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There's a Me That I Didn't Keep

Chapter Text

John,

You’ve set me free. Thank you.

Sincerely,

James

P.S. Salem, Massachusetts Bay Colony. For when you’re ready to free yourself.

 

He couldn’t fucking believe it. Rage ripped through him, ferocious rage, the likes of which he hadn’t felt since a fool named Dufresne decided to challenge him. With a roar, he threw his tankard at the wall. When that still wasn’t enough, he shoved his papers off the table, before sinking back into his chair, covering his face with his hands, and sobbing.

It’d been three years since he last saw his Captain, three long years since he’d heard the man’s voice, though its echo in his head seemed to say otherwise. “Even if you can persuade her to keep you, it will no longer be enough,” he’d said, “and the comfort will grow stale.” Damn him, he was right. A bastard, through to the very end.

John Silver’s life had always been solitary, until the day he joined the crew of the Walrus. It was that way by design. Long ago, he’d learned the dangers of letting anyone in, of caring for anyone. Learned that lesson, and promptly forgotten it the moment he laid eyes on Madi.

Before he’d met her, before he’d been taken in by her wisdom and goodness, he’d held out hope that he could still leave the life he’d been thrust into, Flint and his men be damned. Even after he lost his leg, he still yearned to leave. That was the way he kept “John Silver” alive — though the one-legged creature he’d become barely resembled man he’d been with two legs. But that man, able-bodied and lithe, with a silver tongue and quick smile, he’d been useful, he’d been adaptive. Without him, John barely knew how to function. All he knew was that he had to reinvent himself. Again.

But then he’d committed to Madi, and committed to Flint. Perhaps he’d committed to Flint long before, but Madi opened his eyes to what that really meant. And he found it wasn’t so easy to reinvent himself after all. Instead, he’d tried to reinvent the people around him. And, judging by the letter he’d received, he’d been half-successful.

Whereas he could unmake Flint, and cause the rebirth of McGraw, Madi had no such previous identity to reclaim. She was who she’d always been: solid, unwavering, vast as the ocean. Where Flint was a hurricane, begun only to eventually end, Madi was the sea on a clear day: nothing but blue water and unfathomable strength. She was, through and through, who she was. She lived each moment a kind of sincerity Silver had never known.

They had lasted a while, longer than Silver had any right to expect. She understood why he’d done what he’d done, but ultimately, couldn’t forgive him for it. For taking away her say in the matter. In her own story. When she’d left him, determined to make a change in the world, determined to honor her multitudes (and, though she’d never said it aloud, determined to honor Flint), he hadn’t been surprised. But he’d been ruined nonetheless.

The intervening years hadn’t been kind to John Silver. Then again, neither were the ones before, nor any that came before that. Life had never been kind to John Silver. For a time he’d been important, he’d been made king, but it wasn’t real. He knew that. He didn’t miss the power that Long John Silver gave him. He just missed his...friends. His Captain. His love.

Wiping the tears off his face, he studied the letter again. The body of the letter was written in black ink. He’d recognized the script as Flint’s even before he actually read the words. But the bottom, after the signature, it was written in blue. As though he’d written the letter, walked away, and come back some time later to add the last two lines. Silver didn’t know what that meant, but he did know something else. He was going to find out.

***

It had been a long while since he’d been on a ship. Even longer since he’d been on a legitimate ship, whose destination was chartered, known, and recorded. And, in all his years on ships, John couldn’t remember ever having purchased a ticket. A pirate, he was not. Not anymore.

In the three weeks since he’d received the letter, John had wasted almost no time. He’d sent a man to the colonies to do reconnaissance and to wait for him there with information. He knew his Captain wouldn’t go by “Flint,” anymore, but doubted he’d go by “McGraw” either. And, although he didn’t know the man, he didn’t think Thomas would want to use “Hamilton”.

Lord Thomas Hamilton. Standing on the deck of the Eos, John could admit to himself that he had thought about this man just as much over the last three years as he had Flint. He wondered about Thomas constantly, wondered what kind of man could make such an impact on a person after such a short time of knowing him. The irony of that wasn’t lost on Silver - all things considered, he’d probably known Flint less time than Thomas had, but he’d become a remarkably different man for it. In many ways, Thomas has been the driving force in changing Silver’s fate as well. And now here he was, on a ship headed for Salem, Massachusetts, where he could only assume that he was about to meet the man himself. He truly had no idea how it would go or if Thomas even knew anything about him.

For the first few days after John read the letter, he could hardly believe it was real. Ever since he left Flint behind in Savannah, John wondered whether he’d ever hear from his Captain again. He wondered, if he did happen to hear from him, would it be in anger? Even with Thomas alive, could Captain James Flint simply cease to exist? Or had the desire for destruction and chaos taken such a firm hold on him that he could never truly find peace? Find forgiveness?

With a sigh, John shifted his crutch under him and headed back to his bunk. He picked up his worn copy of Meditations, opened to a random page in the middle, and began to read. After a while, his eyes grew heavy. Two more days, he thought, two more days.

 

~~~~~~~

Four months earlier

“Thomas?”

“In here!” He called.

James poked his head into the study, where Thomas was perusing their growing collection of books. Drawing one off the shelf, he went over to the armchair and waited for James to speak. He had an hour until his shift began, and he intended to use the time well.

“Have you seen the parchment I left on the desk?”

“Your letter?”

“So you have seen it,” James said. “Do you know where it’s gone?”

“I do,” he said, “but before I tell you, come over here.”

When James walked over, Thomas grabbed his hand and drew him onto his lap. It wasn’t exactly comfortable, but, after all this time apart, Thomas craved the closeness. He liked to touch James, to remind himself that this was real, that he was here. That they were here, together, after all this time. He buried his face in the crook of James’s neck and breathed in the scent of him.

“I know you’re stalling, Thomas,” James said, chuckling softly. “Why don’t you just tell me what you’ve done.”

Thomas smiled, shaking his head and huffing a laugh. Even after more than ten years apart, James knew him too well.

“I sent it,” he said, voice slightly muffled, still hiding in James’s neck.

Even without looking up, Thomas sensed the tension in James. He could feel it — his whole body snapped like a whip, and before Thomas even fully registered what happened, James was off his lap and halfway across the room.

“You did what!?” He shouted. Or rather, whisper-shouted, as he did when he was upset and trying to reign it in. While it was true that Captain Flint no longer had reason to exist, sometimes James had to fight to keep him dead. He closed his eyes and pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose. Taking a deep breath, he tried again, succeeding in sounding more like himself: “You ... you mailed the letter. My letter.”

Now Thomas stood up. “Yes I did,” he said, pleading with James to understand. He didn’t want James to be upset, but he knew with utter conviction that he had done the right thing.

“I mailed the letter,” he repeated. “James, my love, it’s been three years. You must have written him hundreds of letters, only to burn them. I’ve seen you write the letters, and read the ones you showed me. I saw you rage in them, saw you weep in them, and saw you beg and plead and argue and cajole. But this letter was different. In this letter, you seemed ready. Maybe that was because you left it out on the table rather than throwing it in the fire, I don’t know.”

“Here is what I do know,” he continued, gaining steam now that James no longer appeared so angry. He currently looked rather dumbstruck. Thomas found that he quite liked the look on James’s handsome face — he should do the unexpected more often. “What I know is that I have loved you for the better part of two decades. I loved you when I had all of you and when I had none of you. But for the past three years, I’ve loved a man who is missing a part of himself. And I don’t want to do that anymore. So, if returning you to me whole means bringing John Silver into the mix, well, I had to do it.”

James simply stood there looking at him, an inscrutable expression on his face. For a moment, Thomas panicked, wondering if his words wouldn’t be enough. Wondering whether, this time, he would lose James due entirely to his own actions. He needn’t have worried.

James walked over to him slowly, shaking his head slightly as if he’d just woken from a dream. “Do you have any idea how much I love you?” he asked.

“You waged war against England for my memory, love,” Thomas reminded him, “I think I have some inkling.”

And he did. He may sometimes doubt himself, doubt that any of this was truly happening, doubt his luck in their reunion, but he never doubted James. Not once.

Chapter Text

As the shadow of Silver loomed ever heavier, James and Thomas tried to continue on with life as usual. Since they settled in Salem two years prior, their lives had taken on a steady routine, governed largely by the demanding schedule of the lighthouse they tended.

Each day, they awoke at first light and prepared the lighthouse, cleaning the lamp daily and changing the oil every third day. When that was complete, they headed down the winding stairs to the kitchen for breakfast and tea (in the beginning, James had only wanted to drink coffee, but Thomas, an Englishman to his core—though disgraced and exiled—had simply insisted. James, the lovesick sap that he was, simply sighed and relented, unable to refuse Thomas even the smallest thing), before taking their assigned shifts. Thomas took the first shift manning the light, while James spent the morning analyzing charts of ships to come in and, more often than not, starting a stew on the fireplace for them to share for supper. When it was James’s turn on the light deck, Thomas cleaned (as best as he could with a book in his hand because, by god, he’d missed books), went into town for whatever supplies they needed (he’d missed people too), and wrote. He found he had a million stories to write, some true, some not, some nothing at all.

Although their days passed largely as they had before the fated letter, Thomas knew Silver was never far from either of their minds. For his part, he constantly wondered what Silver would think of James’s new life, what Silver would say when they finally met. He also spent quite a long time considering what he would say when the two halves of James’s heart were finally in the same room.

As for James, well, he mostly just worried. And fretted. And paced. And worried some more. Thomas was beginning to be concerned that he would actually wear right through the wooden floors of their house.

One day, about two weeks after the letter began it’s journey (Thomas much preferred that phrasing - he may have sent the letter but really, that letter was going to Silver no matter what, or who, sent it on its way), James startled him with a question:

“Do you really think he’ll come?” he asked, his voice small.

Thomas’s heart broke for him. “I do,” he said, reaching out and taking James’s hand, hoping the touch would somehow reassure him. “I don’t know when he’ll come, my dear, but if he’s even half as curious as you made him out to be” — or half as in love with you as you are with him, he thought to himself — “I believe he’ll be here sooner rather than later.”

***

The days continued to pass, one blending into the next. One morning, about two months after the letter departed, Thomas was up on the light deck when he heard hammering below. Curious, he climbed down the ladder and into the stairwell leading down to the living quarters. He didn’t have to go far before he discovered the source of the noise: James affixing a handrail onto the wall.

“What are you doing?” Thomas inquired.

“He’s no good on stairs. And far too stubborn to ask for help when he needs it,” James said, sticking several nails into his mouth and getting back to work. With a chuckle and a kiss on the cheek, Thomas retreated, heading back up to the light deck to watch the ships come in.

Slowly, the lighthouse became more and more accommodating for their hopeful soon-to-be guest. After the handrails in the stairway, it was new bedding in the guest room (James’s room, technically, though it had gone unused since they moved in). Then it was moving the glasses and plates to a lower shelf, since Silver was quite a bit shorter than Thomas and apparently, as James muttered to himself, oblivious that Thomas could hear, “that little shit will climb on a chair to reach them and fall and break his neck.” Thomas only hoped that these changes would come in handy — he was far too concerned that James’s heart would break anew if they went unnecessary.

Two weeks later, Thomas was sitting in the kitchen when he heard a knock on the door. He knew then that he’d been right, and James’s heart was safe. For now.