Actions

Work Header

The Curious Incident of the John in the Night-Time

Chapter Text

All of the thanks to Iris (irisgoddess) for being my beta and my fandom-sister and for naming this work.

 


 

When he woke up that night, Argos wasn’t in the bed beside him as usual.

Flint had the habit of waking in the ungodly hours of the morning and finding the dog snuggled against him, hogging the bed that he was not allowed to be sleeping on, and so it was also something of a habit that Flint’s first words as he stirred awake were “Down , Gus.”

He swallowed the words and knit his brow in sleep-hazed confusion. The next step in the routine was to grab a tumbler and a bottle of whiskey and sit out on the back porch till morning – the dog must have beaten him to it.  

Flint passed through the hallway and the living room, the shadows of smiling faces in picture frames crowding against him and around him with suffocating nostalgia. He was out of clean glasses, so he forwent the unnecessary medium and tucked the bottle under his arm with a resigned sigh. Yes, Miranda, I’m probably an alcoholic by now.

He didn’t bother flicking the porch light on, just slid the glass door open and --

There were two dark shapes lying in the grass in front of his pitiful, abandoned herb garden. One was Argos, the big shaggy mutt unmistakable even in near-black night. The other was most definitely humanoid, and it was rubbing Argos’ belly and whispering something Flint couldn’t quite hear.

So much for getting a dog to help protect the house.  

The door had not exactly been silent, so for a moment Flint stood at the threshold wondering how long it would take for this intruder to notice him.

A small box of blue light waved around Argos’ face, glinting off of the tags on his collar. “Argos,” the intruder said with a disbelieving snort, mussing the fur on top of the dog’s head. “Your owner is a giant prick, then?”  

Flint cleared his throat.  

“fuckSHIT! ”  

The kid – because it had to be a kid – flinched up from his half-sprawl and flinched again with a breathy hiss and another stream of expletives.

Flint’s fingers twisted open the whiskey cap with practiced precision and he took a quick swig, leaning on the door frame and scowling into the dark.  

“Uh.”  

Argos was practically walking into the trespasser’s lap, trying to lick his face.  

“Look, sorry, I, just. It’s,” God, the kid was absolutely off his ass on something.  

The dog ran to Flint, now, wagging his tail as if to say Look what I found, Dad!  

It was the feel of the animal’s fur beneath his palm that made him see a bit of levity in the situation. He barked out a quiet laugh. “The fuck are you doing in my back garden?”  

“I wasn’t trying t’ rob you, I swear,” the figure scooted a few inches closer, but didn’t get up. “I just, it’s a long story. Ends with me walking to the tube station and then I saw your dog’s nose through the gap in the fence and --” his voice was growing more and more tired and more and more slurred.  

“And?”  

The guy answered by vomiting in his dead basil patch.  

Argos looked from Flint to the other man anxiously, and Flint gave the dog a good scratch behind the ears before leaving the whiskey on the sill and walking out into the garden.

“C’mon then,” Flint grunted, kneeling down to help the kid sit back up. There was a slight but unmistakable flinch as he did so that made him pull his hand away.

“Uh. Thanks.”

Vodka. Whiskey. And… Red Bull? Flint hoped that the only substances in his system were the ones he could smell on his breath.

A shadowy hand reached towards him in greeting. “John Silver.”

He shook the offered hand quickly. “Flint.”

Argos, who had been using these moments to assess the vomit and the state of his father’s plants, came back and flopped at John’s thigh.

“And you’ve met Gus.”

“Gus, now, is it? Much more fitting I’d say.”

“Everyone needs a nickname.” I wasn’t the one who named him, Flint’s treacherous thoughts tried to answer.

Flint couldn’t see the man’s face, but he had that prickly feeling of being heavily scrutinized. “Quite. Well.”

John Silver stood — tried to stand — but his leg buckled beneath him and Argos nearly didn’t have time to jump out of the way before Silver hit the ground with a thud and a pitiful oof.

Again, Flint felt the urge to help him up, but this time he offered a hand and let it hang in the air for a moment before Silver grabbed on, hauling himself up and around till he was sitting once more in the grass.

“Your leg okay?” Flint had noticed the preferential leaning in Silver’s movements, even through the wobble of drunkenness.

The kid just laughed, like the air was being punched out of him -- artless, mirthless. “Don’t worry about it.”

There was a short moment of pause as Silver reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone once more. As the screen lit up Flint caught sight of a broad, handsome face and long dark curls before Silver buried his face in his hand.

“What is it?”

The phone’s light disappeared into Silver’s pocket, but not before James (unintentionally, mind) saw the 3 unread messages icon on his lock screen. “It’s 2:06. Cab company stops taking calls at two.”

“Tube doesn’t run frequently at night, but it does run. That’s where you were headed…?”

Silver is leaning over Argos, burying both hands in the scruff of his neck. “I was never gonna make it to the station.”

“Too wasted?”

“Well, that. And there’s the issue of the sock.”

“...The sock?”

“That I left at my girlfriend’s place. When she pushed me into a cab and told the driver to take my drunk ass home.”

Flint knew he was missing something, here, but he’d been drunk enough times to know that explanations were not an intoxicated man’s strong suit. So he worked with what he was given. “Can you call her?”

Can and should are two very different things, Mr. Flint.”

“If the… sock is something you need, I think you should.”

“If I could talk to her without begging her to go against all of her goals in life and stay with me, I would.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, oh.”

“Hence. Ditching cabs. Midnight walks. Missing fucking socks.”

Crickets. Argos’ happy breathing.

“I could text or call her from your phone.”

Silver sighed nervously. “Then she’d come here and what, find out I stomped out of the cab like a brat two blocks away from her flat and puked in some guy’s backyard?”

Flint rolled his eyes. Was he this pitiful when he was drunk? He knew the answer was no, you’re worse, but moving swiftly the fuck along from that thought, he instead offered something else: “I could drive you to the tube.”

“Fuck, no, seriously, I’m sorry. I’ll just. I’ll be fine in a few minutes. I’ll be out of your h-”

Flint was already standing, offering a hand once more. “Get up then, you sad sack of shit, I have a fucking couch.”

Argos was up, licking his hand like there might be a treat in it. Silver was frozen, still facing the patch of grass Flint had been sitting on a moment ago. “You on anything right now besides alcohol? Have anything on you?”

The kid shook his head.

“Take the couch. Sober up. Catch the tube or call your girl in the morning. Don’t vomit on my carpet.”

Two more cricket chirps of silence. Then John’s strong right hand smacked into his own. “Deal.”

Flint pulled the kid up and helped him balance for a moment, thrown by how close he was standing to this stranger, flooded by a mixture of comfort and discomfort that he hadn’t felt before. He hadn’t met anyone new, at all, really, by design, really, since -- 

“I’m, uh… I’m going to need some help across the yard.” Silver’s voice was small and woefully embarrassed, but he sounded more sober than he had all night.

When Flint began moving them towards the back door, he realized that something was definitely very wrong with Silver’s left leg. He felt the other man’s shoulders tense and his breaths hitch every time he put pressure on it, even though on his left steps he nearly threw all of his weight onto Flint’s side. As they took the small step up to the porch, Flint tried to lift the kid’s body against his in as inconspicuous a way as possible.

As they made it inside and Flint clicked the living room light on, he got his first real look at John Silver. Dark curls, yes, broad pretty face, yes , and a lean, built frame dressed in a tee and old jeans. What had he said, about asking his girlfriend to choose him over her goals? Flint wasn’t sure he would have blamed her for saying yes.

Silver had propped himself up against an end table, swiveling his way around to get to the couch. His mouth was crooked into a -- damn it -- a little half-smile as he saw Flint for the first time as well. His girlfriend must have principles of fucking steel. No, diamond. No --

“Thanks, truly.” Silver dropped himself onto Flint’s couch, and Argos immediately jumped up with him. Flint reflexively began to tell the dog off, but the no-couch rule was really as effective as the no-bed rule.

“Welcome. I’ll, uh, I’ll get you a blanket. Bathroom’s through there.” Flint was down the hall before he realized that Silver probably couldn’t make it to the bathroom on his own, and he cursed himself. Real nice, James.

When he returned, Silver was laying with his head pillowed on his arms over the armrest, looking at the photo on the end table. Shit. Shit shit shit shit.

His footsteps gave him away, and Silver didn’t have the inhibitions to look sheepish as he was caught staring at a happy, younger James bookended by two happy smiling faces. A question formed in his mouth and Flint could see it, so,,

“I hope these will do okay,” he handed the blankets over and turned away, pretending to mess with the fan. When his cheeks cooled a bit he looked over his shoulder and asked, “Can I get you anything, uh, for your leg?”

Silver looked down at his hands. “Thanks again, but nah. Mixing poisons, and all that.”

Flint sighed. “I meant ice or a heating pad, dumbass.”

“Oh.”

Flint crossed his arms, waiting.

Silver bit his lip, rolled his eyes to the ceiling as if agonizing over two evils. “Maybe ice?”

With a nod, Flint headed towards the kitchen.

“Flint?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m not gonna have half a leg when you get back -- nngrh -- in here, fair warning.”

That explains things. “ ‘Kay then,” he called back, tossing ice cubes into a double layer of hand towels.

When he returned, Silver had divested himself of his jeans and his lower left leg. Flint tried to remain calm as he looked at the skin under Silver’s hands, red and maybe even bloody. Another detail came crashing into place.

“The sock.”

Silver half-smiled up at him again, but his lips were taught with pain. “Yeah, I was so off my ass I didn’t notice ‘til I got in the cab.”

“Fuck, kid.”

“I’m twenty-eight, Christ.”

Flint just sighed and left him with the ice, going back into the kitchen for his first aid kit.

The next twenty minutes were spent in a bit of an awkward silence. Flint had tried to sit on the coffee table and take over the operation, but Silver gave him such a withering look that he figured his options were let the kid treat himself or have the kid refuse any treatment at all.

So Flint settled in the armchair. Silver rooted around in the kit for alcohol wipes and bandages, and once the abrasions were dealt with he still had plenty of skin at the end of his leg that was rubbed raw and red.

Flint had been distracting Argos all this time, as the dog was very much convinced that he could play nurse. It took him a moment to realize Silver was trying to get his attention.

“Mn?”

“Cortisone cream?”

“Nah, sorry.” Flint frowned. Silver just shrugged, beginning to pack up the kit the way it used to be.

“Wait.”

Before he had even really thought about it, he was up and headed to the master bathroom.

“I have this?” he was sure the huge bottle of aloe vera after-sun gel preceded him into the room. “Dunno if it’ll help, but.”

Silver just stared with his mouth open for a half-second. Then he -- blushed? It was hard to tell on his tan complexion. “Should be great for now. I appreciate it.”

Flint settled back into his armchair and to his task of doting on the dog.

Then Silver started laughing under his breath.

“What?”

Silver was gently spreading the aloe on his leg, shaking his head trying to shake off the laughter.

“Something funny?”

He let himself really laugh, then, for a moment, and the sound was a shock to Flint’s system. A one-legged drunken Adonis was sitting on his couch, bouncing his ridiculous laugh off of his living room walls and making Flint feel like it was okay to smile.

“Jumbo-size aloe vera, huh?”

Flint hoped his entire face hadn’t gone red. “It’s a necessity for those of us who are ultraviolet-challenged.”

When Silver looked up at him, full-on one-hundred-percent smiling, Flint realized that the half-smile had not been Silver’s best look, it had been his I-know-the-world-can’t-handle-the-real-deal-all-the-time replacement.

And then Silver fucking spoke. “Well, you get the consolation of freckles. And great hair.”

You’re one to talk.

Flint suddenly felt much too hot, much too lost in all of this. The familiar band on his finger and the static gaze of the giddy couple in the photo on the mantle dropped him back into himself.

“...Flint?”

“Call out if you need anything. I’m calling it a night.”

Flint practically ran out of the room. At his bedroom door he paused before deciding to keep the door cracked for Gus, no matter how much he wanted to slam it and shut out the entire world.

The entire damn world that kept on going -- the life Flint had that just kept on going -- when his heart had been up in room 511 of St. Anne’s Memorial. A frustrated tear gathered in his eye as he buried his face in his pillows -- their pillows -- and he offered up a slew of old well-worn curses to the world.

“I miss you, Thomas,” he whispered, choking on his breaths, hating every single night of going to bed without him, because it never got easier, it never got any fucking easier. “Please, please wake up.”

 


(spoiler alert: he will)

Chapter Text

Silver woke to the sounds and smells of sizzling eggs on a skillet, assaulting his senses and turning his stomach. At least he had had that blissful moment of a perfectly normal hangover before the pain of his missing leg kicked into his consciousness.

The couch under him smelled home-y and faintly of a dog, and Silver’s memories of last night floated to him in no particular order. He leaned up and checked his phone -- one call, six messages from Madi. She must have been very worried if she had been willing to risk hearing his voice.

I’m okay, it’s sorted he typed out, sending it with a heavy sigh.

In an effort to forget his phone and his leg and the love of his life planning on leaving in three months for God-knows-where Dangerland, Silver found himself examining the photos in Flint’s living room.

He very much remembered the one he had focused on last night as a distraction from the pain. The man who had hauled him in from his backyard was smiling and clean-shaven, several years younger. He was cheek to cheek with a brunette woman and a blonde man, and Silver had remembered thinking that it looked like a fucking ad for something. Hair dye, a beach vacation, friends.

There were figures in suits in the pictures on the mantle, and Silver hadn’t noticed them before. Wedding photos, Flint and the blonde man. They stood at the altar in one, and in another Flint was dipping his newlywed in a kiss on a ballroom floor. The final photo was the blonde carrying Flint over the threshold of a house. Silver craned his neck to look around -- it had been this house.

Gus seemed to sense that his guest had woken up, and came bounding into the living room to say good morning.

“Hello, there, mate,” Silver whispered, not quite ready to announce his waking up. “Where’s your other dad, now?”

By the look of the ginger’s harrowed, hard expressions last night, this home was no longer one belonging to a happy couple. But the pictures had stayed up — why?

The dog tried to jump up next to him, but in his excitement the mutt jostled his leg and Silver couldn’t help but howl in pain, his entire body flinching and pushing Gus away.

The sounds of cooking stopped, and Silver counted to ten through the pain so that when Flint appeared in the entry between the kitchen and living room, Silver had on his best lopsided grin.

Neither of them said anything about his leg. Silver wished Flint would say something , instead of looking at him like he already knew that there was nothing he could offer, nothing he could say. It felt like a sort of un-earned intimacy to John, and it took effort not to let the smile go sour.

“...Fried some eggs, if you want it.”

John just shook his head, hoping the way his face went suddenly pale was enough of an explanation.

“Cereal, then?”

John considered his prosthetic for a moment. It’d be nice to not be stuck on this couch. It’d be nice if he had a complete left leg.

Flint grunted in response to his silence, and John wasn’t sure if that meant he was going to get cereal or he wasn’t.

Flint left the doorway, and Silver huffed into the smiling eyes of Beach-Model Flint.

“Don’t let Gus convince you he’s allowed on the couch,” the scruffier, sadder version called from the kitchen.

The circle of brown fur on the left cushion said otherwise, and Silver shrugged to the dog. Gus took the invitation for what it was and -- gingerly, this time -- jumped up beside him.

“Just make sure you jump down before he comes back, mate.”

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

JAMES FLINT MCGRAW HAMILTON! ” a commanding, feminine voice rang through the house from the other side of the front door. Gus yipped like a puppy and bounded towards the sound, his tail wagging his entire shaggy backside along with it.

Silver just barely heard Flint’s groan from the other room.

KNOCK KNOCK

What on EARTH do you need a crutch for?! If you fell on your arse last night in some sorry drunken ha--”

Flint had made his way to the door at this point, and Silver peeked over the back of the couch to get a look at the person who called Flint by his first name.

Beach Model Brunette.

Over Flint’s shoulder, Silver caught the relieved look in her eyes that he had seen in Madi’s own during bad weeks with his leg -- “good, he’s not hungover today”.

“Sorry I didn’t explain. It’s not for me.” Flint stepped aside to let her enter the house, and yes, there was a crutch tucked under one arm as she did her best to appease Gus’ enthusiastic hello. Silver took in her expensive clothes, shiny hair, and designer perfume before he registered the fact that if he could see her so clearly, she could definitely see his face over the side of the couch.

She caught his gaze for a moment, mouth open in what Silver instinctively knew was uncharacteristic speechlessness. Her head turned and cocked confusedly as she sought Flint’s explanation.

He shrugged, grunted.

So that treatment wasn’t just for trespassers, then. “Hello,” Silver nudged himself straighter to show more of his face, offering her a sweet, I definitely did not hook up with your boyfriend last night smile. “John Silver, at your service. Or, it would appear, the other way ‘round?”

She smiled back, and Silver wasn’t prepared for how comfortable she suddenly was in the situation. “Miranda, charmed I’m sure. I’m assuming this is for you, then?” She walked around to enter the living room fully, nearly tripping on his prosthetic as she did so. “Oh!”

“I wasn’t aware James had door-to-door medical supply delivery. Or such a fetching courier.”

“I wasn’t aware James allowed anyone as shamelessly flattering as you are onto his property,” her brow rose and she leaned the crutch against the coffee table, smirking devilishly at Silver and Flint in turns.

“I didn’t.”

Silver extended his wrists towards her in surrender. “I’m guilty, Madam, take me away.”

Her brow rose even higher. Before she could take his bait and return the banter, Flint scoffed and stepped close to her, lightly touching her arm to beg her attention.

“I need to drop him at his place before we go,” he said lightly, and Silver wondered at the way he seemed to be trying to hide the weight of the sentence. Silver wondered what made it so heavy.

The Brunette -- Miranda, she’d said -- obviously knew. “If it’s all the same to Mr. Silver, I could just as easily drive him and meet you there,” she spoke a bit louder than Flint had, trying to include John in the conversation.

“Mr. Silver is perfectly happy calling himself a cab, but he appreciates the offers.” Silently he tallied the fare. It would be just a twinge cheaper than the ride from Madi’s. He’s not sure how far he got last night with the short cab ride and agonizing walk combined, but he knew it couldn’t be much more than a kilometer or two. “If I could, uh, get the address?”

Flint tried to answer, but his lady-friend beat him to it. “Nonsense. If you live close by, it’s hardly any trouble at all, and if you live a ways away there’s no reason to pay a taxi driver when this fetching courier will do it for free?”

His host looked positively stricken with discomfort, and the gentle hand she placed on his tense shoulder did nothing to ease whatever storm was in Flint’s thoughts.

When Silver looked Miranda in the eye again, he realized she wasn’t just being kind. She wants to interrogate me , he realized in a flash. And possibly do away with me with no witnesses if she doesn’t like what she hears. He made himself smile bashfully as fear curled in his belly. “And here I was, thinking The Good Samaritan was just a story the nuns told us to distract from the fire and brimstone now and again, when in all of eight hours I seem to have found myself a pair.”

Miranda laughed at that, and Silver was sad that it did not last long. She was a force to be reckoned with. He wouldn’t be surprised if her profession was British Goddess. “And how exactly did you cross paths with my dear friend last night?”

At this, the dear friend in question sighed and walked towards the bedroom, grumbling something unintelligible and ornery under his breath. As he rounded the corner into the hallway he threw up a hand as if to say You two deserve each other .

“Don’t mind him,” Miranda shrugged, perching herself on the arm of the overstuffed chair to Silver’s right, “This is actually the most cheery I’ve seen him be in a while.”

Silver knew he should have a quip to fire back with, but he found himself preoccupied with concern for the, what? Divorcee? Widow? Flint. Damn it.

Miranda listened to his story, graciously neglecting to pry into his personal life and take more information than she was given. She and Silver had moved into the kitchen (after adjusting the height on the crutch) and Miranda poured him some corn flakes with domestic familiarity as he spun the pitiful yarn. Disagreement with girlfriend, alcohol, missing sock. She got basically the same info as Flint had, if Silver was remembering what he had said correctly. Unlike Flint, though (or again, maybe Silver couldn’t trust his memories very well) at each omission, each casual glossing-over of an explanation, her eyes narrowed for a shrewd, dissecting moment, and Silver knew he was being pinned down and scrutinized like a bug under a magnifying glass.

When Flint emerged from the bedroom, he was dressed in soft-looking grey slacks and a thin forest green jumper that was perhaps a bit tight around the shoulders. His beard had been trimmed and his hair was pulled back away from his face.

Damn.

Silver willed his jaw to stay precisely where it was, but in order to keep from dropping it wide open he needed to clench his teeth for a moment.

He felt Miranda stick another pin him with a knowing smirk.

He scarfed down the rest of his cornflakes with no small amount of anxiety.

The three of them made their way to Flint’s front drive, and Miranda’s car was exactly as showy and elegant as her clothes.

“Oh, James, before you go, do grab my gift for Charlotte out of the boot,” she opened her door and then turned to straighten Flint’s sweater seams. “The card is signed from both of us,” she added without an attempt to hide the slight accusation in the words. Once again, Flint was moved to sigh, actively trying to ignore the fact that this conversation was happening in front of his trespasser.

Silver ducked into the passenger side of the immaculate Bentley coupe as Flint went around to the back and got out said gift.

Miranda joined him, grinning that grin again. “He always forgets birthdays.”

The statement hung in the air as Flint drove off first, waving to Miranda as he pulled onto the street. She put the key in the ignition and the engine purred.

“So, where am I taking you, John?”

He rattled off his address and she typed it into her GPS, backing out of the driveway once she had some Etta James playing on low volume.

It was his turn to do some analyzing.

“How long have you and James been together?”

She laughed mid-hum, and paused her accompaniment to give him a quick once-over. “Depends on what you mean by together,” her eyes fixed comfortably on the road before them. “We haven’t fucked in years.”

John choked on his own air.

“James and I are family,” she continued, warm and wry. “That’s it, John, do breathe,” she teased.

“Has anyone ever told you you have a way with words?”

“Nearly everyone, dear. But it is nice to hear now and again.”

John geared up to fire back but she flipped the tables on him.

“How long have you and your girlfriend been together?”

Silver didn’t want to think about Madi right now. He felt himself spiraling into his feelings for her, his fears for her, his need for her, and he couldn’t deal with it at the moment in front of the poshest woman he had ever met. “Five months,” the words punched out of him with the power those months had had in his heart and soul.

Miranda saw it. “Doesn’t sound like long, but when you find the right person, it can be more than enough to know.”

Silver nodded. Madi was in his blood and bones, and he was in hers. But he didn’t know how to share anything properly, especially not himself. “Have you found the right person, yourself, then?”

Miranda did not respond, did not react until they got to a stoplight. When she turned to look him in the eyes, he suddenly felt young and small. “Depends on what you mean by the right person, dear.” The light turned, and the car roared forwards as the GPS woman’s voice spread out in the space between them. “I would say that I definitely have, more than once.”

He was treading in deeper waters than he should, so it was time to wade back. “I’d call that immensely lucky.” The lightness in his tone was a bit of an apology, and she took it as one.

“Indeed, Mr. Silver.”

When they arrived at the entrance to his building, Miranda got the crutch out from the back seat for him with no small amount of protest on his part. She handed him the crutch, then the prosthetic.

He looked down at his foot, feeling his cheeks reddening from all of the ridiculousness of his night and morning. “Thank you, Miranda, for the ride. Please tell Flint I’m sorry for all of this. I don’t think I told him that when I was sober.”

A hand grasped his shoulder for a moment. “He’s usually the one to show up at my place Saturday mornings, you know.” Her voice is soft, each word significant. “Banging on my door still half drunk worried that we’ll be late for visiting hours.”

Silver looked up at her at that, trying to read the context in her face. He found none, just a sweet, powerful, slight grin.

“But this morning he was sober, and not hungover, and the first thing on his mind was getting a strange dog-loving vagrant home safely. I won’t apologize on your behalf, Mr. Silver.”

He nodded. Resisted the urge to grin and pry. “Tell him thank you, then.”

The British Goddess gave him a nod in return. “I hope to see you around, John Silver.”

When she drove away and Silver made his way into the building and down his hall, he realized he had no way of returning the crutch to her. He had no way of seeing her or Flint ever again, really. They had been a welcome curiosity in much the same way Miranda seemed to see him, and losing them was a mocking echo of the loss he was trying not to face.

He locked the door behind him when he got into his flat and dropped himself on the couch. The urge to call and beg and wheedle and jab Madi into changing her mind hit him like a tidal wave, so he turned off his phone and chucked it across the room along with the crutch.


 

Flint felt the familiar tension build as all the rest of the uncertainty and oddness of the morning sped away with the neighborhood. He could deal with this tension, this excitement and mild horror at visiting Thomas washed over him every time he went to the hospital (three days during the week and most all of the weekend). He didn’t want to see Thomas lying in that bed, unresponsive, getting thinner and thinner as his muscles weakened before his eyes. But he needed to see Thomas breathing, feel the warmth of his pulse. If he did not have that, he felt he would not be able to breathe himself.

He almost forgot to grab the bright blue bag from the passenger side floor when he made it to St. Anne’s visitor lot. Charlotte really did deserve a gift from them; they couldn’t have asked for a more competent or caring head nurse for Thomas’ care. He peeked into the bag as he walked into the lobby. A small box of chocolates, an expensive-looking bubble bath, and a fat envelope which no doubt had a gift card to some not-too-posh extravagance that Miranda would not allow to be returned.

She would not be in today, as Saturdays were one of her days off, so when he got to the extended care floor he left it with the receptionist. She nodded him quickly away, both busy organizing her morning’s work and totally aware that Flint was never a man for small talk when he could otherwise be sitting at his husband’s bedside.

Flint knocked before entering 511, in case a nurse or doctor was with Thomas, and he was relieved to find that there was not. A piece of him clicked into place at the sight of his face, and that piece was in agony. But it was so much sweeter to feel it than to be so numbly, utterly alone.

“Morning, darling,” he murmured, smoothing Thomas’ hair and leaning down to kiss his forehead. He sat on the edge of the cot for a moment, holding his hand, taking breath after breath after breath.

When he felt the tears gathering, and the dark ugly thoughts brewing, he squeezed Thomas’ hand and shifted to sit at the chair by the side of the bed.

“We’re finally up to date with the new prizewinners,” his voice was a bit wobbly, but only Thomas could hear, and he had long since welcomed the man into the most vulnerable places in his heart. That was still true, no matter how much his husband’s mind was or was not aware of him, or the reason for his sadness. “See, I told you I wouldn’t let you get behind in your reading.”

They went back and forth from fiction to nonfiction award-winning works once James had read every one of Thomas’ favorites twice over. Miranda had been the one to suggest new material, seeing how despondent James had become at the length of time that had passed. “Do you remember the Somali pirates incident, about a year or so after we started dating? That journalist published his account of it, complete with --” he read from the back cover “-- ‘the economics and history of piracy; the effects of post-colonialism’ and ‘the politics of hostage negotiation and ransom’. I’m sure you’ll have a lot to say about it.”

Flint’s smile waned at the oh so familiar and oh so crushing silence. He cleared his throat and began with the dedication.

It was nearly an hour before Miranda peeked her head through the door, smiling at her McGraws as she stepped in and closed the door behind her. She carried with her two steaming to-go cups of coffee from her favorite little bistro, and Flint gratefully took his large Americano from her as he finished up the paragraph.

Miranda set her own coffee on the side table and did much the same as Flint had at first. She sat beside Thomas, holding one of his hands in hers and using the other to stroke his pale cheek. “It’s good to see you, dearest,” she whispered, kissing his knuckles and smiling at James. “Has James told you about his visitor last night?”

“It wasn’t like that ,” Flint blustered.

“A charming young man charmed his way onto yours and James’ couch last night.”

“He wasn’t very charming when he was pissed, I promise you.”

“We always knew you were a soft-hearted do-gooder,” she was trying to convince him, and had been for years. Thomas would have added in his assent, James knew, if he could.

He sighed and smiled in equal measure, putting the book aside to stand and kiss the crown of Miranda’s head. As he leaned away, Miranda reached for his hand.

That was all it took.

He leaned over her, wrapping her shoulders in his arms and pressing his forehead to her hair, letting himself lose a few familiar tears. Their hands were the ones that held two wedding rings each, one set of each pair given to them by Thomas, the others resting in temporary homes on Miranda’s thumb and James’ other ring finger. Thomas’ fingers had become too thin to keep them.

A nurse knocked and came in in the same second, and Flint flinched away from Miranda’s warmth as she fiddled with her now tear-sprinkled hairdo.

“Good morning, Mr. McGraw, Mrs. Barlow,” Nurse Hudson’s greeting, like her care, was straightforward and without much fuss. It had been months since she had been put on Thomas’ care rotation, and they still didn’t know her first name. “Just checking vitals.” It was a silent request for them to move away from the bed, which they did quickly.

Hudson, for all of her brusqueness, was quite gentle in the way she checked Thomas’ pulse, temperature, and pupil response. James always had to look away when the nurses and doctors did that. It wasn’t right to see his Thomas’ eyes so blank, so without.

After recording her measurements on a chart, and jotting down some information from the multitudes of machines whirring around Thomas’ form, she gave them a curt smile. “All regular. Have a nice visit.”

When the door closed behind her, Miranda handed James the book he had been reading. “Well then. Time we got back to it. You’ll have to catch me up on the introduction.”

He was so fucking thankful to have Miranda Barlow in his life. His smile said as much, and more. He scooted the chair even further towards Thomas’ bed so that he could lace his arm into Thomas’ as he cracked the book open and began reading once again.



Chapter Text

Silver tapped his foot under the table so hard his whole body vibrated; his coffee was sloshing around his fingers. Breathe in, breathe out. Don’t fuck this up.

There she was.

A rush of cool air followed Madi into the cafe, but it did little to sober his anxiety as she scanned the seats and found him. He waved her over, finally relaxing just the tiniest bit at her tentative smile.

“You got here early,” she took off her coat and Silver could smell the perfume from her favorite lotion. God, don’t fuck this up.

“I’m on my best behavior,” he let it be a joke if she wanted it to be, but her eyes -- warm and cold all at once -- took him in entirely, as always, and knew how deep the sincerity cut.

He followed her up to the counter to get himself a pastry, not knowing how much space to give her as they stood. He’d never been on the outs in a serious relationship before. He’d never been in a serious relationship, period.

He re-rolled the cuffs of his shirt as they waited in line. Her hair was different than it had been last week. He wondered if he was allowed to compliment her.

Just being around her was a kind of high like no other, and he was learning hard and learning fast that just because she had somehow chosen him (and chosen him again , in agreeing to meet up today) didn’t mean she belonged to him.

She ordered a cafe au lait , which gave him hope. Once she’d told him that Brits couldn’t make anything French to save their lives, but today she must have been feeling open to taking the chance. That was a good sign.

He watched her consider the pumpkin loaf before paying. He waited for her to start walking back to the table before he ordered a slice, nodding when the barista asked if he wanted it warmed up. Maybe he was above begging and pleading now, but he wasn’t above a little bit of buttering up.

Madi was drumming her fingers on the edge of the table when he got back, unaware. He didn’t want her to be nervous too. She had nothing to be nervous about, unless she was planning on telling him it was over.

He slid into his chair and leaned his head down to catch her eyes. “Thank you.” He wanted to reach for her jittery hand, but didn’t. “For saying you’d meet me.”

The barista brought her her cafe au lait and she thanked him absently.

“I -- wasn’t sure if this was a good idea.”

Silver gulped, and tried to hide it with his coffee mug held out in front of his face. He waited.

“I’m not going to change my mind about my work.”

Silver’s eyes deadened a bit at the mention of her trip. He couldn’t understand. Isn’t love supposed to be the most important thing? He’d thought it was bullshit his entire life, and now that he had it, the rules were all different than they were supposed to be.

Maybe she didn’t feel the same wa--

“But I don’t want to lose you, John Silver.”

She reached for his hand as he lowered his cup, and life returned to his eyes. “You…”

“If you can accept me. If you can accept -- this,” were her eyes wet? How could she ever fucking doubt?

He held her hand in both of his own and his throat was closing around disbelieving tears. So he just nodded, and saw her sigh in relief, and then his voice worked again. “I don’t want to be an arse. I don’t want to treat you the way I treated you these past few weeks. I’m trying --”

The pumpkin bread came, the barista quickly walking away from the tense privacy of the moment.

Madi laughed as she saw what was on the plate.

“I don’t know how to do the right thing. And you deserve the right thing, nothing less. So… If you’re willing. I’m a work in progress, I know. It’s not an excuse, I’m just. Madi, I --”

His girl was smiling down at the table, wiping her eye. “You hate pumpkin.”

He shrugged, squeezing a little tighter on her hand in his. “I love you.”

It was difficult when he’d first known her to read the expressions on her face, they’d seemed as varying and as soft as stone. But now he knew just by looking that her cheeks were warming, and she was smiling with the glint in her eyes. He remembered how utterly wrecked he’d been the first time he’d seen her fully smile.

One of his hands returned to his latte, the other rested with hers on the table. She pulled a corner off of the pumpkin bread and popped it in her mouth, leaning back in her seat as the tension fully fell from her shoulders.

“This coffee is terrible.”

John’s grin went giddy. He knew the translation of that by the twitch in her lip, the hitch of her brow. I love you too, John Silver.






The cement was drying, the cabinets finished, and the damn wall was still up. The building inspector hadn’t been able to make his appointment today, which would set back the job at least half a week.

Flint had everyone packing up to head home a few hours early when he walked into the half-finished living room to see Billy Manderly upset about something.

Flint had never seen Billy shaken, not in the four years the kid had been working for him.

“How long ago was it since he last saw her?” He was on the phone, pacing around on the drop cloth. “Okay. Okay. I need to call Ben to see if he can ask off his shift. ...I know. I can taxi if I have to… Yeah, fuck that damn cat. Thanks, John.”

Billy hadn’t even noticed Flint was in the room.

“Everything okay?”

For a moment Billy seemed confused about the question, which made Flint feel the smallest bit guilty for how he treats his employees.

“Hal’s brother’s cat went missing. You- you know-?”

Flint nodded. Billy’s de facto father was one of his few friends on this earth. He had heard about Randall Gates’ injury, though he hadn’t heard about a cat. “Was that who you were talking to on the phone?”

“Nah, he has a caretaker across the hall. Checks on him on days when Hal is out on the bay.” Billy sighed. “We can’t leave Randall alone right now with the state he’s in, that monster is his whole world, which means looking for her is a two-man job.”

Flint sighed. “You want a lift, then?”

Billy definitely had the look of a man who wasn’t entirely certain he was experiencing reality. Another one of the crew walked past, grunting a goodbye, and Flint returned it as he waited for his friend’s son-giant to remember how to speak again.

“Yeah, er, yeah. Thanks, Flint.”

Flint shrugged his head towards the door. “Let’s go then.”

      

 

Flint had underestimated just how awkward a drive with Billy Manderly would be.

The young man positively dwarfed the passenger seat, despite Flint’s car being perfectly normal in size. When he wasn’t staring out the front window with his hands un-casually resting in his lap, he was texting furiously with who Flint assumed was Randall’s caretaker.

“...So-“ Flint began, trying his best at the start of employee-appropriate small-talk. When the fuck was the last time you made small-talk? 2015?

Billy’s gigantic blue eyes flitted to and away from him for a few moments as Flint struggled to come up with an actual statement.

“A left here?” he asked finally, far too late for it to have been intentional.

Billy nodded. “It’s on the first floor, this corner up on the right.”

Flint pulled into a visitor space and let Billy lead them to the flat door. What he was least expecting out of all possible, probable, or nigh on uncanny fucking coincidences was for John Silver to open that door.

“Thank fuck you’re h-Hi.”

Flint sucked in a breath of fresh I-guess-this-shit-is-happening air. “...Hi.”

Billy’s day was just getting weirder.

 

 

So maybe Silver had been wrong about no man being sexier than James Flint in a jumper and slacks with hair neatly pulled partly up, because James Flint in a paint-stained tee and beat-all-to-hell carpenter’s trousers plus a sweaty disheveled ponytail was absolutely overwhelming.

And a wedding ring. Find a place to shove your YMCA gaystravaganza fever dreams and forget about them.

Billy Bones to the fucking rescue. “You two know each other?”

Silver opened his mouth to speak. Damn Flint’s eyes were green.

“You know what, I don’t need to know. Randall?” Billy shoved past Silver and Silver followed him into the flat, shrugging an invitation over to Flint as he turned from the door.

“Billy? Billy! Betsy’s scarpered!”

“I know, I know, Randall. Silver told me. We’re gonna find her, yeah? We’ll have ‘er home in time for Catchphrase.”

Billy gave Silver a look that said you’d better not make me a liar.

“Right! Off to the trail, then.” Silver gave Randall a light pat on the shoulder and turned to Flint. “Fancy a hunt for some kitty?” Maybe adding the wink was too much, but so was John Silver.

“Not as a general rule,” Silver wasn’t prepared for how quick and natural the reply came from the gruff, serious man. “But I’ll give it a try today, why not.”

Was that… a smile? The tips of Flint’s lips just barely hinted upwards, and his green, green eyes narrowed merrily, conspiratorially. The man was standing three feet away from him but Silver felt like this smile was its own sort of closeness. He found himself grinning thoughtlessly back, and when he realized himself he quickly darted towards the door.

Silver gulped. “Right,” he said again, waving a goodbye to Billy and Randall and leading Flint out into the breezeway.

Then they were alone. Flint’s hands were in his pockets; he scanned the hall with a scientific scrutiny. “Want to check back that way?” he tilted his head in the direction that led further into the flat complex, away from the street. “I’m guessing the bins or some bushes are there?”

Silver nodded. “Did Billy tell you I live across the hall?”

Flint grunted in affirmation. Silver found that he didn’t mind so much at the brevity of the reply.

“Been looking after Randall for at least a year now. He got on all right before he lost the leg, you know. But what a fucking stroke of bad luck.”

Both men found themselves achingly curious after that last sentence, fighting the urge to face the other and ask about the leg, or the booze and the beach photo.

Flint tried not to notice the barely-there hitch in John’s left steps, the way he moved so fluidly except in that split second, the way he made it look like part of the natural alluring sway of his hips.

Silver kept hearing Miranda’s voice in his head “ -- worried we’ll be late for visiting hours.

The pitiful courtyard in the center of the complex was enough to distract the both of them, though, as it boasted an array of dying bushes and concrete corners for critters and critter-hunters to hide themselves in.

“What color’s the cat?” Flint asked, kneeling down to look under a patch of hedge.

“Mostly white, with gray tabby splotches. Cute little mouser. Found her?”

Flint stood and shook his head, reaching up to re-tie his hair. “If she’s been gone for hours, she could be-”

“I will not accept defeat on this, Flint. I may be Randall’s day nurse but that cat is his live-in. She bunks off, she leaves me with twice the work.”

“I was gonna say she could be at the pound or on her way back home for dinner,” Flint says after a snort of a laugh.

Silver took in his logic for a moment with an incredulous, growing smile. “Let the kitty come to you, eh? Always a solid strategy.”

It looked like Silver was about to wink again, so with a roll of his eyes Flint made himself busy looking around a corner. When he turned back, Silver had his mobile to his ear. “Yes, hello, I’m looking for a friend’s cat. Has a splotchy white nuisance with great bone structure and a penchant for hair elastics come in this afternoon? ...No, no collar… ‘ chip ’? ...You can do that now? Well. Thanks anyway. Call me if any short-haired ladies come through your establishment without ID. My number is --”

After Silver ends the call, Flint is prepared to ask something practical like when does the cat eat dinner? or We could check the bins now if you like? but what comes out is “S’good to see you -- you know, up and. Not hammered.” Walking. Smiling. Silver-ing.

Silver shrugs, suddenly unable to meet his eyes. They both find themselves a patch of paved walkway that is of particular captivating interest. “How’s Gus doing?”

“He hasn’t gone and found himself a new vagrant to tussle with, if that’s what you mean.”

“That’s good. I thought I was special.”

“Yeah.”

“...Hey, I -- I want to return that crutch to Miranda. Since you’re here. If you could take it before you leave?” that wasn’t the question Silver had begun to ask, but he had fucking chickened out. And he really didn’t need three crutches.

Flint grunted again in assent.

The next moments stretch as they wandered around the complex, unsuccessful. Dusk began to fall, and Silver needed the cooling air against him to snap him out of lamentations of Flint’s hair and eyes in the sunlight.

“Here, Betsy girl,” Silver called in various pitches and attitudes as they did a second circuit of the block. “I know you’ve got a can of tuna waiting for you if you get your furry arse back home!”

Flint’s approach was a bit more tactical. He would wander a ways away from Silver, quietly approaching corners and peeking under and around with a catlike stealth in his own right.

As they passed back into the main courtyard, fat drops of rain began to dot the pavement. Flint huffed, looking up at the sky, and Silver was about to suggest calling the pound again when Flint grabbed his arm and pointed to the roof.

Betsy the cat was having a nap under the eaves of the third floor flats. Situated as she was on the roof of the second floor, she was nearly entirely unperturbed by the downpour. Only the agitated flicks of the tip of her splotchy tail belied her annoyance at the weather. And there was no fat chance in hell that she was going to come down any sooner than she herself intended.

Silver couldn’t hold back an unattractive snort — but then Flint was making some sort of honking noise that bubbled into laughter and Flint was holding his upper arm and goddamn it felt good to laugh with another person like this.

“How did she even get up there?” Silver finally asked as they sloshed back to the safety a covered walkway.

Flint’s hair looked dark brown when it was wet, but his beard was still an orangey rust. “Drain pipe? Garbage bins? Window sills?”

“Cats are terrifying!”

Flint just smiled, wry and dotted with rain. They made their way back to Randall’s apartment. Silver knocked loudly before barging in, “She’s fine, Randall! Your little lady was napping on the roof all afternoon.”

“Thank Christ, ” Billy swore and clapped Silver on the shoulder. Randall was got his crutch up underneath him to join them in the foyer.

“She may come down soon now that it’s raining.” Flint shrugged. “But it’s anybody’s guess. We could try to get her attention with food.”

“She ain’t stuck up there, is she?”

“Nah mate,” Silver smiled, “I’m sure she has five different ways she can get back down. And she won’t be even a bit sorry for worrying you half to death.”

“That’s my girl,” Randall grumbled, woeful and relieved at once.

Silver never stopped moving once he came inside, ducking into a room off the hall and coming back with a sheepish expression. “I was gonna do the laundry tonight, no clean towels. I’ve got some at mine? Billy!”

“Yeah?”

Silver started moving back towards the front door, pulling it open as he spoke. “I’m gonna dry off then when it’s not pouring we can go out and--”

“Mrrawu!

“There you are, Miss!”

Betsy darted inside with an extended whining meow, jumping into Randall’s lap and shaking her fur out on his clothes.

Billy thanked Christ under his breath. “We’re getting that cat chipped. Thanks, Silver! And thank you, Flint.”

Silver said “Thank the rain” at the same time Flint said “You’re welcome”. They fled the awkwardness out of the flat and straight across the hall.

Miranda’s crutch was leaning up against the wall right next to the door as they walked in. The apartment was a mirror of Randall’s, and Silver made a similar trek through a similar hall presumably to return with clean towels.

Flint stood slowly dripping in the entry, not at all surprised at the strewn clothes and occasionally dirty dishes lying around in the living room. What he hadn’t expected was the stack of used books on the coffee table (hiding under a wrinkled black tee) and the complete lack of decor. It looked like the uni apartment of a starving Liberal Arts major, minus the cheap Klimt and Van Gogh posters.

He just noticed the bra on the couch when Silver came back with a clean, folded towel. “Sorry the place is a mess,” he said before ducking beneath the towel and wringing out his hair. When he reemerged, his hair tie had sprung loose and his curls were starting to frizz.

Flint hadn’t realized he had stopped, staring, and just as Silver was about to say something he tried to save himself. “So, you’re a nurse?”

Silver laughed that laugh. “I’m whatever pays the bills. Here, look,” he pulled out his phone, swiping to a page half-full of apps. “All of these are person-to-person task or commission marketplaces.”

Flint recognized maybe one of them. Some of his crew had asked if they could take on odd carpentry and installation jobs like this. Flint had shrugged and grunted and told them if it was a big job, they knew who to refer the client to. “You do all of these?”

“Some of ‘em aren’t very lucrative. But yeah.”

“That your girlfriend, then?” Flint tried to ask it delicately, but seeing as she was still his background photo he assumed things weren’t too dire. She was gorgeous, like Silver, smiling wryly at the camera with her face in her hand.

Silver blushed, turning the phone back to look at the photo despite seeing it dozens of times a day. “Yeah, Madi. I’m trying not to fuck it all up. Might be working.”

“Looks like it’s working,” Flint nodded to the couch, and Silver huffed a breathy laugh.

“... Yeah. ” Silver settled the towel around his shoulders, a little flustered.

“Hey.” Flint didn’t like the tense worry in Silver’s face. So he spoke without really realizing. “You sure it’s okay?”

Silver opened his mouth, closed it. Sighed. “I’m fucking terrified she’ll leave and not come back. Or come back and not want to be together.”

“Work trip?”

Flint didn’t realize how loaded that question had been, apparently, because Silver fidgeted and looked away and said “Of a sort.”

“How long would she be gone?”

Silver seemed to deflate as he spoke. “Three months at the least.”

Flint was momentarily overcome with vicious jealousy. What I wouldn’t give to have him back after just THREE MONTHS. He swallowed the rage. Silver didn’t deserve that.

“I don’t know how I’m supposed to wait.” He said it softly, and Flint still hadn’t left that place in him that was saying Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas , and he wondered what it would have been like to see loss coming. To see the wait coming. And not be able to stop it.

“You love her, yeah?”

Silver nodded.

“You can do it.” Flint realized they were still standing in the entry, and he wondered how the hell he was talking about feelings with a near-stranger while totally sober. He turned and grabbed the crutch at the door. “I should get back. Feed the mutt.”

“Give him my regards,” John Silver’s trying-to-smile smile nearly broke Flint’s heart.

“Here.” Flint was fishing through his pocket before he could tell himself not to, and handing Silver a card. “Before you go on another bender or make an arse out of yourself or trespass on private property. If you want. I’ll pick up.”

Flint Design and Construction ,” Silver read, the smile coming a little easier.

Flint handed back his towel, and he wasn’t the least surprised that it got tossed over the back of the couch. “I’ll also pick up if there’s a shelving emergency.”

“Good to know,” it was so easy to return Silver’s smile.

“Well.” Flint didn’t know how to leave. Silver was looking down at the card, running his thumb over the dried ink. “I--”

“Should get back, yeah. Y’know what, just a second,” Silver hurried to the kitchen and came back with a plastic baggie of dog treats. “I usually use these to bribe my dogsitting charges. Gus deserves a little thank-you for taking care of me that night.”

A tense, tight atmosphere bubbled around them as James took the bag. Silver wasn’t meeting his eyes. I’m glad your drunk ass chose my garden to collapse in that night , he wanted to say. Instead he shrugged a silent goodbye, pocketed the bag of treats, and left.

Chapter Text

The first time John Silver called James Flint, it was because Madi had dared him to buy a Förevändning.

“If you’re so worried, you should see him again.”

“I tell you I’m terrified that I’m crushing on someone because I can’t commit and I want to make you jealous, and you think I should call him up for a construction date?”

“He did offer.”

Silver stared, incredulous.

Madi propped her head up on her elbow, turning to face him. “You say that you’re terrified. When you, John, are terrified of something you are feeling, it’s usually not because it’s a bad thing.”

He looked away. She kept going, because he obviously didn’t want to go there himself.

“It’s just because you’re terrified.”

John fascinated his gaze on her feet in his lap, toes painted blue. “And you’re... okay with this?”

She sat up and scooted across the couch cushions so that their faces were close. He still did not look at her, so her nose rested against his cheek. “I didn’t know I was okay with it until I heard you talk about him.”

He could hear her smile. He leaned against her cheek, now, as her hand wove into his hair and settled against his scalp. “Yeah?”

Her perfect lips just barely brushed against his jaw. “Yes.”

He wrapped an arm around her, blushing warm in his cheeks; pulling her tight and kissing her lips, her jaw, her neck before he leaned a bit forward to consider the laptop open on the coffee table before them. “A… Foor-a-vahd-ning, then?”

Madi nodded, shifting her legs off of his lap and leaning her head on his shoulder. Her hand was still anchored in his curls. “Mmmmhm.”

 


 

 

Hey, Flint. It’s Silver. I, uh. I hope your offer earlier wasn’t a joke because I’m up to my ears in screws and planks and L-wrenches right now. Pizza and beers in exchange for my rescue?”

James chuckled despite himself. The call had come in at 6:05, and he’d ignored the strange number in favor of finishing the chapter he and Thomas had been on. When visiting hours ended and he listened to the message, pangs of amusement and shame hit at precisely the same time. You said you’d answer, he reminded himself. What if it had been an emergency?

It hadn’t occurred to Flint that he shouldn’t have made such an offer to someone who didn’t know his situation, didn’t know that such a statement would have to come second to Thomas. But he smiled in relief at the lightness of the message, and nerves bounced in his chest and belly at the thought of taking Silver up on his offer. He’d never wanted to be close to someone new since the crash. The world without Thomas had been shades of gray save for Miranda, for Gates, even Billy on rare occasions. They had known him before, they had known Thomas, and they were safe.

John Silver was the opposite of safe . But somehow Flint found himself sitting in his car in the hospital parking lot, saving Silver’s number under Little Shit and pressing the tempting dial button when he was done.

“Hullo?”

“It’s Flint. Sorry I didn’t answer earlier.”

“Oh! No, no worries, I didn’t think --”

“Offer still open?”

There was silence for a moment, Flint smiled as he tried to imagine the look on Silver’s face. “Fuck. Yeah! Yeah, absolutely. Shit. Thanks, Flint. It’s a huge help. You really don’t have --”

“Pepperoni and mushroom. And the beer better not be American.”

That earned him a laugh. “‘Course not. You remember the address?”

“Yea.”

“My hero. See you soon.”

When John opened the door, Flint was unprepared for the sight of him with his hair tied in a messy lump on the top of his head.

“Thank God you’re here,” Silver smiled, turning aside to welcome him past the threshold. “Pizza’s on the way.”

Silver’s coffee table had been pushed flush against the wall and his couch had been shoved at an odd angle to accommodate the piles of hardware and plywood and a box of half-eaten cinnamon rolls.

“Ikea?” James gave Silver a judging look, and was a bit surprised that he actually looked remorseful.

“It’s cheap.”

Yeah.

Flint sat himself down on the floor and grabbed a cold pastry. “Consider this an added fee for having to work with your shoddy materials. Toolbox?”

Silver slowly lowered himself to sit beside Flint, and for a moment Flint had forgotten why he needed to be so careful. “...The instructions seem to indicate that all we need are these…” he raked his fingers through the screws and bolts until he found two L-wrenches of different sizes.

Flint stroked his beard. To ground himself. So that he wouldn’t knock Silver upside the head. Silver sucked his lips between his teeth, still holding the wrenches outstretched, hopeful and more than a little bit pitiful.

Sighing, Flint took the tiny tools in one hand and pulled the box of cinnamon rolls closer to his side with the other. “The added fee has doubled.”

Silver just watched him finish the first roll and grab the next, a slow smile spreading and replacing the apprehension. “You have a fucking sweet tooth, don’t you?”

“Nah,” Flint said, still chewing.

“You do!

“Where are the instructions…”

“Right here, sweetie .”

It felt so natural to shove the little shit to the side with his shoulder as he took the paper. Silver’s ears were a distracting bright red. Flint rolled the L-wrenches in his hands as he looked over the diagrams and the plywood before him, the second pastry half-eaten and stowed back in the box.

“This is gonna be a big shelf,” Flint didn’t ask what the hell are you going to put on it, all twelve of your personal items?

Silver understood the question anyway. “I got a gig with an old lady organizing her attic, I get to take any books from her husband’s library that she doesn’t want.”

“I hope he had good taste,” Flint grabbed the first few pieces and began sorting through the packet of screws.

“Oh, it’s these--” Silver reached in and when Flint tried to pull back to give him space (he did not flinch), the bag ripped and approximately fifty million little metal screws and wooden dowels rolled onto the floor and into their laps.

One of the tiny dowels was light enough to lodge in Silver’s hair, and Flint couldn’t help but laugh.

“SHITDANGED ARSE- what? What!”

Flint pointed to the dowel just as the doorbell rang and Silver let out another spew of hushed curses.

Silver stood and scooped up a pile of bills on the counter before opening the door and paying for their pizza. He set it down on the card table in the corner of the kitchen and walked back out to the living room, shaking out his hair with a sheepish expression. “Let’s eat. Careful not to uh. Trip.”

The pizza was good. The friendly-but-charged silence was better.

Once Flint had made a note of the pizza joint Silver had ordered from and Silver was clearing the box and empty beers from the table, the two went off to separate corners for a moment. Silver to the kitchen sink, Flint to the pile of shelf.

“You want another beer?” Silver didn’t have to speak loudly for his voice to carry over such a small space.

“Sure.”

“...Can I ask you a question?”

Flint’s left hand tightened against the plank he was leveling, the silver and gold rings on his finger cutting comfortingly against his skin. “Yea.”

“Is it… a good sign, or a bad one… when uh. When a partner says you can see other people.”

Oh. James huffed. “Depends.”

Silver huffed back, finding himself a little square of empty space to sit in a few feet away. They leaned for each other so Silver could hand off the bottle.

“Seriously. Depends on if it’s out of love or out of something else.”

“What step are you on?”

“Four,” Flint pointed to the diagram, and then to the little pile he’d made. “Can you get me piece F?”

Silver scooted a bit closer and began rifling through the stack. “She said she wasn- wouldn’t. Be upset if I started seeing someone else.”

“Does she want to see other people too?”

Silver’s eyes went wide. “I uh. I don’t know.”

Flint stopped working once he had enough screws in place to hold the joints together. He set the terrible pieces back on the ground and fought to catch Silver’s unfocused eyes. “Silver. Fuck, I didn’t mean to scare you. Just wondering why she wanted to tell you that now.”

Silver shrugged and looked away. “Nevermind it, I don’t have nice enough booze to compensate you for construction and therapy.”

Flint found himself surprised that he hadn’t minded at all. That he cared. He joined two planks together and as he tightened the bolt against the nut with that tiny wrench, words punctuated every twist. “You’re spooked ‘cuz she’s leaving. Maybe she’s trying to make it easier for you. Telling you she doesn’t mind.”

Silver mmn ’d, handing him the piece marked F. Then he leaned back, looking up at the ceiling as he took a long swig.

The shelf was half-done before they said anything other than ‘No, 9 not 6’ or ‘the fat screws, not the long skinnies. Four of ‘em’. But a hurricane was brewing as the structure grew in size and complexity.

“I’m telling you it’s fucking upside-down!

“This piece is upside down. D. All of the rest are fine!

“No, D is right-side up and we fucked the whole rest of it up!”

“Look, here-”

“If you show me the goddamned instructions again I will find a way to keelhaul you against this apartment complex!”

“That’d be very difficu-”

“Fuck you and your D! God, do you know how infuriating you are?! Just because you’re a sexy gin-”

The shelf, when complete, was supposed to be two and a half meters tall, which was about where Flint’s eyebrows had jumped to.

“I mean. Well. Fuck.”

Flint wasn’t saying anything, though the firm set of his lips was enough for Silver to see just how much he’d fucked up.

“Look. I - I was - I wanted to know, uh. I know you wear a ring so. Not trying to. Um. Shit, this was a bad idea. Can we just. I can finish the shelf -”

Flint was rolling an L-wrench in his hands, his brows falling slowly back to normal heights. “...I’m married.”

Silver sighed out a long heavy breath, sending the hair that had fallen from the tie out of his face for a moment. Head bowed, he walked over to the couch and slumped down. “I really, uh, I mean Madi was the one who convinced me to. Not that I don’t-- at least I think -- But it doesn’t matter. I get it, sorry I made things weird.”

Flint, surprisingly, matched his sigh and his slump, collapsing on the polar opposite end of the small couch. “Thomas didn’t believe in exclusivity.”

Thomas , Silver breathlessly rolled the name over his mind as he looked away, matching it to the blonde hair and the blinding smile in those photos. “But you do?”

There was a barely-there pained grunt from the other side of the couch. Silver’s embarrassment and hurt disappeared for a moment, replaced by the urge to soothe Flint in any way he could.

“Theoretically, nah. I just.”

“...just.”

Silver heard Flint shift, felt the pressure in the cushions, and when he turned to sneak a look he found that Flint was facing him. Silver mirrored him, gently catching his eyes and seeing in them the kind of fear and hurt that wild animals had when threatened. He’d dealt with dogs, cats, birds, lizards, snakes and a capybara in his two years on SitterCity (including all of their owners, who were even more finicky than his charges), but never a… widower?

“He’d tell me I was an idiot for thinking this, but.” There was a tiny sad smile on his lips and Silver wished he could kiss it till it bloomed and lost its pain. “When he… When he wakes up, I don’t want him to have missed. Missed out on a part of our life.”

Not a widower. Hospital visiting hours.

“Shit,” Silver whispered, hoping his face conveyed the sympathy he felt and none of the selfishness.

“Yeah.”

“How…” Silver didn’t know how to ask.

“A year. And ten months.” Flint ran his hands through his hair, and the half-pony fell free. “After three weeks he was healed enough for them to wake him up. But he -- he didn’t.”

“And you’ve just been. Stopped.” Silver didn’t judge him. He hoped Flint knew that he didn’t (was trying so hard not to) judge him.

“Miranda says so.” Flint’s head had been in his hands, and when his face lifted Silver saw how red his eyes were, and the wetness on his cheek.

Silver reached for his hand before it settled again. “That fucking sucks.”

Flint gripped his hand lightly in his own, using the free one to wipe his face. When he found Silver’s gaze again, he was smiling just so faintly. “Yeah.”

Silver kicked the shelf-in-progress with the tip of his toe, anxious but grateful for the silence.

Eventually Flint slid down the couch and returned to constructing, shrugging Silver down to join him. “You really don’t have to--”

“Shut the fuck up, Romeo.”

There was another tiny smile on Flint’s face, or maybe Silver was just imagining it. He took the instructions that were offered to him, a bit stunned, and after a lot of soul-searching realized that Flint had been right: D had been upside-down, and landlocked keelhauling ultimatum had been a bit of an overreaction.

When the shelf was finished, they slid it to the corner near the window. Silver went to his room and put three books on the center section. Murder on the Orient Express, The Annotated Prison Writings of Oscar Wilde, and Othello , all in various states of care. Flint grunted at the picture they made, huffing when they slid to lay flat for lack of any peers. Silver couldn’t quite tell if he approved of the selection (they were the only three he could find on short notice, not that he owned many more to speak of. His secondhand store bought back copies at a pretty good rate if he brought them in the same condition).

“Sorry about, well. You know. Me. The Shelf Scheme.” Silver gathered trash from the packaging.

Another grunt. Nonverbal linguistics of the depressed-as-shit architect: a study in James Flint.

Flint had his coat on and his hair re-tied and was standing at the door before he finally said something. Silver braced himself as he saw the intake of breath, the parted lips --

“‘Bye, Silver.”

Oh. “Bye, Flint.” Silver’s smile was polite and entirely fake. Flint knew it. They nodded to each other, and when the door closed, Silver sat down on his couch and collapsed into the pathetic puddle of bisexual distress he’d been trying and failing to hide all evening.




10:46 AM Silver: 1 Image Attachment

11:01 AM Flint: Looks good

11:04 AM Silver: Silver: The old man had really great taste. But he seemed to have stopped collecting in the 70’s.

11:04 AM Flint: Vintage.

11:05 AM Silver: is this weird

11:05 AM Silver: should I stop texting?

 

2:37 PM Flint: Nah

 

7:55 PM Silver: Have you read Wuthering Heights before???? What the FUCK??????

8:00 PM Flint: What did you think it was going to be?

8:01 PM Silver: ………..

8:04 PM Silver: I thought it was going to be sweet

8:05 PM Flint: You WHAT

 

3:13 PM Flint: Our client is trying to get into Billy’s pants.

3:29 PM Silver: Is he okay

3:35 PM Flint: I think he’s dying, Silver.

 

2:26 AM Silver: madi lefggt

2:26 AM Silver: *leftt

2:26 AM Silver: Fuck

2:51 AM Silver: It’s been two days. only 2 dys.

2:59 AM Silver: I can’t do this

 

6:00 AM Flint: I can come over if you want?

 

4:22 PM Silver: would you come

 

Silver looked worse than he had looked on that first night in the basil cemetery. It was the sobriety that did it, despite alcohol being a depressant it sure did give you a sense of humor in your suffering. He was hunched in on himself, hair and expression wilted and clothes wrinkled and a bit ripe. Flint stepped inside and wrapped him in a hug.

It took a long time before Silver relaxed into it, maybe he wasn’t comfortable with hugs. Maybe he didn’t want Flint to feel uncomfortable. But finally Flint felt a dry sob against his jumper and Silver clung to him.

When they pulled apart, Silver sniffled.

“Have you eaten today?”

A shrug. A nod towards the kitchen, where a liter of soda was sitting and a bag of crisps had been opened. It didn’t look like much of either had been actually consumed. At least an attempt was made.

Flint gripped the bend of Silver’s shoulder and neck in one hand, putting pressure on the tense muscle there. “You should have called, you shit. Texts don’t wake me up.”

He pressed forward, then, and Silver stepped back and let himself be led to the kitchen. “Didn’t want to wake you. I think.”

Flint went to the refrigerator. “I know a thing or fifty about being a self-pitying piece of rubbish. No offense. So I get what you mean by that. And you should call next time.”

“What’re you doing?”

“Cartwheels.” He didn’t even turn from the freezer. “What does it look like I’m doing?” He pulled out a freezer-burnt bag of dinosaur chicken nuggets with a grimace. “I’ll order so-”

“I didn’t ask you over so that you would nanny me,” Silver snipped. “Certainly not so you would spend your money on me.”

WIth a scoff, Flint tossed the food back and wheeled to face him. “Then what?”

“I just wanted a distraction. A fucking. Break.”

Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to push Silver when he was in this state; all Flint knew was what Miranda had done for him. And so he pushed. “You think I want to sit on the couch talking about books with a man who hasn’t brushed his teeth in three days?”

Fuck you.” Silver was bristling now, gathering tension like static electricity. Good.

“You asked me to come over here. Do you want me to leave?” It was much more of a challenge than a genuine desire to make Silver feel more comfortable, and they both knew it. Flint wasn’t prepared for the flash of desperation on Silver’s face, though, and he felt his own hardass strategy waver. “I didn’t think so.”

As soon as Flint began stepping towards him, Silver flinched into motion. Beelining it towards the back of the apartment.

“Where are you going?”

Silver flipped him the bird without turning around, and slammed the bedroom door shut.

Just when Flint realized that he should either leave or storm in there and be of some use, the unmistakable sound of running water drifted through the walls. He sighed in relief, dialing the pizza delivery number and realizing that he had remembered John’s order without having to stop and think about it.

Ten minutes later Silver reemerged, sad wet poodle that he was, but he looked more lucid and present than he had when Flint had first arrived. His hair dripped onto a towel that was draped across his shoulders. The t-shirt he wore looked like it was living on borrowed time, thin and stretched out with the design barely hanging on. But Flint trusted that at least it was clean.

Flint held up one of the books that he had found on Silver’s newly filled-out shelf. “Why’d you choose this one, then?”

Silver squinted across the room at him, midway through ringing out a clump of curls. “Fucker.”

“What now?”

“You ordered pizza,” he accused, walking over and taking the book from Flint’s hands. “I haven’t read it yet. I googled the title and apparently it’s a ‘lesser work’. Still won a Pulitzer. Can you fucking imagine that kind of success?”

“How did you know I ordered pizza?”

Silver cocked his head, blasé, and pointed to the old book in his hand. “Diversion.”

“Fine. You gonna hang me over the coals or are you gonna to tell me your opinion on Faulkner?”

Flint didn’t know what he did wrong, but something sour turned in Silver’s expression. He all but threw the book across the coffee table. “Never fucking mind about the book. Just…”

“Isn’t that what you wanted? To ‘get out of your head’?”

“Why do you care?” the question was near-manic, and as Flint saw the flash of frustration on his face he wondered how much was towards him and how much was for Silver himself.

“The fuck do you mean by that?”

“Why do you care? If you don’t --” Silver winced at whatever came next, and the grimace stuck. “I don’t get it.”

“Just ask whatever it is you’re actually wanting me to answer.”

“What do you want from me?”

Flint blinked. “What?”

“I said, what do you want from me?” Silver was tense, fight or flight, the grimace shifting into a snarl. “Is it an ego thing? A control thing? Neither of those seem like they’d be worth all of this to you. What are you getting out of this?”

Flint’s fingers twitched along with a muscle in his cheek, anger beginning to spark within him as well. “If you just want someone to rage at-”

“If you don’t want me then why are you here?”

Flint had to take a long two seconds with that sentence before he heard it for what it was, and scoffed. “And you’re accusing me of ego?”

“Would you just answer me?!”

Flint looked down at Silver, and for the first time realized that the other man did genuinely look confused beneath all of the bristling defense. He wanted to box his ears. He wanted to kiss him quiet.

FUCK.

“...You can’t imagine anyone wanting to care for anyone else.”

Silver narrowed his eyes, steely, but couldn’t hold his resolve. “That’s not how it goes with me,” His fingers were digging in to the threadbare cushions on the couch. “It’s always quid pro quo.”

Crossing his arms, Flint squared off. “So what’s the ‘quo’ with Madi, then? What is she getting from you? ‘Cuz if this is what it’s like to deal with, I’m not so sure I understand why you’re worth coming back to.” As he stood in the silence between retorts, Flint remembered Silver’s voicemail. Pizza and beers in exchange for my rescue? And that other thing he’d said, later, apologizing for asking relationship advice without something to offer in return. The way the dowel had stuck in his curls --

You’re pissed at him. Stop it.

Flint hadn’t been so angry with and so attracted to someone in his entire life.

He hadn’t noticed that Silver was frozen, a maelstrom those fucking eyes of his, staring up at Flint in paralytic fury. Flint was too caught up now though to apologize for going too far, so he kept going. “That’s it, isn’t it? You think she’s gonna leave you because you won’t be able to do anything to keep her when she’s away. You don’t understand shit.

“I don’t understand?” Silver shot up to stand and scoff in Flint’s face. “As if you aren’t just as fucked up as I am. You’re the one who’s afraid that if Thomas wakes up and sees how much you’ve changed that he won’t want you any more.”

Flint flinched.

“That’s right,” Silver growled. “Only difference between you and me is that I’ve always known how this works.”

Fuck you.”

Silver’s brows twitched challengingly, and Flint could feel the heat of him just a hands breadth away. He was too close. He was too much. “ Fuck you, ” he breathed again, leaning forward to follow the words straight to the most dangerous place on the fucking planet.

And Silver snarled into that kiss, smiling, surging against him the way Flint knew he would. When he felt Silver’s tongue against his lips he all but fell forward onto the couch, Silver snug beneath him. When had his hands gone to Silver’s hips? So many bright and hazy, sharp and fizzing questions were thrumming through him until Silver’s fingers combed up through his hair and tugged , just so.

The world went pleasantly, beautifully blank, and he hummed against the other man’s mouth. He felt a shove on his shoulder, and opened his eyes to see Silver’s own were viciously intent on rolling Flint off of him, so that -- oh. So that Silver could climb into his lap.

Their hands didn’t stop moving, sliding up each other’s waists, down arms, around shoulders, as they continued to kiss. Silver tasted like spearmint and Flint couldn’t stop licking in to chase the cool heat inside his mouth. When Flint pulled back, he sucked Silver’s lip back with him for a moment and that did it -- the curly-haired siren tossed his head back and just barely whispered a curse.

Flint dove for the neck now bared to him, searching until he found the places and pressures that sent Silver shivering. And curling, twisting against him. Into him. Flint couldn’t stop his hips from responding in kind but with the first real spark of white hot heat, he froze.

Silver’s moan cut off and left the only sound in the room to softly sound the alarms. Flint’s quick, heavy breaths puffed and pulled against the collar of Silver’s shirt.

Silver began to sit back on Flint’s legs, but halfway through the motion he leaned back in. Rested his forehead against Flint’s collarbones. “You have to go, don’t you?” his hands were firm on Flint’s shoulders, tensing just barely with the question. Flint could kiss him twenty more times for the way Silver asked it, knowing how much this tone of understanding and acceptance must cost him. Knowing how genuine it was.

Flint’s thumb dragged down Silver’s shoulder blade as his breaths steadied. “I think… I think I do.”

Silver curled in, careful to avoid certain points of contact, but tucked his head deeper against Flint’s chest and wrapped his arms around his shoulders in a quick, gentle hug. He slumped over to sit against Flint’s side.

Flint tried to catch his eye, but Silver wouldn’t have it. So he reached for Silver’s hand instead, and Silver took it hungrily. After Flint had tried and failed four times to speak, Silver’s head slowly leaned against his shoulder.

“Thanks for coming today,” he said quietly.

Flint scoffed at himself, squeezing Silver’s hand. “As if I was any help.”

“Only ‘cause I wouldn’t let you.”

“You gonna let me, next time?” Flint asked it even quieter.

Silver shifted away, loosening his grip in their twined hands until his fell away. Flint took his eyes now, finally. Big and sad and cunning, just like he was afraid they’d be. “Maybe it’s best if--”

“I’m sorry.” Flint couldn’t let that sentence end. “I’m sorry. It wasn’t fair for me to -- especially when you are going through your own shit…” He sighed. “I’ll sort myself out, okay? But until then I want to know that even if you don’t call me, you call someone when it gets bad.”

Silver shrugged it off, and he couldn’t have said any plainer no one else to call. What a mess. What a man.

Flint leaned to Silver, slowing as the other man tensed. Flint telegraphed his intent, tilting his face away from Silver’s just until he was close enough to turn and kiss his cheek. “You’re wrong about quid pro quo.” About love. “If you have the real shit, she’ll be back for you.”

Silver was smiling faintly at that, and Flint hoped that maybe if he said it enough it would sink in. Even if Silver had been right about his own fears, his own nightmares about the future. He knew Silver was wrong.

The doorbell rang.

Flint re-tied his hair and went to the entry to pay for the damned pizza. Grease and spice and mushroom-bell-pepper filled the air.

When the door closed and the food was waiting on the table, Flint walked to Silver, still on the couch. He put his hand on the edge of Silver’s shoulder, nudging. “You gonna eat it if I let you pay me back another time?”

Silver didn’t look up at him, but the smile grew just a little. “I thought I was wrong about quid pro quo?” His heart wasn’t quite in it and Flint could tell, but fuck him if it didn’t make Flint want to kiss him all over again.

So he chuckled instead. Nodded. And Silver walked him to the door.

Later that night, as he was getting dressed to go to bed, Flint realized that he could smell Silver’s body wash on his own t-shirt.

He was in too deep before he even realized he had jumped.

 


 

 

The voice on the radio, a pleasant volume when Silver had been sweeping the kitchen, was now blisteringly, paradoxically loud as the news bulletin went back through the breaking news a second time. He’d dropped the broom as soon as he’d heard the estimated death toll, and had to choose in the next second between running for the bathroom to vomit or to his phone.

She could be anywhere. She could be anywhere on the other hemisphere and she could be there where they’re talking about rubble and fire and not enough first responders --

He went for the bathroom first.

After he’d emptied his guts and punched the bath mat until his knuckles throbbed, he realized he was having a panic attack. It’d been so long he hadn’t even recognized it at first, the floaty, noxious cloud he had been wrapped in; the way his muscles were too loose and too tense and everything was too much, especially himself.

When it lifted, he was able to cry.

When he could breathe without sobbing, he walked step by agonizing step to where his phone was charging, and called the number he hadn’t touched in two months.

He took a gulp of air with every ring on the other end of the line. One...Two... Three… Fo--

“James Flint’s phone, Thomas speaking.”

Silver smashed the end call button before he could no longer hold the phone for shaking.

Chapter Text

Flint was across town when the call came in a few days after his strange fight with Silver. He was building a pool house for one of Kate Middleton’s distant, distant cousins, or so they claimed, and their property was just barely inside the range he accepted construction jobs in -- two hours away from the hospital. 

“This is Flint,” he had just gotten to his phone in time to answer and hadn’t been able to see the caller’s name.

“Is Mr. McGraw-Hamilton available?” a woman’s voice said quickly, steadily, in an urgent tone that clocked him in the gut. 

“I am he. Is Thomas all right? What happened?”

There was an infuriating pause as the voice on the other end checked his file, as they always did when he accidentally answered with his professional surname. “Yes, he’s stable. He woke briefly about an hou-”

“He’s awake?” Flint yelled it without meaning to, and Joji snapped his head from the buzz saw he was operating to eye him with shock and rare emotion. 

The tears in his eyes made it hard for him to listen to what she said next. He didn’t know how that made sense. He didn’t care. “He’s currently being prepped for surgery, sir, there was a fall --” she paused when she heard him nearly cut her off again. 

He bit his lip, choosing to focus on sob-like breaths as she continued. 

“We believe he tried to get out of bed before a nurse could make it to his room, sir. We just now got the x-rays back and he has a single clean break to his tibia.” 

As she spoke, Flint started shucking his work belt and remaining glove, gathering his things and tapping Billy on the shoulder. At the tears running down his face, and the urgency in his expression, the young man nodded. “Godspeed,” he offered quickly, unsure if the news Flint was getting was good or bad. 

“I’m on my way. I’ll be there in an hour and a half. Have you called Miranda Barlow?”

“Yes, sir, she is also on her way.” 

“Yes. Good. Is he still awake?” Flint had read all of the books. He knew all of the studies. Sometimes moments of lucidity or action were not true wakefulness. 

“He is sleeping, sir.” there was a smile in her voice. “Waking every few minutes to ask the nurses questions.” 

Flint let a real sob free. His voice wobbled near to the point of incoherence. “Thank you. Thank you. Fuck, thank you.”

Her platitudes were genuinely delivered as she ended the call and James slammed his foot on the gas. 

 

Miranda was the first thing he saw when he ran into the lobby of the extended care unit. She opened her arms for him and they held each other tight enough to bruise; feeling the way each other’s hearts were beating double-time, as if making up for lost years. 

“He’s not here. He’s in an operating room. It shouldn’t take long. James. James…” She was laughing, giddy through her tears, and James leaned back to brush them from her cheeks and hold her face in his hands. How lucky he was to love the most beautiful brown eyes on earth and boast the same for the blue-eyed equivalent. 

He’d be seeing those eyes soon, and they would be seeing him. Miranda caught him as the thought took his balance, and began walking them towards the elevator that would take them to the surgery lobby. 

Thomas’ doctor, a brilliant but unassuming man named Howell, met them there a few minutes after they checked in. The typically stoic man looked near-delirious with joy.

“James, Miranda, I cannot express my happiness for you and your husband.” Having worked with them for months, the keen neurology expert was used to and long since done questioning his patient’s personal relationships. 

Miranda took his hand in hers and thanked him for never losing hope with them. James had to remove himself from his own body for a moment to ask himself if this was truly real. 

Is this real? He asked himself as they pulled him away to do paperwork. 

Is this real? He asked himself as he sipped the shitty coffee Miranda had handed him, looking at the second hand on his wrist watch tick, tick, tick.

Is this real? He asked himself as the surgeon walked in, shook his hand and said “The bone is set, as soon as the stitches are done we will take him into post-op.”

 

It was achingly real to walk into the room and see Thomas lying there, eyes closed, breaths soft and far-away. To hear the heart monitor beeping, as if that had ever been a problem. Thomas’ heart didn’t know how to give up. 

They waited there beside him, and for the first time in months they did so with expectation.

When James heard Miranda gasp, he tightened his grip around her waist. His head was resting against her shoulder, his nose breathing in her perfume as they waited. But now she surged away from him, towards the bed. 

When James looked up, his husband eye’s were open. He was looking at Miranda, groggy, with a hazy smile across his dry lips. 

“Darling,” he whispered, and Miranda was sobbing into his reaching hand. “Don’t cry.”

James broke in every wonderful way. 

Miranda kissed Thomas’ every finger, and every patch of pale skin on his face. “Hush,” he kept saying, and his eyes caught James’ in the same moment a nurse walked in. 

“Good afternoon, Mr. McGraw-Hamilton,” she began, checking to make sure all of the beeps and blips hooked in and around Thomas were beeping and blipping appropriately. “Your surgery went well. You may be feeling a bit loopy for the next half hour or so. It seems you were eager to wake up.” She gave Thomas, then Miranda and James, a rare and small smile. “I’m going to get you a cup of water, and you should try drinking very slowly, with help.” 

When she left, promising a doctor interview when the patient was more lucid, Thomas smiled weakly at Miranda and James. “Could I sit up?” his voice, still slurred and slow, was the best thing James had ever fucking heard. 

“Not just now,” Miranda picked up the cup. “Maybe soon, you’ve been through quite a lot,” her throat caught on the last word. Her hands were shaking as she brought the water to Thomas’ lips, and he drank a single sip. His eyes drifted towards James. 

“Did the doctor send you?” his brows tried to gather, weighed down by the medication relaxing every muscle and nerve. “...Miranda, help. He’s gorgeous.”

Miranda froze only for a moment. “No, darling, this is James.” 

“Hello, James,” Thomas’ sleepy eyes took in the man at his bedside, whose mouth was hanging open in confusion. 

“Your husband?” Miranda added, and Thomas smiled wider. James stood at the side of the bed near Miranda, shaking.

“I wish ,” He settled back into the pillows a bit more, still staring at James. “I’d break all sorts of laws for that face.” 

James couldn’t help but let some nervous laughter escape. It was the anaesthetic. It had to be. Had to be. “She’s right,” he managed, hoarse. “Thomas…” 

His man snorted weakly, his eyes closing. “No, no.” 

“It’s true, Thomas,” Miranda said rather loudly, perhaps to reach through the fog in Thomas’ blood. “And legally binding, mind you. I was there.”

“...Really?” His eyes were on them again.

They both nodded. 

Thomas’ eyes sparkled with belief, but not recognition. “I couldn’t possibly be so lucky.” 

Miranda squeezed his hand and went to fetch her purse. Thomas couldn’t stop grinning. James felt every hope and terror simultaneously. 

“See, love, there you are,” Miranda opened up the album on her cellphone and held a wedding photo before him, blocking his view of James. 

“This is the best fucking dream,” he sighed with a lazy giggle. “Would you...turn around?” 

That’s my Thomas , James blushed, trying to force the worst case scenario from his mind. He obliged his love’s request.

“Fucking hell, just look at you.” 

Miranda sat on the side of the bed, showing him more pictures of the wedding and having him take a sip of water after each one. James took his hand, which grasped his tentatively, as she scrolled through. Eventually she found one from a few months after they had moved in to the new house. And Thomas had come home with a new, fuzzy addition. 

“This is you and James and --”

Argos! ” he shouted with a start. He looked to James with a gasp, and suddenly his grip was as tight as it could be. “ James. ” 

Thomas’ grip was still so much weaker than it had once been, but his blue eyes were wet and recognizing and they pulled him with the gravity of a thousand suns. James kissed him softly, shuddering with the desire to lift him up out of that awful cot and drive off with him into the sunset.

They were all crying when the two pulled away. Miranda moved to sit on the opposite side of the bed, and awkwardly Thomas reached for them both. Gently, the people he loved most navigated the cast and the IV and the heart monitor, and laid down on either side of him. He watched his hands as they found their places in James’ and Miranda’s own, and did not recognize them. 

“...What happened to me?” 

 

From what the three of them and Dr. Howell could figure out, Thomas had no memory of the two weeks prior to the car accident. It was difficult for him to recall many things that had happened in the months prior, like his own firm opening for business or the Brexit Bullshit at the time. This was common, Howell said, though Thomas’ cognitive and nervous system were remarkably unscathed. His left side was weaker than the right, the smile in his eyes and lips crooked if one knew to look. This could be temporary or it could be permanent. 

Flint forced himself to remember these details, the facts and the probabilities and the routine that Thomas would be facing, like a good husband should do. This meant that part of his mind was whirling with schedules for physical therapy, counseling, in-patient check ups; a list of items he would need to buy to make their home a suitable place for convalescence -- their home, their home .

“When will I be able to go home?” Thomas asked, looking at the rings on his and Flint’s fingers. 

Thomas couldn’t walk yet, wouldn’t be able to do so even if he had not broken the bone. 

“The timeline is different for everyone,” Howell’s voice, ever measured and direct, was sobering. He went into detail about the things Thomas would need to accomplish before he was comfortable releasing Thomas from the hospital. 

James watched as his husband’s eyes began to glaze over with emotion, hearing his own inabilities stacked up against him. He had not yet been able to keep a few plain biscuits down. He had only been able to put strength into his holding of Miranda and James for seconds at a time. Thomas’ hope, his fire, his stubborn light had at one time been the only thing James could say was truly good in the world. It did not deserve to be tested in this way. 

“I think that’s enough for now,” Miranda said lightly, no doubt having read the same signs as James. “Dr. Howell, could we continue this later this afternoon?” Her deft, proper smile and measured gaze was expertly crafted. She had been creating safe places for Thomas to be weak for their entire life. 

“Of course. I will check back in after my appointments for the day.”

When the door shut behind him, Thomas took in a tearful gasp. He leaned into Miranda’s hand against his cheek. The hand that had no IV or oxygen monitor punched against the sheets. 

“Thomas -- “

“Don’t.” Thomas’ hand clutched the blanket now, his knuckles white. “I love you more than life, James, but please don’t.” 

“Do you want James and me to leave?” Miranda asked gently. 

Thomas leaned his face into her shoulder and pulled his hand holding James’ own to rest against his chest. “Stay,” he breathed into her collar. “Face the world later.”

Neither of them could argue with that. 


James carried his husband over the threshold of their home two months later, and Argos could not contain his joy. Thomas wrapped his arms around him as they violently cuddled on the couch, and James fretted all the while over whether Argos knew his own strength. Once the giant puppy calmed a bit, settled tight against his Papa’s thigh, James went back to the car to get the wheelchair and walker. 

Thomas’ hospital-pale skin is scratched slightly pink from the warm welcome he had received, but his smile is brighter and he seems more awake than he had since that first day after the surgery. Argos and James bookend him on the sofa and as soon as they’re settled, Miranda lets herself in with groceries and her collection of old Hollywood thrillers on DVD. 

James doesn’t get five minutes into the movie before he feels he needs to get up and get something or other for Thomas, and this happens so often during the rising action (“Darling, I’ve had enough to eat. I don’t need another pillow. Chrissakes, darling, I’m fine. ”) that they compromise in a mutually satisfying treaty: Miranda takes James’ place on the couch, and James sits on the floor resting his cheek against the seat cushions and the inside of Thomas’ knee. 

He’s glad Miranda didn’t let him cut all of his hair off. Thomas’ fingers combing through it feel like peace, even if they tug a bit roughly during the scary scenes. 

 

Thomas doesn’t tell James about the strange phone call at first. He hasn’t been telling James quite a few things, really, and those weigh on him more than the mystery caller as the shower shuts off and James comes into the bedroom, towel-clad and gorgeous. 

“You know I love you,” he says with an appreciative sigh as his husband pulls on boxers and a tee. 

“I do,” the words come with an embrace as he is joined on the bed. 

Thomas leans into his husband’s neck, breathes him in. His hip is hurting something awful. “I -- James, I don’t want you to hear what I’m about to say and think that I’m not grateful, not wanting you. I am. I do.” 

Scratchy orange stubble pricks against his forehead, and James’ shoulders have gone tense. “Thomas?”

“I don’t want you to go with me to physical therapy tomorrow. Or ever, I think.” 

They shifted a bit to hold each other better, but Thomas was still looking down at James’ collarbones, and couldn’t see his brows furrow and his green eyes glint with worry. 

“I know someone has to drop me off. Miranda, or you, or someone. And they said it would be good if you stayed, to see what the at-home work would be like. But I --” James smelled so good after a showed, Thomas burrowed into it. “I hardly think I’ll be able to manage it, period. I know I won’t be able to manage it if you or she is there.” 

James remembered the past weeks in the hospital, where they had only been present for a handful of the light upper-body exercise sessions that Thomas had supposedly been doing daily. James had thought til now that the look in his eyes, the color in his face during those few times had been determination. It had been something much closer, he realized, to rage.

“You’re sure there’s nothing -- nothing we can do?” 

Thomas lifted his head and looked him in the eyes. “I’m not sure,” he whispered. “I’m not sure. I wish I could wake up tomorrow and have it be four months from now, or more, when I feel like myself again.” 

There was a sad smile on James’ face. “I used to think that every day when you were gone.” He thumbed a tear from Thomas’ cheek. “I’ll not make a single thing harder for you than it already is, love. And I’ll do anything I possibly can to make it better. The same goes for Miranda. So…” he sighed, running his fingers through Thomas’ hair. “If you don’t want us there, for now, or for however long, then we’ll be elsewhere. But please, please don’t make me tell Miranda this myself?” 

Thomas laughed. There was a little hiccup in it, he was still nervous and frustrated and angry about the appointment he had at 10am tomorrow morning, but his husband was an angel. “We could tell her together?” 

“Deal.” 

As they settled in for the night, Thomas with his new e-reader (paper books were his preference, but the Kindle was easier for him to manage at the moment) and James with his blueprints for tomorrow’s meeting. 

Fifteen minutes later, Argos’ whining at the door was too pathetic for either of them to stand. James tiredly stomped across the room to let him in, receiving no thanks as the dog vaulted up to lick Thomas’ face. The big hound would have to get used to having less space on the bed, James thought to himself, but this and many other problems at the moment were among the most beautiful problems James ever had to face in his life. 

Argos settled eventually in the crook of Thomas’ body, and Thomas settled in James’. Some problems were easier to solve than others.