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like a clockmaker fixes time

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“I dreamt that your hair was long again,” Silver says one day, offhand, and though the ship is steady beneath his feet, Flint almost feels like it’s tilted severely to one side, so off-balance has this comment thrown him.

“You— Wait. You dreamt of me?” Flint asks, squinting, his heart beating very, very fast.

“Yes,” Silver says, as if this is a normal thing to admit to someone. Is it a normal thing to admit to someone? Flint ponders for a moment, and finds he doesn’t really know. A memory comes to him unbidden: a warm smile, a handsome olive green waistcoat, and In my dream, Lieutenant, we were still right here in this study, discussing this and that endlessly, and you kept telling me how silly all my plans were. I knew it for a dream because you only think some of my plans are silly.

“Why, don’t you ever dream of me, Captain?” Silver says, a slow smirk on his face like the annoying curl of a sheet of paper that requires smoothing out.

Oh, he dreams of Silver often, but there is no way in hell he would let this smug little shit know that, especially given— Well. “I don’t dream,” he says, flatly. “If I did, I’d rather my dreams not involve you when I already have to spend all my waking hours enduring your company.”

“Oh, Captain, I’m hurt,” Silver says, one hand pressed dramatically to his apparently wounded heart. “I thought we were friends! Do friends not enjoy each other’s company?”

Do friends worry about being each other’s end? In his dream last night, Silver had been bleeding all over the place and still chattering on and on as he was wont to do, even on the verge of death. Flint still can’t decide whether the dream was hilarious or terrifying, but it was probably one of the less pleasant dreams he’s had about Silver.

“Not so much that I’d want you to talk my head off in my dreams as well,” Flint says.

Silver gives him this look as if to say, Is that all I’d do in these non-existent dreams of yours? and Flint feels his neck heat.

A moment later, Silver asks, “Have you ever had hair as long as mine?”

Flint wishes he wouldn’t draw attention to his hair like that, because Flint is now looking at it, the thick tumbling curls of it.

“Once,” he says after a while. “It was a long time ago.”

“That’s a shame,” Silver remarks.

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you get the urge to grow it back the way it was?”

“It’s easier this way,” Flint says. Though he has to shave it frequently, he at least doesn’t have to think about keeping it clean. When he had long hair, he remembers, it would feel so unpleasant after weeks at sea, losing its red sheen and dulling, becoming sticky under his fingers.

Flint wants to touch Silver’s hair to see if it feels like that, but it doesn’t appear to suffer the same misfortune. Even when it wears the salt of the sea crusted upon it, it always looks like a rich forest hiding life, life that refuses to be drowned. Lucky son of a bitch.

“You should,” Silver says, lightly. “Grow it back. We won the war in my dream. It may be a good omen.”

Flint snorts. “If I live long enough for it to get to such a length, then of course it’d be a good omen.”

“Are you doubting that you might live that long, Captain?” Silver says, lips lifting into a smile. “Just a week ago you were telling me about the whole host of things you’ve survived and how you wouldn’t worry just yet.”

I worry all the time, Flint thinks.

His belief in his own ability to survive anything comes and goes like the tide. Some days he suspects, as Blackbeard had said, that he’s quite overdue and Death is surely going to catch up with him soon. Other days he’s convinced he can live through any catastrophe if he only just puts a little effort into it. Today belongs to the former category rather than the latter for no discernible reason.

Silver’s smile, though, eases the tension in his chest slightly.

“Mind your own hair,” Flint says, with as much gruffness in his tone as he can manage. “And leave mine well alone.”

Despite his dismissal of it, he cannot help but continue to be bothered by Silver’s casual revelation that he’d dreamt of Flint, dreamt of Flint with long hair. What had he been doing in that dream, other than winning the war? He wishes he’d asked, but at the same time he’s glad he didn’t. Who knows in what direction Silver’s answer might have taken them?

Standing in front of the mirror with the razor held to his head, he freezes. We won the war in my dream. Well, that’s a dream he wouldn’t begrudge the realisation of. If Silver thinks it’s a good omen, then…

Besides, he has missed it. His long hair. It had sometimes seemed like the only thing connecting him to his past, the only trace of James McGraw left, as his body aged and hardened and scarred, and his facial features carved themselves anew into some harsh sculpture that conveyed a permanent sense of glacial rage. Yet his hair, though shorter than it had once been, was otherwise untouched by the years that separated him and London. There had been times when even running his hands through it would bring back the most achingly vivid memories of Thomas doing the very same.

In the days after Miranda’s death, on the warship while Silver was resting in his cabin, he hadn’t had the freedom to mourn the way he wanted to—he’d wanted to howl, to scream, to overturn all the contents of the cabin, but there was Silver, lying asleep by the window, and when it was night and he had no ship business to distract himself with, he’d sit at his desk and dig his fingers into his hair and pull until it felt like he could rip it all out by the roots and he’d hurt and hurt and hurt and still none of that compared to the way everything inside his body echoed wildly with grief as if he were a bell, clanging on and on and on in a cacophony that was an endless, chaotic revival of painful sounds: that chiming clock, that fatal gunshot.

To forestall himself from actually tearing his own hair out, he’d grabbed his knife one morning and cut off most of it before skimming the razor over his scalp.

Now, razor in hand again, he closes his eyes and listens.

His body is quiet, his pulse calm. Silence surrounds him but for the creaking of the ship and Silver’s voice in his head: I dreamt that your hair was long again.

He meets his own clear eyes in the mirror and sets down the razor.

A week or so later, Silver says, “You haven’t shaved your head in a while.”

“You noticed, did you?” He can’t keep the honeyed edge of pleasure from his voice. Silver noticed.

“Is this because of what I said?” There’s a grin creeping onto Silver’s face too.

“It’s my hair, Christ, Silver,” he says, shaking his head and feeling oddly playful. “I can do what I like with it, it doesn’t mean that my decisions are dictated by your commands.”

Silver snorts. “It was hardly a command. Merely a suggestion, and one you’ve undeniably taken into account.”

Then Silver gets this glint in his eye, and Flint almost rears back in wariness straightaway, but before he can react, Silver has reached out and run a hand all the way over the top of Flint’s head.

“What the fuck?” he pronounces, recoiling too late. He feels fevered all of a sudden, his scalp burning like it’s spent all day baking in the tropical sun.

Silver chuckles at the plain grimace he must be displaying. “I’ve always wanted to do that,” he explains. “Had to grab the opportunity before it got too long and wasn’t at all prickly anymore.”

He glares at Silver, mind still struggling to comprehend how the fuck he ever allowed this ridiculous man to live. “Well, was it prickly enough for your taste?”

“Not nearly as prickly as your personality,” Silver says cheerfully, and Flint rolls his eyes, swallows the urge to put a hand on his own head, to feel what Silver just felt, as if that would erase the effects of Silver’s touch.

As his hair starts to grow out more, he almost wants to take up wearing a headscarf every day. It’s utter shit is what this is, waiting for his hair to get to a more respectable length instead of this wishy-washy in-between nonsense. The shaved head had actually looked quite fearsome in his opinion: it’s how people all over the New World and the redcoats and the navy think of him, the blood-soaked monster dressed all in black, head shaven and eyes wild.

But now his hair just looks like he’s forgotten to do anything about it for weeks. It’s fuzzy and too short but not short enough. It makes him look like some bumbling idiot merchant rather than a notorious pirate. And had his receding hairline always been so obvious or is it just… well, receding?

At least he still has his moustache and beard though. He finds himself nursing his beard more and more with his fingers as if it’s his only source of comfort during these difficult times. He’s tempted to grow his beard even longer to compensate for whatever the fuck his hair is doing at the moment.

He’s also tempted to give up completely, but then out of nowhere, when they’re going over the charts in his cabin, standing side by side at his desk, Silver says, “It looks so soft now.”


“Your hair,” Silver says, glancing at him instead of at the charts. “It looks so soft.”

Flint grits his teeth to prevent himself from saying something stupid like, You can touch it if you want. It’s not as if Silver needed permission to touch his head before. “That’s not really the ideal image for the most feared pirate of the West Indies,” he manages to spit out.

“No, but I like it,” Silver says, mouth curving into a gentle smile.

Really? It looks fucking terrible, he wants to say, but Silver’s words and the way Silver’s looking at him stops his tongue, warms his stomach like he’s just taken a swig of rum.

Silver’s hand twitches like he’s itching to touch Flint’s hair but he’s restraining himself from doing so, and Flint shuts his eyes against the swell of longing that hits him then. He’s not blind to it, he’s felt this before, and he knows— he knows. He knows that he might have missed his long hair himself but he only stopped shaving it because Silver said, Silver said, “I dreamt that your hair was long again”, and he knows that he only listened to Silver because of the way that simple statement stole his breath and occupied his every thought since then.

I dreamt that your hair was long again, and Flint keeps wondering—what else, what else, what else did you dream? Was it merely that once or do you dream of me often? Do you wake lonely as I do, and lament that you cannot hold onto your dreams, that they slip away like ghosts as soon as morning comes?

He can pretend all he likes, but really, this is the reason he stopped shaving his head. For Silver’s blue eyes to look upon his hair and linger, his gaze heavy as a physical caress.

Part of him wants to herd himself away from this; his life is complicated enough right now, and they’ve still got the war to fight. Can he truly afford to let himself be distracted like this? His relationship with Silver is volatile as it is. It would be inadvisable to add anything else to the mix. But he wants this, and so much of his life is cold ashes. And if this spark wants to blaze—then why should he try to douse it out before it’s even had a chance?

“It is soft,” he says, opening his eyes. “You should feel it.” He runs his fingertips lightly over the back of Silver’s hand, savouring the startled delight on Silver’s face, and grasps Silver’s wrist, tugging. Silver does not resist, but goes along with it.

He brings Silver’s hand to smooth over his short hair, and Silver’s smile widens.

“Hmm. Like velvet,” he says, and his hand falls to the back of Flint’s neck, a mild pressure that makes Flint shiver just a little.

He obeys that pressure and leans forward, catching Silver’s lips in his own, and Silver’s mouth opens to his in an enthusiastic welcome. He brushes a hand through Silver’s tresses as he’s yearned to do for so long, and just as he predicted, they feel as gorgeous as they look, a luxuriant burst of silken, lively chaos, even salt-touched.

He makes a helpless noise in his throat, drawing Silver closer. Silver responds in kind, crowding against him until their bodies press together in an enthralling alignment, and Jesus Christ, what the fuck was he thinking, believing he could—should—deny himself this?

The rays of sunrise intruding upon his cabin wakes him, and as he sits up, the tingling sensations in his scalp inform him of the intolerable degree to which his hair is currently attempting to embody utter anarchy. Christ, he hates this; his hair has now reached the sort of length that enables it to look like a fucking bird’s nest every time he gets out of bed, sticking out at all angles and impossible to tame.

Silver makes a sleepy noise next to him and opens one bleary eye. “God, you look good like that,” Silver groans.

Flint grunts and makes to go to splash some water over his hair to ameliorate its condition, but Silver grabs his arm and says, petulant, “No, don’t. I’ll just make a mess of it again.”

As if to prove his point, Silver pulls him down and kisses him, one hand immediately snaking up to his hair, fingers pressing into his scalp and rubbing small circles there, making him sigh into Silver’s mouth.

They have a little time, he knows, and Silver—well, Silver is still looking so damn irresistible, with not a single article of clothing obscuring his body, tanned skin and muscle and a cascade of curly hair that takes up more space than the narrow bed can really spare. His cock is hard and flushed prettier than the dawn sky, and Flint’s mouth waters at the sight, heart bounding at the memory of that cock inside him last night, fucking him deep and fast as he begged for it.

He wants it again now in a different way, and he almost moans with how much he wants it. He wraps a hand around it while he kisses Silver’s neck, and fuck, it’s so thick and heavy in his hand. He shudders, nipping the skin over Silver’s collarbone with his teeth. He needs to feel that cock on his tongue.

And he’s become miraculously good at indulging his own desires over the past weeks. Funny how some weeks ago he was still studiously ignoring his attraction to Silver, nervous about the dangers it might lead to, and now he has flung all his reservations and notions of caution overboard and hardly cares whether he seems over-eager.

He kneels in between Silver’s thighs and bends down, fingers gripping the insides of those thighs as he nuzzles the hair around the base of Silver’s cock, the strong, distinctive scent of it filling his nostrils and making his head spin. He laps at Silver’s balls, scrapes his beard against them, sucks one of them into his mouth, and Silver bucks, swears, holds Flint there with a hand on his head. “Jesus, James, you’re so hungry for it, aren’t you? Shit, do that again, do it—” He breaks off in a gasp as Flint does what he asks, fastening his lips around the other one and sucking continuously, ravenously, then letting it go with a loud smack.

He licks a wet stripe from Silver’s balls up the length of his cock, and again and again, and then he straightens up little to admire his work, Silver’s cock red and shining with his spit, the sweat beginning to bead on Silver’s forehead, Silver sitting up a little, propped on his elbows so he can watch Flint better. Their eyes meet, and Flint’s stomach swoops low like a bird that’s spotted its prey. He doesn’t know if this thing they have will ever not be a thing of marvel to him, for as long as it lasts. This man in his bed, this man who thinks he’ll be Flint’s end, naked and panting and looking at him like that, like every time they come together like this it’s the entire world ending and being created afresh, and Flint thinks—

Be my end, be the best end I could ever hope for.

To purge the sudden choke of emotion in his throat, he dives back down to take Silver’s cock in his mouth, and everything narrows to this, the heat and taste of Silver’s cock, its thickness stretching his lips, the soreness in his jaw as he works to take more of Silver’s cock in, Silver’s thighs flexing under his hands, Silver’s frantic moans and curses, Silver’s hand in his hair.

Fuck, James, you’re so good at this, I’m gonna—ah, fuck—I wanna come on your face, let me come on your face, James—” The pleasurable sting of Silver pulling on his hair until his mouth moves up and off of Silver’s cock, and he closes his eyes and holds his mouth open and his tongue ready, and in seconds, the splatters of Silver’s come are hitting his face, some landing on his nose and across his cheeks, some catching in his moustache and beard, some falling on his outstretched tongue. Blissful weightlessness overcomes his body as Silver strokes his hair, murmuring, “God, James, you look like heaven.”

He swallows Silver’s bitter-salt seed, licks his lips and swallows again, now daring to crack his eyes open. “You only like me for my hair,” he says, his voice clouded and hazy like fog drifting in from the sea.

“Oh, I love your hair,” Silver says, wiping Flint’s face clean with a cloth. “But it’s certainly not the only thing I—love about you. Your mouth, for instance, is pretty spectacular.” It’s the little falter in Silver’s speech that belies the levity of his words, and Silver’s eyes, darting shyly to Flint’s cock as if hoping to distract Flint with more physical activity.

Well, if Silver wants to distract him, he isn’t going to complain. But he sweeps one hand through Silver’s curls first, trails his knuckles tenderly down Silver’s jawline, and presses a sweet kiss to Silver’s lips, to say, it’s all right, I love you too.

He stands in the middle of the battlefield, trying to recover his breath. It’s over, it’s over, they’ve done it. There are bodies all around him, some still drawing agonising last breaths, but there’s nary a scratch on him. He wants to crumple in a heap and giggle in exhaustion and disbelief, but then Silver is approaching him—he’d walked off to start giving orders about clean-up and congratulating the men, but he’s back now, back at Flint’s side where he had fought so fucking perfectly.

“It looks like I made that dream of yours come true, didn’t I?” Flint says, unable to keep a note of hysterical, euphoric amusement from his voice. All those many other battles and raids and plots and killings, all those lives lost, all leading up to this, finally, this, and Silver alive and standing beside him.

Silver shakes his head minutely, and when Flint frowns in puzzlement, he reaches round and tugs off the tie holding Flint’s hair together so that it comes loose, falling around his face. He looks into Flint’s eyes for a beat and then surges against Flint, crushing their mouths together, tangling his hand in Flint’s hair. Flint’s pulse is still singing from the thrill of battle and it soars even higher with this fierce kiss, with the warmth of Silver’s body, with the promise of the rest of their lives laid out before them, unshadowed for the first time.

They break apart, inhaling each other’s breath, and Silver tucks a strand of Flint’s hair behind his ear.

“Now you did,” he says, softly.

And Flint says, “Oh.”

This is what Silver meant all along. I dreamt that your hair was long again.

I dreamt that your hair was long again, I dreamt that we won the war, I dreamt that we fought side by side and we triumphed and you kissed me.

I dreamt that you loved me, and we both lived.

Flint holds him close, his forehead touching Silver’s, his arm snug around Silver’s waist, and says, “Let’s go away together, you and I.”

And Silver answers, simply, “Let’s.”