In the world in which your soulmate's lies become a permanent mark on your skin, tattooing your own chosen words is quite controversial, even among pirates. Small lies tend to fade, unless one focuses on them. If one doesn't hold on to them, they can disappear forever. Plenty of skilled people would simply refuse even considering doing such art, no matter the prize offered.
Still, some just look for that kind of controversy. It's rumoured that Blackbeard has tattooed a promise of always sailing smoothly on his chest, because his soulmate is the sea and she never remains calm for long. It's part of the man's insane legend and when James first hears it, he rolls his eyes and Gates laughs at him, enjoying the annoyance he raised in him with yet another silly pirate story.
He says James needs to know them to understand the world he's joining, to fit in. James knows their long conversations and all the stories do help him fit in, but they never were just for his own benefit.
Gates' hands are covered in lines of text, from his wrists to elbows as if they were rays illuminating from his hands. The text is too small and pale to make out specific words, even if someone was tactless enough to try. Gates doesn't hide it, but doesn't mention it either. No one ever asks, it's clear he's not getting any new ink these days and probably not because his soulmate has become truthful.
Some people exchange those lies. The world is full of fools, who tell those they're courting a small lie, a funny, ridiculous story, to check if it will appear on their beloved's skin. There are those who know nothing but annoyance at best, and heartbreak at worst, come from this. They struggle to remain truthful.
Thomas’ words never marked James' skin, yet James never doubted that they would, if the man ever lied. Thomas made it his priority not to lie, especially not to those he considered his soulmates. It took James years before he accidentally saw Miranda's foot and saw the words I'm sure everything will be all right, Miranda.
It was Thomas' only lie to her, the only mark he left on her and right before he was taken from the both of them forever. Miranda was left without her soulmate, but with a small, certain sign that she ever had one.
James envied her even that.
John Silver lies to his face almost from the moment he starts speaking. And with every sentence, James feels a tell-tale small burn as another line of the tiniest text he ever saw appears on his body.
They circle his legs first, like thin veins or serpents. One lie starting in diminutive script above his ankle, moving in slow circles towards his hip. The other right next to it. Smaller ones are trapped in between the long serpents and eventually make the whole texture look like a planned composition. Sometimes James' thinks it looks like an infection spreading through his body, and he resents it almost as much as he resents the man causing it.
Resents him for taking over the skin that should belong to another, who refused to claim it.
James never lets Silver know any of this. He listens to the man's stories, without flinching as his thighs burn. Refusing to give Silver another weapon, when he can keep it as his own advantage. With a man like Silver it's not even about knowing when he's lying, because it's safe to assume he almost always is. It's those times when he's honest that James appreciates knowing about.
He almost expects the tell-tale tingle when Silver tells him there's always a way out, but his mind is heavy with the gravity of what he had just done.
He expects it again, when Silver tells him about pulling him from the water. He is glad when it doesn't come. He needs someone to trust, even if only for the moment, and his skin is marked enough already.
He tries to let go of the lies, forgive them, pay them no mind. However there's always another story Silver is spreading, another version of the truth that's now more favourable to the liar, and soon enough it's inked on James' body.
After his legs and buttocks are completely covered, it spreads over his lower back.
Miranda notices, when she's on the ship, the tips of the new thin lines curling over his spine as he hurriedly puts his shirt back on. He is too ashamed to let her ask and leaves until he knows she will give up. She gives up so much easier now, and he wants to continue to fight so she can finally be free.
When Silver tells him about the gold he can feel the heat of ink tingling up his spine and he wonders how this little shit managed to lie to him before and realizes that Silver never told him anything about the gold. The lookouts were the ones doing the talking. Was it because Silver was trying to avoid suspicion? Or did the man somehow suspect that James might recognise his lies?
They're alone in the longboat, when Silver tells him he stole the gold, admits that he gave up his share of it to remain with the crew. Not a single inch of James' skin tingles with pain from fresh ink. James breaths his anger in and starts rowing again, Silver scrambling to follow through.
James' back and the top of his arms are covered in the swirling pattern of tiny strings of text. They circle the half-moon he once had made, enveloping it in a story Silver told the crew about one of his adventures. James barely listens, but the words appear nevertheless.
He wondered before how the new ink would react to the old one. The sentiment in him wanting to both keep it unchanged and somewhat hoping to erase it. A drunken decision made of hazy thoughts on how Thomas was his and Miranda's sun, while James was only the moon. Reflecting the light, but always so full of darkness.
He fought hard to sound sincere when he explained it to Miranda as just one more way to get into the pirate's trust. An initiation ritual of sorts. Not the creation of a drunk, romantic fool.
Silver tells him that his death is not inevitable. Not now. He tells him his sacrifice would be a grave mistake and there's no new ink on James' skin and so he has to believe it. Even if it isn't true, Silver seems to believe it strongly enough and that's something to work with.
Not long before the battle, James starts making sure his sleeves are always rolled down. It's a new habit he is trying to reinforce, still he forgets rather easily about it. When they're sitting by the fire, discussing his past, he fidgets with his sleeves, rolling them up a bit. Silver clearly catches the barest hint of the writing that's slowly coming down his elbows.
"Oh," he breathes, sounding surprised even more by this than James' confession. "He was your soulmate?"
It sounds like an odd mix between a statement and a question, almost as if Silver knows the answer, but still hopes to hear a different one. It makes James feel obligated to answer.
"Yes," he says with certainty he doesn't always feel, but at this moment, he refuses to even consider another option.
Silver only nods.
"I see," he says, and there's no new ink on James' skin, so perhaps he actually does.
The conversation they shared that night puts the distance between them, but also seems to strengthen the pull they feel towards each other. It seems that some things are inevitable after all, James thinks mildly as his lips chase Silver's.
Silver slides his hands under James' shirt as they kiss ferociously in the captain's cabin aboard the Walrus. James can't remember if they locked the door, there was hardly a point, when all he planned to do was to discuss their plans, perhaps argue over them with Silver. Still, for some reason, as if subconsciously preparing for this possibility, they both tended to close those doors recently and he really hoped they did so this time as well so no wandering crew member will stumble upon them and interrupt. Silver manages to open James' shirt and he tugs at it impatiently, pulling it down James' shoulders while pressing even closer with his hips, his body crowding James against the desk. Silver's hands roam over the naked chest before him and he breaks the kiss to look down on the ink covering it.
He seems surprised at the amount of text before him, but decisively looks away, closing his eyes and leaning in for another kiss. Suddenly he stops though, stills completely and moves away a step, making James groan with displeasure.
"What?" snaps James. John traces thin, barely visible words with his fingers, delicately as if the ink was still painfully fresh.
"It says 'Whackam John'. It's a story I told you, well, the crew about-"
"How you won a duel with your leg cut open with debris,” interrupts James impatiently, remembering the ridiculous story clearly, “Yeah, I remember, you told it last week, as if the men no longer remember your leg was fine when you still had it."
"Happened to someone I knew," John replies ignoring James's snort, his voice soft as if he can't believe he's having this conversation at all.
He keeps on touching the words on James' collarbone, fixated.
"You have my lie on you..."
"Far more than one," grumbles James and John looks up to him startled, before a look of determination crosses his face.
"Captain, you better get very naked, very fast."
James' hands are opening his breaches before his mind manages to fully process the implication of the given order.
"Close the door," he barks out, to resemble some sort of dignity and power over their situation.
"I did," John says easily, watching James carefully as the man clenches his jaws on the unexpected pain of the ink appearing at the base of his neck.
He glares at John, who grins at him brightly before moving in to kiss the fresh ink, his hands roaming over James' body, sliding the now open breaches further down.
"Oh for God's sake," John rips away from him, stumbling to the door in three long steps, closing the door and coming back, dropping his shirt as he goes.
His body appears smooth and free of ink at first, but there are thick lines of it spreading over his belly and disappearing underneath his trousers. James traces them as soon as John is back within his reach.
"The gold is still the priority," he reads quietly, one of the lines that starts higher and is more visible to him.
John chuckles, the warm breath teasing James' kiss damp skin.
"You're a lying shit, Captain."
James grabs him, pulling him close and making him gasp at the contact.
"Wouldn't want you to think you're not meeting your equal," he says, before tugging at Silver's breaches. "How far do they go?"
"Take me to bed and you will find out," suggests Silver, his voice deeper than usual, and for once James sees no point in arguing with his plan.