all. Flint shook his head, amused, and left the room.
Whatever Eleanor said didn't dampen Silver's spirits much however for he soon strolled into Flint's office, and gave one of his ingratiating smiles.
"You said you'd talk to me about the latest protocols today," Silver reminded him, which was timely given that they'd be judged on how well they followed the newest guidelines during the exercise.
Flint nodded. "Yes," adding sternly, "after you've done your paperwork."
"Who says I haven't done my paperwork already?" Silver's smile faltered as Flint glared at him. "Five minutes," he said and dashed off.
Flint gave an exasperated sigh. Silver was at least eager to learn and a quick study. He'd rapidly weaselled his way into the team (even if Flint thought it was a superficial attachment at best) and Billy liked him even when Silver won consistently at the department's poker games. Dufresne and Gates didn't bad-mouth him which counted as praise, and Max – well, that was pretty much par for the initiation ritual wasn't it? And whatever she'd discovered about Silver since and undoubtedly reported about him to Eleanor had not been anything bad enough to get Silver moved on.
The truth, Flint knew, as he reviewed a case file one more time, was that he was harsh on Silver because he found him attractive, and it terrified him. Miranda suspected this; after he'd gone home yelling about some minor mistake Silver had made, she'd said, "Is he seeing anyone?"
That had thrown him. "How should I know?"
"You could ask."
"What are you suggesting? Anyway, he's a colleague," Flint had protested in a panic, despite the myriad relationships going on under the hospital roof – literally, in some cases. He'd once caught a pair of first year residents at it in a storage closet, and he knew some of what went on in terms of the "initiation" offered to new employees, or at least the ones Max didn't hate on sight. "Not to mention he's irresponsible and annoying!"
Miranda had given a deep sigh. "As you say," she said, which was Miranda speak for you're an idiot but I'm done arguing. She'd changed the subject and they hadn't returned to it since.
Billy Bone (orthopaedics, suitably enough) joined Flint to talk about a patient and Flint put his thoughts about Silver aside for the time being.
Flint was not in the best of moods next morning as the exercise got underway. Intellectually he understood the need for the drills, yet somehow it rankled at him to play pretend when he could be practising medicine for real. He'd not slept well the previous night and he was cranky. He was also a man down. Where the hell was Silver? Drill or not he was supposed to be here. He was already late and if he chose today to take his first ever sick day then Flint would make him pay.
The storyline was some sort of an explosion; some sources were reporting a bomb, other people were saying a gas main in a busy street. Whichever was true had little impact in terms of Flint's immediate duties, though it did make a difference to the security staff, amongst others.
Flint sent his stabilised patient off to be monitored elsewhere to free up another trauma bed. Nearby, Vane split a glove, cursed, continued to work, got chewed out by Eleanor, and went to clean himself up. They'd argue later about the risk vs rewards of his actions. Flint pulled off his own gloves, disposed of them, re-gloved for the next case. They knew this was supposed to be a major incident but Eleanor was bringing them to the brink with this particular scenario.
"Someone page Silver again," Flint bellowed.
"I don't think that will help," Anne said, and before he could turn on her – Silver was a little shit but he'd never failed to show up to a page before, and if anyone was going to doubt him it would be Flint, not her – he saw what she'd already noticed.
"This is part of the drill?" Anne asked, uncertain.
Flint's next patient was John Silver.
Silver had been given an offer he didn't dare refuse. Eleanor wanted him to switch his day off to the day of the exercise in order to volunteer his time to playing a patient; it was hinted that there might be some goodwill earned by his co-operation and being in Eleanor's good books was always better than the alternative. She'd insinuated he would be unable to restrain himself in order to play the unconscious victim and while it had clearly been an attempt at reverse psychology he was nonetheless determined to prove her wrong.
Still, it was a strangely unnerving experience.
The trauma team worked to protocols, an organised chaos, and when he was part of that team Silver fed off the adrenaline rush and did his job to the very best of his ability. Under the more hectic conditions of the drill, with more casualties than they ever usually saw (thankfully), and forced to be passive – to be done to, rather than to do to someone else – Silver was given a whole new perspective.
Eleanor had provided him with clothes that would be cut off, sacrificed for the sake of realism, but unlike an actual trauma victim he would be allowed to keep his briefs on. (He was also to be spared the indignity of even the pretence of a nastrogastic tube to remove any stomach contents that might be otherwise aspirated. There were some lines he did not want to cross.) Still, there were hands everywhere and someone – he hoped it was Max because there was precedent there – did tuck a catheter tube under his briefs, affixing it with tape.
There was a lot more tape as needle-less IV lines were applied, and the electrodes would no doubt leave sticky residue on his chest. He got a brief glimpse of the hospital ceiling when someone prised open his eyes to check his pupils and the light was bright enough to obscure their identity. There was no sign of a head injury, though Flint would want a CT anyway.
The backstory Eleanor had given him was that he'd been present at the incident and had been assisting with patients, seemingly unhurt, before collapsing at the hospital entrance as he accompanied another trauma patient to the ER.
Eleanor joined them now, reading from the crib sheet; for each patient she or one of the other non-participating staff members stood by and gave the results of the blood tests ordered and other investigations. They doubled up as the scribe, since they were already in charge of recording the staff's actions for evaluation purposes.
In response to the feedback from the tests and equipment, as filtered via Eleanor and her notes, Anne began supporting his breathing with an Ambu bag, holding the mask in place with one hand while gently squeezing the bag with the other. He trusted Anne not to fuck up his breathing, to play her part while keeping him safe. He'd trust her if this was real. She was good at her job.
It was nice to have her treat him with concern for once, rather than disdain, and he was oddly touched by her soft words of encouragement. "Hold in there, John," she said softly, committed to reacting as if this were a real situation, just as she must have done with the other simulated patients. It was the only time he recalled her ever using his first name. "We've got you."
The make-up artists hired for the event hadn't had too much to do in his case. A small cut to one cheek, some minor bruising to his shoulder and at the site of what was likely a cracked rib. Unlike the more bloody wounds that had been created for other patients, Silver's injuries would prove to be mostly of the internal variety.
Max had already noted some fullness in the abdomen and now that Anne was on top of managing the airway, Flint took it upon himself to repeat the examination. Silver got a surprising kick out of such personal attention from Flint, especially when Flint's evaluation was thorough, taking longer, and with deeper palpations, than Max's cursory inspection.
"Fully booked," came the reply.
Flint barked an order for an ultrasound. The conductive gel was cold on Silver's lower belly and it took a great deal of effort not to react when it was applied. The transducer was put in place and the distinctive swooshing sound was clearly audible. While there was nothing untoward for Flint to diagnose in reality, Eleanor announced, "Free fluid in the abdomen."
Maybe Silver was imagining it, but he thought she sounded rather pleased about it.
"Shit," Flint said and repeated the sentiment when he found out CT was still unavailable.
Someone wiped the gel from Silver's body and threw a blanket over him to help with the shock. He was glad because he was getting cold. While they waited, despite more fluids being pushed, Silver's condition was rapidly deteriorating, his blood pressure falling. Flint decided to skip the CT and demanded the next available OR.
Eleanor asked Flint a couple of questions about his decisions so far, and then she updated him on Silver's vitals which were, as expected, not good.
"I get in there and find the source of the bleeding or he dies," Flint said bluntly. "Get me an OR or so help me God, I'll open him up here."
"You wouldn't dare," Eleanor said with a hint of awe despite her horror.
They never found out, because finally an OR was available and a moment later they were on the move.
Somewhere along the corridor the corner of the gurney caught the edge of a door frame, sending a judder through the gurney and Silver alike. Fuck, that would have hurt like hell if he'd been truly injured. Assholes. Silver swore to be a little more careful in future when moving patients. No point damaging them further for the sake of one second longer in getting to the OR.
It took more concentration to lie still when they reached the OR and prepared to move him to the table. There were so many wires and tubes, and he was practically naked, and felt far more vulnerable than when he'd been dumped onto the gurney in the trauma room.
Sometimes a dummy patient was used to practice surgeries, complete with fairly realistic blood and organs. Sometimes as a pure test of surgical procedures, or part of training for newly qualified staff, the team went through the motions of draping, supplying and keeping track of instruments, and generally making sure that protocols were followed.
While the drills tended to use the latter approach, following through with their volunteer human patients rather than the training dummies, in other such surgical training sessions patients were generally allowed to keep more of their clothes on. This was the best or worst of both worlds, depending on your perspective.
Terse exchanges took place as the staff began their preparations. While the team scrubbed in, Anne handled the anaesthesia. She announced which drugs and in what amounts her assistant was adding to the IV line and her intention to apply the anaesthetic gas. That gave him some warning before the mask was held over his face, so he was expecting the hiss of air – no actual combination of gases was allowed during simulations – accompanied by the slight smell of plastic, a little like the odour of a new shower curtain.
Idelle had taken over from Eleanor for supervision of the surgery and it was she who told Anne that the patient was fully under.
Next Anne made a show of the intubation, tipping his head back and sliding the laryngoscope into his mouth briefly to allow for insertion of the endotracheal tube. The tube was actually placed just at the front of his mouth and secured with a Thomas tube holder so he didn't have to clamp down with his teeth to hold it in place. Someone held a stethoscope to his chest, checking both lungs to ensure the correct placement of the tube, which Idelle confirmed, and the ventilator was connected.
His eyes were taped shut so he couldn't see anything even if he'd wanted to, and his arms were strapped to the padded armrests of the table. Further restraints had been applied across his legs. The sense of vulnerability increased now he couldn't move. Initial draping began.
He was startled when a wet cotton swab dipped into his navel and roughly scrubbed both the inside and then the outer edge. Anne laid a steadying hand on his shoulder, reminding him to play along, which pretty much meant playing dead (or close to it for the moment). Further applications of antiseptic followed, damp cotton pads being scrubbed in concentric circles to sterilise his entire torso, as far down as his briefs, along with the inside of one thigh near his groin, and as high up as his lower ribs.
Silver experienced an irrational fear that things might go too far. He'd joked about the possibility of simulated patients getting mixed up with real ones but it didn't seem so funny now. What if Flint really did take a scalpel to his unprotected flesh?
The rustle of sheets indicated the rest of the draping procedure was underway. Before the final drapes were put in place a soft towel or the like was placed over his exposed abdomen. Silver relaxed, surprised to feel a moment of what he thought was disappointment, though that didn't seem an appropriate emotion. He'd have to think about it later. Right now he was focusing on staying still and it was proving more difficult than anticipated.
It was another long few minutes before the team was scrubbed in and ready to begin. They did the "who", each team member announcing their name and role. Flint gave the patient's name and DOB, summarised the situation regarding the patient's condition and the tests and procedures performed so far, and stated that as trauma surgeon he'd signed the consent form for an ex-lap. All the information was recorded and then Flint was ready to start. Anne confirmed it was safe for him to proceed.
Idelle gave Flint feedback as the dummy laparotomy surgery got underway. There was apparently a lot of blood and Silver was certain Flint was getting pissed off when he had to demand suction be applied for a third time when packing the abdomen initially failed to stem the haemorrhaging.
Aside from Anne's occasional touches to his cheek, Max's checking of his vitals, and moments of gentle pressure as Flint performed his surgical charade, no-one was touching him. Or not touching him in any of the ways he found he wanted to be touched and again, that was an issue to be considered later. Also no-one was interacting with him because he was supposedly unconscious and it was increasingly frustrating.
In an effort to stave off boredom and resist the urge to give unsolicited input into his care, Silver turned his attention to the hiss of the ventilator, breathing in time with it and listening to the steady beat of the heart-rate monitor.
It was soothing and at some point he must have fallen asleep because the next thing he knew he was waking up. He blinked a few times, eyes sticky with sleep and the adhesive residue from the now removed tape, and found he was being moved along a corridor. For a terrible moment he was not a little confused about his surroundings. Max moved to quiet him as she would if this were a real scenario, calm and reassuring.
"It's all right. That part's over. We're taking you to the ICU now."
Vowing not to sleep again, Silver closed his eyes and let them continue. After what seemed to be several long minutes, all the paraphernalia was in place (he was going to complain later to whoever had jammed the pulse oximeter onto his finger with what he thought was unnecessary force) and he was left to rest in one of the small rooms in the ICU.
Eleanor arrived just as he was getting bored again, shuffling through her notes and greeting him briskly. "Doctor Silver." He opened his eyes. She looked somewhat harried.
"Idelle assures me that Flint did a good job with the surgery," Eleanor said. Silver glanced down; his chest was still covered with electrodes and an assorted jumble of wires, but there was an addition in the form of a long white dressing down the middle of his belly along with a drainage tube.
"Of course you lost a lot of blood," Eleanor said, glancing at the fake blood bags and saline solutions, making a rapid series of crosses on her notes. It had been a major operation; a splenectomy, the repairing of damage to the liver and small bowel, and the suturing of a tear in the mesenteric artery. It was a minor miracle he'd survived this far. She moved closer to the monitor and pressed a few buttons. "Sorry."
She meant not sorry. Silver's fate had been sealed long before the drill began. It was supposed to up the stakes for the team, to deal with one of their own people, and it was supposed to be upsetting for them to fail.
"Almost show time," Eleanor said briskly, checking her watch. "Flint will be here for post-op observations in a moment. Are you ready?"
Silver nodded once, uncertain he could respond verbally given the presence of the equipment. He closed his eyes once more.
Not a minute later Flint came in, talking to someone. Silver couldn't be sure how many people were in the room by the time Flint began checking his vitals. It stirred something unexpected within him to know Flint was listening to his actual heartbeat, though the moment was soon ruined by Eleanor's doom-filled declaration. His condition was deteriorating, bp falling, heart-rate becoming erratic (at a push of a button by Eleanor the ICU monitor displayed the appropriate ECG readout).
The next few minutes were filled with more organised chaos of the sort Silver had come to expect from a code blue. The pillows were discarded, the head of the bed lowered. The tube was disconnected from the ventilator and connected directly to an Ambu bag. Flint ran the code, ordering the administration of drugs, checking in with whoever was currently in charge of Silver's airway.
Flint swore a couple of times as Eleanor's responses told him that he was failing to stabilise his patient. Over the sound of various alarms, he ordered the defibrillator charged. This was an expected move and Silver was prepared when the metal pads, sticky with conductive gel, were pressed against his chest.
Silver had seen enough defibrillations to give a passable reaction. Presumably Eleanor pressed a button on the monitor which adjusted the ECG results. If anything, however, the situation was now worse since a moment later the monitor signalled a flatline, an always shrill and discomforting sound.
Flint was not happy about this development. Silver got the impression Flint blamed him for daring to die under his care. Flint announced his intention to begin CPR. Eleanor said "Go ahead," in a flat tone that might have given him a clue it was a waste of time. Still, there was a slim chance of success in this situation and she wouldn't mark Flint down for the attempt any more than she would mark him too harshly for giving up, given the circumstances.
Hands grappled to turn Silver on his side before rolling him down again to lie on a backboard which was uncomfortable and a part of the protocol he'd have happily skipped, realism be damned.
Breath. Compressions. Silver inhaled in time with the air being forced down the intubation tube, and out with each compression. Flint's hands, fingers interlocked, rested on his chest and while Flint couldn't press down hard as he would for real compressions due to the risk of genuinely disrupting the heart, he bore down slightly, rapidly counting off thirty compressions each time.
Flint ordered more drugs pushed, swore a few more times, went through a few more cycles.
It was over and he knew it but he didn't stop.
"Call it," Eleanor said at last.
No-one spoke for a moment. The shrill persistent sound of the ECG with its lack of any cardiac output was the only sound and it was getting annoying.
"I'm not ready to give up," Flint snarled.
He and Eleanor had a brusque dialogue about Silver's condition and everything that had been done. Silver heard Anne throw in her opinion; she agreed with Eleanor. Every reasonable attempt had been made.
"Call it," Eleanor said, though her tone was more gentle this time, "or I shall and that will affect the evaluation."
Flint gave a long exhale. "Time of death," he said through gritted teeth, "eleven forty-five."
Someone finally switched off the monitor. The door slammed. From the murmured reactions, Silver guessed Flint had stormed out.
"All right. Two minutes and then we move onto the next patient," Eleanor said. "I'll be along shortly."
People moved around, the door opened and shut twice more. Silver wondered how long he was supposed to play dead.
"Let's get you unhooked from all this," Eleanor said, which he took to be a sign he could once again open his eyes. He blinked at the bright lights. He and Eleanor were alone in the room. She removed the Thomas tube holder first along with the endotracheal tube, then the bp cuff, before she began to peel back the tape holding the IV lines in place.
"You're supposed to leave everything in place until the autopsy," Silver joked hoarsely. He really wanted some water and to her credit, Eleanor had a paper cup ready and passed it to him.
"I doubt you'd enjoy a trip to the morgue," Eleanor said, adding, "I'm surprised you stayed silent for this long." She stood back, rubbing her thumb against her fingertips which were sticky with adhesive. "I think you can manage the rest. There are some scrubs on the chair so you don't have to walk to your locker in a gown. Take a shower and go home. We'll debrief tomorrow. Good work."
Silver raised an eyebrow at this unexpected praise. "I didn't have to do much."
"But you did what I asked," Eleanor said, with a hint of surprise, "and you sold the lie."
The latter was something he excelled at. "I don't think Flint approved."
Eleanor, heading for the door, paused. "He was upset at the circumstances," she said, trying to be reassuring. "He wasn't angry with you."
"That little shit!" Flint paced the floor, the glass in his hand forgotten.
Miranda perched on the edge of the loveseat, listening patiently. He'd been ranting for nearly the entire fifteen minutes since he'd come home in a foul mood, and it had taken some careful coaxing before she'd got the full story from him.
"I'm sure he was merely following the script," Miranda offered.
That earned her a glare. Flint took a swig of whisky now, needing to contemplate this. "I bet he volunteered," he said, finding a way to blame Silver. "The little fuck."
Miranda bit back a sigh. Ever since Silver had started work at the hospital she'd been given a nightly rundown of all of his qualities, good and bad, everything he'd done or said that had made Flint angry or proud. She'd looked on the hospital website and found a photo; Silver was handsome, undeniably so but with a cocky smile that she knew drove Flint crazy.
Hell, Miranda wanted to run her fingers through that incredible mane of dark hair. She'd wondered about his voice, had been secretly thrilled when she'd called Flint at work one day only for Silver to answer the phone with his apologies that Flint was up to his elbows in a chest cavity right now but he'd make sure that Flint called her back.
So when Flint added, "You don't know what he's like," she could keep calm no longer.
"Enough!" As Flint stared at her, Miranda got to her feet. "Every night you talk about him until I feel as if I know him already. I have begged you many times to invite him to dinner so I can get to know him for myself, to judge him on my observations rather than on your biased accounts!"
"Biased?" Flint spluttered but Miranda had not finished.
She placed a steadying hand on his shoulder, gazed into his eyes. "James. Tell me why you are so upset."
"This fucking training exercise–"
Miranda closed her eyes briefly, stepped in before she heard every annoying detail again. "More specific, if you please."
Flint took a breath. "It was a rotten trick and completely uncalled for. It was supposed to be a standard drill. He wasn't supposed to be there. I mean he was, but he was supposed to be helping me. It left me short-handed."
Miranda heard him grab for that phrase, knew he was about to change the subject. So she steered him back on course. "That was part of the drill, though. To deal with something traumatic. To not only be a man down but to be faced with treating one of your own."
Flint nodded in reluctant agreement.
"But we both know you wouldn't be this upset if it had been Vane."
He scoffed. "I'd have let him hypothetically bleed out."
Miranda rolled her eyes. "No, you would not have. But it wasn't Vane. It was John Silver."
"Yes." Flint finished his whisky. He moved away from Miranda's grasp, refilled his glass. She let him have a moment while she paced the room.
It had been hard work getting him to admit his feelings for Thomas. She hadn't imagined it would be this difficult a second time. She'd known of it, both now, and then, before Flint could or would allow himself to acknowledge his affection for another man. She was getting tired of waiting, of gently pushing Flint to accept his feelings and had hoped this simulation would give him the push he needed.
"I can't imagine it," she said at last, as Flint stared into the cold fireplace, sipping his drink. "It must have been awful. It was a sham, a performance of sorts, and you all knew it, but you had to treat it as real. You did your best and you lost him."
Flint's eyes flicked to the photo frame which had pride of place on the mantelpiece and gave a shuddering sigh. Miranda hoped she hadn't pushed him too hard. She came to stand at his elbow, leaned her head on his shoulder, tried to bring Flint's thoughts away from the past and back to the present.
"You want him," she said softly.
"Yes," he whispered. "But I don't know if he would even consider it. Maybe he's straight. Maybe he hates me."
"If he hates you, it could be because you are unnecessarily harsh on him."
Rather than denying the accusation, Flint nodded and Miranda knew they'd turned a corner.
"Invite him to dinner," Miranda said for the millionth time, squeezing his elbow.
This time, for the first time, Flint nodded. "All right."
While some liberties have been taken, the drill scenario was based not only on scenes from shows like "Grey's Anatomy" and Sky 1's in-real-time trauma team drama "Critical", but sources including news articles (The Reporter: In drill, reporter plays part of trauma patient and accompanying video) and online training demonstrations such as Organised Chaos Emergency Mock Surgery ; Trauma Assessment (demonstration) ; Sb Class Prep
Chapter 2: I want to know what love is
In which Flint attempts to seduce Silver with mixed results, Billy is overly supportive, and Miranda attempts to seduce Silver with rather more success.
Chapter Two: I want to know what love is
I want to feel what love is, I know you can show me - I Want to Know What Love Is, Foreigner
Anne was sitting on Max's right, leaning her head towards her – they were wearing identical earrings, gold hoops with turquoise beads on them, that they'd only have to take out before officially going on duty – though holding Jack's hand to her own right. Flint had given up wondering why Jack was allowed to attend staff briefings. Silver was standing near the back of the room, arms folded, and Flint glanced at him now and then but it was too obvious to keep looking behind him. Why didn't the little shit come and sit down!
Vane checked his watch twice that Flint noticed, which was once more than Eleanor would like and would probably earn him a tongue lashing later. At last, she began to wrap up the debrief.
"I know it was a stressful situation," Eleanor said. "This particular exercise had some unusual aspects. It was meant not only to test how well the hospital could cope, but how well we can all work together, even in the face of complications. Sometimes things will go wrong at the worst time. The doors will jam, or the electricity might fail. One of the victims might be one of our own."
She glanced at Silver, Flint tracking the movement. Silver gave a brief nod of acknowledgement.
"While there is always room for improvement, you all rose to the challenges presented to you and I am pleased and proud of you all," Eleanor said, the highest praise Flint had ever heard her give. "Thank you. Now go. Save lives."
Everyone began to disperse. Flint hurried to catch up with Silver.
Silver raised an eyebrow. "Hey."
Flint was lost for words. The silence grew uncomfortable. Silver's hand twitched towards his pocket as if Flint wouldn't notice the movement, nor understand the desire to set off your pager when you wanted to get away from an uncomfortable situation.
"Yesterday," Flint said. Silver nodded, on guard now. Did he expect a scolding? Did Flint spend so much time berating him that Silver always assumed the worst? "Can we talk about it? Later."
"Of course," Silver said. "Work permitting." They both waited to see if an incident was forthcoming at this tempting of fate. No alarms sounded.
"Great." Flint walked away, praying he wasn't red-cheeked. Something about John Silver made him flustered, anxious as a schoolboy all over again. He hadn't felt like this since –
– and that was the problem, wasn't it? Miranda had been right. Beneath his frustrations at Silver lay a deep-seated attraction that made him more frustrated. Something had to be done. The air had to be cleared at least.
"Silver, lunchtime, my table," Flint said brusquely over his shoulder and walked away even as Silver's faced drained of colour.
"Yesterday. Flint wants to talk to me at lunch. Last time he made me have lunch with him he threatened to have my medical licence revoked." It had been hyperbole but Silver still shuddered at the memory. "But I don't think I did anything wrong this time and I really don't want to lose my job."
Max shrugged, made her selection. "You'll just have to talk to him, won't you? You're good at that."
Five minutes after she met him, Max had said, "Did you miss your calling? Because while Anne will go for my throat if she hears I said this, you'd make a marvellous pharmaceutical sales rep, maybe better even than Jack Rackham and I do not say that lightly. He's one of the best in the business. But with your charming smile and quick tongue? You could probably retire on your commissions within five years."
Fifteen minutes after she met him, Max had initiated Silver into the team, which involved some interesting shenanigans in a storage closet, and he'd been rather distracted and so he'd never explained how he'd almost accidentally ended up studying medicine or how it had become a calling (not that he truly understood the latter himself).
"I have discovered there are some things even I cannot talk my way out of," Silver said and Max gave him a sympathetic look. She tore open the wrapper, offered him a piece of chocolate. He shook his head.
"Maybe," she said, "there are some things you don't want to talk your way out of."
"What does that mean?"
Max gave another shrug, took a bite of chocolate, and walked away.
"For fuck's sake," Silver said to the empty corridor. Two days ago everything had been what passed for normal at work and then he'd been sidelined during the drill, and now Flint was being weird and Max was being unhelpful. For fuck's sake barely covered it.
Silver watched Flint take a bite of his sandwich, assessing his body language. Flint seemed relaxed so Silver took a deep breath and headed over, taking a seat opposite.
"Where's your lunch?" Flint asked.
"I'm not hungry," Silver said. He'd lost his appetite, fretting all morning about what Flint wanted.
Flint gave him a look. "You should eat," he said, "but I'm not going to nag you."
Silver nodded, did not say that would be a first because he was already in fear of, if not his life, his job.
"You wanted to talk to me," Silver prompted at last.
Flint took another bite, made Silver wait for him to chew and swallow.
"I don't know what I did wrong," Silver said, his anxiety and exasperation making him fill the silence. "For fuck's sake, I was pretending to be unconscious most of yesterday!"
"It's not about the drill." Flint took a sip of his energy drink. "Not precisely."
Silver tapped his foot impatiently. "Could you be precise?" Flint glared and Silver dialled back his sass, flashed his most charming smile. "Please?"
Flint took another swig of his drink. "Yesterday was unnerving," he said. "It's hard for me to admit it."
Anyone else might have taken this to mean shut up while I say these difficult things but Silver had never been one for keeping quiet. "It was supposed to be unnerving."
"Not in the way I found it to be." Flint stared at his sandwich and then met Silver's gaze. "When they brought you in, it threw me. Yes, it was supposed to," he said, cutting off Silver's objection, "but it made me think more about things. About you. About how I've treated you."
Silver's brow furrowed. "Fake medically treated, because it wasn't your fault and I'm pretty sure Eleanor killed me for some sort of personal satisfaction; or do you mean how you've been gruff and, and, Flint-like towards me."
Flint stared. "Flint-like?"
Silver scrambled to regain his footing. "Well, if the trauma team were a ship, you would be its captain," he said, adding, "and everyone respects that, me included, only I'm not always good at following orders and so you have to be more Flint-like. More captain-y."
"Captain-y?" Flint laughed.
Reassured, Silver said, "More authoritative? If you've been tough on me, I probably deserve it. Mostly."
Flint stroked his chin. "So, no hard feelings?"
"No." Silver was used to people riding him hard and if he was honest it was often warranted.
"I have been a little rougher on you than perhaps you deserve," Flint admitted. "Yesterday made me realise that."
Silver's eyes widened. "When I died?"
Flint rolled his eyes. "Yes."
"I didn't get any last words," Silver lamented.
"The point is," Flint said, with a renewed edge to his tone, "I've been harsh because…look, you know how Eleanor praises Max when it's deserved but will also chew her out over practically nothing?"
Silver nodded. "Because they used to fuck. Or are fucking sometimes. Or something. It's complicated. Or so I've heard. Not that I listen to gossip."
Flint waved a hand, brushing off both the rambling and the lie. "Yes, the thing is, Eleanor has to be seen not to show favouritism. She can't have people thinking she's going easy on Max for personal reasons."
"Because they're–" Silver broke off. "I'm –I–"
Once again no alarms sounded to rescue either man from the awkward silence.
"What exactly are you saying?" Silver asked, his voice sounding far away to his own ears.
Flint shook his head, grabbed his plate, and got to his feet. "Nothing."
"Are you saying you…that you want to…"
"I was going to ask you to dinner," Flint said. "With me and Miranda."
"Your, er," Silver began and struggled to find a suitable appellation. Flint and Miranda; that was a complicated subject, and while there was as much gossip about it as there was about Max and her various relationships, there was far less evidence to support any one theory. "Your Miranda?"
"Yes! A home-cooked meal and a chance to talk. Discuss things. Somewhere not here."
Silver sat back in his chair. "Dinner."
"Forget it." Flint marched away, turned on his heel, returned to the table. "Unless dinner sounds like something you'd want."
Silver swallowed. "Let me think about it," he said, the most neutral response he could come up with.
Flint gave a sharp nod, marched off to dump the rest of his lunch, and went on his way.
"For fuck's sake," Silver said. What the hell?
Vane slid into a seat behind Silver and leaned over the back of the chair. "What are you doing at Flint's table?"
"I honestly don't know," Silver said, and, thank you God, a trauma call came in, freeing him from the need to think about anything but saving lives for the next forty five minutes.
"Don't you knock?"
"Sorry," Silver said, taking a step backwards. "I'll just go."
"No. Come in," Flint said, softening his tone. "Is this about earlier?"
Silver gave a cautious nod.
"It was just an offer of dinner. I'd like you to meet Miranda. She's better at explaining things. About us." Flint shrugged. "But if you're not interested, that's all right. I'm going to my car when I've finished up here but there's a radio show I like to listen to the end of before I drive off. Just so you know."
"It's poker night," Silver said automatically.
"Your choice," Flint said, giving him an earnest look.
Silver wandered away. He took a moment to think, needing to find someone to blame for his current predicament. His thoughts landed on an obvious person; the one who had put him under Flint's care and raised the curtain on whatever shitshow Silver was now unwillingly participating in.
Silver barged into Eleanor's office. It was almost a pity she kept the door open whenever not in a meeting, for he'd have loved to throw the door open and have it clatter against the wall behind it. It would have suited his mood. He settled for folding his arms and glowering. Eleanor looked up from her paperwork and regarded him mildly.
"Doctor Silver. What can I do for you?"
"The drill," he said. "Why did you kill me?"
Eleanor raised an eyebrow. "As I explained, the exercise was supposed to cover a number of facets–"
"No," Silver interrupted. "Why me? Why did you choose me?"
Eleanor's mouth opened into an oh of recognition. "I didn't."
"You were the one organising the drill!"
"I was going to pick Jack," Eleanor said, leaning back in her leather chair. "He hangs around here so much he might as well be useful. One of us, someone we know, but not one of the actual staff. But Max was assisting with the preparation and she thought one of the doctors would be more shocking. She suggested you."
"Max," Silver repeated. He turned and left the room.
"Goodbye, Doctor Silver," Eleanor called after him, her tone laced with sarcasm. Silver ignored her and went looking for his quarry. He snarled at an intern, demanding to know Max's whereabouts, and the young man pointed to the women's locker room.
Silver barged into the room and this time the door slammed satisfyingly against the wall before it swung back.
Max, skin and hair damp, had a towel around her waist and was dabbing at her breasts with another. She looked up at Silver's entrance but made no move to cover herself. He reminded himself that he'd seen her breasts before, and right now he couldn't afford to be distracted by them, glorious as they were.
"Did you get lost?"
"No," Silver said. "I was looking for you."
"Here I am."
He swallowed. They were very nice breasts. "Why me?"
"Why you, what?" Max wiped her face.
"The drill," he said, feeling a sense of deja-vu. "Eleanor said you picked me to be the staff member injured during the incident."
She nodded. "I did."
"Why me?" Silver definitely did not wail.
Max shrugged. "Because you're so brilliant you don't need any practice. Or because you're such a reckless asshole you might have screwed things up if you'd participated as a staff member. Or because it was a good excuse to make you shut up for five minutes. Or because I think you've been cheating at poker and poor Billy deserves better. Or maybe I wanted you at my mercy."
Silver blinked. "I don't cheat. It's called bluffing and it's part of the game."
Max laughed. "Maybe all of those things are partly true and yet none are the real reason. Maybe I had another plan in mind."
She tipped her head. "Why are you so flustered?" When he didn't respond she said, "Is it Flint?"
Max gave him a warm smile. "The exercise raised some interesting issues, didn't it? Flint got a taste of what it would be like to lose you."
"He doesn't have me to lose," Silver protested. He let his gaze wander over Max's torso and forced his eyes back up to meet her gaze. He wasn't gay. There was that guy in college but almost everyone experimented, right? And that receptionist at his last job, there was flirting but that wasn't the same thing, and they'd never got close enough for anything more to happen, even if Silver had to admit he'd wanted it to...
"Maybe he would like to have you."
"But Miranda..." Silver broke off. This was one of those Things, wasn't it? Flint had hinted at it already. Like the Thing between Max and Anne and Jack and God only knew how it worked. Never mind Max and Eleanor and how that fitted into the Anne and Jack dynamic. Couldn't people just fuck each other one at a time? It would make things simpler. Wait, what had Flint said exactly? "Flint said he would explain it. Let her explain it."
"What did you say?"
"I told him I had to think about it."
Max rolled her eyes.
"I'm not gay!" Probably.
"You feel nothing for him?"
Silver found he didn't want to agree to that. "I don't know. It's complicated. Why is everything in this place so complicated?"
"If you didn't want him, you would have told him so," Max observed. "You wouldn't have run away, only to then barge in on me. Don't you think this attraction is worth exploring?"
Silver leaned back against the wall. He didn't even deny the attraction existed because it was plain to them both by now that it did. "I suppose so."
She smiled. "Tell me something about the training exercise. Did you enjoy it?"
"What? Which part?" What was it about Max that had got him so turned around? Except it wasn't Max and her insight was it, it was Flint that had got Silver wound up.
The door flew open and in walked Anne, freezing when she laid eyes on Silver.
"What are you doing in here? This is the ladies, you pervert." Anne glared at him. "Get out before I punch you in the face."
"Something else to think about," Max said. "Which parts you might have found pleasurable. Be on your way now, before Anne makes good on her threat."
Silver gave Max a final glance and left, almost colliding with Billy who was strolling down the corridor.
"You know that's the ladies' right?" Billy asked.
"Yes! What do you care? Maybe I wanted to be in the ladies' changing room!"
Billy gave him an earnest look. "John, if there's something you want to tell me, I'll listen. You know that, right?"
"What?" Silver blinked, realised what was being implied, and barely bit back on the immediate denial because the more you argued against something the more people tended to think it was true. "Billy, what do you think I need to tell you?"
Billy shrugged. "I don't think you have to tell me anything. But if say, you were questioning your gender or realised you were gender fluid or transgender or something, that would be okay. And you could talk to me about it. Yeah?"
"Yeah," Silver echoed, overwhelmed by Billy's eagerness and offer of support. "Yes. Thank you."
Since when was him exiting a ladies' shower room cause for Billy to pick gender fluid over perving on the female staff? What was Billy seeing that Silver himself wasn't? Maybe the gay thing was what was throwing Billy off. Not gay; Silver had had sex with women in the past, he occasionally liked having sex with women, and sure he hadn't had any women recently but…bisexual?
He'd grown up hearing slurs about bisexuals even from gay people who you might imagine would know better – slutty, disloyal, can't "pick a side", closeted gays, and worse things besides. It hadn't seemed worth the hassle to consider the label, given he rarely got involved with anyone of any gender for long. But maybe it was time to give the idea some serious thought, now he was more mature and the world had moved on a little regarding sexual orientations.
"I'm not questioning my gender," Silver said. "But if I feel the need to explore it as opposed to my sexuality, you'll be the first to know." Exploring sexuality, JFC, he sounded like one of those pamphlets from psych services or the sexual health clinic.
Billy smiled, clapped him hard on the shoulder. Silver barely kept his balance, tried not to wince. "So, poker tonight?"
Silver shook his head, coming to a decision. He pulled out his wallet and took out a few notes, folded them and tucked the wad into Billy's breast pocket.
"I can't make it tonight," Silver explained. "So you wouldn't have got a chance to win that back. Have a great game on me, though. And watch out for Dufresne. He rubs at his nose when he's bluffing."
Billy nodded. "Thanks."
Silver forced a smile and headed for his locker. He banged his head against it, which did nothing to clear his troubled thoughts. He got changed and if jeans weren't appropriate for dinner then tough, Flint should have given him more notice.
With a long-suffering sigh Silver made his way outside, sticking his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket and making a beeline for Flint's car.
Flint was, as promised, listening to the radio, fingers drumming against the steering wheel. Waiting for him, Silver knew. A theme tune played as Silver approached the car and Flint turned the radio off, looked at him expectantly.
"It's been a hell of a day," Silver said.
Silver swallowed. "I think I pissed off Eleanor, I got distracted by Max's breasts, Anne threatened to punch me in the face for the third time this week, and Billy thinks I'm questioning my gender."
Silver stopped talking and ran a hand over his hair. Flint, who'd smirked at the "punch me" statement, now eyed him with curiosity. "And are you questioning your gender?"
Silver said with complete sincerity, "I'm certainly questioning a few things."
"Questioning is good," Flint said and then there was silence, the moment when Silver would usually decide if he'd fold or raise during a poker game, the time when he'd normally say something daring or downright stupid.
To hell with it.
"Is the dinner invitation still open?"
Flint nodded, smiled. "Of course."
"Perhaps you and Miranda could help me explore some things. Clarify them."
"We'll do our best." Flint gestured to the passenger seat. "Get in."
Silver hesitated for barely a second before he did so. He wasn't sure what he was letting himself in for, but it seemed like a risk worth taking.
Though he did send Max a message. "Going to dinner with Flint. If I'm never seen again he's probably murdered me for being a disrespectful shit, and cleverly disposed of my body, and you should call the police. TTYL."
"Miranda, this is John Silver." Flint gestured. "John, this is Miranda Barlow."
Silver took her hand and, on impulse, kissed her knuckles. She gave him a warm smile and he felt a frisson of excitement. Miranda sent them off to the bathroom to get washed up; Flint went first, while she poured Silver a glass of brandy.
"Dinner won't be long," she promised. "It's nothing fancy. Beef, potatoes, vegetables."
"It smells divine," he said and was gratified when she laughed.
He took his turn to wash his hands and glanced at the mirror, smoothing back a loose strand of hair. He regarded himself critically. He shouldn't be here, risking his career by getting involved with his superior and his superior's...Miranda. But he was here, and he would make the best of it.
The food was delicious. Silver was on his best behaviour, sipped at his wine rather than gulped it down, chewed carefully with his mouth shut.
"You'd better make him a packed lunch for tomorrow," Flint said at last with a wink at Miranda. "I've never known him so silent."
"James!" She flicked her napkin at him and Flint laughed. Silver relaxed a little at seeing Flint so at ease.
Miranda had served herself a slightly smaller portion and she'd already finished her food. She sat back with her wine glass in one hand. "So, everything I know about you is second hand information from James. Perhaps you'd like to give your own version of your story, John."
Silver swallowed, took a sip of wine while he gathered his thoughts. He gave a brief rundown of the past year or so, how he'd found himself working at the hospital, and how he liked Max and Billy in particular, and enjoyed working alongside Flint who was teaching him so much.
Flint made a noise of contempt at Silver overdoing the praise. "I'm not your superior here," he said earnestly. "When we step through that door we leave our work behind, as much as possible. You call me James and you speak your mind, not what you think I want to hear."
"I thought I was always telling you things you didn't want to hear at work," Silver retorted. "I'm a disrespectful little shit or so I've heard you tell Gates."
Miranda hid a smile. Flint frowned. "You shouldn't eavesdrop."
"It's not eavesdropping when half the hospital wing can hear you."
"Look here," Flint began when a restraining hand from Miranda left him fuming but silent.
"If you boys can't play nicely for one night there's no hope for anything more than dinner," Miranda said, her tone light. "Unless this is how you flirt. James has never been good at flirting, after all, and I don't know you well enough to judge."
Silver shot her a dazzling smile. "There is a certain excitement that comes from a good argument."
Flint gave a grunt of agreement.
Miranda insisted on clearing away the plates without their help, presumably to give them chance to talk. She first brought them a second bottle of wine, and Flint re-filled their glasses.
"You said you'd explain things," Silver said. So far the conversation had been small talk and basic getting to know each other. The question of flirting was the first time he felt they were getting close to addressing the issue at hand.
"After dessert," Flint said, and despite his earlier edict, filled the few Miranda-less minutes with talk of work.
Dessert was a home-made tiramisu.
"My favourite," Silver said in surprise.
"Is it?" Miranda's eyes sparkled with mischief. Silver didn't have to think long about who had supplied her with this nugget of information.
Max was the only one who knew this fact; after everyone else in the group had gone home after pizza one night, they'd stayed behind in the restaurant to share an ice cream sundae and argue over the merits of various desserts.
Tiramisu held special memories for Silver; during his studies, if he had any cash left at the end of the month he would treat himself to a serving at the Italian restaurant that was within walking distance of his accommodation. It was both decadent and rewarding, and evoked feelings of satisfaction that went beyond the delicious taste.
That Max had told Miranda this fact far in advance of this evening made Silver wonder how long this been planned and how much he was being manipulated by clever women and gruff but attractive surgeons.
Since the dessert itself was perfection he couldn't muster up any real annoyance.
Afterwards they sat near the unlit fireplace. Silver took the loveseat which sat underneath the window, rather than the nearby armchair. The matching loveseat, pushed back against the side wall to leave the flat screen tv unobscured, was now swung around to sit facing him. Miranda sat down gracefully and Flint joined her once he'd provided more brandy. Silver was worried that if he leaned back too far, warm and full and utterly content, he'd drift off to sleep.
"You want to know a little more about the relationship I have with James," Miranda said. Silver nodded. It turned out that she had a way of summarising the situation effectively, clearly choosing her words with care, and yet still managing to get across the depth of affection involved.
Miranda had been engaged to a man named Thomas. They had met Flint at a benefit held in honour of Flint's employer at the time, Charlestown Community Hospital, and both of them had fallen in love with Flint. They'd attempted to establish a relationship, though Thomas's father had been furious at the notion and demanded Thomas end the engagement.
Miranda gestured to a photograph on the mantelpiece. Silver got to his feet, grateful for the chance to move around, and studied the picture. "He's very handsome."
"Was," Flint said and Silver's heart sank at his misstep and the coldness in Flint's voice. "He died."
"I'm so sorry." Silver took his seat and sought refuge in his brandy.
"James and I still loved each other," Miranda said. "We wanted a new start in a new city. He got a transfer to Providence General, and we purchased this house together. There's a lovely garden which you can see another time, in daylight. I enjoy growing herbs and flowers. And there are three bedrooms as well as the study. Because sometimes we are together, but more often we sleep apart. The physical aspects of our relationship are not the most important consideration to us."
"You're looking for a third person," Silver said, the most obvious reason for her to mention a third room, his pulse quickening. "Someone you both love?"
"Yes," Flint said. "Ideally. Miranda has had occasional lovers but I have had none. I haven't wanted one. Until you came along."
"I see." Silver finished his brandy.
"Do you?" Miranda leaned forward and placed one hand on his knee. Flint plucked the glass from Silver's fingers and refilled it, pressing it into his hand.
They were going to get him drunk and seduce him and Silver was actually rather excited by the prospect despite the nagging unease that he didn't know how Thomas had died (probably not some kinky sex game but you could never be sure) and that, outside of this house, Flint was still very much his superior.
"No one is expecting you to declare your love for either of us tonight," Miranda said with a hint of amusement. "We only want to know if you might be interested in either one of us. Or exploring the possibility that you might come to be attracted to us. It can take time to develop such feelings."
Silver blinked a few times and took a sip of brandy, which was going to do the opposite of clear his head but it was in for a penny in for a pound at this point. "I think, if I'm honest–"
"That would be a nice change."
"James!" Miranda scolded.
Miranda sighed. "Go on, John."
He licked at his lips. "I think there's a chance that I might–I usually like women but there have been times that…maybe Flint. I mean James. I–" He broke off his ramblings and stared at Flint with his glorious auburn hair and penetrating eyes which were the colour of the ocean. "You're so handsome when you're not yelling at me."
Flint was taken aback for a moment before he laughed. He came to sit next to Silver. "At home there should be less for me to yell about."
Silver turned his focus, blurry as it was becoming by now, to Miranda. "You seem nice," he said, adding quickly, "and I don't mean that to be as bland as it sounds. I would very much like to get to know you better."
"Especially if there are going to be more dinners like that one," Silver said thoughtfully.
"Cheeky bastard," Flint said without rancour.
"There will be plenty," Miranda said, "but I will not always cook. There will be turns taken, and food ordered in and, if you're not averse to it, meals at restaurants where the rest of your colleagues probably won't venture. And we will cover the majority of the expenses. I have money and Flint earns more than you. You will not be our pet, but we will not expect you to bankrupt yourself in an attempt to keep up with the lifestyle we have become accustomed to."
Silver nodded. Food he wasn't paying full price for, and a chance to get to explore his feelings further. Sounded good. The third bedroom also sounded rather promising in truth because he was about five minutes away from falling asleep, but he didn't want to push his luck. Things might seem less promising in the cold light of day and harsh-edged sobriety.
Miranda called for a taxi to send him home and while they waited, they talked more about the possibilities and laid some initial ground rules.
"You understand this is personal, not to be discussed at work," Flint said. "And I won't give you any special treatment."
"No," Silver agreed vaguely. Flint had to help him put on his coat because that simple act had become somewhat problematic. God, that was good brandy. "Ha. Treatment."
"Nothing." Silver had been reminded of the drill, Flint's efforts to save him, and Max's teasing that it wasn't just that the situation had prompted this current state of affairs but also that perhaps certain aspects of it had been pleasurable. He'd have to think more on that later, when his head was clearer.
Flint regarded him. "You're all right?"
"Only a little drunk."
"And you're fine with all this? You're not going to go to Eleanor and tell her I tried to take advantage of you after a couple of drinks?"
Silver giggled and coughed, trying to regain his composure. "Of course not. Here, lemme try something."
Fuck it. Well, maybe later, Silver told himself. For now, kiss it. By which he meant kiss Flint.
He put his hands on Flint's shoulders and leaned up. Flint barely hesitated before he moved in to meet his lips.
It wasn't a deep and soulful kiss. Nor was it a quick peck on the lips. It was tentative, a means of exploring a new facet of their relationship. It was followed immediately by a second, just to make sure they were still enjoying it, and a third because, well, because.
Silver, having run out of both excuses and breath stepped back. Flint eyed him expectantly. Miranda had finished loading the dishwasher and was now stood watching them. Silver smiled. "Well, that was pretty painless."
Flint scowled but Miranda stepped in.
"You are such a little tease, aren't you?"
"Guilty," Silver said. While he was about it, why not her too? "Thank you for a lovely evening." He leaned in and waited for her to follow suit, letting her chose to allow the kiss.
It was only one brief kiss they shared, but it was pleasant.
"Taxi's here," Flint said, saving Silver from making any further conversation or potential mistakes, and steered him to the door.
Max, for her part, was good at deciphering drunk texts and understood the message. She put the phone down on her bedside table and turned back over to cuddle up close to Anne, while Jack snored softly on the other side of the bed.
He'd even been early to work today and Silver pouted at the insinuation. "I'm fine. And I'm still deciding how angry I am with you."
She gave him a cheeky smile and he took the drink, grinned back.
"It's going to be complicated," Silver said, because he'd already excluded Max from the 'don't discuss this at work' rule. Max knew everything about everyone anyway, and had clearly had a hand in his current predicament, so there could be no harm in talking about it with her. "If I decide to go along with whatever it turns out to be."
Max shrugged. "Things often are. You just have to decide if you want it enough to make the effort and put up with the craziness."
Billy came into the lounge and wrapped Silver in a hug. Max winked and left the room.
"Good morning?" Silver asked, confused, when Billy let him go. If he had to fend off Billy's affections as well as deal with Flint's, he was going to be too exhausted to work.
"Morning. I won at poker," Billy said. "Thank you."
"For giving you the money back, not being there to win it again, or tipping you off about Dusfresne?"
"All of it I think." Billy took a breath. "Can I talk to you?"
They took seats near the window. Somebody had been watering the window box which was nice. It didn't bode well if a bunch of medics couldn't even keep a few houseplants alive.
"Yesterday, I was talking about gender and stuff," Billy said.
"I remember." Things had changed for Silver in the few hours since. He clearly did feel some attraction to Flint, and maybe to Miranda. It was going to take some tentative exploration before he was going to understand or be able to put a name what was going on, but he was open to the possibilities.
"I got a little carried away. Thing is, I think I was psyching myself up." Billy took a breath. "Last night at poker I told everyone else. I'm asexual."
Oh, Billy. Silver bit back a laugh because he didn't want Billy to feel hurt by such a reaction. The truth was that almost everyone had suspected this already. Max's initiation of Billy had gone no further than an encouraging conversation. Even Vane had once commented about how there was more fucking going on in the hospital than in a brothel, before he added, without a hint of criticism, "Except Billy, of course. He's not into that."
So it was adorable and a little amusing that Billy felt the need to so earnestly confess it. Silver put one hand on Billy's shoulder.
"Good for you," he said, honestly. "It's a brave thing, to know who you are and declare it."
Billy smiled and Silver knew he'd handled the situation correctly. He sat back and said thoughtfully, "You and Gates though? How does that work? If I can ask. Tell me to shut up if you prefer. Or threaten to punch me in the face. Or have Anne threaten to; intimidating me is one of her favourite hobbies."
Billy tipped his head. "We do all the couple stuff," he said at last. "Even the kissing and things, because I'm not aromantic. We just don't do the sex bits."
Right. In retrospect that was a fairly obvious answer.
"I'm glad you're happy," Silver said. "I mean it."
"Thanks." Billy got up and headed out of the room, whistling. Silver gazed at the flowers for a moment, tamping down a pang of jealousy. Billy seemed to have a handle on his sexuality and his relationship where Silver was currently very much adrift.
"Oi, Silver," Flint called, poking his head around the door. "We're not paying you to sit on your ass. Get here."
"Yes, sir," Silver snarked, and put aside all thoughts that were not work-related.
Chapter 3: Let's get it on
The relationships between Silver and Flint, and Silver and Miranda continue to develop.
Chapter Three: Let's Get It On
Nothing wrong with love, If you want to love – Let's Get It On, Marvin Gaye
Flint and Silver were the first ones to bring sex into the relationship. Miranda was at a charity meeting that was for members only, and so they had the house to themselves. There'd been a moment of awkwardness after the first, long, wonderful kiss, that threatened to end the experiment before it had begun and then Silver had said something deliberately provocative that had made Flint yell at him which broke the tension.
Recognition dawned halfway through Flint's rant and he said with some pride, "You little shit!"
"Clever little shit," Silver returned and Flint had kissed him hard, pressed him up against the mantelpiece. Flint took a second to turn the photo of Thomas around before he fumbled with Silver's belt buckle and then Silver had his full attention.
Silver was relieved the fire hadn't been lit because it would have made for a somewhat uncomfortable experience, and they generated enough heat between them anyway.
Flint had stamina; Silver knew this, having witnessed him after a double-shift still alert as ever and ready for action. But this proved it to Silver in new and enjoyable ways as they worked out who liked what and in which positions, moving from the lounge to the bedroom in due course.
"We could have done this sooner," Silver said, sprawled across Flint's bed, naked and content. He'd found it easier than he'd expected to bond with Flint, to open up to him in more ways than one.
Flint ran his hand down Silver's spine until it came to rest on one pert buttock, and gave a gentle squeeze. "Maybe we weren't ready any earlier."
"Maybe," Silver agreed. "James?" The name still sounded odd on his lips, but also like something forbidden and therefore thrilling.
"Am I really only the second man you've slept with?"
Flint was silent a moment. "Yes," he said softly at last.
"This is all rather new to me too," Silver reminded him. "Can I ask, is it very different to what you had with Thomas?"
"No, you can't." Flint moved away and sat up.
Silver rolled onto his side. "I'm sorry. He must have been very special."
"I don't want to talk about him."
This was unthinkable to Silver, who processed his thoughts and feelings by talking about them, and who needed verbal communication to deepen his emotional connections. It rang a small warning bell that Flint refused to discuss someone whom he'd obviously loved deeply. But Silver ignored it, hoping that in time Flint would open up further.
"All right." Silver shuffled closer and placed a hand on Flint's thigh. "Let's not talk. Let me use my tongue for something else."
Flint's closed off expression gave way to reluctant but obvious desire. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the pillows. "If you must," he said gruffly and Silver gave a wicked grin before going about his task with undisguised enthusiasm.
It was incongruous to see the woman he'd labelled as elegant and sophisticated happily lounging on the rug, sipping from a plastic wine glass. He thought that might be why she'd suggested a picnic in the first place, a way to bridge the gap between their social statuses. She'd been disappointed by the rain and her face had lit up when he insisted on following through, merely moving to a sheltered location in the lounge.
Flint was booked on a training session after his shift ended, and today was Silver's free day, so Miranda had asked if he wanted to get to know her better. He'd immediately agreed.
It had been the right choice. Without Flint present Silver found he did not feel the need to put on a performance. He now frequently felt the same about his alone time with Flint. He'd spent so much of his life playing a part that he had to remember to lower his defences, but it was getting easier. He just needed to work on having them both present and still be able to put aside both his Competent Physician and Charming Rogue personas and be John Silver.
After Max had initiated him into Providence General's society, she'd made it clear that she was not sexually interested in him at all, which suited him fine. They'd become friends in a way he'd never really had a friend before. With Max, he allowed himself to be mostly honest.
When it came to Flint and Miranda however, and the romantic and sexual possibilities involved with them both as individuals and together, he was still testing the boundaries, finding his way through a lot of new territory.
It helped that Miranda was easier to talk to than Flint. It was partly her personality and maybe partly gender based (or at least his reaction to that) and partly because she wasn't also his boss. Where Flint could be gruff, Miranda was more gentle – though he didn't doubt she had a core of steel – and more patient. She asked more probing questions, wanting to develop an emotional bond first and foremost.
Silver speared a cheese cube with a cocktail stick. "I wasn't even that keen," he admitted, talking about his initiation in the storage closet, which Miranda had skilfully steered the conversation towards. "But everyone else was, and Max has very nice breasts." He coughed and added quickly, "Not that you don't."
"You haven't seen them yet," Miranda said with a laugh. "And I know that Max is very beautiful."
"And devious," Silver said. "She rapidly got me excited. Her fingers are magic even with surgical gloves on, and her tongue...she let me fondle her a bit and then she, er, well she had hold of my hand while I er – God, why is this awkward?" He let out a long exhale. "I wrote a detailed report yesterday about a testicular injury and now I can't say the word penis."
"You just said it," Miranda pointed out gently. "Perhaps you're not comfortable because this instance is personal. Or maybe it's because you're talking to me."
Silver shrugged. "Anyway, then she kissed me, just once, and waited for me to get cleaned up while she got dressed. Told me it was a sort of hazing – most pleasant hazing I've ever had – but that if I'd been any less into it she would have put a stop to it. Also that it wasn't going to happen again. I didn't know then that she was already involved with Jack and Anne or I'd have refused to even take off my shirt because Anne is pretty terrifying."
Miranda gave a soft laugh of agreement and topped up their wine glasses. "And that was the last sexual experience you had with a woman?"
"Yes. Last experience I had other than purely with my own hand until James, too, and it had been a long time. Work gets in the way a lot. And I'd rather not have sex for the sake of it," Silver said. He ploughed on before he could reconsider showing his hand, "Initiation hand jobs aren't actually my thing. One night stands seem rather reckless, even with protection. I understand the urge exists but I'd rather have a connection to someone if I'm going to fuck them."
"And you don't make connections easily."
He nodded, swiped at a lock of curly hair that had come loose from his ponytail. "I've found it's better that way."
"So you don't get hurt."
There was no judgement in her tone. He was wondering if she'd had any training as a counsellor or was just naturally an empathic listener. Silver hesitated only a moment.
"You have to admit that betrayal only comes from your friends." He couldn't remember where he'd heard it but it had resonated deeply with him. His past experiences had given him cause to expect duplicity and abandonment, and he'd developed a habit of keeping himself aloof and ready to run at any moment. You couldn't be stabbed in the back if you never let anyone get within dagger wielding distance.
Miranda put down the plastic receptacle. "Who betrayed you?"
He shook his head. "I don't like to dwell on my past. It's over with. I've moved on. Reinvented myself." More than once.
"All right. But I would argue that you haven't truly moved on if you still harbour mistrust," she said. "Not everyone will hurt you."
He didn't want to debate it further even if he was not persuaded, so he shrugged and took another sip of wine.
They picked at the food for a while in companionable silence. A gust of wind blew rain against the windows and there was a distant roll of thunder.
"Do we have enough of a connection to move our physical relationship forward?" Miranda lifted her hand to caress Silver's cheek. "It's all right if the answer is no. I will never push you to do anything you don't want to."
"I think so," Silver said. "But it might help if you are the one to initiate things, for the moment."
"Gladly." Miranda kissed him, and she was warm and tasted of wine and Silver caught the scent of her floral perfume. "May I take your hair down? I want to run my fingers through it."
Silver tugged the hair elastic free, preferring to do that for himself. "Be my guest."
Miranda moved to kneel in front of him and played with his hair, running her fingers through it with a look of delight on her face. "James won't let me try and braid his hair," she said with regret.
"You can do anything to my hair but cut it," Silver said.
Miranda sat behind him, plaiting his hair, pressing kisses to the nape of his neck when she was done. Then she tugged the strands free once more. She next wanted to take off his shirt and this was done with exaggerated slowness, button by button, so that he felt it was a strip-tease for two.
It was a long time before they were both naked and exploring each other's bodies. He took a turn to run his fingers through her silky hair, now loose about her shoulders, and found she liked it when he teased her nipples with his tongue, catching her off-guard with the occasional gentle bite.
The actual act lasted only a short time in comparison. But afterwards they snuggled up under a blanket and Silver was content, and it was only when it was almost time for Flint to come home did he feel any urge to go and shower and get dressed once more.
Lunch was followed by some sensual activities. Silver found he loved to play with Flint's hair, even if Flint didn't seem to appreciate the attention he paid to it, as Miranda had made plain would be the case. Flint did however run his fingers through Silver's hair in return, and when he gently massaged Silver's scalp with his fingertips, Silver almost wanted to purr in delight.
It came as a revelation that Flint loved it when Silver nibbled at his ear, tugging at the stud he only wore when not at work. It felt like a secret that made them closer than ever.
The evening shower had been an experience, the cubicle windows soon steamed up from the hot water and their own exertions. As he towelled his hair off afterwards, Silver was already planning to ask Miranda if she would want to repeat the experience with him, or if she'd prefer the free-standing bath.
The guest bedroom was clean and tidy, the bed made up for him. As it turned out however, Silver slept in Flint's room instead, pleasantly surprised that Flint wanted him in the bed for more than sex. It had been a long time since he'd slept alongside someone, and he almost regretted having to sleep rather than savour the closeness.
The following morning Silver got to sit wearing nothing but his pyjama bottoms, hair tangled about his shoulders, watching Flint make pancakes for breakfast and it was his new favourite thing.
"These are good," Silver said, adding another pancake to his plate.
Flint gave him a genuine smile. "My specialty."
After breakfast Silver got dressed and brushed his hair. He winced when, as he attempted to tie it back, the hair elastic snapped, recoiling against his fingers. He hunted about on Flint's chest of drawers and found a ceramic dish filled with hair accessories. Choosing a narrow black hair tie, Silver fastened back his hair in a full ponytail, mostly because he thought it would please Flint.
While he was standing here though, what would be the harm in a bit more snooping? Silver picked up a wooden box with a velvet interior that cradled several pairs of cufflinks, a watch, a gold neck chain, one leather bracelet, and a couple of rings. One ring was a signet, the other a thin silver band that was tarnished from lack of wear.
It was a paltry haul compared to Silver's own jewellery collection, but more than he'd expected Flint to possess. He opened a couple of drawers and, with a wicked smile, took out one of Flint's t-shirts. He replaced his own figure hugging black t-shirt with the loose brown one, taking pleasure in knowing this had been against Flint's skin.
To show he could be a good houseguest, Silver straightened the bedclothes before he headed back to the lounge. The weather was fine and Flint had promised he'd get out the barbeque for Silver to prepare lunch. Silver was looking forward to sitting on the bench outside that had a great view of the entire garden, sipping beer and eating grilled meat, and spending the day with Flint.
"What's wrong with your own clothes?" Flint said with a scowl, though his tone was amused.
"I like this shirt." Silver moved in to kiss him and Flint held him close. It was several minutes before Flint let him go with a final caress to his cheek.
Life was good.
The following Saturday night saw him sleeping in Miranda's bedroom, with its warm, soft bedding and more homely feel. Flint's room was rather more utilitarian, his personal items kept mostly in the lounge and the small home office, but Miranda's room was more of a reflection of her personality and had books, photographs, knick-knacks, and a teddy bear on one shelf that had been a gift from Thomas.
"Can you turn that bear around next time?" Silver asked as Miranda climbed off him. "I swear it was staring."
She laughed. "It didn't seem to dampen your enthusiasm." She kissed him and said in a seductive voice, "Maybe I like being watched. Or doing the watching."
Okay…at some point Silver was going to stop being surprised by his paramours, but it was not that day.
He never invited them to his apartment – Flint had seen it once when he'd dropped in briefly to the house warming party that Max had insisted Silver host, and he had clearly not been impressed. In truth, no-one was impressed. For one thing it lacked furniture, and with so few chairs and no dining table, Silver had been relieved of the responsibility to take at a turn at hosting the poker games. (He didn't feel hard done by since he never had to throw anyone out when they overstayed their welcome or do any clearing up afterwards, just show up with beer and snacks, which suited him nicely.)
For another, he'd never fully unpacked and there were still boxes in every room save the bathroom. One large box held medical textbooks, but Silver no longer remembered what was in most of them, and he could probably just pack up the items he had bothered to put out and leave without a second thought about the other possessions he'd acquired.
After a few weeks of Silver regularly spending two or three nights at the house, Miranda made tiramisu again. Silver was pleased but cautious, thinking it a bribe. He was partly right. Miranda had a request. She wanted to watch him and Flint.
Silver looked to Flint to gauge his reaction but they'd clearly discussed this already and Flint was, if not eager, willing.
So Silver found himself with an audience which played into his propensity for performance, even though it put him a little further back on his attempt to stop playing a part. And he loved it.
As did Miranda, who took care of her own pleasure, and sat back in the chair with her face flushed, as content and sweat-drenched as the two men on the bed.
It brought to Silver's attention once again there was one thing they hadn't done together, and while Silver was curious, he knew Flint wasn't so keen though Miranda was.
He'd discovered that Flint and Miranda rarely had sex and, since Silver had joined them, they never did. Silver was enough for both of them, which was gratifying in a way. The sex with Flint, the sex with Miranda, the voyeurism, the taking turns, and the entire romantic and platonic aspects of the domestic arrangement and accompanying support system it entailed; all of it appealed, all of it made him happy. Yet Silver felt, deep down, that if they could have a true threesome, if they were all more intimately involved somehow, he would be truly content.
It wasn't yet the right time to discuss an actual threesome though, and Silver was pleased merely to be keeping his head above water in this uncharted sea, so he put it aside as an issue for another day.
"Sorry," Silver said with his customary insincerity. "Do you want to get lunch?"
"I'm eating at my desk today," Flint said looking up from the medical journal he was reading. "You go. And, by the way, I know it was you who put that thing on the noticeboard."
Silver affected innocence. "I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about."
"I'm a skilled physician," Flint said. "I know half a dozen ways to kill you and make it look like an accident, and Howell at the morgue owes me a couple of favours. Don't piss me off."
Silver tried for an angelic expression, wide eyes and quirked lips. Flint was not impressed.
"You know that doesn't work on me."
Silver hitched back his white coat, like a cowboy who was casually displaying a gun at his hip, and leaned seductively on the doorframe. "What about this? We could shut the door and see how comfortable your couch actually is."
"How many times do I have to tell you? There is to be no sex in my office, ever! Get out of here," Flint ordered and Silver scampered off to the canteen.
"They're not weird, they're what that craft place I found has on offer." Sometimes they were on offer because they were too weird and hadn't sold well, but Silver wasn't about to admit that. "Is Vane being a dick?"
"He's Vane." Max gestured with her coffee cup. "And that thing on the noticeboard is not going to help his mood today. Good job."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Watching Vane slam the crash cart into a wall not once, not twice, but three separate times had been hilarious only because when he finally reached the patient Mr Scott from the legal department had shown up to re-iterate that the patient had a DNR and if Vane didn't stand down there would be legal action.
This incident might finally make everyone forget the time Silver had tried to move the crash cart while the defibrillator was still plugged in and ended up on his ass. If Silver hoped to bring Vane's embarrassing event to the fore to ensure this, and so had sketched a stick-man comic depicting it to pin up on the noticeboard, who could blame him?
"Of course not." Max smiled. "Billy's been winning more at poker lately you know. He's finally learning to bluff."
Silver took a gulp of hot coffee. How long had it been? He'd lost track. "I've been busy. I will come back."
"Busy with Flint and Miranda."
Max smiled. Jack slid into the seat next to Silver.
"You missed poker," he said plaintively.
"So I keep being told. I'll come next time, I promise."
Max snorted and got to her feet. "Your promises are worthless. I will believe it only when I see it."
Silver made a face at her retreating behind. Jack joined in with a pfft-women look that would have earned him an earful had either of the women in his life seen it.
"Jack," Silver said thoughtfully. "You have an interesting arrangement don't you? With Max and Anne."
"That's one word for it," Jack agreed.
"How do you cope?"
Jack grinned. "Well if you need any help I have some samples of these new drugs –"
Silver shook his head violently. "Not what I meant, thank you."
"Oh." Jack frowned. "You mean," and he gestured with both hands, "emotionally?"
"Practically speaking," Silver said. "On a day to day basis as it were. Which yes, includes emotionally."
Jack nodded sagely. "Ah. It's a delicate balancing act and any wrong move could bring things crashing down upon my head. But having Max involved is the only way it can work for me and Anne, so I've learnt to accept it. Less planning and control, more going with the flow."
Silver drained his coffee cup to hide his disappointment. He was good at planning and he liked to have some autonomy even if he knew when to be the power behind the throne rather than attempt to be the king. (The lack of control during the exercise had been surprisingly arousing in contravention of his usual need for independence, and he was still unsure what that meant.)
"You find yourself buying twice as much jewellery," Jack noted. "But I know someone who's an absolute genius and he gives me a discount."
Silver nodded, recalling the beautiful matching earrings and necklaces he'd seen Max and Anne wear sometimes.
"It's worth it or it's not," Jack mused, returning to more prosaic matters. "And Anne is worth it." The affection in his voice was clear.
Silver pondered this as he went on his rounds, following up on the previous day's patients. While he was good at thinking ahead he also took pride in being able to think on his feet and adapt to a new scheme without a moment's hesitation. He could do this.
And anyway, was he really the Jack Rackham in the threesome? What Jack and Anne and Max had wasn't quite the same as what he and Flint and Miranda had. They were all very different people and while there were similarities it wouldn't do to use any other polyamorous relationship as a model. Their relationship was their own and they had to choose how it worked.
Flint and Miranda were worth the effort, Silver knew that much. So long as they both wanted him as much as he wanted them, they were all doing fine.
So when Flint was supposed to go with Miranda to an art installation one evening, but an emergency prevented him from getting home on time, Miranda called Silver. He had previously pulled a double shift and had gone to his apartment for a nap. He'd just woken up before the phone rang.
"I'd like to invite you in his place, but I know it's probably not your scene," Miranda said wistfully when she explained the situation to him.
Silver knew where his responsibility lay. "If you'd like me to go, I'm happy to," he said. "Just give me a few minutes to shower and get ready."
Thirty minutes later Silver was wearing a tux, his hair was pulled back into a neat ponytail, and his shoes were polished. He called for Miranda as he entered the house.
He found her in her bedroom, the jewellery box upended on the bed. She looked up and there was a moment of surprise before she smiled.
"You look lovely," she said.
"You too." The tasteful sleeveless black dress emphasised her figure and her hair had been meticulously pinned up, secured by a striking pearl-tipped hair ornament. "Did you lose something?"
Miranda held up a delicate silver necklace. "I was looking for this. Would you?" She held it out and he took it, slipping it around her neck and fastening the clasp for her. He ran his fingers down her exposed spine before moving onto the low-cut dress and sliding his hands around to rest below her breasts.
Miranda leaned back into him and giggled. "John," she said, with regret. "I have to make an appearance tonight. I made a promise. Otherwise I would happily let you get me out of the dress again."
He pressed a kiss to one bare shoulder. "Maybe later."
Miranda threw the rest of her jewellery back into the box. "I'll put it all away properly tomorrow," she said with a hint of shame. "It's terribly bad behaviour to treat my finery this way I know."
She hesitated when she picked up a ring, a narrow gold band with an inlaid sapphire.
"That's pretty," Silver said gently, curious but not wanting to push too hard.
Miranda sat on the edge of the bed. "Thomas gave me his grandmother's ring when we got engaged," she said, and Silver was startled when she added, "It was horrible. Ostentatious beyond words."
Not this modest piece of jewellery then, with its elegant simplicity.
"When his family discovered I was allowing, as they put it, Thomas to be with James they made him end our engagement and I returned the ring."
She slipped on the gold band, admired it. "This one, however, Thomas gave to me on my birthday which was just after our engagement. He saw me admiring it in an antique store and said it suited me far better than his family's offering. He insisted that I should wear this one instead, only putting on grandmother Hamilton's hideous jewel at family occasions."
Her eyes were misty as she went on, "He brought James a silver band from the same store a few months later; we picked it out for him together."
Silver had seen that ring. He hadn't thought it related to Thomas. Miranda sniffed once, and made to pull off the ring.
"Why don't you wear it tonight?" Silver asked softly.
She shook her head. "I haven't worn it for a long time," she said sadly. Since Thomas died, Silver translated.
"Maybe one day you will want to wear it again," he offered.
She nodded, put the ring carefully into the box, and closed the lid. "Come along, then," she said briskly, holding out her hand for Silver to pull her to her feet. "We have art to admire."
Miranda introduced him as "her friend" – Flint was always introduced the same way, he gathered – and he was greeted with politeness, occasional suspicion, and on one occasion with a woman named Adelle, flirtation. Miranda had taken his hand when Adelle seemed too interested in him and said sharply, "I haven't known him long but John has become a very dear companion," which was clearly the polite society lady's way of saying "hands off bitch he's mine."
It made him warm inside to have Miranda claim him thus. It still surprised him whenever anyone stood up for him, or stated that he was their employee, their friend, their companion. He was not used to being part of something, to being important to someone.
Silver excused himself at one point to visit the bathroom. On the way back his path was blocked by a large man. If he was any judge, the man's watch was worth more than two months of Silver's rent.
"You're here with Miranda Barlow," the man said. It was phrased like a statement not a question so Silver merely gave a sharp nod and tried to move around him.
"You're different to the other one," the man said, presumably referring to Flint. He gave Silver a disapproving look. "Not her usual type. Similar hair, mind."
Maybe the man hated long haired men on principle, or maybe he was jealous given his own sparse locks which were greased back in an unflattering fashion.
"Excuse me," Silver said, not wanting to be drawn into an argument. Whatever this man's issues were, they were nothing to do with him.
But the man wasn't finished. "You're much younger too," he sneered. "I had to wonder if she'd brought a date or her son."
Silver's hand clenched into a fist. With effort he said, "She is the finest woman I have ever known," and walked away without cursing, or punching the man, or doing anything else untoward. He slipped an arm around Miranda's shoulder as he reached her, pressing a kiss to her hair, claiming her as she'd earlier claimed him.
She glanced up, surprised. They were still negotiating public displays of affection and he feared he'd gone too far, but her eyes showed delight and he squeezed her tightly.
The rest of the evening went by without incident. Miranda leaned on his arm, complaining about her shoes, as they headed outside into the night air. The moon was waxing, and the temperature was noticeably cooler after the late afternoon sunshine but not truly cold. Silver nodded to the ornamental fountain.
"Might as well wait a while," he said, glancing back at the crowd. "I don't think we'll get a taxi for a few minutes. You can sit down here."
Miranda smoothed down her dress and perched on the low stone wall of the fountain. The spray was lit by the street lamps along the paths and it made for a beautiful backdrop. Silver stared at her, her cheekbones, understated cosmetics, impeccably chosen jewellery, flawlessly styled hair. She was gorgeous; older, yes, and lovely in a different way to say, Max, or Eleanor, but Silver thought her truly captivating. She was also of course, very different to Flint and yet he loved them both, found them both beautiful.
"What did he say to you?"
The question threw him. "Who?"
"Alec. I caught a glimpse of him talking to you and next thing I knew you were at my side in a manner one might call possessive." She smiled. "I'm not complaining. He asked me out once, and I turned him down. His snide comments about my relationship with James only soured me further against him rather than persuaded me to reconsider."
Silver frowned, sat down next to her. The breeze got up and tiny droplets of water fell about his head and damped his shoulders before the wind calmed once more. So Alec was jealous, just not of Silver's hair. That put a new spin on things. He considered his options, chose the truth. He chose truth more frequently these days when Flint was involved, and was almost always honest when it came to Miranda.
"He thinks I'm too immature for a classy lady like you," he said, still trying for a positive twist.
Miranda gave a harsh laugh. "Oh, the hypocrite. The girl on his arm at the benefit last month barely looked old enough to drive."
Silver didn't comment. Miranda nudged him.
"Do you think you are too young for me?"
"No." There was no hesitation. He met her gaze, needing her to believe him. "It's what, ten years?"
"Almost fifteen between you and James."
Silver shrugged. "Honestly, of all the things about our complicated ménage à trois I worry over, the age difference has never been one of them."
Her eyes narrowed and then she smiled. She believed him. His heart leapt at the affection in her eyes. "You know you'd have to live with us for it to be a true ménage à trois."
"Semantics," he teased, and she laughed, a warm and genuine laugh.
"From the lips of the silver-tongued devil himself," she said. She took his hand, squeezed his fingers. She was getting chilly and Silver frowned. He insisted she take his jacket and left her sitting by the fountain, hands tucked up into the sleeves, while he went to secure a taxi.
He came across Alec, who was schmoozing a woman, a young blonde whose body language was screaming for him to back off. Before Silver could intervene a female security guard stepped in with an excuse to move the woman away. The disgruntled look on Alec's face made up for the annoyance he'd given Silver.
On the ride home, Miranda rested her head on Silver's shoulder. "Will you think about it? Moving in with us."
"I will," he promised. It wasn't the first time the subject had come up, Flint or Miranda casually suggesting it would make sense for him to move in with them. He could save money if he wasn't paying rent and utilities, even if he began contributing to the Barlow-Flint household expenses. It would mean giving up his independence though. He wasn't quite ready to do so, but he was starting to give it serious thought.
Chapter 4: Triad
An unintended moment of voyeurism pushes Silver to ask for the threesome he wants.
Chapter Four: Triad
Me and him OR you and me; You both stand there your long hair flowing… Why can't we go on as three – Triad, Jefferson Airplane
Silver tossed his bag in one corner of the lounge and his coat onto a chair before he poured himself a drink. God, he was glad to be home – and was he now starting to think of this place as home? Things were getting out of hand.
He didn't pause until he'd drained the whisky and poured another at which point he turned to see Flint watching him.
Silver closed his eyes briefly. "You know how you're always telling me I should knock?"
"That's good advice I wish I'd followed."
Silver hesitated. He'd seen something he shouldn't have and it was his own fault, and Flint would not appreciate being made privy to any of it. Nor would anyone involved want him telling Flint about it.
What he'd seen had also given him ideas of the sort that he wouldn't discuss without Miranda being present.
"Let's just say I've learnt my lesson," Silver said.
"Where's Miranda?" Silver asked, changing the subject.
"Bridge game," Flint said. "We have to feed ourselves tonight."
Silver eyed the kitchen. "Do you want me to cook?"
"No, we'll order in." Flint took out his phone. "What do you fancy?"
Dinner was followed by a couple of drinks and some foreplay that led to some fooling around in Flint's room. They both paused at the sound of the front door, heard the sound of Miranda's keys being dropped into the crystal bowl nearby before footsteps headed off to the kitchen.
It took a moment to regain their momentum. They weren't doing anything questionable and had been expecting her home, yet it had still startled Silver. He felt a twinge of remorse about interrupting the scene he'd witnessed earlier.
Flint tried harder to recapture Silver's attention, and he appreciated the effort. He gave in fully to Flint's advances, letting Flint take the lead at every step.
"Hey," Flint said afterwards, smoothing Silver's hair back from his face. "Are you all right?"
"I thought I detected a lack of enthusiasm." Flint sounded disappointed rather than angry. He pressed a kiss to Silver's forehead.
Flint shook his head. "Don't apologise. But tell me if you don't want to do something. I don't want you to feel obligated to fuck me whenever I'm in the mood, even if you aren't. This is a partnership. You can tell me what you want, or don't."
Silver was pleased by the sentiment even as he was aware of the hypocrisy. Flint, though he understood the need to talk about boundaries and consent, was still somewhat hesitant to use his words to reveal his own desires, even with those he most loved and trusted. Instead they'd mostly found through experimentation things they both liked and a couple of things one or both of them didn't, and there was still plenty of ground to cover.
Silver kissed Flint to reassure him that everything was fine and they settled down to try and get some sleep. Flint soon drifted off but Silver lay awake, thinking.
Flint's reticence to talk openly was why Silver needed Miranda to be present before he could bring himself to discuss the desires he was finally acknowledging. She had none of Flint's qualms about sexual or emotional topics, and she knew the right questions to ask and was always non-judgemental which helped things go smoothly. Miranda would listen if he tried to explain a fantasy he was still coming to terms with.
Because Silver had stumbled onto something beautiful.
Flint had headed home after his shift, but Silver hadn't finished his appraisal paperwork and had stayed behind to complete it. He'd gone looking for Max to ask her about one of the questions on the form and barged into an unoccupied patient room to find it occupied not only by Max, but Anne, and Jack. And maybe what he'd walked in on wasn't sexual but it was definitely erotic.
Once he'd got over his initial shock at the tableau, he'd seen it as lovely. As soon as he realised that Max wasn't hurt he could appreciate her lying, chest exposed, hair fanned out upon the bed. He was never going to be sexually attracted to her, but he was never going to stop being taken aback by her beauty any more than he was ever going to stop valuing her friendship.
Anne was, until his interruption, gazing down lovingly at Max. Anne being gentle always threw him for a loop; he assumed it was a guise she put on for patients and the gruff manner that the staff saw daily was the real Anne. Yet there had been no mistaking the tenderness on her face, the softness in her gaze. She had an Ambu bag in one hand, the other resting on Max's cheek.
Jack was wearing scrubs and a stethoscope, rather than one of his dapper suits. That was one of the things that made Silver realise something other than an actual emergency was going on here. That, coupled with the surprised look Jack gave him, which had veered not into guilt but rather curiosity. Maybe he had been expecting Silver to join in, assuming that one of the women had invited him to play, rather than him stumbling in.
There had been a moment that was maybe a second or two long. It felt like it went on for an hour, awareness heightened by his adrenaline.
"Get out before I punch you in the face," Anne had said finally, though without her usual rancour. Silver had backed away and bumped into the door before he could actually open it and make his escape. In the corridor, heart pounding, he reflected on one more thing he'd glimpsed.
Through the observation window on the other side of the room, he was sure he'd seen a blonde woman watching. And he could go into that room right now to be sure it was Eleanor, but only if he wanted to lose his job – or maybe his life and he wasn't sure that was hyperbole. Having blackmail material on Eleanor Guthrie was like having a grenade with a dodgy pin rather than a loaded gun. More likely to blow up in his face than to give him any actual leverage.
Silver had taken a few deep breaths before he went straight to his locker, giving up on the paperwork completely. He told himself that Eleanor couldn't punish him without implicating herself in the questionable activity and that he was probably safe. Still, he'd left as quickly as he could, and one way or another the event had been on his mind ever since.
So if Silver had been distracted, it was not Flint's fault. It was that he couldn't stop reliving those few seconds. Max had looked so content, Jack was immersed in the scenario, and Silver couldn't help but be reminded of the simulation, when Anne had been similarly tender with him, if not so affectionate.
To be passive and to have his life metaphorically in Flint's hands; to be, as he'd thought of it at the time, done to rather than be doing. It had been intoxicating.
Maybe it was time he accepted what he wanted, and to find a way to ask for a threesome that might work for all involved.
The next morning Max cornered Silver in the staff lounge. He'd ignored her phone calls and messages because he thought a face to face conversation might be better for a whole slew of reasons, including the lack of any electronic trail later.
"I'm sorry about last night, and I won't say a word," he said before she could begin a tongue-lashing.
Max visibly relaxed.
"I should learn to knock," Silver added, taking the blame.
"I had no idea you liked..." Silver waved one hand.
Max glanced around but they were alone. "Breathplay," she said shortly. "It overlaps with medical kink in this setting."
"I see. Lucky that Anne's in anaesthetics."
"It's part of the attraction," Max acknowledged.
"And Jack's okay with it?"
"Okay with what?" Jack had sidled into the room.
Silver shook his head. "What are you doing here? How many drugs do you think you can sell to us?" Probably quite a lot if he had an in with Eleanor, but that wasn't the point.
"I'm on my way to an appointment," Jack said mildly. "I just stopped in to grab some coffee."
Silver frowned. "You have tasted our coffee?"
Jack gave a small shrug. It wasn't actually the coffee he was interested in after all. "I water the plants too. Someone should."
"Jack has been discovering he has a certain aptitude for medicine," Max said. "So yes, he is okay with what we do. Aren't you?"
Jack smiled, pleased to be included in the conversation. "In fact, I'm applying to medical school," he said. "Max and Anne are helping me study; Eleanor's very supportive. And I already know all about the pharmaceutical side of things."
Silver blinked a few times. "That's great," he said. Longer hours and less pay, but the rush of helping people would offset that if Jack was serious about a change of profession and it seemed he was. The future Doctor Jack Rackham. It proved you shouldn't underestimate people.
They exchanged a few pleasantries. Jack had not the slightest concern that Silver had caught sight of the after-hours activity, probably because he knew Max, Anne, or indeed Eleanor would take care of things.
After Jack had gone, and Vane had fetched himself a coffee and left the room, Max said, "I didn't mean for you to find out that about me, and definitely not in that way."
"I know." And given Jack's revelation, she could have chosen to pass it off as a training simulation to help with his studies. Silver probably wouldn't have believed her but he might have pretended to. She'd chosen to be honest and he appreciated it.
She had her reasons apparently. "But while we are on the subject, I still wonder if you might have had some similar feelings. During the drill."
She was too damn insightful.
"Maybe," Silver said, as far as he was willing to discuss this with Max before he'd even broached the subject with his lovers.
Max nodded and that was an end to it for the moment, which came as a relief to them both.
It was a few days before Silver got the chance to try out his new found passions. He thrived on being the centre of attention, but even he began to falter under Miranda's interested gaze and Flint's intense concentration as he tried to explain what he longed for.
"You were vulnerable," Miranda said at last while Silver paused and took a swallow of wine. "And you could not prevent what was being done to you. You found something appealing in that enforced passivity. That is not uncommon."
Silver relaxed at this reassurance. Kinks could sometimes be about things that scared or even repulsed you in the everyday world, or so it said in a magazine article he'd just happened to glance at last week. They had little bearing on your true personality.
"There's some contrasts in there too," Flint mused, stroking his beard. He was truly considering Silver's words. "The difference between Anne's part in the simulation and mine. Her at the head, me at the torso. Gentleness of a sort from her, and necessary rougher treatment from me."
Silver nodded. "I don't necessarily need you to be rough," he said. "You could be a little more…sensual?"
Miranda exchanged a glance with Flint. "Both of us," she said. "Working in tandem. Can you do it?"
"I can," Flint said. He checked in with Silver; "If you're certain it's what you want."
"Yes." It was a threesome of sorts, something he did want to try at least once. And it truly did tie in with the event that had begun this odd relationship, the exercise that had awoken Flint's feelings and stirred desires Silver hadn't been aware of before.
They talked some more, outlined the scenario and the basic rules.
Before he knew it they were ready and Silver was a bundle of nerves, wondering if he'd made a huge mistake.
"If you misbehave, you will have to be restrained," Miranda reminded him, her expression stern but her tone playful. "You are ours and you will let us have our way with you. If you need to stop, you will say 'anchor' and we will desist. But we will not stop for any other reason."
Miranda was wearing a filmy translucent gown that gave tantalising glimpses of her breasts as she moved to sit on the bed. Flint was still undressing, stripping to his boxers. Silver was already naked, sitting with his knees drawn up to his chest, shivering a little both from the chill air in the spare bedroom and his mounting anticipation.
It was unlike anything else they'd done before and despite it being what he wanted, the anticipation was nerve-wracking, like having tickets to a roller-coaster and feeling both eager and terrified.
But once Silver was lying down, utterly exposed and vulnerable, Miranda began to kiss and caress him, her lips on his, her fingers in his hair. Sometimes she would move to kiss his forehead or run her fingertips down his chest, her thumb flicking at one nipple. Every time he got accustomed to her touch she changed position again, stroking his hair back from his face or pressing her lips to his collarbone. Relaxation and contentment soon moved into arousal.
Flint watched for a while, savouring the sight. It appeared he too could enjoy a little voyeurism. He soon joined in however. His thumbs traced down the centre of Silver's ribcage, crossing the boundary from Miranda's sphere of influence and into his domain. Silver bit down on his lip as Flint's hands spanned his torso, the firm pressure ending abruptly before it reached his groin.
He tried to lift his head and protest, but Miranda took charge with a firm yet gentle, "No. Lie still."
Right; he was at their mercy. It was liberating.
Miranda began her half-soothing, half-arousing ministrations afresh. "Close your eyes," she suggested and he obeyed. It heightened his awareness of the two pairs of hands exploring his body.
He jumped a little when Flint's tongue began to trail down his belly, making Miranda chuckle before she soothed him with a stroke of her fingers across his cheek. His hips bucked when Flint's tongue dipped into his navel before continuing down over the flat of his lower abdomen.
"Please," Silver begged as the fondling continued, though he wasn't supposed to talk. He might come before they went any further, but it hadn't escaped his notice that they drew back slightly each time he got too excited. How long were they going to toy with him like this? Maybe forever. It was a delicious torture.
Finally Flint had mercy on Silver, his hand grasping his cock. Miranda was giving Silver soft words of encouragement now, one hand stroking at his temple, the thumb of her other hand circling his nipple. It was maddening and it was exhilarating and he didn't want it to end but something had to give soon.
"Yes," Flint said, his voice warm with affection, maybe pride. Silver had lost all sense of perspective by now. "Yes."
It was permission but even without it, Silver could not have held out much longer.
After the simulation he'd received an appreciative word or two before he'd had to clean himself up and go home to an empty apartment. This time there was a prolonged period of kisses and praise. Flint was the one to do the clean-up, taking pleasure in wiping far more flesh than was necessary, the warm washcloth another welcome sensation against Silver's still tingling flesh. Orgasm over, the warm afterglow dissipating, Silver began to shiver. Shortly after they were all snuggled under the covers, Silver pressed between the two people he'd come to love with all his heart.
"Was that you wanted?" Miranda asked before she kissed his cheek. "I know I had fun."
"It was amazing," Silver said.
"If you'd like, we could use more props next time," said Flint, one arm draped over Silver's chest. "Latex gloves. Stethoscope."
"Really?" Silver grinned. "There's going to be a next time?"
"Damn straight," Flint agreed.
Silver chuckled at that. "Straight is not a word I think of when it comes to all of us," he said and Flint gave a low laugh.
All of us. Yes; if this hadn't proved they were all in a relationship, nothing would.
The fact that after this, the three of them spent other nights sharing a bed and barely argued over the lack of space, merely added more weight to the conclusion.
"You were late this morning," Flint said as he passed Silver in a corridor.
"It was two minutes!" Silver turned and followed Flint to his office.
"More like ten."
"I had to go home first and get a clean shirt."
"That wouldn't happen," Flint said, taking a seat at his desk, "if you would move in with us. Miranda might even do your laundry for you occasionally. Think of it as a perk."
Silver shrugged. "I'll think about it." He crossed the room. "But you have to think about things too."
Flint eyed him suspiciously. "Like what?"
"The 'not at work' rule." Silver leaned in and gave him a quick kiss before Flint could react. He gave a broad grin. "I'm going to lunch."
"I'll join you later, if I have time," Flint said. "And we will continue this discussion later!"
"No work talk at home," Silver reminded him, already walking away before Flint could retaliate.
Silver took a seat opposite Max, and Vane joined them. Anne had been spending lunchtimes in the staff lounge, coaching Jack for his entrance exams, and while Vane would never admit it, he missed their company.
"You look like the cat who got the cream," Max told Silver.
"I thought it was a canary," Vane said, before taking a bite of his sandwich.
Silver shrugged. "I think both are acceptable," he said. "But there's an element of guilt implied in the latter."
"Don't change the subject," Max said, between sips of her coffee. "I mean that you seem content."
"Why wouldn't I be?"
Max glanced at Vane, chose her words carefully. "Things were complicated not so long ago, yes?"
Vane swallowed. "Flint and his mistress, that is complicated!"
Max closed her eyes. Silver shot Vane a harsh look. "Her name is Miranda," he said. "And she's not anyone's mistress."
Vane lifted an eyebrow. "All right, Johnny-come-lately. I didn't mean any disrespect."
Silver glowered at him but he gave a sharp nod. "No one is supposed to know," he mumbled, stabbing at the pasta salad with his fork.
"Everyone knows everything in this place," Vane said.
"Not everything," Silver said and Max kicked him under the table.
"Do you know Jack Rackham's going to medical school?" Vane asked.
"Heard it three times already," Silver said, "including once from his own lips."
Max smirked. Vane scoffed. "Anyway, Max is right. You've changed."
Vane gestured with his sandwich, a piece of lettuce dangerously close to flying from between the bread. "You were always on edge, either skulking around or needing to be the centre of attention. Not quite part of the team, not truly friends with anyone - except Max, of course. Now Billy thinks you're one of his closest friends, Rackham's taking you into his confidence, and Eleanor's stopped referring to you as Thinks-He's-A-Good-Doctor Silver."
Silver blinked a few times. "I do not skulk!"
"Well whatever you and Flint and Miranda Barlow are up to it suits you," Vane said. He finished the last of his sandwich in two bites and got to his feet, taking his half-drunk coffee with him.
"I don't skulk," Silver called after him.
Max laughed. "It does suit you though," she said. "This new you."
"I'm glad you think so. It's partly your fault. You were working your magic behind the scenes," Silver said. "How did you even know Flint liked me?"
Max shrugged. "I'm insightful. I know how people work. I watched how he reacted to you and I knew. After that, I may have talked with Miranda once or twice and talked about what we could do to improve the situation."
"Co-conspirators." Silver affected disdain. "I barely got a choice in the matter."
Max brushed off his concerns. "I also saw how you responded to him. You don't realise how much time you spend gazing at him with barely concealed adoration."
"As I said, you don't realise it." Max smiled. "I thought there was a decent chance you were interested. We gave you a push, but no-one forced either of you into this."
"I'll accept that you're insightful," Silver said. "But there's something I've been wondering about. How the hell did you know I was into, er, certain aspects of the drill. More than once you talked about me finding the exercise pleasant."
Max laughed. "Are you so naive? Think about it. The script was giving us the results of your bloodwork, told us your blood pressure when we asked and so on, yes? The EKG was programmed to display what it was required to show. Throughout the exercise I was announcing to the supervisor when I was doing something so they could tell me what the findings were. But remember that I was in fact taking your actual vitals the whole time. Either you were excited, or you were afraid."
It was all adrenaline related and he was aware of the fine line between the two things. "Oh."
"That disappointment is why a magician never reveals their secrets," Max said, before she finished her coffee.
Silver frowned as a thought occurred to him. "Wait, why did you let me go to sleep? It frightened the crap out of me when I woke up!"
"I didn't know until you'd already dozed off. What was I supposed to do then, wake you up in the middle of the procedure?" Max shook her head. "I thought that either you were so aroused or upset by the scenario that you found sleep preferable to being awake for it, or you'd got bored and drifted off."
"Mostly the latter. I wasn't trying to sleep, I was focussing on the monitor and I think I got too relaxed."
Max nodded, understanding. "You missed Flint yelling at Idelle by the way. Because it wasn't a trauma dummy there was no obvious way to prove when an injury was fixed. Flint swore he'd checked the small bowel and hadn't missed anything and Idelle was clutching her clipboard and telling him he had to check again. We'll have to think about that before the next simulation and adjust how we handle that. Anyway Flint said, 'He's not going to die on my watch because of your fucking notes,' and I thought, yes, he's determined. This is personal. Miranda and I were right."
Silver put aside his fork. "It certainly kick-started things," he allowed. "I supposed I should thank you."
Max leaned over and rubbed at the back of his hand. "Just tell me one thing. You are happy, aren't you?"
"Absolutely," Silver said, and so of course this marked his last moment of calm before the storm hit.
Chapter 5: Don't You Want Me
Haunted by his past, Flint makes a bad decision and, hurt, Silver almost makes a far worse one. Max attempts to talk sense into Silver but he's never one to do the most sensible thing if there is a more convenient alternative.
Chapter Five: Don't You Want Me
You know I don't believe you when you say that you don't need me – Don't You Want Me, The Human League
It was a sunny day but by rights it ought to be raining, or at least overcast. It had been sunny the day of the funeral too and it had seemed just as inappropriate then. Flint had wanted it to rain as if the sky itself was weeping; a hailstorm with thunder loud enough to shake the stained glass windows of the church would have better suited his mood.
He'd been determined to attend despite the family's opinion of him, banking that they wouldn't risk further scandal by having him publicly ejected given the fuss he would make if they attempted it. Miranda had of course also insisted on going and they'd been each other's strength through the drone of the service and the undisguised hostility directed at them by Thomas's relatives.
Flint didn't know how he would have endured the funeral without her. He didn't know how he would have survived Thomas's death without her. He'd been drunk, lying half-naked and unshaven, sobbing on the bathroom floor one night when Miranda had come over to check on him since he hadn't answered any of her messages.
She'd fetched a washcloth and wiped his face, sat on the floor with his head in her lap and stroked his tangled hair.
"I want to die too," Flint had said hoarsely.
"He would want you to live," Miranda had said, the faintest hitch in her voice. "He would want us to take care of each other."
She'd been right and it was only then that he'd managed to drag himself into the shower and clean himself up. They'd made plans that evening to attend the memorial and had stuck to them.
Each year since they visited the grave, always on the day of his death and sometimes also on his birthday. It said a lot about the Hamiltons that none of them personally came to put flowers on his grave, merely sent bouquets via a grave tending service.
Today was the anniversary of Thomas's death. It was both a shock that another year had passed by so quickly, and a source of pain that another whole twelve months had gone by without Thomas in their lives.
Flint stuck his hands in his pockets, watching Miranda fuss with the flowers they'd chosen. When she was done she straightened up and Flint wrapped one arm around her.
"It never gets any easier," he said.
"Not on this day," she agreed. "But I think more of our good times together now. I focus less on the tragedy."
Flint couldn't quite agree even though he understood what she meant. He still felt the tragedy, as she called it, more intensely than she did. He believed his love for Thomas had been deeper in some ways, and he hated that he felt that way. Their grief was not a contest and yet he could not help but think if it were, he would win.
Every time they came here it tore the wound open once more. But it had to be so. It would have hurt worse not to make their pilgrimages, as if they had forgotten Thomas – as if they could do so even if they wished to.
And at each visit Flint ran through it again, his part in it, his guilt, his failure to protect Thomas.
"It wasn't your fault," Miranda said, as if reading his thoughts. She was practised at this by now, this ritual they performed. She knew him as well as Thomas had at this point. She loved him and he loved her, even as he wished he loved her in the exact same way he'd loved Thomas.
"I wish I'd done more." It was the same thing he said every time.
This year was different though. This year there was Silver, his name unspoken, but his presence a part of their lives even at this most poignant of moments. He was not part of this; he did not even know the whole truth of it. Flint was not ready to bare this still-healing scar to him. The more he'd pondered it, the more Flint had hardened his resolve against sharing this part of himself. Silver was still an unknown quantity.
That had to change, he realised with sudden clarity. Flint could not go through this again. He squeezed at Miranda's shoulder. He would protect them both from further pain. He would investigate John Silver and ensure they would not be betrayed. Unlike Thomas, Silver did not seem the self-sacrificing type, but he did seem like the faithless type, and Flint could act to protect himself and Miranda from that. Hadn't Silver admitted he wasn't reliable when he'd first taken the job at the hospital; t seems nice here. At least until the wind changes.
"Are you ready to go?"
Flint blinked. They'd been stood here in silence for longer than he'd realised. "Yes. Yes, I am."
Miranda moistened her lips. "Goodbye, Thomas. We miss you. Always."
Flint nodded. "You are always in our hearts, my darling."
Miranda gave a wan smile. Flint bestowed a last glance at the gravestone, and then they headed back to the car.
Flint made a few phone calls, dug into Silver's personnel file, ran over every conversation they'd had. Everything supported Flint's hypothesis.
Silver was unreliable. Not in his day to day work, Flint had to admit. But his personal life was a mess. He never stayed anywhere long, and as far as Flint could make out he had little loyalty.
Every time a long-term opportunity arose, Silver declined it. Flint recalled him saying things on a number of occasions that amounted to not wanting to be tied down. They'd made him a part of their lives but as recently as this week he had again refused to move in with them. He would not commit to them fully.
Flint made up his mind. He would not let himself, let Miranda, be hurt again.
He waited until Eleanor was out at a meeting so he could commandeer her office, away from the eavesdroppers in his own department, and hauled Silver in for a difficult conversation.
"Did I do something wrong?" Silver smirked as he added, "Or are we going to roleplay and you're going to punish me by making me bend over Eleanor's desk and having your wicked way with me? You keeping saying there's to be no sex in your office but you never said Eleanor's was off limits."
Flint was shocked. That hadn't even occurred to him. And dammit, it was a nice fantasy. But Eleanor would go ballistic if she ever found out. Besides there was to be no more sex. He'd called Silver here to finish things.
That had seemed an easier task when Silver wasn't actually in the room.
"Sit down," Flint ordered and Silver complied, though clearly still thinking this was a game. He was going to be disappointed.
This was far more difficult than Flint had anticipated. It took everything he had to keep his composure and not start yelling – which Silver would no doubt interpret as anger he could resolve – or, worse, to give up on what needed to be done.
"Our arrangement," Flint began. "You, me, Miranda."
Silver nodded, leaned forward.
"It has to stop."
Silver froze in place, as stunned as if Flint had hit him in the face.
"I think we all know it is for the best," Flint said briskly, pushing back his chair as if readying himself to leave the room. "It couldn't last."
"No," Silver said slowly. "No, we're – we were doing fine. You can't just decide it's over."
Flint stood. "I can and I have. Look at you." He summoned up a sneer. "You were a fun plaything but you're hardly long-term relationship material. It's over. I bear you no ill will. I promise that I will not treat you any differently from any other member of staff, for as long as you remain here."
He tried to imply that wasn't likely to be long, adding, "And I will of course provide you with impeccable references when you decide to move on."
"Why are you doing this?" Silver asked, voice tight with emotion.
"We had a good time," Flint said. "But it's over now. I mean it. And don't go trying to upset Miranda either. She doesn't need you trying to manipulate her into taking you back. If you ever go anywhere near her again I will kill you."
Shit, he hadn't meant to make such a threat. Yet he couldn't risk Silver going behind his back and blabbing to Miranda. Because this evening Flint was going to tell Miranda he'd had this conversation in reverse and she would be hurt but she would get over it. Better to break it off now, before Silver truly did abandon them further down the road.
It was for the best.
Silver stared at him. "You said –"
"I don't care what I said." Flint strode towards the door. "That was the past. Now get back to work."
He stalked off down the corridor, only stopping when he reached the bathroom. He locked himself in a stall and buried his face in his hands.
It was for the best, he told himself over and over like a mantra.
Quit him before he quits us.
Get out before he hurts us. Hurts Miranda. Hurts me.
It's for the best.
If he repeated it enough times, perhaps it would not sound so hollow.
"What did you say to him?" Miranda was ashen-faced.
"Nothing," Flint lied, turning away so she wouldn't see his face. "He was talking about some new job opportunity. Excited about doing something different. That's what he's like, incapable of settling down. I asked about us and he brushed it off. We were fun for a while but not for the long-term."
"Fun for a while? He said that?"
Flint couldn't decide if that was grief or incredulity in her voice. If she decided to confront Silver the jig would be up, Flint's lies exposed. He gathered his courage and turned, moving to put his hands on her shoulders.
"We don't need him. We have each other." It almost sounded true.
"Always," she said softly and Flint hugged her, pressed her head into his chest, stroked her hair, and prayed for absolution.
The next day Silver was nowhere to be found.
"He called in sick," Max said when Flint asked after him.
Flint began to rant about Silver's proven irresponsibility and threw some guesses around about what Silver was probably up to because he surely wasn't ill. "He's never taken a sick day before!"
Max shrugged. "You would know more about this than me," she said, alluding to the open secret that was their relationship.
Flint spent the rest of the day, or at least those parts of it not spent lifesaving, worrying about Silver. Maybe he'd gone too far, been too harsh. No, Flint resolved. Probably Silver was looking for another job, was maybe even packing up and heading off without another job to go to, just to get away from Flint.
Which was what Flint wanted, wasn't it? He couldn't expect them to go back to being friends after his bluntness, and even colleagues was quite an ask. Yet Flint still felt a pang of grief and loss at the idea of Silver being completely gone from his life.
He couldn't get Miranda to check up on Silver for obvious reasons, which was his first thought. He considered going to reception and calling from the hospital's phone so that he could hear Silver's voice and be reassured that he was all right, without alerting Silver to the fact it was Flint on the phone.
In the finish he went, of course, back to Max.
"He's hungover or something, right? He's not really sick?"
Max held her ground, raised an eyebrow. "He didn't sound as if he was at death's door," she said. "But he did sound pretty miserable."
He would get over it. No-one could keep Silver's spirits down for long.
"Right," Flint said, hiding his relief, adding in order to cover his excessive concern, "Remember that story Vane likes to tell from his time at Ranger Memorial, when their clinical director was dead for a week before anyone went to check? I don't want a repeat of that is all."
Max gave him a knowing look. "No one wants that."
But later, while Flint was pouring coffee in the staff lounge, he overheard Max on the phone and gathered from her responses that Silver was still alive and just needed some space. See, Flint told himself, he will be fine.
Indeed, Silver was at work the next morning, outwardly cheerful, and polite and professional towards Flint. Yet Flint saw the sadness in his eyes when he thought no-one was looking and it hurt to know he was the cause of that pain. It was only by telling himself that these pangs of guilt were pinpricks compared to the heartbreak Silver could bring down on him and Miranda alike that prevented Flint from dragging Silver into his office and telling him the truth.
Flint might have broken things off in one brutal conversation, but he couldn't stop loving John Silver with the same ease.
Silver wasn't sure how he'd made it through the rest of the day after his conversation with Flint. Not a conversation in truth, because that would suggest he'd had some input. Instead Flint had given him his marching orders.
He took a long shower when he got home. He drank all of the beer in his fridge. He caught a glimpse of his reflection in the window, wet hair limp about his shoulders, eyes haunted. Pitiful.
Silver kicked out at one of the unpacked boxes, denting it. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
He'd known Flint could be a cold-hearted, ruthless bastard, but to dump him like that was cruel indeed – and that Miranda had let it happen that way was a knife in his heart. He'd let himself love them both and now they just tossed him aside?
Fine. Then he'd go. Fuck them. Let them go back to sleeping in their separate bedrooms, together yet alone once more. He'd been a bridge between them, he'd been the glue that let them be close in a different way, he'd been Flint's lover and Miranda's paramour and more besides and dammit they were a triad. Or so he'd thought.
It had been stupid of him to think anyone could love him. It had been fun but Flint was right, how could it last? He should have seen it coming. He would have, if he hadn't been blinded by his affections. This was why he didn't trust easily, this was why he was glad he rarely had the urge to let himself get sexually involved with anyone.
He went over to the bookcase and grabbed several items randomly. It wouldn't take long to pack. He wouldn't get a refund on his rent but he'd get his security deposit back and he could use it to buy a train ticket heading anywhere but here. He'd email his resignation to Eleanor and the worst she could do was cut off his next pay cheque and give him a poor reference. Well maybe he'd find another kind of job, try something else.
Yet medicine had become his calling. Storming out would hurt his career. Logically he knew that and yet to think of staying here, of seeing Flint every day; it stung.
Silver dropped the few items he'd picked up onto the floor. He took up a whisky bottle from the ratty sideboard that had come with the apartment and took a long swig straight from the bottle.
His phone beeped. Silver took the phone and the bottle and sank down into the only decent armchair. He thumbed through his messages. While he'd been having a crisis he'd missed several texts.
MAX: You're missing poker night again.
MAX: Vane is winning. You don't want that, do you?
RACKHAM: Why did the pharmacist cross the road?
BILLY: Where are you?
RACKHAM: John! Why did the pharmacist cross the road?
RACKHAM: You have to ask "why?"
MAX: Is Rackham texting you with that stupid joke?
BILLY: What's the name of that beer we had last time? I'm going to make a beer run and I want to grab some.
MAX: Anne just got a royal flush against Dufresne's four of a kind and he looks like she punched him in the nuts. See.
A photo followed. Silver huffed a laugh despite himself. They were having fun without him yet they were still trying to include him.
He'd miss the poker games. He'd miss these people, Max especially, Billy, hell even Rackham and Anne, maybe even Vane or at least seeing Vane get brought down a peg sometimes.
After a few more swigs from the bottle, Silver dragged himself off to bed. He slept uneasily, waking frequently to stare at the ceiling and wonder where and why everything had gone so wrong.
When he did fall deeply asleep it was five am and when he woke again he fumbled for his phone in a panic, which proved he did care about this job when his first thought at seeing the time was that he would get in trouble for being late.
He called Max, which wasn't protocol, but it was only when she answered that he realised he was going to tell this particular lie.
"You're going to be late," she informed him. "Unless you're calling me to say you're two minutes away and running for the entrance."
"No," Silver said. "I'm not coming to work. I'm sick."
Lovesick counted as sick, right? So fucking pitiful, he told himself. Pathetic.
Max's tone switched to genuine concern. "Is that why you weren't at the game last night? Are you all right, mon cher? Do you need anything, because I can try to get away for five minutes if you're out of painkillers."
"I just need to sleep it off," he said, not caring if she interpreted this as him being hungover. If only that were true, because it would have given him a better excuse for staying away from work, not to mention something worth feeling sorry for himself over; four beers and about six shots of whisky and all he felt this morning was physically tired and emotionally exhausted. "Talk to you tomorrow."
He hung up before she could argue and tossed his phone onto the empty pillow next to him. He lay there for a long time, watching the shadows lengthen as the sun moved across the window. Only when there was a knock at the door did he get to his feet and stumble down the hallway.
It was Jack, who beamed at him with such genuine warmth that Silver felt an uncharitable urge to punch him.
"What are you doing here?"
"Flint was bothering Max about you, and she was worried, and I was on my to visit a practice not far from here so I said of course I'd stop by and make sure you were all right." Jack eyed him critically. "You look terrible."
"Thank you," Silver said, dead-pan. Oh, God, how had this happened? He had friends who cared about him. This had never been part of the plan. Wait, Flint had been worried? What did he think would happen after he'd unceremoniously ended things, that Silver would simply paste on a smile and pretend they were just colleagues? If Flint was worried that Silver had left the city, or was lying dead in a pool of his own vomit, then good. Let him worry.
But did that mean Flint still cared? Clearly a little, but enough to rekindle their relationship? Was that a tiny sliver of hope?
"I've got a whole load of drug samples," Jack said helpfully, holding up his briefcase. "Anti-emetics, anti-diarrhoeals, laxatives, medicines for migraines; given that you don't look like you've slept in days, I have an interesting new soporific – "
Silver shook his head. "I don't need any drugs," he said. "Just some space. Leave me the fuck alone!"
He felt a twinge of guilt as he slammed the door and caught a glimpse of Jack's crestfallen expression. That wouldn't have happened a few months ago. Guilt was a burden he'd never let himself carry.
But now he found himself texting Max.
SILVER: Tell Jack I'm sorry. I'm not good company right now. I'll be back in work tomorrow.
She must have been busy for it was an hour later before she messaged him back.
MAX: All right. But call if you need anything. And text me this evening or I'm coming over. Remember that I have your spare key.
Silver paced the room. It wasn't a lie. He did intend to go back to work. It was going to be difficult but he wasn't going to run away. Somehow he would get through this, and he wouldn't have to do it alone.
He unpacked one of the boxes in an act of defiance, an attempt to prove to himself that he was staying put. He made food, ate, washed the plates and saucepans and put everything away neatly. He sent Max a smiley face emoji to reassure her, because he couldn't face talking to her on the phone, nor to try and explain everything in a text.
Unexpectedly, when he went to bed, he drifted off almost immediately.
"Meet me later," Silver said shortly when Max approached him the following morning. "I need to talk to you. Privately."
He slipped away as soon as they got a break and headed to the rooftop. He leant on the railing and gazed down at the traffic far below. The air was cooler, fresher up here. It did nothing to help his mood.
A moment later Max stepped out onto the roof and joined him.
"What's going on? You're starting to worry me."
Silver swallowed hard. Where to start? He gave a choked laugh. "Flint," he said.
Max edged closer, put a hand on his shoulder. "Are you two having a fight?"
"We're having a break-up."
"No! What did you do?"
"Why is it always my fault?" He lifted his head at that, shrugging off her hand, and turned damp eyes to her.
Max's sceptical expression faded and whatever she'd been about to say regarding how the blame usually fell with Silver vanished from her lips. She stared at him. "Are you crying?"
He straightened up. "No!"
It was a stupid lie. Max wrapped her arms around him. He resisted for a moment before giving in to the comfort, resting his head on her shoulder and letting out a few sobs.
"It's all right, mon cher," she said softly. "We will figure this out."
"Promise?" he mumbled as she rubbed at his back.
"Have I ever let you down?"
The answer to that was no. At last he pulled free, smoothing at his hair and wiping his cheeks with his sleeve. "Fuck."
Max regarded him with sympathy. "This is why you didn't come into work yesterday. You should have told me. I knew I should have come over last night!" She shook her head. "Tell Max everything."
There was a brief sparkle in his eyes as his mischievous nature reasserted itself. "Everything?"
He did, starting out quite conversational before becoming increasingly agitated as he paced the rooftop while gesturing wildly.
"So no, I don't know what I did. Maybe nothing. Maybe he never loved me. Maybe neither of them did." He spread his arms wide, asking for guidance.
Max took a breath. "Talk to Miranda."
He'd been expecting a little more assistance than that.
"Did you miss the part where Flint said he'd kill me? He already said he knows how to make it look like an accident!"
Max scoffed. "I must have missed the part where you're too much of a coward to do what you must to save this relationship, something so important to you that it has you up here on the rooftop not crying!"
Silver glared at her, and it was a moment he was sure Max would remember and cherish, the time she'd rendered him utterly speechless. He opened and closed his mouth twice before he came up with a rebuttal. "Sometimes cowardice is the best policy. He who runs away lives to fight another day or however it goes."
"So you're leaving?"
Max sighed and folded her arms. "So you're okay with staying here after Flint dumped you?"
Silver gave a loud gaaah of frustration. "No! I don't want it to be over."
"Then talk to Miranda," Max said. "This is a relationship with three people in it. No single person gets to put a stop to all of it. Trust me, I have some experience with this."
Silver considered her words. "You don't think Miranda wanted to break up?"
Somehow he hadn't even thought of that. He'd taken Flint's words at face value, and his use of "us" had seemingly included Miranda. Yet if he'd been able to see past the sting of Flint's dismissal he should have realised something was not right.
He hadn't even had a text message to say goodbye and Miranda was the sort of person who still sent thank you cards after attending a dinner party. Ending a relationship on what was supposedly good terms – no-one was at fault, there was no reason given beyond getting bored of him – surely should have netted him a literal Dear John letter on fine linen paper.
"I think I have heard nothing of this," Max said, and given that she and Miranda had colluded to put the wheels of the relationship in motion that was pretty odd. "I cannot say for certain, but even if I were not told in advance, I think she would have spoken with me afterwards. She would want me to make sure that you were all right."
That gave him hope.
"You could call her?" He gave a pout, fluttered his eyelashes.
Max shook her head. "You have to do this for yourself. The truth must come from her and be given directly to you."
That was true, even if he hated to admit it. Silver sighed and returned to the railing.
"Flint is going to kill me," he said, peering down at the ground below. "It might be easier to throw myself off this building. Less painful in the long-term."
"You've seen too many jumpers to believe that."
Max grinned and stood next to him, resting her head on his shoulder. "How about, if Flint kills you, I promise I'll wear that black dress you like to your funeral."
He gazed at her chest. "The one with the boob window?"
They stood in companionable silence until Jack wandered onto the rooftop, fumbling for his cigarettes.
"Sorry about yesterday," Silver told Jack, who shrugged.
"I don't take such things to heart," he said amicably. "If I did, I'd never have lasted this long in my current profession not to mention my relationships. You should hear some of things Anne says when she's being nice."
"Are you all right?" Max asked and Silver nodded. He honestly did feel better for the unburdening of his troubles. "Go inside then. I'll stay and keep Jack company. You go and think about what you're going to say to Miranda."
Silver headed inside, his mind whirling with ideas.
Of course Silver was never one to do the most sensible thing if there was a more convenient alternative. Since he'd been warned away from contacting Miranda on pain of death, then there must be another option. The more he thought about his conversation with Max about the less painful choices, the more his new idea made sense. After all, it would fix the problem, which clearly lay with Flint. He pulled her aside the moment they got another few minutes without a trauma call.
Max's brows drew together as Silver outlined his amazing plan which was guaranteed to make Flint realise how much he loved and needed him.
The scheme would involve Anne, which wasn't ideal, but it would be more believable. If the drill had woken Flint's desires for Silver then if they could recreate those conditions, but if this time Flint truly thought Silver was dying, he'd be forced to acknowledge that his feelings ran deeper than "a bit of fun" that was over and done with.
It played out nicely in Silver's head. Max would page Flint, desperate, and Flint would show up breathless to find Anne and Max trying, though failing, to save Silver's life. Found unconscious with an empty syringe of who knew what in his hand, clearly Silver had been so distraught he'd decided to end it all. Despite the determined efforts of the two medical professionals it looked like he'd get his wish. Flint would be angry and tearful and would confess his love, beg Silver not to die. (And Max wouldn't let Flint try any heroic measures like getting near the defibrillator because Silver wasn't actually going to risk his life thank you very much.)
Naturally Flint would be absolutely livid when he found out the truth, but Silver was banking on Flint's relief overwhelming the man's righteous fury at the trick. After that, Flint could never again deny how much he cared. Not after all the things he'd been saying about needing Silver to live, which Silver would memorise and repeat back to him.
"You think I would be part of this deceit?" Max demanded, interrupting Silver's enumeration of Flint's heartfelt declarations.
"After the things I've seen you do," Silver began.
Max grabbed hold of his sleeve and pulled him toward the nearest storage room, shoving him inside and closing the door behind her. The tinted window ensured it wasn't pitch black but Silver blinked as his eyes adjusted to the gloom.
"Er, my love life is already twice as complicated as I'd like," he said, because intimacy was the only reason he knew of for two people to close the door while in the storage areas. "And you said it was never going to happen again –"
"Shut up," Max said, folding her arms. She was blocking his exit, her back to the door. Silver did as he was told. "You don't know. Or you would surely never suggest such a cruel trick."
Silver tipped his head. "I admit it's a little mean," he agreed, "but what don't I know?"
Max's mouth fell open. "They never told you," she said with surprise. "So I should not."
"Know what?" Silver took a step forward but Max was almost impossible to intimidate.
"This is only because I know how much you care for them. And remember, I don't know officially," Max said hesitantly. "No one does. It's private. But Eleanor's father knows the Hamiltons, and Eleanor found out and she told me."
Silver frowned. "I know about Thomas Hamilton."
"How he died?"
Silver shook his head, a wave of uneasiness washing over him. He had a sudden suspicion and it turned his stomach.
Max moistened her lips, still reluctant to share this forbidden information. "Thomas's father, Alfred Hamilton, would not accept that his son could be anything other than straight. He claimed Thomas was not of sound mind, seized control of his son's assets, had him practically kidnapped and sent to some sort of specialist institution. He wanted them to brainwash him out of being gay."
"That's awful." Silver could barely imagine it.
"Yes. What's more awful is that after six weeks of whatever they were doing to Thomas at that sick place he killed himself." Max let this sink in before she went on. "Flint wanted an investigation but Alfred used his money and connections to hush it up, to sweep it under the rug. The institution closed down but Eleanor believes it opened up elsewhere under a new name. And Flint was nothing, legally speaking, to Thomas. Miranda was an ex-fiancée who they claimed had cheated on Thomas with Flint, and so nothing either of them said made a difference."
Max shook her head. Silver stared at her for a long moment.
"Fuck," he said at last. "Fuck. Shit. I was going to – oh, God. You have just saved me from ruining the best relationships I've ever had in my life."
"You're welcome," she said tonelessly, and who could blame her. It was all too easy to wonder how easily it could be any of them being trapped somewhere awaiting "re-education" under other circumstances. She added, with a little more colour, "You owe me."
He nodded. Damn, to think what he'd almost put Flint through. He would never have been forgiven and he wouldn't have deserved to be.
Still, that they hadn't told Silver the truth nagged at him. Had he known Thomas's fate he would never have dared entertain the thought of a pseudocide for even a second.
Max left the room first and Silver counted to sixty before he followed, not wanting any awkward questions or misunderstandings.
He'd have to think of some other way to get Flint to acknowledge his feelings. For once, he was out of ideas.
Later, at the vending machine, Max sidled up to him and said in his ear, "Flint has been called to an emergency sub-committee meeting this afternoon. You're off shift at three, which will give you at least two hours before he leaves the hospital, probably more. Go and talk to Miranda and do not screw this up."
Silver took a swallow of his energy drink. "I won't."
If he did, Max would want to kill him as punishment for his stupidity and cowardice, and Flint would just have to take a number and wait his turn.
Miranda wiped her forehead with the back of one gloved hand and shifted her weight on her knees. Weeding was an essential task but it could be hard work, especially when working in the late afternoon sun rather than the shade. She heard the crunch of gravel and glanced over her shoulder, her grip tightening instinctively on her trowel. When she saw Silver standing by the back door, her mouth fell open.
The gardening implement was tossed aside and she was on her feet in an instant, hurrying towards him.
He said nothing, which frightened her. He swallowed, swiped at his hair. Miranda tugged off her gloves and threw them to the floor, moving to pull him into a hug. He neither protested nor returned the gesture.
"John." She took a step back, clasped his face in her hands. "Oh God, James said you'd left us."
Her grip tightened, threatening pain, as her relief became tinged with anger.
"Tell me you didn't come just to pick up your things." She screwed her eyes shut briefly, got control of herself before she opened them again. "I washed your shirts, you know."
He blinked rapidly, shook his head. She hugged him again and this time he leaned his head into her shoulder, his hair soft against her neck, his scent filling her nose and she hadn't realised how much she'd missed it.
At last she led him to the bench, gestured for him to sit and then perched next to him, her knee touching his.
"Talk to me," she said.
"James broke up with me," he said so softly she barely heard it. "But you didn't, then? I wasn't entirely clear on that. I had to know for sure."
"He broke up with you?" Miranda's cheeks became flushed with heat.
Silver stared up at the sky. "He also told me not to approach you," he said. "He said I'd only upset you if I did. Threatened violence if I disobeyed."
Miranda huffed at that. "Oh did he?"
"I wasn't going to leave. I mean, I was, eventually. But that was before." He met her gaze, let her see the truth in his eyes. "Before him, and you, and, and us. But he wouldn't listen."
Miranda placed a hand on his knee.
"I should go," Silver said. "But I don't want to, even if James wants me gone. His bit of fun to be tossed aside." He couldn't keep the bitterness from his tone.
"No," Miranda said, horrified. "John, whatever he told you it's not the truth. And even if it were, I don't want you to leave."
He swallowed hard. "You mean that?"
"Of course I do, my love." Miranda sighed. "And I don't believe James does either, though he's too stubborn to admit it. He's just afraid of losing you, of you leaving us one way or another."
"Because of Thomas?" Silver looked her straight in the eye. "Why didn't you tell me about what happened to him? How he died."
Miranda froze. After a long moment she said, "I'm sorry. We should have talked about it."
"That's not enough. I need to know why you didn't tell me. Is it because you don't trust me? Or you don't love me?" His voice broke on the last words and he swallowed again, embarrassed.
"No, no, you must not think like that." Miranda took his hand, squeezed at his fingers. "It's difficult to explain."
She gathered her thoughts, chose her words with care. "We both loved him so much, the way we both love you. No; that's not quite right. The way I loved Thomas and the way James loved Thomas were different but equally strong. And the way I love you and the way James loves you – they're different again. And when Thomas died it nearly destroyed James."
She paused, momentarily overwhelmed by the memories. Silver had been listening intently and now he gazed at her, silent, waiting patiently for her to continue
"He blamed himself for not going to the institute and breaking Thomas out," Miranda continued when she was sure her emotions were under control. "He blamed himself for loving Thomas and being part of his downfall. He blamed me for a while, for not being a good enough fiancée. A good enough heterosexual shield against Thomas's parents."
Silver frowned. "That wasn't fair."
She was long past that particular source of distress, if not the hurt that had precipitated it. For his part, Flint ploughed his guilt into his work; every life he saved was for Thomas, but it was never enough.
"It was not our fault and yet Thomas's death has weighed heavily on us ever since. It is as much a part of us and our relationship as his life was. It is our burden to bear, and a part of us that can never be shared. It is not for you to suffer as we suffer."
Silver let out a long breath. "But I deserved to know, if I was a part of your lives."
"Yes." Miranda sighed. "It is still painful to talk about. But we should have told you. Even if you feel we are to blame."
"No," Silver protested. "I'm sure you did everything you could for him. I knew he died but I didn't know how. What I do know is that I can never measure up!"
Miranda released him, sat back, stunned. "Don't say that!"
"Why not? Isn't that why James is pushing me away? I got too close and I threatened the memory of Saint Thomas. Maybe he feels guilty about loving again, or maybe he feels I'm not a worthy replacement for Thomas." The words spilled out, Silver articulating feelings that had clearly been bubbling under the surface and now found themselves expressed and acknowledged without any filtering.
He winced at the fresh tears that rose up in Miranda's eyes, and fell silent.
"You got too close," Miranda echoed. "Yes. I suppose that's correct in a way. Close enough that your loss would hurt us. Don't you see that you can never replace Thomas, but that we can love you just as much? Do you honestly not understand how, having lost someone once, James fears another loss?"
Silver considered this. The breeze picked up, washing them with the scent of lavender. "You don't fear it?"
She shrugged. "I have learnt to live with the uncertainty," she said. "You are worth the risk."
"James doesn't seem to think so."
Miranda made a sound of frustration. "Listen to me. It was the anniversary of Thomas's death recently and that has reopened old wounds. If James has been pushing you away it is out of fear of losing you, nothing more. But he's a fool if he thinks it is not already too late, that he is not already in love with you."
"You think so?" His tone was hopeful, eager even, and it broke Miranda's heart that he so wanted and needed to be loved. That, after she'd told him they loved him and wouldn't hurt him that James had done just that. Still, the hint of desperation gave her some optimism; he could forgive James then, he still longed for their affection.
"I know it for a fact." Miranda's eyes narrowed. "And believe me, I share your anger at his actions. He lied to me too."
She hadn't expected that he would attempt to push Silver away permanently. She ought to have been more suspicious when Flint announced that Silver was going without a word to her. She should have reached out to him but God, it had hurt more than she'd thought possible.
"What do you think that did to me, the thought you would abandon me without a word?" Miranda knew her voice was trembling but she kept going. "He surely didn't think of it! I know our relationship is, as you frequently point out, ridiculously complicated. But I think we can all make it work. I thought we were making it work."
A sob escaped her and she lowered her gaze, ashamed.
Silver shook his head, as furious as she was, possibly feeling guilty, certainly overwrought. He grabbed at Miranda, kissed her hard. She didn't protest and he softened his approach. For a few blissful minutes there was nothing else in the world except the press of their bodies against each other, his lips against hers, her hand in his hair, his hands at her waist.
When he finally drew back, a little breathless, Silver said, "James had some reason to think I might leave, but I am staying right here. If that ever changes I swear I will talk to you first, even if that means you'll try to talk me out of it."
"Would you want me to?"
There was no hesitation. "Yes."
Silver sat back, putting one arm around her shoulders. Miranda let him draw her close, taking her turn to rest her head on his shoulder.
"I love you both," he said, so softly she had to strain to hear the words. "More than I thought possible. But I don't know if James can ever fully trust me, or if I even deserve his trust."
"Oh, my darling. Then prove it," she said. "Prove you deserve it, to both of us and to yourself ."
Silver pressed his lips to her hair. "I will try."
"Of course if you do betray us," she said conversationally, "I will kill you and bury you in the cabbage patch. It will make for a good crop the following year."
"Noted." Silver placed his free hand in her lap. "You might have to go in a queue though because I'm developing a long list of my potential assassins."
Flint was in a foul temper when he came home. The emergency meeting had been a lot of to-do about nothing and a complete waste of his time. He banged around in the living room and his bedroom, taking off his coat and changing his shirt.
He washed his face in the bathroom and then looked around for Miranda. She wasn't in either of the other bedrooms, nor the study, or even the kitchen. He headed outside, wanting to vent about hospital politics, and came face to face with a scene that made his blood run cold.
Miranda got to her feet but Silver stayed seated on the bench. Both of them were giving him looks of displeasure.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" Flint bellowed at Silver but Miranda stepped diagonally toward and in front of him, blocking Silver from his view.
"Don't you dare," she hissed. "You lied to me, James. You lied to him and you lied to me and we are both very angry."
Flint sought for the right excuses, the words that would calm this situation. "Miranda," he said in a cajoling tone, his palm outstretched, hoping to appeal to reason.
"No," she said. "The truth, James."
Flint peered over her shoulder at Silver.
"Don't look at me. For once I'm not the one telling lies," Silver said and Flint's hand balled up into a fist. He fought the urge to react in a more physical manner than would be allowable.
"I did it for us," Flint told Miranda. "You don't know what he's like. He's reckless, he's some sort of vagabond who never stays put. He's not to be trusted!"
"I'm right here," Silver put in, standing and coming to join them.
"Maybe he's changed," Miranda said.
Silver raised a hand. "Still right here."
Miranda bit back a retort, remembering where the focus of her anger lay, which was disappointing for Flint. She took Silver's hand and the simple gesture made Flint's heart drop because usually it would be his hand she would take and together they would stand against the world. She wasn't supposed to stand against him.
"I love him," Miranda said. She glanced at Silver. "I love you."
She returned her attention to Flint before he could interrupt. "I love you too, James, and I always will. But you had no right to interfere with my relationship with John, and so help me God if you try to make me choose between the two of you!"
Flint couldn't breathe for a good three seconds. This was not what he had expected or planned for. This was not a gamble he'd bargained on taking.
"I don't want us to be hurt again," he yelled, but there was as much grief as anger in his voice.
Miranda nodded, blinking back tears of her own. "I know. But I'm willing to take the risk even if you aren't. Is he really not worth taking a chance on?"
Flint looked away, composed himself. He turned to Silver. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to fall for you. And now I have and..."
"And you were afraid," Miranda said. "We know."
"It's all right to be frightened," Silver said. "This whole thing is daunting for me too."
She released Silver's hand and moved to cup Flint's chin. "Tell us the truth." She touched his lips with her thumb before she let go.
"I love the two of you so much, more than I can put into words," Flint said.
Miranda was satisfied but Silver scowled.
"You both kept secrets from me," he pointed out, arms folded. "I admit I'm not an open book but for the sake of whatever it is we have here, I will from now on, if asked, tell you anything you want to know."
"Anything?" Flint asked.
He nodded. "As truthfully as I can recall it," he said which was at least honest. "You should have told me the whole truth about Thomas."
Flint stared at the ground. "You're right," he agreed, and met Silver's gaze. "Thomas was a huge part of our lives. I suppose I wanted to keep you separate from that part of us. But it was never going to work like that in the long-term."
Miranda nodded. "We will never get over his loss. But we can still be happy. We deserve that. All of us."
Flint held out one hand. "I'm so sorry," he said. "I thought if I broke it off you'd run away and we'd go back to our old lives and we would be safe. But that was foolish. I don't want safe . I want happy."
Silver nodded, eyes damp. "I want to be happy too."
He didn't take Flint's hand but threw himself at Flint, wrapping his arms around Flint's chest. Flint held him close and then Miranda joined in, and Flint had two arms and two people to hold, and miracles of miracles, despite his own best efforts (an attempted self-sabotage worthy of John Silver), it looked as if Flint would get to be happy after all.
I had Miranda be Thomas's (ex) fiancée rather than wife because in a modern setting a wife would have more legal recourse regarding her husband's care.
A literal Dear John letter; Dear John explains the origin of the phrase usually referring to a female significant other ending a relationship by letter. Literal would be a hand written letter even in this digital age, and doubly so since any correspondence to Silver could start "Dear John".
Chapter 6: Simply Irresistable
If they can survive one more hurdle, maybe Silver can prove his affection and there will a happy ending.
Chapter Six: Simply Irresistible
The proof is irrefutable…Our lives are indivisible - Simply Irresistible, Robert Palmer
Silver scooted up to Eleanor and walked alongside her, matching her pace. She gave him a sideways look.
"Dr Silver. What do you want?"
He flashed her a smile which soon faltered. "I need your help."
Eleanor stopped in her tracks. "Do I need to call the legal department? What did you do?"
He shook his head. "Nothing! At least not at work. This is something more personal."
She sighed with relief and resumed walking. "There's a support group for that. It meets throughout the day, every day, in the canteen and the staff lounge. Which is to say, bother your co-workers, not me."
"Please," Silver said and that almost made her pause again, though she settled for slowing down. "I'm trying to decide what to do."
They reached her office and he followed her in. Eleanor took a seat and gestured for him to take the one opposite. He did so, which surprised her. He often preferred to stand, refusing to bow to her authority in any way.
"Is this about Flint?"
He stared at her. "My God, does everybody know?"
Eleanor shrugged. "You know how this place runs on gossip. You've used it to your own advantage on many an occasion."
"Right." He gathered his thoughts. "He had this idea that I was planning on leaving the hospital."
"Why would you say that?"
Eleanor toyed with her favourite pen, a platinum-coated ballpoint, and leant back in her chair. "Because I've read your file. You never stay in one place for long. It was the reason I hesitated to take you on. I prefer commitment from my staff. Flint thought you were worth taking a chance on."
Silver's expression softened. "He said that?"
"Yes. And you mostly have been. But I've been waiting for you to either do something so outrageous I have to let you go, or to get itchy feet and disappear off somewhere new. If your relationship with Flint is floundering because of your wanderlust, I'm not surprised." Eleanor put down the pen. "Do you want to stay?"
"Because you like it here or because of Flint?"
Silver barely hesitated and that was because he was mentally adding "and Miranda" to the second option. Being rootless had its charms but he had found stability had its own comforts. "Both."
Eleanor swung her chair side to side. "So long as you don't do something terrible or piss me off, I'm happy for you to stay here as long as you want to."
"But you need to demonstrate your commitment," Eleanor said. Idly she said, "The clinical trial I am still seeking one more volunteer for, for example. That's ten months. Agree to that and it will prove to me and Flint alike that you are not going anywhere in the immediate future."
Silver considered. Eleanor waited. It was a stand-off. She'd backed him into a corner and it was his own fault, but he couldn't be angry. She was using the situation to her advantage and he'd do the same in her position.
"All right. I'll do it."
Eleanor beamed. "I'll get the paperwork together. Come back around three pm and I'll have the study head brief you fully."
Silver left the office, having both lost and gained, and not feeling trapped as he'd expected, but grateful that things would be sure to work out now. It hadn't quite been the dramatic Flint-sobbing-at-his-bedside moment that he'd fantasised about, but surely this would be enough.
Just in case, however, fate threw him a curveball.
It came in the form of an angry patient who was there with another walk-in – the man had a black eye which, it later transpired, was the result of a self-defensive blow from his girlfriend who was awaiting x-rays on her arm and who also had a black eye along with some other cuts and bruises.
Efforts were being made to separate him from the woman so that she could be treated in private and asked about her situation. He'd already started yelling at her in the corridor and when a nurse tried to intervene, he pulled out a blade and dragged his injured girlfriend to her feet.
"Back," he shouted. "I'm leaving here. No police!"
Silver stepped forward, holding up both hands in a placating gesture. Security must be on their way by now. All he had to do was stall for time.
"Let her go," Silver said calmly. "She's injured and will only slow you down. They want to protect her and they'll chase you if you take her. Let her go."
"No! You'll try to stop me." The man eyed his possible escape route.
"Then take me instead," Silver said, advancing slowly, hands still raised to show he was no threat. "No one will stop you. You can let me go once we're outside and make a run for it. But she can barely stand."
The man glanced at the weeping woman who was slumped against him. "Fine. Come here." He shoved the woman to the floor, wrapping one arm around Silver's shoulder and holding the knife to his throat. "One wrong move and he dies!"
Silver took a step backward, dragged along by the man, terribly aware of the sharp edge against his skin. Progress was slow and terrifying and where the hell was security?
"Don't do anything stupid," Vane said, as they moved past him and Silver wasn't sure if he was talking to him or his captor.
Then the man stumbled, the knife falling forward before he released Silver, and swayed unsteadily before collapsing onto the floor. Nearby Anne, a now empty syringe in her hand, eyed the unconscious man with suspicion and nudged him with her foot.
Thank you," Silver said but he was trembling and the words did not come out easily.
"Someone had to save you from yourself, you idiot," she said, but with a touch of relief in her voice. Vane secured the knife and, finally, security arrived to take charge of the situation, and Flint showed up, a bundle of fear and relief.
Flint saw Silver's ridiculous intervention, paged security again, and then watched in horror as the man dragged Silver towards the door. He didn't trust himself to go over there because what if he made things worse? What if the man slit Silver's throat for the hell of it, or because he knew the staff would go to their colleague's aid rather than pursue him? What the fuck was Silver playing at?
Flint held his breath and didn't move a muscle until the man was down. He dashed over and grabbed at Silver, pulling him to one side, far from the attacker and the weapon alike. He placed both hands on Silver's shoulders. "Are you all right?"
Silver was shaking under Flint's touch but he nodded.
"Let me look." Flint checked Silver's throat, relief flooding through him that there was no sign of blood. "My God."
In direct contradiction of all the times he'd said "not at work", Flint wrapped Silver in a bear hug, and nuzzled at his hair. "It's all right," Flint said, as much to himself as to Silver. "You're safe now."
At last, Flint reluctantly released him and took Silver to his office, where he let Silver take Flint's chair behind the desk. "Wait here," he ordered and went to check on events back in the corridor.
As anticipated, Eleanor was now surveying the scene, already no doubt planning how to handle the media and the board's concerns over the incident.
"Is anyone hurt?" she demanded.
"No. Just shaken," Flint said and Eleanor nodded, relieved.
"The police are on their way. Bring Silver to my office and they can talk to him there." She sighed. "The board is not going to be happy about this."
Flint returned to his office to find Silver drinking a glass of whisky, poured from the bottle Flint kept in his bottom left desk drawer.
"For the shock," Silver said when Flint gave him a stony look. "Eleanor keeps her whisky in the exact same place but it's a touch better than this."
Flint couldn't bring himself to be annoyed at any of that, nor even point out that he and Miranda had got Eleanor the really good whisky for Christmas. "Just that one," he said. "You'll have to speak with the police shortly, and we don't want you rambling incoherently."
Silver nodded and finished the drink. He got to his feet and Flint, keeping him away from the scene of the incident as much as possible, steered him to the elevators. Silver didn't say another word and since he'd usually ramble, drunk or sober and any point in-between, this was worrying. Flint thumbed the floor number and, once the doors shut, slipped one arm around Silver in the fraught silence. His anger at Silver's recklessness would have to wait.
"It's all right," Flint said again. "It's over."
Silver swallowed, summoned up a small smile. "You were worried."
"Of course I was, you little shit," Flint said with affection.
This made Silver brighten considerably. "Do you think I'll get a medal?"
"Do you think I'm in trouble?"
"God, no," Flint said.
"What about Anne?" He sounded genuinely concerned.
Flint shook his head. "She brought a tense standoff to a peaceful end with no further injuries. I think she'll be fine." If the man had suffered an allergic reaction to the sedative it might have gone differently but it had been a calculated risk that Flint was glad she'd taken under the circumstances.
"Do you think she'll get a medal?"
"No!" But Silver's wittering was preferable to silence, so Flint was not as annoyed as he made himself out to be.
A few moments later they were in Eleanor's office, Silver sitting in Eleanor's chair. Flint glared when Silver opened Eleanor's desk drawer until Silver slid it shut without a word, swinging the chair around aimlessly.
"How long do you think before the police get here?"
"Not long," Flint said. "But they'll secure the scene downstairs first, probably talk to other witnesses and ask for the CCTV. We might have to wait a little while."
Silver sighed and stared at the ceiling.
"You shouldn't have done that," Flint said at last. "Why put yourself in danger?"
A shrug. "It seemed like the right thing to do at the time."
Flint's phone buzzed. He took it out and frowned, answered it. When he could get a word in edge-ways he said, "I'm all right, Miranda. It's over." Either the news had got out already – and in the days of social media, with such information being one tweet or Instagram away, it was highly possible – or someone had contacted her directly. He'd find out later which and if it was the latter the culprit would be in for some serious chastisement.
"He's fine too," Flint said to Miranda's next question, though his gaze flicked to Silver with concern. "We'll be home as soon as we can. I love you."
"Me too," Silver called.
"We both love you," Flint amended and hung up. It had not been the time to tell Miranda how close it had come to not being all right. When they were in the house, where she could see they were unhurt and they could hold each other, then it would be appropriate.
Eleanor entered and chose not to mention that Silver was in her seat. "The police are here and they'll come and talk to you both in a minute. Separately." She shot a glance at Flint, who raised an eyebrow. "No one is saying anyone did anything wrong. It's just protocol."
They both nodded.
Eleanor moved to stand by Silver. "You are all right?"
He nodded and Eleanor dropped a hand on his shoulder.
"That was really stupid and really brave."
He beamed at her. "Just doing my civic duty."
She rolled her eyes. "Try not to embarrass the hospital or land us in any trouble when you make your statement. Perhaps I should have Mr Scott sit in with you."
Silver gave her a hurt look but Eleanor would not back down. Flint got to his feet.
"I'm going to get a coffee," he said.
"Don't go far," Eleanor told him. "As a witness who paged security for what I gather was at least a fourth attempt by staff to alert them, and believe me, their response time will be addressed, you have to make a statement too. Then you need to take Doctor Silver home." She turned back to Silver. "I think you've both had quite enough excitement for one day."
Silver was about to protest but he looked at Flint. Flint gave a sharp nod, tapped the pocket where he kept his phone and mouthed "Miranda". Silver nodded and turned his attention back to Eleanor. "Thank you."
"I'm not without compassion," Eleanor said, though in Flint's opinion she was gearing up to put on a good show before the media circus and legal nightmare got going. "If you need to take some time, you should do so. And you have the details of our counselling service?"
"Don't think you're getting out of the clinical trial," she said. "We'll reschedule."
Eleanor escorted Flint into the corridor. She gave a deep sigh. "This is a fucking mess," she said.
"It could have been worse," Flint pointed out. Much worse. She winced in acknowledgement and then her phone rang. Flint left her talking to the caller, in full damage control mode, while he went to pour coffee with hands that were shaking now the worst was over and reality was sinking in.
Miranda hugged them one after the other when they returned home. She listened as Flint told a factual, if downplayed, version of events, and then demanded Silver corroborate. Silver was sure he was going to get a slap when Miranda became both furious and tearful but instead she walked over to the sideboard and poured drinks.
When she handed him a glass, she ran her fingers down his cheek and he gave her an encouraging smile; it was all fine now.
"It really wasn't so bad," he said, between sips of his drink. "It's hardly the first time I've been in danger."
When they stared at him, he explained, "I had a terrible childhood. That's why I don't like to dwell on the past..." He trailed off when he realised he was making matters worse, causing Miranda further distress. In an attempt to change the subject he asked brightly, "What's for dinner?"
Flint was deliberately cheerful as he organised delivery of a selection of Chinese food, putting on the radio and making banal conversation. Silver joined in, desperate to lift the mood. Miranda let them chatter away, still anxious but trying not to dwell, toying with her wine glass once the food arrived. The two men both tried to engage her in conversation and she would respond briefly before falling silent once more.
Flint suggested a walk, Silver suggested a movie, but the only thing they could persuade Miranda to join in with was Scrabble, something more demanding of her attention. Silver kept trying to make up words, sending Flint scrabbling through the heavy, leather-bound family heirloom of a dictionary; when a word wasn't found, Silver would proclaim it a neologism. Miranda said she would buy them the most recent edition of the Collins official Scrabble dictionary and promptly ordered it online while Flint poured more drinks and Silver tried (unsuccessfully, the pair of them had eyes in the back of their heads) to switch his X tile for something more useful without losing a turn to do so.
Three games of Scrabble and two coffees filled in the space before bedtime. Tomorrow would be better, a new start, Silver felt. By unspoken agreement they all began to ready themselves for bed at the same time, taking turns to clear things away, use the bathroom, and undress.
This was a three in a bed night and Silver found himself sandwiched between Miranda and Flint, again without discussion. He didn't mind in the least, though Flint usually complained if Silver had to climb over him in the night to use the bathroom. He always chose to disturb Flint, never Miranda, because he could be a gentleman when he felt like it, and he honestly preferred annoying Flint, took a certain perverse pleasure in it, in fact.
Around two am however it was Miranda who woke Silver when she got up. He heard her wander off to the bathroom and he stared up at the ceiling in the gloom, listening to Flint's soft breathing on his other side. Miranda did not return immediately. Silver listened for the kettle. Sometimes Miranda would make tea or hot chocolate if she couldn't sleep and occasionally he'd join her in the kitchen, both sipping warm drinks while they talked quietly or she read a book, or did a crossword.
Instead there was a clink of glass, which he took to be her pouring a brandy or whiskey. A moment later he caught a muffled sob which tore at his throat, his own eyes pricking with tears. He didn't regret what he'd done. As he'd told Flint, and Eleanor, and the police, and Miranda, it had seemed like the right thing to do at the time. He'd briefly suffered the shock of the post-adrenaline rush, but he was home and safe now. He'd eaten well and drunk enough to be content and until Miranda's departure he had been in a warm bed with the two people he cared most about in the world.
Unbidden, he heard Max's voice in his head, teasing that she loved him too – she'd certainly made sure to hug him before he left the hospital with Flint after the incident, and had sent him a couple of messages. But much as he loved Max, that was a different kind of relationship. Not to mention that she wouldn't fit in the bed with them and, if Jack's complaints were to be trusted, was "all elbows" anyway. All the bits that weren't boobs, that was.
All in all Silver was holding up pretty well after his heroism. But Miranda was more affected than he was, more so than Flint who had clearly been shaken up more than he wanted to admit. He'd kissed Silver long and hard before closing his eyes to sleep. Hard enough to bruise, and Silver understood the message; I love you but God help you do something like that again you little shit.
Silver wished Miranda had let out her rage and grief and just slapped him or something. Perhaps it would have helped. Silver was about to get out of bed and pad into the lounge, offer to let Miranda hit him or kiss or him or lecture him, whatever she needed, when he heard her moving back towards the bedroom.
He feigned sleep, let her climb into bed, her bare arms chilly now. He murmured as if disturbed by her return and moved closer, wanting to warm her. She shushed him, threw one arm over his chest and cuddled up, her weight a comfort to him. He hoped the touch was a comfort to her also, and that, if she thought she was the one initiating it, it would be beneficial. There wasn't much he wouldn't do for this woman, and the thought no longer terrified him as it once would have.
She and Flint were his family now, and he would prove it to them all.
And, God help him, he was going to ask for Jack Rackham's help.
Silver was sitting at the dining table, a glass at one elbow, three boxes on the table in front of him.
"What's this about?" Flint asked, pulling up a chair. "You said it was urgent."
"I said important, not urgent. And we must wait for Miranda."
"Is that champagne?"
"Yes." Silver took a sip and nodded in approval. He poured a glass for Flint and one for Miranda. She arrived a moment later and took her seat across from Flint, on Silver's other side.
"All right," Silver said. He paused for another drink. "I've been thinking a lot about things. And if you are both amenable, I would like to move in with you."
Miranda beamed and Flint laughed.
"About time," Flint told him.
"I thought at first you might see me giving up my apartment as something less to tie me down," Silver said carefully. "Rather than as it being a commitment to you both."
"We want you to live with us," Miranda assured him. "I see that as a commitment."
Silver let out a long sigh. "I wasn't sure. So I thought about what might make it more obvious that this is important to me. I want us to make things public."
Flint scoffed. "You do know that everyone at work already knows about our arrangement?"
"Only unofficially. I'd like it to be more than that." Silver tapped at two of the boxes. "Jack has a friend in the jewellery business. I had these cleaned up for you."
Flint opened the box that was pushed over to him. The silver band chosen for him by Miranda and Thomas was nestled inside, gleaming from its recent clean. Miranda's box held her gold and sapphire ring.
"I would not presume to buy you new jewellery when you already have precious memories attached to these," Silver said, not meeting their astonished glances. "Thomas will always be part of your lives and I want you to know that I understand that. I think that by wearing these you're honouring his memory as well as our relationship."
He broke off, took another long drink. Flint made to speak but a misty-eyed Miranda hushed him.
Silver opened the final box. His ring was a silver band of the same width as Flint's one, but with a sapphire that corresponded to Miranda's. "Jack's friend made this for me, to match your rings. He engraved it for me," he said his voice rough. "With our initials."
"May I?" Miranda took the ring, held it to the light. JS/MB/JF; the letters filled the entire inner surface so that there was no start or finish to the inscription. It was just as correct to read it as MB/JF/JS or JF/MB/JS. They were a triad and this was testament to the fact.
"It's perfect," Miranda said at last, handing it back.
Flint stared at them both for a long moment. "Are you certain this is what you want?"
"Yes," Silver said and Miranda agreed that it was what she wanted too.
"Then give it to me," Flint said, and it was he slipped the ring onto Silver's finger. Silver placed Miranda's ring on her hand, and she completed the ritual by putting the silver band onto Flint's finger.
Flint picked up his glass. "A toast," he said. "To us. All three of us. Always."
Silver and Miranda made murmurs of agreement and they all drank.
"This is rather sombre for such a happy moment," Flint said at last.
"I have an idea about how we can properly celebrate," Silver said, perking up.
"Is it sex?" Flint asked wryly.
"Well, that too. But I was thinking we could have a party," he said. Seeing Flint's wary expression he added, plaintively, "Max will kill me if she thinks I've got engaged, or whatever this is, without throwing some sort of shindig."
"I think it's a lovely idea," Miranda said.
Flint sighed, outnumbered. "Well, it would make it public, that's for certain. Just a small gathering though. We can invite some of our colleagues and those friends of Miranda's who don't mind rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi."
"It's settled then," Silver said, and it wasn't just the party he meant. He leaned over and kissed Miranda, before he moved to the other side of the table and kissed Flint full on the lips.
It was always going to be a complicated relationship but it was worth it.
Max, Anne, and Jack, brought a bottle of wine to the party along with a gift; a silver picture frame. By the following week the frame sat on the mantelpiece, next to the picture of Thomas. The photo chosen for the frame was of the three of them hosting the party, Silver and Flint and Miranda all crowded onto one love seat, and Silver looked at it fondly each time he stood near the fireplace, thinking they'd never looked happier.