Silver says his name and Flint's entire world shifts.
He pretends like it doesn't, of course. Pretends like the idea of Thomas Hamilton still being alive is something he can just reject outright without a second thought. He bristles to hide it, the way everything he knows has gone askew, seems to grow more hateful than he was before when he snarls;
"Don't fucking lie to me."
"I'm not lying," Silver says.
Flint hesitates, only for a breath, and then takes a step forward. Silver drops the gun. Flint stops in his tracks.
"Thomas is alive," Silver says, and watches with a dim kind of ache as it hits Flint all over again.
Now that Silver has said the words he finds it easier to move. He adjusts the crutch under his arm and reaches into his jacket to pull out what he's looking for; Flint stares at the piece of paper as if it might explode before snatching it out of his hand.
His eyes flit up and down erratically as he reads to keep Silver in sight, and Silver repeats, though it's all but redundant now, "I'm not lying. Let me take you to him."
The world has shifted, and the proof of it is in Flint's face when he looks up. The proof is in the visible cracks; hope long dead threatening to spill out, anew, alive.
But a hopeful Flint is still Flint, and so he grits his teeth, instead, and says, "I don't believe you."
This is going to take some time, then, Silver thinks. Very well. He'd promised a year, anyway.
He'd promised forever, really.
"You think this proves anything?"
Flint brandishes the piece of paper at him before tossing it onto the forest floor. Silver watches as it is eaten up by a puddle, ink swirling over the page untethered until it disappears entirely.
It’s been two days. It has been two days since the world ended and somehow everything is still the same. They are in the same fucking clearing, in the same fucking positions, only Silver has a rock of his own to sit on now.
"It was in Thomas' hand, wasn’t it?" Silver asks, jerking his head at the remnants on the ground. "You recognized it. I know you did."
"I can think of ten different ways you could've—"
"I didn't forge it, Flint."
"Is that right?" Flint bares his teeth in a terrible smile. "The trouble is that I don't believe you."
"Yes, I know. I also know that you want to."
Flint makes an ugly sound in the back of his throat. "You don't know the first thing about what I want."
Silver looks at Flint's clenched fists and sighs. He drags a hand over his face to banish the exhaustion that has been threatening to claim him for the last month and prepares to repeat the same words he's been saying over and over for the last forty eight hours. They have branded themselves onto his tongue, he can feel them sitting in his mouth like stones; he'll say them as many times as it fucking takes.
"I sent a man. I asked for proof of life. This is it. This is all we have. The decision is yours."
Flint is quiet for a long time. Long enough that the sun dips below the horizon, dusk turning to night; long enough that Silver stops being able to see the hate etched into every line of his face. It is dark when Flint speaks again.
"What sort of fucking decision do you think this is?"
The forest around them hums lifelessly in reply when Silver can't find the words to answer.
It takes them another week to leave the island.
"You still don't believe me do you?"
They are two days into the voyage to Savannah. There's two more to go, provided the weather holds. In some ways it's the quickest death Silver has ever seen.
In some ways it feels like fucking purgatory.
The question hangs in the air as Flint turns to look at him. There's a stubborn set to his jaw, a hardness in his eyes. And maybe it's a trick of the light, maybe its wishful thinking on Silver's part, but both seem to soften the longer he holds Silver's gaze.
Eventually Flint extends a hand in a wordless request for the bottle wedged between Silver's palm and thigh; the rum Silver had lifted from the Captain's cabin earlier that evening. Flint had thus far refused to drink any, which had not been surprising. In fact, Flint had only spoken two words in the last hour.
The first being: "Get."
And the second: "Out."
In lieu of complying Silver had pulled up a chair, and here they were.
"It's not that I don't believe—" Flint starts and then catches himself. "No, it is that, actually. The fact is I don't believe you. But the bigger issue seems to be that I cannot imagine how—after all that I've done I cannot imagine why—"
Flint falls silent and his face twists. He seems to regret that he spoke at all.
"You do not believe you deserve it."
It isn't a question; it escapes Silver without having to think twice and as soon as he says it he knows it to be true. Flint pauses with the bottle by his mouth and his expression falters as if he's going to elaborate. Turns out that the statement is only half true; near it, but not all of it.
"Something like that," Flint says. He doesn't say what they are both thinking, which is that Silver is no longer entitled to the rest.
The lone candle between them flutters as Flint tips the bottle to his mouth. The rum had been in an effort to ease some of the tension and protect the fragile impasse they had reached following the events on the island. It seemed a good idea at the time. Now Silver fears it may have been a mistake. He watches the lump in Flint's throat bob up and down and finds himself thinking of how warm Flint's skin would be if he were to press his palm there. If he were to reach across, wrap himself around Flint and refuse to let go.
It's the fucking drink, Silver thinks, and the heat of the candle licks his chin as he leans forward over the table to speak.
"Want to know what I think?"
"If I say no will you stop talking?”
Flint's head is bowed and he's picking at the excess wax gathered around the edges of the candle. He idles, rolling it in between his fingers, and Silver plucks the bottle of rum out of Flint’s other hand in one fell swoop while he's distracted. Flint looks up, at that, which was the point, really.
"The world doesn't work the way you think it does," Silver tells him.
Flint raises a cruel eyebrow. "Is that so?"
"It is. You being deserving has nothing to do with the present situation. In my experience people do not get the things they deserve. It happens, of course, but that isn't so much a rule as it is sheer dumb luck."
"I'm presuming this is where you tell me what the rule is," Flint says, unimpressed.
"This is where I tell you that there is no rule at all."
The guarded expression on Flint’s face shutters open, betraying interest. It's a very familiar look; they could be sitting in the Captain's cabin of the Walrus discussing strategy rather than cramped inside the shitty cargo hold of an unfamiliar ship on the way to an uncertain future.
“So there's no rhyme or reason to the world, is that it?”
"More or less, yes."
The corner of Flint's mouth looks like it wants to twitch up at that and something in Silver's stomach rolls out at the sight. With a shake of his head, Flint goes for the bottle again. Silver edges it out of his reach in the nick of time.
"Case in point," he says and takes a long swig of rum, aware of Flint's eyes on him the entire time. He wipes his mouth on the back of his hand once he's had his fill. "One could argue that you deserved the rum right then and yet you didn't get it. One could also argue that I didn't deserve to drink it, and got to do so anyway. Perhaps neither of us deserved it. In the end, it matters not. The universe is a senseless and chaotic place, as I said."
"If you mean to comfort me," Flint says, his words stern but his voice pinched with reluctant amusement, "You're doing it wrong."
Flint snorts. It is not an unkind sound. "Of course you do."
"Isn't it comforting on some level to know that the things you have done will have no bearing on what it is you will or will not get?"
"It's a comforting lie, I suppose."
He reaches across again to lift the bottle out of Silver’s lax grip. He turns away after retrieving it, as if the conversation is over. Something in Silver agrees, insists urgently for him to let it end, to let them to sink back into a more bearable sort of silence. But the rum churns low in his belly and it's difficult to keep his mouth shut.
"You want to talk about lies?"
Silver shifts further in his seat until his knee bumps against Flint's. The candle on the table jostles, too, spilling wax all over the wood and shifting the shadows around the room permanently.
"That divine balance you seem to think exists despite everything you've been through is the greatest lie anyone has ever been told,” Silver says, addressing the side of Flint's face that he can see. “You could have been a saint and still lost Thomas. You could have been the reverse and kept him. Some arbitrary notion of good or evil does not govern the things that happen to us."
It seems vital, for some urgent reason, for Flint to understand this. For Flint to agree to this. Only Flint doesn't turn away from the wall, so Silver cannot tell if he has made his point well enough.
"And those things are governed by what, instead?" Flint asks, after a heavy pause. "God? Chance?"
Silver shrugs. "Does it matter? This is the hand you’ve been dealt. The world is as it is."
"And do you consider this to be a revelation of some kind?"
"Maybe not." Silver reaches for the rum again; Flint opens his hand and lets him take it without a fight. "But I have found it to be a freeing thought all the same. It seems like it might be of some use to you at the moment."
There's a beat of silence and then Flint says, "It's certainly a way out." At that concession Silver relaxes somewhat and begins to drink, until he feels Flint turn to look at him. Flint's gaze is a fucking weight, as he continues, "Though it sounds more like a way to shirk responsibility, if you ask me."
"That's not the point," Silver says, rushing to swallow the rum in his mouth. "It's only meant to free you from regret and remorse. You know better than most how poisonous those sentiments can be."
"Sometimes," Flint says, "The poison is deserved." It is clear from the edge to his voice that they have stopped talking about Thomas Hamilton. "At any rate, you be sure to let me know how that philosophy works out."
Silence descends. Grows thick, unbearable, in an instant. There’s no fucking time for it. Silver sets the bottle on the table and braces an elbow against his knee.
"Just fucking say it. Say whatever it is you are itching to say."
Engulfed in darkness, Flint sits perfectly still for a long moment before leaning slowly forward. Candlelight drifts honey gold along his throat and every new inch of him that’s revealed makes the sight worse; the scrapes at his temples, the smears of blood on his neck, the vicious red of his split lip, the bite of his teeth over it. Light catches on everything, throws every fucking wound and bruise he's suffered into sharp relief. All shadows are expelled except the ones under his eyes; the dark there is stubborn, exhaustion stains the thin skin. Silver imagines it to be mirrored on his own face; he certainly feels it in his bones.
"All right," Flint murmurs, and his breath is warm with rum as it drifts across the table. "It is clear to me that you think you will be able to shed what you've done here as if it's nothing. It's not nothing. It is—was—everything. We had it; the end that so many fought and killed and died for was in sight and you—" Flint takes a shaky pull of air and the flame beneath him flutters as he tips closer still; there's a terrible twist to his mouth now, a worse glint in his eye as he gives Silver a slow once over. "Somehow you can still sit there lying to yourself about it. Somehow you can sit there thinking that you can just—what? Fade into obscurity? Forget it ever happened? Forget that you were the cause of it? The world is as it is?"
He spits the last like a curse and his fury resurfaces at the same time; dragged out of him still breathing into the light. It is as unsettling as it has ever been, seeing Flint like this, and a part of Silver wants to cower at the sight.
A louder part still, wants to fight. Silver hears himself snarl, "I'm not going to forget."
He'd known it, too. He'd known since the island that he would be able to forget everything but this, forget everything but Flint and the weight of his hatred; the magnitude of his disappointment. But the awareness the admission brings is a shower of bullets against Silver's skin; they hit indiscriminately, lodging into everything. Every drop of blood drawn threatens to spill; related and unrelated, present and ancient, all that was supposed to be successfully fucking forgotten wraps around his throat and threatens to choke him out.
"You still have no idea," Flint is saying, and his voice flutters with the same rage that's making his hands shake, making his cheeks twitch, "You have no idea what you've done, what you've cost us all, you don't have the slightest—"
"I know what I did," Silver says and he leans so far into Flint's space then that Flint has to back away into the dark, "I know what I did and I will accept its consequences. I was forced to choose and I chose and I’m not sorry for it—I refuse to be, and—Christ, don't look at me like that, don't pretend you don't fucking understand—you may not agree with the choices I’ve made, you may hate me for making them, but do not pretend you don't—"
"Understand?" Flint says, voice hitching in disbelief, “You expect me to—”
“You started a war for him,” Silver says, edging into an agitated shout, “Do you honestly expect me to believe you wouldn’t end one just the same?”
Flint’s face falls. Anger drains out of him in an instant and is replaced with something far more dangerous; the sheer drop of it makes the hairs on the back of Silver's neck stand up, though it no longer feels like fear. It hasn't felt like fear in months.
“Tread very carefully,” Flint murmurs. “This has nothing to do with him.”
“Oh," Silver says and that's the most ridiculous thing he's ever heard so he laughs, once, though it's more of a choked-off sound. "This has everything to do with him—you claim you still don’t believe me and yet you’re on this ship, are you not? And the only thing that’s got you this far is the desire to see him again; you don't even truly believe that he's alive and yet you're willing to put everything aside for the mere possibility, so how the fuck can you tell me you don’t understand?”
“What has got me this far is you,” Flint says, his lip curling over his teeth into a snarl, “You holding a gun to my head and the bolt on that door over there. I am not here by choice—”
“I’m sure that’s what you’d like to tell yourself but we both know that it isn’t true,” Silver says, and he feels himself smile; the sentiment behind it is ugly, tastes sharp and bitter on his tongue. “If you were so sure I was lying, if you were so sure that we’d get to Savannah and you’d see nothing but an empty fucking plantation you would have ripped this ship apart with your bare fucking hands. I’ve seen you do it. I watched you do it. You forget that I know you. And I know damned fucking well that no gun, no bolt, no goddamned army would stand a chance in hell against you if you wished to leave this instant.”
The air between them shivers, or perhaps Flint shivers, Silver can’t tell.
“Pick one,” Silver says into the silence. “This war or Thomas.”
Flint breathes out, once, like he’s been struck.
“Pick one,” Silver repeats. “This war, or Thomas.”
“You’ve put me to this choice before,” Flint says, voice tight, “You already know my answer.”
“True, but the last time we had this conversation Thomas was dead. It is much easier to be noble at the altar of a memory. Now Thomas is alive. Would you care to re-think your answer? I’ll ask again. This war, or—”
“Stop saying his fucking name—!" Flint roars and he is finally, finally there; he slams his hand onto the table between them and the bottle of rum goes flying, skidding off the surface and rolling away into the dark.
To his credit, Silver doesn’t even flinch. Every part of him feels deadened. Across the table Flint is shuddering, chest heaving with the effort it takes to breathe. When he finally looks up his eyes are unguarded in their hate, bare in their conflict; there's a faint tremble to his bottom lip, half leftover rage and half a blistering kind of hurt that twists into Silver's stomach like a fucking knife.
Still he holds Flint's burning gaze unafraid of the outcome. What a difference a handful of months have made.
“That’s what I thought," Silver says, and he'd sound smug if his voice weren't lightly shaking. "You can’t even say it out loud. You can’t even admit it to yourself and yet you’re sitting there judging me as if—as if I’ve made a choice that was easy to make, as if it hasn’t torn everything from me to make it, as if it is some weakness to admit that I would rather live the rest of my life wracked with whatever guilt you're certain I'll feel over being the end of all this fucking horror—"
"Don't fool yourself," Flint cuts in, and he seems to grow in size as he speaks, imposing into the space around him with a power only righteousness can endow. "You didn't end this war, you have only delayed it. Rest assured that there will come a time when those treaties you brokered will no longer be honored, there will come a time when England decides to re-take what she considers to be hers and war will return; it will return to the place you and I and everyone we once knew called home and it will leave Nassau in fucking ashes—"
"No peace is ever eternal!" Silver shouts and feels himself unraveling at last, uncontrolled and unthinking and desperate to be understood, "And even if war should return at least we won't be the ones fighting it, at least we won't be the ones dying in it! And I will live the rest of my life content to have both you and Madi hate me for making this choice rather than stand by and lose the people that I—the only two people I've ever—”
Horrified, Silver chokes to a stop and Flint blinks in surprise in the sudden ringing silence. A moment later his eyes go wide, and the rage broiling beneath his skin flushes out of him like the receding tide. What replaces it is not dangerous - Silver has heard people say it's not dangerous - but it is more terrifying than any other look Flint has ever given him.
Flint starts, awed, "You—"
Before he knows it Silver is standing. The room is too hot and dark that's the thing; he needs air, he needs to get above deck, he needs to leave. He casts about for his crutch but the infernal thing is nowhere to be found and he can feel his bones begin to strain under his skin, his muscles feel afire, every part of his body protests this conversation; this would be over, it would be over, if the fucking ship would just move faster. He stands there, dawdling, and his leg aches, his throat burns, but the worst part of it is that he can still feel Flint looking at him.
Fuck the crutch. Bracing against the chair, a crate, and then nothing, Silver hobbles towards the porthole and pushes it open. The air that floods in is only ever so slightly cooler, but he still presses his forehead against the sticky glass and breathes it in like a man starved, staring at the sliver of dark water he can see below.
It seems like a long time before Flint speaks again.
"All this," he says quietly. His voice reaches across the room like vines, slowly closing the distance in between them. "You did all of this to hold onto what you had and you're still going to lose everything. How can you be so blind as to not see that?"
Silver keeps his eyes on the water. "You don't know. You don't know what I'll lose. She'll be alive, which means we’ll have a chance. The dead are much harder to reconcile with, don't you think?"
“That’s true,” Flint says. "Regardless of my predictions on the matter, Madi will make her own choices."
The dizzying tightness in Silver's chest wants to unwind over that meaningless surrender alone. He wants to fall to his knee, crawl over to Flint and thank him for it; for granting it, for gifting it.
And then Flint says, "The fact remains, however, that no matter what Madi says you're still going to lose me."
Silver's forehead slips off the glass. When he turns back, the candle has burned low; the room is close to being pitch black but he knows Flint is staring at him, he can feel it like a rush of water. It fills Silver with a desperate urgency as if he’s drowning and he says in a rush;
“I was always going to fucking lose you.”
“You—” Flint balks, “What?”
“You've been wanting out for as long as I've known you, I was always going to—"
Flint makes a sound like he's about to object so Silver bashes a fist against the side of the hull. It rings dull, and hollow through the room, and he barely feels the ache of it in his hand.
"Don't. Don't do that, don't pretend—do not for a second think it escaped my notice that when we spoke of the future together you only ever entertained one where Madi and I existed. You wanted to be gone. You hoped to be, planned to be, maybe, made it inescapably fucking clear either way that you never intended to stay, so I made the choice instead. I made it for you. I made it for her, I made it for you both. I did it and I’ll live with it and you—you'll live, too, right? You’ll live where I cannot see you or talk to you or touch you but you will live and that is enough.”
It feels like bile, rising up his throat; like fire, falling out of his mouth, and Silver can't breathe; his chest expands on command as it is supposed to only there isn't enough air to fill his lungs, there isn't enough air in the room for more lies and he says, suddenly dizzy, "It's enough—it has to be enough—tell me that it's fucking—”
Flint stands. It seems unintentional after he does it; he's on his feet the moment Silver's hand grasps uselessly at the curved wall for purchase.
“Sit down,” Flint says.
“Don’t tell me what to—"
Silver sits, collapsing into the crate behind him. It's a combination of a lot of things, that surrender; how unsteady his leg is beneath him, how fucking exhausted he feels, suddenly, days of next to no sleep catching up between one breath and the next. Though it's also Flint's tone, the way he gives the order and the strangeness of his voice; like he wants it to cut but doesn't know where to aim the blade.
When Silver looks up next the candle has gone out and Flint is barely visible, a dark phantom standing in the middle of the room. The things Silver has said drift like smoke in the air; there's an urge to catch and deny them, to return them to his chest where they belong, but Silver is too tired to follow through. They settle instead like the ashes of a dead thing, over the both of them.
"I didn't—want to be gone," Flint says, after a strangled stretch of silence. "I only assumed I would be. I excluded myself from your future because that's the nature of war as I've known it. But I didn't want to—I haven't wanted to since—"
Flint's voice goes soft towards the end, fades into the air like a wisp; whatever truth he's inching towards revealing itself to him and giving him pause.
Silver is no longer entitled to the information. He still asks.
"I don't know," Flint says, and hesitates. "It's been a while, I think."
Silver doesn't know why the question is important, doesn't know why he's pressing, until Flint says, still quiet but now also sure;
"Since the cage. Since—you."
The world, in some respects, shifts again. Only this time instead of things being knocked askew, everything falls into place.
Silver says, "Oh."
There's another breath of silence, before Flint begins to move. Edges his way around the table, if his footsteps are any indication, and his boots step into the light streaming from the porthole a moment later. Silver keeps his head bowed and stares at Flint’s feet – the leather stained by the mud of the island, splattered with the blood of their crew – to avoid looking anywhere else.
The man standing above him is a dead man. The man standing above him is a dying man about to be dead, one that Silver has been trying desperately to put in the ground to avoid facing in the light. It turns out that Silver can't bring himself to look at him any more than he can bring himself to bury him before the time comes.
"Silver," Flint prompts. He steps closer and his legs come into view, the rest of him looming like a rain cloud about to split open. He stops an arm's length away and says, "John."
The desperate little sound that leaves Silver's mouth, then, is entirely fucking unintentional. He'd swear he didn't make it if he couldn't feel the birth of it in his throat, if he couldn't see Flint's reaction to it; Flint drops into a crouch before him, and Silver has no time to process how close Flint is - though he sees a flash of green and there is so much tenderness there he can't bear to look for long - before there's a palm on the side of his neck, warm and wide and grounding.
The second sound that comes out of him is worse than the first. As soon as he makes it Flint moves his hand and Silver leans, bows forward, goes where Flint leads him without a fight. Along the way Silver closes his eyes, and doesn't open them even when his forehead comes to rest against Flint's.
"I'm sorry," Silver sighs.
It's so quiet that it would go unheard if he weren't sharing the breath it left him on with the man that it was meant for.
Flint's thumb runs up and down the side of his neck, just once. "I don't want an apology," he says.
Silver doesn't want to ask, doesn't know if he wants to hear the answer, but; "Is that because you understand or because it's not enough?"
Flint is quiet for a long time. Eventually, his thumb grazes Silver's neck again. It feels like a benediction.
"Both," Flint says.