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a few good words and the tide

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Don't ask for the true story;

why do you need it?

It's not what I set out with,

or what I carry.

What I'm sailing with,

a knife, blue fire,

luck, a few good words that still work

and the tide.

 

Lately, there are memories threaded through the press of Flint’s lips to Silver’s shoulder. Confessions upon his fevered skin, each word requiring a careful touch before it’s voiced.

Fingertips brushed along his jawline, the shell of his ear between finger and thumb, curls pulled back, held to the side in a loose fist, and blunt teeth set into the upper ridges of his spine.

Tonight Flint’s memory goes something like this, “—startled awake one night by the beat of his heart against my cheek. Steady. Strong. For a moment, I couldn’t remember where I was, how I’d gotten there. A moment longer to remember I’d fallen asleep that way—”

Not yet bold enough to release those same words into the light. These shadows still hold some measure of comfort for Flint. They’re perforated too deeply for that to matter now, but Silver will hold his tongue tonight because he needs this too. No sense in upsetting the balance when they both receive reward from the status quo. An impossible lesson for the idealisms of James Flint, but one that can still be taught without words, maybe without notice.

“—exhausted from the return journey to London, the fucking storms delaying me by a day, maybe two, clothes still on because neither of us bothered removing them before falling into bed. Intentions for pleasure thrown aside in favor of curling together into a dreamless sleep. Just this once, I’d said with my eyes nearly closed. We’ll make up for it by morning—

Silver brings Flint’s palm to rest against his own heart, lets him press in until he’s short of breath and standing still long enough for both of them to settle, iron will shackled between them. The tremble of Silver’s own heart will have to do as a substitute, a background syncopation to Flint’s reverie.

“—and I cannot remember what he said to me in return.”

Silver arches back, stretching the length of his neck so Flint is whispering into his pulse, just below his ear. Takes his other hand, fingers wrapped around Flint’s thumb and the webbing connecting to his other fingers, feels the blood beneath his skin there and holds on.

“I know he spoke. Five words, maybe six. His face is so clear in my mind, his expression— tired and soft, so soft. He was gentle toward the end, like he knew somehow. And my head was too full of affection to see it then. I would give anything, everything, to remember the words—”

“Everything,” Silver repeats, careful not to raise the word at the end to form a question— because it isn’t a question. Not when Silver already knows the answer.

Silver doesn’t speak again, just listens, or he tries, because he’s learned that’s what Flint needs from him, but he can’t help drifting, his own heart already alight with the cadence of Flint’s voice, sonorous and exclusive while they’re alone here, the slogging hull beneath their bare feet, loyal men behind the walls of their shared captain’s quarters, following them, following him. Occupied Nassau to the west, just beyond the horizon now but closer with each word spilling from Flint’s throat. Borrowed time while the ghosts inhabit the hollow spaces between, and John Silver— he allows himself to remember too.

A wisp of black curls, rice powder and rouge, warm ale gone stale.


 

“500 pieces for Long John Silver.”

Silver wakes to the grit of Nassau sand in his mouth and eyes. There’s a keen stabbing at his temple just behind the frown scored into his brows. He forces the nausea down. A blow to the the head coupled with too much sun and exertion. Not enough water or food. He’s tired and aching and unprepared for this, chained to a wooden post by someone unfamiliar.

So he breathes to remind himself he’s alive, listens and remembers.

At night when Flint speaks, Silver listens. When the sky is dark and shadows settle into the covered places, Flint speaks of his lost love, details his affair with Thomas Hamilton using delicate language that leave the regret and longing stripped of all formality, each word precious and valuable. Sometimes he speaks of Miranda, and his tone shifts, fondness pushes forward blanketing the regret in soft fibers weaved through each syllable, but once in awhile— Flint will speak of Nassau’s infancy when Teach humiliated the last governor upon its bloodied shores. These stories are always tinged with ash and gun smoke. A time when bright possibilities— if Thomas had been made governor, what a different world we might live in now— were burnt to cinders, snuffed out by the cursed men they now count themselves among.

And now as he listens to this stranger, Silver begins to understand.  He was mistaken. He knows this man. A puckered scar set deep along his right eye, weathered and rusted hair, unkempt beard, voice like smashed shells underfoot.

“I’m no one, from nowhere, belonging to nothing.” Silver hears himself confessing half-truths to the beach, to the dead red coat slumped before him, blood still dribbling into the sand. “I’m a wretch like you. And yet—”

They’re just words. Silver barely thinks about what he says to Israel Hands. But the man, he knows this man, this kind of man. He knows Hands’ story, and with that he also knows the words that will appeal to him. A promise of gold or revenge or some combination of both. Those things call to this kind of man.

Silver remembers how easy it was before.

He knew a man like Israel Hands once.  

Captain Josiah Radley was his name, but Silver only ever called him Captain Fucker or sir. The latter being what he called him to his face.  Black hair and beard, blacker heart. Had a proclivity for cutting off hands at the wrist for the slightest infractions and a passive desire for crimes of opportunity, easily persuaded to take on any endeavor that fulfilled his love for rare possessions. A need to feel important and at the center of things, a doer— not a thinker or planner.

Such men are easy to win over, just as long as you make them a good enough offer.

When John Silver was nineteen, and destined for the Americas for transportation, a sentence of indentured servitude for pick-pocketing and swindling in London town, Silver made Captain Fucker an offer not easily refused by such a man. A pretty canvas upon which the man could make up for his endless inadequacies and role play his darkest desires. Silver became something beautiful to ruin with his unforgiving hands. It was easy to give when the cost was so slight.

He left London in chains and returned a cabin boy aboard the merchant ship Fortune, chartered with shuttling sugar from the West Indies. And he assumed the fabricated name of John Silver and let the last bits of himself remain there, dashed upon the stones in the harbor. Nothing to lose, everything to gain. It was an easy choice.

But disappearing had its cost, and three years is a long time when you’re young and naive and impatient while crafting a new identity for yourself. Silver only regrets how it ended. Could have taken much more from Captain Fucker if he’d had more patience and remembered how to listen.

Under cover of darkness, while he waits with Israel Hands for Max’s approach by horse-drawn wagon, Silver traces a scar across the swell of his left palm and its twin mirrored across the inside of his fingers on the same hand, raised and straight, a blade’s cut. Silver remembers how it bled, rivets of red spilled across a different captain’s quarters while he sat on his knees and let it happen, staring down at Captain Fucker, a greater pool of blood surrounding him, coming from the man’s gaping neck.

Silver remembers the sound the blade made when it clattered to the floor, and how he left Captain Fucker to bleed out with his trousers still around his knees. Head swimming, Silver remembers vomiting come and bile at the door, slipping in the blood soaking his feet while squeezing back tears to keep himself conscious.

The crew bought his story, a fevered lie, and that’s the moment Silver knew how he would always have the advantage. Tell them what they so desperately want to hear and make yourself valuable in the process. A man can be anyone if the truth is buried deep enough.

The darkness Flint speaks about, the allure and pleasure in it, existed in Silver far longer than Flint knows, far longer than he could ever bear Flint knowing.

It’s a part of him, and John Silver knows who he is.

It will have to be enough.


 

Then Madi is close enough to touch again, and Silver wonders if anyone notices how he crumbles when she’s near, the truth, his truth, a little closer to the surface in those moments. It’s weakness and will be his undoing, but try as he might, he cannot release himself from it, so they meet in the middle, colliding, everything rushing forward too quickly to properly control.

He leaves Flint at the pass along the path for just a minute, just— I’m here, he thinks. I’ll come back for you. I promise. Trust me. Thoughts not quite making it past his throat. They never do.

Madi makes him reckless, reaching out for sand and smoke. He pulls her near and kisses her, lets her grab at his face to reassure her he’s solid. It’s never enough.

Clinging to him and sobbing into his neck, she whispers, "We were so afraid.”

And whatever Flint might think of him, sometimes there are threads of truth weaved into the lies.

Sister Helene is one of those threads. Her name never leaves Silver’s lips; it’s not something to share with the crew, but she’s there between the lines, wrapped in spite and boyish desires, from a time when he couldn’t risk sitting still but somehow learned to pay attention. He was eight years old when Sister Helene told him a softer version of the story of Solomon Little. It’s the kind of story that sticks to your insides and you think about when the sun crests the horizon, or when you spot the wind in the trees after too many days at sea. By the time Silver shares it with the crew, it’s a shade of what it was when she told it, bent and reformed. Perhaps Flint gets closest in the end, but no one ever really knows the differences.

He was a boy of nine years when Sister Helene began teaching him to assign letters to sounds and to string those sounds together to form words, shaky chalk smudges on a slate. He wasn’t special, one among many assigned to her by the church, caregiver and teacher and mentor, but she taught him to listen, to want something beyond the life he was given, so similar to Madi in that way. Strong, unfazed by this world created by men stronger and more powerful. A leader in her own quiet way, doing the kind of work that mattered when the rest of the world couldn't be bothered to give a fuck.

When Madi is taken from them, presumed dead, Flint says, “You helped me find my way out. I will do the same for you. I give you my word. Just— trust me.”

Sister Helene, with her honeyed hair concealed behind a habit, kind eyes and fair skin, smiling softly while Silver stood before her, embarrassed and raging, lip bloodied and swelling. He hadn't run fast enough that time, insults thrown over his shoulder at the nameless bully kid who couldn't stitch an argument together to save his life. It ended this way more often now. Bruised lip, blackened eyes, scraped knees, and Sister Helene always whispering, “There is good in this life. You will understand that one day.”

It has to mean something.

Silver couldn’t bear it if all of this was for nothing. Fuck Flint for making him believe it. Silver never wanted any of this, not the loyalty of his crew or Nassau’s possibilities or the way Flint looks at him like he’s the only one that matters here.

But he doesn't push Flint away when he fists Silver’s jacket and hauls him closer, decides the jacket can go, strips it from his shoulders and wraps warm hands around Silver’s waist where he's slumped to the floor, a book of Madi’s in his hands.

When Silver remains still, Flint hesitates, and Silver blinks up at him, because the permission is always implicit now. Don't you see how I need you? Especially now? So Silver untucks his own shirt and stretches up while pulling it free, keeping eye contact because he can’t say the words. Rough hands find his skin and Flint nuzzles into Silver’s neck, finally melting into him with a low rumble from somewhere down deep.

Silver knows what Flint needs from him, gives it easily because he likes feeling needed.

Flint begins, “I'm sorry, I couldn't—”

 “Don't—”

Flint pulls back, and Silver chases after him, stay, with fingers digging into his neck, but Flint still resists, gives him this anguished look, panicked and so transparent. He’s so fucking transparent these days, and often Silver just doesn’t know what to do with it all, spilling out so freely from his hands. Flint opens his mouth to continue anyway, so Silver leans forward and quiets him with a bruising kiss, nails clawing along his neck, digging in deeper. Stay.

They don't need words right now, and Silver cannot bear Flint saying her name.


 

And then there is a way to save them both and end this war.

Flint’s lost love lives and he will leave Silver and Madi and Nassau behind.

Silver doesn't give him a choice, doesn't give any of them a choice. That's okay. He's resigned to his role as the villain here. In the end, the price is worth the reward.

His mother never gave him a choice either.

Flint is livid, shouts through lectures about Silver’s betrayal, all of his frustrations emptied into the hollow echo of Skeleton Island’s tangled jungle until Silver is sure he'll have to end this with a bullet. Silver stays silent, but his heart is hammering when he finally cocks the pistol and aims it high, hand shaking with the effort to keep his resolve instead of dropping to his knees and crawling into the safety of Flint’s touch. He doesn't want to shoot Flint, but he will. God help him, but he will.

“I don't care,” Silver says, voice shaking too goddamned much.

“You will. Someday you will.

He's sixteen when he sees his mother for the last time. It wasn't difficult to find her once Silver cared enough to look.

“I saw you asking about me at the bar, thought I saw your father there. You look so much like him these days,” she says from the battered doorway, standing between it and the rented room. She looks him over, head to toe, detached and glassy eyed, as if he were a paying client. After a moment, she seems to catch herself though and gathers her robes closer. “Must be fifteen by now?”

“Sixteen,” Silver corrects. He isn't sure what he expected— maybe nothing, certainly not an apology for abandoning him. She still smells of rice powder, something expensive hidden in the dirt and sweat and stale ale coating every surface in this place with a sticky film. He doesn't want to remember her like this.

Silver tells Flint he never knew his mother. That's the truth. She abandoned him as a child, left him to the sisters at the orphanage, left him to raise himself, cynical and closed off from anything resembling family because the word never meant anything to him.

“Why did you come here, baby?” his mother asks, trying to be sympathetic when she lacks insight.

Because he feels too goddamned much, because Sister Helene’s words about hope were always too deep under his skin to pry them free.

Silver gives her all the money in his pockets, coins from a few days work pickpocketing rich old assholes near the theater, crumpled notes closed in her hand and leaves her before she sees the tears welling behind his eyes.

This is not what I wanted.

On the journey to Savannah, Silver removes the shackles when they’re alone in the belly of his ship, once he's sure Flint has accepted the way this will end. Flint keeps his eyes on Silver’s face, but Silver doesn't think he's giving anything away. Flint will have to ask whatever burning question is on his mind. “You aren't afraid?” is what Flint asks.

Silver touches the marks left by the shackles, bruised and reddened skin and Flint covers Silver’s hands with his own. Silver wraps his fingers around Flint’s thumb and feels the pulse drifting through him. No, not anymore.

“Are you?” Silver asks.

“Terrified,” Flint breathes out. The anger left him before boarding this ship and he's quiet now, resigned. Silver expects him to go into a memory, something about Thomas he feels compelled to share in this moment. That’s okay. Silver will cling to any story Flint feels is worth telling. He’ll store them away for the black nights when he’ll have nothing else.

“Why do you do that? Hold onto me like this?” Flint holds their joined hands up and Silver sets his teeth together, bracing himself.  He could lie. He could weave a story about a farm girl with amber hair, his first love, a false memory of a simpler time, but—

“When I was little, my—” Silver pauses, swallows. This hurts down deep, dredging up something buried for so long. The lies come so easily now that he’s not sure what’s an embellishment anymore, so he chooses his words carefully because Flint deserves something of his.

Flint is barely breathing he’s so intent on Silver’s words. He’s been so good, so patient, maybe it’s okay, just once to let him in on something precious.

“Tell me,” Flint softly encourages.

“When I was little, my first memory is holding onto my mother in this way. I feel— safe like this.”

It’s barely anything. No details or exaggerations holding together the things that make a simple story interesting, nothing like the detailed memories that could fill journals with the depth of longing and emotions Flint has shared with him. It’s impossible for Flint to know if it’s true, and yet— Flint looks at him like he does know, and Silver feels too vulnerable here. He’s spent too many years building walls to let them crumble now. Fuck, don't let it crumble. The tears are unexpected, emotion welling up so suddenly Silver has to turn away, heartbeat so fucking fast, short of breath from the effort of trying to remain in control.

“Don’t shut me out,” Flint soothes, reaching forward to bring their faces closer, foreheads touching, while their hands are still joined. “Not now. Stay with me. You’re safe. I’ll keep you safe.”

It’s absurd, considering they will leave each other tomorrow, considering Flint’s lost love is waiting for him and Silver has given him no choice on this path they’re following to its sudden end, but Silver believes him.

God, how he wants to believe all of it.

 “When you look at me, who do you think about?” This is the last truth Flint will ever ask of him. One more confession left between them.

 "You,” Silver breathes out. It’s easy, and it’s true.