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The Cusp of Charity

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Madi’s handwriting is wide as the sea and long as the horizon and Flint has learned to know it well. She doesn’t need to sign her name to the few lines she manages to scribble here and there over the years. Once it was a postscript to a letter he’d received signed by a Mrs. A. Featherstone, Governess of Nassau. Once it was no more than a few words carefully added to an otherwise perfectly innocent looking laundry list.

Jamie turned five today. I am happy.

Those words she had written in a book. Flint still has that one sitting on his shelf, between two other tomes that Thomas had purchased for him the first year they’d settled in Wormsloe. Flint had berated him for being a spendthrift when their situation was so uncertain, and Thomas had remarked that they could always use the books as firewood should it come to that. Flint would rather throw his hand into the fire, if only flesh could kindle as easily as paper.

Have you forgiven him? Flint wrote on the back of a map he’d sent Madi.

I have learned to live with what he did, Madi wrote back.

It was a while before the first messenger had arrived at the bookseller’s with a heavy purse and another letter from Maroon Island. The bookseller’s name is Patrick Mulligan and he and his wife Anabel remind Flint of Thomas and Miranda, if Miranda only had eyes for her own sex. They do not socialize in public, but a tacit alliance is all that is needed to facilitate Madi’s plans.

Now Flint sits before a flickering candle, reading over the words that he has memorized and engraved in the deepest depth of his soul. He wishes he could reach back in time to turn this letter away. To push it deep enough back across the abyss so that it never gets written. He imagines himself there with them, on that island that had once brought him such joy and such sorrow. The island where he had first told Silver he loved him. He closes his eyes and remembers what it was like to have his fingers tangled in those curls, to feel the warmth of a quickened breath on the side of his neck, remembers what it was to hold and to be held as the world burned around them. He wants to push back across the veil of space and time. He wants to envelop them both in his arms, to take away their tragedy, their pain. He wants to be with them.

It happened so fast. He did not suffer long. He died in John’s arms. Now I cannot stand to look at him, all I see is the empty place where my son should be.

Flint rages again. He rages against the injustice of it. You did not deserves this, he writes and tosses the crumpled paper into the fireplace, his letter unfinished. They won’t survive this, he can feel it in his bones. He knows all too well what it means to have a ghost standing between you and the one you love. Madi and Silver’s marriage was never strong enough to withstand this kind of a blow.

I would have gladly given my life to have averted this fate from you, he finally writes. I weep for you both.

And he does.

***

Thomas’ hands shake as he spills the tea all over the table. Had Flint not moved his leg, the hot water would’ve scalded him raw. Thomas’ mind is somewhere else, his words are evasive, his eyes skittish.

It isn’t like Thomas to distract him with machinations of lovemaking. If there’s one thing Thomas didn’t ever play at was this - the dulcet duet that their bodies composed when they were together. There is an honesty to their couplings that never became perfunctory, even with age. Now, when Thomas kisses him, Flint tastes his fear, the sudden desperation in his movements that comes from he knows not whence.

They’ve been running the operation out of the bookseller’s shop for years now. And even in the early days, Thomas didn’t seem overly concerned for their safety. He had said to Flint back then that the gods had seemed fit to resurrect them both once, it would be blasphemy henceforth to live in fear of death.

If not death, then what? He doesn’t ask and Thomas doesn’t tell him, only pressing closer as they lay spent together, his fingers clutching at the meat of Flint’s flesh as if he’s kneading dough. Flint doesn’t see a reason to ask him to stop. It’s been ten incredible years but he still isn’t ungrateful enough to take these fingers for granted when they sink into his flesh and leave jealous bruises in their wake.

***

“He must have loved you, once,” Thomas says.

“Thomas,” Flint is laughing softly against his hair. “Do not let your own affection for me bias you in your thoughts. Not everyone who meets me, loves me.” It hurts to speak of Silver like this, like an afterthought, when all Flint’s been doing is mourning his loss from afar. It hurts to dissemble and it hurts to deflect. Thomas deserves more than this, but Flint cannot speak of Silver. Not now, not like this. “Besides, Captain Flint wasn’t exactly easy to love,” he adds, once more pulling a shroud over his past.

“No, I don’t imagine he was,” Thomas says affably enough and Flint’s heart clenches in his chest.

I never really knew him after all, only the things he chose to show me.

His own words echo in the cathedral of his mind. And what did Silver choose to show him? There was tenderness there, and yes, there was love. He had allowed Flint to see him naked in ways that Flint doesn’t think any other man truly had before. He had showed Flint his heart, his hopes, and finally his fears. The ghosts of his former nightmares, of which he never could speak, did win out in the end, and love lay ruined at their feet, buried in the ground, inside that accursed chest.

Their love lay buried in the ground once. But he had allowed Madi to unearth it, and now… Now her son, Silver’s son, lay in the ground instead.

***

The wind beats against the sail. Nights are much chillier on the water than back on land and the girl who stands next to him on the boat shivers. Flint wants to take off his coat and drape it around her shoulders as he did once on Nassau to Madi, when they had allowed their shared grief to bring them together. Grief doesn’t always bring you closer together, Flint thinks. Sometimes it drives you apart. And this girl, she clearly doesn’t want to be touched, so Flint rummages under the bench and pulls out a warm blanket to hand to her.

“We’ll be at the rendezvous point in a few hours,” Flint says. “Those men will take you to a safe place. You should get some rest while you can.”

“Where?” she asks, the whites of her eyes shining under the moonlit sky. She doesn’t trust him and Flint doesn’t blame her. He looks and sounds exactly like the men who’ve taken everything from her.

“There is an island in the Caribbean ruled over by a Queen whose mother was once like you - broken from bondage. You can live in freedom there.”

For now, Flint thinks and finds that it is without bitterness. The joys of life are fleeting, now is all any of them might ever get.

“And why do you help us?” the girl asks.

“It’s a long story,” Flint speaks quietly. “Suffice to say that we share a common cause.”

It was not always so. But Flint’s trying now, trying to do better. To do the right thing because to try and right the injustices of the world is what every good man should want, not in the name of a selfish vendetta. He tries to be the man that Thomas can still love.

“You Barlow?” the man in the longboat asks once they’ve spotted Flint’s signal.

“I am.”

“What’s the catch of the day?”

“Books,” Flint gives the parole. “Permission to come aboard?”

“Granted.”

Flint helps the girl into the longboat. She tries to hand him back the blanket but he presses it tightly around her shoulders, “Keep it.” He says, “When you meet the Queen…”

“Yes?”

“You tell her I’m thinking of her, will you?”

“Barlow?” the man in the boat speaks again. “I have something for you.”

The piece of paper is pressed into Flint’s palm as they untangle the lines and their boats sail past each other like seagulls flying in the night. Flint won’t be able to read it until dawn as he’s steering his little boat down the Skidaway River towards their local marina.

He left. He knows where you are. Be kind to him.

***

Flint spends the entire day in preparations for supper. He selects an exorbitant amount of root vegetables to accompany the meat because he has the need to peel them all, every potato, beetroot, and carrot. If his hands stop moving, his brain will pick up where his hands left off. And he wants to stop his mind from running away with him.

He left.

The first sentence wasn’t a surprise. Flint had suspected as much without Madi writing to him. Silver had lived his entire life on the run. Until he didn’t and it had cost him a leg. Silver didn’t think he had a heart to give, but when he’d found himself wrong, he had it broken. Flint isn’t cruel enough to imagine their parting had cost Silver nothing. He may dissemble with Thomas, but he can’t with himself.

He peels the last of the carrots and begins to chop them up into the smallest of slices. If he chops each vegetable up like this, it will kill another hour. Another hour that he doesn’t have to think about Madi’s note.

He knows where you are.

How can five little words cause his heart to palpitate this wildly? With fear? Anticipation? Perhaps a hope so foolish that Flint wants to slap himself. He knows where you are - the presumption that Silver would want to seek him out after everything they’ve done to each other is preposterous. Unless of course Madi meant it as a warning. He knows where you are - beware! Long John Silver is on the prowl again and this time his gun won’t misfire.

Flint chops the potatoes up slowly, methodically, making them into perfect squares with his carving knife. He doesn’t like to remember that day, the day their love crumbled into dust because their fragile trust had been broken. He doesn’t want to think about the barrel of the gun pointed at his chest, beckoning with the promise of sweet oblivion.

“There is no coming back from this,” Flint said, speaking more to the gun than to Silver. There was no longer any sense in speaking to Silver, he had said all there was left to say.

“Please don’t make me do this,” Silver’s voice shook. “I meant what I said. I would have you leave this place with me. I want us to leave together.”

“You said there was no fixing this. I should have known it was hopeless.”

He wasn’t going down like this. He wasn’t going to let Silver and his goons take him this easily.

“Please, listen to me. There’s something I still need to tell you.”

There was fear in Silver’s voice, as if he sensed what Flint had in mind. And then Flint rushed him, his body slamming into the barrel of the gun. They fell down to the ground, frightening the birds into a desperate flight. And then Silver had pulled the trigger.

Be kind to him.

Flint is cooking the meat and the vegetables on the slowest heat he can, flipping and stirring more than is necessary. The oil in the pan simmers, blisters angrily, threatens to explode and to scald his fingers.

Silver had pulled the trigger alright but the flint had simmered. The gun had misfired. Silver’s face broke like a porcelain mask, scattering into distraught fragments. His arms were around Flint’s neck and his lips were whispering words that had sounded insane to Flint at that moment against his own lips.

“Please… James… Thomas…. he is alive. Let me save you. Let me take you to him.”

But the gun had misfired and Flint was forced to listen to those words. It wasn’t part of his plan. He was going to be done with this whole thing, well and truly. And he wouldn’t be done until Silver stood victorious over his frigid, bleeding corpse, so that Flint could laugh up at him from the tar-pits of Hell.

You were the end of me, Long John Silver.

Except he wasn’t. He truly wasn’t.

***

“Thomas, what have you done?”

Flint isn’t angry. He knows Thomas well enough not to be angry. Still, he’s worried, he’s… he’s concerned.

“Just promise me that you will not do anything rash,” Thomas begs. “You must believe that I would not have allowed this if I did not think that it would be to our mutual benefit.”

Thomas.”

Now, Flint is becoming slightly angry. Mostly at himself for having his head so far up his own arse he hadn’t realized his bloody own lover had been having some kind of a sordid affair on the side without Flint noticing. He’s paid more attention to the damned potatoes than his own home.

The rapping on the door is decisive, like a tolling bell.

“I’ll get it!” Thomas shoots up from his chair.

“Not till you tell me what’s going on,” Flint hisses, his hand gripping Thomas’ wrist as his mind races. “Who stands outside that door?”

“Yanis Argyros,” Thomas says and his hand slips from Flint’s grip.

“Yanis Argyros?” Flint tries to place the name like it’s the last piece of a complex puzzle. Like a dozen hidden locks are about to click into place and unlock Pandora’s secret box. “What a ridiculous name for a man,” he finally says with surrender.

“He’s not a man,” Thomas says as he steps towards the door. “He’s a ghost.”

And then Thomas is at the door and Flint’s hands begin to shake. He wants to stop him from unlatching the lock. He isn’t ready. He stares at the door handle like he stared down the barrel of Silver’s gun ten years ago and… and…

“Hello, Captain.”

“Jesus fucking Christ!” Flint exclaims. His body sways as he takes a few steps forward. Ten steps in total, he should think, because with each step he travels back in time a year, until he’s standing face to face with Silver on that god forsaken island. “Jesus,” he whispers. And it’s written so clearly in Silver’s face again, all the sorrow, and grief, and fucking fear, and - yes - also love. “Fuck,” he adds before opening his arms.

Be kind to him.

He opens his arms and Silver steps right into them and they’re both shaking like leaves in the wind. Silver’s weight is so familiar and too much to bear all at once, only Flint must bear it. He must bear up under it. He must hold them both up before the weight of their hearts crushes and pulverizes them into ash. Silver drops his crutch. Flint closes his eyes and inhales.

***

Silence descends upon the house like the wings of the goddess Nyx. Thomas carefully closes the door and picks up Silver’s crutch off the floor. Flint registers this over the beating of Silver’s heart, the warmth of his arms around him. The scent of his hair is so painfully familiar, it hits Flint like a cannonball to the chest, threatens to crush his ribcage. Thomas blends like a shadow into the background, but Flint can feel his eyes upon his skin as surely as he feels Silver’s fingers clutching at his shoulder blades.

After what feels like an eternity, Flint pulls back, places his hand against Silver’s jaw, holds him at barely an arm’s length so he can look into his eyes. He’s changed, which makes Flint suddenly aware of his own appearance in a way he’s normally not privy to. He feels Silver’s eyes on his face and wonders if he likes what he sees while he takes in Flint’s hair (completely gray now around his temples) and his beard (with two uneven patches of gray that almost match the pattern on his head). He studies the lines on Silver’s forehead and around his eyes, notices that his lips have thinned and dried, and wonders what Thomas felt when he kissed those lips. Because now he has no doubt that Thomas did. Thomas never could resist a pretty face.

“I’m sorry,” Silver says just as Flint’s thumb strays across his jaw and presses against his mouth.

“Don’t…” Flint isn’t ready to speak yet. He isn’t ready to listen yet either. There are far too many things Silver could be feeling sorry for, and Flint isn’t ready to consider all of them just yet. “I am happy you came,” he says. “Let that be enough for now.”

Thomas is at their side again, solicitously shoving the crutch under Silver’s left armpit with the ease of a man who’s done it before. “James made enough food to feed a garrison,” he says to Silver. “You’re staying for dinner, obviously.”

Flint is gratified by the flush that creeps over Silver’s neck. That neck had haunted his dreams for months before he ever let his lips press in a languid caress against it. In a different life, he may have tightened his teeth around it and never let go.

“I only wanted to see you,” Silver says, addressing Flint. His voice shakes and Flint suspects that if he has to speak another word he might start weeping.

“Well, you’ve seen me. Now let’s eat.” Flint coughs to cover up his own quivering vocal chords. “Thomas is right about the amount of food.” He glances over at Thomas, who has made his expression stoic and inscrutable, and curses Marcus Aurelius for turning his lover into such a prat. Flint knows they’re going to have words about this, he just isn’t sure yet what those words will be.

But Silver and Thomas fucked each other behind his back, that much he can’t ignore for long. A part of him can’t help but picture it with a strange mixture of apprehension and desire. Thomas wouldn’t want him to be jealous, yet he can’t help but feel unmoored by it. This inexplicable collision of his lovers’ bodies, it breaches the hull of his emotions in an unexpected way.

Thomas helps Silver into a chair and gets an all-too-familiar glare in return for his troubles. “I can sit perfectly well,” Silver hisses.

“I know that,” Thomas replies.

“I’m not actually missing an arse,” Silver says.

“You might be by the time I’m through giving you a good caning for your lip,” Thomas retorts.

Flirting. In front of him. Flint’s brain itches.

“How long have you been in town?” Flint asks as he turns towards the stove. He can do this. He can serve the meat and the vegetables. He can play a good host. His body doesn’t miss the phantom shade of Silver’s weight. His fingers don’t still feel the thick bone of Thomas’ wrist in his grasp. What have you done?

“Couple of weeks?” Silver says in an uncertain tone. He doesn’t want to get Thomas in trouble, which is interesting. Flint already feels outnumbered and outmaneuvered and dinner hasn’t even been served yet. It occurs to him he’s managing a mutiny.

“Is that true?” Flint turns towards Thomas.

“Yes,” his lover replies without embellishment. Flint remembers the shaking hands, the spilled tea, the way Thomas’ hips slammed against his, the bruising force of their coupling that night. And he finally understands.

***

Silver eats like a man who hasn’t had a proper meal in a while. Flint mostly moves his food around his own plate, now and then scraping his knife against the porcelain. His fingers drum against the countertop, the heel of his boot scuffs against the floorboards. Thomas compliments the food and Flint suspects he’s probably going to throttle him. Except for the fact that he loves him more than he loves the feel of the wind in his hair upon the seas. Throttling Thomas was never a viable option.

“The captain was ever a much better cook than I,” Silver says. The affected speech of a sea mariner sits oddly in Silver’s mouth. So, this is the new mask he’s assumed then. This is the front he presents to the world: a harmless, seasoned sea-dog, not accustomed to making a fuss of himself. He isn’t going to fool Flint again. John Silver was never harmless.

Flint chooses his next words carefully. “I was warned you might be coming.” He glances at both Silver and Thomas and their faces mimic each other’s surprise. Well, that’s one thing he has on them, at least. “I know what happened to you at home,” he continues, gentle to draw the gauze away from the bleeding wound. “Can you tell me why you’ve come?”

“This is my cue to retire for the night,” Thomas announces with his usual gleeful politeness. Silver looks like he’s about to topple the table and flee. “Well, don’t look at me like that, Yanis. I’m sure James will be a consummate host to you in my absence.”

Flint’s jaw hurts and he forces himself to unclench his back teeth.

“No more consummate than you,” Flint can’t help himself but reply.

“You scallywags have a lot to discuss, I’m sure.” Thomas’ hand on the back of Flint’s neck is warm and steadying. He leans closer to his earlobe and whispers, “Remember that I love you,” before he retreats, like the traitor he is.

“Not helping,” Flint mutters to himself. The meat on his plate is cold and would probably simply lodge in his throat and choke him had he actually attempted to eat it.

Silver is smiling into his beard. “Scallywags? You don’t correct him? You just… let him talk about us like that?”

“Have you ever tried arguing with Thomas?” Flint asks on a reflex. By the way Silver continues to grin, he surmises they’ve had more than one conversation, and likely more than one argument. “How the hell did you ingratiate yourself with him, anyways?”

“Have you forgotten? I’m a hard man not to like.”

Flint lets out a soft snort. “I’ve often wondered what Thomas would make of you had you actually ever met. I never thought you would.” He picks up his knife and fork once more, contemplating the cold meat, then places them down upon the tablecloth again. “You haven’t answered my initial question.”

“You want to know why I’m here,” Silver says, eyes anywhere but upon Flint’s.

“Yes, I presume there was a reason for your arrival, other than to seduce my lover?”

“I didn’t come here to seduce Thomas, for fuck’s sakes.” It’s nice to see his hackles up and Flint leans back in his own chair, legs crossed at the ankles, fingers steepled over his own diaphragm. “That part… just happened.”

“Mmm,” Flint hums softly, “he has that effect on certain men.”

“I suppose I am a certain man in that regard,” Silver looks up, shooting Flint the first open look across the table since Flint let go of his face earlier that evening. “I lacked the courage to approach you directly,” Silver says as his eyes fall to Flint’s lips. “I was a coward. But you already know that about me.”

Flint narrows his eyes. “A coward would have never darkened my doorstep at all. A coward wouldn’t have done a lot of things that I have seen you do with my own eyes.”

“That depends on the coward’s goals, I suppose,” Silver says with a crooked grin.

“Which brings us full circle back to…”

“Why am I here?”

“Quite.”

Silver breathes. His broad chest rises and falls like the waves. Flint remembers what it feels like to sleep with one’s head upon that chest, lulled by the sound of the pitter-patter of Silver’s restless heart. He remembers the feel of kisses underneath his earlobe, the curve of long fingers around his armpit. Long afternoons spent under the pitiless Caribbean sun, the way sweat trickled down Silver’s neck, and the taste of it upon Flint’s tongue.

“I wanted to see you once more,” Silver says. He is looking at Flint but his eyes are a faraway storm, they look like clouds about to burst. “I wanted to tell you… That I loved you. That I love you still. That I tore out my heart that day in the jungle. That you were right. That everything you foretold had come true.”

“I never wanted…” Flint interrupts him. “Your son.” Flint swallows. Silver’s fingers clench into a tight fist upon the tablecloth. “I never wanted that for you, John.”

“I’m so tired of losing people,” Silver says in a broken voice. He looks up at Flint again, “She told you about him?”

“She did.”

“Then she also told you his name?” Flint is silent. He lets the silence sit and grow between them, swelling like the tide. “It seems that I was never meant to hold on to even the smallest part of you,” Silver says. “I’m sorry about what passed between myself and Thomas. Only he loves you… and I… I think he understood me.”

Flint rises out of his chair and walks slowly over to where Silver is sitting. “I’m sorry about your boy,” he says.

“And I’m sorry I shot you,” Silver says, his eyes locking upon Flint’s.

It is a challenge that Flint allows to sit between them as well, like the swelling silence.

“I was sorry you misfired back then,” Flint admits. “But now… Now I think there was something providential in it. And I have no more regrets.”

“You’ve… been happy, then?” Silver asks softly. “He’s not at all what I pictured,” he adds, nodding towards the stairwell up which Thomas had disappeared earlier. “I often wondered… you and your lordling…”

“Silver…”

“He’s a piece of work, your Thomas Hamilton.”

“Watch yourself…”

“I like him.”

“Yeah, so I gathered.” Flint scratches the back of his head for lack of better things to do with his hands. “He… likes you too,” he adds, and again feels outnumbered, even though he’s alone with Silver around the table.

“He has very questionable tastes,” Silver offers with a small smile.

“So I keep telling him.”

“Listen, Captain,” Silver shifts in his chair. “Looming like this over me isn’t getting us anywhere. You’re either going to hit me or kiss me, so I suggest you make up your mind about which one you’re gonna do so we can get on with it.”

“If memory serves, you were never exactly an either/or kind of man in that regard.” Flint allows a smirk to curve in the corner of his mouth.

“If I like you enough,” Silver mutters, his eyes dropping back to the floor. “I turned myself inside out for you, Captain. Surely you didn’t think I was merely doing it for my own personal gain.” He mulls his next words over, his lips pucker as if the taste of those words is bitter on Silver’s tongue. “You loved your war more than you loved me.”

“I loved you as best I could at the time,” Flint says. “I’m sorry it wasn’t enough in the end.” He swallows around the wave of salt in his gullet. “I loved you more than the war, Silver. I loved you more than anything.”

“You… tried to kill me that day on the island,” Silver throws in Flint’s face. And Flint remembers it well. His body making the lunge at Silver. Throwing himself over the barrel of the gun.

“I tried to kill myself,” he admits. There’s another truth he can feed to the swelling silence.

Silver rises slowly out of his chair. The veins on his hands and forearms stand out prominently underneath his tanned skin as he leans heavily against his crutch. “To die rather than surrender,” Silver says, “you and Madi have always had that in common.”

“I had cut myself open for you,” Flint says and it feels like cutting himself open once more. Just one clean cut right down the middle. “You knew my Achilles’ Heel and you used it against me. You said he was alive and I no longer believed you.”

“I know you didn’t. You refused to speak a word to me the entire way to Georgia.”

“I thought we wanted the same thing,” Flint mutters.

“You wanted to die and I wanted you to live. Our desires could not have been more opposite.”

“I don’t suppose it matters now. You had told the truth about Thomas and here we are.”

“Here we are,” Silver echoes.

Flint wants very much to open his arms again and let Silver fall into them. He wants to run his fingers through those wild curls, now peppered with streaks of gray. He wants to press his lips against that hairline and kiss away the furrows between his brows.

“Would you like to see the garden?” he asks instead.

***

There is a bench underneath the magnolia tree that Flint had built with his own hands. They sit on it, side by side, Flint’s pinky touching Silver’s where their hands are barely connected as they rest against the warm wood.

“Could I…” Silver begins and stops suddenly, as if interrupted by the chirping of the cicadas. Flint brushes his foot against the bruised fallen petals of the magnolia flowers. “If I spoke, would I be permitted to finish?”

“Of course,” Flint says as he looks up to the upper floor of their cottage. Thomas still hasn’t put out the light and Flint is touched by this unassuming vigil. That was the thing about Thomas, no matter what happened between them, he’d always leave the candle in the window for him, to light his way home.

“When… Jamie died….” Flint doesn’t have to look to see the tears, he can hear them in Silver’s voice, even if they are unshed. “I felt like… I thought I would… But I didn’t.” Flint moves his hand, his pinky wraps slowly over the top of Silver’s, the rest of his fingers follow, slotting into the grooves between Silver’s knuckles. “And I asked myself - why? Why live? What more have I to live for?” Flint squeezes his hand around Silver’s, thumb brushing against thumb. Silver skin is warm, but otherwise his flesh is turned to stone beneath his touch. “Then I knew. So I’m here. And if it’s foolish to come here to lay my love at your feet after all that has passed, then let me be a fool. I never was very smart when it came to you, Captain.” Flint swallows and blinks. His own cheeks feel moist, as if sprinkled with dew. “Now you can curse me, hit me, tell me to go to Hell. It won’t matter. Because you’re alive and so am I, and I’m here to see that, so it must have all been worth it in some way, even if you can’t forgive me for it. Even if you can never love me back the way that you once did. But I had named the most precious thing in my life after you, so that must count for something, mustn’t it, Captain?”

***

Silver’s head is resting on Flint’s shoulder and his shirt is completely wet. Once, a very long time ago, he held Silver while he cried over Madi’s supposed death. Flint knows he will never be able to wear this shirt again without seeing in it an ocean of Silver’s grief. He wants to take it off and cradle that grief with his whole naked body.

“I could never get you completely out of my thoughts,” Flint confesses into Silver’s hair. His fingers squeeze gently around the top of Silver’s bicep, where the muscles of his left arm stand out more than on the right. “The memory of you was just an anvil that I carried in my heart.”

Silver’s head burrows into the curve of Flint’s neck. “What are we going to do now, Captain?”

“I think,” Flint murmurs into the curls that tickle his chin, “I’m going to have to kiss your tears away and put you to bed. I suspect things will make more sense in the morning.”

“You mean you’re going to ask Thomas what to do?” Silver looks up suddenly, colliding his nose with Flint’s and causing both men to gasp and then laugh. Even in the darkness of the starlit night, Flint can see how tear-swollen his eyes have become. Still, he suspects they had need of those tears, the both of them. He leans in and presses his lips to each eyelid in turn, he tastes the salt of Silver’s grief upon his tongue. And then Silver is turning his face up, higher, until their mouths meet, and he can taste tears upon his lips as well, only now they taste of the sea, and of dappled sunshine, and their first communion.

***

Flint makes sure that when Thomas wakes up, his scowling face is the first thing he sees.

“Jesus,” Thomas mumbles, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. “Did you ever go to bed?”

“I slept downstairs, on the sofa,” Flint snarls.

“What did you do to Yanis?”

“Please don’t call him that ridiculous thing.”

“It’s not my fault - he was the one who came up with that ludicrous nom de plume.” Thomas looks around, as if half-expecting to see Silver’s corpse at the foot of the bed. “Where is he?”

“Asleep in the guest room,” Flint responds and shifts from the chair to the mattress. It dips beneath his weight and somehow he’s trapped within the reach of Thomas’ incredibly long arms. One of Thomas’ hands immediately rests upon Flint’s upper thigh in a familiar yet territorial caress. “I didn’t think I should come to bed until you and I had a conversation, but you were already asleep when I came up.”

“On a scale from one to killing my father, how angry are you with me?” Thomas asks with a yawn that chills Flint almost as much as his tone while he speaks those words. Flint curses Stoicism to the deepest circle of Hell.

“Somewhere roughly… Vane taking the fort of Nassau levels of anger,” he finally concedes.

“That’s quite angry.”

“It’s not destruction of Charles Town angry.”

“Well… no. But…”

“You should have told me he was here, Thomas.”

“I did not know how you’d react. You never told me Madi wrote to you about…”

“That was private.”

“So was this.”

Flint snorts at that. “Did you think I would… what? Leave you and run off with him?”

“I considered that, yes,” Thomas cocks his head, watching Flint like a curious spaniel. “I also considered you running him off or even killing him. The truth is, I didn’t want to see either one of you hurt.”

“You wanted us both to yourself, is what you mean.”

“I never claimed to be a saint, James.” Thomas sits up, his hand slides up Flint’s thigh and rests there, far too familiar and much too warm. “And he made me feel things that I perhaps missed feeling. He ignited something in me. I imagine he ignited something in you too.”

“Yes, flames of rage.”

Thomas’ hand swoops into the groove between Flint’s thighs. “Surely, not only rage.”

“You’re incorrigible,” Flint bites his own lip as Thomas squeezes with his probing fingers.

“Did you tell him?”

“What?” Flint gasps out softly while Thomas drags the pad of his thumb along his hardening length.

“That you love him too. Did you tell him that?”

“Not in so many words,” Flint admits. “Not in the present tense, anyways.”

Thomas nuzzles along the side of Flint’s jaw. “I need to get to the schoolhouse.” He frees his hand from between Flint’s thighs like the downright bastard he is. “You should tell him. It would be foolish and rude of me to confess my own love for him before you.”

“Thomas, for fuck’s sakes,” Flint mutters. He knows there’s no arguing with Thomas when he gets a single minded idea into his head. “Think before you court disaster.”

“That beautiful man better still be here when I get back or I shall be quite cross with you.”

Flint hangs his head and takes a breath while Thomas pulls his clothes on and pushes open the window to allow birdsong in. This is the man he would burn the world for and all he’s asking for is for someone else to burn the world with. If Flint is the spark, then Silver is the pyre. Let them all burn.

***

“I see he left you in a bit of a state,” Silver says, his eyes fixed pointedly on Flint’s crotch.

“How do you know this is for him?” Flint squints, his fingers twitch to reach out and touch Silver, to brush stray curls away from his eyes as he lies on the bed in the guest room. He and Thomas had laughed when they bought the cottage, noting they really had no need for the guest room. Still, they had better get two rooms with two beds, since one never knew who’d have half a mind to pay them a nosey visit.

“I’ve gotten to know Thomas only a little, granted…”

“Stop talking.”

There’s fear in Silver’s eyes. Flint suspects he’s already mentally half way down the stairs when he finally reaches out to lay the flat of his palm against Silver’s neck.

“Just… don’t speak of him right now. Not right this moment.”

Silver leans into the touch and Flint allows his fingers to curl around the length of his neck. It fits into his hand as well as it ever did. He can’t wait to be pressing his mouth against those gloriously long sinews.

“If you want me to love you again,” Flint whispers, sinking down to his knees next to the bed, “I shall. Only please be more careful with my heart than you once were. It isn’t as strong as it used to be.”

Later on in that same room, with all of Silver’s limbs wrapped around his naked body, Flint finally allows the last ramparts of stone around his heart to crumble. He lets the sea in.

“Captain,” Silver’s voice is barely louder than a breath as he shudders and goes lax in Flint’s embrace. “James.”

They burn together. They still make a beautiful flame.

***

He’s here. He’s with me now. He’s going to help out at the bookseller’s. I want to think that I took your advice, that I was kind. But the truth is, we needed him as much as he needed us. And it was incredibly good to see him after so long. I only hope that one day I can see your face again as well. Until that day, I shall take great care to look after him.

Yours,

J.