Mack meets Alf on a dock they know well on a cold November morning. His hair is down, free from the long braids he used to wear for days and days on end. He’s cut it since he returned to London; it falls to his shoulders now, thin and still perpetually greasy. The wind blows strong and it stirs, trying to flow with it; it gets into Mack’s face, but he doesn’t rush to brush it away until the wind calms down. Just as he tucks it behind his ear, he catches sight of Alf.
Alf is much bigger than Mack. Not in the way Slank was; Slank was wiry and loud and that whip - that fucking whip was always never far from him. Mack winces at the thought of it. It made him seem bigger and stronger and more powerful than he really was. Alf is different than Slank; he’s loud, sure, but not wiry. He stomps when he walks and he’s old and he would groan and moan when he had to hoist the sails and haul things onto the ship. The wrinkles around his eyes are numerous but somehow after all those years on Slank’s crew, his eyes are still bright. He would stay up for hours on the deck of the ship while they were out at sea. Keeping watch, he always said. Mack knows what he was really watching were the stars.
Alf is coming down the dock towards him now, Mack can see him. He’s waddling, the way he does, and it makes Mack smile a little. He hasn’t seen him since he came barreling off the Wasp when they finally docked, wanting to get as far away from the sea as possible. He didn’t want to see it. He didn’t want to smell it. He still doesn’t.
Alf greets him warmly; he grabs one of Mack’s shoulders and yanks him in for a hug. He still smells greatly of fish, and Mack pats his shoulder affectionately before Alf lets him go.
“Look at ye, ye little shrimp!” he says, his voice deep and shaky; Mack smiles, “Ye still look like ye’s made’a paper.”
“Don’t get much sun anymore.” Mack says; he stares at his thin arms, the veins obvious under his pale skin. He turns them over and his eyes land on the obvious P shaped scar on his left hand. Mack closes his eyes, and the smell of the salt water and the docks returns him to the dark cabin where such scents mingled with the smell of rotting chum and the sound of his sizzling flesh.
Alf sees the mark on his hand, too. Mack never told him exactly how he got it. Alf had asked as they stood, watching the ocean pass beneath them as they sailed away from Mollusk Island. The sea water had almost seemed to shimmer gold. Alf had inquired about the mark, which at the time had still been bright and fresh and irritated by the sea water it had been washed in as Mack had floated towards the island, clinging to the wheel of the Neverland. Mack had only grunted in response, turning away and disappearing below deck where he stayed for the remainder of the trek. At the time, Alf had thought it may have been some sort of form of torture inflicted upon him by the Mollusks, but not soon after they returned to London, Alf recalled a memory that had become obscured by all the other chaos that took place that night the Neverland fell apart. He remembers seeing Mack dragged off by Slank shortly after he’d asked Alf to join them for a game of poker, as Alf had been taking food - if it could be called that - to the orphans being smuggled to King Zarboff. Just before he’d arrived at the crawlspace they were being stored in, Mack had screamed so loud, Alf didn’t doubt the crew working on the Wasp had heard it. After the nightmare that had followed during the storm that night, it hadn’t seemed important, but now Alf could put two and two together.
“Ay, cheer up, boy.” Alf says, even though Mack isn’t a boy anymore; but he was when they met, so that’s all he’ll ever be to Alf. Mack doesn’t have such a problem with that, “Ye cut yer hair, I see.” Alf comments.
“You’re not very good at small talk.” Mack says, looking up and staring straight ahead into the open sea.
Alf nods, looking out with him, “Ye ever miss it?” he asks.
“No.” Mack says quickly, harshly, “Never. The day the Neverland sank was the best day of me life.”
Alf chuckles, “Great view, gettin’ t’watch that rat bastard drown.”
Mack laughs, one single loud “Ha!” Then, “I hope he heard me wish him off. TTFN, the absolute bastard.”
Alf cackles at that, a hearty laugh that quickly turns into a wheeze. Once he calms himself, he looks back to Mack, “Did I really watch ye wave t’him before ye jumped overboard? Or does me mind play tricks on me?”
Mack smiles, “I floated to that island on the wheel of the ship.” he says. “Remember when it flew out to sea after that orphan boy spun us around? I just about landed on it. Hated that boy at the time, but now I s’pose he’s given me my greatest gift.”
“Slank’s demise is ye greatest gift?” Alf asks.
“Not much else to look forward to.” Mack sighs, then looks up at Alf, “why’d you ask me here, anyhow? Finally up for that poker game?”
Alf chuckles again, “Ye wish.” he says, “The Missus and I is getting wed. I wanted t’ask ye to be me best man.”
Mack smiles, “You know I don’t own anythin’ nice.”
Alf waves him off, “Neither do I.” he says, “Weddin’s in ‘bout a month's time. I could send ye a letter with the date. Time, place, all that fancy shit.”
Mack wrinkles his nose, “I didn’t know you could read.”
“Well, Betty’ll write ye a letter.” Alf corrects, “Say ye’ll come?”
Mack hesitates, “Alright.” Mack says, “But I’m showing up a night early. You officially owe me a poker game.”
Alf rolls his eyes, “Lord knows I’d love to get me arse cheated in poker.” he says, “but if ye’ll come, I suppose.”
Mack smiles, “Anythin’ else?”
“Quite the business man.” Alf comments, “Ye got somewhere to be?”
“Anywhere but this damn dock.” Mack mutters, “Meet me somewhere pleasant next time, yeah? Like a volcano?”
Alf wheezes out a laugh, “I know ye don’t like the sea, ye little shrimp.” he says. He claps Mack on the back, which nearly knocks him off the dock, “Ye’ll get a letter.”
“You’ll get a poker game.” Mack returns, smiling, before he pulls his jacket tighter and heads for the stairs, back to the security of the cobblestone roads, the wind whipping in his face.