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Of Cloaks and Crowns

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As he stood in front of his king, Flint had to remind himself that it was the right thing to do. Not only right, but necessary.

"You wanted a word?" Silver was leisurely sitting at his desk, fingers absently tracing his rings, his hair styled into a half-tail and eyes glinting with a hue richer than anything else in the room. Flint could see a generous pile of papers waiting to be read, and three neatly stacked books that were meant to be put away.

"I did, Your Majesty." He nodded rather stiffly, lingering by the door as if he expected the familiar room to sprout teeth and attack him. The warm light from the setting sun did little to soothe him; it gave the moment a painting-like quality, with Silver bathed in gold and red, and Flint hidden away in the shadows. It did not feel accidental.

"Your Majesty?" He raised an eyebrow, fingers going still for a moment. Admittedly, Flint hadn't called him that in private in months. "Well, fuck me. It must be serious, then. Come, sit down." He waved him over, Flint mechanically obeying as he watched him reach for a jug and pour generous amounts of wine into two ornate silver goblets—a gift from Flint himself, they had been. He quietly handed one of the goblets to him, then made an encouraging hand gesture. "What is it? Who's trying to kill me this time?" Silver smiled to himself a little, as if the constant threat of regicide were nothing but a poorly crafted yet vaguely amusing joke.

"Nothing like that, Your Ma—"

"That’s the second time you’ve called me that without anyone around to give a shit, Flint. Do it again and I might have to stab you." He said it lightly, with a teasing edge to his lips, but his eyes showed the beginning of unease, and his thumb began fiddling with one of his rings with none of the leisure from before.

Flint was suddenly reminded of his coronation; how the crown had rested, heavy and thorned upon his green head, on that long-awaited new dawn. A young man who'd been aiming for survival and had been handed a kingdom instead. Flint had had his reservations about John Silver, but his own appointment as part of the Guard—earned half by skill and half, ironically, by disrepute—had been the perfect opportunity to get close enough to do what needed to be done.

In whatever form that might take.

There had been trying days. Days where Silver's foolishness and selfishness had tempted Flint's blade like nothing else. Days where his smile and stories had irked him, driving his hand to rest on the sword's hilt with renewed purpose. Grown men everywhere had been charmed, almost bewitched, by the vision that was John Silver; a hoard of fools ready to give life and limb for their beloved monarch. 

Not James Flint.

But even as he had seen the qualities for a vapid silver-tongued king, he had also seen promise for something else. Something more. And thus he had waited, hoping that Silver would learn to wear a shade closer to Flint's wardrobe, so that they might meet in the middle. 

What had followed were clashes, and curses, and frustration bleeding into every corner of every room they shared—to the point where Flint was no longer sure why he'd never been stripped of his cloak and life—but it had worked in the end. A partnership of sorts, within the realm of what their uneven ranks allowed, where his counsel mattered and Silver's power was theirs to wield.

He had been shaped into a legend, and Flint had been there to see it through. 

 

This particular legend, however, had a talent for seeking trouble, or at the very least finding it. Over the past year alone, Flint had frustrated three attempts on his life, and the last one had left Flint unsettled and out of sorts. He'd had trouble sleeping for months after, on edge at the slightest of sounds, and had itched to be by Silver's side at all times. 

While his paranoia had been subdued to a manageable degree, his desire to remain by the king’s side had not.

Quitting was, of course, the sensible thing to do.

He took a deep breath and announced, "I am handing in my resignation as Head of the Royal Guard."

Silver blinked. "Beg pardon?"

"I will stay long enough to see that someone competent takes my place, rest assured, and I intend to train them myself. Bonny is the most skilled by far, but everyone knows her loyalty lies with Rackham, so perhaps Bones or Hands would make better cand—"

"To replace you?" The clank of Silver's goblet against the desk filled the room. "What's prompted this nonsense?"

Flint was taken aback by his tone. He cleared his throat, lying as smoothly as he could, "No particular matter. I just felt it was time to—"

"To forget your duty to your king?" Silver questioned, then seemed to hear himself and amended, voice softer, "Tell me what's happened."

"Nothing's happened," Flint insisted, but Silver leveled him with a knowing look.

They'd grown considerably closer since the close call; it appeared that the price of starting to know someone was being known in return. 

But there were some things that should not be known. Not by a king.

What hellish torment, to find his heart reaching out in such a foolish direction and be unable to stop it. To look at his king and want unspeakable things. Impossible things.

Even in that moment, as he was preparing to part ways with him forever, his hands longed to reach out and pull him closer. To dispose of cloaks and crowns and be nothing but men, equal and warm together. What a blessing it would be, to bury his face in those curls and kiss promises down his jaw.

In another life, perhaps.

Knowing he could not speak such truths, Flint reasoned, "There is no known threat at the moment, which makes it the best time to leave." There were no guarantees, of course, but it was the best they could hope for.

Silver's face went absolutely blank at that. "You're leaving." Half-question, half-accusation.

How could he ever stay? To quit and stay was not quitting at all. No. It had to be done properly. Thoroughly. "To an allied kingdom, of course, I would never—"

"To an allied kingdom," Silver parroted back, gripping the armrest like a sailor facing a stormy sea, his knuckles white.

Flint hadn't expected indifference to the news—he had served Silver well—but he most certainly had not anticipated such a strong reaction. He'd wagered that whatever attachment had flourished must be almost entirely one-sided. After all, who was he to be of any real import to a king? A subject, at the end of the day. A partner, to be sure, but certainly replaceable; there were plenty who'd willingly take a thousand blows for Long John Silver. They would have delivered a thousand blows for him, too.

He was not special in that regard.

"What devil has possessed you, Flint?" Silver downed his goblet, then left it aside as he demanded, "Have you met someone? Is that it?"

He almost laughed at that. To be so close to the true answer, in a way, and yet to miss so spectacularly. "I have not," he said, and he couldn't help but look into Silver's eyes, a fresh wave of longing hitting him in the chest.

Knowing it might be the last time he'd hold his gaze tugged at his heart like a compass denied its north; he wanted to take it back and tell him he'd stay forever. He'd leave in a casket or not at all.

Yet these thoughts showed precisely why leaving was necessary. One could not guard that which whispered so keenly to be taken. He could not in good faith remain by the king's side, shielding him from weapons and words, when he was secretly harboring such deep emotion for him. It clouded his judgment, and would eventually lead to unforgivable errors that could not be hoped to be undone. No. Better to leave now, so that little was lost and plenty salvaged.  That was the strategy. That was the plan.

"I am not running away with a lover, Silver. Although the court would revel in that sort of scandal, I am sure."

"And yet that is the only valid reason I can fathom." He stood up suddenly, turning his back to Flint and looking out the window at the fading sun. "Why else would you leave me?" He mumbled, as if he were speaking to himself rather than addressing Flint.

Leave me, he said, like he understood Flint's departure to be personal rather than professional. Leave me, like Flint wasn't leaving himself behind too. Like he stood a chance to remain whole, after this. 

Fuck. He'd waited too long to fall back. 

"Just—Personal matters," he answered vaguely, taking a hurried sip of his forgotten drink. "Nothing to trouble you with. If you're worried about your safety—"

"No, I'm not fucking worried about my safety, damn you!" He spun around, glaring at him. The air hadn't been so thick between them in ages. It felt foreign and familiar all at once.

Flint raised his hands in a placating gesture, unsure of how to proceed. "Then why are you so—affected by the news?" He grimaced at his own choice of words.

Silver stood perfectly still, then exhaled and said, "Please, tell me you're joking."

"I didn't mean to imply you'd personally car—"

"Of course I fucking care!" Silver crossed his arms for a moment, then ran a hand over his beard, closing his eyes and calming himself down in the process. He rested both hands on the desk, bending slightly to get closer to Flint as he spoke with measured words, "I am going to ask you a question, and I expect nothing but utmost sincerity in return."

Flint swallowed thickly before replying, "Of course."

"Are you not my true friend?" Silver's gaze wouldn't leave him, piercing and demanding like a blade to his throat.

Yes, he wanted to say. He bit his tongue, dizzy with unspilled words.

His heart was making a valiant effort to flee his chest as he answered, "I would never presume to assign myself such consequence in my king's—"

"That's a no, then." He frowned, eyes shattering. "Has your company and counsel been nothing but duty to you?" He sounded betrayed. Flint never wanted to hear that tone again.

"Silver, I—" He took a deep breath, unconsciously surging forward and mirroring Silver's stance. "I would call you a friend," he assured him. "I just wouldn't expect you to call me yours."

His shoulders seemed to lose a little tension at that. "I damn well would," he said. "I can't believe this is news to you."

"I'm not exactly well-regarded, and you know that. To imply you'd befriend someone like me—"

"Whatever people say you are, or may have been, is of no consequence to me." He drew closer—too close. "This kingdom is what it is today because I have you by my side. I didn't always like it, and you and I both know you'd have tried to kill me in my sleep if I hadn't turned out to be someone you could see yourself fighting alongside." He licked his lips. "But I was smarter than you gave me credit for, and you were..." Words failed him for a moment, but he eventually said, "You were more than I gave you credit for."

That caught his attention. "More?" What did that even mean?

"More." He lingered, looking for something that Flint’s face seemed unwilling to reveal. Disappointed, he sighed, withdrawing to the window again. "Tell me why you're leaving."

Flint was rooted to the spot, his brain trying to make sense of the scene before him. He didn’t know yet if he was the unwilling protagonist of a tragedy or the oblivious lead of a comedy; all he knew was that the script was getting blurrier with every exchange.

When the request went unanswered, Silver asked instead, "Is there nothing that would make you stay?" He slowly faced Flint, resolute as he vowed, "Because if there is, name it. Name your price, and it is yours."

He smiled, albeit sadly. "A generous offer, but not one I could ever hold you to."

"I haven't cared about gold in a long time. Fill your pockets to your heart's content, if that's what it takes." Flint had no doubt that he meant it, and he had to wonder yet again just how such a royal shit like John Silver had turned into the man in front of him.

"I'm afraid it is a bit more complex than that."

"Enlighten me, then." There was an edge to his voice now. His patience was wearing thin. “I’m all ears.”

Flint adjusted the hem of his coat, elusive. "The truth is that I can no longer perform my duties to the highest standards, so I must step down." Simple enough, and honest.

"You saved my life not too long ago, so forgive me if I disagree."

“Yes,” Flint acquiesced. "Yet since then, I have been—compromised." Too forward? Too obvious?

Silver breached the distance between them in long strides, his leg against the floor the only sound in the room. He seemed to be bursting with restless energy. "Compromised how?"

Admitting to friendship was apparently nothing to be wary of, but disclosing the full extent of his feelings was inconceivable.

"Compromised," Flint repeated. "And I'd ask you to allow me the courtesy of not pressing further."

At that, Silver seemed to come even closer, looming despite his height. "Fuck courtesy,” he whispered, his breath hitting Flint's cheek. "If you're to leave this room, you will tell me precisely the reason why. I will not protest further, even if I think you a fool for leaving." He swallowed, Flint's eyes drawn by the erratic movement of his throat. "But I will hear the truth from your lips, and I will hear it now."

"Even if you don't like what you hear?" Even if it built a bridge bigger than any kingdom?

Silver smiled, a sharp and dangerous thing. "That has never stopped you before. Speak," he commanded.

And he would, but how? With a cannon to every wall he’d built in the hopes no sentiment would ever see the light. There would be no mending of that fort once it was destroyed; that much was certain. 

"After the last attack," he began, eyes fixed on Silver's, "I was...left off-balance."

"By what, exactly? You seem to have both legs firmly attached."

Flint rolled his eyes. Trust him to speak lightly in such a moment. "You were very close to dying, Silver. I'm not sure you appreciate just how close."

His face darkened, the retreating sun mirroring his mood. "Oh, I'm aware."

Flint closed his eyes, hoping it would make words come more easily. "I couldn't sleep for months. I had nightmares where I didn't get to you in time. I would wake up wanting to burst into your chambers and make sure you were breathing. I lingered by your door at night even when I wasn't on watch, looking for shadows where there were none." He exhaled, opening his eyes slowly. "Compromised," he said it meaningfully, hoping it would shed enough light to put an end to the conversation.

Silver was searching his face like a map to a promised land, eyes going over him like they could read every last thought he'd ever had. Flint made to take a step back, putting some much needed distance between them, only for Silver's hand to wrap itself firmly around his wrist, tugging him forward.

"Isn't it natural, to care for your king's well-being?" The question was easily answered, and yet he knew it to be more than just a question. 

"Not like this." He looked down at Silver's hand on his wrist, then looked back up. "Not the way I care."

Silver's breath caught it his throat, eyes widening. "I need you to say it, James." There was no mistaking the urgency in his tone. "Or... do something about it. Because I can't. Not as your superior, if only in name."

Recognition. Acknowledgment. Not only of Flint's feelings but, incredibly enough, of how welcomed they were. Elation filled his heart for a moment, golden and warm, only for the sharp teeth of reality to grab him by the throat.

"No," he whispered.

"No?" Silver's other hand had been reaching for his cheek, then stopped halfway and fell, lifeless. "Why ever not?"

What were feelings to a king? An enemy. A concept to be held an arm’s length, lest it get in the way of duty. Flint knew that, even if Silver had momentarily forgotten.

"You're a king, John. And a good one." He smiled as genuinely as he could bear, bringing up his free hand to Silver's shoulder, thumb pressing into the rich material of his coat. "We both know you must look for a politically sound marriage. I know you've rejected every proposal you've received, but you'll find a suitable one eventually." His hand strayed, almost of its own accord, briefly up Silver’s neck to rest upon his cheek. "You cannot let this fleeting feeling dictate the future of your kingdom."

Silver's left hand came up to press his cheek further into Flint's, eyes burning as he said, "So you would look me in the eye and call this fleeting?"

"For you, it must be." It was too late for Flint, of course. He’d damned himself the second he’d reached out and allowed himself to touch. He'd feel the shape of Silver's jaw, the corner of his lips, like a curse forever branded onto his skin.

"Do you know how long I've wanted this?" Silver shifted his head slightly, letting his lips brush over Flint's palm. "Afraid that if I did nothing you'd eventually find someone else. Knowing I could not make a move, fearful you'd indulge me out of some twisted sense of duty."

"I wouldn't have." But he understood why Silver couldn't be sure. To deny a king's wish, whatever its nature, was never an easy task; not even for someone as contrary as Flint. "I—"

"Stay," he interrupted. "I said I wouldn't protest, but only a fool would hold the world in their hands and let it go without a fight."

Flint stared, at a loss for words at the sheer display of sincerity.

"If your position truly bothers you, we'll find you a new one here at court. By my side." He breached the remaining distance between them, resting their foreheads together. "I know you're not well-liked, and I don't give a shit. Whatever hatred or contempt the kingdom holds for you can drown in the undertow of my own esteem." Silver's nose trailed his cheek, his lips parting but never touching his.

If Flint had been a better man, he would have hardened his resolve and left. He would have put sensible distance between them; a step, a room, a kingdom.

It was known that Flint was not, in fact, a good man.

And so, as bad men were wont to do, he caved.

"I'll stay," he whispered, lips grazing. "Of course I'll stay."

He surged forward, forgetting all the reasons that had led him to seek a meeting with his king, and finally pressed his lips to Silver’s. Tentatively. Firmly. The gentle scrape of his beard on his skin made him smile, and he brought both hands to cup Silver’s face and just take him in for a moment.

“Thank you,” he murmured, wanting to kiss him again but needing to get the words out.

"What for?"

"For caring enough to fight me on this."

"Well, I am an expert on the matter," he said with a cocky grin. “You should really do as I say more often. The results speak for themselves." He shone brighter than the northern star; Flint never wanted to look away.

“Oh?” He returned, more carefree than he’d been in a long time. “What should I do now, Your Majesty?”

“Now,” Silver said, hands coming up to rest on Flint’s hips like they'd never been meant for anything else, "You should kiss me again." Clever fingers divested Flint of his coat. "So that I might forget you ever spoke of leaving."

Flint didn't have to be told twice. He brought his thumb to Silver's mouth, tracing his lower lip and marvelling at its softness, then replaced it with his lips, slowly backing Silver against the desk as they kissed. 

He broke away only to rid Silver of his coat, mouth back on his skin to trace the line of his jaw, reaching his ear to murmur, "You have no idea how many times I've pictured this."

Silver let out a gasp, hands coming up to Flint's back, grasping at his shirt. "Trust me, not more than I."

He nibbled lightly at Silver's lobe, encouraged by his reaction. "Is that so?"

"God, you were so infuriating at f-first," he stuttered as Flint's tongue trailed his pulse. "Wanted you to fuck me against this desk all the same."

That gave Flint pause. "How long ago are we speaking?"

"Don't stop," he admonished, sighing contentedly when Flint snorted softly and drifted down to Silver's exposed collarbone. "Too damn long ago." 

"You wanted me, even then?"

"Yes," he hissed, blunt nails digging into Flint's back. "Your righteous anger. Your absolute certainty that I couldn't be trust— Fuck." Flint had made his way to Silver's chest, breathing lightly over his nipple before pressing his tongue to it. 

"You were an absolute shit," he groaned, letting his beard scratch lightly against the smooth skin. "So fucking full of yourself." He let his thumb brush at Silver's other nipple as he went up to chase his lips once more. 

He felt Silver's tongue against his, followed by teeth pulling at his lower lip and swallowing a moan that wouldn't be suppressed. They kissed unhurriedly, taking their time to explore each other the way they'd craved for so long. 

When they parted for air, his lips shiny and wonderful, Silver whispered, "And now here we are." He pulled him closer, bringing a hand up to cup Flint's neck and hold his gaze as he said, "And here you will stay."

"And here I will stay," he echoed, hand resting tenderly over Silver's heart before kissing him again.