James feels like he’s holding things together with both hands.
No, scratch that. It feels like he’s holding things together with three hands - his own two and one other he’s conjured up out of sheer force of will.
It feels like that third is starting to tire recently and he knows when it lets go - as it certainly must - he’ll find himself like a loose sail in the wind, unable to be wrestled back into place.
He misses Miranda. Still. He misses the sea. He misses the camaraderie of a ship that, even when he was on the outside of it, lulled him to calmness. The work at the plantation is back breaking but that’s not what bothers him about it. It’s that it is so mind numbingly dull. There is no point he can hold onto, no problem to turn over and over in his mind until he’s found the right way to look.
So of course, he’s created one. He and Thomas - for all that he’s missed the other man like a limb, having him back has put into sharp relief the parts of him that he had given over to revenge - had let rust and decay in the name of serving to avenge his lover. The parts of him that are now in dire need of debriding and cleansing, but that have so become a part of him he fears the gangrene may already be killing him.
Maybe he’s already dead.
He mused, more than once, if James McGraw is dead,and Flint merely a placeholder until the body catches up with the heart. What then, of the love that heart once knew and which has now returned? What, now, of the dull, beating thing beneath his ribs?
Thomas is still his love. He still loves Thomas so much it threatens to suffocate or burn him. But he is completely unable to show it, to say the words. He is numb and mute and deaf in the eyes of the one thing he wishes to scream as loud as possible, and he wonders how that is.
Instead of ‘I love you,’ he says ‘I am sorry.’ Thomas has told him that anything he thinks he needs to be sorry for is unneeded, but he says it anyway. There is so much to be sorry for. Surely Thomas must be mistaken. He hasn’t told Thomas everything - oh he’s told everything relevant to Thomas. But he hasn’t told about Singleton, about Mr. Gates. About so many other tiny spots on his soul that have melded into its blackened core. If he did, Thomas would surely realize. Would surely turn away from him in disgust. If Thomas only knew that it wasn’t all out of revenge. Out of need. It was all rationalized, but it wasn’t all out of need.
Instead of leaning into Thomas’ kiss, seeking him out he stays, still as he can. He cannot seek out, and only reciprocates through a sense of not wanting to push Thomas away. He could not bear to lose Thomas. But neither can he pull him in, hold him close, whisper and laugh and bite and argue like they used to in that other lifetime. His body has known too many unkind touches, too many soft hands turned hard in betrayal, and now it expects it even from the person it ought to remember only with fondness.
He cannot debate Thomas’ ideas. Cannot help him turn the wheels of how they are to get out of this wretched place. The work and the fact that, overtly, no one is trying to kill him have lulled his mind into a stupor. The roar in his entire being of Thomas’ death has been thoroughly quenched. A silent, dull thing where once there was an inferno, and his mind has gone silent where once it was prized for its wit. He thinks this, above all else, hurts Thomas. Thomas’ love has always been of the mind first and the body second. A quick thought and nimble parry of words has always excited him more than almost any act of flesh. James is now nothing of even the person he was before Silver shipped him here. Everything has gone blank, and it is as if now that Flint is gone, James McGraw has yet to return to claim him. He does not feel like either of them. He has told Thomas this, and there is a moment every time where he feels regret at the look of sorrow on Thomas’ face. Only a moment, added to all of the other moments that he has let down someone he loves.
There is a gentle hand on his shoulder and James looks up from the window he was musing out of. It is Thomas, as he knew it would be...he looks cautious. It is an expression he’s been wearing of late - one James attributes to everything that is so different about the James he was expecting and the James he’s got.
Thomas presses a cup of warm tea into his hand and asks him what it is that he is thinking about. James cannot put everything into words, so he says nothing. Only draws in a breath and lets it out again. One more nail in the coffin.
“I don’t mind if it doesn’t make sense. If you think I don’t want to hear it...or that it might drive me from you.” Thomas remarks. James looks up at him. “I was the same way when I first came here, you know. I couldn’t get any of my words out in the right order. I felt like there was a weight of the heat and the sun and all the silence I had held in Bedlam that I couldn’t break.”
James ponders the words. It’s all he can do. But he also rests his hand on the one Thomas places on his shoulder. The fingers underneath his tighten their grip on his shoulder for a moment and settle heavier when they release. It’s enough.