Santiago Quijana stepped out of his bedroom barefoot, clad in just his long white shirt. He yawned, scratching at his auburn beard, altogether disoriented. He felt like he’d been up half the night drinking, which was not the case -- he’d put away the bottle at about half-ten before retiring to bed, like always.
But he’d slept restlessly last night, even with the rum’s help. He’d felt anxious for some unknown reason, anticipating something he couldn’t fully identify. It was an itch directly below the skin. It was like knowing a hurricane was on it’s way, despite a clear blue sky ahead -- still feeling it by a crackle in the air and by a smell in the wind.
His day was busy, but, it must be said, very similar to most of his days. He’d eat breakfast, then go out into the grove and pick a few barrels of oranges. He’d set aside the misshapen ones for himself, and make his way into town, trading with farmers and families for other fruits and meats, then head into the taberna for lunch and for the local gossip. He’d make his way over to the schoolhouse to give each child an orange, which he was never asked to do nor paid to do it, but the children seemed to like them all the same. Before making his way home he’d stop by the Castillo to hand out (also forgoing payment) his few remaining oranges to whatever guards were on duty. He would never step inside the fort, and he smiled through gritted teeth and made quick, idle conversation before heading home for the evening.
To every armed Spanish officer at the Castillo de San Marco, Santiago was a kind, innocuous, God-fearing farmer -- easy to talk to, and easy to forget.
He’d end his day making dinner for himself and reading. Sometimes he did a little light carving and whittling, nothing to show off about, but improving each day. Sometimes he wrote -- fictions and poetry occasionally, more often biographical recollections that had been lingering in his mind for too long: gruesome, haunting tales which he’d write in a heavy burst to release himself from and then burn, lest any unsuspecting visitor stumble upon them. He’d bathe himself with a washcloth, unless it was a Sunday, in which case he’d take a proper bath, and then go to bed.
These were Santiago’s days, and he’d spent the last six years achieving this routine. It wasn’t thrilling. That was fine. Sometimes he went days without actually saying a word to anyone. That was also fine. The itch he often felt was mild, and easy to ignore most of the time.
The sun had been up for a couple hours, but the January air felt crisp and fresh. He savored it, for it made him remember all the moments and places he’d been where the weather was always one extreme or another -- stifling heat or aching cold year round. St. Augustine was brutal the rest of the time, true. But for about a week every winter, it was perfect.
He padded silently down the hallway, walked pass the bloody, unconscious pirate snoring on his reading chair, and entered his sunny yet sparse kitchen. He started a small fire in the stove to get the tea going, and stared absently out the window at his grove for a moment.
He returned to his living room and looked down at the pirate bleeding onto his favorite chair. A pair of crutches had fallen to the floor beside the pirate’s one remaining foot. Old bruises were covered with new cuts. The pirate had helped himself to Santiago’s rum at some point during the night, and had drank most of the bottle.
For a brief, shining moment, Santiago considered walking out the door and never coming back. Just up and out, not even taking the time to put on shoes because those were precious seconds he couldn’t afford to lose.
But then the larger, angrier, indignant side of him overcame, and Santiago nudged the pirate hard in his arm.
Immediately, he felt the tip of a cutlass poking into his belly through his night shirt. Everything went still. The hand on the cutlass was steady. Santiago didn’t move, just let the pirate squint up at him with bleary eyes.
“Oh,” said Silver. “It’s you. Hello.” He fell against the back of the chair, letting the cutlass dangle over the arm carelessly. He looked at Santiago for a moment. “That’s an awful lot of breeches you’re currently not wearing.”
Santiago Quijana -- formerly Captain James Flint -- formerly Lieutenant James McGraw -- sighed hard through his nose, took the half empty bottle of rum and headed back into the kitchen, downing it in one go as he walked.
Flint needed tea.
Almost ten minutes later, he’d already finished half a cup and was aggressively chewing his breakfast of crusty bread and butter when Silver finally dragged himself to the table.
Silver set both crutches to the side, and stared at the plate of bread and apple Flint had set up for him. He took a small sip of his tea instead, and looked at Flint in surprise. Flint ignored it.
So he remembered how Silver took his tea. So what. Silver drank it black, oversteeped, with half the cup filled with sugar -- anyone would remember a disgusting drink such as that.
Silver didn’t say anything about it, though. Didn’t say anything about the breakfast, either, when a thank you really would have been fucking appreciated.
Once Silver had finished all the apple slices he said, “Drinking tea without your trousers, as well. It’s good to see you haven’t completely lost your dangerous streak.”
“This is my home,” Flint said. He had a right to wear or to not wear breeches whenever he felt like it. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
Silver blinked, and then smiled, his mouth full of bread. He chewed pointedly.
“You mean to say,” Flint said, “in the last six years, John Silver developed manners?”
Silver swallowed, eyebrows raised, and busied himself to more tea. He ate like a starving man, his dirty, jeweled hands clutching at his piece of bread and Flint’s simple china as though someone might try to take it from him. It all seemed small in Silver’s hands -- small and fragile, held together with worn string.
Flint finished his own tea and then cradled the empty cup for something to do with his hands. He knew what they really wanted to do to Silver, so he needed to keep them occupied.
Eventually, Silver swallowed two more large pieces of bread, washed it back with another cup of tea, and said, “It’s only been five and a half years.”
Flint snatched Silver’s empty plates away and brought them to the counter. He wasn’t a man to let dirty dishes lie around, but this morning he set them there and turned around.
Silver shot him a wide-eyed, desperate, innocent expression. Flint knew better. John Silver never let anyone see anything on his face unless he wanted them to see it that way.
“How did you get by the Castillo?” Pirates weren’t welcome around here anymore than they were anywhere else, and Silver looked every bit the part. And while the soldiers at the fort were all young men, only boys when the British burned St. Augustine to the ground, they were highly distrustful of any and all strangers. “Is the ship docked nearby? Who knows you’re here?”
Silver stared at Flint imploringly for a moment longer, before letting the pathetic expression drop completely. The cuts and bruises on his face looked stark against the whitewashed stone of the kitchen. He spun one of Flint’s only two cups along the table like a top, sighing. “No one knows I’m here. No one knows you’re here. You’re perfectly safe.”
“How did you know I was here?”
Silver let the cup spin all the way to the edge of the table, and Flint tensed for a second as it spun off, but Silver caught it easily. “I’ve always known where you were,” he said.
Flint had a thousand other questions for him, several of them repeating: how did he really know where Flint’s been this whole time? Where was his crew? How did he get here? What happened to his face? Where was his peg leg? What the fuck was he doing here?
But instead Flint said, “I’m going to get changed. There’s a well out back, along with some clean shirts on the line. Get yourself sorted.”
As Flint walked away, Silver said, “What are you doing?”
“I,” said Flint, standing as tall as a man in bare legs could stand, “am about to start my day, Mr. Silver.”
By the time Flint made his way outside, Silver was cleaner, the blood and dirt gone from his face and his knuckles. He’d pulled his long, matted hair back into a tail. His dirty gray shirt lay abandoned on the ground, and of course he’d chosen to wear one of Flint’s newer white shirts.
Silver was staring out into the lines of the grove. It wasn’t a huge crop, only about five acres of land, but it wasn’t like he had a family to support. He’d bought the land off another single farmer, an elderly Spaniard whom he’d helped with his harvest when he’d first arrived in St. Augustine. The old man had his trees planted too far apart, however, and a year after he’d purchased the farm Flint had managed to double the number of trees and almost triple the number of produce.
Flint made it a point to be exceptional at things, especially when starting at a disadvantage.
Silver turned to Flint as he approached. The crisp newness of his shirt made his exposed neck and collar look even darker.
“Is it only oranges?” Silver asked.
“Yes.” He picked up the stack of barrels he kept near the well. He pulled one out and handed it to Silver, who was only using one crutch now that he’d had tea, and his wits were about him again, such as they were. “You’re going to help.”
“Unless you’ll be leaving.”
Silver stared at him for a long moment, before inclining his head towards the orchard. Flint grabbed his pushcart and led him into the grove.
As they walked, they were met by the large group of tabby cats that roamed the area. They were all feral creatures, orange and brown, with old scars from fighting and fleas. Once a week Flint would throw them bones from his fish dinner, which meant the rest of the time they’d follow him whenever he was around, yowling demands. He would ignore them, and they would watch him with sharp eyes as he picked oranges until they grew bored and dozed in the sun.
When he caught Silver smiling at the half-dozen cats leaping in and out of his cart, yelling for fish they never got, Flint said, “They keep the birds out of my trees.” He assumed that’s what they were there for, anyway. At least two he thought were pregnant, or had been steadily eating whole blackbirds for the last month.
Only about two-thirds of the trees were ready for harvest. The others were Valencia oranges and wouldn’t be ready until the summer. Once every six weeks he dedicated a day to crating large quantities to be shipped back to Spain, which was basically his only real source of income. Sometimes he’d hear about the ships carrying his fruit being raided by pirates, and he would quietly revel in it.
He stopped at a tree he’d been at the day before, his ladder still propped up against it. Silver had kept up well on the walk, even while holding one of the barrels under his arm. He moved fluidly on the crutch as though it were just another leg, and did not appear even slightly out of breath. Flint supposed if you could get used to it on a rocking ship, walking on steady ground was no issue.
But he only had one ladder, having no need for two before, and while he was sure there was little Silver wasn't capable of, he wasn't sure how a one-legged man could climb a small ladder. But it was easier to hand the oranges down to Silver than propping the basket between his hip and the ladder.
When they started working, Silver had given him a curious, puzzled expression for the longest time, but when it became clear that Flint wasn’t going to ask him any questions or offer anything for himself to say, he’d sighed loudly and let the work continue in silence.
For a bit. “You know,” Silver said eventually, grabbing another orange from Flint’s hand and dropping it carelessly into a basket. “This was not exactly how I pictured our first meeting after five and a half years.”
Flint grunted, stretching to reach an orange just above his head so he wouldn’t have to go up another rung. One of the pregnant cats danced around Silver’s crutch, and he bent down once to scratch her head. She then collapsed against his leg and proceeded to rub her face against it hard, purring.
“Mhm. I pictured fighting, of course,” said Silver. “A lot of fighting. Yelling. Death threats. A pistol drawn. Sometimes I even imagined a wife and kids getting in the way. I sometimes even pictured us fucking.”
Flint nearly fell out of the tree.
“I didn’t picture you having grown your hair back, though,” Silver said, absently steadying the ladder when it swayed dangerously. “I don’t know why.”
They hadn’t been -- that way before Flint had gone. They might have been, if things had been different. If they weren’t run ragged by war, by secrets, by violence and by a lack of privacy. Sometimes Flint would catch Silver staring at him, and sometimes Silver would catch Flint staring at him. Sometimes, when alone, they’d accidentally get caught in the other’s path, suddenly standing too close and they’d both freeze, inches from one another, able to feel the heat coming through their stained and bloody clothes, just sharing the same breath without looking at each other, until the moment passed -- maybe seconds or maybe hours later. One time, close to when Flint finally left, they’d found themselves trapped in that same space of each other’s air, colliding without ever touching, and Silver had reached out, almost a twitch really, and brushed his fingers against Flint’s wrist, and Flint had swayed into Silver just a hair, and then Billy had barged into the cabin, and the ship was under attack, and they’d never gotten a chance to return to that moment.
“But I really, honestly, didn’t picture this much….” Silver looked around. “...fruit.”
He frowned up at Flint.
“Your arm is bleeding,” he said.
A long scratch had appeared on Flint’s wrist, on top of other scabs and scars. It had already stopped bleeding, but Flint brought it up to his mouth instinctively. He ignored the loaded look Silver gave him.
“The trees have thorns,” he said shortly. “Step back.”
Silver hopped back on his one foot to give Flint room to climb down. Once the barrels were loaded into the cart, Silver puzzled over them, scratching the back of his head.
“Now what do you do with them?”
Flint pushed the cart down the rocky path into the village, Silver walking easily beside him. The evil part of Flint was hoping the hike would force Silver to show some kind of exertion from the long walk, but he showed no signs of wearing.
He was broader than the last time Flint had seen him, though they’d all been drawn and thinned from war. Despite the surface injuries to his face, he still looked healthier than he had since way back, before he lost the leg. There were hints of tattoos peeking out from the cuffs of his shirt and around his collar that would have to be covered once they’d reached town. Flint also had to make him keep the cutlass and his other weapons back at the house, although the way he gave them up with minimal fuss meant he didn't doubt Silver was just as deadly without them.
Flint could even see the discoloration and scratches at the bottom of the crutch, and they weren’t made from the ground. Flint was more than familiar with the sight of blood-stained wood, thanks.
When they’d walked by the sign leading up to Flint’s home, that was the only time Silver paused. It was a little weathered. He’d been meaning to repaint it, but the arrow indicating the way to Naranjal de Miranda was still clear to anyone looking for the way. Silver just glanced at it for a moment before catching up with Flint. They walked in mostly silence.
“Spanish only when we come to people,” Flint said. “They’re not too fond of the British around here. Or...whatever you are.”
“No problema,” Silver said. “No wonder you like it here so much.”
“And please try to seem a bit less…swashbuckling.”
“Me llamo Juan Da Silva,” said Silver, appearing completely sincere for possibly the first time in his entire fucking life, “tu primo favorito. Yo era un marinero, hasta que... mi accidente.” He pouted dramatically for effect.
“Only a fool would think you were my cousin,” Flint said, although the story of an injured sailor would play well with a lot of the older folks in town. “And Juan Da Silva is a terrible alias.”
“It’s so obvious, no one would suspect a thing,” Silver said. “What do they know you as, here?”
“Santiago Quijana,” Flint said.
“Like Don Quixote?” Silver smirked. “I suppose that is fitting for you. Struggling to be a noble hero when you’re obviously completely mad.”
Flint scowled. “Would that make you Pancho, then?” he said, knocking a fist into Silver’s stomach. It felt a lot harder under Flint’s knuckles than he’d expected.
“Perhaps. In another time.” Silver’s arm bumped into Flint’s, probably on accident. “But we were never knights, Captain.”
No. They definitely weren’t. But Flint wasn’t completely sure what they were, instead.
“Don’t call me that,” he said. “Y no más Inglés.” They were approaching the first farm on his route.
From one farm to the next, Flint manages to get a couple questions answered.
“Did you ever look for my treasure?” he asked.
“Fuck,” said Silver viciously. “Don’t ever talk to me about that fucking treasure.”
“I’ll take that as a no, then.”
Halfway through the battle for Nassau’s soul, Flint had removed the buried chest from Maroon Island and buried it somewhere else, with only a few others in the know. When he’d uncovered it, Jack and Anne took a small sackful of the pearls for themselves and Flint allowed it, because they said they never wanted to see the fucking thing again. The intention was to move it to a more accessible area, but when Flint hid the location from mostly everyone he’d allowed himself to be honest and admit he was being an asshole. But dammit, the Urca gold had been his first, and the seedling idea of his false death had already been planted in his mind by that point. Silver had been one of the few people to know he’d moved it, but true to form, he hadn’t really cared to know where it was.
Silence for awhile, and then, because Silver can’t help himself, he spat out, “Three years.”
“Three years. I looked for your fucking buried loot for three years, at the end of which I finally had in my possession - the map, that you sent off to the far corners of the world for God fucking knows why.”
The wagon creaked rhythmically. Thin white cranes grazed in the tall sawgrass beside the road, the ditch creating a makeshift pond from rainwater. They kept an even pace.
“And so,” Silver said before Flint could even finish speaking, “the next day William fucking Manderley fucking stole the page it was on and made off with my crew and the fucking Walrus.”
Flint had to stop and rest for almost two minutes, he was laughing so hard.
They arrived just outside La Taberna del Caballo almost an hour later than Flint usually did, because Silver would not. Stop. Chatting.
While Flint knew Silver could be a charming, mouthy son of a bitch when he wanted to be, he never knew him to be this genial, and Flint figured it was revenge from when he’d laughed at him earlier.
Silver does call himself Juan Da Silva, the idiot, and he effortlessly weaved a story about working on a merchant ship trading in spices out East, when one fateful day, they had careened the Sante Carmen along the African coast when a strong wind began to tip her. Juan daringly leapt forward to help an older sailor escape from being crushed, but found his own leg pinned beneath the great hull. They’d had no choice but to remove it with a cleaver in order to save his life. The crew of the Sante Carmen, always terribly fond of Juan, let him remain on the ship for a little while longer, doing what he can, until unfortunately he became more of a hindrance than a help, and they had to let him go.
At least two farmers’ wives wept at that story. They ended up leaving each farm with double the number of vegetables and dried meats Flint usually got. Silver also wound up with a new hat, two new silk shirts, a coat, and several right boots the families assured they no longer needed, for they’d outgrown them or just the left boot had been worn down or ruined beyond repair, honestly. Why would they just need to keep the right one? Silver now owned more shoes than Miranda had as an aristocrat in London.
Moreover, they were all touched by Santiago, the simple, silent farmer who always seemed so isolated up at his grove. He’d opened up his doors for his dear, sweet cousin, down-on-his-luck and in dire need of shelter, food, and Jesus -- of which Santiago had just enough to sacrifice. Flint had to keep from rolling eyes every time Silver emphasized his generosity.
As they hitched their loaded cart along the wall of the taberna, Flint grabbed Silver’s elbow and said, “Can you please tone it down with this doting cousin story? It’s making me ill.”
Silver frowned at him. “Why? Those farmers now love you more than they ever did before. When was the last time any of these people invited you around for dinner.”
Never. He had never been invited anywhere in the five and a half years he’d lived in St. Augustine.
It’s not like Flint was incapable of ingratiating himself towards people. Quite the opposite, really. But the years of putting on a show to get people to need him, to follow him, had exhausted him. Just the effort to appear like a normal, safe human being took it’s toll.
“Not everyone needs to be loved,” Flint said quietly. “Just tone it down, okay? I’m the one who’s going to have to explain where you went when you leave.”
Silver faltered for a second, falling behind as they entered the taberna. Silver’s crutch thudded hollowly on the stone floor.
“Ooh,” he said. “Tapas.”
He approached the nearest empty table. Everyone in the cafe turned to watch him, a stranger so peculiar as him. Handsome, unshaven, bruised and bright -- and their eyes immediately fell to the crutch and the empty spot where his leg should have been. Conversation stilled.
The John Silver he’d known before he’d left had been many things. He’d started out as a liar and a thief, became Flint’s lieutenant, but still only about his own interest. He’d been altered forever, became Quartermaster to a hungry, dangerous crew and was beloved. Became a legend, a monster, and a sword in another man’s arsenal. Flint had seen him at his most vicious, aiding in the deaths of hundreds of the British Navy’s best without so much as a flinch. He’d been angry and hard and proud, his easy charm all but snuffed out by an endless fight. Flint had once seen a man turn his back on Silver in an argument, and had watched, silently, as Silver knocked the man down with his crutch, lept on his back, and stabbed the man repeatedly until his back was nothing but shredded skin and viscera. Silver had become a villain, one of the greatest to ever sail the high seas, and Flint knew it was, in large part, his fault. Of all the evil he’d been a part of as the most nefarious pirate in the Caribbean, he felt most responsible for his role in the creation of Long John Silver.
The man Flint had known before he’d left his life behind would have cut down every man, woman and child inside La Taberna del Caballo who even breathed wrong in his direction -- they would have been dead before they ever even saw him coming.
Now, Silver leaned his crutch against the table, eased into the chair, and smiled widely at Lily, who approached the table cautiously.
“Señor Quijana,” said a stern voice beside Flint. He turned to face Señora Lua Cristina Alvarado. Lua ran La Taberna del Castillo and, unofficially, ran the whole damn town. She reminded Flint a lot of Eleanor Guthrie, except Señora Lua was at least twenty years older and had no time for anything other than her restaurant and God, and certainly never abided any sort of criminal activity. She was the only person Flint had met here that made him a little nervous.
“Señora,” he said. “How are you doing this afternoon?”
She humphed. “A lot better until you brought a stranger in here to make eyes with my daughter. Who is this man?”
It pained him to say it, but he had no other choice. “My cousin, Juan. He arrived last night.”
Lua grumbled again, just in time for Lily to let out a loud, high giggle at something Silver said.
They both watched Silver cock his head, gently lift Lily’s hand to inspect her fingers. She giggled again, even louder than before.
Flint and Lua looked at each other.
“I will keep him away from here,” said Flint. “Far, far away.”
Lua frowned at him, then frowned at Silver, who was now stretched out in his seat, one arm loped along the top of his crutch, and was talking animately to her daughter.
“You will keep your cousin away from my daughter,” said Lua, shooing him. “And I will keep the arsenic away from your paella.”
When he reached the table, he nodded gruffly at Lily. She took a step back, caught her mother’s eye over his shoulder, and scurried away back into the kitchen without another word.
Silver pouted. “Would it really kill you to be nice to your neighbors?”
“It might,” said Flint, dropping his hat on the table and sitting down. “Her mother will happily poison us if you so much glance at Lily again.” He tilted his head towards where Señora Alvarado was openly eyeing them with suspicion.
Silver looked appropriately worried. “I see your point.”
But then when Lua approached their table finally with two dirty glasses and a bottle of watered-down rum, Silver just ramped up his charm as high as it could possibly go. He was so completely over the top, complimenting Lua, and her restaurant, and her food, and her hair, and her portrait of Jesus over the bar. Even the artistry of the horse painted on the sign above the door. It was so blatantly ridiculous, so unlike Silver who at least aimed for some kind of subtlety, unless he was speaking in front of a crowd. But eventually Lua’s hard expression cracked and she gave him a small smile, smacking Flint on the arm with a rag.
“Your cousin,” she said as she walked away, “is really too much. I am surprised you two are related.”
Flint realized exactly how quickly Silver had been able to read Señora Lua Cristina Alvarado. He had given her one glance and had known immediately which card to play -- the desperate, eager-to-please invalid. Throughout their whole conversation, Silver had kept a firm, unnecessary grip on his crutch, his other hand running absently along his left thigh when he was gesticulating wildly or eating. He looked exactly like a man appealing to an overprotective mother’s sensibilities, yearning for approval and affection, and as Flint watched that expression fall from his face the second Lua’s back turned -- fell as easily as leaves in autumn -- Flint knew Silver had not really changed so much at all.
“What?” said Silver, a spoonful of stew halfway to his mouth.
“You are still,” said Flint, “one of the most terrifying men I’ve ever met.”
It was something Flint had said before, and just like then, he was unable to keep affection completely out of his voice when he said it.
And just like those times before, Silver heard it, and smiled.
They sat at the table for a good part of the afternoon, talking to everyone about the goings-on at the fort, exchanging any news heard from Spain, local gossip about how the crops were coming in, who was seen brawling with whom, what young couple were caught kissing in whose barn. It was all useless gossip, no causes for concern, and Flint only ever contributed little, things he picked up on his walk to the farms that were just enough to keep people talking to him. Silver introduced himself to everyone, but forwent the falsehood about his leg, figuring other people needed their own bits of gossip. Instead he told outlandish, vibrant stories about sailing in distant seas, painting himself as the simple, noble Odysseus on a long journey for adventure. It was all nonsense, of course. Some things he actually lifted directly from the damn poem, but if anyone was aware they didn’t vocalize it.
Though how any of them could believe he’d sailed to island where a witch turned people into pigs.
They sat and talked to almost everyone in the taberna except each other.
As they were about to leave, Silver wandered away to take a piss, thoroughly sure Flint would take care of the bill.
“You look different today,” said Lua, taking his money. “More...awake. More annoyed, yes. But also, more awake.”
Flint didn’t really know what to say to that, so he just sort of shrugged. Moments such as this made him glad he had developed a reputation of being taciturn.
“I understand,” said Lua, patting his arm. She probably intended it to be gentle, but it was just a little too firm. “I know what family can be like.”
He just barely stopped himself in time from protesting. Flint had no family. The concept was as far away and foreign to him as the burning sun above them.
Silver rounded a corner, and for a second Flint felt the shock of seeing him again after all this time. He never before knew the luxury of ghosts. When people left him, they never returned. And yet, here was this living spectre, come in from a dark unknown to break into his home and steal his clothes.
But as Silver approached, his new coat folded over his arm, his new hat too far back on his head exposing the whole of his face, the moment passed and it felt as it did before, natural for Silver to be by his side.
“Where next?” Silver said.
Flint honestly didn’t know which feeling was worse.
Flint would give anything to not bring Silver on his next stop. But the only option was leaving him by himself, which really didn’t seem like a good idea. And Silver would want to know why, and as soon as he heard the answer there’d be no stopping him anyway.
They climbed the slight incline leading to the schoolhouse. Silver, he noticed now, was breathing a little heavier than before as his crutch sunk slightly into the soft grass.
Still they said nothing to each other, about why Silver had come, what he’d been up to, how they’d left things between them. Flint thought Silver was waiting for the questions to come, but he couldn’t bring himself to voice them. Something was holding him back.
The importance of his routine, perhaps. He’d suffered for so many years to achieve it, and it was a fragile peace. He was waiting for Silver’s disdain at his life to come out: the ridicule that’d he’d given up all his power and money and excitement, for a small orange grove and distant neighbors. For honest work that never ended, for chitchat that meant nothing.
But it never came. Silver either watched silently how Flint’s life preceded or included himself with bright, though never mocking, enthusiasm. He clearly didn’t understand the purpose of Flint’s routine, but he kept whatever commentary he had to himself.
Though that was sure to change.
“Señor Santi! Señor Santi!” Through the doors of the schoolyard came fifteen boys, the youngest of them six and the oldest just turned fourteen. Sor Anita, the retired nun who taught them, leaned in the doorway with the same look of exasperation she gave Flint every day. At 45, she was the oldest teacher any of the boys ever had (their previous instructor having left them for marriage the previous year) and she was far more stern than what they were accustomed to.
“Hello, boys,” said Flint. He dropped the handles to the cart just in time to catch Michael, a small seven-year old, who flung himself into Flint’s arms like he always did. And just like always, he took Flint’s hat off and put it on himself, still fascinated by the color of Flint’s hair.
Flint hoisted him up to rest in the crook of one arm and reached into the last barrel. He handed Michael an orange, and then started tossing the rest high up into the air. Each boy scrambled over each other to catch them, arguing over who caught the highest one. The whole time they were talking over each other, telling Flint about who kicked a ball furthest since they saw him last (which was yesterday), what they had for dinner the night before, what new letters and prayers they learned, the contest Sor Anita was having to see who could recite the most out of the Book of Job to win a prize. Flint listened and nodded along to all of them, especially Michael, since he was talking right in his ear, until every boy had an orange.
He did not look at Silver once.
“Hello, Señors,” said Sor Anita, that shrewd smile on her face that always made Flint stand a little straighter. “You’re later today than usual, Santiago. The boys were very distraught.”
“Sorry, Sor,” said Flint. “It’s been -- ah, a different day.” He winced as a big bite from Michael’s orange squirted juice right in his eye.
“Hey,” said Michael, mouth full. “Who’s he?”
The other boys were finally taking notice of Silver, who was startled at the sudden awareness of fifteen children on him.
“Um,” he said. “Hello.” He shot Flint a panicked face to make sure that was the correct response.
“Wow!” said one of the older boys. “Check out his leg!”
Sor Anita made a sharp noise with her mouth. “Diego! I know you’ve been taught some manners.”
“Sorry, Sor,” said Diego. “Please check out his leg.”
Turning heavenward, Sor Anita said. “My apologies. You know how boys can be, Señor....”
“Da Silva. And please, no apologies are necessary,” said Silver easily, even as the boys began to swarm him. “I’ve long ago developed a thick skin.”
The children very rarely saw an injury such as this. Most belong to the old salt dogs who rarely left the tabernas and were not the kind the kids could approach with ease. One of the boys had even gotten on his knees and was waving his hand in the open air beneath Silver’s stump like it was a trick of the light.
“What happened, Señor?
“Have you ever seen one of those big merchant ships out on the water?” he asked. “I used to work on one of those, and one day when we were cleaning the sides, the whole ship fell on top of my leg. Cut it clear off.”
There were murmurs of amazement all around, until Diego clicked his tongue. “How could it fall on you when it’s in the water? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Well --” he glanced at Flint, and instead of launching into an explanation of careening, he said, “I promised Señor Santi here I wouldn’t tell you what really happened. He said it might frighten you all.”
Loud protests all around, with a few of the older boys shooting distrustful looks at Flint at the mere suggestion they weren’t brave young men, because of course Silver would turn some of them against Flint in under a minute. He sighed deeply as everyone complained at him, before he finally played his part in this little show and nodded in surrender.
“So,” said Silver lowly, and all the boys gathered around him, “here’s what really happened.”
Apparently, what really happened was almost the truth, which surprised Flint. The story he told had nothing to do with his leg, of course, but it was still a story he knew intimately: being on a ship becalmed for three weeks, the men slowly starving to death on still waters, no hope in sight until the morning they saw gulls pecking at the flesh of a rotting whale. The brave, heroic Juan Da Silva, who’d survived on naught but stinking eel guts and a smallest serving of fresh water for almost a month, offered to row out using the last of his strength to see if there was any meat enough to save the crew. The whale was inedible, but here was where Juan discovered their salvation.
Flint didn’t miss those bloody, miserable days, the misery preceding them and the suffering that followed. But he found he missed the smell of salt in the wind, the coolness of the ocean when it first hit a fresh sunburn, the feel of sand peppering the palms of his hands and feet. He never made his way to the shore anymore, and would send a couple of the young men in town to deliver his shipment of oranges every month. He didn’t really know what he’d do, if he caught sight of a ship again. Silver telling this tale he’d been a part of suddenly made him horrifyingly nostalgic.
Of course, the way he remembered it, Silver wasn’t the sole person in the rowboat, nor was the shark 30 feet long. He couldn’t quite figure out how one man was supposed to have wrestled a shark that big to the death even after it had eaten his leg, but the children didn’t seem too bothered by that fact.
“You were right,” said Sor Anita, coming up behind him. The children were enraptured. “Some of them will definitely have nightmares.”
“I’m sorry,” said Flint, handing her an orange. “My cousin is a bit of an actor. None of it’s true, of course,” he assured her.
She shot him a wry look. “I may have spent most of my life in the convent, Santiago, but I’m not an idiot.” She took his orange anyway.
Eventually the children stopped climbing all over them, returned Silver’s crutch which they had been using to smack each other with, and returned to their lessons, giving Señor Santi and Señor Juan a loud, sticky goodbye.
As soon as they were out of sight of the schoolhouse, Silver sighed with obvious relief.
“Thank fucking Christ,” he said, putting a hand over his heart.
“What?” said Flint. “I thought you did well with them.”
“No,” said Silver. “I just thought one of them was going to be yours .”
Flint felt a little insulted. “You think I’d be a terrible father?”
“Not at all,” said Silver, but refused to elaborate further.
When they crested another hill and got full view of the enormity that was the Castillo de San Marcos, Silver stopped in his tracks. Flint noticed right away, but moved forward a few paces anyway before stopping his cart just to be obnoxious.
“You’re going in there?” said Silver incredulously. “Willfully? Not in shackles?”
“I never go inside,” said Flint, impatient. He never liked to linger here and he was eager to get home. “I just stop at the first guard posting. There’s only ever about two soldiers there.”
“Why?” said Silver, making no move forward. “What’s the point?”
Flint huffed. “I visited here the first fews weeks after I arrived, when I was still working for the grove’s previous owner. I didn’t want to arouse suspicion, and they had only just finished rebuilding the town completely after the last siege, so they were extremely cautious of new people.”
“That was six years ago, though.” He had yet to take his eyes off the fort.
“Five and a half,” said Flint automatically. “These men are young, idiotic soldiers who get off on the power afforded to them by putting on a uniform. They think this entitles them to anything.”
“So.” He approached Silver, leaving his cart. “I stopped coming by with free oranges, and then they started coming by the house looking for them. Ten minutes here a day and I have yet to receive any other visitations.”
Silver took in and let out one long, deep breath. Then he said, “I think I will remain here for your last stop, if it’s all the same to you.”
Many forts along the coast kept drawings of wanted men to keep an eye out, should a criminal ever wander into their small towns. Flint didn’t fear this to be a possibility here, because during his years of piracy he never tangled with any Spanish ships that left any survivors to identify him, and the Spanish certainly didn’t give a fuck if he was an enemy of England (in the sense of hunting him down to exact justice, though they’d absolutely not want him in their town if they knew his history).
Flint wondered what Silver had done to make himself Spain’s enemy along with England’s, and what other country had a warrant out for him. Maybe that was his reasoning for being here. If the Spanish wanted him, and for something so big Silver thought he might be identified by two lowly guards given the shittiest duties, then allowing him to stay in Flint’s home was an unbelievably huge mistake, and could destroy everything he had built for himself here.
“I’ll be right back,” said Flint. “Just stay here out of sight.”
Flint approached the big, heavy doors of the fort. He’d gotten used to be around here, but today he felt the walls looming above like God, and the guns seemed to follow his every movement. The scent of gunpowder made his blood twitch.
The guards at the door he knew, two boys named Pedro and Tony. Some of the guards were friendly enough to him, and others were totally indifferent to him. And then there were the ones who were outright rude, and this was Pedro and Tony. They bitched about how late he was, how starving they were for their evening snack. They had both begun working at the fort after Flint had arrived in St. Augustine, and didn’t realize the oranges were gifts and not something they were entitled to receiving.
Flint could have easily skinned one alive before the other one even noticed.
Instead he smiled genially at their taunts, handed them their oranges, and repeated the town gossip he’d overheard at lunch. But the lateness of the hour kept their desire to fraternize, for want of a better word, to a minimum, and he was soon pushing his cart back up the hill to find a very livid Silver.
“I thought you were waiting further back beyond the trees,” said Flint.
“Those soldiers were saying some awful things to you,” said Silver, which was an embellishment. They were snotty, but it’s not like they’d brought up his mother or anything. Silver was still angry, his fist clenching and unclenching as they made their way back towards the path. “Santiago Quijana sure knows how to take a lot more shit better than James Flint ever did.”
“Santiago,” said Flint, “wouldn’t know what to do with a grudge if given one.”
“It’s that easy for you?” said Silver. His face was shadowed in the shade from the trees. “To just become another person like that?”
Flint came to a stop and rested a moment against the handles of his cart, suddenly tired. He thought of all the people who had known him in his life -- everyone who had seen the evil that rested in his soul, no matter what new person he tried to become. Lieutenant instead of pauper. Pirate instead of soldier. Farmer instead of villain. These men were all cut from the same cloth, black and tarred. All these people in his life who’d spied that darkness and thought that’s all there was to him, so much so that Flint had believed it, too, until one man pointed out to him that maybe acknowledging the darkness, and fearing it, meant there lay something beyond it.
The thing about Silver knowing him so well was it meant Flint knew him, too.
He started pushing his cart again and said, “You know it isn’t.”
They arrived back at Flint's home an hour after sunset. Silently, he prepared for them a dinner of chorizo and rice while Silver busied himself nosing through Flint's book collection, which he'd been steadily growing in the last few years.
There was a weight in the air, an unspoken conversation hanging like smoke behind closed doors. There was a moment, he could recall in all the days he'd been sailing, when a cannonball was making it's way towards his ship, and for a split second it would seem the perfectly round ball froze in midair, as though it's destiny -- it's destination -- was unknown, as if it could fall anywhere at any second -- and then time would continue and it would slam into the side of his ship the way it was always intended.
The cannonball remained hovering above them throughout their dinner, Silver making pleased-sounding grunts as he practically inhaled his food. The whole day Flint had been looking at Silver out the corner of his eye, but now he was being faced with him head-on and he had no choice but to assess.
Silver ate everything put in front of him, carefully but eagerly. Despite what he’d said earlier, Silver had impeccable manners. He didn't speak with his mouth full, or spill anything, and he left naught but crumbs behind. Flint knew he'd lost the ship, and he'd said most of the crew, but didn't indicate how long ago it was or how he'd been surviving since.
His beard was untrimmed, his hair slightly shorter than when he'd last seen him, but far less kempt. He was broader in the arms, probably from using the crutches, and his face was both wild and tired, like a predator who'd been pacing a fortnight without rest, looking for prey.
Flint had decided he was going to avoid asking him any direct question. He had a suspicion the John Silver-shaped cannonball was aimed directly at his chest and for the moment he would let it hover before it eventually made impact. As he cleared their plates from the table he thought perhaps the restless sleep he'd had the night before had been the result of a bad fever, that he'd hallucinated the whole day with Silver as he lay in bed, dying because no one would be around to call on him. It wasn't a bad note to end on - a nice enough day with Silver.
They retired to the porch to watch the moon waning over the grove. Or, Flint watched the moon. Silver watched Flint, and he felt flushed in a way that leant credence to his sanity-melting fever theory.
"What the fuck are you staring at?" He deftly rolled a cigarillo along his thigh, handed it to Silver, and then rolled one for himself.
"You still look the same," said Silver, leaning against a wooden pillar. "Fuck, no. You look younger. Like you did when we first met. How is that possible?"
"I found the Fountain of Youth," said Flint.
"I'm being serious." One of the feral cats had approached the porch, even though there was no fish to be found. Silver held out his hand absently, and the cat sniffed it before rubbing it with her face, purring loudly.
"Clean living?" He lit his cigarillo and inhaled deeply.
Silver snorted. "I think the Fountain of Youth is probably more likely."
Flint shrugged. He held the cigarillo in his mouth and gathered up his sweaty hair into a loose tail. It was probably as long as it had been when they first met.
“I suppose you’ll want to have that talk now,” said Silver. He’d closed his eyes against the glow of the shining moon. The cat had crawled into his lap and was scratching at the back of his boot.
Flint wasn’t going to ask any questions, and he decided, right now, he wasn’t going to hear any answers. “You look exhausted.”
Silver’s eyes flew open. “Pardon?”
Flint wasn’t trying to deflect. Silver did look like he might collapse at any moment. He seemed physically fit enough, and despite what many legitimate sea captains might think, no one could successfully man a crew without doing some heavy lifting themselves. But on a ship the most walking any man could do was from one end to another. Nothing at all what Silver had done today. It had taken Flint some time for his body to get used to the constant walking, and he did it on two legs.
“When was the last full night of sleep you had?”
Silver thought about it. “I’m not sure. How long ago was it we set out of Charles Town?”
Flint rolled his eyes, but wasn’t unsympathetic. He knew all too well the toll it took on your sleep habits, being a captain. The paranoia and stress meant sleeping more than three straight hours at night was considered lazing about.
“Go get some sleep,” he said. “We can talk about whatever you want to talk about in the morning.”
“You’re not my captain anymore,” Silver said, a little petulantly, although he stood, dislodging the cat gently. “And I’m not a child. I’m an incredibly fearsome pirate captain and you can’t tell me what to do.” He made his way inside, the cat following even though Flint didn’t like to have them in the house.
“Sleep in the chair, Silver,” he called, and laughed a little as he heard incoherent grumbling from inside.
He finished his cigarillo as the stars came out above his trees. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d laughed, until today.
They did not talk about whatever Silver wanted to talk about in the morning. Nor did they discuss it any other morning.
Silver wormed his way into Flint's life as effortlessly as he had before. One moment he was a faceless thief hiding from him among the shadows haunting the wrecks, the next moment he was at Flint’s right-hand, murmuring secrets and suggestions just quiet enough to become indistinguishable from his own ideas.
The same thing was occurring now, except instead of treasure plots and war mongering, Silver was offering advice on the orange-picking business as though he’d been doing it his whole life. Once it became clear Flint wasn't going to kick him out or adjust his routine, Silver felt more comfortable to complain about most of it -- especially the walking. He thought they could easily get a few of the schoolboys to do most (all) of the picking and gathering for them, and from there why not have them pushing the cart around and making the deliveries? Really, Silver said, I’m sure they’d leap at the chance to help us out, and we could pay them in fruit or something.
Honestly, Flint couldn't think of anything worse. If he didn't pick oranges, what would he do all day? Read? Carve wood? Be left alone with his thoughts? Trying to find something other than work was nauseating to even think about.
When Silver realized his helpful ideas would only be met with cold stares or just outright ignored, he, shockingly, shut up and assisted Flint with his work. One would think two men doing the work that one used to do would speed it up, but the opposite happened. Silver couldn't really help much with the actual picking, nor was pushing the cart a two-man job, but he tripled the duration of every one of his stops to chat with farmers, their wives, their children. Thanks to Silver, he was beginning to actually know his neighbors.
“Need I remind you,” said Flint one day, “that I have spent a long time developing a reputation for being laconic?”
“I know,” Silver had said. “It sounds exhausting.”
However, not since the first day were the farmers able to give double the portions in trade, nor did they need extra oranges to compensate. Flint didn't particularly worry about providing for the two of them -- what he got in trade usually lasted longer than a day anyway and most of it could keep for a little while. They weren't in any danger of starving, at any rate. They always had oranges.
But still one day, about three weeks after Silver had arrived, he’d gone to the outhouse behind the taberna, and came back to Silver talking with Lua as she wiped down their table. She had become friendlier to Silver once Lily started seeing Mateo, the oldest son of a blacksmith in town, and had told her mother plainly that Señor Da Silva was a very nice man, but simply much too old for her. Lua took great delight in telling Silver this, who had no interest in the girl, but was still devastated by this news.
Flint held back to listen now.
“I can't help but feel an inconvenience,” Silver was saying, with that ridiculous pitiful look on his face. “I know he was doing fine without me before, and he was so kind to bring me into his home under the guise of needing assistance. But I am just taking up room in his home without being able to provide anything in return.”
Lua clicked sharply with her tongue. “Helping without asking anything in return -- this is what you do for family.”
“Yeah.” For a second, a real expression passed over Silver’s face. “He is my family.”
“Has he said anything to make you feel a burden?”
“No,” Silver admitted. “But I’ve always known when I’m being a burden. I just want to help him. Like you said, it's what you do.” He added, “For family.”
“Pfft,” said Lua, aggressively wiping the table. “You think you got problems? I just lost my chef, she is with child again. Three kids and only married two years, how does that work? Don't they ever sleep? I’ve had to stick Lily back in the kitchen the last three days.”
“I noticed,” said Silver, winking like a dog. “I thought today's stew tasted extra delicious.”
She shot him an angry look. “Tasted extra salt , perhaps. God gave that girl my beauty and her father's everything else, God rest him.”
"Well, I am an old sailor,” said Silver. “A little salt won't kill me.”
Lua slapped the rag on the table and loomed over him. “So. You want the job or not? Can you cook?”
Something hot and living twisted in Flint’s belly as Silver gave her a slow, wide smile. “I happen to be an excellent cook.”
That night, Flint taught Silver how to cook.
Fortunately, Flint has been eating at La Taberna del Caballo every afternoon for five and a half years, and was well acquainted with their menu. He didn’t have all the ingredients nor could he spare them if he had, but he gave Silver instruction on how to make the most popular of Lua’s dishes and as long as he didn’t serve anything up fucking raw again, he should be fine.
“Cut these down from through the root before you peel,” Flint said, giving him a couple onions. “You might want to do it in front of the window to get the breeze.”
In the windowsill, two cats were watching them work. Silver had made the mistake of being nice to them and now they never left. He chopped the onions expertly, silent except for the odd sniffle. Smiling, Flint set to work dicing the bunch of tomatoes in front of him.
He kept his knives sharpened, always. Long ago, he’d been taught that more injuries in the kitchen occur from dull blades, but that rule only ever applied in the kitchen. He watched his hands as they made quick work of the tomatoes, watched them split and break and spill red and wet onto the cutting board, onto his steel, onto his hands.
“Flint?” He heard distantly. And then, “....Captain?” And suddenly a sharp sting, and he blinked down at the mess he’d made with the tomatoes. They were pulverized completely, and a few were now dotted with his blood.
It was just a small wound, and he went to bring it to his mouth when Silver caught his hand mid-air and pulled it towards him. He gently wiped at the cut with a clean cloth. The knife was still clenched in Flint’s other hand.
Silently, Silver brought Flint’s finger up to his mouth. His eyes were red-rimmed from the onions. Without looking away, he brushed his lips against Flint’s fingertip.
Flint felt too-warm, lost, the candles in the kitchen suddenly flaring. For so long every day had consisted of the same thing, the only variety in which nightmare would haunt him at night. And now, there was so much, he realized, so much he didn’t know, and he’d made it a point to not question anything because of how tentative it all felt, but he couldn’t help himself. Not anymore. Not with his grip still unconsciously holding the knife at an angle meant to maim, not with Silver in this path yet again sharing his air.
“When you first came here,” he said softly, “did you want me to hurt someone?”
Silver blinked. “What?” His beard brushed against Flint’s skin.
“Did you intend to bring me back into the life?” His hands felt hot for two different reasons. “Were you going to try and convince me to leave here and start hunting again? Start killing?”
He didn’t know what he’d do if he caught Silver in a lie. He didn’t know what he’d do if Silver told him the truth, either.
“I don’t know,” Silver said. He lowered Flint’s hand, but didn’t let go of it. “I don’t know.”
Behind them, a pot of water began to boil over, splashing onto the fire and the floor. The sizzle caused Silver to jump, nearly knocking over the crutch buried under his arm.
“Shit!” Silver rushed over and pulled it off the fire quickly. Then he looked in the pot and pouted. “Is it still all right if the carrots are no longer exactly cylindrical per se, but are now more of a solid, unifying mush?”
Flint dropped the knife on the counter and took the pot out of Silver’s hand. He pushed him towards the table. “Perhaps in the interest of actually getting to eat tonight, I should take over and you can just take notes?”
Silver held up his hands in defeat, but dragged one lightly down Flint’s arm as he passed on the way to the table. It could have been to ease his movement. It could have been.
Flint still didn’t know anything, not really. But things no longer felt as fragile as they had a moment ago.
Silver still didn't sleep much, not after the first night. Flint, a light sleeper himself, woke up every night now, hearing the soft thump of Silver's crutch pacing his front room in the middle of the night. Flint wasn’t really sure what he did to occupy himself in the early hours. He’d walk in the next morning to find Silver already dressed, barefoot, his hair untamed and a cooling cup of tea beside an open book or a sleeping cat that shouldn’t be allowed near the kitchen much less the table where they ate, and Silver would be staring out the window every time at the mist rising over the grove, seemingly both deep in thought and drifting there.
The first night Flint heard him moving around in the night, he’d bolted upright, heart racing, hand groping for a weapon he no longer kept under his pillow, before his mind had finally caught up and he’d remembered who was out there.
Still, when he had whispered into the dark, “...Silver?” there had been no response. The house was as silent as the grave, like always, and he’d been half convinced he’d dreamt it.
But his dreams were not nearly as mild. Silver waking him every night kept him just on the cusp of deep sleep, though, so it was almost three weeks until Flint had a nightmare again.
They varied, his nightmares. They combined horrors in a cold and efficient way.
Tonight, he was up on the platform at Charles Town. There was smoke and screaming, but everyone on the ground around him was already dead. Miranda’s corpse lay facedown in the muck, boot prints on her back.
And Flint was on the platform with Hal Gates in his arms. They were chained together, back to front, and they’d been locked in such a way so that his every move was slowly strangling Mr. Gates. He was twitching and bucking against Flint’s chest, blood gurgling from his lips, skin purple, veins bulging. Flint tried to keep still -- he tried -- but he couldn’t and he realized it was because he was on fire. His whole jacket was engulfed and he could either try to put it out or save Gates and he couldn’t do either so they were just slowly, slowly burning. Gates was gulping, his eyes bulging. “Stop,” he gasped. “Stop.” And Flint was crying and he was also begging, “Please.” He pulled the chain tighter against Gates’s throat as he tried to shrug the jacket off. “Please,” he begged, and the eye on the back of Gates’s head blinked.
And then suddenly he felt a soft pressure on his forehead, a soft, biting wind. It pushed a curl of his hair behind his ear and as brushed by it hissed, “Shhhh.” It was a breeze moving through tall grass like a wave. “Shhhh. Captain, it's okay.”
Flint opened his eyes. He saw only black at first, and then a blacker-black of a hulking form hovering over his bed. One of the most feared villains the world has ever known stood above his bed, stroking his hair.
“It’s alright,” said Silver into the night. “Captain, you’re alright.”
Flint was rolled away from the room’s only window, and no candles were lit. This was why he hoped Silver couldn’t see the wetness of his face, and this was why, when he felt Silver begin to pull away, he said, “Stay.”
There was a heavy pause, and Flint felt tired in his head and in his eyes, but his heart still thudded sickly in his chest. He almost fell back into an uneasy sleep like he usually did, until he heard that soft thump of Silver’s crutch moving around to the other side of the bed. There was the light smack of him leaning it against the wall, and then he felt the bed mat shift slightly.
When he dared to lift his head, he saw in the moonlight Silver curled up on the other side of his bed. His back was to Flint, bent almost double to form the letter C. His head rested on his arm and he was already asleep or faking it.
Flint turned back to his side so they were back to back. His heart eased in his chest, just enough to fall back into a dreamless sleep.
Like everything else, they didn’t discuss it. But Flint would only be in bed perhaps an hour or so each night before Silver would curl up on the other side. They never touched, and he’d be gone by the time Flint awoke in the morning. Some nights Flint was so tired he didn’t hear Silver come in or go, but when he was alone in the room and the sun streamed through the windows, he’d roll over to the other side of the bed -- he’d breathe deep, smelling Silver in his sheets, just a little. Just enough.
It was the first Sunday after Silver had started working at the taberna, and everyone in St. Augustine was at church except for them.
When Flint first arrived in town, he granted himself some allotments in terms of what kind of man he was about to create. Not going to church was at the top. Fortunately it had been easy for him to paint himself as a pious man who was recently mourning. Hints he’d let slip in those early days trickled their way through the gossip until everyone in town knew he was overcome with grief at the loss of a loved one, celibate for the rest of his days, and preferred to pray for the soul of his beloved in private.
This did the double duty of getting him out of church and avoiding marriage entirely.
Silver, however, had no such tragic backstory, but a few days after he’d arrived, he’d sat in the center of the taberna and, having accidentally knocked over his glass of water, he had yelled out, “Fucking Jesus cocksucking Christ!” While he was mopping it up, oblivious to the cold stares and gasps of horror at his blasphemy, Flint had taken Lua aside and admitted that his cousin was a deviant man and after God had punished him with the loss of his limb, his mother had sent him to Flint in the hopes of saving his immortal soul from eternal damnation.
So Silver got out of church too, so that they could pray together in solitude to beget salvation and stave off the flames of hell.
Flint used this time to do his laundry.
After a month their clothes were all intermingled. He had never owned this many shirts in his whole life. Most were neutral shades and almost identical, but there was one forest green shirt of a soft silk Silver refused to wear, despite it being given to him by a flirtatious farmer’s daughter. Only Flint could wear it, Silver said, and in exchange there was the burnt sienna blouse Silver said must never touch Flint’s skin under any circumstances, for whatever reason.
He hung damp shirts on the line, half-watching Silver with amusement as he attempted to fill the tub again for his bath. He’d refused Flint’s help, of course, choosing to lug buckets of water from the well on his own. He managed, dodging between the hoard of cats that followed him around, cursing and sloshing water all over his trousers, but he eventually filled the tub.
The nice thing about the midday heat and humidity (for the crisp winter weather Silver had brought with him had, unlike Silver, disappeared almost instantly) was there was no reason to warm up the water for a bath. A cool soak felt like heaven, particularly after working up a sweat lugging the water from the well.
Leaning his crutch against the side, he began to strip. He tossed his shirt onto the grass, his shoulders wide and strong and his back muscles working as he started to undo his trousers, and Flint darted inside to get. Something.
Eventually one of them was going to choke on all the things they weren’t saying to each other -- Silver’s reason for being here, Flint’s nightmares, Flint’s finger against Silver’s bottom lip. If the rest of their old crew could see them now: the fearsome leaders they once knew now two old men fucking speechless. They would all die of shock.
Flint leaned against his table, breathing. A hundred different words wandered into his head, only to be suitably dismissed. It wasn’t that he couldn’t think of what to say, but rather he didn’t know what to say first. But the question he wanted to ask the most, had an answer he thought he had known for almost six years.
Flint knew what this life he’d built for himself was -- an urn, filled with the ashes of everyone he’d ever burned. And he’d felt himself starting to tip long before Silver’s arrival. But Silver’s response would change everything, alter anything else he had to ask, and had the potential to shatter him completely. And if that happened he would be nothing but dust, black and consuming everything around him.
He opened his eyes. Silver had left his wash flannel and a sliver of soap on the table, along with a steel cup.
Flint sighed and gathered them up, bringing them outside.
Silver was leaning forward in the tub, his back to Flint. It looked like he was rubbing at a callus on the side of his foot. His hair was still dry, spilling over his back, and Flint felt a rush of ridiculous fondness for the man so strong he almost staggered.
He looked down at the soap and cloth in his hand. He remembered, suddenly, an ache in his shoulder, leaning against the walls of his ship, as Silver lowered a match to a cannon fuse and sent them spiraling onto this direct path. He remembered Silver’s smile as he unfeelingly apologized and said, “Had to be done.”
He’d done that, then, for Flint. Perhaps he could finally return the favor.
So he approached the tub and knelt down. He set the bathing supplies in the grass and rolled up his sleeves. Silver had, of course, noticed him approach, but said nothing, not even when Flint dipped the flannel into the water with one hand, brushing Silver’s hair to one side with the other, and gently began washing his back.
Silver didn’t try to stop the low moan that emanated from him as cool water trickled down. He had old wounds Flint hadn’t seen from a distance, spanning across his impressive set of muscles. Most were long, jagged slashes from too close swords, a puckered hole through his shoulder from a bullet that matched Flint’s own. By the dip in his waist was a twisted and deep triangle from a direct stab.
He had none of these when Flint had left, of that he was sure. He wanted to ask. He needed to ask. He dipped the soap into the water, rubbed it into the cloth, and began to clean between his shoulder blades, massaging softly into the knobs of his spine.
Silver dipped his chin to his chest, groaning. His hands were gripping the sides of the tub tightly. Flint didn’t want him this tense though, so he let his fingers trail up and down one of his arms, smiling as bumps rose in the skin and Silver shivered.
He moved the cloth lower until it was submerged. He didn’t mean to linger on the stab wound, but he must have long enough for Silver to feel it.
Silver let out a shaky breath. He lifted his head and, keeping his eyes fixed on the oranges in front of him, said, “After we won Nassau and you left, Madi and Max took control of the island and we set sail to hunt, as victors.”
Flint figured, so he said nothing, began washing the shoulder not covered by Silver’s hair and let the cool water drip down his chest.
Silver said, “You were dead, but we still sailed under your flag. It belonged to the crew, to the Walrus, and it felt right. It felt just, after the hell we’d been through, fighting a war you started and died to win. It became about honoring you.”
Silver was the only one who’d known Flint hadn’t died in the final battle. They’d discussed it, the night before the fight, about his plan to die alongside them if they were losing, but to vanish into thin air the second it was clear they’d won. Silver’s job was to convince the world he’d perished. It hadn’t been a good conversation.
“We set sail. Everyone knew our story by then. Everyone knew what we’d accomplished against the British. And do you know what they did when they saw your flag, Captain?”
Flint didn’t say anything. He didn’t understand why Silver still called him that.
“They would surrender. All of them. Every last fucking sailor -- the hardest, most violent sea dogs and all the greedy, uncaring captains -- they all just fucking gave in. None of them put up a fight. It was nothing but white sails for months.
“I was livid. I was furious. We had won and you were gone and I had to -- “ He stopped, clenching the brim of the tub tight enough for the wood to crack. Flint didn’t still the cloth as it washed one of his arms, but moved his other hand to encircle the opposite wrist lightly, grounding him.
“It was our fifth hunt,” said Silver, his voice hoarse, “and their captain didn’t just hand us his cargo, but actual riches. Jewels. And I just.” He laughed a little, an unhappy sound. “Snapped? That’s how Billy phrased it, anyway. But before I knew what I was doing, I had torn into four of their crew before anyone realized what was happening. My men were wound up from our victory over Nassau and then from not enough action afterwards, so they were eager to join in. This ship didn’t even stand a chance. I can’t even remember their name, now.
“But I made sure to leave survivors.” He turned his hand so now their palms were together, and it was the easiest thing to lace their fingers. “I wanted it to become known: if you were hailed by my ship, a surrender was not an option. One way or another you’d be fighting. We attacked every ship in our path, regardless of nationality or potential cargo.”
Silver let out another low breath. “We carried on this way for two years.”
Flint pulled at Silver a little, just enough for him to fall back against the tub. His head fell against Flint’s stomach. His body was obscured by opaque, soapy water, but Flint could faintly see darker spots along the skin of his built thigh and belly from more scars and tattoos. He brought the washcloth against Silver’s chest and began rubbing in small circles.
“Eventually the men’s fervor died down, although my own didn't,” said Silver, his eyes closed. “I was no longer liked as well as feared, which is why I started the ridiculous hunt for your buried treasure. Most of the men who remembered my role in the Urca situation had long since died, and so the majority took to the goal with ease. But my own mania never backed down. I never accepted a surrender until the day I lost the ship to Billy in a well-deserved mutiny. I’d been begging for it. My untold carnage, the ocean just a shade redder with the blood I split. I never stopped being angry. Until --” He tilted his face up towards Flint, and Flint looked back down at him.
“Until what?” said Flint finally. The wet rag stilled along his chest.
Silver smiled. “Until you made me tea.” It felt like an answer, but not the real one.
Flint released his hand from Silver’s grip, brushed the stray hairs sticking to the side of Silver’s cheek away, and dropped the wet rag flat on top of Silver’s face.
Silver shot forward, sputtering, ripping the soapy cloth from his face. He turned to glare at Flint’s laughter.
“I’m sorry,” said Flint, unapologetic. “I wanted to see Long John Silver’s anger for myself.”
Silver’s glare softened slightly, his expression turned curious. “You've never been afraid of me, have you?”
In truth, everything Silver did frightened him. He wasone of the most terrifying people he’d ever met. But not for any reason everyone else was afraid of him.
“Sit back,” said Flint in answer.
Silver, grumbling, did as he was told. Flint tilted his head back and, using the metal cup, poured water through Silver’s hair. He managed to avoid anything dripping down his face, and using both hands he worked his way through all the knots, rubbing soap into his scalp and into the long strands until they lay flat against his neck and back, and the tension had eased from his shoulders.
As he rinsed the soap out, he tried to picture Silver’s rampage. It was easy to imagine, but it didn’t disturb him as much as Silver thought it would. They’d each had their own mission, it's resulting massacre, and maybe they should be using their Sunday mornings to pray for their souls, and all the souls they’d wrenched from this horrible world. Maybe there was more than one way to get cleansed of one’s sins.
Silver leaned back against the tub again, Flint’s fingers still entangled in his hair, thoroughly soaking the front of Flint’s shirt. His eyes were closed, and it looked like he had started to doze. Flint’s back and knees were beginning to cramp, but he didn’t quite know how to stop touching Silver yet.
A match hovering for a moment over a fuse. Had to be done.
That night, Flint sat at a table at the taberna with a Spanish translation of the Divine Comedy while Silver worked. Flint’s routine had altered once Silver became the cook. They still spent their mornings picking oranges and making trade. Only now, when they arrived at La Taberna del Caballo, Silver went to the back with an apron thrown over his shoulder and Flint ate alone, although he sat near enough to the kitchen so he could mutter answers to Silver if he had any cooking questions.
Then Flint would go to the school and the fort alone while Silver remained at work. Lua, though, had insisted Silver couldn’t walk home alone in the dark, so now instead of eating dinner at home in peace, Flint brought a book out with him every morning and ate there.
Most people knew to leave him alone to his reading, but one night he’d finished his book early and had nothing else to do except make conversation, which wasn’t as torturous as he’d expected. He now knew Señor Fernandez, the chicken farmer a mile down the road from his house, had an unending supply of filthy jokes at his disposal. He now knew Señora Ramos once had a prosperous singing career in Barcelona before moving to the New World. Antonio, the carpenter, had shown him a better whittling technique so as not to shave off so much the wood, and had even begun teaching him how to turn a stick into a decent sounding flute.
Flint had the terrible suspicion he was being dragged back into the world.
Silver, for his part, took to working at the taberna as though he lived there, although he had initially been sad to miss out on the trips to the schoolhouse. But most of those boys spent their evenings at the taberna with their families, and they were always sneaking into the kitchen to tell Silver about their day until Lua drove them out.
Lua should have known better than to expect Silver to stay in the kitchen alone when the whole neighborhood was out there socializing. Unless he had to stir, chop, or turn something he was out front, talking to everyone or bothering Flint.
Flint had to admit, though. His cooking was getting better.
It was a quiet evening. The sun had just set and most people wouldn’t be ordering dinner for at least a few more hours. Silver was standing behind him, apron around his waist and bowl in his hand, and if it wasn’t for the beard and the missing leg he’d look just like a ghost failing to cook a pig.
Flint was reading the Inferno, and all afternoon Silver had been reading over his shoulder, whispering things like “How tame. I’ve definitely done worse to people far less deserving.” or “I met a whore in Tortuga who enjoyed that sort of thing. Come to think of it -- she also was Italian. Must be a delicacy over there.” He was utterly ruining one of Flint’s favorite books, but he couldn’t bring himself to mind much. Not with Silver leaning over him to better see the page, his clean hair falling forward into his face, the warm smell of spice emanating from his skin.
Suddenly there was a crash near the door. Flint looked up to see two strangers sitting at a table near the front wall. It wasn’t unusual for people to be unknown -- St. Augustine was a growing town and had a busy port, so merchants, tradesmen, and whole families were often always about town, either passing through or looking for a place to live.
These men, though, looked dirty and mean, stretched out in their chairs like they were at home. They did not seem like honest merchants or family men. They were rough, and currently Lily was standing beside their table looking distraught. Two smashed plates of food lay beside her feet, and judging by the way the men were laughing it was easy to guess how the plates fell.
Lily fidgeted uncomfortably, clearly trying to figure out how pick up the broken dishes without putting herself so close and vulnerable next to these men. Flint heard a small thump beside him as a bowl was being set down, and in an instant Silver was across the room.
“Lily,” he said, not taking his eyes off the smirking men, “be a dear and go fetch a broom.” She darted away before Silver had even finished speaking.
“Should have sent her for more food,” said one of the men. “Bitch dropped our dinner all over the floor.”
“It was an easy mistake,” said Silver. “Normally we feed our scraps to the mangy curs on the floor beside the outhouse. Señora has a rule against dogs in her establishment, you see.”
A drunken blink, and then the man was standing up, getting right in Silver’s face. “What the fuck did you just say to me?”
Flint didn’t even realize he’d also gotten up, but found himself edging along the wall to get behind the man’s friend, who was still sitting down with a tankard of ale. Flint could see Silver’s face now, and saw that it was benign and unconcerned.
“I said the kitchen is closed, gentlemen.” Silver smiled unpleasantly. “I’d try my luck somewhere else.”
The man looked Silver up and down, taking in his crutch and the apron. He sneered, showing an impressive set of misshapen yellow teeth. “Get the fuck back there and make us some dinner, you fucking cripple, before you lose your head next.”
“I promise you, anything you’d get from my kitchen wouldn't be something you’d survive without shitting out your insides. Have a good evening.”
“We’re fucking hungry.”
“My heart breaks for you. Goodb--”
The man in front of Silver kicked out, knocking Silver’s crutch backwards. It went flying across the room. He turned his head to laugh with his friend, which is how he didn’t see that Silver hadn’t even stumbled without the crutch until he grabbed the man by the throat.
Then Silver, perfectly balanced on one leg, lifted the man up with one hand until he was off the ground. His nails were digging into the red, patchy skin of the man’s neck. The drunk choked wetly, pulling at Silver’s arm with both hands, scrambling for release, but Silver didn’t even flinch.
For a second, Flint was too stunned by Silver’s strength that he almost missed the other man in front of him stand up and rear back to strike Silver. Flint caught his wrist from behind and pulled it straight to the side and grabbed the man by the back of the neck. He kicked the man’s leg hard until he crumpled to his knees with a cry.
The room was silent, save for some chairs scraping and the curses of the man Flint was holding and the gasp of the man Silver was strangling. Silver was looking at Flint, his face unreadable in the dim light.
Flint took a deep breath. He didn’t need to look around to remember who was witnessing this: Lua, who moments ago had been chatting with Sor Anita near the bar, little Michael and his parents eating dinner, Diego and his older sister playing with a game of cards, Antonio and Señor Fernandez in the corner sharing a bottle of rum. These were his neighbors. They were people he had come to know, respect. Even care for, just a little.
He looked at the hand gripping the drunk man’s fragile wrist. He wanted to feel uncertain about his next move. He wanted to debate both sides of how this situation should end. He wanted another ending to this to seem appealing to him. He looked to Silver, to see if he saw any alternative than the one he had, but instead he just saw Silver’s hand tightening around a throat. They were devils. They didn’t have advocates.
But Silver was watching Flint, waiting for him. It had been this way when they’d fought side by side against the Royal Navy and their supporters. Even as he was starting to make a name for himself, Silver would always let Flint take the lead. These were the only moments Silver would show hesitation, however short the seconds were, but Flint never had a problem easing the way for him.
So Flint leaned down into the man’s ear, who was struggling pointlessly in Flint’s tight grip. He spoke quietly, but didn’t doubt the whole room could hear. “There is a doctor at the fort, two miles north of here," he said. "If you are courteous and have coin, he will gladly fix your arm and tend to your friend’s wounds, if he survives. If you are rude or threatening, the guards at the fort will not hesitate to shoot you like the mangy curs you both are. Afterwards, if you still live, you will leave this town and never return. And then, only then, you can eat.”
The drunk man, now still, panted, “....my arm?”
Flint took a step back without releasing his hold, and in one motion kicked the man’s elbow hard, just once. There was a sickening crack, the echo filling the taberna loud enough to almost hide the collective gasp of the other patrons. The elbow now bent the wrong way, bone piercing the skin, a sharp white contrasted against all the blood that began to pour onto the stone. The man shrieked, and continued to shriek even after Flint dragged him up and pushed him out the open door.
Silver was still holding the man in the air with one arm. He hadn’t even begun to waver.
“Lua?” he called over his shoulder. “Would you mind terribly if I throw this stinking, Godforsaken excuse for a man out the window?”
There was a pause. “Wait,” said Lua. “Let me open it first. Glass is expensive.”
Once the window was open, Silver bent down, grabbed the man by his leg and hoisted him over his head. His aim was perfect as the man went flying out the window with a scream. Flint wasn’t sure what the hell he hit, but it sounded solid and final, as the man’s yell was abruptly cut short.
The force of the throw finally caused Silver to stumble back a little, except Flint was behind him to keep him upright. Silver turned to look at him, and this close he could see the expression forming on Silver’s face: panic and horror.
Flint frowned, confused. “What’s wrong?”
But it was Lua who answered. “Someone will have seen that from outside,” she said grimly, approaching from the side. “No doubt they will call for a few guards to come around.” She cast a glare around the room, a glare which said under no circumstances would anyone there be bringing the authorities in themselves. It was met with no dissent.
Silver swallowed heavily. Lua could see the fear in his eyes as easily as Flint could, and maybe she understood it better because she said, “You should go home before they arrive. I can handle the dinner rush. But you will be here on time tomorrow, yes?”
After a moment and a blink, Silver nodded. “Thank you,” he said sincerely, silently accepted his crutch from Michael, who’d brought it to him without fear. He ruffled the boy’s hair, then untied his apron and handed it to Lua. His right arm was trembling just faintly.
Without a word, they both moved to leave through the back door in the kitchen. As they headed towards it, though, Lua called out, “Oh, and I will be seeing both of you at church on Sunday. Clearly neither one of you are praying hard enough.”
At their mutual grimaces, Lua rolled her eyes. “Once a month, then. I don’t even believe Jesus is capable of such miracles. Now go, get out of here.”
Because they were home earlier than expected and both had already eaten dinner, Flint had retired to his bedroom with his book. He lay shirtless on the bed, the heat not giving way even after the sun had set. He held the book above his face, but he wasn’t really concentrating on it. He’d left the door to his room open.
He didn’t remove his eyes from the pages until Silver had crawled all the way up his body, blocking the view, before collapsing on top of him. Then he set the book down and put his hands on Silver’s back, lightly at first and then more firmly when Silver made a soft noise in the back of his throat.
“Why did you look afraid, before?”
Silver shifted slightly in the crook of Flint’s arm. His left thigh nestled between Flint’s legs. “I thought I would have to leave,” he said into Flint’s collarbone. “If the Spanish found me, I’d have to go from here right away. And I thought, best case scenario would be you coming with me, but you’d resent me forever for taking you from here.”
Flint closed his eyes. The red-black nothingness behind his eyes helped push the words from his mouth, words he’d been trying to ask for a month. “Why didn’t you come with me,” he murmured, “when I asked you to, six years ago?”
They had argued that night in the Captain’s quarters of the Walrus. When hearing Flint planned to fake his death if he didn’t die for real in battle, Silver had accused him of going soft. Of throwing away everything he’d fought and killed for, of manipulating their crew and their supporters and him into following this crusade of his for nothing, and Silver had been prepared to rant at Flint until morning, his eyes wet and his grip tight on his cutlass as though he meant to slit Flint’s throat and solve the problem altogether, when Flint said something he’d wished he hadn’t for the last six years: come with me. Silver’s face had immediately shut down, white and blank, and he’d said nothing for a long time before he’d spat out: one way or another you’ll die tomorrow, but I know which outcome I’d prefer, and had stormed out the room. They didn’t see each other again until the next day, on a field, a long row of corpses between them.
It had been the most vulnerable Flint had allowed himself to be in a very long time, and every time the recollection crawled into his head in a moment of quiet he’d be overcome with shame and rage.
Now, predictably, Silver just shrugged. But maybe because Flint couldn’t see his face either, Silver was able to say, “I wanted to.” His fingers trailed between Flint’s scars, his sparse chest hair, his nipples. “Since meeting you, I had achieved power, fame, respect -- things I’d been unable to garner even when I was whole. I didn’t think it was possible, half-man in body, half-monster in spirit, to find it’s equal out there away from the life I had bled to build. I never wanted to be a pirate but it was the only opportunity I could even dare to hope for. The idea of starting again, starting over, lower than low, with no clear chance for freedom or comfort: it was abhorrent to me. I suppose I was just too ambitious and stubborn to go with you.”
He shrugged again, or as much as he could in the tightening grip of Flint’s arms. Perhaps because they’d spent so long not talking, could the words spill out of Silver now. “But I was so angry at you for making me want to,” he said in a rush. “I had never been a good person, even before I landed with your crew. I’ve always been a monster in some form or another. You were tempting me with a life I could never sustain. There seemed no place in the world for me, other than murdering and stealing and conquering. It’s all I’ve ever been good for. I had the same rage you felt after the events of Charles Town, but without your purpose and your righteousness. I have drifted in a sea of hatred my entire life, and I hated you for tempting me with a possibility of something good.”
Flint said nothing. He’d yet to ever find the words to soothe his own self-loathing, so he didn’t think he stood much chance against Silver’s. So he just let his fingers smooth circles against the back of his neck and let him speak.
“I don’t remember when I stopped hating you for leaving me alone to shoulder the weight of both our infamy. But the further away from you I got, the more time there was between us, the less I became someone I thought you’d ever want to see again. But then one morning, I just awoke feeling more tired than mad, just like that. Like snuffing out a candle. I realized that was probably how you felt, the day you asked me to join you. Probably earlier. I don’t suppose I was ready to understand you, yet. I was wrong about thinking you were too soft. Tochoose your own freedom is an almost impossible decision to make.”
Then he said, “There. You’ve got me being honest and admitting I was wrong. Perhaps there are such things as miracles.”
Flint snorted. Emboldened by Silver answering honestly, though, he felt the need to voice the questions he’d been fearing for so long. “Did you come to me now because you wanted to?” he asked. “Or because Billy had stolen your ship and you had nowhere else to go?”
Silver stilled on top of him, and then lifted himself up halfway, hands planted beside Flint’s head. He looked confused. “You think because I lost the Walrus I had no other options? Flint, I found another crew almost immediately. I left them waiting to set sail out of Basseterre.”
Flint would have welcomed cold fury or blind rage. Instead he only felt a gnawing desperation spreading through his soul like an infection. His heart dropped to the pit of his stomach and died.
“So you domean to leave?” Flint said, breathing hard. “Or you intend to draw me back into it with you? You said you wouldn’t--”
He stopped abruptly. Silver was cupping his cheeks, one thumb tracing the soft spot beneath his eye.
“I was supposed to meet up with them three weeks ago.” Silver smiled. “They most definitely think I’m dead by now.”
Then he was pulling Flint forward, and Flint’s hand entangled itself back into Silver’s hair.
Their kiss wasn’t as exciting as his first kiss with Miranda had been. It wasn’t as eye-opening as his first kiss with Thomas. It was just as natural and welcoming as a bonfire in the dark.
And then Silver opened slightly, dragging Flint’s bottom lip into his mouth, and the fire spread, consuming all. Flint moaned desperately, his tongue darting out to seek Silver’s.
At their first touch the kiss stopped being so gentle. Flint turned his head and opened his mouth wider, his hands clutching at Silver’s head and ass, trying to find that perfect angle to bring Silver closer.Silver groaned above him, his hands drifting up from Flint’s face into his hair. He tugged at it until Flint came up for air, and immediately latched onto his neck.
“Please,” Flint gasped, pulling at Silver’s shirt. “Please.”
“Yes,” said Silver into Flint’s skin. He sat back on Flint’s lap, pulling his shirt over his head. “I’ve been wanting to do this for six years.”
“Five and a half,” said Flint, running his hands over Silver’s smooth, hard abs. He palmed Silver’s cock through his trousers, stared up in awe as Silver’s mouth fell open and he shuddered.
“Actually it’s more like seven years,” Silver panted, body bowing over him. “Or. I don’t know. How long ago did we meet?”
“That long?” He wasn’t even sure what they were talking about anymore, was entirely too focused on getting both their pants off.
Within minutes they were naked and touching everywhere. They were slick with sweat, the room too warm and their bodies too close. It should have been smothering, but after so many years and miles between them it felt necessary.
Silver stopped kissing him just long enough to lick his palm and wrap his hand around both their cocks. He smiled at the whimper Flint couldn’t keep in.
“I’ve been wanting to touch you like this since the first day I saw you,” he said, his hips slowly rutting forward at a perfectly even pace. He cupped the back of Flint’s neck. “Don’t lie and say you didn’t feel the same.”
“I won’t lie.” Flint trailed down Silver’s sides with his fingertips and grabbed Silver’s ass, urging him to move faster as his own hips rose to meet him. “Although I don’t think we’d have been as nice about it back then.”
“Not nice is good, sometimes,” said Silver, and pressed a hard kiss to Flint’s lips. “We can not be nice to each other tomorrow.”
Flint dug his nails into the soft mounds and reared forward to kiss Silver again, sloppy and crazed. He dragged his lips to Silver’s ear, sucked the lobe into his mouth and said, “You can nicely fuck me tomorrow.”
“Christ,” Silver groaned, squeezing their cocks tightly, his fist flying. “Not if you fuck me first.”
Flint kissed him again, because he could and he didn’t think he could ever stop, now that he’s had that first taste. Small, but hard or wet and painful with teeth clacking or barely there, just lips together while they breathed into each other’s lungs. He removed one hand from Silver’s ass and wrapped it around Silver’s hand. Their hips pistoned forward at a lost, uneven rhythm as they worked their cocks together, the drag and pull frenzied after so many empty years.
It didn’t last long, but that was hardly surprising to either of them. And when they came, they were still kissing.
A little while later, they had yet to move off the bed. Now Flint could feel the faintest breeze coming through the window, cooling their sweat-drenched bodies. Silver had once against collapsed on top of him, but he didn’t have it in him to move.
Silver was idly playing with Flint's mustache, trying to twirl the corner up. Outside the relentless chirp of cicadas and croak of frogs, the rustling of his trees dancing in the wind -- it all sounded louder than normal, but perhaps it was because he felt more awake in his own body than he had for a very long time.
“I don’t know if this is forever,” he said.
Silver’s fingers stilled, his whole body becoming stiff in Flint’s arms. He didn’t say anything.
Once again, Flint tightened his hold. “I mean, this life here. The orange grove, St. Augustine. I’ve become too many men, lived too many lives, to think there’s any sort of permanence to any of this.”
It was an echo of something he’d said to Silver long ago, and Silver lifted his head as Flint continued, “Except for you. Wherever I go, wherever I end, I think you’re meant to be there with me. If you want.”
Silver’s eyes were brighter than the fading candlelight of the room. He kissed him again.
To be honest, Flint thought they would both wake up one day with matching bullets between their eyes. He didn’t think either of them had any other end but a bloody one, their only fate to be tossed in the same shallow grave. He could picture it clearly: their bodies entwined the way they were now, the skin and muscle rotting away until they were just dirt and skeleton, their finger bones mixed together, their ribcages interlocked -- only to be discovered centuries in the future by other explorers, still looking for his buried treasure. Instead this was all they’d ever find: two men, together in the earth.
Flint grasped Silver’s cheek and kissed him harder. He couldn’t think of any other way he wanted to go.
When Flint awoke the following morning, Silver wasn’t in bed beside him. But he never was, so Flint allowed himself a moment to stretch, to smell their combined scent on his worn sheets, before climbing out of bed.
He pulled on his breeches and walked to the kitchen. Silver was where he always was in the morning, staring out the window with a cold cup of tea in front of him, a random cat snoozing upright on the table. But today he was shirtless, and his hair was wild over his shoulders. Flint leaned in the doorway and watched the muscles in his back move. It’s a sight he didn’t think he’d ever tire of.
Silver must have sensed Flint watching him, because he said without turning, “I did try to meet up with you, after I found your letter.”
Flint froze, the air disappearing from his body. He effortlessly remembered every bit of anguish he’d endured his whole life, but thoughts of the letter he’d left for Silver in his cabin filled him with such unspeakable embarrassment, he’d almost convinced himself to forget it entirely. The letter, more of a note really, plain and unadorned: meet me here in two week’s time if you change your mind. Flint had hoped it had gotten lost, gotten thrown into a fire, blown out a window, before ever being opened.
“I followed you as soon as I found it, that first evening you were gone,” said Silver, looking at Flint through his hair over his shoulder. “Well, me and the crew, although they didn’t know why. But the fucking rudder dislodged and we’d had to stop and repair it. I was two days late and you were gone. But I was able to send a tracker after you. That’s how I knew you were here.”
Flint swallowed. “What became of the tracker?”
“He’s dead,” said Silver, and left it at that.
Flint joined him at the table. He let one hand trail down Silver’s bare arm as he passed, found himself still delighted at the goosebumps that rose. The sad look on Silver’s face was slowly smoothing away like an impression in the sand.
“What would you have done,” Flint asked him, helping himself to an orange from the bowl of fruit on the table, “if you’d caught up with me?”
“Not come along,” Silver admitted, watching Flint’s fingers as he deftly peeled the orange. “I probably would have tried to convince you not to go. It most likely wouldn’t have changed anything, and made us angrier at each other, but at least I would have been able to give you a proper goodbye.”
“Oh?” said Flint, popping a slice of fruit into his mouth. “And what would you consider to be a proper goodbye?”
Silver pulled him forward by the hair and kissed him. It tasted sweet and bright, like an orange. He started tugging at Flint’s shoulders to get him to follow him back into his chair, and that’s when Flint pulled away a little.
“We have to start work,” he said, flushed. “We have a busy day, and Lua is expecting you to actually be on time today.”
Silver groaned, releasing Flint and falling backwards into his own chair. “Work.” He said it with distaste, like a blaspheme. “How can you not be tired of oranges yet? Is there an opposite of scurvy?”
Flint snorted, making himself a cup of tea. “You’d be bored without work and you know it.” Flint would hate to see what Silver was capable of if he got bored.
“That was before, when there weren’t so many different sexual opportunities presented to both of us.” Silver smirked at Flint spilled sugar all over the table. “Besides, I don’t think what you do really constitutes as work. A job typically entails work being exchanged for money, and I have yet to see you actually earn any.”
“You don’t need to worry about money,” said Flint. He took a sip of his tea. “Soon after I left, I went and dug up the buried treasure and brought it here with me.”
There was a loud clatter of a teacup falling onto the table.
“Mmm,” said Flint, setting his own cup back down like a normal person. He picked up another orange slice. “It’s buried out back, in the grove. Billy’s not going to find anything but a hole in the ground, if he even gets that far.”
There was a stillness while this set in. Then suddenly Flint had a lapful of Silver and another goddamn kiss, as heavy and overwhelming as the man giving it to him.
“We have,” Flint gasped as Silver raked his fingers down Flint’s side, nails flicking over his nipples, his chest jerking forward uncontrollably, “to work.”
“We absolutely do fucking not,” Silver growled. He kissed Flint again, leaving no room for argument. “We are going back into that bedroom and making good on several promises that were made last night. I know keeping promises isn’t exactly our forte but why are we even here if not to improve upon ourselves?”
Using Flint as a crutch, they hobbled back into the bedroom, never not touching.
“You are fucking up my routine,” Flint said angrily into his mouth. “Fucking it up royally.”
“We are, both of us, dead men,” Silver replied easily, untying the strings of his breeches. “Dead men don’t need to keep schedules.” He pushed Flint down onto the bed.
Neither of them were really okay. Flint still had nightmares, and Silver still didn’t sleep enough. They both had debts, doubts, guilt, and enemies that will one day come calling to get what is owed them. Both were too entranced by the darkness to ever stay fully afloat, and they had a tendency to drag each other down into those depths.
But they could be not okay, together. They would make this life work for a long as it could, and when it stopped working out for one reason or another, they’d move on, become new.
And until then, they’d figure out another routine that fit the both of them.
Silver ended up being late for work. But other promises, they kept.