Madi is dead.
Flint told him of a burning house, and he is in that house now, burning with it. He feels hot and sick as if in the throes of a fever. The last time, Madi had been there, and held his hand.
This time, Madi is not here. She will never be here again. She is the reason he is burning, the roofs and walls of him collapsing inwards and swallowed in smoke.
Flint is here, though, voice softer even than smoke. It’s not his fault, Silver says out loud. Repeats it. Repeats it again in his head until he believes it.
Flint puts a hand on his shoulder. A lingering hand. The fingers are curved over his shoulder, moulding to its shape. Squeezing. He thinks of a different hand, fingers curling over his, around a wooden post.
Then both of those hands vanish, the reality and the memory, and he is untethered. His heart loosed through space like a bullet, hurtling too fast and destined to hurt something.
He thought—he had faith—that Madi and Flint would be all right, that they would both come back to him. But only Flint did, and that isn’t enough. That will never be enough.
But now that Madi is gone—he can’t do this without Flint.
“Captain.” Flint pauses by the door. “Don’t go.”
Silver looks at Flint’s cracked porcelain face and wants to say, “Thomas is alive.” But he doesn’t. He doesn’t, because they are in the wrong story.
“Please,” is what he says, shifting his chair, turning to the side. “Please come here.”
Flint lets go of the brass knob and Silver watches him press a hand against the white wood of the door, as if seeking something to steady himself, and then he’s approaching Silver again, like a ship gliding on water. Such grace, such silence in his movement as fate will never permit Silver now. He stands in front of Silver, and Silver reaches out with both hands, grabs onto the ends of Flint’s sleeves.
It’s not holding Flint’s hands, but—it’s close.
Silver pulls, and Flint—Flint understands. Flint goes down like an anchor, or like Silver’s heart when he saw Flint enter the Underhill estate without Madi. On his knees, Flint stares up at Silver, searching, wondering.
“What do you need, Silver?”
Silver closes his eyes. If this was Madi, he would brush his thumb along the shell of her ear. But his hands remain on Flint’s sleeves. “I want to hear you say ‘John’.”
“John,” Flint says, and only one other person has ever called him by this name. This was not his name, before the Walrus sailed into his life. But it is his name now, it is the name for the thing that lives in the centre of him, the thing that wants and hurts and believes. It is the name for the thing that blinked open within him whenever he heard her voice, the thing that is doing the same now at the sound of Flint’s voice.
His palm falls on Flint’s cheek, and Flint says, “John,” again, and Silver feels the path of its utterance on his hand. He pitches forward and his nose finds Flint’s and then his mouth bumps against Flint’s mouth and they’re kissing, two walls crumbling and caving together in a crackling fire. Flint’s mouth carves deep into him; it’s a slow kiss, but Silver is disintegrating. Against the heat of Flint’s mouth, he is just ash, just soot. Just something blowing away in the wind.
His eyes flutter open. He bends his back and unbuckles Flint’s belt with both hands—“John, what the Hell are you doing,” Flint says, but doesn’t stop him, doesn’t move—and he frees the buttons underneath, slips his hand in and shudders when he feels the bare, hot skin of Flint’s cock. It’s still mostly soft, but he squeezes it, tugs it, until it swells and hardens, becomes a breathtaking weight in his hand, and all the while Flint is looking up at him, questioning, quiet.
It’s too much for Silver, that gaze, curious and accepting at the same time, in a way that slices directly into Silver’s gut, but he forces himself to meet it until pleasure blunts the sharpness of it, until Flint’s inhalations rise short and staccato, and Flint’s bottom lip reddens from bitten-off moans.
Flint’s hands are gripping the insides of Silver’s thighs, fingers tensing, scrabbling. “John, I’m going to—”
“No,” Silver says, opening his fist, releasing Flint, and seeing Flint’s shoulders quake. “No. I— I need you.” His hands come up to Flint’s jaw, cradling Flint’s face. “Please, I need—”
“Anything,” Flint says, voice trembling, a single blade of grass in a hurricane. “Anything you need.”
Flint is kneeling but Silver feels like he’s the one on the floor, levelled by desire, his heart genuflecting, crooked and yearning towards Flint. “Fuck me,” he whispers, his hand sliding down to grasp the front of Flint’s shirt. “I need you inside me. Do you have oil?”
“Yes,” Flint says, and Silver is standing up, supporting himself on the desk as he hops around so that his back faces Flint, and he rests the knee of his crippled leg on the seat of the chair.
“Get it,” he says, fumbling with his belt. “Get the oil.” He hears Flint’s footsteps, the clatter of drawers.
His belt slithers from his waist and he shoves his trousers down, and then Flint is behind him, Flint’s warm, warm hands on his hips. Broad, rough palms skimming over his arse, thumbs digging in, spreading him open. Silver groans, leaning forward, holding onto the back of the chair. Flint’s hands leave him for a moment, and return slick, fingers rubbing over his rim.
When he and Flint are of one mind, there is nothing they cannot achieve. What if they become one in body? Will it raze the world when Flint sinks into him? Will it wipe everything else clean from existence? Will it empty the seas, and scorch all land into barren desert?
Flint’s fingers dip into him, smooth, careful. It is a tender ache, too sweet; it sets Silver’s lungs quivering. He doesn’t need this sweetness. He doesn’t deserve it. It makes the truth hover dangerously close to the tip of his tongue. Thomas Hamilton is alive. But he can’t say it. He can’t.
He jerks his hips back, impatient, demanding. “Now,” he growls. “Hurry.”
Flint pulls his fingers out, and his cock pushes into Silver, and Silver doesn’t know about the world, but God, it ravages him completely, obliterates him. Flint moves in him and every structure in Silver’s mind topples until his body is only a wilderness of grief and want, two forces indistinguishable from each other.
Thomas is alive and Flint doesn’t know. Thomas is alive, and Madi is dead. Madi is dead, and the world must answer for it. He will make it pay, but only if Flint is by his side, because the two of them together can accomplish anything. He can’t do this without Flint. Thomas is alive, and Silver can’t tell Flint, because Madi is dead.
Every time Flint thrusts into him, pleasure kicks through him like the recoil of a pistol. A lethal rhythm drums through him, agonising and intense. He wants to be a weapon, aimed at all the world, but he can only be that if Flint holds him, and Flint can’t hold him if he tells Flint the truth.
God, God, forgive me. But when Silver thinks God and closes his eyes, all he sees is Flint’s face. He is imagining what Flint’s face looks like right now behind him, imagining pleasure sculpting his face in a manner that is not so very different from pain. Silver sees his god, his devastating, gentle god, and if he has to get on his knees and pray to this face every night for forgiveness, he will.
Flint’s hand reaches for Silver’s cock, but Silver says, “No. Don’t.” He touches himself instead, ruts into his own hand, shivers running up his spine and along his shoulders as Flint clutches his hips bruisingly tight and fucks him, finally erasing everything inside him, every thought, every lie, every sin. Until he is just one desolate strip of land, arid, parched, knowing nothing other than the longing for rain.
And every word that Flint murmurs against his neck, every kiss, lands as a raindrop, soaking straight through his skin. “John,” Flint says, and Silver drinks his voice as sustenance.
Flint moans, and Silver clenches down on the wet pulse of Flint’s cock, gasping at the feeling like clouds bursting open above him, wallows in it as he brings himself off to this sensation of rainfall, Flint’s mouth damp on his throat.
He separates from Flint, turns around to meet the dizzying vision of Flint’s flushed face. His god’s face.
“I love you,” Flint says, and Silver wants to weep. This love isn’t truly meant for him, he knows. It is meant for another, a man Flint thinks dead but isn’t. All the same, it extinguishes the last flame licking up Silver’s soul. But even if Flint has put out the fire, Silver is still a burnt-out ruin, and maybe he was already like this long before Flint or Madi came into his life. There’s no rebuilding that. He can only make sure the rest of the world ends up the same as him.
(In the forest on Skeleton Island, Flint asks, “How long have you known this?”
Silver says nothing. He only keeps his pistol aimed at Flint’s chest, but his hand shakes more badly than before.)