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"You'll need to speak with the curator about that," the woman behind the desk says. "No big deal, he just likes to meet all his applicants in person before their interviews." She wears a name badge on a lanyard around her neck that reads Marjorie; below that, it bears the logo of the Colonial Village and Museum of Maritime History at Braddock Landing. Quite a mouthful, especially to print in such a small space - they must have paid a fortune for the typography. "If you wanna wait here, I'll see if I can go and find him."

John nods agreeably, and rubs his thumb idly across his palm. His birthmark itches like a bastard, even more than the rest of his skin, rebelling against the shock of the building's air conditioning after the hot sun outside. Inside his head he's thinking three doors, employees only, middle one's got an exit sign so that'll be a corridor - and that's the one she disappears through, so, he figures he's right about that, at least. Alone, he's finally got a minute to look around; the visitor's center is bright and airy, high ceilings and enormous windows, affording a striking view of the quaint recreated village outside, squat little buildings and the masts of a ship rising up behind them. He has to give them credit - the odd concession to modern comfort aside, it does all seem very authentic.

Three doors behind the reception desk, then, and the main entry door behind him; somewhere, John thinks, somewhere there's got to be - a restroom, there, tucked into an alcove on the far end of the desk, and - there, there's the cameras, two in the corners high above either side of the front desk, one aimed toward the main entrance. John lets his gaze slide over them, casual and blank and unseeing, looking without letting it seem like he's looking. Not that authentic, he thinks, and lets himself smile.

There should be a spot, if he's got it right - right about here, and he lets himself sidle into it thoughtlessly, casually, like he's ended up somewhere he never had any intention of reaching in the first place. Right about here, where if he turns his back just so, lets his elbow rest there on the counter - and he can't smile again, he can't, the expression would be too much of a tell, but everything's coming to him so simply and fluidly and easily he almost can't help himself - a spot where if he leans the smallest bit, he can keep one hand out of sight of the cameras as he lets the three bugged pens he's carrying slip from their carefully concealed nest in his palm to their new home in the reception desk's pen cup.

That's that, then, he thinks. It's all he's been asked to do; drop the bugs off, and deliver a rough map of the cameras - he just has to get in touch with Cooper and his friends to collect his payment, and it's job done. He should leave, before Marjorie comes back. He should be halfway to his car already.

But here he stands.

It would be rude, he thinks, to walk out now; it would leave entirely the wrong sort of impression, the sort that might bring him to mind later if - or, more likely, when - someone notices the fairly obvious bugged pens. That kid with the hair and the funny name, Marjorie would say. Mister Silver, remember, the one who'd already gone when we came back to speak with him? Much easier to wait for her to return, follow this thing through, and become just another unremarkable face in the sea of applicants and visitors that passed through the museum daily. How long could saying hello to the curator and asking a couple of questions possibly take?

Already, though, it seems it's going to take a bit longer than he planned on; when Marjorie returns, she's alone. "Sorry," she says, "he's setting up a new exhibit out on one of the ships, says he can't possibly walk away from it. Said to bring you on out, if that's okay with you."

"Sure," John is saying, the word falling out of his mouth before he so much as decides he's going to say it, and - fuck, he thinks, he could've said no, said he had somewhere to be and been fucking done with this already, but now he's - committed. Perhaps, he thinks, this is just one of those decisions fate's going to make for him; he's stumbled into his fair share of good fortune that way, following paths he never noticed until he was already on them. He likes to think he's wiser than to discount this particular kind of opportunity, by now.

And - "Come on," Marjorie says - so.

He follows her out the main entrance - she holds the door for him - and down the short length of modern sidewalk to the recreated cobblestone street beyond. She moves through the crowd of tourists quickly, slipping between groups stopped to look at the blacksmith's shop billowing steam on the corner, or the masts of a ship rising at the end of the street. John gets caught in that one for a moment, himself - almost loses Marjorie, has to hurry a bit to catch up to her. "So what makes you wanna come spend your summer with us?" she says, when he does.

Shit, John thinks. He'd done a bit of research on the place, a bit on the curator himself, but only enough to get a general idea, not enough to - construct an alternate personality, or anything. "I've got to do an internship somewhere, and I figured there's lots worse places," he says - and to him it sounds obvious, an amateur stall, but Marjorie laughs, so. Maybe this isn't going to be one of the harder ones to pull off.

"Don't let Flint hear you say that," she says. "He'll be heartbroken. He loves this stuff."

John catches her eye and grins at her, wondering if he can get her to blush. She doesn't, but he tries not to take it personally - she doesn't really seem like the blushing type. "Boss takes things a bit seriously, huh?" he says, which earns him a grin, at least.

"Yeah. He's a little much," Marjorie says, warmly apologetic - this is a conversation she's had before. "It's best if you don't get him started on the - y'know, the sailing thing, unless you've got a few hours to kill."

John grins. "Forgive me for simplifying," he says, "but I thought getting him started on the sailing thing was at least partially the point of applying for this internship in the first place."

"Well, yeah," Marjorie says. "But you wanna save that for the internship, sweetheart, trust me." She leads John up a wide, sturdy walkway leading onto one of the permanently moored reproduction ships. They aren't very convincing up close, John thinks - benches and carefully cordoned off exhibits and tourists pack the decks, and in spite of the gleaming white streaks of furled sailcloth overhead the atmosphere is more like a shopping mall than a ship about to set sail - but still, there's something about it all that's sort of cool.

Motion draws his eye, near a darkened doorway that leads into a space under the ship's upper deck. "There he is," Marjorie says next to him, and waves, but John doesn't turn to look at her; he barely hears her. He's spotted the man she's waving at, and he can't seem to look away.

That, then, will be Flint.

Part of John's research had included looking into the museum's curator just a bit - he likes to come in knowing more about his opponent than they do about him, is all. Doctorate in history, a string of degrees longer than John's arm. Lieutenant in the Navy before that, lives alone in a cottage on the edge of the village. First name James. He's seen a few pictures, got the basics down, but fuck - red hair, loose commanding walk, stern expression and languidly smiling eyes - if John didn't know better, he'd almost swear he knew this man from somewhere.

He must have seen Flint around at some point, John thinks - back home, at the bar one night, or maybe he'd lectured at one of the universities, or - but Flint seems perfectly familiar just where he is, framed by the ship's wide timbers, one hand resting steady and sure on the sun-cured rail. It's the oddest sensation, when John looks at him - like he can feel himself filling and swelling and bursting inside his own body. Like there's an echo in his bones.

Flint meets them halfway across the deck. John can hear the gentle lap of the water against the ship's hull, can hear Marjorie introducing him, John, uh, Silver - here's his resume, he's here about the internship - none of it registers beyond a brief burst of static in his mind, already tuned in to Flint's eyes, the soft full curve of his mouth, the curious arch of his brow as he looks John over.

Flint is reaching out to shake his hand and Christ, John thinks, Christ, all right, it's been a while since he's gotten laid but this guy isn't that hot, this is ridiculous - he's tingling where he's touching Flint, like he's too close to an old television, energy prickling along his skin. Like some sleeping part of him's about to come to life.

"James Flint," he says, and that's familiar too - the name and his deep solid voice both. Maybe John had seen him speak somewhere, maybe he'd been on one of those awful shows about history - that was the sort of thing museum curators did, wasn't it? He's not sure. Flint's hand is still in his, their handshake gone on perhaps a little longer than strictly necessary. He's too busy enjoying that to be sure of much else just now. "Good to meet you, Mr. Silver."

"Hi," John says, and fuck, he sounds - but on the other hand, he's maybe a bit surprised he's made his voice come out at all. He clears his throat, starts again. "Sorry, do I - know you from somewhere?"

Flint grins - warm, quick, both surprised and surprising - his fingers curl tighter against John's wrist, but that could be coincidence, that could be - "I was about to ask you the same question," he says, and John laughs, hoping it might help him catch his breath. "You don't live in town, though, do you?"

"No," John says. "I'm - I've only been here a few days, just came down to finish off my application, you know, look around a bit. When was the last time you were in Boston?"

"Boston? Probably - fifteen years ago. I almost always remember my students, but are you sure you never took a class with me?"

John shakes his head. "I went to school abroad."

"Where abroad? I was in Paris - "

Marjorie clears her throat. "Sir, you've got that thing in half an hour," she says, her voice just the slightest bit pointed, and John is suddenly very aware that he and Flint are still holding on to each other's hands.

Flint pauses, glances at his watch - he has to let go of John to do it, and John simply doesn't allow himself to be disappointed. "Shit," Flint says, but by the time he turns back to John his face is already softening again. "Well I'd - I'd love to sit down and talk a bit," he says, "but I'm afraid I've got a teleconference Marjorie will not let me miss. Miss again, technically. I don't suppose your evening is free? If you'd like to meet me around five - "

"Five would be great," John says, and he's half worried he's spoken too quickly, sounded too eager - but if he's been hasty, Flint rewards it with another warm, pleased smile, so. He's made far worse mistakes, he thinks, and certainly far worse-looking ones - might as well stick around for a bit and see how this one turns out.

*

He meets Flint at a quarter after five, out in front of a large grey-stone building bearing a swinging sign proclaiming it The Tankard - though the entire town doesn't appear to be nautically themed, a fair number of the establishments seem to be, even this far from the museum's grounds. "It's a bit touristy, but they've got the best selection of beer on tap in town," Flint says, with an apologetic shrug, and John laughs and follows him inside. They talk a little about the internship - "It's mostly paperwork, cataloging new acquisitions, the occasional auction, more paperwork - well, you're the one who said you were interested," Flint says, and Silver's laughing and saying yes, well, you do make it sound so fascinating - and a bit more about where they might have met, though neither can come up with any satisfying possibilities, any common points on the maps of their lives.

Flint has a salad, and John a sandwich, and they each stick to a respectable two drinks, which John keeps careful track of - he can already anticipate the part that comes next, the part where by seven thirty Flint will have him pressed up against the wall in the bathroom, a hand in John's hair and his mouth at John's throat. He just wants to be sure they both want it, is all.

John has - his ways; some he's picked up on his own, some he's picked up from others, after they'd worked on him. A shift in his posture, drawing Flint's eye from his face down along his neck to the hollow of his throat, carefully exposed through the collar of his shirt. A nudge of his knee up against Flint's under the table, noting how Flint jerks his leg away, but returns to his position just as quickly, almost like he's seeking the contact. Reaching for the salt at the same moment as Flint, laughing like he hadn't intended it when their fingers brush. A pointed glance as he rises from the table - a glance Flint catches, holds.

"I'll be right back," he says, and lets his gaze travel the length of Flint's body, lingering at his mouth. "Unless you'd like to join me."

"I," Flint says. John grins at him, makes sure to roll his hips just right as he walks away. He doesn't hear Flint following him - not yet - but by now, he has no doubt that Flint will.

In a lot of ways, he thinks, it's just another con.

The bathroom - and fuck, John thinks, he fucking hates this town, he is beyond thankful he doesn't actually have to stay - the bathroom is done up in another vaguely nautical theme, walls like a damn beach house, the mirrors styled after portholes on a ship. At the top of the wainscoting there's a length of gently waving rope fixed to the wall, just at the perfect height to dig solidly into John's lower back when Flint presses him against it. He breathes out hard and sharp and quick, one arm coming up almost automatically to drape over Flint's shoulder -

"Wait," he gasps, "hold on," and to his surprise, Flint does; John can feel him shaking, trembling with the effort of holding this still, and his hands grip tight at John's waist but he's not moving, so. "I just - I wanna be clear, here - "

"I'd like to kiss you," Flint says. "All fucking day - ever since I first looked at you, I've been thinking about kissing you and if you're interested, I'd really love to stop talking and try it - "

"Okay," John says, helpless - "okay, yeah, okay," and Flint's laughing, his thumbs tracing up the smooth curve of John's hips as he leans in to press his lips to John's.

John can almost feel it - his mind gone carefully, deliberately blank, most information deemed irrelevant when set against the sensation of Flint kissing him, his mouth, the clench of his hands on John's hips. Oh, he thinks, feels it floating around inside of his head - the breathless sound of the thought a cloud, a leaf borne upward on the catch and hold and draw of Flint's breath - oh, oh. "Fuck," he says, when Flint finally pulls back a little, "you're really fucking good at that - " even though it's not exactly what he means, but - Christ, he doesn't know how else to put it.

"Kissing?" Flint mumbles against the side of John's neck - and fuck, John can hear his fucking smile, but he still half-gasps a yes, even though that's not what he means, he means - this, all of this, the way he feels under the welcome exploration of Flint's hands, so terrifyingly unbound. He wants Flint to keep him here, pinned between the wall and the hot solid weight of Flint's body. He wants Flint to kiss him and never stop. "Well, I'm glad you approve," Flint says, laughing, and kisses him again - deep and long and perfectly like John wants.

Flint's got one hand in his hair and a knee between John's thighs and John moans into his mouth, lets himself pull Flint closer, lets himself arch and roll against Flint's body - and Flint moves with him, arching back into John in all the right spots, and just hard enough. "God," he says, the next time Flint releases his mouth, "fuck, Captain, please," and Flint fucking growls - he feels so fucking good pressed up against John like this, flooding and filling and surrounding him, and John can't get enough. He wants more, wants everything, and Flint wants it too - Christ, he can feel how badly Flint wants it, the thick shape of his cock hard against John's hip, and it's - overwhelming, suddenly, tipping past the razor edge and he's gasping into Flint's mouth, shoving at him until he can get his hands between them, fingers curling into Flint's waistband -

"Wait," though, and it's Flint saying it this time, and John makes himself pull his hands away, though it feels like needles in his skin to do it.

"What?"

Flint's breath is loud and quick and rough in John's ear, his hips still moving against John's, tiny mindless shifts. "Should we be doing this?" he says.

John laughs, short and huffed. "Well, we certainly shouldn't be doing it here," he says. "I've got a room at the motel, if you want."

Flint nods against his shoulder, and John kisses the arch of his cheekbone, slips out from under him. He doesn't ask if Flint will follow him there - he knows Flint will, his headlights in John's rearview, the sleek shape of his car pulling up next to John's in the parking lot. John meets him on the sidewalk, and almost doesn't stop himself reaching out to touch. "Hi," he says, and Flint grins, bright and wide and sharp.

"Hi." His eyes rake over John, and John feels like he's - unfolding, opening to Flint, his back arching, his shoulders stretching up and back. He wants Flint to see him, wants it like he hasn't wanted anything in a very long time - maybe ever.

"I'm down near the end," John says. "We - you still wanna do this?" He's - he doesn't really think there's any chance of it, but part of him's almost hoping that Flint will say no, that he's changed his mind, that he'll save them both from making such a phenomenally stupid mistake. And it is most definitely a mistake; on its surface it may not seem like much of one but John knows better. If he wasn't on a job, if he wasn't so fucking eager to do it, then - maybe. He's no stranger to a little casual sex, and if he's honest, he's no stranger to combining his work with his pleasure, either - he's rarely in any one place long enough for it to matter. But god, this time, he is fucking eager to do it - he likes Flint. That part, perhaps he's not so familiar with.

"Absolutely." Flint's voice is low and hungry and serious and they're still outside but for a wild second John wants to fall to his knees, wants to crawl inside Flint's mouth, wants to give himself over and save Flint having to take. He can feel himself starting to smile - and ordinarily he'd be playing this a bit more relaxed, or at least trying to, but - fuck, he can't help himself.

"Come on," he says, and feels himself thrill at Flint's answering smile.

Flint is touching him before they're even through the door, his hands on John's waist, his mouth at the back of John's neck. As soon as he can John's turning to face him, pull him in closer - it puts his back against the wall, gives Flint all the advantage, but he doesn't care. It feels too fucking good to have Flint in his arms again, the solid weight of him pressed all along the length of John's body, the shift of his muscles under John's hands. The ride over from the bar can't have been more than twenty minutes, but part of John feels like he's been waiting years for Flint to touch him again. Like he's been waiting his whole goddamn life.

To be fair, Flint doesn't seem too interested in wasting any time, either - he's already got his hands at John's belt, his lips pressed to John's own, kissing him deep and hot and hard. John's got one hand at the back of Flint's neck and the other tucked into Flint's waistband and he holds Flint there, keeps him close, keeps Flint kissing him until they're both panting into it, gasping for breath. "Fuck," John says, back arching as Flint's teeth scrape along his jaw. "I hope you don't do this with all your interns."

"You're not going to be an intern," Flint says. "You don't qualify." His voice is muffled in the curve of John's shoulder, blurred further by the gentle motions of his fingers at John's waist, sliding up inside the tails of his shirt, trailing bright hot streaks across the skin at John's hips and John should focus, he needs to focus, but -

"What?" he manages, and Flint laughs, and John can feel his fucking mouth curved into a smile against his collarbone.

"You must know that," Flint says - and of course John fucking knows that, the resume he'd given Flint had been factual enough to stand up to a cursory investigation, he's perfectly aware he doesn't - what he doesn't know is how Flint is managing to think about that now. He kisses the hollow of John's throat, long and slow and wet, tongue sweeping across John's overheated skin and John tangles his fingers in Flint's hair and moans - Flint pulls back, comes up to press another kiss against John's lips. "You haven't got half the courses you'd need," he says, low and right into John's mouth. "You've got at least a year of lectures to sit through before you'd even come close. You knew you didn't qualify when you applied." It seems ridiculous - his voice is even and serious while one hand is sliding down the back of John's pants and Christ, it had been a fucking joke - but still. Something about it, something about the way Flint says it has John smiling too, small and fond and genuine.

"I thought maybe you'd give me a chance," he says anyway, and tries to sound like he's disappointed - it's not an easy task while Flint's big palms smooth across his skin, but after all, he is supposed to care.

"I can't," Flint says. "I'm sorry." He pauses - noticeably, his body stiffening under John's hands, and says, "Do you still want to - "

Do I still want to, John thinks, and almost laughs - God, like that's why they're doing this, like that's why Flint thinks - "Yeah," he says, "yeah, I still wanna do this, come on," and he kisses Flint hard, pulls Flint tight against him, lets him feel how much he fucking wants to - and Flint groans and nips at John's lip, tugs him up off the wall and finally, finally takes him to bed.

*

When John wakes up, Flint is sitting on the edge of the bed, facing away. At first, John thinks he's leaving - it looks like he's leaving, feels like he's leaving - but Flint's back is bare and pale in the dim yellowish glow from the street lamps outside, and when John sits up Flint turns to look at him, and smiles. "Sorry," he murmurs, "did I wake you?" His voice is low and rough from sleep and John can almost feel something deep inside his chest pulling toward Flint, straining to reach him.

"No," John says, reaches out - Flint's hand finds his among the rumpled blankets. "Sort of. What's going on?"

"What you said before."

"I'm sorry, darling, I said a lot of things before, you're going to have to be more specific."

Flint takes a breath and says, "You called me Captain." His eyes are the strangest thing - guarded and confused and hopeful all at once. "Why would you say that?"

Why wouldn't he say that, is John's first response; but as he draws breath he feels all the certainty he'd had behind the thought disappear. He'd been sure it was the proper title to apply to Flint - that Flint was not only a captain, but his captain. So sure he'd never bothered to think; that no sort of reason for calling Flint that had ever crossed his mind. He didn't need a reason. It just was. But now - looking directly at it - he is suddenly, equally sure that it isn't. He shakes his head and says, perhaps a bit more honestly than he's expecting - "I don't know."

Chapter Text

Silver says, I don't know, and then nothing else; there's a moment where they're both quiet, where everything's quiet, where Flint thinks if he listens hard enough he might hear not the sound of traffic outside but the wind blowing in off the bay, cool and hollow and lost. Silver's looking at him sleep-dulled and confused, and Flint doesn't know what to say. He'd thought Silver might have an explanation - might say it had been a joke, a mistake, something - might offer some sort of answers, however weak, for the questions ripping at the insides of Flint's ribs, the ones that had only fully resolved after Flint had fallen asleep, like great pale sharks swimming up toward the moonlight. But Silver appears as frozen in the face of them as Flint had felt, lying next to him in the darkness, trying his best not to breathe too loud. Silver's thumb traces a slow path along Flint's knuckles. He looks almost like he might say something - for an instant Flint's sure he's going to say something - but he stays quiet. They both stay quiet.

Flint tries not to think about it. He doesn't want to think about it.

It had been, at most, a throwaway comment in a moment of passion; it hadn't registered as anything that should even concern him, let alone concern him to a degree that seems almost singular. And yet, he can't seem to shake it - Silver calling him captain, the particular tone it had put in his voice. He'd sounded like something out of a dream. Maybe it had been one. Maybe that was why it felt so real.

Eventually Silver lies down again, says come back to bed, tugging Flint's hand lazily across the gap between them. Flint doesn't even hesitate, goes with him - curls into him, settling with Silver's face pressed up into his throat, one arm draped heavily across his waist. It's almost too easy, and part of him thinks he should be concerned about that, knows he is long past the point where he should have decided he was finished, stopped enjoying this so much - but the rest of him doesn't care. The rest of him doesn't want to think about it. The rest of him is going back to sleep.

*

Flint is alone when he wakes up, but Silver isn't gone; Flint can hear him in the shower, singing wordlessly to himself, steam billowing through the open door. There's a good chance, he thinks, his mind still dreamy and fuzzy and soft, that he can assume that open door is an invitation; an assumption confirmed when Silver peers out from behind the curtain and grins and asks Flint why he's not naked yet. He fucks Silver in the shower - up against the wall, the full curve of Silver's ass slotted back against Flint's hips and his moans echoing off the tile - and then again when they finally make it back to the bed, both of them laughing at the way they can't keep their damn hands off each other. It's slower this time, and sweeter, and ordinarily Flint would question the urge to apply that word to sex with a man he'd known less than twenty-four hours. But right now, he doesn't want to. It is, in a way, sweet - the desperate clench of Silver's legs around his waist, his gasping breaths, the lingering way he lets Flint kiss him. Flint doesn't want to question it. He just wants to enjoy it.

He's still enjoying it later - and perhaps it's settled into a quiet half-asleep sort of enjoyment, but still - when Silver groans and stretches, nuzzles up under Flint's chin and says, "I'm hungry."

"Hmm." Flint kisses the tangled mop of his hair. "I'm afraid we've probably missed the complimentary breakfast."

"Well, shit," Silver says, slow and lazy, tightening his grip on Flint's waist, and Flint laughs. "We could go out. You know anywhere decent? Bonus points if it's not fucking sailing-themed." For a second he's quiet, and Flint's about to remind him that's a tall order around here, but then Silver says, "I mean, if you're not - busy, or ready to be rid of me, or anything."

"Of course not," Flint says - maybe a little quickly, but God, Silver just sounds so - sad. Flint doesn't care who Silver is. Or isn't. He doesn't want anyone to sound like that, especially not because of him. He rolls them to one side, nudging Silver back just enough to see his eyes. "I know a place that's only beach-themed," he says, and grins - "If you're not busy, or ready to be rid of me, or anything," and he's not - sure, he isn't entirely sure how Silver will take it - but Silver grins back, which had been the goal, so.

"Of course not," Silver nearly purrs, and rolls them over again, his knees on either side of Flint's hips, both hands sliding up the center of Flint's chest, leaning in to kiss him.

Eventually, they make it out of bed - later rather than sooner, but nobody's really counting - and out into the sunshine. The least-hatefully decorated diner Flint can think of is nearby, so they walk; Flint doesn't hold Silver's hand, even though Silver's shoulder brushes comfortably against his more than once, and he gets the sense that maybe they're both halfway thinking about it. It seems - excessive, somehow, indulgent almost to the point of obscenity, and Flint is aware that the time to worry about that has fucking well passed, but. Still.

The diner is crowded, which Flint isn't thrilled about, but at this time of year it's to be expected; it's still probably a better decision than taking Silver back to his house would be. The girl who seats them - young-ish, pretty, community college sweatshirt under her apron - greets Flint by name and puts them in one of the larger booths by the windows. "Who's she?" Silver asks, low, when she's gone.

"I don't know," Flint says, and he's halfway to annoyed before he realizes the curiosity in Silver's voice is of the jealous sort, rather than just interested - and that shouldn't please him, he knows it shouldn't - but. "Related to Marjorie, most likely," he adds; Silver raises an eyebrow, and Flint leans across the table toward him. "Her grandmother had twelve children. She's related to half the town, if you go back far enough. It's a fairly safe bet."

Silver leans in a bit too, like they're sharing some glorious secret. "And, what, they all know you?"

Flint shrugs. "Most of them. I've been to a cookout or two at her mother's house."

Silver grins. "My," he says, "handsome and popular," and Flint can't help a laugh.

They both sit back a bit when the waitress returns, bearing two coffees and a notepad tucked into her apron, and that probably shouldn't please Flint either, but it sort of does. The thought that what they're sharing is something private, not meant for others, an experience that's still just for them. That they're both thinking it.

Silver orders waffles with whipped cream and berries, and after a moment, Flint decides on the same; he isn't usually much of a breakfast person, but he hasn't usually come three times before his first cup of coffee, either. He might as well live dangerously.

The coffee is burned, but passable; it must be Jacob in the kitchen today, Flint thinks, watching Silver empty tiny plastic container after tiny plastic container of creamer into his own mug. After the first three or four - Jesus Christ, Flint thinks - Silver looks up, and catches Flint watching him. "Go ahead," he says. "I know you're thinking it."

"They're single-serving," Flint says, helplessly.

"Yeah, but you're supposed to add to taste."

"You're also supposed to be able to still taste the coffee when you've finished."

Silver laughs. "Y'know, it figures," he says; it's warm and playful and fond, but Flint sips his own coffee, and decides to ignore him anyway. "It fits in with everything else I know about you. James Flint: stuffy academic, retired lieutenant, bit judgey about what a man puts in his coffee." Flint swallows, frowning at him over the rim of his coffee cup, and Silver grins at him. "What? You're the one who decided you had something to say."

"How did you know I was in the navy?"

Silver laughs again. "God, everyone knows that," he says. "It's in, like, every one of your online bios."

"I," Flint says. "You." He can't decide if you've read bios on me? or there's more than one? is the more important question. Silver won't stop fucking laughing.

"You know they tell you to do that, right?" he says. "Do some research into the places you're applying to, the people you'll be working with, impress them with your in-depth knowledge and interest."

"Is that what they tell you to do now? Strange. When I was in school they used to tell us to - you know, show up to classes, produce quality work."

"That was what, a hundred years ago?" Silver says, teasing. "Maybe you're just a little out of touch."

Flint can feel his skin flaring warm; Silver's flirting with him, he realizes, and in the same moment he feels Silver's knee bump pointedly against his under the table. "I didn't hear you complaining last night," he says - and God, normally he wouldn't, most days he wouldn't even consider saying something like that where he might be overheard, but Silver's got him so off-balance that today he adds, "or this morning, either."

Silver sits back, and looks at him. "No," he says, "I certainly wasn't," and then he's quiet, but it doesn't seem like an offended or upset sort of quiet; he seems almost pleased, his eyes sharp, half a smile dancing around the corners of his mouth. His knee is still pressed up against Flint's - the contact firmer, now, steadier. Flint sips his coffee, and holds Silver's gaze. He doesn't know what he should say. He doesn't know what might come out of him if he tries to speak.

He's saved by their waitress returning with the waffles, and to top up Flint's coffee; this, at least, is familiar, and for a while they both busy themselves with the food - the moment he smells it, Flint is suddenly starving. He catches Silver's gaze, once or twice, their eyes meeting like neither had intended to look in the first place, both of them grinning as they look away. It's ridiculous, Flint thinks. An hour ago they'd been naked in bed together. Neither of them have any hint of a reason to be shy.

The next time Silver glances at him, he smiles so bright and sudden and pleased, Flint thinks he might actually blush. Jesus Christ, he thinks, and clears his throat.

"So what else has the internet taught you about me?" he says.

Silver shrugs. "Nothing important," he says. "None of the stuff you really want to know, when you're getting to know someone."

Flint would try to keep himself from smiling, but it's already a lost cause; getting to know someone, like that was what Silver wanted to do, like that was what they were doing. "Like what?"

"Well," Silver says, and grins. "Usually I'd say, like, how do you take your coffee, but I know that now, don't I."

"Tasting like coffee," Flint says, and Silver laughs.

"Are you this much of a purist about everything?"

"Mostly the coffee."

"Right," Silver says. "What's your favorite color?"

Flint grins. "Seriously?" he says, and Silver arches an eyebrow at him, licking a bit of whipped cream off the end of his fork. It takes Flint a second to remember what the question had been. "Red. Dark, not bright."

"Book, or movie adaptation?"

"Book," Flint says. "Absolutely. What sort of question is that?"

"The revealing sort," Silver says. "What do you do for fun?"

"Pick up stray graduate students and buy them waffles," Flint says, starting to feel more than a little unbalanced. Silver's managed to get more out of him in five minutes than Marjorie had in the first five months after he'd hired her, and she'd been trying. "Do you have some kind of list over there, or something?"

"Yeah," Silver says. "It's called questions to ask smart-ass history nerds when you're trying to decide whether or not you should have slept with them. What's your sign?"

"My sign?"

"Yeah," Silver says. "Like your - star sign, God, don't make me say it like that."

Flint laughs. "You don't really believe in that stuff, do you?"

"Well, I've never had my fortune told by anyone on the other end of a 1-800 line, if that's what you're asking," Silver says. He stabs a bit of waffle with his fork, and shrugs. "I dunno. I don't plan out my days based on my horoscope or anything, but I figure it doesn't hurt to be - open to possibility."

"And people certainly have believed in more unlikely things," Flint says. He sits back in his chair, pulling his coffee around in front of him. "My birthday's in September," he says, after a moment. "September tenth. Whatever that means."

Silver gives him a pleased grin. "Virgo," he says, and pops his last two blueberries into his mouth. "Figures. I do always get along well with earth signs."

"And that makes you, what," Flint says, "water?"

"No," Silver says. "Air, actually. I'm a Gemini." He's quiet for a moment, turning to smile at the waitress as she stops to ask if she can get them anything else, or just the check; he turns it back on Flint once she's gone, leaning forward, one elbow up on the table and his chin resting in his hand. "But it's interesting that you'd say that. Earth and water. Maybe you know more than you think."

"Or we're on the beach," Flint says, and Silver rolls his eyes.

"Spoilsport. Come on, you ready to go?"

Silver heads outside, while Flint handles the check. He's sitting on a low wall around a planter, his back to the door, when Flint emerges. For a minute, he just looks at Silver; the line of his shoulders, the strong curve of his back under his shirt, the subtle muscles in his biceps. He isn't at all the sort of man Flint enjoys spending time with - he's not even the sort of man Flint usually finds attractive. The hair, for one. But - God, there is something about him that's - enticing.

He's on his phone when Flint comes up, engrossed, heels tapping against the wall idly; "Ready?" Flint says, and Silver looks up.

"Yeah," he says, and shows Flint the phone's screen. "It's gonna rain later."

"Is it? When?"

"Not for a while," Silver says, hopping off the wall. "But I've gotta be checked out of the motel in half an hour." He leans in close, curls his hand around Flint's elbow, and grins. "Walk me back?"

"My pleasure," Flint says, and doesn't even think of pulling away.

They're nearly back to the parking lot when Flint's phone vibrates with a text; Call me!!!! 911! "Marjorie," he says, showing the screen to Silver.

"Sounds important."

"Could be," Flint says. "Could be she's just heard there's some sort of tour group coming in this afternoon and she doesn't feel like dealing with it." Even as he's talking, though, she's texting again - Seriously - and he sighs, texting her back, Hold on. "I should probably go and handle that."

Silver takes a breath. "I should probably let you go and handle that," he says, and his voice is - Flint doesn't even know. Light and smooth and playful, but also somehow strange, far away and desperate. It hits Flint that Silver's going to leave, and then in the same heartbeat, that he doesn't want Silver to - and Christ, what the fuck had he thought was going to happen? Of course Silver's going to leave - he's not from around here, he's got no job, of course he's - and fuck, Flint thinks, this is why he doesn't do this, why the fuck hadn't he thought -

"Let me just call her," he says, and he probably sounds a bit desperate himself, but. "I'm sure it's nothing, just give me a minute and - "

"No, it's all right," Silver says. "I - should really get going anyway. I was only staying in town until I heard something about the internship, and, well." He grins. "Guess I've heard something, haven't I."

Come on, Flint wants to say; he wants to say, don't be like that. He wants to say, don't leave. But Silver's right. He hasn't got any reason to stick around, and Flint - certainly can't ask him to. Not after one night. No matter how nice a night it had been. "I'm sorry," he says instead, and he's not sure what he's apologizing for. The internship, but - maybe something else, too. Maybe he's imagining it, but it had never really seemed like Silver had come here in search of a few lines to add to his resume. It had never felt quite true.

"Don't be," Silver says. He steps in close, hands on Flint's hips - and even now it's too simple for Flint to hold him, his arms looping easily around Silver's waist, his body settling into the sway of their combined weight as Silver leans up to press a kiss just under Flint's ear. "I knew I didn't qualify when I applied," he whispers, and Flint laughs, and drags him around to kiss him proper. "Thank you," he says, when they finally part, and Flint nods - there's something seized up in his chest, and he doesn't quite trust himself to speak. "That was - really nice. I'm glad we did that."

"Yeah," Flint manages. Silver smiles, leans in to kiss him again - but brief, this time, soft. They've come to a stop standing next to Flint's car. How fucking convenient, Flint thinks.

"I should get going," Silver says, and in the end he does it, and Flint doesn't have to - he pulls away, moves back, hands slipping into his own pockets, like it's the only way he can think of to keep them to himself now. "I'll see you around," he says; he turns away, and he's gone, disappearing down the sidewalk toward the motel office before Flint can figure out how to ask him to stay.

Well, Flint thinks, and unlocks his car.

He's halfway to work before he realizes he doesn't actually want to go there unless he's absolutely forced to, and he turns off the main road onto a side street, pulls over for a moment instead. It's the oddest feeling; it's his job, but it's also particularly well-suited, and he's not sure he remembers the last time he didn't want to be there, surrounded by his strange old things and the half-imagined world he cares for. But then, everything feels odd, just now - like his skin doesn't fit on his body quite right. Like there's not enough room for his lungs.

You're being ridiculous, he thinks. Fuck. This is why he never does that.

He calls Marjorie - who answers with oh my God, are you still with that boy, and he makes himself count to three before he reminds her that if he really wants to, he can fire her - the waitress, it turns out, had been her cousin, who'd fucking texted her to report on his whereabouts. He tells her that frankly it's none of her business, but no, he is not, and that had best not be why she'd wanted him to call; she tells him that as much as she'd like for this to be one of those phone calls where he just yells at her, they do have an actual problem. Janet's lost her ID badge again, which means they'll have to re-key the whole main building, and they need Flint's passcode to do it.

"You know my passcode," he says.

"Yeah," she says, "but it's not like I'm gonna use it without asking first," which is why she knows his passcode. He tells her to go ahead and do whatever she needs to do to keep things stable enough that he doesn't have to come in for the rest of the day, and hangs up before she can threaten to quit on him again. He gets four texts in the next three minutes; I hate you, then Don't forget about Mrs Braddocks thing on fri, then She needs that grant proposal you have to do it she knows my writing so don't ask, then Its Wednesday fyi. He texts her back, I'm aware, then turns his phone off entirely, which will make her furious; he'll deal with that and the grant proposal both tomorrow. Mrs. Braddock's annual gala might be their single largest source of funding by far, but just now, he doesn't want to think about artifacts and auctions and how to phrase things so some crusty old bird might be persuaded to part with more of her dearly departed husband's assets. He doesn't particularly want to think about much of anything, at the moment.

Captain, Silver had said, and he'd felt something inside himself shift.

Perhaps, he thinks - perhaps he should go down to the marina and see the old girl.

He hasn't taken her out in months - he's barely made it down to the marina often enough to do the bare minimum, the absolute basics he's got to accomplish to keep her watertight and floating. But today, he wants to be near the water. He wants the lap of waves against the hull, the salt-sharp breeze at the edge of the bay. There's something inside him that's tight and sore and pulling, and the sea's the only thing he's ever found that can ease it.

The marina where Flint keeps his boat is off the main road and stands empty most of the year, which is why Flint had picked it; during the height of the tourist season it is, as is everything else, a madhouse, which is why he pays extra for a slip tucked back in the farthest corner. Still, he has to politely fend off four separate attempts at conversation by well-meaning locals between his car and the boardwalk along the docks. It's the worst part of his job, he thinks, this fucking - pillar of the community business. He manages to mostly avoid it everywhere else besides here. Maybe this will be the year he finally sells the damn boat.

It's an idle thought though, and Flint knows it before he even spots her again, bundled up tight and rocking gently against her bumpers, and looking every bit as perfectly and unquestionably his as she had the first time he'd seen her in a sale yard up north. The Walrus - she'd come to him with the name, and he'd thought it was funny enough to keep - is twenty-eight feet of fiberglass and headaches and expenses and he loves her terribly, hull to mast-tips. He'd consider selling an organ before he'd seriously consider selling her.

Even on days when she acts like this; it takes Flint an hour and a half to start the small engine they need to carry them out of the marina, and another hour to convince it to stay started, and by the time he's done he's exhausted, stinking of stale water and streaked with grease. He's only got a couple hours of light left and there's some worrisome clouds beginning to gather on the horizon, but it's best not to let her know she's won, so he rinses off in the river and takes her out anyway. They'll make it to the mouth of the bay and back, if they're lucky; Flint thinks that might be just far enough for him and the Walrus both. Perhaps she'll have to wait another day for the wind in her sails and the sun on her decks, but regardless, she needs to run. They both do.

They're most of the way back when the clouds burst, and the rain starts; Flint pushes the boat's little engine as hard as he dares, and tries to look for the good in it, even as the wind chills his skin. Everything will once again be fucking wet and filthy and threatening to mold, but if the rain stops by morning, he'll have a good enough excuse to spend tomorrow on the water as well, getting her back in order. Silver linings, he thinks, and if it sounds a little bitter even inside his head - well.

Flint cuts his speed as he comes into the marina, dropping low enough he won't throw off too much of a wake, and sets them on the course to his dock - frowns at it, though, as he approaches; it's not empty like he's expecting, abandoned save for his neighbor's speedboat on the other side - there's someone standing there, small and dark, drenched from the rain. Flint peers at them as the Walrus draws closer, trying to guess. Too broad at the shoulder to be Marjorie, too short to be the man he shares the dock with, and really there's no one else, nobody who'd have cause to be there, who wouldn't seem out of place - except, perhaps -

Silver.

It's Silver.

How, Flint thinks, but there's no time - the boat is small enough for him to handle on his own, but just barely, and for a tense few moments he's busy getting her bumpers in place, throwing ropes around cleats, drawing her as gently as possible into position. Silver, still on the dock, watches - he doesn't help, but to be fair, Flint doesn't ask him to. He wants to be near Silver, as quickly as possible, wants it sharp and unbearable enough it almost doesn't feel right, calling the sensation want. He hasn't got time to fuck around waiting while Silver learns to dock a boat. As soon as she's secure, Flint's climbing up over her low rail, two quick strides across the weathered boards as Silver turns to face him. "What are you doing here?" he says.

"I couldn't leave," Silver says. His voice is choked and raw and sore like the words are fighting their way out and Flint wants to touch him, hold him, cradle Silver close against his chest and ease away whatever's causing him to sound so hurt - but God, he doesn't let himself, he can't let himself, it doesn't make any sense -

"How did you find me?" he says, and Silver laughs - fucking laughs, but it's the most awful, miserable laugh Flint's ever heard, and Flint does touch him then, reaches out to pull him in, his arms around Silver's shoulders and Silver's hands all over his chest. "It's okay, I'm, I didn't want you to leave either, but - how did you find me here?"

And Silver - God damn him - Silver looks Flint in the eye and says, "Do you believe in soulmates?"

Chapter Text

Flint blinks at him.

Flint blinks at him, and doesn't say anything, which isn't at all the response Silver had been expecting - he hadn't known exactly what he'd been expecting but he'd thought Flint would laugh, thought Flint would tell him to fuck off, thought Flint might tell him he's insane or call the police or - something. He doesn't know what. But not this. Flint's hands are on either side of his face, holding him still and quiet and steady, two patches of bright dry warmth against his skin, where everything else is cold and wet and awful. He feels like he should say something else, but he doesn't know what - it's taken him all day to get this far. To admit that this pull toward Flint - it's there, and he doesn't understand it.

"Come below," Flint says eventually, his voice soft and even and calm, and John does - God, he doesn't know what else to do - his only thought had been getting back to Flint. He hasn't spent any time on what might happen after that.

He goes with Flint, follows him down into the tiny cramped space beneath the boat's deck, out of the rain. Flint sits him on a narrow bench along one side of the cabin, removes the cushion on the opposite bench to reveal a storage space underneath. John watches, chilled and curious and more than a little fascinated, as Flint produces a seemingly impossible series of tightly-packed and carefully arranged plastic bins, stacking them around him. John's hair is dripping, down his back and over his collarbones and into his already-soaked shirt. He reaches up, tucks a bit that's slipped free behind his ear. Flint still hasn't said anything - fuck, John wishes he would fucking say something - but he turns to hand John a towel he's pulled from one of the bins, and he meets John's eyes, returns John's tentative smile, so.

"You gonna start pulling circus clowns out of there next?" John says, bundling his hair into the towel as Flint turns back to the compartment.

Flint looks over his shoulder, face creased with worry. "What?"

"It's a joke," John says. "Sorry." Shit, he can't remember the last time he was too spun out to be funny. Flint huffs out a soft laugh - a polite laugh, John can't help thinking, just a little bitter - and opens another bin.

"Here," he says, handing John some clothes - an enormous hooded sweatshirt, a pair of soft flannel pajama pants. "They might be a little musty, I'm sorry, but at least they're dry."

John tries another smile - it's returned quickly, warm and easy, and John can almost feel the tight knot in his stomach starting to relax. "Thanks."

Flint nods. "I've got a few things to take care of outside," he says. "Try and get comfortable. I'll be right back."

John wriggles out of his wet jeans, peels his t-shirt over his head, listening to the rain and Flint on the deck above him. Try, Flint had said, but God, John's already comfortable - at least, more comfortable than he had been earlier, in his car on the side of the road, fighting to convince himself to ignore the awful sensation in his chest and just keep driving. And perhaps he shouldn't be - perhaps he shouldn't feel like he's made the right choice - but he is. He does.

The clothes don't smell musty. They smell like Flint.

He leaves his wet things on the floor - it doesn't feel quite right, but he's not sure what else to do with them, and the floor's a hard-molded plastic so he thinks it's probably okay - and curls up on the end of the small bench where Flint had left him to wait. He's not waiting long; Flint is back in a few minutes, pulling the hatch closed behind him. He's dripping wet, and John gives him a small, guilty smile.

"Sorry. You probably could've stayed dry, if I hadn't shown up."

"I'm glad you did," Flint says, low and serious, and reaches for the hem of his shirt.

Fuck, John thinks, and watches, unashamed, as Flint changes into dry clothes; he's seen Flint naked plenty of times already, but this feels - different, somehow. Private and special and intimate, just for him - the broad expanse of Flint's shoulders, the thick solid muscle of his thighs, the freckles peppered across his skin. Flint hangs both their wet clothes on a line strung over the opposite bench - clever, John thinks - and comes to sit next to him, close, his arm slipping around John's back. John doesn't try to stop himself leaning into Flint. Fuck it, he thinks. Why bother. He rests his head in the curve of Flint's shoulder, feels Flint turn into him, feels Flint press a kiss into his hair.

"Forgive me if I'm starting at the end of the story, here," Flint says, after a moment, his hand sweeping long, smooth strokes over John's bicep, "but - how did you find me?"

"I don't know," John says. "Sorry. I feel like I keep saying that to you. But I - I really don't." He'd checked out of the motel; he'd met his contact where they were staying, and collected his payment; he'd driven around for a while, aimless, trying and failing to convince himself to even start toward home; he'd decided to park and take a walk, and the rain had started, and there had been Flint. John was the one who'd done it, and he still doesn't have the first clue how, or why. "I was - trying to leave, but I couldn't do it. I couldn't even - I kept starting toward the road to the highway and then turning around again. And I mean, it's not - I don't really do that, you know? It's not - every time I sleep with someone, I don't get all - weird."

"Right," Flint says, but gently, not mockingly - like he's not doubting John, but helping him along.

"But I didn't wanna leave you," John says, and it comes out in a rush - he's been trying to stop himself from thinking it all day. It's ridiculous, and unreasonable, and all at once it becomes unbearable. "It's - this is weird, right? I barely know you, I met you fucking yesterday and I can't - stand the thought of never seeing you again. I don't want to go back to a life without you in it."

"Okay," Flint says, in that same too-gentle voice, and John realizes he's starting to sound a bit - panicked. "It's - weird, yeah. But that doesn't mean we can't sort it out."

"That's not what I mean," John says. "I - I thought I'd go for a walk, right? Get my head on straight, think my shit through. So I stopped at the first place that looked nice, which was here, and I came down toward the water and it started raining and there you were and I - " He shakes his head, turns to press his face against Flint's throat. He can feel Flint's heartbeat here, under his skin, steady and solid and strong under John's cheek.

"Is that why you said - what you said?"

"Yeah," John says, soft. "I'm - I don't know. I don't even know you, and I feel like I've known you my whole life. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before."

"Me neither," Flint says. John turns toward him, slides an arm around his waist, curls a little more tightly into him as Flint hugs him closer. "I don't know," Flint says. "If I believe in - soulmates, anything like that. But I do know that I was - drawn to you. As soon as I met you." He takes a slow breath, chest rising and falling under John's head. "I'm not used to feeling like that." He's quiet for a second, then nudges John; John can hear the smile in his voice when he speaks. "I thought perhaps you were just that attractive."

"I thought the same thing," John says, and they both laugh. "God. What are we going to do?"

"I don't know," Flint says. His breath is warm and soft and even in John's hair, and John lets himself close his eyes. God, he's exhausted - and he's got no reason to be, they'd slept well enough and it isn't like he's even done anything, but he feels like he's run a marathon, thrown in a couple fistfights for good measure. Like now that he's sat down he might be perfectly justified in never bothering to stand up again. Like maybe he could stay right here in Flint's arms for the rest of his life.

Just now, it doesn't sound like too bad an idea.

"So turns out you are a captain," John says eventually, and Flint laughs.

"Turns out I am a captain," he says. "Fuck, don't let anyone hear you say that. The only people who call themselves captain on a thirty-foot sailboat are tourists."

"I'm a tourist," John says - then adds, quickly, and without thinking, "Sort of."

"You're not a tourist," Flint says, just as quickly - John hears his breath catch halfway through, as he realizes what he's saying. He runs his thumb along the cut of Flint's hip, tracing the curve of the bone under fabric and skin and muscle. "I know you've - probably got things to get back to," Flint says, after a moment. "But if you wanted, you could - stay, for a little while. Maybe this will all make sense in a few days."

Somehow - he's honestly not sure how - John manages to stop himself from saying yes too quickly. He doesn't have anything to get back to, not really; he's got five hundred dollars waiting to clear his bank account, a month-to-month lease. It's practically the rule, when this week he's bugging Flint's front office, and next week he might be halfway across the globe, running an entirely different con, wearing an entirely different life - not having anything to get back to is just a requirement of the job.

But he can't say that to Flint.

He wonders what a bright, energetic, in-demand young intellectual might have on their plate, had they just lost out on a prestigious internship. He doesn't know. He feels like he can't fucking think any more. Like he hasn't had a clear thought since he'd stepped out of his car and walked into the museum yesterday afternoon.

"Okay," he says, and hopes at least for now, he can just leave it like that.

"We can talk about that tomorrow," Flint says, and presses another kiss into John's hair. God, John thinks, it's fucking unreal, how perfect he is. It should be impossible. Flint is the sort of guy John should want to devote his life to making miserable - old and soft and bookish. He should hate Flint. And instead he wants to curl down tight in Flint's embrace and never leave. "Hey," Flint says, eventually. "You falling asleep?"

"No." John forces his eyes open and stretches in Flint's arms, grinning helplessly at the way Flint's grip on him loosens, but doesn't release. "Maybe."

Flint laughs, soft. "Come on," he says, nudging John upward.

He slides a panel back in the wall, revealing a tiny triangular cabin tucked up into the bow. "Oh, brilliant," John says - practically the entire room's a bed. Granted, not a very large one - but then, he doesn't think they're going to need it to be large. They fit - barely, but they fit - settling in face to face, John's knee hooked over Flint's calf, his head on Flint's shoulder. It's cramped, but it's better than the alternative - for John, at least. He might not have anything to go back to, but that doesn't mean Flint doesn't. "You're sure this is all right?" he says.

He feels more than hears Flint's laugh. "It's fine," Flint murmurs. "Go to sleep. I've got you."

The rain drums low and steady on the deck above them, the ship rocking gently against her mooring. Flint is wrapped around him, surrounding him, his breath on John's skin and his heartbeat in John's ears, and John lets himself close his eyes, lets himself sleep.

*

He wakes to Flint watching him, head propped on one hand, and a cool breeze from the hatch above their heads. "Hi," Flint whispers, and John smiles.

"Hey." He rolls onto his back, feels Flint's hand slip from his hip to his stomach. "How long have I been out?"

"Dunno." Flint's fingers shift against his skin, just the slightest caress. "I slept a while too. The rain stopped."

"Yeah, it's quiet."

"Enjoy it now," Flint says. "In a few hours, the tourists will be back."

John grins. "Ah," he says, reaching out, getting a hand around Flint's neck to pull him in close. "The lesser-known fifth horseman. Death, war, famine, pestilence, and tourists."

"More frightening than any of the other four," Flint says, and he's laughing as he leans in to kiss John.

It's not the first kiss they've shared; it's not the second or third, and maybe not even the thirtieth. He's known Flint just over a day, and shared more kisses with him than all the other kisses he's had combined over probably the past year. But this one feels different than all the others - with Flint, or with anyone else. This one feels soft, and familiar, and slow. This one feels real.

"God, I missed you," he whispers into Flint's mouth, when Flint pulls away - which is ridiculous, they'd been apart maybe six hours, but it feels right to say, so he says it.

"I missed you, too," Flint whispers back, though, so. Maybe not that ridiculous.

He rolls Flint under him, knees on either side of Flint's hips; the cabin is too small to sit up fully, but John doesn't want to be that far away from Flint, anyway. He can feel Flint's cock starting to harden, and he rocks down against him, lets himself moan as Flint pulls him down tighter. Flint kisses him again, his mouth hot and wet and pliant under John's, his soft huffed breath as John's fingers comb through his beard, tipping his chin up. His hands glide down John's back, into the waistband of his pajama pants - they're big enough on him he just lifts up, lets Flint slide them down off his hips, wriggles out of them as he settles back against Flint.

"Yours too," he says, both hands dragging down Flint's chest - Flint grins, cants his hips up to work his own pants down and off, and John moans again, helpless, his head dropping to Flint's shoulder at the feel of Flint's bare cock against his own. "God. Please tell me you have lube somewhere in here."

"Yeah," Flint says, but John can feel him hesitate; he presses a questioning kiss to the corner of Flint's mouth. "I don't have a condom."

"I'm clean if you are," John says, and Flint nods. "I want you. I don't care." One of Flint's hands moves off him for a moment - John can feel him searching, twisting to open a compartment on the wall, and he busies himself with Flint's collarbone, kissing a slow wet line along it and up the column of his throat while he waits. "I love that you keep lube on your boat," he says to the underside of Flint's chin, and Flint laughs, just a little shaky.

"I don't hear you complaining." His fingers dig firm into John's ass, and John groans, grinds down against him as he feels Flint's other hand on him again, his touch slick and cool and wet.

"Fuck. I'm not." He's still loose and relaxed from this morning; it aches when Flint eases two fingers into him, but in a good way, a way that makes him feel grounded and steady and here. "God, please," he says, arching back against Flint's hand, trying to spread his legs wider across Flint's hips, "please fuck me," and it comes out sounding almost like a whimper, but Flint's fingers are curling deliciously inside him and he just doesn't care.

"You look so good like this," Flint breathes - he's fucking John slow and steady and deep, spreading his fingers as he draws them almost all the way out, opening John up - and John buries his face in Flint's shoulder and moans. "Wearing my clothes. Begging for my cock. Fuck, you're so beautiful."

"Shut up," John says, "God, will you shut up and fuck me, please - " He's going to lose his mind - he thinks he might just stop breathing, if he doesn't get Flint in him soon - but Flint's laughing, pressing a soothing kiss to John's temple as he slips his fingers free, pulls John up his chest just a bit.

"Easy," he murmurs, and John feels the head of Flint's cock nudge up against him, broad and blunt and already wet at the tip.

"Fuck that," John says, and rocks back against him - grinning into Flint's mouth at how he gasps, hips snapping up, burying himself in John with one smooth stroke. "God," he moans, dropping forward against Flint's chest, rolling his hips as Flint grinds up into him. "Yeah, just like that."

It's slow, but John wants it that way - Flint's big hands on him, his cock inside him, kissing him like there might never be a reason to stop. John's own cock is trapped between them and he ruts forward against Flint's belly, back onto his cock, fucking himself deep and long and hard. "So good," Flint's whispering, "fuck, John, you feel so good, I've wanted you for so fucking long," and John laughs, just a little shaky, turns his head enough to kiss Flint's cheek, his mouth.

"I know," he says, "God, I know, me too - fuck, Flint, yeah, that's good - God, don't stop - "

He doesn't know how long it lasts; as far as he's concerned he could go on like this forever, rocking gently on Flint's thick cock, Flint's breath loud and rough in his ear. Soon, though - too soon - he can feel Flint's movements starting to go wild and uneven, his hips snapping up against John's just a bit harder, with purpose. "You close?" he says, his mouth against the rough hairs at the edge of Flint's beard. Flint nods, working a hand between them, brushing shaking fingers along John's cock, and John groans, back arching to let Flint touch him. "C'mon," he says, thrusting forward into Flint's tight grip - he holds himself still so Flint can fuck hard up into him, his other hand clenched on John's hip, eyes blown wide and dark and wild as he comes, and John can feel it - feels Flint swell and burst, the slide of his cock inside John easier, slicker, wetter. Flint came in him, John thinks - Flint came in him, the knowledge swirling around inside his head with the feel of Flint's hand on him, Flint's cock still throbbing inside him, and he's gasping and shuddering and pressing tight against Flint's chest, grinding back hard against him, sinking down into the tight circle of Flint's arms as he comes.

John whimpers a little as Flint slips out of him, rolls them onto their sides - and he doesn't want to, wants to tell Flint to stop, to stay like that - but the cool breeze from the hatch is starting to verge on cold and his back's starting to ache a little from being bent over anyway, so. He curls against Flint's chest, draping an arm around Flint's waist as Flint pulls the blanket up over them. "You all right?" he murmurs, and John nods.

"Yeah," he says, pressing a kiss to Flint's bicep. "Fantastic. Spectacular."

Flint laughs, hugging John closer. "Me too."

*

John is alone when he wakes, but Flint hasn't gone far; he can hear footsteps on the deck above him, and for a moment he just listens, trying and failing to stop himself from smiling. This is - nice. Comfortable in a way he hadn't been expecting. Being in Flint's space. Knowing he's near. It isn't something John's used to; he is, as a rule, far more comfortable being on his own than being answerable to anyone else. But this - he thinks he could very easily get used to this.

Eventually, the footsteps stop, and John slips from the bed and finds his way up out of the cabin, into the sunlight. Flint is sitting on the edge of the boat, a coil of blue and white rope in his hand, and the rest of it in a tangle at his feet. He's wearing shorts and the most ridiculous checkered shirt John thinks he's ever seen in his life, unbuttoned halfway down his chest - and it's not that he doesn't present an appealing picture, it's just - it's just.

"Morning," he says, as John emerges.

"Morning," John says, and laughs - he can't help himself. "I'm sorry. You look - unbelievably silly."

Flint makes a face. "What?"

John motions at his outfit. "Did you steal those from someone's grandfather?"

"Sit for an hour in the sun, we'll see who's laughing then," Flint says, and John grins - he suspects it'll still be him. "There's coffee and doughnuts over there, if you're hungry," he says, nodding toward a bag on the opposite bench, and a tall paper cup in the cup holder; "I didn't know what you liked, so I just got one of everything."

"Any doughnut is a good doughnut, as far as I'm concerned," John says, and stretches, both arms over his head. "Appealing as that sounds, though, I think I should probably rinse off first. Is there a shower around here somewhere?"

"You can walk down to the clubhouse," Flint says. "There's towels in that bench. Or you could just jump off the back, if you'd like. Your clothes are dry by now."

"Off the back," John says, decisively; it's not that he's against the idea of hot water or anything, but walk down to the clubhouse sounds like significantly more effort than he's willing to put into this. He peels Flint's sweatshirt off - and he's pleased, but not surprised, to find Flint watching him when he gets his head free, his eyes tracing wide and dark and hungry over the firm smooth planes of John's stomach - climbs down a short ladder to a narrow platform on the back of the boat, and dives off.

Chapter Text

Helpless, Flint watches Silver disappear beneath the waves.

Splintered pieces of his ship rain into the water around him, some of them still in flames. The surface is a tangle of ropes and debris, floating barrels and the ghostly pale jellyfish shape of a sinking sail. He can hear the whistle and pop of bullets, the echoing bang of the fort's cannons - he can hear her screaming, and he can't, they need him, but they also need him and there isn't time, he can't - he's peeling his jacket off, unbuckling his belt, letting it fall into the launch as he jumps.

Beneath the surface, chaos; the salt water stings his eyes and his lungs already burn, his last gasp of air too full of smoke, but he forces himself down, fighting his way through the wreckage. He can see Silver below him, a cloud of black hair and a billowing coat against the sea floor - he's far down already and sinking fast and Flint kicks hard against the pull of the water, desperate to get to him. He's caught up in something - the rope ladder is wrapped around the leg and Flint can see him trying to work it free, his motions getting jerky and panicked - he gets both hands under Silver's arms and pulls and then he's free, they're rising back toward the light, Silver limp and heavy and still in Flint's arms.

He breaks the surface gasping; "What the fuck," Silver's saying, "what the fuck," but Flint ignores him, drags him over to the diving platform off the back of the boat, hauls him up onto it, levers himself up to sit next to him. Silver's skin looks smooth and unmarred but Flint checks anyway - he has to, he has to - his hands running over Silver's shoulders, down his arms, up to brush his hair back from his face.

"Are you okay?" he says, and there's a ringing in his ears - the cannons, he thinks, but that can't be right, there's no - "Are you hurt?"

"Yeah," Silver says, "of course I'm fucking okay, Jesus Christ, what the hell was that?"

Flint shakes his head. He doesn't trust himself to speak. He doesn't even know where to start. It couldn't have been - it couldn't have been - but it had seemed so real. His back is against the stern of his sailboat, his feet are in the water, his eyes are on the boats at the opposite dock - all of it is exactly as it had been for years, and yet he's half sure if he blinks, it'll all tear apart and disappear again. His hand aches. He wonders if he'd hit it on something.

Silver is looking at him, closer now, one hand on Flint's thigh. "Are you okay?" he says.

Flint shakes his head. "I - I don't know." He thinks suddenly of Silver in the motel, the other night - why would you say that, and the blank, baffled look Silver had given him. He thinks he might know, now, how Silver had felt.

"Okay," Silver says. His fingers press gently into Flint's thigh, just below the frayed hem of his shorts. "You - you look really shaken up. Do you think you can tell me what happened? Did you see something in the water?"

Yes, Flint wants to say, you, but that doesn't make any sense - of course Silver had been in the water. Flint had suggested it. He's not sure how to get across why it had suddenly seemed so - terrifying. He's not sure how to get across the rest of it. "Sort of," he says. "I - I saw."

"It's okay," Silver says again, and fuck, Flint wishes he would stop saying that - wishes he'd stop saying anything in that tone, hesitant and cautious, like he thinks Flint might turn on him at any minute. "You can tell me."

"You were drowning," Flint says, sudden - he doesn't know he's going to say it. "You - we were on a ship. It was under attack, and we were - trying to get away, I think, I don't - " He shakes his head again, closes his eyes, like it might help him remember. Like it might help him make sense of it. "You fell," he says. He can see it, in his mind - Silver in the air. The way the sea had swallowed him whole. "You were - tangled up in something, I don't - you went under, and didn't come up." He remembers the solid clunk of a studded gun belt he doesn't own, falling against the hull of a rowboat he's never been on. The voice of a woman he doesn't know, but should. "You didn't - you'd been under for so long."

"I was barely in there fifteen seconds," Silver says. "You came right after me."

"It felt a lot longer," Flint says. "I - do you think I hallucinated it?"

"It sounds like maybe," Silver says. "Has that ever happened to you before?"

Flint shakes his head.

"You feel okay? No headache, any weird pains, anything like that?"

"No," Flint says. "I feel fine." He takes a breath, runs a hand over his face; he feels John's touch on his back, and he lets himself lean into it, lets himself take comfort in the warmth of his body, solid and safe and right there next to him. "It didn't feel like a hallucination," he says, his eyes still shut. "It - it felt real. It felt like I was there. It still does."

"I know, darling." Silver's head on his shoulder, wet hair clinging to Flint's arm. "But you're not. You're here, with me. We're both safe."

"I know," he says. "I'm sorry."

"It's alright." Silver kisses his shoulder, settles back against him. Flint tips his head until his cheek rests against Silver's hair, and tries to focus on just - breathing. Hearing the birds, and not gunfire. The hollow rubbery thud of the boat's hull against her bumpers, and not the groaning crack of a falling mast. Maybe he had hallucinated it - maybe he's losing his mind. Maybe he has heat stroke. Maybe he's got a brain tumor. There could be a thousand explanations, any one of them more likely than any of that having actually been real - it had seemed real, but then, Flint doesn't think hallucinations usually introduce themselves as such, so. Maybe. Somehow, it could make sense. He just wants something to make sense.

"I want you to know, though," Silver says, after a while, "that I am a very good swimmer."

"I'm sure you are."

"It's true," Silver says. "I've got medals. I hold a world record. Fastest time ever doing the backstroke."

Flint laughs. "You made that up," he says. "That's not even how they track it."

Silver shrugs; Flint can feel the motion against his shoulder, Silver's smile as he turns to press his face against Flint's skin. "Maybe I did," he says. "But I thought it might make you laugh." He's quiet for a moment; when he speaks again, his voice is low and hesitant and serious. "I hate to bring this up now, but what you said last night, about how I could - stay. I should probably see about getting a room at the motel for a few more nights."

"Or you could stay with me," Flint says, and he's a little surprised to hear himself say it. It's not that he doesn't want Silver around, it's just - it's that he does want Silver around, if he's honest. It's that he'd made the offer in the first place. Even as he's making it, though, he wonders if perhaps it's not wrong of him to say; maybe Silver would rather stay at the motel. Maybe he's the sort of person who would prefer the extra expense over appearing dependant on anyone - Flint doesn't know. He barely knows anything about Silver, and he feels like he should, but he can't fucking think. He wants Silver to leave, wants him to stay - he feels like he doesn't fit right in his own skin. This is mad - what the fuck does he think he's even going to do with Silver? Have him tag along with Flint to the museum? To Mrs. Braddock's gala? He should put a stop to this. He should send Silver on his way.

Should, though, doesn't seem like a convincing enough reason, just now.

"Whatever you'd like," he adds, and tries not to let it come out sounding uncertain. Everything else aside, he does mean it.

"You don't mind?"

"I offered, didn't I?" Flint says, and feels Silver nod. "I do have to go in to work today, for a while. One of the museum's largest benefactors is having her annual ball tomorrow, and I need to finish our grant proposal for next year so she'll give us her money. I'll give you my keys, or - you can come in with me, if you'd like. It shouldn't take long. I can have Marjorie show you around."

Silver grins against his shoulder. "Well, how could I pass up a chance to spend the day with Marjorie?" he says, and stands, offering Flint a hand up.

He goes below to change clothes - by now, Flint is mostly dry - while Flint repacks the lines he'd been mending, starts closing hatches and snapping covers into place. "Anything I can help with?" Silver says, when he emerges.

Flint shakes his head. "I've almost finished. Go on ahead, I'll meet you there."

"Okay," Silver says, but doesn't leave; when Flint looks up Silver's watching him, arms crossed, brow furrowed. "Are you sure about this?" he says. "I feel like I'm - intruding, or something. I don't want to make you uncomfortable."

Flint doesn't know what to say. He is uncomfortable, Silver is intruding - but it's not exactly Silver's fault, and Flint doesn't exactly mind. He's not sure how to explain it, without going into details he'd rather not. "I don't want you to leave," he says, finally, and hopes that will suffice.

Silver nods. "Then I won't," he says, and steps in close to kiss Flint, soft and brief, before he goes.

At first, Flint is glad for a few minutes of space. He had, after all, come here to be alone with his thoughts; even Marjorie's barely tried to raise him, only one message waiting on his phone when he turns it back on - Please tell me you're on your way, an hour ago. I am now, he texts her back, and gets three enormous smiling faces in return. He's almost finished closing the Walrus up, but the more he does, the longer it seems to take. There's a curling unrest in his stomach, a tremor in his hands, a strange sort of weakness in his bones even though he's eaten, he'd slept well enough last night, there's no real reason for it. He can't get Silver off his mind - the smell of him, the weight of his body against Flint's own - and by the time he makes it to the museum, finds Silver waiting for him out front, he'd be willing to swear it had been days since they'd seen each other, and not less than half an hour.

Silver opens the car door for him, and he's not sure who starts it but he steps out and then Silver's in his arms, pressed close against his chest, breathing quick and shaky against the side of Flint's neck. "Hi," Silver says, and Flint feels his fingers curling into the hem of his shirt at his back.

"Hi." He hugs Silver closer - and he doesn't want to, but after a few seconds he forces himself to pull back, forces himself to let Silver go. "Ready?" he says, and Silver nods. "Come on. I promise this won't take long."

Marjorie's eyes go wide when she sees them together; by the time they reach the desk, though, she's smiling, bright and cheerful and friendly. "Morning!" she says. "John, right?"

He smiles back at her. "Good memory."

"Kinda my job," she says, and looks to Flint. "He here for his interview?"

There are, Flint thinks, really only two ways that this goes. He could attempt to deny it; reject Marjorie's inclusion on a secret she quite clearly already knows, and spend the next however many months or years of his life defending it against her. Or, he could face what certainly seems to be inevitable, and come at it head on. "He's here because I'm fucking him," he says, and next to him, he hears Silver choke on his own breath.

"I thought I told you I didn't wanna know about that," she says, which is absolutely a lie.

"Then maybe you should stop asking questions," Flint says, and Marjorie rolls her eyes.

"Right, yeah, because that was a totally reasonable answer to - "

"Hi," John says, "yeah, I'm right here, could we not?"

"Sorry," Marjorie says. "He likes to fuck with me."

"She likes to provoke me."

Marjorie snorts and gathers up a stack of manila folders off the desk. "Like you don't encourage it," she says, swiping her ID badge and shouldering her way through the Employees Only door.

Flint holds it open for Silver as they follow her through it, into the hallway. "You remember you work for me, right?"

"Technically, I work for the Braddock Foundation," she says. "But thanks for reminding me. I was almost enjoying myself for a second, there."

"Feel like I'm watching a tennis match," Silver murmurs, leaning in close, and Flint almost, almost laughs.

Flint's office is, admittedly, sort of a mess. It's crowded with bits of coiled old rope and parts for the ships, white cardboard boxes holding things he hasn't gotten around to archiving yet, stacks of paperwork he hasn't gotten around to reviewing. He moves a pile of leather-bound books with a block on top off the sofa, so Silver has somewhere to sit; Marjorie grabs the block, and shakes it at him.

"You know I've been looking for this for two weeks, right?"

"Well, here it is."

"You told me you didn't have it," she says. "You told me, and I quote, 'Marjorie, I see a minimum of three hundred blocks a day, I can't be expected to keep track of - '"

"Do you want me to write this proposal or do you want to argue over who said what to whom?"

"I want you to say, 'I'm sorry, Marjorie, you were right and I was wrong, like usual'."

"Absolutely not," Flint says, pulling out his chair, and she whacks him with a folder then drops it onto his desk.

"Here, I got you started. That's next year's budget from the board, and some ideas for programs we could put on. Don't forget to put the journals in there," Marjorie says, and Flint snorts.

"She's not going to give us the journals."

Marjorie shrugs. "I dunno," she says. "Gram says she's been offloading a bunch of stuff lately. She thinks you might have a shot this year."

"Right," Flint says. "A quarter million in cash, a fifty-year extension on the land lease, and some priceless family heirlooms we've already been denied. Doesn't seem like too much to ask at all."

"I swear to God, if it was up to you this place would've been shut down years ago," Marjorie says. "She told you last month she needed you to put them in an official proposal, which I'm sure I don't need to remind you - "

"You don't need to remind me," Flint mutters, watching as across the room Silver stifles a laugh.

" - we both agreed was perfectly fair," Marjorie finishes, ignoring them both. "Just put them in. The worst she can do is say no."

"The worst she can do is gut our funding entirely."

"She's not gonna do that," Marjorie says. "The only thing Ethel Braddock loves more than her money is giving it to you."

"Ethel Braddock hates me," Flint says. "Ethel Braddock would do anything in her power to make my life miserable."

"She doesn't hate you, she's pissed because you're a jerk at her parties and you won't even pretend you're having fun," Marjorie says. "I hate you, and I have real work to do. I'll be back in an hour. You better be done by then."

"Knock first," Flint calls after her, and she pokes her head back around the door to stick her tongue out at him.

"Guess she's not showing me around, then," Silver says, when she's gone.

"Oh," Flint says. "Sorry. I'm sure she will, if you want to go catch up to her - "

"I'd - rather just hang out here, if that's okay with you," Silver says, and Flint nods. He flips open the folder Marjorie had left, opens his desk drawer to look for the right pen; after a minute, though, Silver says, "What do you need some old lady's journals for, anyway?"

"Not hers," Flint says. "Her great-great-grandfather's. He founded the town, and apparently kept some very detailed journals about the process. Not that I'd know, because she won't let us have them."

"Why not? What good are they doing her?"

"Why not?" Flint says. "Because she knows I want them. Because I don't dance at her parties, and somehow that offends her. Because she's bored and lonely and keeping me on the hook about them amuses her. Fuck if I know."

"Probably that last one," Silver says, and when Flint looks up, he's grinning. "You do look awfully cute when you're annoyed."

"I," Flint says. He doesn't - know how to answer that. He's not sure anyone's ever called him cute before.

Silver laughs softly, unfolds himself from where he's started to settle on the couch. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be teasing you when you've got work to do. I'll get out of your way, if you want. Or if there's anything I can do to help - "

"Do you know anything about writing grant proposals?"

"Very little," Silver says, pulling up a chair beside Flint, "but it's not like that's ever stopped me before. Let's see."

Flint's not expecting it to work - he's expecting Silver to be more of a distraction than anything - but to his surprise, it not only works, but works well. Writing with Silver feels good, feels natural and smooth and right; Flint stating his case, then letting Silver craft the support for it, injecting just the right hints of sympathy and charm and persuasion. Marjorie's notes - bless her, Flint thinks - are really more of a first draft; all they really have to do is plug the numbers into place and rephrase things a bit, and soon it seems to Flint they've got themselves a very persuasive argument. They're reading things through one final time when Marjorie yells, from what sounds like halfway down the hall, "Are you decent?"

"Unfortunately," Silver murmurs, and Flint snorts.

"That's not a knock," he yells back to her, and a moment later she's coming through the doorway. "All done," he says, waving the folder at her, and she snatches it from his hands.

"Awesome. Fantastic. Thank you. I'll drop it off on my way home," she says. "And, listen, 'cause I know she's gonna ask, am I going with you tomorrow, or can I bring Greg?"

"Well," Flint says, and stops. He hadn't thought about it. Marjorie's always gone with him, ever since he started working here; but she's been dating Greg almost nine months by now, and this year he's got -

"You know she's gonna love him," she says, and between them, Silver clears his throat.

"Still here," he says. "And I'm getting the strangest feeling you're talking about me again."

Flint sighs, and scrubs a hand over his face. "Would you like to go to a completely miserable party?"

*

"Come on," Silver says, later; he's standing shirtless in front of Flint's closet, both hands on his hips, half of Flint's clothing strewn across the bed as they try to find him something to wear. "I think it sounds like fun."

"Ethel Braddock's parties are not fun," Flint says, decisively. "They're a test of the limits of human endurance. An experiment in agony. That doesn't fit you."

Silver peels off the shirt he'd been trying on and tosses it at Flint's head. "You know, you're being very dramatic."

"You've never been," Flint says. "Come and talk to me once we've been there a couple hours, we'll see what you think then. Try that blue one." He's sitting with his back against the headboard, a book open across his lap, but he hasn't so much as turned a page; Silver turned loose on his closet is much more interesting to watch. He'd thought it might be uncomfortable, or unpleasant, or - something - having Silver in his house. Flint's been here nearly five years now, and the only people who've set foot in the house, let alone in his bedroom, are himself and Marjorie. But having Silver here isn't anything like having Marjorie here - Silver hasn't tried to clean anything up or called the place a goddamn death trap even once, for starters. Having Silver here is - sort of nice.

Flint isn't entirely sure what he thinks about that.

He watches the light shift across Silver's shoulders as he takes the shirt from its hanger and pulls it on. "I think once we get a few drinks in you, you might change your tune," he says, doing up the buttons before he turns around to show Flint. "Well?"

"Mm. Not bad," Flint says. He crooks a finger at Silver, beckoning him over. "Let's see."

Silver grins, nearly slinks over to him - the shift in his gait is subtle, but not subtle enough to escape Flint's notice. He knows he looks good. Egotistical little shit, Flint thinks, but there's no malice in it. Far from. He shuts his book and sits up, checking the lay of the shirt's seams, checking the ease, doing his best to ignore the heat rolling off Silver's body in waves. "So, what do you think?" Silver says, and his voice comes out rumbling and low.

"I think that's a definite maybe," Flint says, forcing himself to pull his hands away - this is probably the only shirt he owns that will fit Silver. It wouldn't do for them to dirty it now. "Try the navy jacket, all the way on the right." Silver gives him a knowing look, turning away to retrieve the indicated suit jacket. It fits him just as well as the shirt, and for perhaps the first time Flint's glad he'd never bothered to get rid of anything after he'd gained those twenty pounds.

He turns back around to show Flint, and - Christ. Flint's breath catches in his throat. "How do I look?" Silver says.

"You look - stunning." The deep blue of the jacket is perfect - it brightens Silver's eyes, darkens his hair, makes him look sleek and clean and dapper all on its own. "You're going to be fighting off eighty-year-old women all night. You sure you wouldn't rather forget the whole thing, and just stay here?"

Silver grins. "Why, darling, if I didn't know better, I'd almost think you were jealous," he says. "I'm sure Mrs. Braddock and her friends will be able to control themselves."

"You haven't met them," Flint says, flatly, and Silver laughs.

"I think I'm starting to understand why she won't give you those journals," he says, shrugging carefully out of the jacket, replacing it, and then the shirt, on their hangers.

"Let her keep them," says Flint, setting his book aside. His voice comes out low and rough and John grins, shooting a glance over his shoulder. "Put those over by mine, and come here."

*

Flint dreams that night of a long dirt road, a grand house in the distance, late afternoon sun on his shoulders. He dreams of birdsong, and a warm breeze, and fields of lush green. He dreams of a great dark cloud behind him, that he can only see at the edges of his vision. He dreams that the sun shines, and the birds sing, and he walks, and walks, and walks.

Chapter Text

John's dream is different.

He dreams the road and the house, the fields and the birds. He dreams of Flint, and the great dark cloud.

But he also dreams of a horse-drawn carriage, and the weight of a gun in his hand, and heavy black iron chains. He dreams Flint's wrists rubbed raw and bleeding. He dreams Flint's eyes deep and hollow and angry, he dreams Flint wordless and impenetrable, unresponsive no matter how many times John says his name. He dreams the cloud grows, and grows, and grows, wrapping around him cool and damp and inevitable, until it threatens to swallow him whole. He dreams he will let it. He dreams he has asked it to.

John thinks: No.

He wakes gasping, shooting upward in bed, his heart pounding and his throat tight. The room is dark and quiet and still; the wavery shadow of a tree outside falling across Flint's bookcase, Flint himself still asleep in the bed next to John -

Flint.

John is moving before he can stop himself, both hands on Flint's shoulder, pulling him onto his back so he can - "What's going on?" Flint says, his voice blurry, as John's hands scrabble down his arms.

"Let me see your hands," he says, and he feels - insane, this is insane, it had been a fucking dream, but he can't stop. He can't control it. He has to see. "Let me see your hands, please - "

"Okay," Flint says, lets John drag the blanket down, lets John move him where he wants to - "Christ, okay, calm down."

"Sorry," John whispers, "I'm sorry, I know, I'm sorry, let me just - " He doesn't know what he'd thought he'd find - Flint's wrists are smooth and unmarred and John wraps his fingers around them, checking again and again, stroking hurriedly over the skin, searching for any hint, any sign - there isn't one, though, there isn't, and he forces himself to stop, clutches Flint's hand in both of his, presses it to his forehead, just for a second. "God," he says, and he's not sure why he still can't catch his breath. "I'm sorry. I - I just had the scariest fucking dream."

"It was just a dream," Flint says - he's starting to sound a bit more awake, now, and he reaches out with his free hand to switch on the lamp on the bedside table. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," John says, running his thumb over Flint's knuckles, turning his hand over so he can work his fingers between Flint's own. "I just - "

"You just what?"

John shakes his head. He's forgotten what he was going to say. He'd turned Flint's hand over, caught sight of his palm, illuminated in the lamp's faint glow. The faint red mark it bears, that he knows without double-checking will match precisely with his own. "Where did you get that?"

"What?" Flint says. "That? It's a birthmark. I've had it my whole life."

Wordlessly, John shows Flint his own hand.

Flint blinks. "Oh," he says.

*

They're quiet for a long time. Outside, the birds begin to sing. Darkness shifts into cool, steel-blue twilight. A car engine starts loud and growling next door, fades slowly as it drives away. "What do you think it means?" Flint says, eventually.

"I think I might still be dreaming."

"If you are, I'm having the same one." Flint traces the mark on John's palm again, like this time might bring some understanding, some clarity, where the countless times he'd done it over the past few hours hadn't. "I don't - I think it's - is it possible? That we just - have the same one?"

"You would know better than me," he says, and Flint goes quiet again. That'll be a no, then. "My mother was from Spain," John says, his voice soft. He hasn't let himself think of her in years. "She used to call it un antojo."

"A wish," Flint says.

"You speak Spanish?"

Flint shrugs. "Just a little."

John nods. "Close," he says. "It's more like - a desire, or a craving. My father left before I was born to look for work. She thought the mark was her wish for some money in her hand, so he might come home."

"And what do you think?"

"It started - itching, just before I met you," John says - which isn't what Flint had asked, but. "I thought it was just the heat." He takes a breath, holds it for a second, lets it out in a rush; "There's some people," he says, "who think they're - scars, sort of. From past traumas."

"But I never - "

"Traumas sustained in past lives," John clarifies, and Flint shuts up. "I don't - I mean it's not the kind of thing you can prove, is it? But I always - I don't know." He's not sure how to explain it to Flint. He's not a religious man. But he's never been able to shake the sense that - "I was always so sure there was - more than this." He waves his free hand at the room around them, the world around them outside it. "That the universe had something in store for me, that I was - meant for something in particular." He shrugs. "Maybe this is it."

"I'm not sure I follow," Flint says.

"Remember when we met, and we were both so sure we knew each other from somewhere?" John says, and it's - he's not sure. He doesn't know even as he draws breath to say it if he believes it; it feels ridiculous. It feels impossible. But as the words take shape in his head, they also feel true. "James, what if we do?"

Flint doesn't answer. He doesn't answer for a long, long time, just sits there, staring silently at their hands. John can tell without asking that he doesn't believe it - but the more John thinks about it, the more he does. It all fits - if he looks at it all together, and through just the right frame. It seems possible, almost - it seems like a better explanation than all of this having happened by chance, at least. Every bit of his own mark, every edge and variance in coloration, replicated perfectly on Flint's hand. The comfort and familiarity John had felt from him, before they'd even spoken. How he'd found Flint at the marina. Whatever had happened to Flint on the boat.

Captain.

"So, what," Flint says, and John can already hear the doubt in his voice. "You think we - knew each other in some past life? That we shared some sort of trauma, and now we've somehow found each other again, however many years later?"

John shakes his head. He's not sure he can bring himself to say yes. "I think I've never felt this way about anyone before," he says instead, soft, and Flint squeezes his hand.

"I guess I just don't - know what we're supposed to do," he says, after a moment. "I don't - regardless of whether or not we - if any of that's true. We still - I can't ask you to just - "

"No, yeah, I know," John says. "And I don't want to - I mean, you have a whole life here and I - "

"I can't imagine you just - going back, though, can you?" Flint says, and John - should answer, wants to answer, but he can't seem to speak. He'd been expecting himself to get bored with this, had been expecting it to fade, but it hasn't. Instead, he's only become more sure. He can't imagine himself going back, either. But that doesn't mean he sees a way where he could stay.

"No," he lets himself say, anyway - he figures there's no harm in agreeing with Flint. "And I suppose we're almost past the point where we can say we'll talk about it later."

"Not quite past it, perhaps," Flint says. "We've still got the party tonight. And I've got to stop in at work for a few hours, but otherwise we can just - spend some time together. Enjoy today."

"See what it's like?" John says, half teasing, and Flint returns his grin.

"Something like that, yeah." He tugs at John's hand, pulling him in close to kiss him. "Don't worry," he says, his breath in John's mouth. "Everything's going to be okay."

"Is it?" John whispers, before he can stop himself - and he hates that he's even thinking it, it's just - Flint pressed against him, solid and safe and warm. The small, needy way it makes him feel. How much he likes it.

It seems Flint understands, though, or at least as much as John does - he folds John into his arms, one hand at the back of John's neck. "Listen, I don't care if you've decided to move to Antarctica, and I've got to quit my job and move there to be with you," he says. "I will."

John burrows closer, his face buried in Flint's neck as his hands slide around Flint's waist, settling into the quiet curve of Flint's body. "Okay," he says, and Flint kisses his hair, hugs him a little tighter.

"I promise we'll find a way to work everything out, all right?" Flint says; John nods, and feels Flint press another kiss against his forehead. "But unless you want me to quit right now, I'm afraid I've got to go start getting ready. I'll only be a couple of hours. You can just stay here, if you want."

"Okay," John says again, and makes himself pull back, even though it's the last thing on earth he wants to do. "But if it's - if you don't mind, I'd rather come with you. I'd been sort of hoping for a chance to look around a bit, anyway."

He's not sure, at first, if it's an okay thing to say; if maybe Flint had been hoping for an opportunity to be away from John for a while, even though John himself can barely stand even the thought. Flint smiles at him, though, small and pleased, and leans in to kiss John's mouth once more before he climbs from the bed, still holding John's hand, drawing John along with him. "Of course I don't mind. Come on."

They share the shower; they don't fuck, which John half thinks should surprise him, but it doesn't. What surprises him is the thought that he almost prefers this - leaning back against Flint's broad solid body while Flint runs a soapy washcloth over his skin, turning his head to trade soft sideways kisses that have nothing to do with sex. More kissing after they climb out, as Flint towels him off, his long fingers combing gently through John's hair. "God," John sighs, letting himself slump against Flint's chest, listening to Flint's heart beat under his ear while Flint's hands stroke smooth and even over his back. "I'm joking, but are you sure you have to go in today? Can't we just stay here?"

"I wish I was joking too, but I really have to go in today," Flint says, kissing John's temple. "I left Marjorie with a freshman Intro to History group last week. If I leave her with the Scouts, she might actually quit on me."

"Well, we can't have that," John says, and he means it, but there's a chance it comes out - slightly bitter. Flint laughs and kisses him again before he lets him go, though, so.

John runs out to his car while Flint gets dressed, picks up clean clothes and repacks his backpack with a water bottle and, after a moment's thought, his sketchbook. It's been ages since he's had the chance to just sit for a while and draw, and though having a glance around Flint's museum does sound appealing, John isn't sure how long that's going to realistically hold his interest.

They stop on the way in for coffee, and a bagel for John; Flint pays, over John's protests. "Listen, if I'm not going to hire you, the least I can do is feed you while you're here," he says, and John decides it's probably best not to argue. He walks with Flint to the visitor's center; they don't talk, but halfway between the car and the door where Flint pauses, he feels Flint's hand slip casually into his. He's expecting it when Flint turns to him, smiles at him - the part he's still not expecting is that it's almost shockingly intimate. Warm and tender and fond, something soft around the edges of Flint's eyes, something that takes John's breath away just to look at it. "I really am sorry about this," he says, and squeezes John's hand, and it's all John can do not to just throw himself into Flint's arms. "It'll only be a couple of hours."

"It's all right," John says. "I'd love to have a look around, anyway. And I've got my sketchbook."

"Marjorie will let you into my office if you want somewhere quiet to sit."

"I'll be fine, love, I promise." He leans in, but he takes it slowly, gives Flint time to stop him - Flint doesn't stop him, though, leans in to meet him halfway, like there's no reason on earth why he shouldn't. John doesn't think either of them intends for it to be a long kiss, but the moment his lips touch Flint's it feels like it might have already gone on for hours. Like time has no pull, no meaning here, no power over all the other things that stand and pass between them. Like he could just stand here and kiss Flint, perfectly content, for days, for years - like he could quite happily kiss Flint goodbye in the mornings every day for the rest of his life.

"Go on," he says, eventually, when he forces himself to pull away - part of him doubts Flint ever would. "You're going to be late."

"I'm going to be late," Flint says agreeably, giving John one more brief, hard kiss before he lets him go. "Have fun, sweetheart. I'll see you soon."

"Bye," John says, soft, watching him go, and if his voice comes out a bit - struck - then, well. The day they've already had - he figures he can't quite help that, now, can he.

It's the strangest feeling, being without Flint; standing small and alone in the world, Flint not at his side. It's ridiculous - he knows he's being ridiculous; he's been on his own for years, and he's only been with Flint for the past couple of days. But he can feel Flint's absence like a knot in his side. A biting ache he can't quite break free from.

He walks for a while, hoping a bit of exercise will loosen his muscles; by the time he reaches the lighthouse on the point he's feeling better - at least, he's feeling sufficiently distracted - and his trip back along the length of the grounds is decidedly more pleasant. The crowd is as dense around the blacksmith's as it had been on his first visit, and instead of avoiding it he joins them for a surprisingly riveting demonstration of how to make a horseshoe; the sun approaches too warm on his shoulders, so he steps inside the general store, spends some time investigating a display of eighteenth-century foodstuffs. He knows it's nothing - odd or special or unexpected; hell, it's practically how this place makes its money. But he still can't shake this growing sense of comfort, of ease and familiarity - this feeling that he's somehow come home.

Eventually, the soreness in John's body eases into the sort that means he needs to sit down for a while, so he makes his way to a bench by the schoolhouse, under a bright fragrant cherry tree. It hadn't been his intention, but the spot turns out to have a rather nice view, a clean line of sight down along the docks toward the point, where the larger ships sit at permanent anchor, and before long he's pulling out his sketchbook. He tries to get into it - he truly does; roughs in the horizon, the outline of a ship, the long neat line of the docks. But he finds he can't seem to keep his mind from wandering. Specifically, and perhaps a bit embarrassingly, from wandering to Flint; but given the past few days, he supposes that's to be expected - his distraction, and the source of it both.

He wonders if Flint has made it outside yet, if he's shepherding a flock of children along the quay and onto a ship. Even the thought makes him smile. He can just see it - Flint at one end, Marjorie at the other, their overexcited flock in between. It's so clear in his mind he half feels like he's actually seeing it, and perhaps he'd be a bit more reluctant to consider the idea if not for the dream he'd had last night. If not for the rest of it.

It's certainly an attractive thought - the idea that he can blame his feelings for Flint on some sort of unknowable connection between them, rather than it being he's let himself get entirely too far gone over some man he's just met. He feels sort of silly even thinking it, but he wonders if he can - test it; if this bond between them is real, perhaps he can use it in some way. Perhaps he could - find his way to Flint, or something. Half of him thinks he shouldn't even be letting himself indulge the idea. Honestly, it's more than a little ridiculous, even if it works; the museum isn't that large. But the rest of him is already tucking his sketchbook into his backpack, so.

The first decision is easy enough; the schoolhouse sits at one end of the museum's grounds, the lighthouse at the other, the docks in between. Staying near the water feels better than heading inland through the village, and John walks slowly at first, but soon lets himself pick up speed. He passes the fishmonger's and a tavern and a squat little tugboat, ignores the largest of the ships and heads instead for the slightly smaller one moored across from it, the one with the brilliant red stripe. It's the only one he hasn't been on yet. He's not sure whether or not that's why it feels like it's - calling to him, now. The strain is back in his muscles, but it's different now; it's the good sort, like the end of a perfect run, that final stretch before he's home.

John knows he shouldn't be - honestly, he'd more than half expected it to work - but he's still a little surprised he's really managed it; still gets a little thrill in his chest when he reaches the top of the ramp and finds Flint perched on the rail of the ship, a troop of children in outdoorsy-looking uniforms gathered around him, each with a length of rope in their hands. He slips quietly into the back of the group, hoping Flint won't notice him.

"Over, then under," Flint's saying, demonstrating a knot as he talks. "Yes, Hannah, just like that - guys, look how Hannah's done hers." John, Flint, and the rest of the children all watch as Hannah shows them how to tie the knot. When she's finished, she's beaming; Flint is grinning almost as wide. He loves this stuff, John remembers Marjorie saying, the first day he'd met them. He hadn't understood the hint of fondness in her voice at the time, but now - now, he can certainly see why. He's not sure he's ever seen Flint look quite this happy.

John can't help smiling too, just watching him. Flint. God, who would have thought? All John had come here looking for was a bit of cash. And instead he'd found - this. Whatever this is. Whatever it's going to be, John thinks, and feels something inside himself flare, bright and pleased and curious.

He's not sure he's ever felt that before.

He is, however, sure he's never felt the smooth wash of guilt that creeps in behind it, rides the thought of the cash and the job that had brought him here into his mind. It's never occurred to him before - he's never given it the opportunity to occur to him before. It's not as though he, personally, has taken or damaged anything, or even planned to; this should have been nothing, a quick drop and then on his way, a few hundred dollars richer, and any fallout categorized as simply someone else's problem. It's always worked that way. He's always worked that way - he's never had a problem with it before.

But it's also never been about Flint before. It's never been about a crowd of children gleefully exploring a recreated sailing ship, Flint watching over them, entirely unaware he's being watched as well. It's personal, now, and perhaps it was a mistake - perhaps John never should have let it get this far. But he had. It did.

Flint looks up - catches his eye, and smiles at him, warm and sweet and pleased. And all at once, John can't stand the thought of letting things carry on with him at the root of it.

Whatever that fucking creep Cooper and his friend are after - it's probably better off with Flint than it is with them.

John waits until Flint turns away before he heads down the ramp and back toward the visitor's center. I left a pen here the other day, he practices in his head - he doesn't think they'll notice him, doesn't think anyone will ask but fuck, if they do - he just hopes none of them have migrated off of the front desk just yet. He hopes it proves to be as much of a shit fucking plan as he'd thought it was when Cooper had explained it to him, fuck -

The visitor's center is - thankfully - deserted; there's a clock on the desk that says Back in 15 minutes! in two languages, and shows a map to the first aid building for emergencies. John doesn't bother disguising his intentions, doesn't bother pretending. He slips into one of the swivel chairs behind the desk, and reaches for the first of three cups jammed with pens.

Chapter Text

"Yes: old fashioned," Flint reads, his voice a soft murmur as they rock gently in the swing in his back garden. Silver is curled under his arm, head leaned against Flint's shoulder and a hand resting at his hip. They've been out here a couple hours, though they've barely managed to finish the first chapter of the book; Silver can't seem to stop interrupting. Flint - surprisingly, perhaps - doesn't really mind.

Silver had met him out in front of the visitor's center after he'd finished up with the Scouts; he's not sure which of them had started the hug, if he'd rushed forward into Silver's arms or if it had been the other way around, but it had gone on long enough that Marjorie had been the one who'd ended it, clearing her throat pointedly at Flint as she'd stepped outside a few moments behind him, on her way to lunch. They'd decided in the car that neither of them really felt like doing much of anything, so they'd settled on this - the dappled shade under Flint's trees, the swing and the garden and a book. Any interruptions Silver might make do nothing to spoil the experience.

"He loved her dearly - had loved her from the moment his eye first swept along her sweetly curving deck - but calm intelligence told him that she was a slow brig, an old brig and a brig that was very unlikely to make his fortune."

"Is that how you felt when you got your boat?" Silver says, tipping his head up, his breath warm against Flint's ear.

Flint grins. "Sort of." He turns to press a slow, thoughtful kiss to Silver's forehead, letting Silver settle closer as the book falls closed in his lap. "I felt like - she was something I'd misplaced so long ago I'd stopped looking for it," he says. "I was at an auction yard picking up a 1950's fishing boat for the museum. I didn't even know I wanted a boat for myself. But as soon as I saw her I had to have her. She was just - the most glorious surprise." Similar, really, to how he'd felt when he'd met Silver; he doesn't say that, though. It's strange enough even thinking it.

Silver sighs, pressing his face into Flint's shoulder, though, so. Maybe he doesn't have to say it. "Can I ask you a - really stupid question?"

"Is this the part where I'm supposed to say, there are no stupid questions?" Flint says - it's harder than he expects to stop himself being disappointed when Silver doesn't laugh. He hugs Silver closer, lets himself turn to breathe into Silver's hair. "You can ask me anything," he says, lower, more serious. He'd thought Silver would have known that by now.

"Do you feel - weird, when we're not together?"

Flint frowns. "Weird?"

"Sorry," Silver says, "I shouldn't have - "

"No, it's fine, I'm just - not sure what you mean," Flint says. Silver feels suddenly tense in his arms, uncomfortable in a way that's - more than unpleasant. Flint cups his hand tighter around the point of Silver's shoulder, hoping it might soothe him. "Weird how?"

"Like you don't - fit right in your body," Silver says, after a moment. "Like there's something wrong inside your bones."

Flint - thinks about it. "I'm not sure I would have put it like that," he says, slowly. "You've got quite a way with words. But - now that you mention it." It hasn't been anything he would have taken note of, found meaning in beyond the fact that he's getting fucking old, but if he thinks about it. He has felt - a bit more odd than usual, the few times he and Silver have been apart. "I suppose I thought perhaps - we didn't sleep very well last night, or. Something."

"Yeah, me too," Silver says. "At first." He breathes into Flint's neck, slow and deliberate; Flint feels the rise and fall of Silver's shoulders under his hand. "And then I went to find you."

"And you felt better." It's not a question. Flint had noticed it, too - the ache resting high in his stomach disappearing as he'd sat on the rail of the ship, watching Silver from across the crowd. He'd thought it was the sunshine, the fresh air. He remembers Silver's smile as he'd come up the ramp, and thinks - maybe it wasn't.

"James, I - I think we need to talk about what comes next for us," Silver says, soft. "I'm sorry. I know we said we were going to leave it, but I - I feel like I have to know."

Flint's chest clenches just at Silver's voice - his hesitation, the worry in it, but still with that desperate flare of hope. Perhaps it's mad, perhaps it's a mistake, but - how could Flint even think of sending him away? "I can't stand the thought of being without you," he lets himself say. It's the truth. There's no point in keeping it from Silver.

"Me neither," Silver says. "I don't want to - impose or anything, but - God, I don't want to leave you."

"I meant what I said this morning," Flint says. "If you want, I can take a sabbatical, we can go back to - "

Silver's shaking his head. "I don't have anything worth going back to," he says. "My landlord would probably like thirty days' notice, is the closest thing to a commitment I've got."

Flint nods. "Well," he says slowly. "It's - I know this is - maybe going to seem a bit rash, but - you were thinking about spending your summer here anyway. It won't be quite like working at the museum, but why don't you just - spend it with me?"

"I could get a room at the motel, so I'm not too much in your way," Silver says, quickly - apparently the offer doesn't come as quite as much of a surprise as Flint had expected. "If you're - I mean, if you're really sure you don't mind - "

"How many ways do I have to ask you to come and be with me before you believe I want you here?" Flint says. "I'll just try all of them at once."

Silver laughs quietly, tightening his grip on Flint's waist. "I'll have to - go back home, at least for a few days. Talk to my landlord, pick up some things."

"I'll pay your rent for a few months, if you'd like to keep it - "

"Nah, I'm month to month on purpose," Silver says. He twists to look at Flint, and grins. "God. I can't believe I'm moving in with a guy I met three days ago."

Flint grins back at him. "I can't believe I'm letting a guy I met three days ago move in with me," he says, tipping Silver's chin up to kiss him. Silver's hand slips from his hip, lands heavy and warm on his thigh, and Flint feels his breath catch.

"Think we should take this inside?" Silver murmurs, and Flint can hear the smile in his voice.

"Hmm. Perhaps." He kisses Silver again, slower, like he's got to think about it; kisses him until he's gasping into Flint's mouth, until his fingers are clenching, digging into the muscle of Flint's leg. "We don't have much time before the party. We'll both need to shower again. We shouldn't be late."

Silver laughs, pulling away - but pulling Flint along with him. "I've heard that's very fashionable," he says, and Flint laughs too, and lets Silver drag him into the house.

*

He stops Silver outside, a hand on his elbow just before they reach the gate in the hedge that circles Ethel Braddock's substantial property. Silver looks at him questioningly, and Flint can't help smiling at him; he just looks so damn good, his hair pulled back, Flint's jacket clinging perfectly to his shoulders. "What?" Silver says, soft.

There's a bit of lint on Silver's collar; turns out it's imaginary, and Flint sighs, makes himself pull his hand away, fingers trailing under Silver's lapel. "Are you sure you're ready for this?"

Silver grins. "Don't worry, I know how to handle myself at a fancy party."

"It's not that," Flint says. "It's just - however long you stay here, you and I will be - the first thing everyone knows about you. You'll be a very popular topic of conversation for a very long time."

"Well, I imagine there's not much else going on for these old bats to talk about, is there," Silver says, and leans up to kiss Flint, deep and solid and long. "I know what I'm getting myself into, love." His voice is low and firm and serious, but he's still smiling as he reaches to take Flint's hand, his fingers tucking snugly between Flint's own. "Come on. Let's go get this over with."

They are a bit late, but it appears they are also fashionably so; Mrs. Braddock's expansive entryway looks packed nearly full, but there's still a couple stragglers coming up the walk behind them. Flint spots Ethel herself first - she's not exactly easy to miss - parked near the base of the grand imperial staircase, a glass in her hand. Marjorie and her boyfriend Greg are on the very edge of the small crowd around her. Flint does make an attempt not to drag Silver to them, but Silver probably feels his desperation anyway; he's never been to one of these things without Marjorie by his side. He's not entirely sure he'll remember what to do.

"I'm a little surprised you guys showed up," she whispers into Flint's ear once he's close enough, passing him the glass of champagne she holds, swiping Greg's to hand to Silver. "Here, you need these more than us. Greg, this is John. And you already know my fantastic boss."

"Thank you," he says, as Silver reaches out to shake Greg's hand. "How's it going?"

"It's gonna be a night," Greg says. "I'll go find more champagne. Good to meet you, John."

"It's going fine," Marjorie says, when he's gone. "We just got here. Greg's already three drinks in. She left marks in his hand that stuck around like thirty seconds."

Silver nudges Flint's shoulder. "Does she bite?"

Flint shakes his head. "She's got a very firm handshake," he says, as Marjorie wiggles her brilliant red-painted nails at them.

"Well," Silver says, and grins. "Sounds like she certainly knows how to make an impression."

Flint snorts. "She certainly knows how to - "

"Heads up," Marjorie hisses, cutting him off - last year's signal that Ethel has noticed them, which Flint remembers just in time to shut himself up -

"Mr. Flint," Ethel Braddock says, the crowd parting around her, leaving her a clear path to where Flint and Silver and Marjorie stand. "I'm so glad to see you."

"And you as well," Flint says, taking her offered hand - she does seem to have a particularly strong grip tonight. "Thank you so much for inviting us to your always beautiful home." He pauses; he knows he shouldn't, but he adds, "And it's still Doctor, technically." It's not that he really cares - he barely even uses the title, almost never insists on it. But tonight, he can't help himself. She knows perfectly well. She just always has to make a fucking point of it.

"It is, isn't it," she says, smiling at him, entirely too sweet, before she turns to Silver. "And this must be your young man."

For a second, Flint just - gapes at her, speechless - his young man, like Silver isn't a person in his own right, like -

Silver's already handling it, though, leaning forward to take Mrs. Braddock's hand, a sparklingly perfect smile on his face. "Well, I'm not sure I've earned that title just yet, but I certainly am honored to be his date for the evening," he says, and kisses her knuckles - for a second, Flint thinks the old woman might actually blush. "John Silver. So pleased to meet you, ma'am."

"Charmed," she says, and shit, Flint can't tell if that's sarcasm in her voice, or - "Tell me, how on earth did our James manage to land someone like you?"

Or she just likes him.

Across their little circle, Marjorie's eyes go wide, but Silver is already laughing, squeezing Flint's arm pointedly. "I've always been fascinated by his work," he says, and shit, Flint thinks, shit, now he might be the one blushing - Silver sounds so damn sincere. "I came down here just praying he might give me a chance to work with him." He gives her a bashful little shrug, slips his hand down from Flint's elbow, tucks it into Flint's own. "And, well - I suppose one thing led to another."

Ethel barks out a laugh. "You are delightful," she says, reaching for Silver's free arm - he lets go of Flint to go with her, casting a pointed glance over his shoulder to mouth Trust me at Flint as she whisks him away. "Come with me, John Silver. I wanna show you around."

"Well," Marjorie says, once they're gone. "That went pretty good, huh?"

"Are you serious?" Flint says. "She - "

"Yeah," says Marjorie. "I know. Ethel Braddock stole your boyfriend. But she loved him, dude, did you see that? Give him an hour, he's gonna have her wrapped around his little finger."

"How do you know?"

"Because he did it to you," Marjorie says, and Flint's still blinking at her when Greg returns with their drinks. She grins at him, reaches up to kiss him on the cheek as she takes hers. "Thanks, babe. Welcome back."

"Hey," Greg says, frowning. "What, she eat the little one or something?"

God help me, Flint thinks, and drains his glass.

*

It's entirely too long before he even really sees Silver again for longer than a few seconds, or closer than across the room; Ethel spirits him around what seems like the entire party, group to group, introducing him personally to all her very dearest friends. It's not that Flint's jealous, it's just - well.

Silver is laughing when he finally finds his way back, cheeks flushed, an empty glass in hand. "Darling!" he says cheerfully, spotting Flint, who's trying - unsuccessfully - to disappear into a wall. He crashes into Flint's side, one arm wrapping around Flint's waist. "There you are. We were looking for you."

Flint curls his arm around Silver's shoulders, letting Silver tuck in close against him - he doesn't have much of a choice. "Who, you and your new best friend?"

Silver raps him gently in the chest with the empty glass. "Be nice. She's charming."

"Charming like a barracuda," Flint says.

"You know, you're being a bit rude for someone who's probably already drank hundreds of dollars' worth of her champagne tonight."

"I think that might be you," Flint says. "You don't know her. Be very careful what you say to that woman. She may like you. She may even consider you a friend. But should you ever find yourselves at odds, she would not hesitate to destroy you, and anyone and anything around you just for good measure."

"Jesus," Silver says. "You make it sound so - ruthless."

"It's what's required of her," says Flint. "She's a very important woman in this town. Don't ever make the mistake of thinking she got there by accident."

He looks down to find Silver grinning up at him. "My God," Silver says, soft.

"What?"

"You're jealous."

"I am not - "

"You are," Silver says, and he's still laughing as he leans in for a brief kiss. "Don't worry," he says, breath warm against Flint's neck. "I like you quite a bit more than Ethel Braddock."

Flint can't help smiling. "You know, I'm not sure I believe that," he says, and Silver laughs, kisses his collarbone through his shirt.

"No? Come on." He sets his empty glass down in a potted plant, and takes Flint's hand. "I'll prove it. Come and dance with me."

"Do I have to?" Flint says. He'd - honestly rather not; it would be an excuse to have Silver close, and though Flint has plenty of reasons for declining the odd ill-advised invitation to dance, not knowing how isn't one of them. He just - hates it, he fucking hates even the idea of it, every fucking person in the house watching him. If anyone besides Silver had asked him, he's entirely sure his answer would be a firm no. But Silver is smiling, his thumb rubbing slowly along the back of Flint's hand, and Flint just - isn't sure he has the heart to disappoint him.

"Well, no," Silver says. "You don't have to. But then, I suppose I don't have to tell you about how we're going to get you your journals, either."

"Wait," Flint says. "You got her to say yes?"

"No, you're going to get her to say yes," Silver says, edging away from him, toward the dance floor. "Don't you want to find out how?"

Flint does. Goddamn him, he thinks - though even in his head it's warmer than the words themselves would suggest - and lets Silver lead him out toward the center of the floor.

*

"That was brilliant," Silver says, later, as they make their way out of Mrs. Braddock's front gate and onto the sidewalk - honestly, it sounds almost more like a giggle, but he's drunk, Flint's - "God, did you see that? I think we could have talked her into giving us her house, if we wanted to. You were brilliant."

"You weren't so bad yourself," Flint says, hugging Silver a little closer. He still can't quite believe it - and perhaps it's only a handshake deal, but - still. That's for now. That's only until the lawyers awake to draw up the papers. She'd agreed - she'd said, You'll have them by the end of the month - and not even to him. To Silver. Somehow, that makes Flint believe it all the more. "Thank you. I couldn't have done it without you."

Silver spins away from him, laughing, tossing an imaginary basketball toward an imaginary net. "Neither could I! I set her up and you brought her home." He trips over his own feet, stumbles against Flint, sends them both crashing back against the hedge, but he barely seems to notice; just uses it as an opportunity to get closer, hands slipping around Flint's waist. "I think together, you and I could probably do just about anything."

Flint has what feels like a rather large and pointed stick digging between his shoulderblades, but he still can't seem to stop smiling. "Do you."

"I do," Silver mumbles. He settles tighter against Flint, nuzzling against Flint's chest as Flint wraps his arms around his shoulders. "You know what else I think?"

Flint closes his eyes, lets himself rest his cheek against Silver's hair. "What?"

"I think I'm falling in love with you," Silver says.

Flint's still trying to decide how to respond to that - still trying to decide if that's really what he's heard, or just what he wanted to hear - when he hears footsteps approaching them. "Hey," Silver says, his voice sharp and surprised, and Flint opens his eyes to look - too late. He feels a rush of cold air at his chest where Silver had been, the sense of being grabbed, pulled sharply off his heading - before he can think to fight it, his world goes dark.

*

Flint comes to on the ground.

He's - in the back of a vehicle, on the dirt in a forest - and both things can't be true at once, but he can feel motion, he smells heated metal and cool damp earth, he hears the whir of asphalt under tires and the soft rustling sounds of birds and animals in the trees. He can't make sense of it.

His head is fucking killing him.

His hands are bound, his eyes covered, a gag in his mouth, stale dry cloth against his tongue. There's a fresh wound on his forehead - or it's weeks old, and opened up again in the struggle - it's stinging and raw, just starting to dry, the blood tacky and pulling at his skin, and how the fuck - he remembers the party, and leaving with Silver, and Silver coming at him - no, Silver had been with him, they'd left together - and then nothing, and the thought of him sends a fresh wave of hot red terror over Flint, and he's not sure why and he can't remember, he can't -

"Coop's gonna be fuckin' thrilled to see you," someone says, and Flint's trying to figure out how to answer around the gag when Silver does it for him.

"Coop's out of his fucking mind," Silver says, and Flint would be relieved to hear his voice, know he was safe, if he wasn't speaking to a man Flint has to assume is their captor like he knows them - "I did my bit, the fuck you coming after me now for?"

"Bullshit you did," their companion says; "You shoulda skipped town days ago, my friend. I mean, you shouldn't have tried to fuck us in the first place, but clearly you ain't as smart as you look."

"Jesus Christ, Eddie, I didn't try to fuck you," Silver says. "Coop hired me to drop off the bugs, I dropped them off, I don't - "

"Save it, man," Eddie says, and Silver goes quiet - no sound of a scuffle, no sign that he needed to be convinced, but then, maybe there's no need for one - he certainly doesn't seem to be gagged, and Flint wonders if Silver's tied up as well, or if perhaps his friends here hadn't thought it necessary, if Flint himself had been the only one in need of subduing - the terror crawling in Flint's chest is taking on a new edge, sharp and cold and screaming, cutting off his already compromised ability to think, robbing him of his reason and any sense of balance, taking everything except the knowledge that Silver knows these men, that Silver had apparently been fucking helping them, that Silver had lied, that Flint had believed him -

What has he done? What the fuck has he done?

Eventually, the van comes to a stop, and they - him, and Silver, and Eddie, and Flint's stomach turns over again as he debates how to phrase that one, where to draw the lines of allegiance - emerge from it into what feels like a much larger space. There's an echo, a sense of boundaries, but distant ones; closer ones, too, in the form of firm hands on Flint's shoulders - one large, one small, so two different men, both of them silent. Neither of them Silver. Flint goes where they lead him, sits when they push him, lands hard on his hip on the cold concrete floor. He hears a rustle of fabric and a pained grunt - Silver - next to him, and considers leaning into him, but doesn't.

"John Silver." It's a new voice, coming from in front of them and above. "Fancy meetin' you again, you piece of shit."

"Coop," Silver says, steady and even and calm.

"You think you can just pull this kinda shit with me?" Coop says. "Shut my shit down and just walk off like it ain't your problem?"

"I dropped them off," Silver says. "They worked when I left them, didn't they? I never said - "

Flint hears the wet, sick sound of an impact, a fist to Silver's stomach, his sharp intake of breath. "You think I'm a fuckin' idiot?" Coop says. "They're working fine for a couple days, then suddenly everything goes dead at once, and I'm supposed to think - what, that's some kinda coincidence?"

"I don't know why you think I had something to - "

"The fuck you still hangin' around for, then? You're supposed to be gone. I don't recall you sticking around a few days being part of the goddamn deal. I mean, just outta curiosity, did you think we weren't gonna find out, or what?"

"I honestly didn't think about it, because I wasn't trying to fuck you," says Silver.

"What, you trip and fall on his dick? You don't have nothing to do with it, what are you still doing here? You start sleepin' with the fuckin' mark, and you want me to believe you're not trying to fuck me?"

"I suppose I didn't realize doing one job for you meant that now I needed your permission to get laid."

Coop laughs. "Okay," he says, and Flint hears movement, what he assumes is Silver being lifted off the ground next to him; an assumption confirmed as his blindfold and gag are removed, and he finds himself looking at Silver, stood between two men he doesn't recognize. He almost doesn't recognize Silver either - for a moment he's dirty and bearded and tired, his hair longer, wearing a heavy leather coat and the most horrible expression - but Flint blinks, and it's the Silver he knows again. "You're not trying to fuck us?" the shorter one says - that's Coop - and hands Silver something small and shiny and dark. A gun. "Prove it."

Silver looks - fucking awful - his eyes wide and dark and lost; he can't seem to break from Flint's gaze. Flint isn't sure whether or not he wants Silver to. "I'm not fucking shooting anyone," Silver says. "That wasn't part of the deal, either."

"New deal," Coop says. "Turns out we can just go after the old bitch ourselves, save a step. Don't need him any more. Not so sure we still need you, either."

"Right, okay," Silver says, "so therefore it makes absolute sense to fucking shoot him - "

"You're not really in a position to be arguin' with me, man," Coop says. "This is how you walk outta here. Keep in mind I don't really give a shit whether you do or not." He shrugs. "Your call."

Flint isn't sure what Silver will do. It's almost a relief when Silver levels the gun at him - slowly, but steadily, like it's not an unfamiliar motion. He holds himself still, holds Silver's gaze. He's never given thought to it before - not real thought, not like this - but he's not afraid of dying. Not if it means Silver might live. Whoever Silver might be - whatever they are to each other - in this moment, the thought of trading his life for Silver's seems almost acceptable. At least, better than the alternative. It should surprise Flint, but it doesn't. It just feels right.

"I don't want this," Silver says, but doesn't lower the gun. "I don't - "

"I know." He wishes he could hold Silver - touch him, just once, find some way to communicate that he understands. "It's alright. There's no other way."

Silver laughs. Looks away from Flint, then back - and when their eyes meet again Flint recognizes him - realizes he does know John Silver from somewhere. Just - perhaps not in the way that he'd thought.

"Take it from me," John says - in the warehouse, in the forest, in the cabin of a ship; along the barrel of a gun, across the sea and hundreds of years and the body of a dead friend. "There's always a way."

And Flint remembers.

He remembers everything.

Chapter Text

The gun is heavy in his hand, and it feels so wrong to point it at Flint - John has to fight, to will his body into believing that this is right, that this is what he intends, that he shouldn't just turn the damned thing on himself in response to this particular offense. "This is not what I wanted," he says, and feels each word tear itself free, leaving the scars of their birth on the inside of his throat. "But I will stand here with you, for an hour, a day, a year, while you find a way to accept this outcome, so that we might leave here together. For if not, then I must end this another way."

"Another way?" Flint says, and laughs - not his true laugh, but the one he uses to say: bullshit. John reckons he's earned that, by now. "There is no other way. Perhaps there once was. A way we might have moved forward together. Left here together," and he spits it back at John - it's to his own credit that John doesn't flinch away at the venom in his voice. John wonders if he knows. " - like you stand there saying you want."

"I do want that," John says, and Flint laughs again - he doesn't understand. John hadn't expected him to. He barely understands, himself, and he's been tangling with this particular problem for days, now. Longer.

What does one do, with all this love?

"You'll have to shoot me," Flint says, and John shakes his head.

"I don't believe I will," he says, and breathes - he has to breathe. The trap has been set, and must be sprung. "I told you once that nothing is inevitable. It still isn't. There may be only one outcome here, but you decide the path we take to it, and you'll decide what happens after."

"What are you talking about?"

"Thomas is alive," John says, and watches it break over Flint - watches his face twist as the knowledge sinks in. "You couldn't trust me before. Trust me now. It's the truth. I found him for you. I'm going to take you to him."

"Don't fucking lie to me."

"I'm not, and you know it," John says. "I wouldn't lie about this. To you. This is over. Whether you like it or not, I'm going to deliver you out of this. You don't have to believe me. You can fight me if you want. Force me to take you there in chains. Assist me, in this crime you accuse me of - in burying what's between us for good."

"Or?"

He reaches for Flint - the crutch braced beneath his arm, gun still steady in his other hand. "Or you can trust me now," he says. "Go with me willingly. And you and I - we try again next time."

"Try again?" Flint says, and what he thinks of that is clear, but it doesn't matter. John has grown - if not comfortable with, at least accustomed to - Flint thinking him mad. "There's no way to - "

John is laughing, now. "Take it from me," he says, though it aches, though it threatens to rip its way straight out of his chest. "There's always a way."

*

In the warehouse, things happen quickly.

John turns the gun on Coop first. The second shot for Eddie. He is, if nothing else, a very accurate marksman. With both of them down, he throws the gun blindly, hears it skittering across the floor as he falls to his knees in front of Flint.

*

Flint tenses at the bite of the blade against his palm; John barely notices when he drags it across his own. Flint's hand is warm and slick and John draws him closer, presses their foreheads together.

He speaks from memory, from instinct. He speaks from the faith that he's heard, that he's fed from, every time someone speaks his name and Flint's in the same breath. From the rock-solid assertion that when they align, any impossible thing might be accomplished. From the knowledge of the impossible things they already have.

Once more, John thinks, the warmth and weight and width of himself combined with Flint, for the first and last time. Please, just once more.

*

"I'm sorry," John whispers, reaching out - "oh, God, I'm so sorry - "

"Don't touch me," Flint barks, backing away from him, and John can't breathe, he can't fucking -

"Let me untie you," he says, and the second he says it he can't fucking stand it, Flint with his hands bound, Flint restrained, "Please, I won't - I'm sorry, please, just let me - "

"Fuck you," Flint says, "this is your fucking fault," and John can't, he can't -

"I'm sorry," he says, "I didn't - I was trying to help, I couldn't see another way, you wouldn't have - "

"So fucking what?"

"You would have died," he says. "You wouldn't have stopped until you and I and Madi and everyone else around us were dead and I couldn't - I had to stop you, I - "

"That wasn't your fucking choice to make," Flint says, and his eyes are fire, his gaze hot enough John can feel his anger, all three hundred years of it. "Who are you to decide. Who lives, and who dies, and when? For what? Who are you, to make that call?"

"I made it because I loved you," John says, and the truth of it hits him just as hard now as it had then. "I had to keep you safe, and I don't care if you hated me for it. At least you were alive to hate me."

"Untie me," Flint says, and John scrambles to obey. He falls back once Flint's free - and God, he wants to touch him, needs to feel Flint warm and alive under his hands like he needs to continue breathing, but for once, he knows better than to try. Flint sits, and looks at him, rubbing his wrists. Staying where he is - not flinching back under Flint's scrutiny - might be the most difficult thing John has ever done. "You lied to me," Flint says, and his voice is horribly, terrifyingly calm.

"I'm sorry," John says - and how can he argue with that? He did. Perhaps he hadn't meant to - but perhaps what he'd meant isn't what matters. "Please, can we - I swear I can explain, let's go home, we can talk about this, we - "

"You aren't coming with me," Flint says, and John does flinch at that - he says it so plainly.

"Where do you want me to go?"

"You think I give a shit?"

"I think you did," John says, and only just manages to stop himself from adding, you will. He knows without saying it that Flint won't appreciate the parallel. "You didn't want it all to have been for nothing, James, well, this is how we made sure it wasn't. You want to walk away? You want to hate me, still? Go ahead. But this is what it was for. You and I, here, now. This is our chance. It worked, and you know it. You want to throw that away, I'm not going to stop you." He takes a breath, and lets it come in rough and unsure and shaking. "But I waited for this. For you. Every day. The rest of that life, with her, and all of this one, before I even knew what I was waiting for. I'm not giving up on this unless you make me."

"You don't get to tell me how I feel about this." He staggers, just a bit, as he gets to his feet; catches himself with one hand flat on the floor, and John moves to help him on instinct, falls back as Flint snarls at him. "I don't want to see you. I don't want to hear from you. I'll throw away what I damn well please."

"You're making a mistake," John says, desperate, following him to the door; "Look, slow down, will you at least help me - "

"Help you?" Flint says, and laughs. "You tried to fucking rob me. You just shot two men. You're lucky I don't have you arrested."

"James, please - "

"Don't," he says, sharp and short and savage; he takes a step toward John, and John steps back, on instinct - for a second, he thinks Flint actually might hit him. "Don't you dare ask me for fucking anything." He looks John over, and for the first time, John wants to shrink from his gaze. "Keep the fucking clothes," he says. "Just leave me alone."

John doesn't answer. He lets Flint walk away. And when he's gone - when John hears the echoing bang of the metal door in its frame, startles like it had been somehow unexpected - he makes himself move.

His phone is in Eddie's pocket, but he just uses it to look up the number, dials on Eddie's instead; it'll cost him more than four times what he'd made on this fucking job, but paying for the cleanup seems a much better idea than trying to do it himself. He promises to wire the money as soon as he gets to an open Wifi network; it's not like anyone's going to miss either Eddie or Coop, not like anyone's going to care, but he'd still rather bounce the transfer a few times, if he can. The voice on the other end of the line promises it'll be taken care of by morning. He's not sure he believes that. He's not sure he cares.

John goes back to the motel. Rents a room for the night, has the girl behind the desk authorize his credit card for the week, just in case. He's not sure how long he's going to be here for; she doesn't seem to be sure what she's supposed to do with that, but just now, John doesn't care. He wants to be where Flint can find him, and he wants to be alone. Not much else seems to matter, at the moment. His whole body aches - and part of it is that fucking Eddie had wrenched his shoulder throwing him into the van, but most of it is something else. He can feel Flint's absence in his bones.

He drops his bag just inside the door, and lies down on the bed to wait.

*

What did you do to him???

John doesn't recognize the number, but there's only one person it could be. Marjorie. Jesus Christ, he thinks. He's still wondering how he should respond - perhaps with how did you get my fucking number - when she texts him, I went through his phone he's making everyone miserable you should have warned me if you were going to break up with him that fast.

"What are you, his fucking mother?" John mutters at his phone; he types and deletes I didn't break up with him he broke up with me, then, We weren't together, before settling on, It was his choice.

Bullshit, she texts him back immediately; John waits, watches the blinking dots at the end of their conversation that mean she's typing another message. He was so happy when you guys came in the other day the party went great what the duck happened? He's acting like someone ran over his puppy, she sends, then three seconds later, Fuck autocorrect sry.

John thinks for a moment, then sends her, We have some history; he honestly doesn't want to tell her more. The next message she sends him is ???, though, so. I made a really big mistake, he types carefully. I hurt him really bad and I don't know if he'll ever forgive me. He sends it, then stares at it; the entirety of his sins neatly summarized. It turns his stomach - the reality and the simplification both. Marjorie reads the message, but doesn't answer. After a moment, John adds: He'd be right not to.

Marjorie types for a solid three minutes before sending: let me talk to him. John can't help wondering what it is she's chosen not to say.

Tell him I'm sorry, he types. Marjorie doesn't respond. John forces himself to set his phone aside, and lies back on the bed again to wait.

The message sits unread for nearly two hours before his phone chimes again; he nearly knocks it off the bed fumbling to get hold of it.

Tell him yourself, he reads, in the same moment that he hears a knock at the door.

He knows before he opens it who he'll find on the other side; Flint.

*

They sit side by side on the bed. Flint doesn't move to touch him, and John doesn't force the issue, physically or otherwise. He intends to wait; to let Flint take the lead, choose the course of their conversation. But Flint stays quiet, and eventually John can't stand it any longer, and says: "Were you happy?"

It's another moment before Flint answers. "In many ways, yes." He takes a long, shaking breath. "Were you?"

"No."

Flint huffs out a short laugh. "Good."

"I'm sorry."

"Did she ever forgive you?"

"No," John says, and he's expecting the sharp bite of guilt that still comes with the admission - over the past few days, has come to know each of its teeth well - but he's not expecting the extra edge that voicing it aloud gives. He's not sure he wants to ask, but he can't stop himself. "Did you?"

"With time, I understood," Flint says. John finally dares to look at him, finds him looking at his own hands, worrying one with the other, fingers trying to spin rings that aren't there. "You have Thomas to thank for that."

"I have Thomas to thank for a lot of things," John says.

"He cleaned up your mess."

"He loved you when I couldn't."

For a second, Flint smiles. "He did," he says, soft. It doesn't - feel right - for John to speak, to try to answer or respond to that; like any attempt would be an intrusion, might defile whatever new-found memories Flint is passing through. He wishes he'd had the foresight to do this for Flint and Thomas, instead of for himself. He wonders if they ever talked about it. If Flint ever came to believe it. If Thomas even knew.

A lifetime of questions, and he can't bring himself to ask a single one.

"I needed you to be safe," he says, instead; it isn't the whole of what he means, but it's close.

"Thomas said as much," Flint says. He looks at John - and oh, oh - the second he does it hits John all over again just how long it's been. Just how much he's ached from the loss of it. Christ, he thinks if he could, he might crawl out of his own skin, stand flesh and bone before Flint, let himself be seen in all his weakness and inadequacy. Every cell in his body trembling with the need to be laid bare. "Answer me honestly," Flint says, and John nods. "Did you think you were doing the right thing? Leaving us there?"

"I - " John says, and stops. He can't tell Flint yes. But he can't genuinely tell him no, either. "Believe me when I say Madi did not hesitate to tell me what a completely ridiculous thought this was. But I truly didn't think you'd be there long." He takes a breath and says, "Please tell me you weren't."

"Longer than either of us wanted," Flint says, after a moment. "We - Thomas thought he could reason with Mr. Oglethorpe. He nearly lost his life for it." He looks away; another moment before he adds, softer, "Many of us did."

"I'm truly sorry," John says. "I - know how this sounds. But I was promised you'd be treated well."

Flint snorts. "And what did Madi have to say about that?"

"She didn't speak to me for three weeks."

"That's all?" Flint says, and it's - not funny, not at all, but something in his voice makes John smile.

"To be honest, I'm surprised she ever spoke to me again." He takes a breath and says, before he can stop himself, "Do you - think they're out there? Somewhere? Madi, and Thomas, and - everyone else?"

It feels like it's a long time before Flint answers. "If they are, they're living under very different names."

It hurts more than John's expecting, and he isn't sure which part is worst. The dashed hope. The confirmation that Flint had looked. The possibility that he wouldn't be here if the answers he'd found had been different. He closes his eyes, and makes himself say, "If you want to keep looking - "

"I don't," Flint says, and John feels all the air go out of him in a rush. "I - " He's quiet for a moment, but John doesn't prompt him. "I told you my story, but you were the one who refused to let that be the end of it," he says, eventually. "Thomas and I - our story didn't end in loss. It was long, and beautiful, and full of love, and it - the opportunity to rewrite it was a gift you gave us." His hand rests on John's knee, and John fumbles to take hold of it. "You didn't know him. But he would have leapt at the chance to give you the same one."

"Does that mean I can stay?" John says, without thinking, and as soon as he hears himself say it he wishes he hadn't; Flint laughs, though, turns toward him, and then he's in Flint's arms, his face pressed into Flint's chest, and he knows without hearing Flint say it that no force on earth could separate them again.

"It took us three hundred years to get this far," Flint says, and the words are warm in John's hair, in his mind, in his heart. "I think it's well past time for you to come home."

Chapter Text

"I still can't believe you named your boat the fucking Walrus," John calls, from the dock.

"I didn't name her, that's just her name," Flint says, as John comes aboard. "If you've come to mock her, you can turn around and go back."

"What if I came to mock you?" John says, dropping his bag on the deck, and they're both laughing as Flint reaches for him, and pulls him in.

Two weeks; it's been two unbearable weeks since John had set off to clean out his apartment, get his affairs in order. They'd spoken every day, usually more than once, but Flint's still felt every second of it like it was years; he's barely slept and his whole body's been killing him and it all melts away the moment John's in his arms again. "Hi," he whispers, "welcome home," and it's ridiculous, he feels ridiculous, but he also sort of feels like he might cry.

"Hi," John says back. His hands are fisted in Flint's shirt at his waist and his voice is thick and choked and Flint kisses his hair, his cheek, the soft patch of skin just in front of his ear. "Oh, God, I missed you."

"I know, love, I missed you too." He curls a hand around the back of John's neck, like it'll help him get John closer. "How was the drive?"

"Fine," John says. "Long." He'd texted Flint this morning, said he was a few hours out, he'd see him soon; Flint had been expecting his arrival even before the text, though John wasn't strictly due until the next day, must have driven through the night to make up time. He'd just - woken up, and known John was near.

Might be at work, might be at the boat, he'd texted back; when do you get in? It had been an hour before John replied, presumably the next time he'd stopped - Don't worry I'll find you :)

And he had. Just as always. He had.

"You tired?" Flint says - he still can't let go of John, but it's okay, he thinks it's okay - John doesn't seem all that eager to let go of him, either. "We can go to the house, if you want, or - "

"Could we stay here?" John says, into his neck. "Just for a while." He pauses for a second, then adds, softer, "You smell like the sea again."

Flint smiles, and holds him tighter, and says, "You will, soon, too."