He's not at the house. At least, he's not at the house a couple of bystanders point Silver towards, after his smile fails him and he has to shift his gait until his crutch falls heavier to the ground, has to roll his shoulder just so, so that the gun strapped to his belt glints obviously in the sun.
The eyes on him grow uneasy. Reticent mouths grow forthcoming and quickly, and it is with a distant thrill through his blood that Silver realizes he’s wearing a different sort of smile altogether; fanged and cold and hungry. He's an old man now—his bones groan like a weary ship when he walks—but the skin he spent years wearing is more difficult to shed than the rest.
Just as well, he thinks. It still works like a charm.
The first thought Silver has as he makes his way up the dirt road is that he must have scared someone into giving him the wrong directions. The tiles on the roof of the cottage are missing, patchy, and there's vines reaching up the white walls, wild and unkempt. The entire foundation is askew with undergrowth. The house is sitting at a slight angle, like it’s about to tip over quietly in the heat.
The whole thing feels wrong.
He walks closer, biting down on the growing unease in his stomach. The porch whines under his weight when he climbs the stairs, the railing bone dry and ready to snap under his palm. Nothing changes once he's up there. The dust coating everything stays undisturbed, save for the lonely hand-print he leaves behind on the beam holding up the thatched awning.
It is with a combination of denial and shock that he keeps moving. He sticks his forehead against one of the windows only to find the white linen curtains drawn. There's enough transparency to them to make out some of the furniture; the shadow of an armchair by the fireplace, a dining table for two in the kitchen. Dead flowers on the windowsill. When he gives it a cursory nudge the door doesn't budge an inch. It is either locked or stuck shut with rot, Silver can't tell, and either way he doesn't force it.
With a sigh he leans back against the wall and wipes his brow. Heat seeps into him from the sun-warmed stone.
Nobody has lived here for weeks. That much is clear. He takes a shuddering breath, too loud in the quiet, and realizes his mouth has gone dry. There is a well off to the side of the property, a bucket balanced precariously on its edge. The water in it is murky and lukewarm but he still splashes it over his face and neck, a short reprieve from the pulsing heat of the sun overhead.
Maybe it's the wrong house, he thinks as he straightens up and looks around, blinking droplets out of his eyes. With renewed resolve he continues deeper into the yard, shoving through the tall weeds crutch first. There isn't a single familiar thing in sight when he peeks his head into the makeshift tool-shed in the corner. An overturned bucket stuffed with some fishing line. A row of rotting rods. A dusty sunhat high on a shelf.
By then the relief hits—he's sure it's the wrong house.
Then he turns, and sees the graves in the back.
Six carriages pass him by, uncaring, before a boy picks him up. His name is Mateo. He's got an easy smile and a mule named Dante; the latter doesn't seem at all pleased by Silver's added weight and snorts disapprovingly every time he speaks.
After some pleasantries Silver inquires about the local businesses. The schools. Blind shots in the dark. He doesn't even know what name to ask after so he invents, grasping wildly for straws. There are answers, of course, though not of the sort he’s looking for. The island is famous for its tobacco. Most townspeople work in either harvesting or processing it. They have a school, Mateo says, run by the church.
That is of no use. And neither is this: Mateo will be sixteen next week. He works in the fields with his father and hates it. What he really wants to do is sail.
"What about you, Señor?" Mateo asks, glancing over his shoulder. "Are you a sailor?"
Caught off guard, Silver looks down at his hands. They are weathered and old now. Years of rope burn has left them rough, though not enough to wipe the pale blue anchor etched into the web between his thumb and forefinger. Idly he twists one of his rings. The one as old as his name.
"I hate the sea," he says at last. Mateo is a smart boy it seems; he stops asking questions after that.
It takes a great deal of effort to keep talking once it becomes clear Mateo doesn't know anything. But he doesn't seem to mind Silver's sudden silence; he chatters on good-naturedly, carrying the conversation for the both of them. Within minutes Silver is invited over for lunch. When he gently declines—on account of business in town—Mateo doesn't break his stride, or his squinting little smile. He points out his house on the outskirts and tells Silver he's welcome to drop by anytime, my mother is the best cook on the island, Señor. Once she roasted a pig so perfectly she made my father cry.
Silver laughs, as he feels he should. He wishes it were as genuine as as the boy's kindness. He wishes he could feel something, anything, but all there is the numbness in his chest and the sun on his neck. The old tremor in his hands.
By the time they catch sight of the shabby little tavern in the centre of town the sun has dipped low in the sky, coating everything in a thick dust of pink. The main square just off the road is almost empty. A few kids are playing in the shade and an old couple is sitting together by a small fountain, the trees above them swaying gently in the breeze. A pair of dogs are laying in the grass. Occasionally they nip at one another as if remembering some long-forgotten dispute. Time seems to pass strangely here. Every second stretches like honey into the next, unhurried; even the dust Dante's hoofs kick up float slowly in the air as if they've got no place they'd rather be.
Silver has never felt so alien. The numbness has given way to a desperate kind of itch, clawing up the inside of his throat like a dead thing gasping for air. It tastes awful in his mouth. It scalds behind his eyes, and he finds himself dismounting in a rush before Dante can even come to a stop. The beast immediately begins to trot away, clearly very happy to see the last of him, and on some level Silver sympathizes. Mateo waves goodbye over his shoulder. Silver only lets his own smile slip once they have disappeared out of sight, down the narrow alleyway leading to the market.
The afternoon heat swirls off the cobblestones on the ground and yet it is somehow even hotter inside the tavern. The air is smoky and thick, trapped warm between the wooden beams hanging overhead, and when he walks in heads turn towards him, like they always do. Eyes drop to the space where his leg is supposed to be like they always do. He wants to shrug it off, again; go feral, again; wants to them to turn away, wants to drown in the hushed, fearful whispering that still follows him wherever he goes.
He doesn't do any of that. Instead he stands mute at the doorway, being crushed by something he hasn't got a name for.
The lie slides off. The eyes turn away, uninterested.
He'd almost rather they stare.
There's a weight in his chest that shifts up into his throat every time he breathes. It gets easier to bear after the first bottle of rum, only just to keep his voice level when he waves the server over for another.
Whatever he is feeling isn't his to feel, Silver knows. He gave up the right to it at the same time he gave up the gold and buried the name that never fit him right. What does it matter now? What does it matter that a ghost Silver spent twenty years ignoring finally followed his dead lover into the ground?
That knowledge does nothing to tamper the swirl in his gut; a knife, long-buried to the hilt, starting to turn itself over again.
The second bottle is sitting on the table before him half empty when the knife hits something that smarts. It must be rage, Silver thinks, though it doesn't feel the way he remembers; boiling and surging, threatening to blow him apart. Instead it's quiet, and pathetic, asking for permission before making his hands shake.
He wonders if Flint died alone. He wonders if he died smiling. He wonders if he welcomed it.
With a sneer he pushes the last of his drink to the side and drops his head into his hands. The thumb he drives into his temple provides temporary relief from the chatter of the tavern around him, from this awful thing growing inside him, swelling like the tide, but it abruptly comes to an end when there’s a deafening crash—Silver looks up in time to see a man being thrown unceremoniously through the window. His arms pinwheel as he goes, shouting curses at the man who threw him.
The thrower—such as he is—is standing with his back to the now deathly quiet room. His shoulders are heaving. His hair is knotted at the base of his neck, spilling wild where it has come loose and Silver blinks once, tries to focus through the boozy haze in his head. He blinks again when the man turns; unsteady on his feet, his fingers fidgeting against his thighs in an aimless rage. That sight alone is enough to have Silver grasping for his crutch as if he's drowning but he's too slow; he can only watch as the man gets blindsided, tackled to the ground by the barkeep.
Silver is out of his chair and across the room before he knows it. He has a grip on the barkeep's shirt before he knows it, and he's pulling him up, hauling him eye-level, only to head-butt him to the ground again. The barkeep's mouth is thrown open in a wail but there's no sound, Silver thinks, no sound at all, save for the sea roaring loud in his ears as he stares at the other man on the ground, watches him roll over to his side with a groan.
Flint, Silver thinks, and nothing else. It pulses around the knife in his gut like a drum beat. Flint.
And then Flint is looking at him.
“What the fuck—“ Flint starts, breathless and confused, and then his eyes go wide; Silver feels an arm snake around his waist right before he’s hoisted up off the ground. The crutch clatters to the floor as Silver twists, driving his elbow right into the face of whomever the fuck thought it wise to interrupt a moment nearly twenty years in the making.
He’s not in the air for long. There is a sickening crack and the man promptly buckles to his knees, Silver along with him; he has to bite back a shout when what’s left of his leg knocks hard into the floor. All of a sudden he’s being pushed aside and with a roar Flint is surging forward, slamming into the man like a battering ram. Flint rolls him over his own body—away from Silver—coming to a dead stop with his hands around the man’s neck.
Blinking away the white spots clouding his vision Silver watches the man’s feet kick and slide, as he tries to find purchase to throw Flint off. There’s a dizzying second of memory at the sight—Silver feels himself skittering backwards in time, and then the barkeep is standing, cocking a shotgun, scowling around a broken nose and spitting blood as he yells;
“Enough! Unhand him or I shoot!”
It is almost heedless of the desperate choking sounds filling the air, the way Flint unwinds his fingers from the man's throat, slow and measured. He draws back onto his heels as the man scrambles to stand, fails, and ends up shuffling a good distance away on his hands and knees, blood from his broken nose steadily dripping onto the ground.
Flint watches him go, before looking down at his own hands. Then he turns to look at Silver again.
Silver can’t be sure which one of them is seeing a ghost.
The first complete sentence Flint utters after twenty years apart is; “How in the fuck did you find me?”
They are outside now, a pair of walking bruises in the dark. The barkeep would have shot them both, of that Silver is sure, had he not taken it upon himself to spin a riveting tale of loss and grief—more lies than truth—his hands up in placation as he backed a wide-eyed Flint out of the tavern and onto the street.
The night around them is starless and quiet. A full moon looms in the sky behind a cluster of clouds, throwing more shadow than light onto the path ahead. Sweat prickles the nape of Silver’s neck as he walks, sliding down his back, pooling in his throat. The heat is a constant embrace this far south, he had almost forgotten; it is just about the only thing Silver hasn't missed. Even the scent of the sea is welcome in his lungs, sharp and heady as he breathes it in.
There is only ever grime for air in Bristol.
"It's good to see you too, Captain," he sighs, digging into his breast pocket for a handkerchief. "How have you been?"
For a long, tense moment Silver's arm stays outstretched in the air. It is only when he gives up and begins to pull back that Flint snatches the cloth out of Silver’s hands, pressing it to his still bleeding nose with a scowl.
“Answer the question," he snaps, "How did you find me?"
"It wasn't easy," Silver admits. It doesn't bother him that Flint has dropped one step behind as if wary of leaving his back open. It doesn't. "I almost lost track of you after Boston. But I managed to endear myself to one of your neighbours—her name escapes me—my memory, it’s not what it used to be. She was very fond of you, at any rate. A bit batty, had a garden full of cats. Sound familiar?"
Flint spits blood onto the ground. When he speaks his tone is accusing; full of blatant affection he's trying to hide. "Mrs. Wilson."
"That's the one."
"She was fond of Thomas, less so of me." Abruptly Flint clears his throat, and the sentiment is gone. “She led you here?"
"She had some vague notion of where you were, yes. After I made port I had to find my own way."
Cicadas sing in the silence between them as Flint considers this. Soon they come upon a pair of deep carriage tracks in the road that splits them down the middle; Silver veers left while Flint goes right. When they reunite, Flint is a little closer.
Finally, he says, “Mrs. Wilson is very unlikely to suffer fools.”
That's an understatement; Silver huffs a laugh. “Yes, I gathered as much. She almost caught my fingers in the door when she slammed it in my face. Would have been a shit way to lose a hand, that's for sure.”
"And what? You expect me to believe that you just endeared yourself to her?"
“You forget, Captain," Silver says, and he can't help but smile when he feels Flint turn sharply to look at him. "I'm a hard man not to like."
Clearly Flint has been waiting for some excuse. In the blink of an eye he's caught up and blocked Silver's path, forcing him to a stop by an empty street merchant's stand. Silver fights the instinct to retreat as Flint comes to loom over him, familiar and unrecognizable all at once. There's too little light in the street but whatever is left of it is dancing in Flint's eyes; lethal and bright, making Silver’s breath catch in his throat.
"That's twice now," Flint warns in a low voice. "Do not call me that again."
"Old habit,” Silver says, and inexplicably Flint moves closer; Christ, he fucking smells the same, how is that possible? "Forgive me, I realize now I've never called you anything else.”
A shadow crosses Flint's face, then. It ripples through him like ink through water—too quick to name, too dark to catch—but it has him backing away with heavy steps, taking the heat of his body with him as he goes. “Christ, you—“ He inhales, drawing himself up to full height. "Why are you here?"
Silver straightens up. "Madi wanted to make sure you were all right.”
They stare at one another. The breeze rushes through the tree-line in the distance, picking up the stray hairs at Flint's temples.
"I thought you two—"
"Yes," Silver says and feels himself bristle, hopping forward once. "But she told me all the same. She wanted to come personally, but—"
When Flint receives no further elaboration he sucks his teeth, irritated. "Tell her there's no need," he snaps, stomping down the path again. "Tell her I’m fine. As for you, you can leave.”
It is with some struggle that Silver falls in step with him. “I plan to. At first light."
It seems like Flint's steps falter, or maybe they don't. He picks up his pace, drawing ahead into the dark. "Do you have some place to stay?"
"I intended to rent a room at the inn above the tavern. I suppose I still could—"
"And what?" Flint glances back at him irately. "Get yourself shot?"
This time Silver is the one who stops, his temper flaring as he casts a hand out. "Do you have a fucking alternative in mind? Or would you rather I sleep out here in the street so you can yell at me all night?"
They're in a pool of light now, cast in the orange glow of the lantern hanging from the awning over their heads. Flint stands frozen, staring at Silver's hand where it rests on the inside of his elbow. Silver retracts it before a demand can be made of him to do so. When Flint keeps his eyes down Silver can't help himself; he catalogues every part of Flint he can see; the gauntness of his cheeks, his rapidly swelling bottom lip, his hair, spilling from its knot, fading into grey at his temples. The more Silver looks the more it feels as though he is being doused in water, over and over and over again, after years spent parched dry; he soaks it up, greedily, thinks he might be content after all to stand here and have Flint yell at him through the night. As long as he is no longer without.
"You grew your hair," Silver blurts at the same time Flint says, "You got a tattoo."
Relief in the form of a laugh bubbles in Silver's throat, though he manages to bite most of it down. He brings his hand up between them. "I did it myself."
Flint pitches a little closer to inspect it. Then he grabs a hold of Silver's fingers to change the angle, to hold the ink up to the light. His grip is tight and warm.
And then he says; "You fucked it up."
Silver has to stop staring at Flint long enough to squint at his own hand. “What? I did not—"
"You definitely did," Flint says, pointing, "That is not a straight line—"
"Yes it is, you're probably just losing your sight—”
Flint scoffs and looks over, and Christ, his eyes are greener than Silver remembers. They are brighter and sharper than he remembers, too; every part of Flint is bright and sharp and here and the yawning void Silver has been carrying in the hollow of his chest for near twenty fucking years begins to ache as if it's brand new. One side yearns to reach out and join the other, to stitch itself closed over a wound that has never had enough air to heal right.
He can tell the moment Flint realizes how close they are standing; instantly he releases him and looks away into the dark. The night grows quiet, quieter than before. The cicadas fall silent as Silver watches him deliberate. He doesn't know what he expects Flint to say in the end, but it certainly isn't a quiet and gruff;
"You can stay with me."
That feeling returns, then, the same one that had hit Silver in the tavern. The sea coming back to life. "Thank you," says, a foolish grin rising to his lips. He can't look away from Flint, can’t keep from saying; "Your hair. Good God.”
When Flint turns back to him again, his answering frown is guarded. “What?”
“Nothing. It looks good. I had a feeling you'd grow it back out. It’s just.”
Flint frowns harder, “What?”
“There was so much red in it,” Silver says helplessly, “Where did it all go? Did the sun bleach it out of you? Hold on. Don't tell me. Did you sell it to a sea witch to keep your strength?”
There is no malice in the way Flint's lip curls, then. If Silver were a hopeful man he'd think it playful. "You're one to talk,” Flint counters, eyeing Silver’s hair drawn back to the crown of his head. “Though I suppose you match your name at last. Please tell me you've washed it since the last time I saw you."
When Silver barks a laugh at that Flint's gaze drifts down until their eyes meet once more, and Flint looks—God, he looks almost fond. Almost like the last Flint Silver ever allows himself to remember. Something lurches in the dead pit of his stomach at the sight, spilling warmth into his limbs, setting fuses alight.
There you are, Silver thinks, stupid in his disbelief. There you are.
They stand there for a moment like fools. Until Flint pulls in a breath, edged like a blade, and turns away, starting down the path once more.
Silver stares at the treeline and resists the urge to sag against the beam. After a moment he follows, as he's meant to.
They are about half a mile from Flint's house give or take, walking in the sort of silence that feels like an impasse when it happens.
It has been a long time coming, in retrospect. The years have been kind, in some ways, to Silver's face—weathered and drawn but still something close to agreeable if the warm glances occasionally thrown his way were a good judge of appearances. But it is the only kindness time has thought to extend. His body greets the sunrise already outraged at being alive, and continues complaining well into noon, most days. If he's lucky. Usually he's able to ignore it, his age the easiest ache in a long list of aches he has learned to ignore.
But the fight—the fight in the tavern is to blame this time around. It has taken more out of him than he'll ever admit aloud, and the longer they walk the more unsteady his steps become. So when his crutch sticks itself into a patch of loose dirt and slips out from underneath his arm, he already knows where that particular story ends.
He gives a low yelp and then he's falling. Before he has a chance to register it there's hands on him; arms around him, Flint's grip tight, biting into his shoulders. The world rights itself, in more ways than one. Then Flint is pulling back, quickly, like he's been burned.
Without meeting his eyes Flint stalks over to the crutch and dislodges it from the ground, holding it out to Silver as if it is still the weapon it used to be. "Can you keep going?"
Silver sneers. "Of course I fucking—“
His body disagrees. His knee buckles again. Without grace he tips forward and braces his hand against Flint's chest, and to his credit Flint doesn't even flinch. There is a moment when neither of them speak. Silver squeezes his eyes shut and breathes hard through his nose, white hot pain flaring in his right knee while an all too familiar curl of frustration rises in his throat.
"I can keep—" he starts, but Flint makes a low noise. It rumbles against Silver's palm. “What?”
When he looks up Flint's gaze is resolutely fixed over his head, boring into the dark. His expression is in shadow but the tight run of his jaw says enough.
"Just spit it out," Silver says, and it sounds like Flint tries to laugh, maybe, but what comes out is a harsh, abrasive sound that grates against Silver’s nerves.
He says, "You're still the same."
"I'm still—" Silver blinks. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“It means,” Flint is now speaking through his teeth as if he’s explaining something to a petulant child instead of a fifty year old man, "Twenty years gone and you still refuse to take care of yourself where your leg is concerned."
"Stop, my leg is fine—"
There’s that twist to Flint’s mouth again, borne of the same kind of arrogance that Silver used to hate, “Of course it is. I don’t know what I fucking expected—”
"Enough!" Silver barks and Flint flinches in a way that is viciously satisfying, “Need I remind you that I just pulled you out of a fucking barfight?“
“What does that have to do with anything—“
“That’s a great way to deal with your grief, isn’t it? You say I haven’t changed? Have you ever considered following your own advice?"
There's a deafening pause. Silver sees Flint swallow, watches his throat bob up and down, barely visible in the dark.
“You’re right," Flint says at last. He won’t look at Silver; his voice is awful. Hollow. "I am grieving. And I am dealing with it. My methods may not be to your liking but I am dealing the only way I know how. Don’t presume to know what I do and do not need. Don't you dare presume for a fucking moment that I need your fucking help—"
“Stop," Silver snaps, and he sees his fingers curl into Flint's shirt. He wants to let go, wants to step back, but something helpless tears through him and his grip tightens instead, “Don't do that. Don't speak to me like I'm somebody else.”
At last Flint’s gaze flickers down, briefly. The sudden indifference there makes Silver shake. “And who exactly are you supposed to be? Some ghost from my past that has decided to come knocking after all this time—”
“Who am I—“ Flint raises a cruel eyebrow, and Silver’s tongue loosens at the sight; “I may just be some fucking ghost to you but I was also the only one who was there! I was there the last time you lost someone you loved, why the fuck do you think I—"
Silver chokes into silence. Flint stares at him, long and hard, before a darkness begins to rise behind his eyes. Even half visible it’s a look Silver recognizes instantly, it’s one he's never been able to forget.
"That's it, then?" Flint murmurs. “That’s why you’re here. Because you thought I would—what?" he scoffs. "Did you think I'd steal a ship? Wreck havoc again? Come after you?" He steps closer, his teeth flashing predatory in the dark, "Were you so worried that I'd come after you that you wanted to find me first—"
"No, that's not—" In a panic Silver releases him, retreating as Flint advances. "No. That is not what I meant. I only wanted to—"
"What did you want? It may come as a surprise to you, but I no longer need to be managed. That is not your job anymore. That is not who I am anymore, I am not him—"
"I know!" Silver shouts, and he can hear his voice ring out, echoing desperately down the street. "Christ, I know that—"
"Then, what?” Flint demands, drowning him out, raising his voice, “Why the fuck are you here, Silver?"
"I—“ Silver starts, and stops. “Dante.”
There's a pause, again, though of a starkly different sort. Flint stares at him. Then he bares his teeth to snarl;
"Who the fuck is Dante?"
"That's stealing," Flint hisses in his ear, and Silver shakes his head.
“Actually, no it isn’t.”
“Is that right?” Flint’s voice hitches up airily. “What would you call it then?”
“This is borrowing,” Silver whispers.
dante continues to be a hero. i continue to suffer. etc. etc.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"No," Flint says, in disbelief.
Silver says, "Yes."
"No," Flint says again, and this time it's a threat. His shoulders twitch like he's about to bodily interfere with the plan currently materializing in Silver’s head, so;
"Yes," Silver says, steps out of reach, and begins to move.
It’s slow going. His leg twinges, pain barbing sharply into his spine with every step he takes. He's only just managed to get a hand around the railing of the cage when Flint stalks across the street to join him, properly fuming now if his breathing is any indication.
"That's stealing," Flint hisses in his ear, and Silver shakes his head.
“Actually, no it isn’t.”
“Is that right?” Flint’s voice hitches up airily. “What would you call it then?”
Silver rolls his eyes and then squints, trying to see better in the dark. Off the road, in the bushes, the black is practically impenetrable. The smattering of stars hanging dimly above them do not offer nearly enough light. He can’t see Flint. He can barely see his own hands. He can feel Flint, though, quivering just out of reach with barely controlled annoyance.
“This is borrowing,” Silver whispers, turning the padlock over in his palm appraisingly.
Flint scoffs. "Borrowing—“
“Yes,” Silver says. "Borrowing. He’s—he’s a friend.”
In the cage Dante snorts, disagreeing. He shuffles back into the corner, as far away from the door as he can possibly get.
“A friend,” Flint repeats, and just like that Silver loses what little patience he has these days.
“Jesus Christ, are you even able to say one word to me without being fucking condescending?”
“I don’t know,” Flint snaps, “Are you able to go five seconds without fucking stealing something?”
The first barrel of the lock gives in Silver's hands and he huffs darkly under his breath. The night is too quiet for it to go unheard; Flint goes rigid next to him.
“What was that?"
“Nothing," Silver says, desperate to focus on the task at hand again, "It's just—look, I’m a little busy at the moment so why don’t you spare me the act and let me—"
“What act?” Flint demands, and Silver feels him come closer; it’s supposed to be threatening, he supposes, but it just makes him furious so he speaks without thinking; the accent, the inflection, the gravitas—all of it—he imitates. Perfectly.
“'Let me tell you a story about a Spaniard named Vasquez'—you honestly think you’re fit to lecture me on the morality of stealing? Have you forgotten who I am? Who we were?"
There’s quiet for half a second, and it is an immensely satisfying half-second where Silver works on jimmying the lock in peace, before Flint takes a massive gulp of air and rounds on him like a storm cloud ready to burst; Silver feels it coming in the fidgeting of Flint’s fingers so he manages to interrupt in time, dropping a warning hand on Flint’s forearm.
"Look, just—stop. Stop. Let’s not do this here. I understand you've left the life behind. I understand. But this isn’t stealing. I’ll explain later, I promise."
He realizes it's precisely the wrong thing to say the second he says it; Flint’s eyes glimmer, and he laughs, cruel and loud. "Oh, you promise—“ He throws off Silver’s hand with a jerk of his arm. “Oh, well, that’s fine then, isn't it? Because you’re a man of your word and I’ve no reason at all to mistrust you—"
A rush of fury floods Silver’s chest so quickly he feels as if he’s drowning in boiling water. He casts the padlock aside and doesn’t hear the way it kicks against the cage—startling Dante into a yelp, the clang echoing far into the night—because he’s too busy turning to Flint, practically yelling, now.
“You don't have to fucking trust me! But believe it or not I am going to borrow this mule and I will return him to his owner tomorrow morning on my way out of town, and I—oh, don't look at me like that, don't—If you don't want to be a part of this you are welcome to leave me here. I am more than happy to find some other place to stay—"
“I said,” Flint says through his teeth, “You can stay with me—I said that, didn't I?"
“Yes," Silver says, and feels the ugly tide in him grow into a desperate crescendo as he continues, "Yes, you did, and I thank you for your fucking generosity but have you considered how you'll get us there? It may have escaped your notice—what with all the yelling you seem so fucking eager get to—but I can’t walk, so, what? Are you planning to carry the cripple on your back, Captain?”
The title he spits like a curse and Flint’s eyes go wide, for a breath, before narrowing into slits. He steps closer still, and for the first time that night Silver doesn’t feel the instinct to cower. So we're really going to do this here, he thinks, and finds he doesn't mind the thought at all.
Rage is a hell of a thing. It blinds in every sense of the word.
“¿Quién hay ahí?”
It seems reflexive, the way Flint startles. It seems reflexive, too, the way he casts a hand out, forcing Silver away from the railing to step in front of him. Struck dumb and mute, Silver watches the way the back of Flint’s neck tenses, readying for a fight that isn’t going to come.
There's a rustle of leaves; a small lantern pokes out of the bushes across the yard. The light it emanates cuts through the night so sharply that for a moment neither can see anything.
Then a sleep flushed face floats into view. “Señor Silva? Is that you?”
Flint goes really still. His hands unclench, his body going lax with the questions he wants to ask.
There’ll be time for that later. Now Silver pokes his head over Flint’s shoulder and grins, and can see Flint slanting him an incredulous look when he says, as warmly as he can;
“Buenas noches, Mateo. I know the hour is late, but I fear I've a favour to ask.”
A minute later, Dante gives a long, dejected wail that threatens to wake up the whole neighbourhood.
The ride to Flint’s house is a silent affair.
There's just the crunch of gravel under Dante’s hooves, the swaying of the trees in the distance, the cicadas singing in the warm breeze. The reassuring sound of Flint walking ahead, his head down and and his hands in his pockets.
The whole thing is almost relaxing. Almost. Which is the truly troubling part, as far as Silver is concerned. It feels like a trap. He stares at the hunched line of Flint's shoulders and knows this is the calm before whatever storm of an argument awaits him when they finally get home. Only it's late, and his bones ache, and his head pounds, and he's too fucking tired to worry about the future. So he lets himself be lulled gently into comfort, listening to the steady rhythm of Dante's tread and the sound of Flint's even breathing.
And it's fine. Good, even. Good, that is, until Flint’s breaths grow heavy and his feet begin to drag. Without preamble Silver gives the reigns a sharp tug and Dante huffs, annoyed, before coming to a stop. A few solitary steps later Flint turns, bewildered. Exhausted.
“Come on,” Silver tells him, and Flint frowns. He watches wearily as Silver shuffles back on the saddle to make room.
“I’m fine walking,” he says at last, understanding drawing his jaw tight. He turns back to the path. Silver clicks his tongue. Flint almost runs straight into Dante's flank when they cut him off again a moment later.
“No, you’re not," Silver says, and this time Flint closes his eyes on a rough sigh.
"That," Flint says, through his teeth, though there isn't a shred of malice in his words. "This. What you're doing. I don't need you to—I don’t." He gives a shake of his head. "I don't need you."
Silence hangs heavy between them. He only opens his eyes when Silver drops a hand to his shoulder.
“Please,” Silver says, and squeezes. "Just come up here."
It’s surprising that Flint even considers the offer. Considers the plea; considers him. Under scrutiny Silver attempts to school his features into something far less vulnerable than he feels and he can't tell if he succeeds. Most likely he doesn't. But it doesn’t matter; Flint’s guarded face goes slack, with something far too gentle to be exhaustion alone, and then he’s climbing on without a word. When he settles in there’s a hand's breadth of space between them.
“I won’t bite,” Silver says, as Dante begins to walk again.
“Is that another promise?” Flint asks, but when later Dante stumbles on a jagged piece of rock and bucks, Flint lets himself slide backwards, coming to rest flush against Silver’s chest.
They don’t speak anymore, after that.
By the time they make it to Flint’s house day has begun to break. The sky changes colour above them, the black gradually lightening into a quiet, muted blue. Before long a brilliant shaft of red crests over the horizon, warming the hills in the distance, running bright over Silver’s eyelids.
He stirs awake, unaware of his surroundings. He cannot remember falling asleep. That in of itself isn't unusual. The side of his face is pressed to something warm, though, and that is unusual. It's too warm to be his tavern counter, and far too soft; distantly he knows something is off but cannot bring himself to care. He turns his nose into it, seeking to be dragged under again, greedy for the kind of rest that has eluded him of late. He breathes deep and squints against the intruding light.
Disoriented and fully awake now, his eyes fly open. He's staring at Flint's back. The well worn cotton of his shirt is ruffled where Silver's forehead was resting against it.
This is fine, Silver thinks, stupid with sleep. This is salvageable. Then he notices something else, something far worse; his arm has somehow snaked its way around Flint’s waist, which is bad enough alone but his fucking hand—it’s fisted tight in Flint’s shirt, snug and possessive against his stomach. With the way Flint’s head is swaying gently, the way that he’s breathing, Silver prays for a moment that he too is asleep. But Flint tugs at Dante’s reigns to the left, then, turning him onto the path leading to the cottage, and yeah, Silver’s never been God’s favourite anything, anyway. Why on earth would He start listening now?
As they approach the house Silver untangles himself from Flint with as much dignity he can muster, which isn't very much at all. His body protests it, too, recoiling at the way the morning breeze seeps in between them, stealing all warmth away. A chill works its way down Silver's neck as they pull up by the porch. Flint dismounts quickly. He ties Dante up in a haphazard knot and heads over to the well, returning with bucketful of fresh water that he places under Dante's muzzle.
“Good boy,” Flint murmurs, patting Dante's nape as he begins to drink. Dante gives an appreciative huff.
Silver’s jaw aches where he’s been clenching it. “He likes you,” he manages. Flint doesn’t even look at him as he turns towards the house.
Slowly he climbs the stairs. Silver watches him draw a ring of keys from his belt as he does, fiddling with them like he's about to open the door. He dawdles at the top step. Another minute trickles by before it dawns on Silver—slow and aching and obvious—and he dismounts, wincing when his foot hits the ground at last. His leg feels numb, bloodless.
He unhooks his crutch from Dante's saddle and leans his weight against the porch beam. “How long has it been?”
His head still bowed, Flint doesn't move an inch; doesn’t say a fucking word. The keys sit in his open palm, glinting in the dawn light.
Silver tips his chin up to the sky, considering. "We don't have to go in, you know. It's day. We can sit outside, or—I actually have to get going soon, so—"
Suddenly stirring, Flint unlocks the door and shoves his way into the house. The door he leaves ajar, which is as much invitation as Silver is ever going to get.
The place is small, at first glance. Lived in. Loved.
And—at second glance—utterly fucking abandoned.
There’s two armchairs by the fireplace, pushed snug next to each other. On the table there’s a series of mugs, glasses, some half full—a murky liquid too dark to be water—and an apothecary jar, labelled in Flint’s handwriting. Stacks of papers litter the ground—newspapers, manuscripts in an unfamiliar scratch—piled on top of each other, yellowing. Rotting. There’s a pair of glasses sitting on the very top.
Without sparing the scene a glance, Flint brushes past and heads into the kitchen. His feet kick up dust as he walks, and he begins moving stuff around, without pattern or purpose. He doesn’t look up when Silver moves further into the room.
“It’s nice here,” Silver says, his tongue too big for his mouth suddenly.
Flint stills in his movements. “There’s a bed upstairs,” he says, jerking his head towards the narrow staircase leading up to the landing. “Take it.”
“I wouldn’t want to intrude—"
It’s instant, again, and undeniable like the dawn—and Silver wants to reach for him. Instead he turns and walks up the stairs, a slow trudge that isn't helped at all by the events of the night. It’s only when he reaches the dusty, dark second floor that he hears Flint’s hands stop their aimless shuffling.
There's only one bedroom up here, and Silver braces his forehead against its door and breathes. The house breathes around him, too, for the first time in months.
i'm sad. how are you guys doing?
“What the—” Flint yelps, turning to him with wide eyes as if Silver is the crazy one in this scenario, “What the fuck are you doing?”
“What the fuck are you doing?”
Hey! this only took three months!! I literally have no excuse, except this chapter really didn't feel like cooperating me until the middle of the night last night. I pretty much wrote it in three hours, which is just mad considering I've been staring at it in my drafts for what seems like years. Thank you guys for sticking around and being wonderful! I'm planning for one more chapter after this and then maybe an epilogue! anyway, hope you enjoy these old idiots!
His hands are shaking. His throat is in knots and he’s holding a gun, and his hands are fucking shaking.
He blinks and Flint's in his face, snarling. Teeth bared, fanged, laughing; you're lying, he says, you're fucking lying—
He blinks and Flint's on the ground; a bullet in his chest, smoking. The gun slips and so does he, falls until he's crawling, crying, crawling—
He blinks he's on his knees—knee—and he's begging, begging Flint to look at him. He blinks and he’s begging, begging her to stay with him. He blinks, and Flint doesn’t; he blinks, and she doesn’t; and he blinks, and he blinks, and he’s drowning.
The water is up to his neck. It's rushing, roaring, too fast to fight, and it's water that’s in his lungs until it's not; fire licks up his throat, instead, burns dead the forest in his mouth; fire roars down his bones, next, and splits his leg like a log; and fire takes her, and fire takes them—and fire takes, and fire takes, and fire takes—
Silver jolts awake, gasping ash from his mouth. He feels wild and dizzy, like a thing dying, and so he scrambles out of the armchair to prove that he isn't, he isn't. His eyes take too long to adjust. The cabin is dark and shaking and full of ghosts. There’s a roar in his ears; a tremor rocks the floor; when he looks down he expects to be standing in flames, to see red climbing the walls, curling up his leg, cracking the hull in two—
A deafening clap of thunder, then, right over his head, and suddenly everything falls into place: it is only a room, it is only the wind, and yes he's in storm, but he hasn’t been in that storm in years. He hasn't had this dream in years either. It shakes in his chest, the fresh terror it brings.
His heart is still pounding against his teeth when something in him sinks. He throws the door open and he knows—it's the damned whistling—he knows he is alone in the house. The walls quiver as he rushes down the stairs, faster than he should, faster than his leg deserves, and he has to squint against a face full of rain when his foot hits the lower landing.
The front door is ajar. For a moment he thinks it has been blown off its hinges but it’s just kicking so quickly into the wall that he can hardly see it. The entire roof is shuddering. The foundations beneath him groaning; where the house was quiet and dusty hours ago it is now alive, alive and dying. Both armchairs have been knocked over, there’s shattered dishes littering the ground and a whirlwind of papers in the air—he watches one whiz past his face, barely missing his eye; the page is full of a slanted, proper script he can’t recognize.
When he makes it outside at last the trees look ready to surrender their roots to the sky. In the distance something is wailing. Tears sting his eyes; he can't see more than a fucking foot from his nose but he doesn’t need to once he steps out onto the porch—it’s Dante, straining like mad against his reigns, threatening to tear half the house from the ground. As soon as Silver cuts him free rope licks through his palm like fire and Dante is gone; Silver can only watch as he runs, and runs, and runs, hooves kicking up clumps of wet earth into the air until he disappears into the mist. There is a part of Silver that wants to run, too. It’s the same part of him that has always wanted to run.
The ground yields under him too easily as he rounds the corner of the property—and there; there Flint is, standing in the middle of it like a fucking lighthouse. His hair is whipping around him like fire, like smoke, like something half living and half dead. He's at the foot of the graves with his head bowed into his chest.
It tears itself from Silver’s throat mostly on reflex, the clipped, “Hey!” that leaves his mouth. The wind carries it but Flint doesn’t flinch, doesn’t even turn. Rain has soaked him to the bone. His white shirt clings to his back translucent, its hem whipping at his legs, at his arms, as if it has learned how to speak. As if it is cursing at the storm. With a frown Silver draws closer; there is something unnatural about the way Flint is standing. Like he isn’t standing at all, as though he isn’t there at all—a phantom hanging over his own grave—and suddenly Silver is thrown into the kind of panic that has him stumbling forward, that has him gripping the back of Flint’s shirt.
“What the—” Flint yelps, turning with his fist up and his eyes wide as if Silver is the crazy one in this scenario, “What the fuck are you doing?”
“What the fuck are you doing?” Silver yells; he can’t bring himself to let go of Flint’s shirt yet. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed but there’s a—” the wind whips half of Silver’s hair into his mouth. “A storm! Come the fuck back inside! Whatever it is you’re out here for can wait!”
Even with the wind roaring, the rain and the leaves between them, Silver can see Flint’s eyes go dark at that. “If I wanted your opinion—” he spits, taking Silver by the wrist and yanking his sopping shirt free, “I’d fucking ask for it. Now go!”
Flint turns away and Silver glares hard at the back of his head, chewing on his own tongue for a while. Then he digs his crutch into the ground and pivots, coming to a stop next to Flint without another word. There's a brief moment of respite. He feels Flint’s chest rise and fall, feels the fidgeting of Flint's hands at his sides as if he wants to put them to violence.
“I thought I told you to fucking go—”
“Well, I can’t fucking hear you,” Silver says, squinting ahead. “Whatever it is it’ll have to wait until the storm has passed, won’t it?”
The next sensation is Flint’s glare, boring into the side of his face. There’s a temptation to turn and meet it, but there’s also the temptation to get into a full blown argument baked right in, and Silver isn’t about to let the former drag him into the latter. His patience wins out; at long last Flint turns his eyes forward, sneering a little.
The storm rages around them. They just stand there like two trees with roots too stubborn for their own good.
Eventually, gradually, the wind eases off. Like sails being unfurled Flint sighs, and the stinging rain softens, turning into a fucking drizzle.
It’s unbelievable. Familiar any yet incredible. Silver watches in awe as the day slows to a calm. Drops begin to land carefully on his head, on his cheeks. A gentle breeze runs its fingers through his hair, raking through the distant trees without a trace of malice, as if it never intended to rip them from the ground whole.
There’s explanations for his, Silver knows. Floods and storms are common in this part of the world, even more so when the temperature is right. They mow over the land and keep going until they abruptly disappear, leaving carnage and confusion in their wake. He knows this. He knows.
But he glances side-along at Flint then, and Flint is—standing there with his chin tipped up to the sky and his eyes closed, rain clinging to his eyelashes. All he’s doing is breathing. Measured, even and deep, but he sounds like the wind and the wind sounds like him, and Silver can’t shake the fucking thought anymore. It sticks to him the way it stuck to him years ago; only this time Silver isn’t afraid, this time he wants to open his hands and catch the rain and the wind and the fucking trees and whatever the fuck else Flint carries around with him into the storm.
He can’t be sure how long they stand there. He knows only that at some point his leg has begun to tremble and he feels himself sway, as though he hasn’t slept in days. Unintentionally he knocks into Flint’s shoulder and Flint steadies him with a hand on his back. When they look at each other again Silver is less angry and more exhausted; it appears as though Flint feels the same way. He blinks, heavy. Completely spent.
There is never going to be a better time to ask. So Silver does. “Why are you out here?”
Slowly Flint draws his hand away and warmth seeps out of Silver like a sieve. He tries not to miss it as Flint turns his eyes skyward again.
“You’ll laugh at me,” Flint says, inexplicably. His voice is gentler now than the breeze.
“Laugh?" Silver turns to him, bewildered. "You were outside in a ship killer. I’m fairly certain whatever possessed you to leave the security of your home today is no laughing matter.”
The run of Flint’s jaw clenches. Silver can see it, then, the wheels turning in his head. The options being weighed.
“I was—well praying, I suppose."
Something twists in Silver’s throat. It doesn’t feel like a laugh in the slightest. “Praying?”
After a moment, Flint drags his hand roughly over his face and walks a few paces away. “All right, not really. Not exactly. But I don’t know how else to describe it.” He digs a thumb into his temple, keeping his thoughtful gaze on the ground. “It’s just one passage. It’s something—he used to say to me, before. But I can’t seem to—I can’t remember it. Not all of it. I’m not even sure if he ever told me where it came from, which sermon or book or story he was quoting. I haven’t been able to track it down. And now he’s gone and I—for the fucking life of me I cannot remember—” He squeezes his eyes shut. “I just came out here to remember.”
The wind rushes quietly in the distance. Flint’s hands fidget at his sides, though for a different reason entirely.
Flint looks up. “What?”
“Try me,” Silver repeats, and closes the distance so they are standing together again. “I know I don’t look like much now but time was I had a good memory. I even read a few books, in my youth.”
“You read a few books.”
“Don’t look at me like that.” Silver goes for a smile and he’s rewarded with a tiny flick in the corner of Flint’s mouth. It feels like a prize. “I may not be as literate as you, true, but I think you'll admit that hardly anyone is. Maybe it’ll jog something in me and I can be of some use. If not, at the very least there’ll be a second person to remember the pieces you have left.”
For a long, long stretch of time Flint just looks at him, the corners of his eyes creasing. Again, the wheels turning. “All right," he says at last. "I suppose it can’t hurt.”
The tiny spark of hope that has lit up behind Flint’s eyes is enough to keep Silver warm in the damp for a little longer. He grins and beckons with his free hand. “Great. Now give me something. Anything.”
“I know the word ‘beloved’ was in it,” Flint says, scratching the back of his neck, the side of his jaw. Abruptly Silver thinks that they both need a shave. “I believe that’s how it began, actually.”
“All right. That's a good start.”
With his whole body Flint skews to the side and raises an eyebrow at him.
“It is!” Silver insists, as Flint's eyebrow hitches up a little more, “Well, it’s—it’s something. It’s promising, at least. Just keep at it. What else?”
The sun has begun to rise above them. Silver can hear the birds re-emerging from wherever it is birds hide in storms, starting to chatter again, quipping at one another tentatively. The air feels bright. Clean, as if it's brand new, the way it only ever is after it has been washed by rain. As if finally motivated, Flint walks into a patch of light. He starts to pace.
“Something about seals?” he asks, though it's more to himself. “A heart seal. A seal over a heart. There was a line about floods, too. That sounds biblical, doesn’t it?”
“It does,” Silver says, and winces. Nothing is, in fact, being jogged currently. The thought of letting Flint down in this is somehow acutely upsetting and so he begins to walk, too. His knee doesn't complain for once. “Perhaps we should shuffle through the Good Book until you catch something familiar? It could work.”
“I’ve already done that,” Flint says, waving a dismissive hand, “I’ve been at this for weeks. It isn’t in any of the copies we own and I—oh!" He halts suddenly, grabbing Silver by the arm to stare at him wide eyed. “There was some talk of coals! And fire, too, I think. Christ, why can’t I just remember—I know I’m old but I didn’t think my wits would leave me so fucking quickly—what? What is it, what's wrong?”
Well, fuck, Silver thinks, and feels himself smile under Flint's growing panic.
“I opened for my beloved. I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer. Still, I said to him, set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm; for love is strong as death. Many waters cannot quench it, neither can the floods drown it, for the coals thereof are coals of fire.”
In the ringing silence Flint stares at him, slack-jawed. A drop of rain tracks down out of his hair, over the side of his face, disappearing under the neck of his shirt.
“Did I get it?” Silver asks, starting to feel buoyant, "Am I close?”
“Yes.” Flint blinks a few times. “Yes, that’s the one. You got it.” After a pause he repeats, in a voice thicker and more incredulous than before, “That’s the one.”
“Good," Silver says, shifting where he stands. "Hey. That’s good, right?”
A moment later Flint’s hand is still on him, Flint is still staring at him, and Silver feels the kind of shiver that has very little to do with being rained on. “Well then, shall we head back inside? I’m quite cold, to be honest. Not to mention quite old. I find I've grown less agreeable with age so I'm not really in the mood for either of us to catch our deaths out here—” he grimaces, showing teeth. "That was a poor choice of words. Sorry. Christ, I'll just—I’ll go—"
He's beginning a hasty retreat when Flint catches his arm. Reluctantly he turns to find Flint at war with himself, his lips pressed together as if he doesn't want to ask.
He still asks. “How on earth did you—how did you know?”
The words fail him, but his eyes don't. There is a familiar question there. It is years old—Silver would have thought it dead by now—but it still lives, patient. Waiting. In a lot of ways, looking at it isn't as terrifying it used to be.
“It's the Song of Solomon,” Silver says, and Flint's mouth parts. “He had good taste, to be sure. As for how I knew, suffice it to say that I didn’t lie to you as often as you think.”
Another beat passes; Silver watches Flint's eyes. Standing outside makes them seem a little greener. Then Flint is nodding, gently, and releasing Silver’s arm to the wind.
“Come on." Silver walks out onto the path. “Now I need your help.”
Flint makes a suspicious sound. Though Silver can hear him fall into step immediately. “For what, exactly?”
“Dante’s run off. I promised Mateo I'd bring him back safe and sound and, well—you can’t expect a cripple to search the woods alone, can you?”
He smiles to himself when he hears Flint groan, swearing darkly under his breath as they walk.
Finding Dante is a much easier endeavor than either of them expect. He’s right there when they round to the front of the house, standing by the porch munching on a tuft of muddy grass without a care in the world. Half his fur is matted down and the rest is sticking up in odd angles. All in all he seems a little rattled but not too much worse for wear.
“Oh.” Silver tries not to look too disappointed. “There you are.”
The mercy of his freedom entirely forgotten, Dante lifts his eyes from the ground and glares at him. Silver immediately returns the fucking sentiment.
“He was about to destroy your porch, you know,” he points out as Flint approaches the beast and begins to pet his nape. Dante leans into his hand without an ounce of hesitation, and for some reason that annoys Silver more than anything else. “I barely got there in time. He’d have taken the whole house with him if he could.”
As if to rub it in, Dante turns his nose into Flint’s palm and huffs, then, and Flint actually smiles. It's the barest twitch of his mouth, but it is there, like the dawn peeking through foliage. “He was just afraid,” Flint says, and something in Silver's chest goes inexplicably tight.
He squints at the sky. The noon sun is rising, rising, rising. "Yes, well. At any rate, thank you for your—ah—hospitality.”
Briefly Flint’s hand seems to pause over Dante’s flank but he doesn’t look up. “Right. Mateo will be expecting you no doubt.”
There is silence for a moment. Then Flint is straightening up and heading for the tool-shed at the edge of the property. He emerges with a bucket in one hand and the saddle in the other, wordlessly handing the former to Silver before lowering into a crouch. He begins to check Dante's hoofs for wear. By the time Silver has returned from the well and thrust the bucket full of water in Dante's direction, Flint is busy fiddling with the straps of the saddle. The cinch over Dante’s belly proves a difficult task for some incomprehensible reason; Flint unspools it twice and does it up again in the same fashion while Silver looks on. The mule makes a whiny noise into his water when Flint steps away.
Then Flint just stands there. Stiff as a fucking board with his hands clasped behind his back; the pose is so familiar that despite himself Silver is shaken by it. Annoyed by it.
“Don’t let me keep you,” Flint says next, without looking at him in the eye, and Silver finds he wants to scream.
Instead he mounts Dante in one move. He can feel his muscles delight at the chance to practice something he’d thought he’d long forgotten. It feels good to do it; it feels better to have Flint watch him do it. Flint’s eyes follow him as he digs a heel into Dante’s side and forces him to turn, heading down the dirt path cutting into the main road without a glance back.
This is how it ends, he thinks, watching the fence grow closer. Feeling Flint grow smaller. This is how it ends, again.
It’s stupid that he wants to say something. He knows. The words stick regardless, stubborn in his throat. They arrange and re-arrange themselves in and out of order in panicked circles. He hacks away the parts that say too much; he leaves out the parts that say it wrong. What he’s left with in the end is alarmingly close to: Take care of yourself, please.
It's stupid. It's laughable. It's not nearly fucking enough. It doesn't help that he knows Flint won’t want to hear it. Knows he wouldn’t heed it, even if by some miracle he deigned to listen. They would only serve to sap air out of the lungs of a foolish old man, one who probably doesn't have that much breath left to spare.
Still he tugs on the reigns and brings Dante to a stop. Barely half a second later a hand appears out of nowhere and lands on his good knee, and Silver almost recoils out of the saddle; almost feels his fucking heart give out.
“What the fuck—”
"Are you hungry?"
“Am I—” Silver blinks, his brain stuttering, blind. “What?”
“Hungry,” Flint pants, and that’s when Silver notices that he looks frazzled, like he’s been—running? “Neither of us have eaten anything hours, and I just thought—”
“I could eat,” Silver says, sense returning at a dizzying speed, “I could—yeah, I. Fuck, I’m actually starving.”
As if on cue his stomach lurches to life; it could gnaw through wood right now, Silver thinks. It could gnaw right through his heart. Eyes a little wide, Flint nods.
“It’s foolish to start a long journey on an empty stomach,” he says, and Silver nods back at him, lacking the means currently to think about how stupid they must look: standing there exchanging passionate salutes.
“You’re right,” Silver says, clearing his throat, “Of course you’re right.”
Just like that, the shared tension dissipates. The space between them seems to collapse; Silver feels warmth seep into him through Flint’s palm and something expands in his belly as if it’s been fed already. He thinks he sees Flint smile but he can’t be sure; the noon light is hitting his face strangely, making them both squint, making Flint's hair seem aflame again.
“I’m going to head to the market,” Flint says, at length, drawing his hand away. “I’ve no provisions stocked whatsoever. You—uh. Head back in, I suppose. I’ll be back shortly.”
There’s a beat.
“Get off the mule.”
He knows he sees Flint smile then. He dismounts in a daze, realizing too late that he has picked the wrong side to do it: he ends up awkwardly sliding down Flint’s front while Flint climbs on, sliding up his back. Once he's seated Flint lifts his chin to look ahead, and Silver can only blink up at him for a moment before they are trotting away. It seems that Dante still wants nothing to do with Silver whatsoever.
They are halfway up the road and Flint’s still-perfect posture is disappearing into the white haze of heat when Silver turns away at last, making his way to the house once more.
If there’s a bit of a spring in his step, well. Nobody is around to see it.
“Oh, God,” Silver groans, long and loud.
Flint says, “Hmm.”
“I really think this might be the end, you know.”
"It feels like it might be. How can you be sure?”
“Because you cannot die of overeating,” Flint says, his mouth twitching.
listen. listen . i'm filled with guilt that this chapter has taken so long, i hate that i'm that person that updates every six months and yet--i don't know what to tell you. it refused to cooperate with me. it still kind of refuses, but i'm tired of looking at it. here you go. we're at the final stretch. i'll either post one chapter after this combined with an epilogue, or split them up. we'll see. anyway, i hope those of you that have stuck around so long enjoy! thanks a million for the kudos and the comments, y'all are wonderful.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The spring in his step disappears as soon as he reaches the house. The place is in—well, fucking ruins.
It’s true, the external structure is still there. The porch still stands. And surprisingly—if not downright miraculously—the windows haven’t shattered to pieces, but that’s the end of the good news. Every breakable thing inside the house is broken and littering the ground, right down to the small vase in the pantry. There are exactly two dishes left intact. Three tea cups, with the last badly chipped at the rim. As soon as Silver picks it up it pricks his finger, drawing a fair bit of blood. He downgrades the total to two cups after that.
The armchairs are fairly unharmed and easy to right, though as with most things Silver supposes it’d be easier still with two legs rather than one. The challenge that presents itself next is the placement of the furniture. He hadn’t the good sense to look around properly when he first arrived and so he’s certain he’s put the rug in the wrong fucking place. He's also sure there were only two chairs around the dining table, before. Now there's a third. The discrepancy annoys him a great deal more than it should.
All of that fumbling brings him here—standing in the doorway looking for excuses to further delay the activity he has been dreading for the past hour: gathering the papers still scattered everywhere. He recognizes Thomas’ script now. He’d come across little notes in the empty pantry; shopping lists they looked like, signed off with endearments Silver wishes he could unread. As he approaches a large pile he realizes some pages appear to be transcribed, as if dictated by Thomas and inked by Flint himself. Hastily he shuffles them together before the words can register in his head. He doesn’t want to read the man’s work. He didn’t even want to read the man’s lists. Every part of this feels like Silver is intruding; into a life that was lived quite happily in his absence, one that deserves to remain unstained by his hands.
Drawing himself upright he makes his way over to the side table, intending to deposit the papers there for Flint to sort through when he returns. It’s a fine plan, one that involves minimal interaction with anything that Thomas Hamilton has ever touched. A fine plan that is, until Silver’s crutch catches on the edge of the misplaced carpet. He stumbles, and can only watch miserably as the papers in his arms flutter to the ground once more. With a curse he sinks to his aching knee to pick them up.
That is when he notices the sketches.
Most of them are small, gracing the backs of half-written manuscripts, dotting the corners of drafts that have large sections of text crossed out. All are meticulous, carefully detailed drawings of a man Silver has never seen in life but still feels like he knows. Thomas Hamilton’s eyes are sharp. Even in charcoal he looks deceptively clever—and likewise keenly aware of his own cleverness. Certainly a man Silver's youthful instincts would have told him not to cross. In most he sports a beard, well-groomed and light. In others he’s wearing glasses, perched on the bridge of his strong nose. Inexplicably there’s one of him with long black hair—Silver does a double take until he realizes it must have been from memory; Thomas seems younger, his face rounder, and the hair is most certainly a nobleman’s wig.
He reaches for another stack to find more sketches: Thomas laughing, reading, sleeping. A bigger one of him in the kitchen, his bottom lip pulled between his teeth, furiously writing. Studies of his eyes and his neck and his hands lay in the margins, along with a little scribble of his feet up on an ottoman that no longer seems to be in the house.
It comes as a surprise, of sorts, that Flint draws. It is no surprise at all that he’s good. With something like awe Silver imagines it: Flint sitting in his armchair, doused in the afternoon light; Flint’s lethal hands gentled, covered in smears of charcoal instead of blood. It’s a little jarring. It feels as though Silver is stealing something.
After a moment he begins stacking the pages together again. There's a faint tremor in his hands he cannot seem to shake. He’s about to stand—the instinct to flee mounting high in his chest—when the binding of another pile comes undone against his chest. The sight that greets him then makes him sit down hard on the ground instead, his crutch clattering to rest next to him.
It's The Walrus, near perfect, floating in the Nassau harbour. Instantly a lump twists in Silver's throat, his vision blurring as if he’d been on the edge all this time. There are vague shadows of the men on board, some high in the rigging, others on deck, looking out. Silver runs two fingers down the main mast. He never thought he'd see it again. With a pang he thinks of the ship itself, an ancient wreck sunk off the coast of an island filled with ghosts. The thought does nothing to still his hands.
In an effort to distract himself he turns the page over and finds Eleanor Guthrie. Younger than she was when Silver first met her, her hair pulled back in a complex braid and her mouth quirked in a mischievous little smile. There's more of her, too; slightly older and frowning behind her desk; older still and standing stoic with her arms crossed, gazing out of her window. Around her, her office is rendered with so much care that Silver feels as though he's there again, as though he could hear Nassau in the distance if only he strained himself, like he could feel the island breeze wafting through the room if only he closed his eyes.
He begins flipping through the pages faster. There are a few sketches of the tavern, the marketplace; mostly rough, as if put down for practice. The next clear one is of a house in the interior Silver doesn't quite recognize. A garden sits out front, well-tended to and loved. It looks remarkably similar to the cottage Silver is currently sitting in, or what it would look like if the place weren't left to rot. Mrs. Barlow—Hamilton—Miranda is on the other side. She's young, too, and smiling. Her hands rest together in her lap; her eyes are closed, her chin tipped up into a source of light. She looks ethereal and bright. Peaceful. It is the only drawing that has been left unfinished.
Carefully Silver turns to the next page to find Madi staring back at him. She's on the forecastle of The Walrus, looking down at the deck with a wry twist to her mouth and just like that Silver feels as though he's choking. He sees his charcoal-black thumb crumple the edge of the page for a moment before he forces himself to unclench his fist, surreptitiously smoothing it over. There's a striking one of her face on the other side of the sheet; the quiet determination in her eyes that Silver fell for before he could help himself, perfectly frozen in time. In the last one she is standing on the beach, staring out to sea. Her expression is in shadow but something about the way she's holding herself speaks to a kind of grief Silver cannot bear to look at for long.
He hasn’t seen her in months. They haven’t been truly together in years. Grief has eaten him to the bone. At the end of his rope at last, he’s rushing to put everything away when a folded page slithers out from between his hands. He watches it flutter infuriatingly in the air until it falls open and he sees—
It feels like he's taken a blow to the head. He stares blankly. And then, in a curious sort of daze, as though his arm is not his own, he reaches out to pick up the page.
This sketch is rendered far less carefully than all else he’s seen. The strokes are imprecise and spontaneous. The detail is sparse. His hair is long. Longer than he remembers ever keeping it; it falls wildly around his shoulders, filthy, unkempt. The horizon dotted behind him is faint but achingly familiar, like an old melody that’s never scrubbed clean from the mind. And his face—Christ, he’s young. Younger than he remembers ever feeling. His expression is a little pinched, squinting a private sort of smile, and it’s the strangest thing, seeing the blatant fondness there in his own eyes.
It’s the strangest fucking thing.
All of a sudden a foolish urge seizes him: to get rid of the sketch. To cast it into the hearth as if he'd be destroying evidence of something incriminating; as if that would allow him to deny its existence, it’s truth; and with it the implication that Flint had sat here in this very house thinking of him—something strange uncurls in Silver’s stomach at that; it feels a little like greed, though it tastes more like desperation—and he turns the page over instantly, searching. He finds a couple of loose, animated sketches of a shadowy figure. They are all silhouettes, formless. Crossed out and smudged. Belatedly he tries to bite down on a hot flash of disappointment—he cannot honestly be upset over something so fucking trivial as—
“I didn't draw you for years. By the time I wanted to I found that I couldn't.”
Silver stares at the stone wall hard enough to burn a hole through it. Then he waves the page over his shoulder. "This one looks all right to me."
"Memories make for unreliable models,” Flint says, and the floorboards creak; Silver can feel him moving into the kitchen. “I could never get your smile right.”
There is a lull, wherein Silver finds himself utterly unable to speak, and then Flint says, “You cleaned up.”
Silver gathers the remaining papers and stands. He drops the pile on the side table; Thomas Hamilton smiles at him from the topmost page. “If by ‘cleaned up’ you mean I set your chairs aright, then yes. I cleaned up.”
“You didn’t have to do that."
"It's no trouble," Silver says, slowly pivoting to face Flint. His knee has started twinging again. "Considering that I shamelessly invaded your life and then invited myself over for breakfast—"
"I invited you—"
"Maybe so, but I forced your hand. The least I could do is help—"
He promptly loses his train of thought, then, because that's when he's greeted with the sight of Flint standing in the kitchen among what is most likely half the market’s total produce. There are two-dozen tomatoes at least, as many carrots and onions to match. A massive loaf of bread sits on the table, as big as—if not bigger—than Flint’s own head, along with three whole chickens, already plucked and ready to be roasted. Over Flint’s shoulder Silver can see a giant wheel of cheese. Next to it, by the hearth, is a huge sack of rice.
There is total silence between them right up until a single, stunted snort escapes Silver's traitorous mouth. He tries to bite it back but then Flint frowns, and so Silver trips on another, and another, until he’s outright laughing; in relief, in mirth, he isn’t exactly sure which.
“What?” Flint snaps, and Christ, it’s funnier somehow, infinitely more so, that he doesn’t see the absurdity of the situation. Not just of this, but of the whole thing; all that has come to pass in the last two days, after a fucking lifetime without—
“I'm sorry,” Silver lies, because it is a lie; he feels the knot in his chest unwinding, unwinding, unwinding, and he’s never been less sorry in his life, “I just wasn't aware we were throwing a feast, that's all. Were you planning on feeding the whole town?”
Flint squints at him. Then he says, “You could invite Mateo if you want.”
That’s what sets Silver off again. He laughs until the tightness in his chest abates, until he feels untethered and bright, and when he finally looks up Flint is still standing there watching him, his lips pressed together into a line. One that is very much wobbling like he’s trying hard not to join in. Silver prays for the first time in years, decades; prays for Flint to laugh; God, he's forgotten what it sounds like. He wants to hear it bouncing around the room, filling his ears, drowning out all else.
“Is it over?” Flint says, hefting a crate of potatoes into his arms, “Are you done?”
“Am I done—you're the one who bought the entire island just so we could have breakfast. Tell me, was there anything left at the market? Did you perhaps leave behind a single grain of rice? Would you like to go back and pick up another chicken?”
“Hmm,” Flint says, tipping the crate over on the counter. “Maybe I’ll just feed your share to Dante.”
"No!" Silver starts forward—he really is starving—and Flint glances up at him, unaffected. "I’m done, I’m done, I promise. I’ll be helpful. Tell me what to do.”
“Hand me my glasses.”
“It’s such a pity that you’re going to starve—”
“All right!” Silver picks up the glasses he’d assumed belonged to Thomas and makes his way over to the kitchen to join him. “I didn’t think these were yours, that’s all. How bad is your vision?”
“That’s none of your business," Flint says, and he plucks them out of Silver’s hands and puts them on and it’s—the most endearing fucking thing Silver has ever seen. They sit snug on the bridge of Flint’s stupidly delicate nose, and it only gets worse when Flint starts sorting through the pile of tomatoes. He holds each at arm's length, carefully assessing every last one for bruises as if this were the most important task he's ever taken on in his life, and the opportunity that presents itself then is too good to pass up: Silver stares, unashamedly. Drinks his fill like a man starved, starving, comparing the Flint before him to the one gracing every inch of his faded memories. There's the same intensity, the same relentless drive, except its being used on tomatoes rather than waging war, Christ.
Abruptly Flint’s hands go still. He glances side-along at Silver. “What?”
“Nothing," Silver says. You, he means. He feels foolish. Young. “I couldn’t have imagined this in a million years. I’ve never had artistic aspirations, honestly, but I wish I had your skill with charcoal right now so I could show you exactly what you look like.”
Flint’s mouth twists into something that’s meant to be a scowl, though it looks more like a smile held at bay. He turns away towards the hearth. “If you’re quite finished ridiculing me I have an important question to ask you.”
“I’m finished for the time being, yes,” Silver braces his hip against the counter to take some weight off his leg. “Go on.”
“Are you still a shit cook or have you improved at all in the last twenty years?”
The brown onion Silver had been examining blocks his eyeline until he slowly lowers it to glare at the back of Flint’s head. “I’m sure Madi told you we own a tavern," he says pointedly.
Flint snorts, dropping into a crouch to start a fire. “Owning a tavern isn’t the same thing as knowing how to cook.”
“That’s true," Silver concedes, tossing the onion into the sorted pile of tomatoes. He’s grown petty with age. "Though I think you might have overlooked the part where I said I owned the tavern with Madi. You really think I could have gotten away with serving sub-par porridge and raw pig under her roof?”
Flint considers this for a moment, stuffing kindling between the planks of wood he's stacked. "You won’t poison me, then?”
“Not intentionally, no.”
“Well that’s encouraging."
There's a row of knives spread out on the table in a neat line. They are all shining, freshly sharpened, though Silver would bet good money that none of them were ever used in any endeavor but cooking. He picks one at random and uses it to sneak some crust off the nearby loaf of bread. It’s warm; it tastes fucking divine.
“You might be happy to learn that I can finally glaze a pig properly,” he tells Flint through a mouthful.
“Is that right?” Finally the fire catches; branches begin to hiss and pop, and Flint sets a large pot of water over it to boil. "Took you long enough.”
“Perfection takes time.”
“Let me guess. Your definition of the word amounts to not giving anybody the shits.”
Silver inhales a bit of crust trying not to laugh. “That, yes, among other things. I've actually earned a nickname, you know. In Bristol. Owing to my culinary prowess.”
“Oh?” Flint turns to the basin to wash his hands. “What do they call you?”
The single, barking laugh that Flint lets loose at that is a revelation. Silver feels it settle in the pit of his stomach, warm, like a cat in the sun.
“Unfortunately," Flint says, drying off, "We don’t have a pig to glaze. But you can start by dicing this."
He’s returned to Silver’s side. His shirtsleeves are rolled up to his elbows, which is what Silver would be looking at had Flint’s hands been empty.
“A single carrot,” Silver says, setting the knife down and taking the aforementioned vegetable out of Flint's hands.
“My word. I appreciate you trusting me with this, Captain."
The second the title leaves his mouth Silver wants to bite his own tongue in half. The moment hangs between them, tense and drawn, and as if suddenly in a nightmare he watches Flint pick up the knife. He watches as Flint turns to him, the blade coming to rest pointing to Silver’s stomach like the hand of a compass. Then with a flick of his wrist Flint flips it around, the blade smacking against his palm. He holds the handle out to Silver instead.
Silver exhales. Loudly. He snatches the knife from Flint’s hand. “That wasn’t funny.”
“Wasn’t it?” Flint grins, suddenly decades younger. “That carrot is a big responsibility. Don’t fuck it up, Barbeque.”
He does have to careen a little to dodge the elbow Flint throws in his direction, then, but it’s worth it to hear Flint chuckle under his breath again.
“Oh, God,” Silver groans.
Flint says, “Hmm.”
“I really think this might be the end, you know.”
"It feels like it might be. How can you be sure?”
“Because you cannot die of overeating,” Flint says, his mouth twitching. He raises his teacup full of wine but doesn’t drink, instead rubbing it this way and that along his darkened lips. There is a pink flush to his cheeks. A faint sheen of sweat dots his brow. Any other time the combined sight would probably be distracting, but Silver is too busy being in fucking agony to feel much of anything else.
With another groan he shifts in his seat. It's in an effort to make room for the food in his belly but instead it earns him a stabbing pain in his side. “Christ. I feel like I’m with child.”
Flint cracks an eye open. “I don't have to explain to you why that's impossible, surely—”
"Yes, thank you," Silver snaps, though there is no bite to the words at all. He feels lethargic and hopeless. "It’s just that—” another pang in his flank, “Fuck, I’m not accustomed to this.”
“What, a full belly?”
“Eating for three. We inhaled it all. Your pantry is empty again.”
"Not exactly," Flint says, sounding overly pleased with himself. "There's still some chicken left if you're feeling up to it."
“Oh, that’s funny. You're a funny man. Were you always this funny? God, it hurts to laugh—you know what? I’m sorry it’s come to this—" A loud rustle later and Silver’s gun belt is falling to the floor with a dull thud. He leans back in his seat moaning in relief.
They sit there, sprawled at opposite ends of the table for so long that Silver loses track of time. He feels loose-limbed, honeyed; knows only that the fire is still going, that the wine is sweet, and that for all of his current physical suffering he hasn’t felt this contented in years.
Outside the sun has begun to set. Preparations for the feast had taken them well into the afternoon, and what began as a simple breakfast had along the way turned into a long and meandering process—they'd eaten as they cooked, orbiting one another in the kitchen easily, as though they'd never parted—and they'd drank as they waited, falling into a comfortable kind of routine. At one point Silver had even taken a nap, curled into one armchair as Flint sat reading in the other. Eventually they'd ended up eating again, a hearty meal of chicken and potatoes, the scraps of which sat between them now.
Through lidded eyes Silver watches the waning light dance across the floorboards. Flecks of dust swirl in the air, firelight throws shadows up the walls and the house is warm, warm, warm. By all rights it should be suffocating. But every time he looks up he's greeted with the sight of Flint sitting there, his teacup balanced on his stomach and his eyes shut in something like peace. Silver lets himself be dragged into a matching lull. He lets his heavy eyelids droop, lets his breathing ease out, synchronizing with Flint’s, until they are together expanding and collapsing like sails in the wind.
It feels natural. It feels, inexplicably, like home.
It doesn’t last. Sometime time later he blinks to find that the room has grown dark. The candle between them is lit and across the table, Flint is wide awake, his gaze on Silver like a heavy hand. Before long a familiar sensation begins to lick up Silver’s spine; his skin feels tight; his hands awkward and empty.
"You know," he says, his throat dry, "If your Captaincy hadn't worked out you would have made a damn good cook. I would hire you in a heartbeat."
It’s unsurprising that his stab at levity fails. Flint's expression pinches, a pained grimace that takes a moment to smooth out. “Why didn't you come?" he asks, and Silver pauses with his cup half-way to his mouth.
"To Boston. With Madi.”
"Oh." The wine feels heavy as blood in his mouth. "As it turns out honest work is as awful as they make it out to be. Someone needed to stay behind in Bristol and run things. Madi wished to visit her mother, and I—actually I didn't know she went on to Boston until she returned.”
The fire has been burning behind Silver’s chair all night, though it burns hotter, he thinks, when Flint braces his elbows on the table and leans forward. The wood groans under him like a dying thing.
“I see,” he says. “And who is looking after your tavern now?"
"What are you trying to ask?"
"Why are you here, Silver?"
There is a beat of silence. A branch cracks loud in the hearth. "I told you. When we received news of Thomas’ passing, Madi wanted to make sure you were—”
"Stop," Flint says. "Don’t do that. If it’s all the same to you, I'd like you to tell me the truth. Just this once.”
Silver sets his drink down with a thud. “I am. As I said Madi wished to come see you herself, and when she couldn’t she suggested that I—”
He’s still speaking when Flint closes his eyes. There’s no sound for a moment save for Flint’s long exhale, his shoulders rising and falling as he composes himself. He scrubs a hand over his face, over his jaw, scratching briefly at the greying bristles of his beard. His gaze is piercing when it meets Silver’s at last. Silver struggles not to collapse under it, feeling fragile, a thing made only of sand.
Whatever Flint sees, soon his expression shifts, darkening like a rain-cloud. In a different tone of voice, one that is older and more familiar, Flint asks, "What exactly is it that you want from me?"
The air between them has changed. Silver sits up in his seat; the hairs on the back of his damp neck stand up, too. "Nothing. I don't want anything."
Flint tsks. It’s an unkind sound. "That has never been true for as long as I've known you."
There’s a cruel certainty behind Flint's words. Absurdly Silver finds he wants to laugh. "You really think so little of me, then?”
"Time was I thought the world of you," Flint snarls suddenly, and it would be threatening if not for the way his voice has started to shake. "And I paid dearly, for thinking that. For trusting that. Jesus Christ—” He pushes off table and knocks back into his seat, gesturing wide with his arms, “What did you expect, coming here? That you could save me from my grief? That I would thank you for it? That you could just come back after all this time and pretend like nothing happened—"
"I'm not," Silver snaps, leaning forward, “I’m not pretending. That is not what I wanted—”
"Then what did you want?" Flint says, yells, at last; he sets his drink down so hard that the teacup shatters, spilling wine everywhere. “What the fuck do you want, Silver? And don’t give me excuses, I long ago grew tired of sifting through your lies. Is it the treasure? Is that it? Did you come all this way hoping to manipulate its location out of me?”
“You have to admit it sounds like you, thinking a grieving man might be an easier target—”
Instantly Silver feels fury flare in his throat, boundless and wide; he can’t keep himself from shouting, “Fuck you! You really think that I would do that? You think after all this time I give a shit about that damn—”
“Oh, I’m sorry," Flint looks and sounds the furthest thing from it. He’s faintly trembling in the candle light; elemental and terrifying. “Does it offend you that I think you might have some ulterior motive here? I may have left the life behind but I haven’t forgotten who you are. I haven’t been able to. For twenty years I thought about the man who stood beside me, the man I thought I knew, the man who pretended to be my friend, my partner, my—” He bites his tongue and his face twists. “You played with me. Lied to me, over and over and over again, before you stole the fight I had spent ten years of my life preparing for right from my hands! And then you stuck me in a fucking slave camp—”
As if breaking free from chains Flint shifts to stand, growing in height like a tide—and Silver finds himself entirely numb to the sight, welcoming it, even, the idea of Flint’s hands around his throat. In some ways this is how it was always supposed to end.
It’s then that he sees it. The red.
“Your hand—” on reflex he bolts out of his seat. Only then does Flint look away from him, his glare dropping to the table top where his fist is, where blood has begun to ooze from between his fingers, mixing with the wine to seep into the grooves. "Fuck, let me—"
A loud scrape and Flint is on his feet, too. On instinct Silver braces but in the end all he can do is stand there like an idiot as Flint storms right past him—when he turns around to follow, Flint is more of a phantom than a man. He’s standing in the darkened kitchen, moonlight has soaked him blue. He’s struggling to wrap his hand in a rag to stem the bleeding. The cloth stains black and soon Silver can see him trying to tie it off, can see Flint’s hands shaking, can hear him cursing under his breath.
He reaches for his crutch. “Let me help you—”
“No.” Flint’s glare is like a swinging blade. “I don't want a Goddamned thing from you. I don’t want an apology. I don’t want your help. I don’t want you here, if all you want is to—for Christ's sake, just tell me the fucking truth! Tell me what you want—”
All of a sudden he squeezes his eyes shut and staggers backwards, his shoulders collapsing under some invisible weight. It's the same one Silver has seen in his body over and over and over again, made entirely of loss, sharpened to a dangerous edge by time. It breaks the last of Silver’s resolve; shatters it, until all that’s left in him is a howling, endless abyss of grief, his only companion since he left that godforsaken island.
“You’re right," he says, and that is enough to get Flint to look at him again. His face stays slack for a moment before it hardens, turns hostile.
“Am I?” He bares his teeth. A terrible facsimile of a smile. “It is about the treasure, then? Is that what you want?”
“No. I told you. I don't give a fuck about that chest.”
Without missing a beat Flint sneers, “Bullshit.”
“It’s the truth.”
They look at each other. Flint weighs it again, Silver’s sincerity. Measures him as carefully as he always has. For once Silver doesn’t feel the need to shrink away; instead he wishes to be seen, entirely. To be heard. Finally fucking known.
“So what, then?” Flint grunts, turning away to tend to his hand. “Why are you here? Spit it out, whatever the fuck it is, and then leave me be.”
“I’m here because I loved you, once.”
yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet. it's finally happening. it's all happening!
"I'm here because I loved you, once."
we're at the end! i mushed the final chapter and the epilogue together so here you go! thanks so much to all of you that left kudos, comments, this was a wild ride from start to finish. i hope you enjoy the final installment <3 i may well write other stories in this universe, we'll see how it goes!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
What follows is an agonizing stretch of silence.
Flint doesn't say anything. Doesn’t even move. He stands there just as he was, cradling his injured hand with his head bowed in the dark, breathing. In and out and in again.
Silver has had this conversation before. He’s had it a thousand times over, in a thousand different ways; had it with the Flint that is angry, the Flint that is betrayed, the Flint that is dead, had it with the one that spits curses, the one that throws fists, the the one that wraps his shackles around Silver’s throat and squeezes until Silver wakes, gasping, his eyes wet, his heart a thundering thing in his chest.
Silver has had this conversation before. But never, not once—not in twenty odd years—has Flint ever been silent.
The instinct to move pulls. Keeping his eyes on the nape of Flint's neck, Silver tucks his crutch under his arm and begins to walk.
“I didn't know I did, of course," he says, picking up from where he left off. He stops next to Flint and looks out the window. "I honestly don't think I could have known at the time. But I did. You and Madi, I—”
He cuts off when voice wavers. He glances sidelong at Flint, once, finds him completely unchanged, and desperate for—something, Silver leans over and nudges the window open. Night air floods into the house like a stream, sharp and soothing after a day of rain. It picks up the damp hairs sticking to his neck, works its way down his shirt. He breathes it in. Feels it settle his skittering pulse.
He’s glad to see that his hands are steady when he reaches for the abandoned rag on the counter.
When he touches Flint’s wrist, next, Flint’s warm, red hand turns over, opens easily like a wild lotus blooming. Blood has already begun to crust along the jagged gashes where the glass sliced into his skin, and Silver hums in sympathy before he guides Flint’s hand into his own and starts to clean it.
As expected, the methodical task helps. It keeps him centred, focused, and above all it keeps him from looking up; from meeting Flint's gaze, the one he can feel now just out of sight—searching Silver's face, questions hanging so heavy in the air he could reach out and grasp them if he wanted.
He doesn't. He's come this far. He'd lose his nerve if he looked at Flint now.
“When we first met I had nothing," he says, mindful not to press too hard. "I know men say that. They throw that phrase around as though it were a state one can recognize. As if people with nothing are aware of it. Most aren’t. I was. I learned to like it that way. I drifted from place to place with no thought for loyalty, for guilt, for company. I changed names. I ran at the first sight of trouble. I went looking for more. It was easy. Not an easy life, mind you. But an easy way to go about living a hard one. I never thought twice about it. And then I met you.”
He exhales, trying to keep himself level, and draws back to rinse the rag clean. He doesn’t let go of Flint’s hand. “I hated you. After the leg. I don't think I ever told you that. I remember sitting in your cabin for hours unable to move or breathe without feeling pain and it was the only thing in the world that gave me any sense of normalcy. I hated. The crew, the ship, the fucking sea; you.”
As he speaks he can see it, feel it, opening his eyes to the dip in the blankets where his leg was supposed to be. He can taste it, the bile in his throat, the beast thrashing in his cage of a heart; the panic. He still dreams of it sometimes. Not the amputation itself, never that, never again, but the morning after; that morning is so clear in his mind still, that twenty fucking years later he can see every line in Flint’s face—the sympathy in his eyes, the humour, the—
“I don’t know when it changed,” Silver says, feeling his throat twist as he presses the cloth to Flint's palm again. “I still don’t know when I started to—I only knew that I wanted you to look at me. Be with me, near me. For months that’s all I knew, the wanting. I tried to rationalize it. To dispose of it by calling it respect, the need to be your equal, to stand at your side and listen and be listened to, but—” He gently removes Flint’s ring, then, sets it aside on the table. The darkened metal glints in the moonlight; Flint's hand twitches, once. “I was so close I couldn’t see it. Madi could, I think. She tried to tell me. Not in so many words, never outright, but she did try. She tried, afterwards, too. For years.”
He can see her face, then. Her kind, wonderful face, smiling at him—her eyes, full of hurt, shouting at him—the same argument happening over and over and over again as if they were stuck in their own slice of purgatory, the same words repeated so many times in so many ways that by the end they had memorized the steps, both of them, cutting right to the heart with no warning whatsoever ("Tell me you regret it," she'd say out of nowhere, trembling with it in the middle of the night as they lay side by side with the whole world between them, "Tell me you regret what you did to me. To him. Tell me you'd do it differently, tell me—")
“I didn’t know then,” Silver repeats, and he feels his voice thicken. His hands have suddenly started to shake; or perhaps its Flint's hand that is shaking, he can't tell, “I didn’t know when I lied to you, when I betrayed you, when I tried to kill you—I didn’t know when I burned it all down and put you in a cell, when I dragged you to Savannah and left you there, when I got back and sat on that fucking hill and I looked out at the ocean and all I could see was your face, Christ—”
Flint’s palm is so clean, now. The blood has slowed to a crawl. His skin looks as though he’s been born anew and yet Silver can’t seem to stop wiping, can’t seem to stop talking, “I should have fucking known, then, by all rights I should have. But you told me it wouldn’t be enough and instead for so many years that's all that I thought about. I was determined to prove you wrong, I was adamant, I fought it—the little voice inside my head repeating your words back to me. And I—I got close, Captain, I got so fucking close: I was free from Nassau, free from the account, free from war; I had a wife, one who still tried to love me despite every ounce of her blood screaming at her not to—I had it, I had it—and still I couldn’t close my Goddamned eyes for a moment without seeing you in my fucking head. For so long it made me so angry, I was furious that you were right, I was angry all the fucking time—everyone could see it, Madi could fucking see it, and she—she tried one last time to get me to come see you, to go with her to Boston, but I—she could have had the patience of God himself and it wouldn’t have fucking mattered—because I’d sent you away, and I'd trapped her in hell, she was in hell every day because of me and I knew—I knew I wasn't enough for her, I wasn't enough, ever, I couldn't hope to be, and I knew you deserved to live a life that didn’t have me in it; she deserved to live a life that didn’t have me in it, you both—I—fuck—”
The knot in the base of his throat tightens, squeezes at him like a fist and Silver chokes, his vision swimming.
“You both deserved—”
Better, he thinks, unable to talk any longer. His hand stills in its repetitive motions; truly shaking now. More, he thinks, more than me, someone else—
“Silver,” Flint says suddenly, and Silver startles so hard the rag slips from his hands and falls to the ground.
On reflex he goes to pick it up. Except Flint's injured hand turns over, then, and stops him; his fingers grasping at Silver's hard enough to bruise.
"John," he says, more firmly, and that's when Silver finally looks up. Looks at Flint at last with twenty years worth of lies laying at their feet; and Flint, he—his eyes are wide, catching the moonlight seeping in through the window, and they look blue, green, above all they look honest—open, Silver thinks, ruined—
"You’ve never called me that before," he manages to say. Somehow manages to be heard, before Flint's other hand is coming up to rest on the side of his neck; wide and grounding; remarkable.
"I thought it was time," Flint says, and tugs at him, gently. Silver's crutch clatters to the ground, too, although he doesn't hear it, because Flint is tipping his chin up, slowly, and pressing their lips together.
It's nothing, barely a graze. But suddenly Silver feels himself soar, as though he's been lifted clean off the ground; as though he's been poured back into his own body, finally, after years of living outside of it. He scrambles to grip the collar of Flint's shirt, then, hears himself make a terrible, terrible sound as he does it like his head has broken water for the first time in God knows how long. And he'd be embarrassed of it, a grown man (an old man) whimpering like that, but—instead he opens for Flint, helplessly, and Flint steps closer in an instant, their entwined hands now trapped between the press of their stomachs.
Silver tries to hold on. Hold onto it, to this—memorize it—the way Flint tastes, smells, the rasp of his beard against Silver's cheeks; Flint's thumb running over his ear, once, twice, sliding into his hair to cradle the back of his head. By the time they pull apart Silver is breathing hard—his chest feels too small to contain the air he wants to draw—he isn't sure if he's crying, if the wetness he feels are his own tears or Flint's; but when he opens his eyes and looks at Flint, Flint is smiling, a soft, awed thing.
"You loved me, once?" he asks.
It’s teasing, and quiet. And lovely, the way his voice is laced with affection. Silver would shove at him if he thought he could bear the distance.
"It was easier to say," he admits instead, leaning in once more. His head spins with the fact that he can. "Just saying 'I've loved you hopelessly for twenty fucking years' seemed, I don't know."
"Of course," Flint says, right before they kiss again. "That would have been far too honest, wouldn't it?"
Silver wakes up the next morning, utterly fucking confused.
For starters, he's in a bed. He hasn't slept laying down for what seems like weeks; he hasn't had a good night's sleep in over ten years. Longer. Also, it's hot. Far hotter than what he's used to—his body feels like a furnace, inexplicably, every inch of him is warm, as though he's sprawled on the surface of the sun. His leg doesn't ache. More to the point, his head doesn't pound; he keeps his eyes shut and tries to make sense of the stillness in his heart; the gentle rise and fall of his chest.
What the fuck, he thinks, at a total loss, and right then something next to him moves. He sits up in a rush. His hand flies out—a weapon? A knife? And instead it finds—
Silver blinks. Turns, slowly. Flint is next to him; but not the nebulous, phantom Flint that he's used to waking up with—Flint in the flesh, laying on his stomach with his nose pressed into a pillow, one of his eyes open, looking at Silver, greener than green.
"Fuck," Silver manages, his voice rough with sleep. He runs a hand over his face. "I thought—"
"It wasn't a dream." Flint rolls over, onto his back. "I thought the same thing an hour ago."
They fall silent, looking at each other. The dawn is breaking outside; the forest around them coming to life.
"I—" Silver says, his eyes on the bare hollow of Flint's throat. "I told you I loved you."
Flint hums, a pleased sound that goes right to Silver's head. "You did."
"Did you—" Silver sinks back into the bed. He wants to sink through the floor instead of ask but he can't help his tongue, "Do you—"
Their eyes meet again, and Flint frowns. "You really need me to say it?"
Yes, Silver thinks, instantly. He says, instead, “You’d be surprised how oblivious I am as a rule.”
At that Flint sighs, turning his gaze to the ceiling. "Truthfully, I think I've loved you for so long that I can’t remember what it felt like not to. I loved you when we were together. I loved you when we were apart. I loved you when I thought I hated you, when I thought I’d never forgive you, when I—”
“You forgave me?” Silver interrupts, his voice hitching up despite himself, and Flint glances at him as though he’s lost his mind.
“The second I saw him,” Flint says. His face twists in grief for a moment, and he looks away again. “I didn’t know I had, at first. I was still angry, outraged. I think I still am. It comes and goes, as you saw last night. Some days I'm furious. Other days, I—" he sighs again, closing his eyes and rubbing at his forehead. "I managed to tell him every awful thing I did, you know. Everything I burned in his name; slowly, over time, somehow I told him all of it. He coaxed it out of me. And yet—" he inhales, his chest rising. "I couldn't talk about you. For years I couldn't say your name."
Silver watches him breathe, for a moment. "Madi and I—we never said yours."
The smile that graces Flint's face, then, is awfully sad. He moves again, rising up a little on his elbow to look at Silver properly. "Do you want to know what he—Thomas," Flint corrects, as though he's forcing it out of his mouth. "What Thomas said to me?" At Silver's wordless nod he reaches over, brushes Silver's cheek with his thumb. "He said, 'You must have loved him tremendously if it causes you such pain to utter a simple name.'"
There's a beat. Flint's thumb doesn't stop moving.
"He sounds—" Silver weighs his words. "Perceptive."
He startles a little when Flint laughs; a low, gentle thing that still fills the room, somehow. "Yes, he was. Infuriatingly so, sometimes. He had a knack for it. Making people talk about things they were desperate not to talk about. I think he would have liked you."
"I think I would have shat myself being in the same room with him to be honest."
"That's exactly why he would have liked you," Flint says, and he smiles for a moment before it slips again; grief seeping back into him between one breath and the next.
"I'm sorry," Silver says without thinking. He turns, fully, inches closer on the bed and covers Flint's hand on his cheek with his own. "I'm so sorry."
They are too close, now, but Silver can still see the flurry of expressions that pass over Flint's face at that. At a loss, Silver guides Flint's hand off his cheek, brings it over his mouth and kisses the inside of injured palm, once.
"He would have liked you," Flint repeats, his voice shaking, and Silver isn't sure which one of them closes the distance, after that.
They kiss again; this time slow, unhurried. It feels like another first. Silver loses track of time—eventually Flint's fingers find their way into Silver's hair; Silver's own wrap around the back of Flint's neck, and he breaks off to press his lips to Flint's forehead, the side of his nose, over his eyelids, every part of him he can reach. He belatedly realizes that he's talking as he's doing it, whispering nonsense over and over and over again, nonsense that sounds like, "God, I love you, I love you, Christ I've gone so long without saying it, without even letting myself think it, I love you, I love—"
It feels like a weight being lifted, every single time, so he keeps saying it, saying it, until it's all gone, until Flint joins in; their voices mix together, their legs tangle in each other, and when Flint pulls back he's smiling—like a sun rise, Silver thinks. So he kisses the corner of Flint's mouth, thinking maybe, maybe it'll be all right; maybe they can see each other through this, the way they'd done years ago when neither of them had been young, though both of them had been stupid—maybe this time they'll figure it out, this time they can at least try.
It's peaceful and bright, the air they are sharing, right up until there's a huge resounding crash from outside the house.
They both freeze, staring at each other, breathless.
"Dante," Silver murmurs, and Flint makes a sound, a laugh, high in his throat. He plants a kiss on Silver's now down-turned mouth, the frown forming rapidly between his brows. Then he's moving away.
"Come on," he says. He rolls out of bed in one move. "You and I—We've got a mule to return."
In the brightening room, Flint holds out his hand.
Silver stares at it for a moment. And takes it.
dante is, as i said at the very beginning, the real hero of this fic. <3