Sometimes he allows Flint to see it: the web of interwoven truth and lies that spreads in tendrils from him and roots itself in the hindbrain of every member of the Walrus’s crew. He lets it slip through his fingers and into his Captain’s willing mouth, where it settles onto his tongue and sparks behind his eyes just a hint of recognition. A glimmer of light that bounces off the horizon.
He doesn’t think Flint can comprehend it, exactly. The vastness of it. There are limitations to the wirings of his mind; pieces of him that grew in the dirt.
But he reaches for it, still. Grasps the threads as they slip away and pull them taut around his fingers. He yearns for the understanding of it in a way Silver has not seen in another man through his many and terrible years.
He wonders at times if Flint has been made into something not-quite-human, too.
Silver tilts his head. Flint sees now the unnatural smoothness of the action; the way the muscles roll in his neck like something pushes back against them.
“What, then?” Silver asks.
Flint breathes. He scans the outline of Silver leaning against the bedpost in the dark and searches for a name for the feeling that coils inside him.
He has never been skilled at identifying what it is that fills his mind. Miranda could pull it from him like breathing. Before her, her husband.
They are both gone, now. He is grasping in the dark.
“Unsteady,” he manages.
Silver laughs, a curiously hollow thing. “I know the feeling.”
Flint comes to him but once in the doldrums.
It is when water is low and food is lower. When all their hands shake as they pull at the rigging, their bellies too empty to carry them steady through. The men are irritable with hunger, the ship creaks under the strain, and the air is steady and calm.
Flint finds him below-decks; as he leans against the storeroom doorway, his clothes hang thin around his frame. Silver has seen the effort it takes the man lately to eat; he knows he is doing it out of necessity to the crew moreso than any desire to see the shore again.
“Could you,” Flint begins, and then shakes his head. His land-brain, his dirt-flesh, it pulls him. He does not want to believe what he asks. “Could you--change? Find land, bring back a ship for rescue?”
Silver feels his borrowed heart pick speed up in his chest.
“No,” he says.
With any other man, the power he embeds in those words--the suggestion, the finality --would turn them away. Make them forget they had ever thought to ask such a foolish thing.
Flint merely frowns and says, “Why not?”
How his fingers ache. How his lungs draw down the dry, thinned-out air.
“I cannot,” he says. “Please.”
He pushes. Somewhere above decks, the memory of him slips for an instant away from the mind of one of the crew, then flares back with a staggering resurgence.
Flint--the man who stole his name, the man whose grief has stilled the wind--pushes back. “Why not.”
Silver stands, charts and maps and prayers clattering out of his way. “I cannot,” he bites again. “If you ask me again the answer shall be the same. I cannot leave this ship any more than you can stir the wind again. I am as becalmed as any one of you.”
Something of that woven truth must slip through, then. He sees it in Flint’s mouth. In the way his hand flexes and clenches at his side. In the shadow of Miranda Barlow curled inside his pupils.
“Meet with Bones and I in my quarters in fifteen minutes,” Flint says.
Silver watches him as he goes. His leg aches, and aches.
“This isn’t what you look like.”
Flint is bold with rum, bold with the feeling of John Silver under his palms. The boy is pressed between Flint’s body and the tiny captain’s bed with Flint’s fingers tangled into his hair, his mouth at Flint’s neck with teeth pressing, pulling. It is not the first time. It will not be the last. But it is here, and immediate, and he feels gold pouring through his veins.
“Isn’t it?” Silver asks. The words as always slip like water into seams and cracks that Flint did not know his mind to possess--and he soaks in them, the surety of them, before allowing them to drain through again.
“It isn’t,” Flint says. “I’ve seen--some. Something hiding under the human skin you wear to fool all of them up there.”
He does not say it, and he does not need to. He knows Silver catches the words between the ones spoken out loud.
I am not them. I am not fooled.
“Are you asking to see me naked, Captain?” Silver smiles. There is something in that smile, too. Like every time he puts it on it is a clever joke.
“I’m asking--” Flint starts, but finds quickly he does not know what he is asking. He does not know how much of that is Silver, how much the rum. How much his own inability or unwillingness to name what it is he wants without knowing they will be taken.
Silver slips out from under his hands like so much seawater.
“I have to breathe, still, you understand,” he says, “but I can try something.” He tilts his head at Flint. “Close your eyes.”
Flint steps back; he drinks him in. The falsehood of him.
He closes his eyes.
When he opens them Silver has not moved; his hands are braced upon the bed the same, his head tilted back and eyes cast to Flint’s face. The same broad shoulders, the same familiar well-earned scars that litter his chest and torso. But where his hips begin there is a shimmering of flesh, and the start of rippled scales -- thick, overlapping greens and blues and blacks and colors that Flint cannot name, has never imagined, and the tail narrows to a point shrouded in a shadow that hurts Flint’s eyes to look at so he forces his gaze away.
“Come here,” Silver says, and for once Flint does not fight the pull of the compulsion embedded in Silver’s voice like cut gems.
He allows himself to be drawn forward, to be taken by the wrist by Silver’s hand. His hand is guided to the space below Silver’s hips; to grasp around two long, thin appendages. They are like those Flint has seen on occasion on the underside of sharks, thick at the base and tapered towards the tip.
Silver shudders bodily when he takes them both in hand, a sound escaping his throat that Flint has never heard before out of all his many noises.
“Like this?” Flint asks, his fingers fumbling, the slender twin cocks nearly slipping from his grasp as he moves.
“Do not stop,” Silver grits out, “or I will kill you.”
Flint laughs and goes to his knees. He mouths the space where they meet Silver’s flesh; he hears the long great tail spasm and slam into the wood of the Captain’s floor.
“Fucking-- fuck,” Silver gasps, all his beautiful words dissolved.
Flint strokes him until his back arches almost painfully, until his eyes fly open in reverie and the pupil stretches all the way to the corners of his eyes, a deep and horrible black--and then Silver pulls him up by the hair, guides his fingers to the warm wet slit hidden beneath Silver’s cocks and says, please , and Flint does not require any magic of the ancient sea to obey.
It is quiet, and the men are below decks, and Silver languishes in Flint’s arms.
Flint traces out patterns along Silver’s spine. Constellations, maybe. Roads. Maps.
“You can change back in some ways,” Flint observes.
Silver breathes. “I can,” he concedes.
“But you told me you could not return to land for us,” he says.
Oh--a lie. That is what he thinks that was.
“Not land,” he whispers. He did not mean to whisper. It hurts to say it; even the negative space of it.
Flint’s fingers do not still against his back. “The sea,” he says.
Silver nods. “Not like this,” he says, and does not say what he means.
Flint runs his hand down the back of Silver’s leg anyway, curls his thumb round the back of the knee, fingers around the front. They burn like irons where they touch him.
“You couldn’t swim?” he guesses.
Silver opens his mouth; he closes it again. “I would look the same,” he says.
Flint’s brows pinch in a thickened confusion. “Then why?”
Outside, the sound of the waves grows ever so loud.
What’s he to say to Flint? How to impress upon him what was taken from him, what tethers him to a body that wears him now as much as he wears it? He cannot say; he cannot find the stolen pieces of Flint that would make him understand. He can see their ragged edges, and they are shaped into a name--but Flint carries his rage so close to the surface that it burns the eyes, and Silver cannot glimpse past that blinding canopy who Thomas is.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” he admits, the first real truth he has told in so long.
Flint scoffs. “There’s a first.”
Silver laughs. Into the laugh he pours a hollow mockery of joy; a thing that he knows will not fool Flint. Finally, witheringly, Flint’s fingers still against his spine.
When he reaches out again for the man’s stormcloud mind, he finds it sleeping. Curled up against his in the empty expanse.