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“Where is it?”

“What?” Silver wasn’t even sure the word came out properly, his heart was pounding so hard.

“Where. Is. It.” Each word a growl.

“Can you be a little more specific?” Silver’s brain was rapidly catching up to his beating heart but he still needed a minute to process this situation. He had no idea James Flint knew how to break into a car.

“The research. You stole from Professor Lima’s desk.”

Silver adjusted himself into a sitting position. He had been sound asleep across the backseat of his car when the sound of Flint breaking in had jolted him awake.

“I destroyed it.”

A beat. “Why?” Silver could see the tension in the way Flint was holding himself. Tried to deliberately counteract it by relaxing. Or at least being less tense, Silver didn’t think he could manage ‘relaxed’ around Flint under the best of circumstances. And Flint looming outside his passenger door definitely was a terrible circumstance for relaxing. Despite the fact that it was the middle of the night and Silver very much should only have been relaxing.

“I didn’t want anyone else to have it. It makes it harder for you to get rid of me if I have information you need.”

“You little shit. Get out of the car.”

“No.”

“That was a demand, not a request.”

“Look, I’m not getting out of the car just so you can try to beat the information out of me-”

“You can’t live out of your car.”

Silver felt he was getting whiplash from this conversation. “Are you going to stop me?”

“It looks terrible for the University. How is it that you can’t afford a place to live? You’re not being treated that badly.”

Silver huffed. “I can afford a place to live. It’s just that I have no credit history, so no one will rent to me without a six month advance, and that I don’t have.”

“How do you have no credit history?”

“I was a grad student.”

“Most grad students have plenty of credit history. It’s how they survive.”

“Not me.”

“Let’s try this again: Get out of the car.”

“What are you going to do with me?”

“I am going to take you home and put you in a spare bedroom.”

Silver had no immediate response for that. The professor who turned around whenever he saw a student in the hallway who might want to talk to him was inviting him to his house?

“You have a house?” Silver finally managed to say.

“I don’t sleep in a car.” Flint was starting to sound less angry and more amused. Silver wasn’t sure how to feel about that, he only had familiarity with angry Flint, peeved Flint, throwing things around Vane’s office Flint, and annoyed Flint. Until this moment, Silver didn’t think Flint did ‘amused’. “Come on.” Flint backed away from the door a bit, but kept holding it open, not giving Silver a chance to grab and it shut it in his face. Not that such an action would have been particularly dignified, given that Flint would still be able to loom over Silver with the door closed, but at least Silver would’ve felt safer, even if such a feeling would have been an illusion.

Silver swallowed, and forced himself to be still, to not show how terrified he was. It’ll be okay. You’ve heard a lot of stories, but none of them about Flint mistreating houseguests.

None of the stories involved Flint having either a house or guests, but Silver shoved that thought some place dark and forced himself to move out of the car.

*

Silver glared balefully at his alarm that morning. He was pretty sure he’d gone to sleep around 2:30, and 7 had come too soon. Over the years he’d learned to sleep anywhere, but he still appreciated a comfortable bed when he got one. The bed was so comfortable it almost made up for the fact that it was in Flint’s house.

Silver thought of just staying in bed and cancelling class. He wouldn’t even have to make up a lie, the truth was outrageous enough: kidnapped by Professor Flint. Will have class again if he lets me live. Only Flint had said he’d drive him to the university at 8, so he’d be there by his 9 am class. Silver dragged himself out of bed.

To be incredibly pleased that he had, because the bathroom was a fucking marvel. The shower was huge with different kinds of jets - he spent way too long moving the water around between them – and the toilet seat was fucking heated. Who had a heated toilet set? In their guest bathroom? What kind of asshole was Flint, anyway?

Silver somehow managed to find the kitchen in a house that seemed to have no end to it. He opened the fridge to find it well stocked with food, some of which he actually recognized. He stood there wondering just how scared of Flint he should be, if making eggs in the man’s kitchen without permission would get him killed. He didn’t feel bad about it, seeing as Flint had done the kidnapping, but Silver did want to survive the experience.

He finally reached for the eggs. He probably should be too scared of Flint to do this, but he knew that letting fear stop you didn’t necessarily prevent the outcome you were trying to avoid.

He turned his attention to the stove, which looked nothing like a stove he had ever seen before. He started fiddling with the knobs, trying to figure out how to turn it on. Of course the stove would have to be just as ridiculous as the rest of the house.

He found Flint’s entire house unbelievable. When they had pulled up here in the dark, in the middle of the night, Silver had been surprised to get out of the car and hear the ocean. The closer the properties got to the sea, the more expensive they got. So he already knew it wasn’t cheap.

The front entrance, what he could make out in the dark, had been unassuming, and hadn’t even remotely prepared him for what awaited inside.

The house was simply massive - as Flint took Silver along a corridor and up a flight of stares, he wondered how he’d be able to find his way out again. When he complained to Flint, the man had said nothing more than ‘you’ll manage’.

“How can you afford a place like this?” Silver asked. Flint was well paid, but this was Santa Barbara. You needed to own a large industry to afford a beachside mansion.

“Family money,” Flint had replied, opening the door to the room that he had apparently picked out for Silver.

“Huh,” Silver grunted as he stepped inside. Silver didn’t really notice anything beyond the queen-sized bed, which was so much better than sleeping in his car. The time on the dashboard had read 1:14 am, so it was also a ridiculous time to be awake.

“What?” Flint asked.

“You’re an asshole, sure, but a wealthy one?” Nothing about Flint indicated he had money. The clothes he wore and car he drove could’ve belonged to any mid-career professor.

“I didn’t say it was my family.” Before Silver could respond to that, Flint said, “the bathroom is back that way. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Silver looked to where Flint had pointed and then back, but the man was gone. He hadn’t even let Silver bring his car, saying he didn’t want Silver to fall over the side of a cliff. To Silver’s disbelieving ‘really?’ Flint had grunted and said something about getting in trouble with Miranda. Of fucking course.

“What are you doing?”

Silver suppressed the startle as Flint came up behind him, dragging him back to the present.

“I was turning on the stove. To cook breakfast,” Silver indicated the mess he had somehow made around the kitchen. He was just trying to scramble some eggs but somehow more egg had ended up on the butter than was necessary, considering no egg should’ve ended up on the butter.

“Stop playing with that,” Flint grunted, shoving him aside.

Sliver raised his hands and backed away. “I think it’s broken.”

Flint gave him a disbelieving look. “Have you ever used a gas stove before?”

Silver had never heard of a gas stove before, but Flint didn’t need to know that. “I know how to use a stove.”

“That’s not what I asked,” said Flint, as he turned the knob slightly. Sliver heard a ‘click, click’ sound before a fire sprang to life on the burner. He tried not to look surprised.

Flint looked about at the mess, unimpressed. “What were you making?”

Silver noticed the past tense. “I *am* making scrambled eggs.”

“Get out of the kitchen. What would you have if you could cook?”

Silver wasn’t overly familiar with eggs and didn’t know what types were hard to cook. So he just said something that came to mind. “Over easy.”

He was more than a little surprised when a short time later Flint brought him some eggs that he guessed were ‘over easy’. Really, Flint could’ve cooked him anything but scrambled eggs and called it anything and Silver wouldn’t have known the difference. Again, Flint didn’t need to know that.

“Thanks,” Silver said, after he had already started eating and Flint had walked away.

*

The following evening, Flint was sitting in his library reading when he heard the front door open. He had taken Silver back to campus and given him a key, with nothing besides a ‘don’t sleep in your car’, before avoiding him and everyone else he could for the rest of the day.

Shortly, Flint felt rather than saw Silver poke his head into the library. Without lifting his eyes from his book, he bade Silver entrance.

“Did you get into a fight with the university over who could have the largest library?” said Silver, who couldn’t take his eyes off the books.

“I do not care about the university’s library,” said Flint, his tone and expression flat.

“No, there are people there.”

“There is, unfortunately, more than one person in my library right at this moment.”

Silver found a footrest and dragged it over, sitting down facing Flint. In one respect it was an act of submission, because Silver was putting himself below Flint’s level, at Flint’s feet, but on the other hand, Silver’s position meant Flint couldn’t ignore him.

“We need to talk.”

“About?”

“What I found in Lima’s office.”

Flint kept his book open, trying to appear less interested than he was. “The information you destroyed.” Miranda had helpfully pointed out to him, when she had basically ordered him to do something about Silver sleeping in his car, that having the man around his house might give him access to the research Silver had stolen. None of this had made Flint very happy, but that didn’t mean Miranda was wrong.

“It’s not like I’ve forgotten it.”

“It would have been useful as a source.”

“A controversial one. We were always going to need other sources.”

“We?”

“I thought it would be advantageous for us to work on this together.” Advantageous for Silver, Flint was sure he meant.

“How is this advantageous for me?” Flint’s reputation was already secured. He didn’t need to work with a junior professor on a project.

“You are clearly interested in whatever information Lima might have had. This way, you get your information, and I get to publish a paper with a scholar of your stature.”

“So you will share this information with me?”

“Some of it.” Flint let silence answer that statement. He was fairly good at allowing his silence to be filled by others, and he doubted Silver could hold himself back. “Once we have our agreement.”

Flint sighed. He could feel the longer association he had hoped to avoid creeping up on him in his interactions with Silver.

*

“Please give this to James,” said Miranda, handing a book to Silver.

Silver stared at it. “Doesn’t he have enough books?”

Miranda looked confused. “No.”

“Hasn’t he read everything?”

Miranda sighed. “Really, I would expect you to understand that new books are always being published.”

“Oh, I understand that just fine, I just didn’t think Flint would be interested in anything new.” Flint was famous for his avoidance of basic things like e-mail. He still wrote on the board and refused to use a touch screen. Which, Silver mused, wasn’t necessarily a bad thing seeing as the damn touch screens had a habit of rebooting in the middle of class. Flint’s students swore he had never read anything published after 1715. And now here was Miranda giving him a book for Flint published in - Silver opened it to check the date - 2013.

“I know he acts like he’s from another century, but his tastes are actually quite eclectic,” said Miranda, with obvious fondness. Silver knew she had been carefully watching him this whole time. He wasn’t confused about the role Miranda had played getting him into Flint’s house.

“That may be, but I doubt he is reading vampire romances like Twilight,” said Silver, using his best smile.

“That is perhaps not the finest example of the genre, but I think you will find that his tastes are not exclusionary.”

“Far be it from me to question your expertise,” said Silver, as he did exactly that, “but I absolutely do not believe you.”

Miranda arched an eyebrow. “You have access to his library. What have you been looking at when you are in there?’

Flint, thought Silver. There were exactly zero planets on which he would say such a thing to Miranda. In truth, he had spent most of his time looking over what was in the library that wasn’t books, such as the things on Flint’s desk. He had only given the books a cursory glance. Again, not something he was telling Miranda. “I have never gotten the impression that he would appreciate me using his library.”

“You’ll break into someone’s office to get access to something no one gave you access to, but won’t look around a library of someone’s home you’re staying in?”

“I broke into the office of someone dead, who couldn’t kidnap me,” pointed out Silver. “Flint isn’t dead.”

“He’s already kidnapped you. Do you think he’s going to do it again?”

“No, but I have found the charms of a comfortable bed and heated toilet, once established, are those I am not eager to lose, and I cannot yet afford my own place.”

“He’s not going to throw you out of his house for looking around his library.”

“He certainly gives the impression that he would.”

“He gives the impression of a lot of things,” said Miranda. He phone started buzzing, and Silver guessed from her grimace when she looked at the screen that it was something she would have to deal with. He nodded a polite good-bye, book in hand.

He had been looking at the book without really seeing it. He took the opportunity from being out from Miranda’s gaze to read the title. Ancillary Justice. He was not familiar with the story, and the summary - a soldier that had been an AI - didn’t make him think that Flint would be interested. Flint was ex-military, but he didn’t seem keen to be reminded of that fact.

In truth, up unto this point he had been trying not to be interested in Flint. The man was a means to an end, nothing more.

When he arrived back at the house later in the day, he set the book down on the desk in the library, where Flint would undoubtedly notice it. The place was immaculate, every book in a carefully selected location.

Cursing Miranda for the suggestion, he couldn’t help himself from looking to see if Flint actually did have supernatural romance novels in his collection. He first looked in the out-of-the-way places, but all he found there were books on such topics as English commerce and duck husbandry.

He eventually did find them in the area of the library that was for romance novels, in general. He was running his finger along the spines, when a voice made him jump. “Put them back where you found them.”

Silver turned to see Flint watching him from the entrance that led to the kitchen. “I haven’t taken anything.” Silver felt like he had been caught going through the man’s underwear drawer.

Flint shrugged. “Just put whatever you decide to read back when you are done.”

Was Flint giving him permission? Silver hoped his expression wasn’t as confused as a felt.

Flint walked over to his desk to pick up the book Silver left there. “Miranda said there are parts of this that remind her of me.” Silver wanted to know how the fuck did a sci fi novel about an AI remind Miranda of Flint, but he valued his remaining limbs too highly to say anything. Thinking he really needed to leave the man’s library before he got himself in trouble, Silver grabbed a book from the romance section at random and made his escape.

Safe (relatively) in his own space in the house, Silver looked at the book he had grabbed. He had been aiming for one of those paranormal romance novels but his aim had been off because he had ended up with a decidedly non-paranormal regency romance. Throwing himself on the comfortable bed, he was very interested in anything that would distract him from his current situation.

*

From his comfortable spot in his library, Flint heard the front door open and then close. He knew that meant Silver was home, and that in short order Silver would glance in the library, to see what Flint was up to. Silver had been here a couple weeks - he only planned to stay until he had saved enough to rent a place - but he had at least calmed down somewhat from his initial jumpiness. Flint had never seen someone be so tense while simultaneously try not to appear not to be tense at all. And Silver had managed to avoid any true explanation for his behavior, instead fluctuating between ‘new job’, ‘new city’, ‘University politics’, ‘I think Vane wants to kill me’, ‘what the hell is going to between you and Miranda?’, ‘what is up with that new grad student of yours?’, anything that was somewhere between deflection and lies. The only honest explanation Flint was sure about was Silver’s desire to work on a paper with him, using the information he a stolen from Professor Lima’s desk. Flint was still pissed about that - Professor Lima had hoarded his sources like a true academic asshole, and now that he had died Flint had been looking forward to going through what was undoubtedly a treasure trove of information, only to find that someone else had gotten there first. That someone had turned out to be the newly hired Silver. After going through the man’s office and finding nothing, Flint had looked for an address and had found that every one Silver had given on some official school form had been faked. He complained about it to Miranda, who mentioned that she knew Silver was living in his car, and that she would appreciate it if Flint ‘took care’ of that situation.

“Why can’t Eleanor do it?”

“Eleanor is the department head. She has a whole other set of issues to deal with. Don’t let this be one.” Miranda, as dean, had more than just their department to deal with, but Flint knew that they took up nearly all of her attention. At the moment, she and Eleanor were dealing with the fact that Vane had taken over Hornigold’s beautiful corner office, which no one had been able to evict Hornigold from for decades, and now Hornigold was threatening to air dirty University secrets unless he got it back. Vane did not care, but Eleanor and especially Miranda were paid to care, which meant this was also Flint’s problem, because everything at this fucking university was somehow his problem. He didn’t think that was fair, just because he was one of the most famous professors who worked there, but neither Miranda nor Eleanor had any time for his complaints. They looked to him to back them up, because they knew he would.

“That isn’t a book,” Silver said upon entering the library at Flint’s invitation. Silver had picked up really quickly that Flint’s moods were dependent on what he was reading. A book, and he was normally in a good mood. Flint wondered for what felt like the hundredth time over the past few weeks just what the hell had happened to Silver to make him think it was necessary to pick up on such things so quickly.

“It’s a deposition.”

Silver made a pained face. “That bad?”

“It’s about the time that the vice provost hired her wife’s company to do construction on campus.”

“This is what Hornigold’s threatening to release?”

“Amongst other things.”

“Why does he have so much information?”

“Because he’s ancient. He has dirt going back decades.” Flint watched Silver study the books, trailing a finger along their spines. This was a habit of Silver’s, but Flint didn’t know the purpose of it. “I wouldn’t.”

Silver turned to look at Flint, his finger now still, resting on one of Flint’s books. “Wouldn’t what?”

“Do what you are thinking.”

“You don’t know what I am thinking.”

Flint smirked. “You are thinking maybe Hornigold has something of value. You’re too late, Vane already took the only thing Hornigold’s ever had that someone else has wanted.”

“Hmm,” said Silver, and walked out of the room.

 

*

A tired Flint unlocked his front door. He was looking forward to getting something to eat and then passing out in his bed. He had not been able to avoid Eleanor or Miranda, and therefore he had been unable to avoid the university’s problems. It was all so exhausting. Academia was some bullshit.

Flint let out a weary sigh when he saw that Silver was waiting for him.

Oh, Silver didn’t appear to be waiting for him, the man didn’t like to do obvious. He was standing in the foyer, peering up through the skylight. It was quite the picture, really, with the faint light hitting Silver in the right places.

Flint mentally shook himself. Of course Silver wouldn’t have even turned the lights on. “Why are you standing here in the dark?”

“I wouldn’t be able to see the moonlight.”

“There’s literally an entire backyard you can stand in. Watch the moonlight on the waves.” Which Flint had done, more than a time or two. Had thought about swimming out there, to try and catch the moonlight. In the icy Pacific, he wouldn’t last long. The thought’s appeal came and went, depending on his mood.

Silver lowered his eyes from the skylight, leaving them largely shaded by darkness. “I like the view from here.”

Flint wondered if that was a challenge. Only one way to find out. He took slow, measured steps, coming to rest directly in front of Silver, only inches away. Definitely in his space. He stopped, waiting to see what the other man would do.

He didn’t have to wait long.

*

Flint awoke on his back, the familiar form of Silver in the very unfamiliar position of being curled up next to him. Silver’s head rested on a pillow just above Flint’s shoulder, close enough that Flint could feel him breathing. Silver’s curled right hand rested near Flint’s ribcage, his leg ran along Flint’s. He wasn’t awake. Flint was surprised he had stayed, surprised he had let himself fall asleep here. From everything he knew about Silver, the man hated to let others see him vulnerable.

Flint wanted to reach out and press him closer, but he had no doubt that the movement would awaken the man, and despite the fact that Silver had let himself fall asleep here, Flint knew that was no guarantee of a positive reaction once Silver did wake up. So Flint stayed still in the silence, the sunlight gradually filling his bedroom.

He felt Silver wake, his hand moving a bit. His body was suddenly no longer so relaxed. Flint flinched internally, not wanting to let his reactions to Silver’s reactions show.

Keeping his eyes shut and breath even, he reached out his left hand to touch the hand Silver had left on his ribs. Silver experimentally pressed light touches there. His tension eased slightly.

Silver shifted closer, moving his head from the pillow to Flint’s shoulder, allowing his hand to slide across Flint’s waist. Flint stifled a sigh of relief. While there were certainly times he knew he went out of his way to make the man uncomfortable, he didn’t want this to be one.

“I like your bed,” Silver said. Of course he wouldn’t stay silent.

“You are welcome to it.”

Flint could feel the smile. “I noticed.”

“How often do you do this?”

“What?”

“Take home new faculty and fuck them.”

Again, Flint had to suppress his reaction. He knew what Silver was doing. Anything to appear less vulnerable. “How often have you heard of me doing it?”

That brought another smile. “Fair enough.” Then: “You can ask.”

“About?” Silver hadn’t been making this easy for him so goddamnit he was going to return that.

“My leg.”

“Would you tell me the truth?” Flint had heard about the stories he told his students, most of which were so outrageous they had to be lies. While he had known Silver had lost a leg, he doubted the man had lost it as a result of a bear attack, however.

“You don’t believe a bear removed my leg?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Too rare.”

“You think something couldn’t have happened to me just because it’s uncommon?” Silver was obviously offended.

Flint was amused by Silver’s clear disgruntlement. “Where did it happen?”

“Maine.”

“Where, specifically?”

“Why? Want to see if it’s some place you’ve camped in the past?”

Flint had didn’t like camping and had never been to Maine. “If what you say is true, there will be news articles about it. Bear attacks are rare enough, and speak to human fears enough, that they are always news worthy. Besides,” he added, making it appear as an afterthought, “Professor Tan in the wildlife and fisheries department studies bears and is always trying to explain to people that bears aren’t all cute and cuddly. I think it would be useful-“

“Stop.”

“If you don’t want to tell me I respect that. I just ask that you not tell me lies instead.”

A pause, while Silver considered. When Silver lifted himself from his comfortable position and Flint’s side, Flint assumed it was to leave. When instead Silver laid down on top of him, he didn’t bother to hide his reaction this time.

“Okay,” Silver agreed.

*

Silver sat in his office, resting his forehead on his palm, frowning in frustration at his computer screen. He had a terrible headache. He had spent most of the day trying to locate information he needed to cooperate what he had taken from Professor Lima’s office, but hadn’t had any luck. It was a familiar frustration, but Silver had started his search with more hope than usual, feeling better than he had in a long time after spending the night in Flint’s bed. But he hadn’t been any more successful than normal.

His mind turned to Flint, as it had repeatedly throughout the day. Which was probably part of the problem. The man certainly knew what he was doing. Which brought Silver back to the usual thought of Miranda. Academic gossip said Flint was fucking her, had stolen her from her husband, but Silver thought that was exactly as true as one of his own stories. Meaning, it was either an outright lie or there was some truth in there somewhere, but it was so obscured by lies it might as well be one.

Silver couldn’t help himself from replaying the way the man’s mouth and hands had felt on his body, how it felt to be fucked. Which was still better than thinking about waking up next to him and trying to figure out what he had wanted. When Silver had realized all the man wanted was to be held, he had forced himself to not audibly sigh with relief. And as odd as the contact was to him, he had done it. It hadn’t been so bad.

Silver wondered who was playing whom here. Sooner rather than latter he was going to have to tell Flint what he had found in Lima’s office, as it was clear to Silver that he wasn’t going to get anywhere on his own. He had already arranged for Flint’s help with the matter, writing a paper with such a distinguished academic would only help him, but Silver was afraid that if he told Flint the information, he was erasing his name from the work before it was submitted. He had heard stories. He couldn’t afford to be one of them.

If only there was something else he could hold over Flint.

*

He met Max for beers later. “We fucked.”

Max choked on her beer. Silver had timed it that way on purpose. She knew it, too, as she shot him a disgusted look and wiped at her mouth. “What?” she snapped at him.

“Flint and I,” he said, gesturing with his beer, “had sex.”

Max was staring at him like he had three heads. “What?” he asked. “You’re the one who suggested it.”

“As a joke! I didn’t even know if he’d go for a man. The only gossip I’ve heard is that he’s had sex with Miranda, and I can’t even figure out if that’s true or not.” Max sounded annoyed, which amused Silver. As a building manager, Max was one of the un-talked about people that a university couldn’t run without, but what she was really good at was gathering all the gossip and bringing it to Eleanor. Having people in the walls and ceilings and floors and hidden closets was a good way to pick things up.

Silver’s initial reaction was to tell Max what he thought: that if Flint was fucking Miranda he hadn’t done so recently, and that Flint had clearly had sex with men before. Something held him back, though. Silver wasn’t sure what. Maybe he didn’t want the information getting back to Eleanor, and quite possibly Miranda herself.

Instead, he settled for an old line. “If he’s having sex with Miranda, I haven’t seen any evidence of it.”

“So you’ve said.” Max was eyeing him, undoubtedly wondering what he was leaving out.

“I need something on him.”

“So you’ve said,” Max repeated. “Nothing during sex that you could use?”

Silver shook his head. “I thought about trying to see if he’d be upset if people found out, but if having sex with a fellow academic was a fireable offense no one would be employed.” Least of all Miranda. While no one could figure out what her relationship with Flint was, there was plenty of evidence that she was fond of men, and liked variety, academic and otherwise. Not to mention Eleanor and Vane, though while Miranda was discreet, the other two were the reason sexual dalliances in academia gave administrators nightmares and lawyers money.

“You could keep fucking him, see what comes out.”

Silver made a face.

“That bad?”

“No, I don’t-“ ‘mind fucking him’ was the rest of the thought Silver decided not to say.

“Want to use him in that way? You were ready to burn his house down a few weeks ago, if it got you what you wanted.” He could practically hear Max doing the mental gymnastics from ‘really bad fuck’ to ‘really good fuck’ and while the later was certainly true that wasn’t where he was going with this.

“Considering you can’t even find out if he’s fucking Miranda, I don’t think whatever there is that I can use to force him to not take this from me has to do with sex.”

“But you were desperate enough to try fucking him anyway?” Max asked. Silver knew the amusement in her voice meant that she thought he did it, at least in part, for a different reason. Fine, she knew he found Flint attractive.

“There’s more than one way to be desperate,” he said after a swallow of beer.

Max choked on her beer again and promptly turned to him with a look that made him think she was going to bash her bottle over his head. “Stop doing that!”

Silver didn’t bother to hide his laugh.

*

Flint began randomly showing up in Silver’s office. Silver couldn’t tell if it was for research purposes or to make him uncomfortable. Probably both.

“I have class in twenty minutes,” he said on one such visit, as he gathered his things and stuck them in a bag. He still had to get across campus to where his classroom was. They didn’t give new professors classrooms anywhere near their offices apparently.

Silver suddenly found himself pushed against the wall, Flint staring down at him. “Wha-“ was all Silver got out before Flint’s mouth was on his.

Flint managed to occupy them both for several minutes, taking time to run his hands through Silver’s curls, a thumb along his jaw, a palm along his side. Silver couldn’t do anything more than grip him.

Just as abruptly, Flint pulled back, smirking. He ran his tongue along the bottom of his lip.

The sudden lack of Flint as the man pulled away was more of a shock to Silver than his inexplicable appearance. Flint was out the door before Silver could collect himself or make any sort of response.

“Fuck,” he mumbled under his breath, banging his head against the wall slightly, his eyes closed. He had to go teach class.

*

Afterward, Silver regretted he didn’t take the opportunity to cancel the class with an e-mail stating, “Got fucked over by Professor Flint. Will have class again when he stops.” His students would’ve understood.

*

“He pushed me up against the wall and kissed me! In my own office! Right before I had to go teach class!”

“Why are you acting like this upsets you?” asked Max, as she swirled her drink in her hand. The two were at their standing bar date.

Silver slammed his beer down, glaring at Max. “This isn’t funny.”

“That is open to interpretation. What did you think would happen, when you walked into Professor Lima’s office and stole that research out from under him?”

“Not this! Come on, when has he ever done anything like this?”

“He does like to fuck with people, though not normally by actually fucking them.”

At that moment, Anne came up with a smile for Max and sat down with them at the bar. She nodded her head toward Silver. “What did he do this time?”

Silver gave her a disgusted look.

*

Silver was not going to take Flint’s treatment lying down (he had made Max choke on her beer again, when he told her that). He had every intention of bothering Flint before his classes, only the man was never in his office. He seemed to be some sort of magician, appearing before his class right around the time he should, and leaving right after. He was never seen walking to and from class. His students wondered if he was actually a hologram. Some of them spent time looking for a projector.

After careful observation (and help from Max), Silver eventually figured out that one of Flint’s routes (“He has more than one,” Max informed him) was using an old staircase that had supposedly been closed off. The staircase was tight and twisting and unfortunately confronting Flint on it meant Silver would be below him as Flint came down it.

“Going somewhere?” Flint asked, looming over him. The light was dim, but Silver could imagine his expression. It wasn’t fond.

“Up,” was Silver’s answer.

Flint grunted. “That might be your intention, but I am going down.”

“I doubt I present much of an obstacle.”

“That’s true.” Silver didn’t, and they both knew it. The only question was, how much damage was Flint going to do in getting past him.

Flint came down until he was on the step immediately above Silver. “This isn’t necessary, you know.”

“You started it.”

“I did?” said Flint, in the manner of a man who knew very well he had not started it.

The vaguely amused, vaguely threatening way Flint had said those two words rendered Silver unable to say whatever it was he had intended to say next. Flint waited for a moment, then pushed Silver against the wall, to share his step. Flint went down one more, his hand still on Silver’s chest, keeping him in place. Perhaps he was waiting for Silver to do something.

“I find it interesting,” said Flint, “that you are able to put yourself in my way, and then wait until I do something about it, instead of doing anything about it yourself.”

Silver feigned confusion. “Well let’s see. In addition to stealing the research you were interested in, I was able to-”

“I didn’t mean in relation to work.”

Flint had purposely put himself one step below him, Silver realized. He wasn’t used to being the tall one in this relationship.

“You are an arrogant bastard,” Silver said.

Flint still didn’t move.

Silver reached out a hand and lightly placed his finger tips on Flint’s jaw, tilting it up towards him. He gave Flint a soft kiss.

Flint gave him a slight smile. “I’ll see you at home,” he said, and descended the stairs to magically appear in front of his students.

Fuck, thought Silver.

*

Flint got home late one Saturday. He had dinner with Miranda, as he did on occasion, and drinks at her house. He could’ve just called a taxi to take him home, but he’d rather wait and sober up and drive himself. Miranda didn’t mind, and he would spare Silver having to deal with the drunk version of himself.

Flint tried to be as quiet as possible, figuring the man must be asleep by now. He was glad that Silver was in his bed. He hadn’t been sure the younger man would use it without Flint there. Silver had no problems being intrusive when it suited him, but he did have real problems with intimacy. Flint really didn’t want to scare him away from his bed.

It was not until he climbed into bed and laid down carefully next to Silver that he realized Silver was not asleep. Silver had not made a sound or a movement the whole time Flint was getting ready for bed. Flint could see Silver’s eyes were open in the dim light. Silver’s had was curled near his face, and Flint reached for it. Silver was shaking. It was so bad Flint wondered that he hadn’t picked up on it before now. “Hey,” he said gently, covering Silver’s had with his own. Silver didn’t make any movement, though he was still looking at Flint, his expression unreadable in the dark.

“What happened?” Flint asked. He was unsure what Silver wanted, whether he needed to be alone or have Flint’s presence for comfort. Flint had been learning that Silver often didn’t know what he wanted, either, that Silver would simple go still and let Flint do what he wanted, to see if he would like it.

Sliver pressed his lips together. “Nightmare,” he said, so quietly Flint almost couldn’t hear him.

Flint slowly moved into the little space in between them, allowing Silver to either move away or melt into his embrace. Silver chose the later. Silver clung to him far tighter than he was used to. Flint gently and slowly caressed Silver’s back. Eventually Silver stopped shaking and fell asleep.

Sleep came to Flint awhile later. It was easy to get Silver to talk, unless it was about something personal. Flint had no idea Silver had nightmares. He had probably woken him up from one when he got home. Silver clearly hadn’t had any while sleeping with Flint, as his reaction to the nightmares obviously weren’t something Silver could hide, and he hid everything he could. Flint was no stranger to nightmares, as his time in the military left him with plenty of things he did not want to think about, and the affair with Thomas had helped for a while but once it had ended, his dreams had been tinged with a desperation they had lacked before. Flint wondered if Silver had fallen asleep in his bed without him here in the hope that would be enough. Of course the man couldn’t do the sensible thing and have a conversation with him about how he had difficulty sleeping and could he maybe be home at a certain time to help with that. Flint still would’ve gone to Miranda’s, but he would’ve taken a cab home. He had thought he was doing Silver a favor by not coming home drunk, but he apparently would have been doing him a favor by coming home in any condition. Flint sighed quietly, fully prepared to ignore this entire incident in the morning.

*

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For last night.”

“Are we going to talk about that?”

“I would prefer not to.”

Flint smiled, his eyes still closed. “I know.”

Silver could recognize that quietly pleased expression on Flint’s face from a mile away. There was no judgment or expectation in his voice, just acceptance. Silver turned his head away and closed his eyes, his cheek still pressed into Flint’s shoulder. He didn’t know how he was going to deal with this.

Flint moved the knuckles of his hand against Silver’s. Not helping, thought Silver.

*

“What do you want?” Flint was infuriated. This was the kind of treatment he expected from Vane. And he let this asshole into his house, into his bed.

“How do you know I want something?”

You always do, was Flint’s thought. “Don’t give me that bullshit. You don’t care that Billy is illegal. You found this out because you want me to do something you are sure I’m not going to like. What is it?”

Silver fiddled with a pen on his desk. “I... have not been able to find the corroborating evidence I need to support the information I found in Professor Lima’s office.”

Flint, already frowning, grew more visibly unhappy. “I already told you I would help you with that.”

“Yes, well,” said Silver as he twirled the pen in his hand, “for you to help me with it I have to tell you what it is.”

“Yes, that is a requirement.”

“And once I do that, what’s to stop you from taking the information and using it without including me?”

“I wouldn’t do that.”

“That is not what I’ve heard.” Fuck. Flint knew what the little shit had heard. What he’d done to Gates.

Flint hated this. Hated what Silver must think of him. Hated what he’d done. Hated that he’d let Silver get so close.

He let the silence stretch. Silver shifted, his hand going down to his missing leg, a habit Flint knew he did when he was uncomfortable. “So are you going to tell me?” he asked, quietly.

He saw the fear in Silver’s eyes, and hated both the fact that he had put it there and the part of him that liked it.

*

Silver spent the next several nights sleeping in his office. He still didn’t have a place to live, though his friendship with Max had gotten him a couch. Flint hadn’t formally kicked him out, but Silver didn’t want to go through the humiliation of showing up at Flint’s house and finding his key didn’t work. Sure, he had clothing and other possessions there, but he was used to picking up and leaving all his stuff behind. Silver had never been stupid enough to leave behind anything he might actually need.

*

“Silver’s been sleeping in his office.”

“I don’t care.” Flint narrowed his eyes at Eleanor. “How do you know that, anyway?”

“His office is right above Vane’s.”

“The office he stole from Hornigold.” Hornigold’s - now Vane’s - office was the most coveted one in the college. Silver’s office was an attic space with no windows.

“People are starting to talk.”

“About a professor sleeping in their office? That’s hardly a new phenomenon. Let them talk.”

Eleanor opened her mouth to say something when Miranda walked into her office. “Sorry I’m late. Ran into the vice provost.”

Both Eleanor and Flint winced. Rodgers was torture. Miranda looked at Eleanor. “Have you convinced him to take Silver back yet?”

“He claims he doesn’t care,” said Eleanor.

“That would be a first.” Miranda walked around to sit behind her desk.

“This is none of your business,” snapped Flint.

“It’s none of my business when one of my professors is sleeping in his office because another one of my professors threw him out of the house-“

“I did *not* throw him out of the house!”

“-even though they are supposed to be working on a big research project together, which if it goes well could bring both prestige and, more usefully, money?”

“We’re still working on that.”

“How? Telepathy?”

Flint folded his arms across his chest, glaring at her.

Miranda pointed to a chair. “Sit down and tell me what happened.”

Flint, clearly not happy with the situation, did what he was told. Eleanor leaned up against a cabinet, watching.

“He found out that Billy doesn’t have the proper visa.”

“What?” said Eleanor. Miranda gave her a look. Eleanor crossed her arms in a good imitation of Flint’s earlier huffiness. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Miranda opened one palm. “Why drag more people into this than necessary?”

“Academia is based on dragging in more people than necessary,” answered Eleanor.

“Yes, well, dragging you into it might also drag others,” Miranda pointed out.

“You mean Charles.”

“And probably at least Rackham.”

“And therefore Anne, and also Max,” added Flint.

Eleanor glared at both of them. “We’re here to deal with his problem,” she said, pointing at Flint while glaring at Miranda.

Miranda sighed and looked back to Flint. “He found out about Billy’s visa situation and...”

“Threatened to get him removed unless I kept him on the project.”

“Ah,” said Miranda. Both she and Eleanor knew what had happened between him and Gates, so they knew why Silver would do this.

“So you threw him out of the house,” said Eleanor.

“I did not!” They had already gone over this.

“Then why is he sleeping in his office?” asked Eleanor.

“I... may have gotten angry with him,” Flint admitted.

Eleanor and Miranda exchanged a look. “And Silver decided his office was safer,” said Eleanor. They both knew what Flint was like.

Flint really wished they would stop. Until the last few nights, he hadn’t been alone in his bed for longer than he had realized and it was cold and lonely and ‘sleeping’ wouldn’t accurately describe what he had been doing. He’d never admit that to anyone, though. What horrified him was that he suspected Miranda and Eleanor might already know.

“Look, I appreciate your concern,” Flint said in a tone of voice that clearly indicated he did not appreciate their concern, “but this hardly warrants a meeting with both of you. Normally that only happens when the university is on fire.”

Eleanor and Miranda exchanged another look. “Oh for fuck’s sake!” snapped Flint. One of them at a time was bad enough, but both of them together was murder.

“Vane may have said something to Hornigold about Silver living above his office during one of their fights,” admitted Eleanor.

“And Hornigold is currently adding that to the list of university secrets he’s threatening to reveal,” continued Miranda.

“With maybe some details about how Silver got into a fight with another professor who he was fucking over a project because said professor has a reputation for stealing other’s work,” finished Eleanor.

“Fuck.” Flint had a headache.

Miranda got up from behind her desk and moved to the cabinet Eleanor was leaning on. The younger woman moved to the side to allow Miranda to pull out three glasses and some rum.

Flint took his and drank it all at once. When he held his glass out to Miranda for more, she poured without comment.

“So maybe-“

Flint held up a hand. “I’ll fix it.” Even staring down at his glass he could feel Miranda and Eleanor communicating silently.

“How-“

Flint quickly finished his second shot and slammed the glass down. “I said I’d fix it,” he snapped, getting up and stalking out of the room.

He had a fairly good idea that the truth might work with Silver, but he had no desire to run his idea by either of them. He could be wrong, after all, and he’d had enough humiliation for the moment.

*

Silver cautiously moved about his bedroom, looking through his stuff. Nothing appeared to have been touched in the few days he hadn’t been here.

He’d been surprised when Flint had come to talk to him in his office, seeing as Flint had been actively avoiding him. While Flint had clearly needed something from him, he hadn’t been apologetic or contrite, and Silver hadn’t exactly felt comfortable returning. But Flint had unfortunately been right about Silver needing to protect his reputation, so as little as he wanted to he had come back he had. Flint had assured him he needn’t expect any return to the fun they had been having (okay, Flint hadn’t called it fun, but it had been), and Silver tried not to examine his feelings about that situation.

After looking around at his things he then went and looked for Flint. Normally, he could find the man in the library, but that was empty.

However, the library afforded not only a view of the ocean from the cliff the house was perched on but also the backyard, and Silver could clearly see a fire in the pit outside.

Silver cautiously approached. He never ceased to be amazed at this house, with its comfortable rooms, huge library that took up most of the backside of the house, and extensive, multi-level patio that included a fire pit, overlooking the Pacific ocean. Silver had no idea how Flint had come to live in it alone. There were many aspects of the house that Silver could tell reflected Flint, but it was much too big for one person, and Silver felt Flint would be happy in a house a fraction of the size.

Silver approached Flint cautiously. The man was stretched out in a chair, beer in one hand, his head in the other. He didn’t exactly look like he wanted company, but that wasn’t unusual. Silver was just about to turn around to go back in the house when Flint looked up and rested his chin on his hand, fixing his gaze on Silver.

Silver was frozen in place. He couldn’t go forward without invitation, and he couldn’t go back without explanation. “Mind if I join you?” he finally got up the courage to ask.

Flint gestured with his beer towards the bar area. “Beer’s in there.”

Silver walked over to the small fridge and got himself a drink before joining Flint by the fire. He figured he would need it.

Silver sat across from Flint, on a bench on the other side of the flames. Flint watched the flames, Silver watched him. Flint was still resting his chin on his hand. Even in the fading light Silver could tell he was exhausted.

“At least you got to sleep on a bed.” Silver was never particularly comfortable with silence.

“What?” asked Flint, his face a mixture of confusion and annoyance.

“You look as exhausted as I feel, but you’re not the one who was sleeping on a couch.”

“You didn’t have to do that.” Flint lifted his head from his hand and started to peel the label on his bottle.

“I didn’t want to risk coming back here and the locks being changed.”

“I wouldn’t have done that.” Flint wasn’t looking at him. Instead, he was staring at the tiny pieces of label he was meticulously removing.

Silver sighed, and looked down at the bottle in his own hands. “What are we going to do about Hornigold and Vane?”

“We don’t have to do anything about Hornigold and Vane.”

“Our lives would be easier if we did.”

Flint grunted and took a drink.

“We could lock them in a room until they killed one another.”

“Miranda tried that. They destroyed the room. Cost the university thousands of dollars. Or would have, if I hadn’t made them pay for it. They, unfortunately, didn’t die.”

Silver smiled, regarding Flint. “I find it hard to believe that Miranda locked them in a room intending for them to kill one another.”

“Miranda locked them in a room hoping they would work things out. I told her it was a waste of time. She did it anyway.”

“With Eleanor’s support.”

Flint tipped his bottle towards Silver. “Eleanor was the one hoping they would kill one another.”

That sounded about right. “How do you know Miranda?”

“I was fucking her husband.”

Silver froze. That was not the answer he was expecting. He wasn’t expecting any answer at all, actually. Certainly not the truth. That sounded like the truth, for the simple reason that Silver couldn’t imagine Flint making it up.

Silver closed his eyes and gave a small shake of his head. “Wha-“

“I was also fucking Miranda. It was the three of us.”

“You had a relationship, you mean.” Not just fucking, though Flint didn’t seem able to say that. “What happened?”

“He died.”

“I’m sorry.”

“A brain tumor. First, we thought he was depressed, because his father had just died. Though, in retrospect, I’m not sure why we thought that, his father was an asshole and he hated him.” Now that Flint was talking, he didn’t seem able to stop. “He slept all the time, would fall asleep at the dinner table, while talking, that sort of thing. We took him to the doctor, and they put him in a mental health ward for observation. While there, he had a fall, and because he hit his head, they took him for a CT scan.” Flint paused, his eyes on the bottle in his hands, though Silver thought he didn’t really see it. “The cancer was spread throughout his brain. Destroying him from the inside.” Flint’s voice was shaking. “We took him home, made him comfortable.” Another pause. “The doctor gave us fentanyl, high doses, in case of seizures leading to pain. He didn’t need it, but I thought about using it after he had passed. Miranda got rid of it.”

“What happened between you and Miranda?”

Flint drew and let out and shaky breath before continuing. “We left London. Neither one of us could stand to be there. We got jobs here, built this house, based on discussions we had with Thomas. It was supposed to have been for all three of us.”

Flint feel silent, and Silver noticed his beer was empty. He got up and got him another one, removing the empty bottle first. Task completed, Silver didn’t return to his bench on the other side of the fire. Instead, he pulled up a low metal drum, and sat next to Flint, mindful of his missing leg as he lowered himself down. He always knew it was gone, but some maneuvers like this one made a stronger reminder than others. He had to be careful, where before he had acted without thinking.

“He was smart and driven and compassionate and it was awful-“

“-watching all that be taken from him before he died.”

Flint nodded. After awhile, he continued, “once the house was finished, Miranda discovered she couldn’t live here, and I couldn’t not live here. We’re still close, she still keeps me going, I make sure to support her, but our relationship is different than it was.”

“I’m truly sorry.”

“I just thought you should know what you’re getting into.”

“Getting into?” Silver gave him a look of confusion.

“With me.”

Silver turned to the fire, before his face revealed too much.

“You very easily could have used your relationship with me to get what you wanted. Instead, you went out of your way to find something else.”

“It didn’t seem easy to me.” The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them.

Flint huffed - it wasn’t quite a chuckle. “I gathered that.”

Silver was staring at the fire. He felt like he was transparent under Flint’s gaze. “We should go to bed,” he said.

“It’s still fairly early.” The light was gone, but it couldn’t be later than nine.

“Neither one of us has slept in three days,” said Silver. He wasn’t letting Flint get away with this.

Flint titled his head, acknowledging the truth of that statement. Silver started to move first, but Flint was quickly on his feet, a hand out to help Silver up.

They walked back inside, brushing against one another, for comfort or support or just because they could, Silver didn’t know. Inside he hesitated - right would bring him to the guest room he had been using before he had started sleeping with Flint, left was to Flint’s bedroom. Flint saw him hesitate, and inclined his head in invitation.

Silver was too tired and relieved to even say anything, he just walked with Flint towards the room.

In the bathroom, Silver noticed Flint hadn’t moved any of his things here, either. He had to close his eyes and just breath for a moment to keep from crying. He was just tired, he told himself.

*

Flint let out a quiet sigh of relief when he woke up. Silver was there, curled in his usual place around him. This was one of his favorite things that Silver did, the lack of space between them when he slept. Silver would then spend all day building that space again, only for it to evaporate every night. Flint knew it must be exhausting. Maybe it would stop, now.

Silver pressed closer, still mostly asleep. Flint smiled, torn between staying in bed and getting up to make breakfast. Silver woke up a short time later, making Flint glad he had stayed.

After, with Silver asleep again - it was Saturday, they didn’t have to go anywhere - Flint slipped out of bed and made breakfast. When he checked on Silver, he was still asleep, so Flint put the French toast in the oven to keep it warm, and went to the library, to sit in his favorite chair in the sun and read.

Silver approached quietly, which for Silver meant without talking, since he wasn’t moving anywhere unheard, and slipped into Flint’s lap, dangling his leg and prosthetic over the side, resting his head on Flint’s shoulder. Flint rested his check on Silver’s forehead. “Breakfast is in the oven.”

“Now you tell me.”

Flint grunted in amusement.

Silver lightly moved his fingers across Flint’s chest. “Why did you steal that information from Gates?”

Flint sighed, not bothering to hide it from Silver this time. He stared at the book he was till holding open, but wasn’t really seeing it. After what he told Silver last night, this should be easy.

“Thomas had been working on a similar idea when he died. I thought that by combining his ideas with what Gates had I could publish a paper with his name, further his legacy.”

“That... didn’t work out the way you intended it.” No, that was an understatement. Because Thomas was dead, Flint had had to use his own name, but he had ended up getting the fame, not Thomas.

“Miranda tried to get me to see it in a positive light, saying it’s what Thomas would’ve wanted.”

“But it’s not what you wanted, and Thomas is dead.”

Flint gave a short, barked laugh of surprise, that Silver would say such a thing. Not that the man was wrong. He would be less insufferable if he were wrong more often. When it came to Flint, anyway.

*

“I have something to show you,” said Flint. Silver frowned slightly - he had just gotten comfortable, sprawled out in the well-padded window sit in the library. Noticing Silver’s frown, Flint added, “we can do it later if you’re busy.”

“I have just gotten comfortable.” Silver tried not to whine.

Flint just sighed and turned away. Which of course worked like magic, as Silver was never going to be able to sit in the fucking window reading a book while there was something Flint wanted to show him.

“Where is this thing?” Silver didn’t have to fake sounding interested.

Flint smiled. “Out back.”

Silver wondered if Flint was going to take him to the shed back there, which Silver studiously avoided since he had seen things like power tools and a rain of sparks, none of which interested him in the slightest. Of course Flint would have a workshop on a cliff overlooking the ocean. He wondered if such a thing had been Thomas’s idea.

Flint did not lead him to the shed. He led him straight over the side of the cliff.

Well, it looked like Flint was going straight over the side of the cliff. Silver knew he was actually heading down the path to the beach. Silver had examined the entrance to the path not too long after he arrived. It was steep and narrow and looked like it was strewn with loose rocks. Silver’s conclusion was that it most definitely was not for someone with one real leg, and did not think about it again.

Flint, his head and broad shoulders peaking up over the side, raised his eyebrows at Silver, a smile fighting for a place on his face. “Come see,” he said, and continued down, the rest of him soon disappearing from view.

Frowning, Silver moved forward until he could see the start of the path, and once again see Flint as the man moved down it. Silver froze in shock, his mouth opening slightly as he saw it. Where before there had just been a rocky path, now on one side was a guardrail, the other a handrail. The path wasn’t much wider but Silver could tell it was a lot more stable, the loose stones removed.

Again, Flint stopped and turned back to Silver. “You coming?” he asked.

Silver’s heart was thudding in his chest. Not from fear of taking the path, not now - Flint had made it as safe as possible for him - but from what it meant that Flint had taken the time and effort and expense to make sure Silver had a safe access to the beach.

Silver started to move forward, placing a hand on the rail. Flint must have seen something on his face, because he asked, “Is it not okay?”

“No, no, it’s good,” said Silver, trying not to let his panic show as he moved cautiously down the slope. It was still steep for him but the rail and sure footing made sure he could take his time without worrying about dropping over the side or slipping forward. None of which could save him from Flint. He had thought Flint liked him, sure. But this wasn’t ‘like’. It was something else entirely.

Silver needed to shove his panic aside so he could focus on getting to the bottom. Flint was talking, about the trail, about moving a loose boulder there, about cementing down a stone here, about finding a birds nest there. Silver was focusing on his voice, following its sound, focusing on putting one foot in front of another, trying not to breathe too shallow.

At the bottom Silver stood on the sand, facing the ocean, watching and listening as the waves crashed ashore. “You okay?” asked Flint, clearly worried about him.

“I’m fine,” said Silver, as much to the ocean as to Flint.

Silver saw Flint turn away, and return shortly with two folding chairs he must keep down here. He set them up and got Silver to sit in one before making himself comfortable.

“I’ve never been fond of the ocean,” Silver heard himself say, as though from far way. Almost as an afterthought, he added, “I like being here with you.”

Flint reached over and wrapped a hand around his wrist, as though holding him in place. Silver looked at him and decided he was entirely too far away, and got up to place himself in Flint’s lap.

Flint greeted him with a smile and a kiss. “I was worried I didn’t do it properly.”

“Of course you did it properly.” Silver wasn’t entirely sure they were talking about the trail.

Flint sighed and closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against Silver’s. He was smiling. It was a much more welcome sight than the ocean.

*

“What’s the matter with you?” Anne frowned at him as she and Max took their seats next to him in the bar. Silver had decided not to sit at the counter but instead chose a table in a poorly lit corner.

“You look like you got hit by a bus,” Max added, looking him over.

“Thanks,” he told them, not pleased.

“Did he throw you out again?”

“No!” Silver glared at both of them.

Max played with her bottom lip. “Did he propose?”

“No,” Silver said, quickly, before really having time to think about it. He frowned - nothing said ‘please never leave me’ like building someone an accessible staircase to the beach.

“What did he do?” asked Max, allowing every word to drop onto the table.

Silver always had any easy time telling anyone when Flint screwed him over, but something like this was much harder. Maybe because everyone thought Flint was an asshole and he only let a few people know about his past. Even Eleanor didn’t know.

Finally, Silver managed, “he did... something nice.”

“No wonder you look like you got hit by a bus.” Max laid her fingers along Silver’s wrist.

“Maybe you could... do something nice back,” suggested Anne.

Silver looked at her. Anne’s red hair was as she liked it, free to do what it wanted, the blue of her eyes mostly lost in the dim light. While Silver would’ve expected such a statement from Max, Anne wasn’t one to go about giving advice.

Max, one hand still on Silver’s wrist, lifted her other hand to twist Anne’s hair around her finger.

Rackham chose this moment to appear in front of them. “You looked like you were outnumbered,” he said to Silver.

Max and Anne glared, but without any real heat. They were just as likely to be out drinking with him as they were with Silver. More, if Silver was being honest.

“We were just helping Silver with a problem,” said Max.

“Flint was being nice,” said Anne, because Silver, for once in his life, didn’t look like he was about to start talking.

Jack’s eyebrows looked like they might levitate off his face. “That sounds less like a problem and more like a miracle.”

As they talked, Silver realized that what Flint had done was basically a marriage proposal without the actual proposing. He supposed it was up to him to do that. Should he get Flint a ring? He thought about it. Flint wore a variety of rings, some more than others. Yes, he should definitely get Flint a ring. But how to propose?

*

A breezy, sunny afternoon, as was typical, found Flint in a place he liked to be on such an afternoon, down on the beach, a book in hand. He was sitting on the ground, an outcropping supporting his back. In another life, he sat on a navy ship, reading a book, the sounds of a ship on open water surrounding him. In another life, he sat in Thomas’s library in London, the rainy beating softly against the window. Flint wondered, idly, how many lives a person got to live.

On such occasions in his past lives there were always those who would - not disrupt him, not always - but join him, sometimes, or demand his time, others. Here, the only person he ever wanted to expect was Silver. Flint had initially worried, after he had completed the guardrail and shown it to Silver, that Silver might only be using it out of some sort of obligation, because Flint had taken the time to make it. In undertaking the project, he had simply wanted everywhere on the property to be accessible to Silver. It had never occurred to him that Silver might not care, might not even like the ocean.

He had thought that Silver used the pathway only to come find him, sometimes bringing him food and drink to share. Flint had made it clear that Silver didn’t have to, to which Silver replied that he knew that very well, that is why he did it. It wasn’t until he found Silver one day on the path where it leveled out a bit, both of his large, strong hands gripping the guardrail as he stared out to sea. Flint had been transfixed by the sight, Silver’s hair blowing about untamed, Silver seemingly entirely unbothered by it. Flint had understood then that Silver made use of the path for his own sake.

Flint was not surprised when sometime after his afternoon book reading had commenced, Silver sat down at his side, making himself comfortable in the sand. Flint was a bit surprised that Silver was empty handed.

“Nothing to offer me?” Flint said, teasing.

“You can’t be happy with just me? I always have to bring something?”

Flint smiled and pulled a granola bar out of his pocket, breaking it in half to share.

“See, I knew I was kidnapped by the right person,” said Silver, happy to take the offered treat.

“How long did it take you to figure that out?”

“Longer than it should have,” said Silver after swallowing a mouthful. Silver casually rested his knee against Flint’s thigh, as though it belonged there.

Flint waited, enjoying his food, for Silver to continue, but the man seemed content to relax next to Flint and watch the water come ashore. Flint went back to his book.

An intermittent time later: “I did bring you something,” Silver said so quietly Flint wasn’t sure he said anything at all. When he looked up from his book, Silver was still looking at the ocean, not at Flint. His hand, however, was pulling at a necklace, bringing it out from under his shirt.

Flint watched in silence. It had been awhile since he had seen the man so nervous. Silver wasn’t exactly the gift-giving type, and while Flint had found the occasional book or tea cup he knew must have come from Silver amongst his possessions, Silver had never given anything to him and even acknowledged it, let alone done it face to face.

*

“Professor Flint is married? How did that happen?”

“I can assure you, it was entirely by accident.” Silver had taken his class outside to enjoy the weather, which he found his students always appreciated. They might have gotten off topic. As occasionally happened, when a professor is as fond of telling stories as Silver.

“How the hell does a person get married by accident?”

They break into a car and kidnap a homeless person to live with them and never let them leave, thought Silver. Out loud, he asked, “You’ve never fallen in love by accident?”

“No.” He was getting skeptical looks. “Have you?”

Silver’s lips twitched at the memory. “Yes.”

“How did that end up?”

“I got married,” said Silver as he spread out the fingers on his left hand, drawing attention to his ring.

“What does your wife do?” asked one student the same time another asked, “you didn’t remarry the wife you divorced, did you?”

Silver didn’t recall having told the divorce lie to this class, but he supposed that was part of his story now. His legend, Flint would say. Flint was a dramatic asshole.

“Seeing as my spouse is a man, no I did not remarry my ex-wife,” said Silver.

“Your ex-wife’s brother?” asked Abigail, all innocence.

Silver’s eyes lit up. He loved when Abigail participated, in part because it could be so unexpected. “I’m not going to say that isn’t true.”

*

Later: “What’s this about students debating if you married your ex-wife’s brother?” Flint asked, as he busied himself removing Silver’s shirt.

“How do you hear about this stuff?” ask Silver, helping himself to Flint’s belt now that the shirt was on the floor. “You never even talk to anyone!”

“I would ask how you get your students to debate your marital status in such interesting terms, but I’ve heard you talk.”

“I can do other things with my tongue,” Silver promised.

Flint knew perfectly well he was being distracted, but he was perfectly happy with that fact.

*

Abigail entered his office with, what was her name?, Nichole in tow. Abigail had a determined look on her face; Nichole looked somewhat terrified. Which is how students normally approached Flint, not him.

“Uncle John,” Abigail said, which is not how students normally addressed him nor how Abigail normally addressed him, “Nichole needs a place to stay.”

“Student services-“

“Student services,” said Abigail, with a lot more bitterness than Silver thought he had ever heard from her, “has her sleeping on a cot while they deal with her situation.”

Silver suppressed a sigh and waited silently. He was sure Abigail was going to tell him what Nichole’s situation was.

“Her dorm caught fire-“ Ah, yes, Silver remembered that. Aluminum foil in a microwave. And other things nearby which acted as an accelerant. Abigail was still talking. Silver had to at least act like he was paying attention. “-and all her things are ruined from the smoke which is awful but her father died last week-“ Silver’s eyes opened a little wider and he started paying more attention. He remembered the email he had gotten about Nichole, that she had notified the university of absence due to a personal situation. “-and she came back to find out things he had given her had been damaged beyond repair-“ Jesus Christ, thought Silver, “-and her parents were going through a divorce but she had to look after her mother because she can’t deal with any of this and they’re making her sleep on a cot!”

“I am very sorry for your loss,” said Silver to Nichole. The girl looked like she was trying not to cry, her curly hair acting as a halo. Silver had learned that the crazier the story was, the more likely it was to be true. There were your garden variety flu’s and grandma deaths, but there were also Shakespearian epics about fathers being killed by sons and then the family home destroyed by literally five feet of rain dropping from the sky in a few days while all the cows drowned.

“Please help,” Abigail added, her big brown eyes fixed on her ‘Uncle John’. Silver went through very rapidly the situation: Abigail could’ve asked him in private but she brought the unfortunate girl to his office to increase the likelihood that he would say yes. Abigail undoubtedly hasn’t mentioned any of this to Flint, because he would never agree, or the fact that staying with Silver would also mean staying with Flint, because Nichole would never agree. The only reason Abigail’s father had let her come so far to go to university was because Miranda, Flint, and Silver were here. Silver was beginning to regret being part of that equation. Abigail had all of her father’s ability to persuade, and knew exactly what she was doing when she walked into Silver’s office. He supposed he should have a talk with her about being nicer to her friends, because he didn’t really think surprise Flint was what Nichole needed at the moment. Silver wondered what was worse: Flint or a cot.

“I assume you would also like to stay with her,” he said.

Abigail’s face lit up. “I want her to be comfortable.”

Silver turned to Nichole. “You are welcome to stay at my house until the university finds a better situation for you than a cot.” Though if you decide you’d rather have the cot, that’s fine, Silver didn’t add.

Nichole tried giving him a small smile. I didn’t quite work, but Silver wasn’t going to hold that against her. Abigail came up to him and gave him a kiss on his cheek. “We’ll see you tonight!” she said happily.

“You’re responsible for dinner,” he said. The last thing he wanted to do was figure out something for the four of them. Well, the last thing he wanted to do was tell Flint about this at all, but at least he could make sure they all got fed properly in the process.

Abigail nodded and led Nichole out into the hallway. Silver went and sat behind his desk, unsure what to do next. He supposed he could tell Flint, but he felt this was definitely a ‘better to ask for forgiveness than permission’ situation. Abigail was the daughter of a long time friend of Thomas’, and Miranda and James had remained friends with the family after Thomas had died. Abigail had been at their wedding, which made her one of the few students who knew that everyone’s favorite professor was married to the professor everyone was terrified of.

*

Flint walked over, picked up two of the beers the students had brought, handing one to Silver and sitting down so close he was practically in Silver’s lap. Well, he clearly wasn’t interested in maintaining any sort of fiction that they weren’t married. Up unto this point, Silver had been very careful not to drink any alcohol, as he wanted to make sure he was in full control of his faculties to prevent anything from happening to the students or his house. And also to deal with Flint. Quite frankly by this point, he felt that he had earned a drink, and the presence of other responsible adults made him feel like he could partake. Okay, so maybe the only response adult here was Miranda. He felt sorry for Miranda. Maybe he could call President Scott and ask her to come over, she was also a responsible adult.

“I never thought my house would hold what seems to be the party of the semester,” said Flint, looking around his backyard. “Not while I was alive, anyway.”

“Abigail thought it would be a good way to lift spirits after all that had happened.”

“And you just couldn’t say no.”

“I’m sorry, when was the last time you told Abigail no?”

Flint’s face was very close as he gave a slight smile and said, “I’m not sure I would have told her no about this but the string of expletives that would have come out of my mouth after she suggested it might have made her think better of it.”

“Or,” said Silver with a broad smile as he enjoyed the way the firelight alternatively highlighted and hid the angles of Flint’s face, “Abigail would have interpreted the lack of an explicit no as permission, and gone ahead with her plans, unimpeded by your disapproval.”

“Professor Flint,” said one student, who’s name Silver thought might be Chad, and who had clearly been drinking, judging by the way he was breaking into the conversation between Flint and Silver, “do you have a sister?”

Flint frowned at the boy, and Silver could tell he was about to say ‘no’, when he changed his mind and that damn smirk appeared. “Maybe.”

Later, having seen everyone into safe transport back to wherever they called home, and a much later hour than they were used to, a very exhausted Silver was getting ready for bed when Flint approached him and pulled him close. One of his hands ended up in Silver’s hair, on the back of his head, while the other held the side of his face, allowing a thumb to trace along his cheekbone. Silver’s hands were on Flint’s waist, having worked their way to his skin under his shirt and pants.

They were content with soft kisses, Silver letting a smile spread across his face whenever Flint moved away from his mouth.

“I’m glad you’re so happy,” said Flint gently, giving Silver another kiss.