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Burial at sea

Chapter Text

 

 

 

He that shall take a view of the opinions of mankind, observe their opposition, and at the same time consider the fondness and devotion wherewith they are embraced, the resolution and eagerness wherewith they are maintained, may perhaps have reason to suspect, that either there is no such thing as truth at all, or that mankind hath no sufficient means to attain a certain knowledge of it.

John Locke

 

The starlit sky rises above Nassau like an enormous black dome that provides cover for the affairs of its inhabitants. Not as many illicit ones as before the new Governor, probably, but the town still gives off a sinful, naughty impression, with drunken shouts and shanties sung by men who obviously lack a singing voice, or musical hearing, or maybe both. In the distance, palm trees sway at the seaside, dark, frayed shadows against the black, shimmering mass of the ocean.

Seated at her desk, Max tallies the transactions they have made this quarter, and Eme is recounting news from the Old World to the Governor’s wife. Madi is only listening half-heartedly, standing on the balcony looking out onto the street, more interested in any clue that might explain what exactly turned so many people she knew so mad about Nassau, since this starlit landscape alone doesn’t seem to suffice. Nights are charming on all islands in the West Indies, maybe even more so on the Maroon Island, if anyone asked her, which they didn’t. Max herself is also enamored by Nassau, after all.

“And the kingdom of Sweden now has a Queen,” Eme says. “Ulrika, I think, is her name. Ulrika Eleanor, or maybe Eleanora. She is the daughter to the King that was, and now has become Queen in her own right.”

Madi finds both her name and her queenhood oddly fitting, considering whose study this used to be, and how all of the participants of this meeting are women.

“Odd that royalty has at least two given names,” remarks Idelle.

“It’s just a way to pretend that they are different from us little folk,” says Max. “You could just find another name to add to the one you have, Idelle, surely no one would mind.”

There’s silence as Idelle seems to consider renaming herself, like a ship that changes banners, and then Eme sucks in an excited breath.

“There is something else you might find of interest. I only heard about it today, on the beach. Captain Flint has been seen in Savannah, drinking himself to death.”

Madi whips around so fast her braids hit her in the face.

“Pardon me? Who--who’s been seen?”

“Captain Flint,” repeats Eme, enunciating his name with something akin to awe. “In Savannah. It is now a British mission, I think. Used to be Spanish before the tribes attacked…”

At the sound of Flint’s name, Max has also shifted her gaze to Eme. It now rests on her and seems somehow heavy, ominous.

“Flint was supposed to be dead,” she says, gravely, and Madi realises that this, after all, is the official version of events, regardless of which one of them is actually true. “What is he doing drinking in Savannah?”

“I am only repeating what I was told,” Eme replies. “This could be gossip, of course. Told sailor to sailor, who knows how many in between. But they swear it was Flint, and you have to admit that a man like that is hard to forget.”

He is, Madi agrees. Even two years later, she can easily recall his tired, freckled face, the prickly red beard. Ginger, the English pirates called it, like the spice. Fitting, if one were to think of his temper.

She feels everyone’s attention turn to her and has to make a conscious effort to maintain a neutral expression.

“That does seem like gossip,” she says. “You all know how infamous Flint was with pirates and buccaneers. No wonder they still reminisce about him, and then are convinced they see him drinking in every tavern they happen to visit. You know what a gossipy sort pirates are.”

They all nod their heads solemnly. Max shrugs, sighs and goes back to the books. The conversation finally shifts to another topic, and Madi goes back out onto the balcony. If she heard about this somewhere else, maybe it would be easier to shake off, but here, in Nassau, Flint’s presence seems to linger. He walked these streets, sat in these chairs, maybe even liked to stand out here and look out onto the humid evening. She can almost feel his shoulder pressed against hers and see the way the corners of his eyes scrunched up when he was looking at her.

“Do you have any more gossip?” Idelle asks inside of the office and Madi stiffens in anticipation.

“I’ve told you all the news I had,” says Eme pointedly. “But no, that is all that has been repeated in the kitchens and on the beach that is of any interest. Nothing else about Flint, or Vane, or Teach, or any of the others we think to be dead either.”

The last time she saw Flint was before they set out to get that cursed treasure that was supposed to change everything for the better, but somehow ended up doing the opposite. They embraced, briefly but warmly. Flint smelled of gunpowder and sweat, and she was grimy and streaked with dirt. His nose touched her ear and she kept him close with a hand on the nape of his neck. When they parted, she kissed him on the cheek, and he looked surprised, as if he’d forgotten that people had the ability to kiss cheeks if they felt so inclined.

And now, the image of Flint slumped over, drunk in a tavern somewhere - maybe Savannah, or some other little, dilapidated British mission - makes her anxious, as if their hard won peace is coming to an end. She has to grip the handrail hard to ground herself in the reality in which she has taken her father’s place as the purveyor of goods for her settlement on the Maroon Island, currently visiting with the woman who has taken Eleanor’s place.

When she’s getting ready to leave, reaching for her belt on the hook by the door, Max stops her with a gentle hand on her elbow.

“It’s gotten quite late. Wouldn’t you like to stay the night in the tavern?”

Madi usually retires to the Kumasi, their brig anchored in the bay, but it is late and the prospect of a long walk through the town and rowing back to the ship is not a pleasant one.

“Would you mind finding a place for Aloysius and Kumi to stay as well?” she asks, reminding Max that she is not without security even here, in the heart of now-civilised Nassau.

“Of course. They are welcome to stay right next to your quarters,” replies Max with a polite smile, evidently not taking that reminder personally.

Eme and Idelle retire for the evening, and Max has some other business to take care of, but she tells Madi to stay in the study and later returns with a bottle of wine. Madi is a little perplexed about that before she remembers that Anne and Jack are at sea, and Max is probably just looking for company. They talk a little about the weather - the storm season is almost upon them - and about acquaintances they have in common, or whom they recognize by name or function. It’s pleasant enough, being in the company of another woman who isn’t her mother, but she has a feeling that Max is just gearing up to ask about something more serious and personal. She hopes to all that is holy that it’s not her struggle to feed and clothe a growing community with no legitimate way of providing an income; a struggle she is finding harder and harder to hide from her partners in Nassau.

“I have noticed that the mention of Flint has unsettled you,” Max says, finally, and Madi lets out a breath of relief. “I understand that. We think ourselves free of those ghosts, and then someone walks over their graves and we’re plagued by thoughts of the past. We then try to figure out what actions could be carried out differently so that they could lead to different outcomes, but the truth is that there is no use reminiscing like this. What’s done is done.”

She stares at the window, and the night sky behind Madi’s head, the expression on her face plaintive and more than a little sad. Madi realises it’s no accident that Max has chosen her for company this evening. She means specific ghosts.

“The truth is that ever since I got to know him, I have felt a certain kinship with Captain Flint,” Madi says, watching for any signs of derision on Max’s face but finding none. Instead, Max looks her up and down, but it doesn’t feel judgmental, just inquisitive.

“I can definitely see that. Although the Captain lacked your level-headedness at times.”

“That may be so.” Madi sips from her glass. “But what he lacked in that, he compensated in courage. I’ve never met a braver man.”

Max nods, smiles lopsidedly. The rings on her fingers glimmer in candlelight.

“I have to admit that I always admired Flint for his tenacity in pursuing goals,” she says. “Sometimes, it was almost as if he had willed them into reality. I don’t share the superstitions of the sailors, but there was something… otherworldly about what happened when he really put his mind to things.”

“John once said the exact same thing--” Madi starts and breaks off, as she has just unwittingly called on the name of another one of her ghosts. Only this one is probably still alive: the last she heard, working in a tavern in Havana.

Max fixes her with one of her cool, unsettling stares and Madi has no idea how to recover from this. Is she waiting for a confession? A story of a smaller calibre to lighten the mood? Difficult to say. She settles for changing the subject, and the bottle soon runs dry.

That night, Madi lies in her bed in Max’s tavern, listening to the sounds of the night in Nassau, eyes fixed on the wooden ceiling, and suddenly thinks of the treasure on Skeleton Island. It’s still there, lying in the cold hard ground, one could say - going to waste, but it’s not, it’s gaining worth, as precious gems are wont to do. It would solve all of her problems, as money is wont to do.

The images of those riches dance before her eyes, followed by everything she could get for it: muskets, spices, vegetable and fruit saplings, cloth, shoes, books and writing appliances to educate, tools to bring the settlement into the modern age… And, finally, straight out of a Dutch painting, a bigger, better-equipped ship, ornate and sleek, that could inspire awe even in an experienced sailor like Captain Flint.

She starts at that thought. It seems alien, fed to her by someone else entirely, since she has never paid much attention to ships. If they sailed, good, if they didn’t, it was a problem to solve, like any other she dealt with on a daily basis. The Kumasi has been a continuous drain on their feeble resources and its struggling crew seems to risk more than they could ever gain, which would probably not change with a more impressive ship.

Still, Flint could probably teach them to be more effective on the account; perhaps they could even take on those great slavers bound for Carolina and Jamaica, Flint going over the side in his black cape and turban, like a wraith, Madi waiting for him at the broadside, with a pistol pointed at the slavers just in case…

This strangely vivid image of a life that was only in store for a brief moment during their war - not even named or expected, just half-imagined - brings such a powerful wave of longing over her that she feels her eyes prickle at the corners.

The floor creaks ominously just outside her room. Startled, she reaches for her gunbelt and lies tense on her side, her hand gripping the pistol, the thumb on the safety, but whatever it was, it doesn’t come back. She turns onto her back after a while and forces herself not to think of the ghosts of Nassau anymore.

In the morning, the whole idea of finding Flint and adding him to their Maroon operation seems simply ridiculous, like something out of an adventure novel. She puts on her breeches - a woman in breeches means business, and everyone here knows that - and the gunbelt, and heads downstairs to have breakfast with Max and Idelle. Afterwards, it’s a simple routine: bills of lading, inventory, stores.

“We’ve taken on more dry stores as Jameson was willing to sell at a discount,” Aloysius says, when they’re going over what is in the hold, still at the jetty. “Seemed foolish to waste a good discount.”

“One should never waste discounts,” she agrees, staring at the bill. The additional dry stores are there, taunting her. Biscuits. Salted meat. Beans. Typical, boring, seafaring food.

“Are we ready to go?” he asks after a prolonged moment of Madi staring silently at the list. She looks at him. He is black-haired and blue-eyed, like a certain other white man she knows, but Aloysius’ hair is straight, only curled delicately at the ends. He gazes at her with friendly curiosity, used to receiving reasonable requests and sensible orders from her and probably anticipating another one of those.

“Ask the captain to plot a different course,” she says instead. “We’re going north, to Savannah.”

Aloysius’ expression turns perplexed. Madi raises her eyebrow in an expression she’s learned from none other than Captain Flint himself.

“Now, fetch me Eme from the tavern, and ready the launch. We leave after I talk to her.”

She squeezes every last ounce of information out of Eme and asks her to keep it a secret as a favour for Mr Scott’s daughter. Eme squirms but agrees, and Aloysius comes soon with the carpenter’s mate that maintains Flint is in Savannah. It’s clear that he’s heard this story from someone else, and sailors are less than trustworthy when it comes to relaying information, but something about his story makes her think it’s actually a personal account. Namely, it’s quite straightforward, without too much embellishment or any outrageous elements. There’s no smoke coming out of Flint’s ears, and his red beard doesn’t drag on the ground, he’s just a drunk in a tavern.

When she steps onto the deck of the Kumasi, Captain Ato asks her for a word in his cabin. That is a polite way of telling her off, since he can’t be seen challenging her authority in the presence of the crew.

“Madi, this is unlike you,” he says, coming around the desk to where she sits, aggravated and impatient. ”You do not do things on an impulse, or because you have a gut feeling. You think things through and that is the mark of a great leader.”

“I agree,” she says, calmly. “It is unlike me. I do think things through. I consider, I reflect, I ruminate, and as a result I do not do much other than think. Let me have this. We are a week before schedule, and I still have some coin to spend, so if nothing else, we can take a look at the trade offering of Savannah, gather news - maybe even some leads - and go home.”

She has him at ‘some leads’; Captain Ato is obsessed with them and fiercely believes that his success on the account depends solely on the quality of information they gather. He glares at her, scowls, and rubs his meaty hands together, as if deliberating, but she knows he’s taken the bait already.

“I’ll plot the course for Savannah,” he says, eventually, and with a heavy sigh to show his disapproval. “On the condition that we are homebound before the start of the hurricane season.”

“Of course, Captain,” she replies and, at that moment, truly believes it.

It’s exhilarating, at first, to be back on the track of the adventure she was robbed off by John Silver, and a little scary, as always when faced with the unknown. There are innumerable ways this could go, a thousand uncertain outcomes, and she is ready to take all of them on like a spray of seawater on the deck. She tries to conjure an image the reunion and fails, because deep down she knows it is not going to be one of the happy ones. If anything Silver’s told her is true, Flint has been beaten into submission by the overwhelming odds and the betrayal of the one closest to him, stripped of the respect and power he garnered as a pirate captain. Unmade, turned into another person entirely.

If all of it was true, he was supposed to be reunited with his lost love, the English lord. Madi is, however, no stranger to philosophy, and she knows that in order to find the most reasonable option, one must discard all the doubtful ones. There is probably no English lord spirited away to a mysterious plantation for outcasts from civilisation. There is just a man trying to drink himself to death, one she should have recovered a long time ago.

They sail to Savannah under the punishing glare of the sun. It only rains one day, and the crew puts out pails and barrels to catch the water, just in case. Captain Ato urges her to hide in her cabin, but she stays on deck. The rain is warm, and the sky and the ocean seem to converge, surrounding them with an all-encompassing greyness. Once more, Madi is beset by an overwhelming longing, but this time there’s a strong undercurrent of anger in it. This whole expedition could be a fool’s errand, but at least she is trying to undo what John Silver did to her and Flint those two years ago.

Mother, of course, is certain that Flint is dead, but Mother also considers Silver the root of all evil and the devil incarnate. Madi has spent countless hours on the topic of Silver’s capacity for murder, specifically for murdering Captain Flint, and has come to the conclusion that he would neither be able to kill Flint nor her, whatever the circumstances.

It’s with that thought that she jumps out of the launch in Savannah, and heads straight for the tavern, Aloysius and Kumi at her back. They barge inside and look around. Flint isn’t there, or anywhere in the vicinity.

Madi stands back while Aloysius asks around about a red-haired man skilled in sailing and navigation, possibly with a propensity for drinking.

“Aye, there was a fella,” says one of the sailors. “Haven’t seen him in months. Always in a rotten mood, that one.”

“Well, where has he gone? What is he doing?” presses Aloysius.

The man fixes him with a tired and a little disdainful stare.

“Sailed away with one of the crews, would be my guess. For the colonies mayhaps?”

“Maybe another tavern?” suggests Aloysius once they run out of patrons to question. If they even recall someone like Flint, they all say the same thing: he must have left, no one’s seen him around. But there is no other tavern: Savannah is small, not even a colony, barely an outpost for the local wealthy plantation owners and merchants to exchange goods at.

Reminiscent of what she’s told Ato, she half-heartedly browses the wares in the market, while Aloysius and Kumi try to befriend locals to gather leads. She’s not exactly surprised, or even disappointed, it’s something else. Maybe it’s anger. She’s gotten so good at keeping a lid on everything that it’s difficult to discern what it really is that makes her hand shake when she hands the money over to the merchant.

The journey back to the Kumasi is a silent one. Aloysius rows morosely while Kumi keeps his eyes on the horizon.

“We could try in St Augustine,” he says, all of a sudden. Madi is always a little startled at the sound of his deep, raspy voice. “It is the biggest town this side of the colonies. It might yield something.”

Madi once again strong-arms Ato into agreeing to a change in their course. St Augustine, fortunately, lies on their route back to Maroon Island, and is an actual town, a harbor, a place worth visiting. Madi tries not to be too excited at the prospect; she’d rather avoid repeating the experience of Savannah, if only to not feel that dark resentment that it’s stirred within her again.

Florida is a lush, green land spread across the horizon. St Augustine blinks its hundreds of lights at dusk, and some of the crew look spellbound. They have never seen settlements this big or imposing, maybe save for Nassau.

They get on a launch and row to the harbour. Madi is strangely calm, as if she’s already accepted a negative outcome of this attempt. Ato and Mother are going to be displeased with her, and they are going to return home a little later than they’ve planned, but otherwise nothing is going to be affected by the futility of this. Other than her curiosity, of course: that’s going to be sated.

She walks into the first tavern she sees, Aloysius on her right, Kumi trailing slightly behind. Some of the patrons turn to look at a black woman dressed in trousers and sporting a gunbelt, but these are the colonies, and they’ve all seen stranger things than that. Madi looks around, her eyes slowly getting used to the flickering, weak light inside.

Flint is there, at the bar, sipping from a cup. He doesn’t notice her at first, but then turns his head and narrows his eyes, struggling to recognise the newcomers, and his whole face undergoes a powerful transformation. If she was not certain at the first moment, well. She is now.

Chapter Text

“Flint fancies himself someone… exceptional,” John told her once in one of their rare moments alone. He reveled in discussing Flint with her, which, in hindsight, should have set at least some alarm bells ringing. “A hero. A Titan bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders.”

“And who are we to him?” she asked, because although she could do without dissecting Flint’s needs and motivations in bed, she had a soft spot for literary comparisons.

She doesn’t remember what John’s answer was then; they had numerous conversations on the topic, and what moments they shared have recently begun to blend together into one long strange story of love and betrayal.

The man sitting before her now is nothing like a Titan; with an unkempt beard and long unruly hair, he resembles a trapper from the northward colonies rather than the man she silently admired on the deck of the Walrus. Such a figure he cut then: brow furrowed, face stern, back ramrod straight, hands clasped behind it in a stance she began to associate with British soldiers.

This man blinks at her once, twice, and then just shakes his head and goes back to his drink.

Madi feels Kumi and Aloysius turning to her expectantly and gives them a curt nod. They will have her back no matter how this goes. She moves through the tavern, ignoring patrons glaring and whispering about her, focused keenly on Flint. His hair, when longer, is not as ginger as his beard - it looks deep auburn in candlelight. He’s dressed in a stained white shirt. Up close, the stains look like dried blood and sure enough, his face is bruised and battered, and it’s fresh, as if he’s taken a beating just this afternoon.

She clears her throat. Flint turns his head again and gives her an apprehensive look.

“It’s really you,” he rasps. The smell of spirits hits her hard. “Why are you here?”

“I’ve come to get you,” she says, sinking onto a stool next to him.

Now that she’s here, she can hardly believe it’s really Flint, especially that he looks so miserable, so wretched. He notices the look of pity on her face and his expression turns angry.

“I reckon I must make an impression of someone in need of rescue,” he says with spite. “But I assure you it’s not so, and you’d do best to leave me in peace.”

His voice breaks a little at the last word, and she too feels anger. It’s not directed at him though, but mostly at John Silver, while some of it she reserves for herself. Madi closes her eyes for a moment and when she opens them, Flint is watching her, his face harsh, but his eyes betraying him as usual: they’re soft and glassy.

“Can we talk someplace else?” she asks, her voice low. “I have something I want to discuss with you. It’s more of a request, to be frank.”

He narrows his eyes, looks her up and down. It feels familiar to be the object of his scrutiny, and she registers a faint twinge of affection at that.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” He turns back to his drink, his jaw tight. “You should leave. I imagine you didn’t come here alone, and they’re probably waiting for you.”

“Just a conversation--” she places a hand on his forearm and regrets it immediately: Flint shakes it off, snarling and almost hitting her on the chin in the process.

She withdraws and catches his gaze, which isn’t easy, because he refuses to look her in the eye. She isn’t trying to guilt him into anything: she is honestly searching for traces of the man she used to know, and he must recognize that somehow. His expression turns despondent and somewhat incredulous, as if he’s surprised at her being here at all.

“I’m not him anymore,” he says, brokenly.

It’s only when he rises from his seat that she realizes just how drunk he is, but she doesn’t offer a hand, only stands back. Flint pushes away from the bar with a determined expression and then staggers to the exit. Madi follows him, dimly aware that Aloysius and Kumi are trailing behind her, first through the tavern and then into the sweltering night.

Flint presses shakily forward, apparently with a goal in mind, but then suddenly stops in his tracks. His shoulders are tense. Madi feels her fingers itch for the reassuring grip of her pistol, even though she’s never needed that before with Flint.

“Is he with you?” Flint asks through gritted teeth.

“No, of course not,” she says, as if it’s obvious, even though it’s not. “I-I banished him from the island after he told me what he’d done to you. After what he did to me.”

Flint turns then, his face a mask of despair. She suddenly remembers the English lord he was supposed to be reunited with, but figures it’s not the best time to bring it up. As if reading her mind, he locks his jaw and turns back. He ambles down the street, Madi following him at a distance with Aloysius and Kumi a few steps behind her, like twin silent shadows, and soon they leave the seafront for a shabbier part of St Augustine.

“Where are we going?” she asks, casting a suspicious glance at two dirty boys watching them from an empty doorway.

“I am going to bed,” Flint replies, darkly. “I’m not sure where you are headed.”

She feels a sting of anger at that, but grits her teeth and follows him further into the shanty town. Flint tests her patience at one point, waving at her to wait and turning into an alley to relieve himself. She rolls her eyes and waits, tapping her foot, and soon he emerges from the dark into the flickering light of the torches, casting an indifferent look in her direction.

He finally leads them to a hut off the main road, almost at the edge of the town. It’s dark and shabby, set against the dark wall of the forest, and it is only when he lights a fire inside that the full extent of its squalor is revealed. There is hardly any furniture, and the pieces that have had the misfortune of falling into Flint’s hands are badly damaged by water. The light doesn’t quite reach the roof of the hut, but Madi is fairly sure that she could see right through it. There are clothes, cracked crockery and empty bottles scattered all around.

Flint collapses onto a frayed, musty armchair, hair covering his face, and Madi tries to hide the horror she feels. It occurs to her with terrifying clarity that if she leaves without Flint, he will die.

Behind her, Aloysius clears his throat, and she notices Flint staring at him with barely veiled hostility. She ducks outside to talk to the men.

“This shouldn’t take long. Just walk the perimeter to make sure there are no surprises.”

Aloysius nods, but even in the darkness she can see that it lacks conviction.

“What is it?”

“Forgive me, but that is a man unhinged. Disturbed beyond reason. Would you consider having any one of us in the room with you?”

“No,” she says, brusque on purpose. “I know him. You know what to do.”

She goes back inside, mildly irritated at Aloysius for assuming she needs protection from Flint and at Flint for putting her in this position. Flint himself is sitting in the same position as before, glaring at the wall as if it’s offended him somehow. She steps on some broken pottery with a crunch and his attention shifts to her.

“Some bodyguards you’ve got. They your crew?”

She nods, not entirely sure if Flint recognized Aloysius, who used to be a privateer under Teach, or if he just assumed.

“Are you on the account?” he asks, and she can hear a clear note of longing in his voice.

“I have signed the articles, but I do not usually sail with them when they hunt.”

Flint brushes his hair away from his face. His hand shakes badly, but he seems more lucid than in the tavern.

“Let’s discuss that matter you mentioned,” he says. “If you still wish to.”

Madi stands silent, suddenly uncertain how to breach the subject. In the quiet of the night, she can hear Flint’s breathing and Kumi’s careful steps as he circles the hut, crickets and animals further out, in the forest. Flint’s gaze suddenly turns razor sharp.

“So this is about the cache.” His upper lip curls, revealing his teeth. “That is why you sought me out here. You want the treasure to-- what? Finance another rebellion that will swallow the West Indies whole? Pay for another war that will see backlash from Spain?”

“I need that cache for my people to survive,” she says. “It getting more and more difficult for the community to function. And we have more and more people coming… Once they hear about the island…”

He nods bitterly, as if this was an outcome he actually predicted, and she realises he thinks this is the only reason why she’s here.

“And I want you to come with me,” she says, quickly, taking a step closer to the armchair. “I know this is not what we envisioned, but--”

“I am not going anywhere, and you were wrong to come here.”

“I am sure that if you put a little more thought to this, you will see the merit--”

“I just can’t handle any more of it. There’s no use revisiting this, not now, not ever.”

She fights the urge to roll her eyes, partially because it rings true, the part about him not being able to handle more. He seems exhausted, worn thin by mere existing.

“I will stay until tomorrow,” she says instead.

“Now wait a minute…”

“I wish to discuss this matter with you when you’re in the state to properly do so, which might take until tomorrow--”

“Why do you want to stay here?” he interjects, his voice reaching a higher, more desperate note. “Don’t you see what I’ve become?”

She starts at that, and her control slips. Flint sees the expression on her face and his eyes flash with something akin to alarm.

“Because it is not fair, what has been done to us?” she raises her voice. The steps outside stop and what follows is absolute silence in which her words ring louder than ever. “Neither of us deserved it! The--the chances, the opportunities, the life we have been stripped of! It is unjust and I want to make it the smallest bit right!”

“Oh, Madi.” He smiles lopsidedly. It’s the first time he’s said her name. “We are past the point of making anything right. You are too smart not to see that, I’m sure.”

“I am not willing to accept that as long as we both stand here breathing.”

He shakes his head, his shoulders twitching, and she is certain he is breaking down, but what she hears instead is a laugh. It’s hollow and mirthless, but he is laughing at her as if she has said something so ridiculous he just isn’t able to contain himself.

“Go to sleep,” she barks at him and his head snaps up at the authoritative tone. “We’ll talk when you sober up in the morning.”

Flints huffs, disgruntled, but gets up from the armchair. As he walks past the table, he has the audacity to reach for a bottle of rum. She snatches it from him and he blinks at her incredulously.

“You will sober up,” she repeats, brows raised. “Now go.”

For a long moment he looks at her, not saying anything, his eyes just searching her face, and she feels some kind of energy pass between them, as if whatever link was there before has reestablished itself now. Then he turns and leaves, disappearing in the little room to the side. She hears furniture creaking and Flint’s deep, miserable sigh.

Aloysius and Kumi are waiting outside, pretending not to have heard her outburst. Madi is glad it’s dark; Flint has thrown her.

“I need to stay until tomorrow. We’ll need the bedrolls and some provisions, and for word to be sent to Captain Ato.”

Aloysius goes, and Kumi stays to stand guard. In the waning light of the fire, Madi cleans the hut of the bottles, some of the broken crockery and other rubbish. It is tiresome work, cleaning somebody else’s mess, so she sits down in Flint’s musty armchair for a moment. It’s completely outrageous for her to be here, much more so in this capacity; Flint has usually been the unshakeable force driving others to action and not taking no for an answer.

Most of what she knows about Flint was at some point relayed to her by John Silver; she simply did not have time to discover a lot on her own. She remembers that one time on the Maroon Island when they were preparing for the attack on Nassau with a string of long, difficult meetings. She noticed that Flint, usually positioned in the middle of the room in one of his imposing stances, was at the back, leaning against a post.

She watched him, curious if he was the same in the center of attention and in the absence of scrutiny. Then John Silver took the floor and her attention was swept to him as if in a powerful wave. Back then, had Mother suddenly disowned her and fostered another young woman in her stead, Madi would have put on a pirate hat and become John’s silent Anne Bonny. Perhaps not in trousers, as she was still on the fence about wearing those, but she would have stood at his side and glared menacingly at all of his opponents, which says a lot about the way she envisioned pirate life then.

John commanded the attention of everyone in that room with such ease and grace that she found it difficult to tear her eyes away from him, but she did: for the purpose of looking at Flint. He was watching John too and she recognized the expression on his face, because it was a mirror of her own. That was the one thing John did not tell her about Flint. Not by intention, but, she suspected, by unconscious omission, as he either did not allow it or didn’t believe it.

She intends to get up and make sure everything is in order for the night, but finds herself unable to; the memory of John weighing her down, even more so with Flint this close, only on the other side of the wall. It seems inevitable to curl up in the armchair and fall into a sleep so deep she doesn’t ever hear Aloysius come back. He must have, though, because in the morning there is a bucket of fresh water next to her feet and a bag of provisions and fruit on the table.

Madi stretches, her joints cracking, and peeks behind the curtain separating the two rooms. Flint is fast asleep, curled on his side, brow furrowed. She leaves him be and walks outside, into the blinding sunlight. The other residents of the shanty town are also up, going about their business, and no one pays her any mind. Aloysius and Kumi are nowhere to be seen, so she circles the hut and sure enough, there they are: sleeping face to face on a single bedroll, looking a lot more like boys than bloodthirsty pirates. Kumi cracks an eye upon her approach and they share breakfast in Flint’s backyard, talking about nothing in particular. Florida’s flora is lush and wild, spilling over from the forest to the house with vines and palm leaves.

Afterwards, Madi goes back into Flint’s hut to find him awake. He’s sitting up in bed, touching his face gingerly as if he can’t recall how those cuts and bruises came to be. He looks weak and feverish, and she realises that one night might not be enough for him to recover from his recent troubling predilection for drink.

“Good morning,” she says, and his eyes snap up to her, wary. “Would you like some water?”

“Yes, please,” he rasps, but at least he’s not surprised at her presence.

She brings him a pitcher of water to drink and a wet rag to wash his face with. His hands shake so badly he isn’t doing a very good job of it, so she takes it from him and gently cleans the worst of it. He looks in part relieved and in part mortified.

“Do you remember what we talked about last night?” she asks, dabbing at his brow.

“Your desire to recover the cache.” He scowls, making it difficult for her to clean the wound.

“No. To recover you from this place and obtain your help with finding the cache for the Maroons.”

Flint keeps silent. There’s grey hair on his temples, reflecting the morning light in an odd way, and Madi realizes she doesn’t even know how old he is. She isn’t very good at judging the age of white people.

“What happened?” she asks, touching his scratched chin. He winces.

“Someone took offense with my opinion of their sailing skills and decided to give vent to it. He was wrong, but had a friend with him to compensate for what he lacked in that capacity.”

There’s an arch to his eyebrow that Madi gladly recognizes. She puts the rag away and Flint turns to look at her keenly.

“Why are you still here, Madi?”

“Let me turn that question around. Is there anything keeping you here?”

“No.” He looks down, avoiding her gaze.

“What--”

“What about Thomas, you mean to ask?” He grimaces. “Lord Hamilton is on his way to England. Or perhaps already at his destination. Our paths… diverged.”

Madi has more questions, but knows better than to pry when Flint’s face twitches with emotion.

“I’ll go to the market to get something for your face,” she says, getting up. “There’s food on the table.”

As she leaves, she throws a look over her shoulder at Flint. He’s clutching the rag, looking dazed, as if a fundamental truth he’s been resisting up until now has just caught up with him. Madi is a little overwhelmed too, especially with her feelings about John: on the one hand, he did tell her the truth about Flint, or at least the majority of it. On the other, the reality it shaped is worse than she anticipated, and she hates him for it.

She goes into town with Aloysius at her side, gets some herbs and ointment, hopes not to meet Captain Ato. Unlike Savannah, St Augustine is bustling: with people, trade, gossip. Aloysius tells her they have some leads and then, in the same flippant manner, suggests leaving without Flint.

“If he’s been drinking as heavily as I think he has,” he supplies, thumbs hooked behind his belt, “then it will take a long time for him to retain a state approaching normalcy. My uncle was a drinker and when my father made him go dry, he shook and sweated for weeks.”

Madi throws him a chilly look and he falls silent immediately. Their trek back is tense, since the local militia men start to take interest in them in the harbour, and they have to lose them in the crowd. When they get back to the hut, Kumi is sharpening his knife on the front porch, while Flint sits in the backyard, staring at the forest. He’s barefoot, the skin on his shins and feet blinding white and a little freckled. He doesn’t turn to look at her when she sits next to him, allowing her knees to fall open like a man’s.

“Do you know what happened when Odysseus finally reached Ithaca?” he asks, eyes on the greenery in front of him.

Madi needs to rack her brains for Homer; she’s never been very fond of the ancient epics.

“He could not recognise anything,” she says, the intricate story coming back to her bit by bit. “The goddess Athena has shrouded him with a mist to disguise his true identity from people, and everything looked strange to him too.”

“She did it so he could get his house in order,” he replies. He sounds hollow. “Later on, she scattered the mist and Penelope and Telemachus could see it was him, returned from his journey. But if she hadn’t, they would have to deal with this stranger in their home, seemingly familiar, but utterly unknowable. And he too would never really be home, or reunited with those he loved.”

She understands, of course, what he’s telling her, but it’s not the matter of registering that, but rather conveying her own message. In the evening, when Ato sends for her to return, she asks Flint to at least bid them goodbye in the harbour. He’s pale and a little shaky, and judging from the sad twist to his mouth - in one of his peculiar states of mind, but he agrees. He puts on a pair of boots and even changes his shirt to a clean one. On the streets of St Augustine, he looks like a dozen other hungover sailors, but she feels strangely special walking alongside him like that.

When they get to the harbor, she leads him to the jetty their launch is tied to. In the distance, safely anchored in the bay, sits the Kumosi; the setting sun paints her fiery red against the darkening sky. Madi hears Flint draw in a shuddering breath.

“Why did you bring me here?” he asks. His eyes are glassy and fixed on their humble brig, at the moment looking just as regal as any man o’war. Something in his face softens, but his back straightens, his shoulders set in a familiar line.

Madi grasps his elbow lightly, steering him towards the launch.

“Come on.”

Chapter Text

When Madi was little and Father was home, he was tasked with getting her to sleep and would do so with stories. What he told her was an odd mixture of plots of plays and books popular at that time, tall tales the pirates of Nassau repeated amongst themselves as well as some real stories of their exploits, watered down to suit the child they were being recounted to. Often, he would fall asleep lying next to her in the dark and Mother would have to send someone to come get him.

Her parents told her that years later, as an endearing story from her childhood, and she retroactively created her own memory out of somebody else’s: her father, tall and strong, lying on the mattress with his hands folded on his chest, little Madi curled up next to him, the whole scene cast in flickering candlelight. As a result of that seemingly innocent practice, for the longest time she could not discern the facts from the stories surrounding Nassau.

Going even further, she has heard so many stories about the diabolical Captain Flint, embellished and overblown even by parties such as John, that she is always a little surprised at him demonstrating his more human and vulnerable aspects such as sitting down to dinner.

They eat with the crew, in the mess. The tables sway with the waves and Flint looks very much in his element, even more so when he gets some grog with his food. Madi hesitated when it was brought to them, Flint pointedly watching her instead of the bottle, but she decided to go with it. Grog consists of more water than anything else and a sea journey doesn’t offer that many opportunities for excessive drinking anyway.

Flint catches her looking at him and the corner of his mouth twitches.

“You are trouble, aren’t you?”

“I am?” she asks, taken by surprise.

“Yes,” he admits after a beat. “You make quite a different impression most of the time. Grounded, wise beyond your years. It’s only when one gets to know you that it comes out.”

“What comes out?”

“That spark,” he says with a twist to his mouth. “Like when you first climbed aboard the Walrus and looked around with unflinching self-confidence. It took me years to build that much authority with the crew and there you were, a girl of twenty boarding my ship with that kind of attitude. And it’s still there.”

Something unsaid looms in the air between them. Flint’s eyes reflect the lights of the mess and his usually expressive face turns very difficult to read.

“I was twenty-five,” she says, if only to get rid of that strange thing.

“Beg your pardon?”

“I was twenty-five when we first set off for Nassau together.”

“Ah. Yes, that makes for a fundamental difference.”

She presumes that humor means he is improving, but it could be a defensive measure too. He hardly knows anyone on this crew, though they do know him: men gawk and whisper about him incessantly and while he may not know most of the languages they use, the meaning probably comes across regardless.

Heavy steps thud on the planks and Madi sees Ato approaching.

“Good evening,” he says with a flourish, as if he’s not a Maroon pirate captain but an English gentleman greeting his guests at a soiree. “It’s good to have you onboard, Mr Flint.”

“Thank you, Captain. It is a pleasant surprise for me to be on board of a ship again,” Flint says, not missing a beat.

“Beg your pardon?”

“It’s been a struggle, finding employment in my current condition. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Captain.”

“Likewise, Mr Flint.” Ato is taken aback by the confession and is looking for ways to recover. “If you’ll excuse me, I still have some matters to attend to. However, I would like to invite you for a drink in the captain’s cabin later.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

Ato looks at Madi for confirmation. She’ll have to talk to him about the drinking situation later, but welcoming Flint is a nice gesture in itself, so she nods and Ato leaves.

Flint fiddles with his cup, looking uncomfortable.

“You needn’t read into it,” she remarks, once the Captain is out of earshot. “He admires you greatly and would like you to feel welcome.”

“It’s not that,” he says. “I just don’t think that Captain Flint should be showing his face in the West Indies. He is still a persona non grata in Nassau after all.”

“It is just a name. And we will not be going to Nassau, I can assure you.”

“Well, if you have an idea for a better moniker, feel free to let me know.”

It feels a lot more serious than his flippant tone would suggest, but he’s never been anything other than Flint to her, so she’s unable to come up with anything else. She tries to hold on to the feeling of being let in on Flint’s mystery instead and it gives her a thrill to think that this is how John must have felt.

“What is he doing here?” Flint asks, breaking her out of her reverie. He is pointing at Aloysius, who is seated with the vanguard and gesturing wildly with a piece of bread. He is the only other white man onboard, which must have piqued Flint’s interest.

“Aloysius stayed with us after the events you too have been privy to,” Madi says, sipping her own grog. “He entered into matelotage with Kumi soon thereafter. His presence can be of use in the colonies and he hasn’t betrayed me unlike another white man I’ve met.”

Flint cracks a smile at that, but in the blink of an eye it turns into one of his sad, lopsided ones. When he glances at Aloysius now, it seems different, softer.

After supper, Madi goes to talk to Ato and gives Flint time to settle in. They will be sharing a cabin, as the Kumosi came outfitted with a large, luxurious captain’s cabin that was divided in two with female passengers in mind. One of them is, of course, occupied by Ato, and the other houses two cots, one that Madi usually sleeps in and another she uses to store her clothing, since Mother becomes violently ill at sea and doesn’t even come within eyesight of any vessel. It feels natural to assign Flint to that cot: he is not a part of this crew any more than Madi is and besides, she’d like to keep an eye on him, at least until he’s out of the woods.

When she enters her cabin after speaking to Ato, Flint is putting his meager possessions away. He doesn’t have much: a few tired items of clothing, several water-damaged books, a pair of ridiculous Spanish shoes, some personal items she identifies as grooming accessories solely thanks to her affair with John. Back in St Augustine, she sent Kumi back for this while they dragged Flint onto the launch with Aloysius.

Madi sits on her cot, since she can’t think of anything else to do. Flint rummages around in his bag and pulls one last item out of it. It’s a purse, full of gold guessing by the clink it makes when he weighs it in his hand.

“What’s that?”

“I had a cache in St Augustine.” He throws it her way and she barely catches it before it hits her thighs. “That’s what’s left of it. I’d feel better if you held onto it.”

She opens it. There are pieces of eight inside, interspersed with gemstones. The last time she saw treasure like that was before he buried the infamous cache on Skeleton Island, but it can’t be that - can it?

“I have caches in all major ports in the West Indies,” he explains, one of his brows arched. “I had been a pirate captain for ten years before we started hunting the Urca, remember?”

She just nods, rolling the purse in her hands. It feels a lot like buying passage, a little like an inappropriate gift, but on the other hand Flint has wasted enough money seeking his demise through drinking and picking fights. She takes it, but vows to herself to return it when he’s of sound mind again.

Flint leaves for his visit with Captain Ato and she can hear them talking through the wall separating the two cabins. She doesn’t mean to eavesdrop, but Flint’s presence on this ship is her responsibility, and should he lapse into one of his fits, she should be the one to intervene. He doesn’t, however, it’s all amicable and correct, as far as their tones let on.

When Flint comes back, he’s silent, as if this attempt at normalcy had exhausted him completely. He takes off his boots, puts out the light and lies down on the cot with a heavy sigh. She hears him breathing, but it doesn’t deepen or turn into snoring, so he’s not sleeping, just lying there. When she opens an eye to glance at him, he’s just a silent figure in the dark, seemingly close, but evidently somewhere far, far away.

She turns onto her side and stares at the bulkhead. It feels weird to be sharing this space with Flint, especially that she hasn’t been close with anyone since John Silver. Not even intimate, just in constant proximity of another person.

“Never trust a white man,” her mother has been saying ever since their rebellion fell through, and “Look where it got you”. Madi knows exactly where it got her; once Silver left, exiled, she cried hot, terrible tears that stuck to her cheeks, embarrassed that a man could reduce her to this: a naive, weeping girl on the floor of her childhood home.

What Silver did was not only about a white man putting his own selfish needs above their community; it was treason, an all-encompassing, terrible act transcending the matters of war and oppression into a personal betrayal of the highest order. She tries to picture his face to see if she still feels the same about him and the spike of anger is sudden and unmistakable.

In that cabin, in the dark, she wonders if Flint feels the same about John, if the memory of his boyish, smiling face brings about a simmering rage within him too. Sure, she shared a bed with John, but he and Flint shared this whole alien emotional landscape where only they were allowed to operate. Madi was only ever an observer there, and one who saw just half of the picture, but that half suggested that Flint considered John someone truly special.

In the morning, she is relieved to see that he’s gotten up before her. She dresses and joins him on the bow, where he’s staring at the waves like they are going to give up the secrets of the sea to him.

“You don’t have to keep an eye on me, you know,” he says, looking at her sideways.

“Those bruises on your face say otherwise,” she retorts. The truth is that he looks better than yesterday. His beard is trimmed, hair brushed back and tied. Some of the shorter ends of it have escaped the tie and are whipping around on the wind. “But you are right. I have to believe that you can behave yourself.”

He gives her a curt nod and she notices that his eyes are red-rimmed. There’s something odd about him now and she finally realises what it is: he doesn’t have any weapons on him, no guns, no swords, just a somewhat dirty sash tied around his middle. She’s the one with the pistol now.

In the afternoon, sails are spotted over the eastern horizon. Ato is beside himself, pacing there and back alongside the starboard with a spyglass in hand.

“That’s the lead from Savannah,” Aloysius says. “A Dutch schooner from Cape Town, on the spice trade.”

“Well, shall we pursue, Captain?” Madi asks Ato. Her knowledge of sailing is as shaky as ever, but she feels that the Captain needs someone to spur him into action.

“Yes, yes, we shall. Only if we had a more favourable wind… Damnation!”

Flint is hovering nearby, pretending to be interested in the rigging until Ato finally, inevitably catches his eye.

“Mr Flint, would you pursue in this wind?”

“Oh? I don’t think so,” Flint says in a seemingly unconcerned tone. “I assume you have another plan, Captain?”

“I agree. This wind is no good.” Ato lowers his voice so that the crew won’t hear him consulting someone on high-seas piracy, even if that someone is the bane of the West Indies. “However, if we furl our sails, they will pass by us in a few hours…”

“My concern is that they’ll change their course if they notice us lying in wait,” Flint supplies.

“Well, we could hide our intentions through innocent appearances,” Ato says, oblivious to being led on. “Lay a trap to spring on them once they come close.”

“Well thought out.” Flint nods. “That is what I would do.”

Ato, more excited than she’s seen him in a long time, leaves them to give his orders. Madi fixes Flint with a knowing look. He shrugs and for a moment she catches a glimpse of the man he must have once been, bright-eyed, a little wry but gracious. She wonders if that is indeed the right way to think of a person, if there are breakpoints that indicate when someone ends and begins, different human beings housed in the same aging body.

As the prize draws nearer, everyone is to hide below decks and pretend the brig is abandoned. Ato lays his trap: the vanguard, armed and covered in face paint, lays in wait under hatches, while Aloysius wanders the deck, lonesome and distraught. Upon seeing the ship approach their position, he jumps, waves his arms and yells for help.

“Isn’t this one of the oldest tricks in the book?” asks Madi. She and Flint are watching from their cabin on the stern, or rather she is watching and Flint is reading at the desk.

“It is,” he replies, seemingly disinterested in the proceedings. “And it’s sometimes worth to dust those off and use them.”

Usually she’s not one to pry and prod, but something in the artificial way he attempts to distance himself from the whole operation unsettles her and she asks:

“Would you rather not be on deck, huddled under the starboard in anticipation of the trap being sprung?”

He raises his head at that, first blinking at her in confusion, then narrowing his eyes.

“Wouldn’t you like to be huddled there too, instead of hiding in here like a merchant’s wife?”

“Maybe I would, but that’s not my role here.” She wrinkles her nose at him in annoyance.

“And what’s my role here?” he asks, closing the book with a finality that bodes ill for this conversation. “Did you drag me to this ship to become the pet pirate captain to your people? Or to try and utilize what is left of the fear that my name once instilled in the New World?”

His aim is as accurate as ever and she feels the blow land, but resolves not to show it.

“That was not my intention.”

“Than what was it?” He asks, the set of his shoulders somehow belligerent even though he’s still seated. “To have me spring into action with that prize and do what I do best, but this time at your behest?”

“To take pity on a pathetic drunk who solicits beatings from strangers as punishment he won’t administer himself,” she shoots back.

He raises his eyebrows in recognition as if he’s somehow expected it, or even cajoled it out of her. Madi is angry with herself for lashing out, but the truth is that she possesses significantly less patience than she used to, and she did not expect to have to utilise so much of it on Flint.

He is watching her with a grimace and she shakes her head and leaves before she’s able to read the expression on his face. The crew welcome her into their hot and sweaty midst, but for once she’s grateful for the immediacy and mundaneness of it.

They take the prize, the first one in months. It is packed to the brim with expensive wares: bales of cloth from the Orient that Max will fence for good profit, cases of spices that Madi will partially set aside for their own cooking, useful tools and reserves. They leave the crew with enough stores to last them until St Augustine and hurry south lest the Spanish catch a whiff of piracy so close to their shores. The winds are favourable and Kumosi ploughs the waves like a light sloop.

There’s rum brought out for the crew to celebrate in the mess. Flint, cool and aloof, shows up to congratulate Captain Ato and then sits in the corner, brooding and forbidden from drinking by Madi.

“Even after we ambush them,” Manu says, “defeat them and rob them, they still worry most about that one’s fate.” He points at Aloysius, who is red-faced and grinning. “Is he a hostage, they wonder, have we enslaved him? Do we keep him in chains? They stand at swordpoint, about to meet their doom, and their worst nightmare still is that we might treat them as badly as they treat us.”

“That’s quite true, I’m afraid,” Aloysius replies. “But I also make for excellent bait.”

When she comes back to the cabin late in the evening, Flint is reading by candlelight on his cot, barefoot, his sleeves rolled up to the elbows. It is a hot night, even on the sea, and Madi tosses and turns in her bed, her mind busy taking apart the argument they’ve had. She is beginning to understand John Silver’s obsession with Flint and doesn’t like it one bit.

The day is even more sweltering than the night and it’s difficult to withstand the air below decks. Outside, the sun scorches everyone who makes the mistake of leaning out of the shadow cast by the sails, but at least there’s wind. Kwame the Sea Master is watching the horizon intently and Madi also finds her gaze wandering to the south-east. Sure enough, in the afternoon the sky takes on a greyish haze there, which later turns into a grey-blue swirl of darkening clouds.

The storm hits them in the evening. Madi, who has spent most of the day outside, retires to the cabin and finds it completely dark. Flint, whom she hasn’t seen all day, is lying motionless on the cot, his face a pale smudge in the gloom. The floor sways violently under her feet as she walks over to check on him, spurred by a misplaced sense of guardianship or concern - or something else entirely.

Flint’s eyes are squeezed shut and he’s shivering all over. She leans down to put the back of her hand against his forehead, like her mother used to do when she suspected that Madi was running a fever. Flint stills under her touch. His skin is cool, not hot and clammy.

“Thank you,” he murmurs. “For always taking care of me.”

“Have you slept?” she asks, because it occurs to her that she hasn’t actually seen Flint sleep since they set out from St Augustine.

“No. Sleep eludes me.”

She draws her hand back and braces against the bulkhead to withstand the swaying.

“There’s a storm,” she says, “but I hope it is just going to skirt us.”

“It will. Storms never really come to this place.”

Madi frowns at that, but before she can react, Flint continues, eyes still shut.

“Except when they turn into hurricanes, like the one that hit what? Four years ago? Almost blew the roof off. Good thing I was home then.”

He smiles lopsidedly. Madi takes a step back. There’s a suspicion surfacing within her, but it’s so horrid she elects to push it away rather than consider it.

“Yes,” she manages, as the backs of her legs hit her own cot and she sits down hard.

“You know, I’ve missed you a lot,” Flint continues in a voice faint against the roar of the wind. “I think it would have made a difference having you with me now, with Thomas. You understood me, you understood the things I did. The things I had to do. He didn’t. And I know why… You’ve always been the most pragmatic of us. The most insightful. Maybe you could tell him what I couldn’t.”

Madi is too mortified at first to react: she just sits there, frozen to the spot, a shiver running down her back. It occurs to her for a moment to impersonate Mrs Barlow to offer him some comfort, but she quickly dismisses that thought as abhorrent, and decides to put an end to it.

“Flint,” she calls out to him. “Flint.”

“I’m not Flint,” he says decisively and falls silent for the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

The storm batters them badly in the night, but they’re so close to their destination that Captain Ato decides to just pull through and do the repairs in the Maroon bay. Flint sleeps - or stays unconscious - through most of the squall, while Madi holds on to her cot for dear life, the ship creaking and groaning strenuously around them.

When Flint wakes in the morning, he seems to have no recollection of what transpired or pretends really well not to have any. He has also weirdly warmed to her even though their last real conversation ended on a rather antagonistic note.

“Has the Maroon camp changed since I last visited?” he asks with friendly curiosity at breakfast.

“I don’t think so,” Madi replies. “Do not expect any pirates to be there though. Mother has expelled all of them after the fall of the rebellion, and we put together this crew, mostly from people that had sailed with Nassau crews before. Mother’s faith in alliances with pirates had… evaporated.”

“That’s understandable. My faith in alliances has all but evaporated too.” He chews on a biscuit with a thoughtful expression. “Will she want to see me at all?”

“She knows that you were not at fault for the betrayal. That you kept your word to us right until the end. She might not like… the reminder.”

“I get that.” He sits in silence for a moment and then fixes her with a meaningful look. “Are you really inviting me to stay?”

“Of course. Why wouldn’t I? We have place to spare.”

“Thank you.” He smiles and she suddenly thinks of the way he spoke to her the previous evening. It’s hard to shake it off, even if that moment wasn’t meant for her.

They arrive at the bay in the afternoon and row to the shore. There is a small party there to greet them, taken aback at the sight of Flint jumping out of the launch behind her.

“Mr James Flint is my guest and will be staying with us at my behest,” she says. “We will take point with the news and get a crew to come down - there is a lot to haul to our stores.”

She gives out a few quick orders and turns to signal to Flint that they’re going. He’s standing on the beach with his bag slung across his shoulder, looking lost and out of place.

“Shall we go?” she asks, pointing to the path sneaking over the sand dunes and into the forest.

“Yeah, let’s go.” He shakes it off, whatever it was, and falls into step with her.

The long trek home used to be an exhausting waste of time to her, but she appreciates it now that she needs to collect her thoughts before meeting with Mother and the elders. It used to be Father stepping out of the boat on the near shore of the lake, bearing news of the outside world, and now it’s her responsibility to not only provide her people with that information, but also to shape it in the most favourable way possible. Ever since the fiasco of their alliance with the pirates, her people have closed themselves off from the outside world again, and she would like them to seek out new allies - hence the uneasy deal struck with Max in Nassau a year and a half ago.

They climb up through the forest. It’s humid and Madi’s shirt and breeches are soon sticking uncomfortably to her skin. When she glances at Flint, he’s glistening with sweat and attempting to hide how quick his breath has become. When they reach the lake, he sits down in the canoe with a breath of relief.

“I’ve forgotten what a punishing walk this is,” he remarks, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand.

“You’ve also never been here this time of the year, when it’s the hottest and most unbearable.”

“So glad to experience it finally.”

Kwame takes them across the lake at dusk, just as the water turns impenetrable dark blue with the coming night. When the canoe suddenly loses its balance on the way, Flint immediately reaches forward to grab Madi. His hand lands on her hip in a reassuring grip and she gives it a pat to show him that everything is under control.

Mother is waiting just inside the gate, her face pinched in a look of disapproval.

“Welcome home. You’re very late,” she starts, and then notices Flint coming in after Madi. “Captain Flint. It is most surprising to see you again.”

“My regards.” Flint bows respectfully.

“Mr Flint is my guest and will be staying with us,” Madi repeats, looking Mother straight in the eye.

She doesn’t take the challenge well. Her jaw locks ominously and she turns to leave.

“Let my daughter and me confer in private for a moment, Mr Flint.”

Madi follows her into the council hut, gritting her teeth in anticipation of the reproach she is going to receive. The overwhelming heat does not help one bit.

“Am I right to think that you are almost two weeks late on account of retrieving Captain Flint, of all people?” Mother asks, turning around on her heel to face Madi.

“That would be correct,” Madi replies, cold. “I have received news that he is in Savannah, in a truly miserable state, so I decided to retrieve him. This man…”

“I believe we have discussed the pirate involvement in our affairs many times over and agreed the best course of action would be to limit their influence on our community.”

Madi shifts from one foot to the other. Mother is resolute, but it might be a good idea to appeal to her sympathy for Flint, as she used to like him the most out of all the Nassau pirates she met.

“We have, but he is not here as Captain, but as a friend who needed help. He has no one left after what happened, Mother. We at least had each other. Our community. Our home. He was stripped of everything and left to fend for himself.”

Mother looks at her narrowly, seemingly weighing arguments in her mind, and her stern expression suddenly turns softer and more concerned.

“That is commendable, but I am worried about history repeating itself. That man is a maelstrom, a whirlwind, and I am afraid that you will get swept away in his wake like the last time he was brought here.”

“That is not going to happen. Quite the opposite - I was the instigator here. I sought him out to lend help, true, but that was not the only reason. I also plan to recover the treasure.”

Mother gapes at her with disbelief.

“Madi! I will absolutely not permit that. That cache was the source of great suffering for everyone involved. We’ve agreed that it’s best to leave it in the ground so as not to risk any retribution from Spain or anyone else who might be interested in it - and here you are again, planning to recover it!”

“It’s only logical to try if we recovered the only man with the knowledge of its location!”

“I cannot believe that we are at this again. I believed you to be more reasonable!”

“I am reasonable,” Madi replies coolly. “It is only reasonable to make an attempt seeing as we have a ship, a crew to take us there and its location. It would solve all our problems…”

“And create new ones. No, I explicitly forbid you from taking the Kumasi to that island to recover the cache. We will not be extending ourselves so foolishly as before, not when we are so strained for resources. And you are bringing another mouth to feed into our midst!”

“He has more than paid for that, if you are so concerned with money.” Madi unhooks the purse from her belt and throws it onto the table, where it lands with its telling clink. “We’ve taken a large prize on the way too. Wouldn’t have done it without his help.”

Mother gives the purse and then Madi that calculating look she knows and despises.

“I can see you care about this a lot,” Mother says, finally. “And I do feel that we should not leave Mr Flint stranded, at least on account of our former alliance. However, if he is to stay, he will have to pull his weight on the same terms as everyone else. And you will be responsible for him for the duration of the storm season. Then, we will see. Do you agree to this?”

“I do.” It’s not like she has any other option. “What about the cache?”

She shakes her head. Madi lets out an annoyed huff.

“This is a mistake, Mother. We should recover it while we still can. And for the record, if you expect me to take up the mantle and lead our people, you should not be taking me aside like this to scold me.”

“I wouldn’t have to if you hadn’t brought Flint back here,” Mother hisses and sets her shoulders stiffly. “Which was a surprise I could definitely do without.” She purses her lips. “I believe we are set for the moment?”

“We are.” Madi nods and adapts a neutral expression as they exit the council hut.

Flint looks as if he expects that conversation to have gone bad for him, but Mother presents him with a small smile and he blinks in surprise.

“Welcome back, Mr Flint. We will assign you another hut than you occupied before, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course not. Thank you for having me.”

She nods magnanimously and Madi resists the urge to roll her eyes. Flint is led off to his new quarters by Amma and Madi marches to her own, disappointed and weary.

She sprinkles water on her face and unbuckles the heavy belt from her waist. As she hangs it on a hook, she catches a glance of herself in the reflection of the little foggy mirror on the wall. She looks exactly like she did before the war - maybe save for the trousers - but she feels completely different, like in Flint’s recollection of The Odyssey. It doesn’t feel like the charm of a benevolent goddess.

The council is already waiting for her when she climbs to the hut, unarmed and dressed in fresh clothes. They discuss news, resources, plans for the rain season and new assignments, Flint included. She does not bring up the cache yet - that matter needs some serious thinking time and strategy setting. It was, ironically, John Silver that taught her that approach to seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

After the council retires for the evening, Madi goes into the village to look for Flint. She finds him standing on the porch of his hut, looking wistfully at the lake glimmering in the distance.

“Have you eaten?” she asks.

He turns his head to look at her and takes her whole skirted silhouette in.

“No. I’m uncertain of my footing here, I must admit.”

“Come with me.”

They walk together to the communal table and eat in companionable silence, surrounded only by the sounds of the forest and the lake lapping at the shore. Madi is hit, all of a sudden, with the thought that they are stuck together like castaways from a terrible shipwreck. Home always brings back memories of John, his warm thigh against hers on this very bench, the uneven sound of his steps on the walkways. She wonders if Flint is affected by it too and if so, how - he has expressed grief for his English lord, but has not even spoken John’s name aloud since she found him in Savannah. For all she knows, Flint could be imagining wringing John’s neck.

“Do you have a trade?” she asks, trying to shake herself out of the gloominess.

“Beg your pardon?” He looks at her funny, roused suddenly from whatever he’s been thinking about.

“Is there anything you can do-- like a vocation? Or-- a craft other than navigation and piracy? We needed to assign you to a crew,” Madi explains, “and I reasoned that since you know your way around ships, we could put you down as ship carpenter and carpenter in overall. I’m not sure if that is right.”

This draws an amused snort out of Flint.

“My father was a carpenter,” he says, looking out into the darkness. She watches his face. “So I can nail two planks together and repair a sailing vessel, yes. But other than that I will need some guidance.”

“Manu will surely provide that. You can have a few days to settle in, of course--”

“I can start tomorrow. The sooner the better, really.”

He shifts his gaze back to her. It’s intense and piercing, as always, but also a little sad.

“I’ve spoken to Mother about the cache,” she says, holding up the eye contact. “She wants it to stay in the ground… I do not have permission to use the Kumasi to sail to Skeleton Island and we are not likely to procure another ship and crew to this end. It seems like recovering the treasure is off the table, at least for the moment.”

“I’m sorry, Madi,” he says with feeling, but there’s a distinct note of relief in his voice. “Keep that purse I’ve given you and if you ever swing by Port Royal I’ll give you directions to another cache of mine. You’ll find it more useful than I.”

She sighs and almost tells him that it’s not about the treasure - at least not only - but she has a feeling he already knows that, and she’s tired of talking about money anyway. She just nods instead. Flint’s eyes crinkle at the corners when he looks at her.

The following day, the notorious Captain Flint becomes a carpenter for Maroons on a forgotten island on the Sargasso Sea. She sees him march off with the shipwright crew shortly after daybreak, his freckled skin and red hair setting him apart from other men. They stay on the beach for several days doing repairs on the Kumasi. Then, Flint reappears one afternoon on his porch, sprawled in a chair shirtless, sunburnt and completely exhausted, judging from his pose and the lines on his face.

“Let’s just say I’ve forgotten how difficult manual labour is in the tropics,” he says in lieu of a greeting. “How have you been?”

“Well, thank you. There is a lot to do before the rain season.” She leans on the railing and tilts her face upwards. “Are you all finished with the Kumasi?”

“Yes. A sturdy brig, that one.” He sits upright with visible effort and leans down towards her, clasping his hands between his knees. “An East Indiaman, am I right?”

“I think so, yes.”

“Quite a lot of ships in that shipwreck bay,” he remarks, narrowing his eyes against the sunlight. “Some of them really old. We are moving on to a roofing project tomorrow, apparently, but I would love to take a look at that bay sometime.”

“Of course. I am on my way to the council now, but shall we meet for dinner?”

There’s a flash of surprise in his eyes, but he quickly nods his assent. She has never seen him undressed before and he is different from John: broader, meatier. He looks more like the men that are considered attractive by her people. His chest is dusted with red hair, where John’s was mostly hairless, and scarred in several places.

At sundown, Flint appears on the threshold of her house in a white shirt, hair combed and tied at the back of his head. She is curious about his impressions from this week of work and how they compare to what Manu has already relayed to her. There was apparently an incident or two with instructions not sitting well with Flint, well expected on account of his unfortunate tendency to think he knows better and years spent being in command.

“Well, the first few days were quite a struggle,” Flint admits. “I was somewhat at a… physical disadvantage.”

Madi suspects that he’s referring to an another incident, this one involving retching from exhaustion behind one of the tents - Manu has also mentioned that, but she doesn’t comment on it.

“I have found that physical exertion helps one to sleep,” she says instead, cutting into her sweet potato.

“That it does. I haven’t managed to get any reading done.”

“And what have you been trying to read?”

He looks at her warily, as if recognizing that this is weird territory despite their familiarity. His presence is equal parts comforting and unsettling, like someone returned to her from the afterlife, where he belonged with the others that departed: her father, Eleanor, Kofi.

She takes a drink to overcome the tightness in her throat. Flint exhales loudly in the quiet and says:

“It’s A Tale of a Tub. A satire on the English. Perfectly accurate, I must admit, but I’m afraid you have to know the English to appreciate it.”

He tells her about it and she gets the impression that Flint really despises his compatriots, probably not without reason if her own experience with red coats counts.

They continue to eat together in the following weeks, not every day, but when Madi’s duties allow and he isn’t camping away from the village, with the crew. Over meals, they discuss books and politics of remote European empires as well as the customs of the Asante, as Flint attempts to get to know their culture. Despite that, he has a reputation for being moody and aloof among other people, and she notices that sometimes too.

His excessive drinking seems a thing of the past, so for one of the dinners she opens a bottle of Italian wine taken from the Dutch prize. Flint takes it in stride while Madi finds herself affected by it: she’s hot, maudlin and probably more forthcoming than she should be as she elaborates on her new-found love for gardening.

“I’ve taken a liking to carpentry,” Flint admits, reclining in his chair, legs splayed in front of him. The doorway behind him is a sheet of water as rain pours off of the edge of the roof in streams. “It is logical and reliable. If you do something well, it stands fast, if you fuck it up, it falls. Plus, you see the fruits of your labour almost immediately. It’s nothing like the grinding, ungrateful job of commanding a ship.”

“Really? It seemed to me that you were a captain by calling too, not only by circumstance.”

“Maybe I was a captain only because I did not know the joys of Maroon carpentry,” he replies, twirling his mustache, and she chuckles. “On a more serious note, though, I’ve once heard an interesting story about the early Spanish explorers, more than two hundred years ago. The first place the Spaniards encountered in the New World were the West Indies, right? Not getting into their obvious problems with geography, they were quite surprised to discover that there were people here too, the native tribes. They left some of their own men to establish an outpost on one of the islands and went back to Spain. When another expedition showed up a couple years later, there was no trace of the outpost, but there were suspiciously fair-skinned children running about and bearded men among the natives.”

“Do you mean that our simple, honest way of life has enticed you the way those tribes charmed the Spaniards?” she asks wryly.

When he looks at her, he’s suddenly a lot more serious than just a minute ago.

“All I’m saying is that I could maybe spend the rest of my life like that.”

“Nailing planks together?” She doesn’t mean it as mocking, but rather genuinely surprised. “Wouldn’t you miss the--the glory of victories, the adventure--holding so much power over the course of events--”

“I’ve suffered just as many crushing defeats as victories,” he says, a sad twist to his mouth. “As for my thirst for adventure, I’m afraid it has been all but beaten out of me by--”

“By John.”

“By Silver,” Flint says, anguished, and it strikes a chord within her. He was John to her, Mr Silver or even Long John Silver to a lot of other people, just Silver to Flint. They all could have called him by different names, but he manipulated and cheated them all the same, sometimes to the death or great despair, like the two of them.

They fall silent for a long while. The rain pounds relentlessly against the roof of her hut. She empties her cup and sets it back down, knocking loudly against the table. Flint extends his arm to pick up the bottle and refill it, his face stony save for a little twitch in his cheek. Madi suddenly feels cornered and helpless, so she gets up from the table and walks out onto the porch.

She is angry at herself for being so sensitive about this, so damn fragile, and at Flint for raising it in such a manner. They have managed not to bring Silver up in the whole time Flint has been on the island, and she has held on to it as something unmarred by the reminder of John’s betrayal.

After a minute or two, not even remotely enough time for her to collect herself, she hears Flint push his chair away from the table and walk out too, his steps slow and measured. He stops just shy of her right shoulder, casting a long shadow on the porch.

“Madi.” His voice is scratchy and low, as if uttered with great effort. “You dragged me back up when I did not expect anyone to ever bother with me again. And while I am still on the fence about whether I wanted to be dragged up at all… I am grateful. For your generosity and kindness and everything else you had no obligation to show me.”

She turns around to face him. His face is soft, almost unrecognizable in comparison to the menacing expressions he usually employs.

“I am exhausted,” he continues. “Weary of everything I have been part of and made happen, and then suffered consequences of. When you found me, I reckoned my role in this story was over, and maybe it is, but yours clearly isn’t. And what is missing from it is righting at least some of his wrongs.”

“What are you trying to say?” She blinks up at him with incredulity.

“There is a sloop in the shipwreck bay,” he says, a familiar glint in his eye. His features sharpen instantly. “It’s old and needs repairs, but we could definitely sail it with a small crew. Eight to ten men. I could take us to Skeleton Island.”

Chapter Text

The one advantage of being drunk out of his mind - other than stopping the downward spiral of despair for a brief moment - was no dreaming. Now that he leads a healthy life of manual labour and regular, nightly sleep, he has these eerily realistic dreams in which he is revisiting various moments of his life. Sometimes it’s cutting the throats of redcoats, blood spraying everywhere - it’s disturbing, really, to be able to reproduce such an accurate memory of violence - and sometimes it’s sitting to dinner with Miranda in her violet dress, or giving orders onboard the Walrus. Sometimes, he dreams of men.

Most unsettlingly, to his dreaming self they all seem to be interchangeable. One moment he is looking at Thomas undressing and the next, he is touching John Silver’s suntanned chest. Sometimes he even interacts with Vane or Billy or, from deeper sediments of his past, Midshipman Bonnelly. It’s as if his unconscious self intermingled all the men that left a mark on his life together regardless of whether he pursued them, resented them, allied with them, loved them, underestimated them or fought them. There was only one common denominator: they all betrayed him at one point or another.

Hal Gates is, mercifully, absent from any scenes of a more suggestive nature. He appears in an accusatory role, similar to Miranda or - more rarely - Eleanor. They are usually angry at James, pointing fingers at him, shooting disappointed glances. He spends a lot of time wandering around confused in those dreams, uncertain what exactly he has done wrong, always late to rendez-vous with someone important, missing vital pieces of information, finally: digging up the treasure to discover it’s gone.

When he walks inside his hut after dinner, suspiciously sober despite having three cups of wine, it strikes him that there is one person missing from those terrible nocturnes: Madi. Maybe there is logic to it - she is around him in the waking hours, so she doesn’t need to appear at night.

He shrugs off his coat and hangs it on the chair. It’s dripping water, same as his hair and breeches. It’s been pouring all day and everyone on the crew is anxious that the weather is going to disrupt the feast they have planned for the next day. He is still trying to wrap his head around their calendar, but knows it’s one of the bigger holidays, three days of leisure for everyone - lest a storm hits and fucks it up.

His feel for the weather is off on land, but he now has the luxury of being ignorant and unconcerned. He towels off his hair and lies down on the bed, too keyed up to do any reading, just twiddling his thumbs idly. It appears to him now that retrieving the cache is yet another terrible idea in a long line of terrible ideas he’s had in his life, but it gives him some kind of twisted pleasure to be looking ahead to it anyway.

He wasn’t usually one to underestimate women, but Madi has constantly surprised him with the quality of her character. He once heard Rackham refer to her as a reflection of Eleanor, suggesting that Scott shaped his daughter in Eleanor’s likeness, but Jack was, not unsurprisingly, wrong. It’s the other way around: Eleanor is - was - Madi’s warped reflection. To think that Scott hid her away from them for so long, only to have them come and take her away all the same.

That brings him back to Silver again. He growls and reaches out for the tinderbox he keeps at his bedside. By candlelight he’s at least able to occupy himself with something, like mending socks or keeping a fascinating journal of the trees he’s cut down. In the dark it’s only his thoughts that keep him terrible company.

He hears steps clapping wetly outside and freezes. It’s the middle of the night, pitch dark, and his first instinct is to reach for a weapon, but he has none save for a little knife for peeling fruit, so he settles for sitting up attentively. He’s expecting Aloysius, who sometimes comes by in the evenings out of a misguided need to keep watch over his only Christian fellow, but it is actually Madi who steps through his door.

He opens his mouth but is uncharacteristically lost for words. In the silence, Madi crosses the short distance between the doorway and his bed and sits on the opposite edge of it. She’s just a silhouette in the dark, but from the way his hair prickles on his nape he knows she’s looking at him.

She still doesn’t say anything, just lets out a shaky breath and lies down. He understands that she is feeling lonely and has decided that this is a good way to ward that feeling off, because it is, if only temporarily. He’s also old enough to know how this situation is going to evolve and what the decent way out of it is. He should get up to get a drink of water, swallow loudly in the silence, count on her courage running out. Knowing her it won’t, so when he’s by the table, he should turn and say something appearing to be humorous, but in reality supposed to highlight their difference in age, for example: what would Mr Scott say to this? Bringing up her dead father is a sure-fire way for her to reconsider, and for him to endure the sight of her retreating back, the resentful silence the next day, the hurt looks she’ll give him, his only friend, Silver’s once bride-to-be.

Fortunately, he’s not a decent man, so he lies back against the straw mattress. The rain continues to fall outside, possibly ruining tomorrow’s celebrations, but the air inside the hut has taken on a different quality. There’s a charge in it now and his body tenses in recognition even before Madi reaches for his hand.

She holds it for a moment, sweeping her thumb over his knuckles, and he tries hard not to think about anyone else who might have held his hand this way. Madi saves him from that quandary, grasping his hand resolutely and sliding it under her waistband, where it comes to rest on her mound. When she tilts her hips, his fingers slide between her lips, already wet and hot. He groans at the contact and she raises on her elbow and leans down, hitting his chin instead of his mouth, so he guides her with his other hand.

She kisses him with the same confidence she does everything else, lips only parted a fraction at first, but he breathes into her mouth and she deepens the kiss. A shiver runs down his body, both from sharing his first kiss with someone new and his treacherous self wondering if this is what it looked like between her and Silver, in a similar hut, a similar bed, not that far away from here, not that long ago.

Thunder strikes somewhere on the island and the sound rolls across the sky, but they pay it no mind. He touches her tentatively, trying to get a feel for what she likes most, but mostly intuitively recreating his encounters with Miranda. Madi gasps and arches with appreciation, and it goes straight to his head and groin.

Her fingers slide into his hair, cradling his skull, but when he surges up, she pushes him back into the bed with a firm hand on his chest. He lies back down, catching his breath, and her hand slides into the open neck of his shirt and down, exploring his chest. He sucks in his belly, suddenly grateful for all the work he’s been doing with the crew.

Madi sits up suddenly, dislodging his hand from between her legs in the process, and pulls his shirt out of his breeches. He helps her with that, pulls it over his head, swallows loudly. With his eyes more or less adjusted to the dark, he can see she is pushing her skirt down her legs and getting on her knees. The bed creaks, not used to the weight of two bodies, and James feels the familiar anxiety of entering into an illicit affair.

For a short while, Madi just watches him in the dark. Whatever she sees or feels there must be encouraging, because she throws one of her legs over his hips and straddles him. His hands instinctively go to her legs, sliding over her thighs, grabbing at her backside. Her skin is smooth, supple and moist from the humidity. He feels lightheaded from the sensations, particularly because she is rubbing herself against his groin, already falling into a familiar rhythm, only faltering a little when she pulls off her shirt and drops it to the side.

Outside, the rain seems to be easing off, but thunder hits again, this time further away. Madi scoots back on his thighs and opens the fly of his trousers, draws him out, strokes him gently with one fist. As always, James feels very vulnerable at this stage, but there’s something reassuring and solid in Madi’s touch and presence, and that feeling only grows when she guides him inside of her and starts to move.

She braces her hands on his chest and sets a rhythm on top of him, her body undulating slowly, sinuously. He grabs her by the hips, but otherwise just lies back and enjoys it, her statuesque form rocking in the dark, full breasts swaying, head thrown back in abandon. When he closes his eyes, he disassociates for a moment, unsure of where and who he is with, but he shakes it off and keeps his eyes trained on Madi.

She picks up her pace after a few minutes and one of her hands scrabbles for purchase on his neck and face, so he brings it to his lips and draws two fingers into his mouth, while his other hand finds the crucial spot between her legs and rubs at it. Madi arches her back and shakes over him soundlessly, then leans in for a sloppy kiss. He strokes her sweaty back and shoulders as she pants into his neck.

It all feels as if a goddess has just bestowed a favour on him and he wonders, against his better judgement, if Silver felt just as lucky with her in bed. He probably did-- Silver usually disbelieved any kindness or affection anyone showed him-- not that James had a lot of experience with that.

Something must show on his face, because Madi touches his cheek with concern. She slides off of him and sits by his side, pulling him to her by the nape of his neck. James goes willingly, if only to erase the memory of Silver’s open, trusting face gazing up at him. Madi threads her fingers into his hair and touches him with a tenderness he hasn’t suspected her of, and he turns to her, curls over her hand moving on his length. When he comes, it’s silent. He’s used to hiding.

They lie side by side in his bed, breathing in the humid air, listening to the water dripping from the roof of the hut. The rain has all but stopped and the forest is gaining volume again with the chirping, croaking and calling of its inhabitants.

He doesn’t even regret it as much as he thought he would. Maybe that’s in store for later, when Anane banishes him for seducing her daughter. It resembles one of the biblical stories, but his mind seems to be just as addled as his body and he can’t for the life of him remember which one.

The sheets rustle and Madi draws in a deep breath next to him.

“James-- may I call you--”

“Yeah,” he croaks, clears his throat. “Yes, of course.”

“I have been turning something over in mind for quite a while and wanted to ask your opinion on it.”

“Go ahead.” He laces his fingers on his belly. It all feels so conversational and non-committal, they might as well be sitting on the porch. “What is it?”

“Do you think we had a chance back then?” she asks. Her voice sounds strange, but he can’t put his finger on why. “With the rebellion. Back when we were fighting. I remember discussing this with you, but the circumstances have changed, and I wanted to know if the knowledge and experience you-- you gained since then changed your judgement too.”

He huffs, displeased that she is forcing him to revisit what he’s been trying to avoid, but hoping that the echoes of carnal pleasure will keep at least some of the dreariness at bay.

“Well, I’ve got to admit that it did change a bit. I still do believe that we had a chance and… had our allies believed it too, we might have succeeded. But as much as it pains me to say it, Silver was right about the price we would have to pay for it.” It does feel strange to say it. “I--I probably knew it back then too, I just… did not value my own survival and was willing to pit yours against the odds too. I know you were of the same mind. But the truth is that we might not be standing - or lying, as it were - here if we had continued with the war.”

He feels rather than sees her thinking next to him, and hopes to all that is holy that she is not gearing up to ask him about what became of Savannah.

“I… was not myself for a while after you and John left,” she says. He wonders if the euphemism is for desolation or fury, and decides it’s probably the latter. Madi strikes him as someone who would fly into a quiet rage, where there are no tables flipped, no curses uttered, but if you’re at the other end of it, you’re done for.

He realises there’s been a long pause and makes a sound to show her that he’s listening.

“I was unable to reconcile what had been done to me with what I planned for the future myself,” she continues, her voice wavering. “Utterly unable to make any… intellectual sense of it too. I understood your reasons for doing everything. I had mine. But I suddenly realised that while John shared our views and supported them to some extent, they were not what really motivated him.”

“Yeah,” he finds himself saying, oddly removed from the topic. “In the end, he was a mystery.”

“You see…” Madi lifts herself on an elbow, still naked as the day she was born. “He had no reason to do this other than you and me. He found no pleasure in being a pirate. He didn’t enjoy sailing, nor fighting, nor violence, even if it was righteous, and you know it too. So when he saw how close he was to losing those things he actually cared about to the cause… he must have decided to do anything in his power to prevent it.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Not to you and not to me. But we are only in possession of a fraction of reality. Telling ourselves all these different stories about what transpired, framing them in accordance with our experiences. The way John sees the world is simply different from the way we do, and as a result his truth is different from ours. We may not understand it… We may not accept it… But it is.”

He huffs, almost in amusement. For one, it is oddly enticing to be part of a ‘we’ again. There is also merit to Madi’s idea: Silver was exactly like that, infuriatingly different from what James was used to, always with a mind of his own, even if for most of the time he hid it behind a smile. It threw people off, it even threw James off in the beginning.

He used to be angrier about this, about him. Hell, the anger is still there, just simmering under the surface, somewhat dimmed by the crushing weight of all those wasted chances. For the first time in a very, very long time, and definitely against his better judgement, he wonders what has become of Silver, and immediately scolds himself for it.

“Why aren’t you saying anything?” Madi asks, touching his hand lightly.

“I’m sorry.” He shakes it off and finds her eyes in the dark. He realises that this, the explanation she’s given him for Silver’s betrayal, is her true offering this evening. “You’re right, of course. You’ve always been scarily smart.”

“Which has not done me much good in the long run, wouldn’t you agree?”

He recognizes the question as rhetorical and doesn’t answer. She pulls herself up with a grunt and scoots over to the edge of the bed. He hears her rub her face, then get up and feel around for clothes she’s misplaced earlier. He picks up Madi’s shirt from the ground and hands it to her. Their fingers brush in the dark.

“Good night, James.” She slips it on and stops in the doorway. “I will see you tomorrow at the feast, I hope?”

“I’ll be there.”

She leaves, her feet slapping first against the wet pathway, then the mud below. James lies down again, prepared for a long, tormented night, but goes out like a light the moment his head hits the pillow.

In the morning, he feels weird: well-rested and amenable, but somehow apprehensive, aware of this huge burden that could come crashing down on him again anytime. He shaves, trims his beard, brushes his hair and puts on his Sunday best, which is a white shirt and brown sleeveless coat. When he comes down to the dining hut, no breakfast is being served and instead everyone is assembling in the common area.

He takes what he hopes is a respectful enough place on the edge of the congregation, but Madi spots him and waves him over. He weaves through the crowd, smiling apologetically when he jostles someone by accident. Madi is standing next to her mother and James swallows before greeting her. Anane gives him a distinguished nod, but her eyes squint suspiciously at Madi’s hand on his arm.

He doesn’t speak much Twi yet, but tries to follow the celebration to the best of his ability. Noticing the confusion on his face, Madi leans in to explain some of it: who dances and sings what and why. The point is to make appeals to their ancestors, ensure they remember about their descendants here on this earth and give them sound advice. It’s quite straightforward, and he imagines the Roman rite he grew up in would be stranger to the Maroons than this is to him.

He looks around, wondering if his ancestors are there too, watching him from beyond the grave with amusement or disapproval. This probably isn’t the future his grandfather envisioned for him: a disgraced pirate captain, consort to a Maroon princess somewhere in the arse-end of the West Indies.

His stomach is growling by the time they are allowed to sit down for the feast. There are sweet potatoes, barbecued meat, crispy rice with spices, fresh fruit and roasted iguanas, all staples of local cuisine, and James gets down to business. He’s seated with the leadership, which means, first, that he’s considered a distinguished person and, second - that he needs to make conversation with Madi’s mother.

“Madi tells me that you are settling in well,” she says after a rudimentary exchange about the weather and the food, and James chews quickly through the bite of the spicy mango he’s just put in his mouth.

“Yes, that seems to be the consensus.”

“Well, do you agree with the consensus?”

“I’d say so, yeah.”

She nods her head, eyes searching his face. Madi is glancing at her sideways, as if detecting suspicion.

“Am I correct in thinking that you have completely eschewed piracy?” Anane asks finally.

James considers this carefully. He knows that she is looking for confirmation that he’s left that life behind and won’t be upsetting the order she reintroduced to the community, but it seems like the question is charged with so much more. Madi seems to realise that too. She doesn’t meet his eyes, probably in order not to be too obvious, but he feels her knee press into his under the table.

“Yes,” he replies gravely. “Not entirely of my own volition, but it is done. No ship, no crew. A captain no more.”

“What does that make you instead?”

Good question, Anane, he thinks, giving her an awkward smile and shrugging. If one were to really put their finger on it, he feels like someone back from the dead, but not the made-anew, vigorous kind. More like the struggling, shuffling sort, like the zombies of Jamaica or a good, old-fashioned revenant, back to haunt the living.

As the feast carries on, the Queen and Madi leave to mingle. James keeps to his seat until he sees Manu talking to an older woman in a language that he doesn’t think is Twi. He wanders over with a cup in his hand and waits for him to notice.

“James! My man!” Manu claps him powerfully on the back. His hands are the size of shovels. “How are you on this fine evening?”

“Fine, thank you for asking. I’m sorry if this is not the appropriate time, but I have a favour to ask of you.”

“Nonsense, it’s a perfect time. The ancestors may bless any endeavours we start on this evening.”

He doubts if they will bless this specific endeavour, but then they’ll probably manage without that.

“There’s this sloop in the shipwreck bay…” He looks Manu straight in his warm brown eyes and begins the story; while he might have eschewed his captaincy, he’s still able to spin a great tale.

Chapter Text

He’s sitting in a boat with Silver, rowing arduously to a shore that is not coming any closer. He knows it’s a dream because Silver keeps quiet and every now and again turns into Miranda. They both look at him alertly, their eyes huge in ashen faces, warning him wordlessly, and he just rows to his doom. Suddenly, there’s a break in dream logic and he’s on Skeleton Island again, a pistol at his belt and a sword in his hand, and there’s some grave danger he needs to protect Silver and Madi from, so he does the only thing he knows: butchers everyone else who had the misfortune to appear on the island. De Groot, Joji, Billy, Muldoon, a dozen other unnamed men - he lays their lifeless bodies at Silver and Madi’s feet like an offering. Silver seems horrified at the sight and all of a sudden is holding a pistol to James’ chest. Its barrel is terribly cold to the skin, even through his shirt.

Silver pulls the trigger with the distinctive crack of flint hitting steel and James wakes.

He’s covered with sweat, struck both by the violence of the dream and the last visual: Silver’s outstretched arm, regret for once easy to read in the line of his eyebrows, the tremble of his mouth. The gun that was only there because Silver feared James would kill him in his despair, and not without reason.

That notion stings so much it brings him into full awareness. Madi is lying next to him, breathing deeply - they had dinner, talked about James’ progress with the sloop, then, somehow, he landed on his knees between her legs - and there’s something going on outside. He smells smoke in the humid air and sits up, his hand already reaching out to clasp Madi’s arm.

“Fire!” shouts someone outside, confirming his suspicion. “Fire! Ogya!”

James springs from the bed, reaching for the pail beside his table, while Madi scrambles for her clothes. He doesn’t wait for her and runs outside tying his breeches on the way. The night is full of moving shadows: they are people in various states of undress, running around in what is starting to resemble a panic. In the distance, closer to the village centre, one of the huts is on fire, flames starting to show through the straw roof.

He looks around, trying to spot anyone familiar, or just anyone that might be in charge.

“Hey!” He stops the family from the hut next to his, grabbing the man by his shoulders. “Grab any buckets you have and go to the lake. Leave the children there - they’ll be safe - and bring water. We need to contain this!”

The man nods; his wife and the kids are already running towards the lake glimmering in the darkness. James turns. Madi rushes out of his hut with his wash basin in hand.

“What is going on?”

“There’s a fire-- we need water to douse it.”

She nods, her eyes reflecting the red glow of the fire. They hurry to the lake, telling every empty-handed adult they see to grab a bucket or a blanket, any piece of cloth they might spare, and contain the fire. When they get to the burning hut, there are already people there fighting the fire, but their efforts are disjointed and the flames aren’t going out. The occupants have all fortunately gotten out in time: two shivering girls and a woman in her nightshift.

Madi arranges people into a line extending all the way to the lake, passing full buckets up and empty ones down, so that there’s a steady supply of water, and James forms a group out of the bravest firefighers and gets in close. The flames are high, and it’s crucial to stop them from spreading down the walkways or reaching adjacent huts, so they fight the fire with buckets and blankets. More and more people come to help and James recognises Manu and Aloysius among them.

At dawn, the hut is a heap of smouldering logs, but nothing else is on fire, so it can be deemed a success. He sits down heavily on an overturned bucket and rubs his knuckles against his stinging eyes. His back and shoulders hurt: if this is the way old people feel all the time, he should definitely die before it gets to that.

There are only a few people milling about in the aftermath of the fire, picking up containers and tools strewn around. The nature surrounding them doesn’t seem to care that they narrowly avoided the destruction of their settlement; mist is rolling off the lake like a great swelling wave and parrots are making a ruckus in the trees on the far shore.

There’s a patter of feet and a child approaches him with a pitcher of water. It’s a little boy, could be one of his neighbour’s. He’s got that serious look children get when they have an important task to carry out.

“Thank you,” James says solemnly and the child runs away.

Alone, James dumps the water over his head. It’s meant to cool and clean him off, but it only succeeds in making him crave a drink of the kind that flies down your throat like a caress and only burns as an afterthought. He misses the times when he could just enjoy a drink and not hit the bottle or begin another ill-fated affair.

He takes the pitcher and just walks ahead, knowing that sooner or later the walkways and paths are going to lead him out to the lake. The village is settling down after the terror of the night and it’s just him and a few other sleepy marauders, stumbling around like souls in the Greek afterlife. He reaches the shore, but doesn’t stop at the line of water, just walks into the it until it hits his thighs.

Unlike the sea, it’s still; little fishes swarm between his legs, nipping at his feet. The morning fog dissolves at the far shore, showing the site of his first real victory over England. It was that forest he walked out of to see Silver and Madi waiting for him on the other side and while he was still dazed from all the killing he’d done, he had the presence of mind to think that something had changed irrevocably, either in the world outside or within himself. He remembers that day in specific detail, but just like Savannah, it is forbidden, locked away in order to preserve whatever is left of his sanity.

“Flint! Hey, man!”

He looks over his shoulder. Manu is waving at him from the near shore.

“Work is cancelled for today. What a night! Do you even know what happened?”

He shakes his head.

“Mensah left a candle burning and it fell over when she went out to use the outhouse. Pretty stupid way to start a fire, don’t you think?”

“Yeah,” he manages. Manu looks him over with sympathy.

“Go and get some sleep. You did good.”

He nods and stumbles back to the shore, then to his hut, like a sleepwalker. The sun is up, however, and soon it gets too hot and humid to sleep, so he gathers his tools, wraps some fruit in a bundle and goes down to the shipwreck bay to work on the sloop. He’s halfway down when he hears someone on the path behind him and turns sharply to see a mop of dark brown locks bobbing in the foliage. It’s Kumi, Madi’s silent bodyguard. He nods at James and falls into step with him.

Earlier that week, Kumi just happened on James and Manu struggling with the sloop’s mast. They froze, afraid they’d been discovered, but Kumi not only helped them with the mast, but stayed to work without asking a single question. James has a lot of respect for that kind stoic countenance, but had to have a talk with him all the same, to make sure that their endeavour stays secret.

It doesn’t seem like it worked, as Aloysius, Madi’s loud bodyguard, shows up in the afternoon. James, who has been enjoying his well-earned break in the shade, spots him strolling between the rocks littering the rocky shore of the bay.

“I’ve come to see what you two are up to,” he says, coming up to James.

“Not to check if I’m abusing him?” He nods towards Kumi, who is still labouring over the bowsprit.

Aloysius looks shifty for a moment. James has to squint his eyes against the sun to look at him.

“I’ve heard a lot of things about you,” Aloysius says finally, tilting his head.

“Oh, I can only imagine,” he says, taking on an exaggerated cadence. “Bloodthirsty. Tyrant. Crew killer. Obsessed with the Urca treasure. Driven mad by the war. Would bend anyone to his will, either by deception or violence.”

“More or less, yeah. Although now I find it difficult to reconcile those stories with the man who spent the better part of the night putting out a fire so close to the flames that his eyebrows are singed.”

James touches his eyebrows, surprised at the admission.

“It would, however, do you good to remember,” Aloysius continues, “that what we have here is fragile. This-- this special place has particularly much to fear from men like you and I, and we have to take particularly good care of it.”

James bristles slightly at the brief suggestion of a threat, directing his best unblinking glare at Aloysius. The man’s expression is honestly concerned and a little apprehensive, and James can’t help but admire the courage it takes to come up and admonish Captain Flint himself.

He looks down at his boot toeing at the sand.

“That’s true,” he says. “I also know how it feels to be shunned by your fellows and peers for an innate quality that is neither good or bad in itself. To be forced to be constantly on your guard in fear of being found out again, and the relief that comes from being able to be yourself in a place deemed safe.”

Aloysius frowns, confused. James casts a good long look at Kumi, whose smooth, powerful back is glistening with perspiration as he bends over to the ropes. Aloysius’ black eyebrows raise in realisation.

“But then I also have a request,” James says, seemingly politely. “This project of ours needs to stay under wraps. You’re welcome to help, of course, but keep quiet about it.”

“Guess I could lend a hand.”

They work through the afternoon, finally succeeding at straightening the bowsprit, and head back to the village in time for dinner. James’ decent mood disappears sometime around sundown, when they are climbing the ridge that slopes down into the valley. Aloysius and Kumi are walking in front of him, elbows touching, and he feels a sudden pang of alarm at being so reckless with that vital piece of information about himself. He grits his teeth at the sound of their laughter and turns to his hut without saying goodbye, cheeks burning.

Madi is waiting for him there, lanterns lit and dinner on the table.

“Hey,” he says, putting his tools away.

“Hey. I lost track of you after the fire.”

“Oh, I just went to scrub up at the lake. Why?”

“I wanted to thank you for your help. It was really dangerous there for a while, and we’re really lucky nobody was hurt.”

“There’s no need to thank me for that.” He sits down opposite of her and finally takes a good look at her, not just a quick glance. The candlelight highlights her features, the high cheekbones, arched eyebrows, sharp jawline. There are new earrings in her ears. “I was in the bay to work on the ship. Aloysius joined us. I gave him the talk, but he might listen to you more.”

“I will pick it up with him, then.”

They eat in silence. The food is hot and spicy as always. It might be the exhaustion speaking, but he feels like they are just actors in a play, and not a good one at that. It’s not Madi’s fault, of course, at best it’s his, for overthinking everything, looking for a hidden agenda everywhere.

“You look worried,” Madi remarks and the word - worried - just grates at him.

“I’m tired, that’s all.”

She stares at her bowl of soup as if it contains insight on why James is being a dick.

“You know,” she continues, relentless as always, “if there is anything bothering you about your position in this place, you may tell me. I brought you here, which - maybe unnecessarily, I admit - makes me feel responsible for your well-being here.”

It is a nice enough sentiment, but makes him wonder about the real reason for that concern. She’s probably heard someone speak of him less than favourably, maybe her mother, and suspects they’ve made him feel it. And have they? He circles back to Aloysius and, somehow, Silver, as if the memory of that damned dream has been lying in wait all day, just biding its time.

Madi must take his silence for confusion or embarrassment, as the look she gives him is apprehensive.

“I am aware these are not ordinary circumstances,” she says, her eyes flickering to the bed for a fraction of a second, “but I would very much like to make sure that things are fair between the two of us. If anything, fairness is a quality I think we could and should pursue.”

He repeats it to himself, rolling the word fair around in his mouth and his mind, then sets his spoon down with a clunk. Madi flinches. Something terrible unravels inside of him, making his chest tighten, cheeks burn.

“And this-- you think this is fair?” he asks with a scowl. “He loved you-- he probably still loves you-- and I am here in his place, at your table, in your bed--”

He might as well have slapped her. Her hands curl into fists, one of them still holding the spoon, and he’s suddenly grateful they’re not having anything that requires cutting with a knife.

“It’s somewhat ironic that you would be pointing that out--”

“Ironic?” he repeats. “How come?”

“I know about your past, James, I know how you and Mrs Barlow came to be on New Providence Island--”

“You know nothing!” he roars. All of a sudden he is standing and the dishes are wobbling on the table. “Nothing about my circumstances and my-- my-- past, just scraps that he might have told you to make me more likeable in your eyes, nothing resembling the truth--”

“I know enough to recognize that you’re no stranger to unusual circumstances,” she says, calm, but her chest is heaving. “And this is not the treatment I expected from you.”

Well, but that’s what you got, he thinks, all the more offended that she’s already regretting this. She is staring at him with an angry frown, not afraid, but rather exasperated as if dealing with an annoying child.

He deflates a little and a clear thought penetrates that terrible red cloud gathered in his mind: if he fucks this up, he may never be allowed another shot at anything.

The chair scrapes against the floor. He sits back down, head bowed, elbows at his side.

Madi lets out a breath and picks up her spoon as if she’s about to go back to eating dinner, but she just puts it in the bowl and pushes it to the side.

“If you insist on bringing John into this,” she says calmly but sternly, subduing his need to argue, “don’t you think that it was his actions that were unfair? And that those actions are what, either directly or indirectly, put us in this situation?”

“Well, yeah, but that is beside the point here.”

“And what is the point here? Your delusions that I am replacing John with you? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you are two very different men.”

He gapes at her for putting it so candidly.

“No, that’s not it.” He looks away. “I--I just can’t fathom why you-- why my reception here should be what it is. Don’t you think? I mean--”

Madi just looks at him expectantly, neither helping nor stopping him from saying whatever is trying to get out his throat. He feels ravaged, open like a fresh wound.

He sits back in his chair. The air is humid, sticking to his skin and the lantern gives just enough light to illuminate them and the table. This is theater after all, he realises, and they may just as well open Pandora’s box to satisfy the audience.

“Back in Savannah,” he says and could swear that it’s someone else’s voice. “I had trouble reconnecting with Thomas. Lord Hamilton. Or not, anymore. I’m not sure if he can reclaim the title and the lands but he wants to try. Says he can’t stand the colonies anymore, and that he won’t work another day in the field, which I can understand. I can understand it all, actually.”

He swallows. Madi keeps her face cautiously neutral. The insects are buzzing away in the night.

“That’s why I wanted to break us out of that place as soon as I could,” he continues, certainly against his better judgement, but unable to stop now that the dam has broken. “It was not a good place, Madi. It was all that is wrong with England. It was a--”

“A plantation,” Madi finishes.

“Yes. A plantation. I rallied some men around me, killed the guards. It was easy, really. They were used to docile prisoners, outcasts who accepted their role on the fringe. Even beaten down by Silver-- I wasn’t like that. I got us out and expected the brave new start that I was promised, the light that was supposed to shine down on us. Expect it didn’t, because Thomas abhorred it: the blood, the violence, the killing, even though it was necessary in those circumstances, maybe even right for the way some of those guards treated the prisoners… I’ll never forget the way he looked at me then: he was horrified, afraid and repulsed all at the same time, repulsed by me. I am sure that it was the moment when he realised what I really was.”

Madi takes a breath and her expression softens a little, but not so much as to become pitying. James even finds it a little bit comforting, the way her face reflects her unshakeable core.

“I had only told him bits and pieces until then,” he says. “Didn’t have it in me to tell the whole story. And we tried to make it work. We did. But nothing could erase what I’d done-- the blood on my hands-- the fact that I did a lot of it in his name, and he despised all of it. He hadn’t changed as much as one would think, with what he’s been through, but I no longer found it admirable--it was naive to think that great things could come without any hardship or violence, that truly abominable individuals deserved our forgiveness and redemption. It turned out that the only one that couldn’t really be forgiven… was me.”

Madi gets up and walks over to his side of the table. She stands with her hands on her hips, looking down at him fiercely.

“I’ve done some truly unspeakable things, Madi.” He tilts his head up, voice breaking on her name.

“I know,” she says simply. “I know that upon retaking Nassau I beat red coats so hard my hands became bloody. I know that since then I shot men and ordered them killed, and while none of it is commendable, it is necessary, and I do not think any less of myself or you because of it.”

She leans down and kisses him on the forehead, and he closes his eyes.

When he wakes the next morning, she’s gone, but there’s still an imprint of her body in his mattress. He rolls into it for a second and then sits up at the edge of the bed. He feels lighter than he remembers feeling in a very long time, well-rested and somehow solid, not spread thin. Like when he woke up home after coming back from the sea.

The carpenter crew gathers in the common area and Manu has them start the work on rebuilding the burnt-down hut. It starts to rain around noon and by sundown they are sliding around in the mud, trying to dig in the poles for the foundation. The rain becomes a full-blown storm, with gusts of wind so powerful they bend trees to the ground, and Anane orders everyone into the shelter.

James is one of the last ones down, making sure there are no stragglers left on the surface. It’s muggy inside, with the entire village huddled together in tight quarters. Madi waves James over and he sits with her and the Queen, which is still awkward at times, but less so than in the beginning. They read aloud from The Decameron while the wind roars above, Madi clapping her hands over the children’s ears during the naughty bits, James worrying about the ships getting beat up in the bay.

The storm rages through the night and the next day is dedicated to repairs: blown off roofs, broken walkways, collapsed walls. A few men are sent down to the beach to see if the storm has brought anything to their shores and it turns out it has.

When they come back, they are dragging a wet, half-dead, one-legged man with them. It is, of course, John Silver.

Chapter Text

Back in the cursed American colonies, in his rum-addled state he often tried to reconstruct what exactly had led to the end of his life as a half-decent human being. Looking back, there were certain events that he could pinpoint as culpable: choking the life out of his best friend, definitely the beginning of this steady decline, then Miranda’s lifeless body on display in Charlestown, a sight that nearly cost him his mind. Some time later, Silver forcing him to lay down his arms at gunpoint, on that fucking island, and the definite icing on the cake: the day he realised they weren’t going to make it in Boston. He had another terrible argument with Thomas, slammed the door on his way out, headed to the harbour and accidentally walked into a man after rounding a corner. He might have not wanted to start that fight, but fight he did, and the militia took him to jail bloody and shaking with rage. Thomas pleaded with them to bail him out and the disappointed look he gave James afterwards was everything he needed to know: it was over and maybe had been for a lot longer.

He wonders now what the end might feel like to Silver: the tropical storm throwing that little ship around like a toy on deep waters, threatening to turn them out into the Sargasso Sea, where the doldrums would undoubtedly swallow them whole. Finally, being cast onto the reef guarding the Maroon Island from the east, the ship breaking up underneath his feet--foot, the warm embrace of the shipwreck bay, the stormy sky seen through the blurred lens of the water. Going down like a brick, no, that was James’s specialty, Silver always comes out on top and it’s no different this time. So, perhaps, images of the calming waves instead, superimposed with concerned faces of the Maroons that have found him on the sandy shore. They appear and disappear time and again, perhaps to have a lively debate on the benefits of bringing Long John Silver back into the fold. Then, the relentless green of the forest and the sway of the canoe instead of Davy Jones’ locker.

Now, in the village, James is staring at Silver’s unmoving form from a distance as the Queen and the Princess confer over the exiled King. He is suddenly reminded of the time Mr Scott was brought back with two bullets in his gut--it was a similar commotion but a different emotional context, he thinks, as voices are raised in agitation and anger rather than concern. He’s strangely detached from the whole situation, stuck in the realm of speculation rather than matter, half-certain this is a hallucination brought on by sleep deprivation.

Madi is shooting him frantic looks, so he moves towards them, stiff-legged and hesitant. Silver is lying on the ground, unconscious, torn breeches showing the ugly, scarred stump.

“And the ship?” Anane repeats, her voice steady but suspiciously high-pitched.

“The ship is smashed to pieces,” says one of the men that found Silver. “It was a sloop, like I said, carrying a small crew.”

“No other survivors?”

“No, ma’am, just this one, two other found dead on the beach.”

Silver is sporting an enormous bruise on his forehead. James leans in closely, hands on his knees, listening to Silver’s irregular, wheezing breath. He’s not sure if it’s Silver’s sudden proximity or the familiarity of his features that finally breaks him out of the haze and everything comes sweeping in: the anger, the disappointment, the regret, even the longing. Silver’s hair is long and wild, spread out like a halo around his head, while the beard and the moustache have recently been trimmed and look tidy, like he actually put some effort into preparing for this encounter.

“It’s him,” he says as if there was ever any doubt.

The Queen rounds on him, her necklaces clanking.

“Did you have anything to do with this? Be honest with me!”

“No, of course not,” he huffs. “I haven’t seen him in two years. I had no idea he was coming. What an idiot, sailing a sloop into that storm!”

It feels familiar, the exasperation at Silver’s silly ideas. Combined with the shock visible on James’s face, it must also be sufficient for the Queen, as she doesn’t question him further, just exhales angrily and looks around, as if hoping to identify another culprit.

“He must have really wanted to reach this place,” Madi says, her eyes glued to Silver’s unmoving form. She’s not touching him, but her fingers twitch where they are entwined in the folds of her skirt.

“Maybe too much,” Anane remarks and gestures at the two men that brought him in. “Get him to the cage. We’ll discuss this in the evening - there’s much to do now.”

“Excuse me?” Madi turns to her with a frown. “He barely made it to land after that shipwreck and obviously needs our help. We won’t be placing him in the cage where we keep our prisoners!”

“You seem to forget what happens to unwanted guests on this island.”

“If--If he survived that shipwreck,” James interjects, “we shouldn’t be trying to kill him too. Doesn’t seem right now, does it?”

The Queen’s eyes flicker to him for a second and land back on her daughter. Disappointment is clearly written all over her face and on some level he gets it, realizes exactly what this looks like. And what was it that Silver used to imply about him - that he had ways of bending reality to his will? He’s always thought it outrageous, but Silver is real enough: the two men that brought him pick him up again, by pits and knees. He dangles from their hands like a marionette and James feels his throat tighten.

“We will have the medicine man look at him,” Anane says finally, gesturing at Silver and his porters with her hand. “But I do not want this man thinking he is a guest here. He does not merit that treatment.”

The crowd that has gathered around them slowly dissipates. Flint forcibly tears his gaze away from Silver, who is being carried away, to Madi. He sincerely hopes that his expression is different from hers, but he’s not sure; all of a sudden he can’t feel his face.

He works through the day in a daze, picking up planks and righting walls where he’s told to. When Manu finally lets him go in the afternoon, he goes straight to Madi, half-expecting her to be at Silver’s bedside. As he walks up the path to her house, he can see her pacing the length of the hut.

“I’m assuming that neither of us had anything to do with this,” he says and she stops with her back to him. It’s so familiar now, her strong shoulders, narrow waist, the curve of her hips, and he actually feels a pang of jealousy at the thought of her being with Silver.

Madi turns to him, clearly flustered.

“He was supposed to be in Havana. I have a contact there--I wanted someone to keep an eye on him, just to know what to expect. I surely did not expect this.”

“Have you been to see him?”

“No.” She wrings her fingers. “I did not want to go alone. I have talked to the medicine man though: he’s banged his head on a rock and has two cracked ribs, but other than that he is going to recover.”

James releases a breath he didn’t realize he was holding; it would be terrible to have Silver returned to them only to be out of commission.

“What do you think?” she asks, coming closer to him.

“About this?” He shakes his head. “It’s as if he heard you talking about that cache all the way in Havana and couldn’t resist the siren song of our god-damn plan.”

Madi takes him by the arm and stands next to him, but facing the other way. She doesn’t usually show her affection this freely, especially not where everyone can see it, so it feels special. His fingers twitch, brushing her side.

“We should go work this out with Mother,” she says resolutely. “And see him afterwards.”

“Yeah.”

Anane is in the council hut with a few of the elders. They are discussing something in Twi, but fall silent as Madi and James cross the threshold.

“Thank you for joining us,” the Queen says. There are no seats for them, so they have to stand, like applicants. Madi glances at James. He returns the look. “I hope you understand the gravity of the situation. A Spanish vessel has approached our island uninvited, carrying sailors who should not have any knowledge of this location. Although the whole crew save for Mr Silver is dead or presumed dead, there is a distinct possibility of other people knowing it too.”

“Knowing Mr Silver, I’d say no one else knew where they were really headed,” James replies, clasping his hands behind his back on reflex. “Though I agree that the Spanish banner is always a cause for concern.”

The Queen stares him down as if she hasn’t heard a word of what he’s said.

“He was exiled from this place, never to return. He should leave as soon as he’s able to.”

“Which means with the Kumasi after the storm season?” Madi asks, her tone carefully neutral.

“If not earlier.”

“How? That is a one-legged man with a meager knowledge of sailing,” James says before he can restrain himself.

A lengthy discussion on the merits of sending Silver back commences at this point and James has to admit it is difficult to find arguments in his defense, even if he wanted to offer them any. A lot can be said about his character, but not much of it would convince this kind of audience and he struggles to find anything Silver might be good at other than wrapping people around his finger. In his short career as the cook on the Walrus he proved barely passable, but maybe he has learned something in Havana, who knows. He might have hidden talents, too, seeing how suspiciously quickly he took to the sword when James gave him lessons on the cliff above the village. How quickly he proved to be his match.

“Mr Flint?” Anane repeats, breaking James out of his reverie. “We have just agreed to tend to Mr Silver until he regains his strength and then revisit the topic of expelling him from this place. Unlike you, he might not fit in with this community well.”

James keeps his face impassive. He has experienced Silver’s awe-inspiring ability to fit in wherever necessary first-hand, that’s true, but he also has a feeling that they will all fare better without Silver in the picture.

“Now that we have shared our thoughts on this matter,” Anane says, gathering her skirts in hand with a dignified gesture, “let’s see if Mr Silver has anything to say for himself.”

She leaves the hut, Madi and James in tow. He feels like he is stepping on thin ice and glances at Madi. Her face is usually difficult to decipher, but he has had some practice and spots a hint of nervousness in the tightness of her mouth.

Anane leads them to a hut a little off to the side from the village. James recognises it: he used to sleep there back when he was plotting England’s demise with a handful of pirates and Maroons. There are two men guarding the entrance, which he finds a little excessive considering what state Silver was in when they brought him from the beach. The guards part obediently to let them in and James ducks his head in the doorway that is just a tad too low for him.

Silver is lying on the cot--which used to be his cot--looking like a Catholic saint with his hands folded on his chest and a serene expression on his face. His chest is wrapped in bandages and James really doesn’t want to notice the things he does: he’s thin, gaunt even, collar bones jutting out visibly. His dark hair stands in stark relief to pallid skin and out of the corner of his eye James sees Madi flinch and steel herself.

The noise they make, the rustle of clothing and creaking of floor planks is enough to wake Silver. His eyes fly open, unfocused at first. Then they land on Madi and James, blink rapidly and Silver is all of a sudden fully awake, scrambling to sit up and back away on the cot. The medicine man appears suddenly out of a shadowy corner and grasps him by the arm.

Silver, wild-eyed and panicked, struggles. The medicine man talks at him in Twi, which is probably supposed to be soothing, but Silver doesn’t speak a word of Twi, and the medicine man, either by impotence or design, doesn’t speak English, so it takes the Queen’s stern tone to calm him down.

“Get a hold of yourself, Mr Silver. You are on the island, the storm has passed.”

“I imagined for a moment that I must be in some kind of purgatory,” he rasps out, his eyes trained on Madi. “And you two are here to haunt me.”

James feels tense and hot like at the onset of one of his states, but the anger just isn’t there, at least not the way it usually is: filling him to the brim, making him see red; it’s just a steady undercurrent of tension, waking him from the daze he’s been walking in the last few months. He glances at Madi and she is a pillar of salt, completely still and staring at a point somewhere between Silver’s chin and collarbone.

“This is not the afterlife,” Anane says with the barest hint of regret that it’s not, at least for Silver. “We are actually here and very eager to know why you’ve landed on these shores after being told explicitly not to return.”

“I--,” Silver frowns as if he’s forgotten something very important. His eyes flicker around the room and land on James’ face, and it’s like being next to that raging fire again. “I would like to--to make amends for some of my actions.”

“You might want to start by respecting requests that others make of you,” Anane says sharply. “Luckily for you, we were feeling merciful today and you have been granted the right to stay until you are fit to travel. However, I must know why you attempted to reach this island again.”

Silver shakes his head in confusion.

“I’ve just explained. I--I came across information that Captain Flint was sighted in the colonies in--in somewhat of a predicament and when I followed that lead, it turned out he had last been seen leaving St Augustine with a freewoman in pirate wear. What I’m trying to say is--I was headed here to talk to Captain Flint and your daughter.”

“I find that rather difficult to believe,” Anane says, but she seems to be lacking her usual certainty.

“The truth tends to be often incomprehensible when interrogated from another point of view,” Silver replies and it’s so like him to be mouthing those platitudes with unshakeable confidence that James almost smiles. His face freezes when it comes back to him how it felt to be on the other side of them: one moment on top of the world, the other with a gun pointed at him, being turned out to the dust heap of history.

He blinks and the memory is gone; Silver is now lying before him, defenceless and weak. Anane must sense a change in the air, as she nods and turns away from Silver, dissatisfied at what she’s heard.

“I’ll leave you to talk, if that’s really what you came here for,” she says and leaves, but not before squeezing Madi’s hand reassuringly. The medicine man takes his leave after her and James can hear them talking outside.

“I understand that my crewmates--” Silver begins.

“Have perished,” he creaks out and clears his throat. “In the attempt, yes.”

“Poor sods,” Silver whispers. “I didn’t mean for it to turn out this way. Jesus.”

“Really? You thought sailing into that storm was wise?” he asks, sharper than he probably should and Silver’s eyes snap to his. “What did you promise them? Gemstones? Spanish gold?”

“I paid them handsomely,” he says in that smooth tone which means he’s lying and not even bothering to hide it. “The storm we haven’t managed to steer away from.”

James stares him down and it’s like their ugly last days all over again. Then he feels a hand land on his elbow, lightly but decisively, and Madi steps out in front of him, head tilted, and he could swear Silver shrinks back a little.

“Why are you back here, John?” she asks in a low, ominous tone. “I think I made myself clear the last time we talked.”

Silver’s eyes flicker from her face to the hand on James’ elbow, then to his face and back again. He feels the hot blush of shame creep up his neck and chides himself for it; he has nothing to be ashamed of.

“Back in Havana,” Silver starts, “I was working in a tavern that saw a lot of traffic from the harbour. And I met this man who looked quite well-off, and was in fact someone you could deem successful by civilisation’s standards. Once we started talking I realized, however, that there was something troubling him deeply, and it turned out that the reason for his malaise was his first wife. You see, he left her when…”

“Let me stop you right there,” Madi says coolly. “He was stupid enough to leave a good woman and he regretted it ever since, which you made you realise you were similarly stupid and urged you to come back and beg my forgiveness.”

“Well… not exactly,” Silver replies, quite haughtily for someone in his position. “He did make me realise that there are some regrets in life that can poison it to the point of ruining every hour, every day, but I would not say that I am seeking forgiveness for pursuing the course of action I have chosen back then.”

“You’re not?” Madi repeats, incredulous to the point of being humorous.

“I’ve wronged you, yes, and I can admit it and only say how deeply sorry I am for that.” Silver looks up at her with his eyes so huge and honest one could almost believe him. And James does believe him in this moment: Silver clearly is repentant, but it raises the question of what he’d really like to repent for. “But everything I did was with your well-being in mind. And yours.” He switches his gaze to James and it feels like a blow.

“My well-being?” He feels his face twitch. “My well-being. While at that topic, could you tell me just how long exactly have you been planning to betray me?!”

“Betray you?” Silver goes white in the face. “I fixed you!”

“Fixed me?” James repeats, jerking forward, towards the cot. Madi’s hand curls around his forearm and he stills. “That is an interesting way to put it, implying that I used to be damaged somehow, wrong, and you possessed the ability to improve me--by making me stop fighting for something that I believed in? If you ever really stopped to think about that, you’d realize you could have just told me he was alive!”

“Yeah?” Silver sits up higher and a flash of pain crossing his features turns into a snarl. “And what would you have done then? Set aside your sword, packed up and gone to Savannah? Forgotten all about the fucking war? I asked you explicitly if you’d have traded him for the war and you weren’t sure! Do you remember that?”

James opens his mouth to say something and closes it as no sound comes out. Silver is breathing fast and his wheezing is for a while the only sound he can hear.

“If that is your idea of fixing things,” Madi says when the silence becomes unbearable, “that shows just how much you know about people. We all seem to be under the impression that you have this--this special sense of knowing people, learning their hearts and minds, but this proves us--proves you--very wrong.”

With that, she turns on her heel and leaves; James, stricken, stumbles after her, out of the hut, into the sultry evening. Madi’s jaw is locked so tightly he’s afraid she might never be able to speak again. She turns to his house and he just follows her on stiff legs, feeling everything rise up from his chest up to his throat, squeezing it tightly.

They walk inside in ringing silence and Madi resumes her angry pacing while he just stands there, blinking and squeezing his hands into fists so tightly the nails bite into the palms. He’s filled to the brim, spilling over, and when he lifts up his head to look at her, he sees her eyes glisten wetly in the dim light of dusk.

He approaches her and touches her cheeks with his hands. They are dry, but her entire face contorts untypically with emotion. She looks at James with hooded eyes and something in him both softens and crystallizes into a spike, driven painfully into his chest.

He leans in but she’s quicker. She crushes her lips to his and he opens up for her, pressing her tightly to him, hands to her shoulder blades, chest to chest, hips to hips. He wonders if Silver knows, if Madi thinks about this--about him, lying on that cot, miserable and alone--as he picks her up by the waist and walks them both to bed, where they fall in a tumble of limbs. Madi threads one hand in his hair and he noses and mouths at her neck, while her other hand unties his breeches.

He raises himself on one arm, looking at Madi below. Her legs wrap around his waist and her nails rake down his shoulders, eliciting a pleasant shiver. Suddenly it’s not that difficult not to confuse the face in his memory with the one he sees now, and he realizes he doesn’t need to be fixed after all.

Chapter Text

Later that night, he lies in bed, Madi’s head in the crook of his shoulder, their legs intertwined, sticky from the heat. He’s exhausted and on the verge of sleep, so he lets his mind wander. First, it goes to lying with Thomas like this, but that’s too painful, so he chases the memory away with a frown. Then, it brings up Midshipman Bonnelly of all people. James sees him as clearly as if he was standing next to the bed, looking down at him and Madi: tall, maybe even as tall as Billy, but not nearly as statuesque. His handsome face would easily go from childishly kind to cruel, and his mouth often had this petulant twist to it, which fit with his persona of a spoiled middle son of a vice admiral, deemed for a career in the Navy and aware of it. James disliked him the moment he had met him on the Triton and twice as much when he realized they were berthed together, but one evening Bonnelly looked down at him with half-lidded eyes, colour high on his cheeks, those petulant lips slightly open, and James was struck by holy thunder. Bonnelly was the first man he had ever touched with the intention of pleasure, and somehow, twenty years later, he still remembers how it felt to slowly slide his hands down Bonnelly’s chest.

“Did you know my father well?” Madi asks suddenly. He starts, roused from his half-dream.

“Beg your pardon?”

“Sorry. I did not realize you were dozing.” She slides her hand down his side and curls her fingers around his hip. “I asked about my father. Did you know him well?”

“I’d say I did and I didn’t.” He racks his brain for a meaningful memory of Mr Scott but, frustratingly, can’t find anything worth mentioning. “He was just… always there. I guess I never wondered why. I knew Eleanor better, we’ve been through so much--why are you asking?”

“I just remembered that you used to know each other.” She huffs softly into his neck. “Once, when I was very, very upset, he told me that things get better with time. Not that we forget them or disregard them as time passes, but that people get better at handling obstacles as they mature. I am wondering if that is true.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that people mellow with age.”

“You haven’t,” she says slyly.

“No, you’re right.” He snorts. “I haven’t.”

She sighs and disentangles from him to lie on her back. Their shoulders are still touching, but just a fraction and it’s so hot it’s actually a relief.

“I am just--frustrated with myself,” she declares and he turns his head to squint at her in the dark. “All that talk about understanding John and his reasons--just disappeared into thin air the moment I looked at his face. I was too agitated to think straight.”

“That’s understandable, I think. Even expected. Tensions running high and all that.”

“But I would like to be able to reason better with myself. Do you know what I am getting at? To look at the past and say: oh, so this is what happened, I accept it, I learn from it and I move on.”

“I may be the worst person ever to give advice on this,” he says. “As not letting go is one of my defining characteristics. I, um, was never able to do any kind of--self-improvement, even though I knew some very good teachers. How did that go?” He scrunches up his forehead with effort: Miranda was far better at this, in all respects. “‘You should be like a rocky promontory against which the restless surf continuously pounds; it stands fast as the churning sea is lulled to sleep at its feet. You say: how unlucky that this should happen to me! Say instead: how lucky I am that I am not broken by what has happened and am not afraid of what is about to happen.’”

“Where does that come from?” Madi asks, her eyes shining with curiosity.

“An ancient Roman philosopher. I used to--have a book of his writings. It went down with the Walrus, unfortunately.” He swallows and gets up from the bed. Madi raises herself on her elbow, watching him cross the room to his humble bookshelf. “But I’ve managed to get a hold of a book in a similar vein. Just let me…”

He lights a candle, finds the right tome and brings it to bed with him. Madi sits up to get a closer look.

“It’s Seneca, also a Roman stoic.” He hands it to her, along with the candleholder. “Moral Letters to Lucilius. Could be what you are looking for.”

She leafs through it immediately while he lies back down with his arms crossed under his head, weirdly satisfied.

“Thank you, James.” She looks up from the title page. “See, you were able to offer me advice on this after all.”

“You’re welcome. I could look for more stoics if we ever call at a port decent enough to have a bookshop.”

Madi starts reading, and he settles in to sleep. He’s so preoccupied with wondering how enjoyable it would be to visit a bookshop with her that it entirely slips his mind that Silver is still here, barely two hundred yards away.

In the morning, his crew is tasked with damage control at the shore, so after breakfast he walks down to the beach with them. He doesn’t even get a chance to see Silver, but he’s not sure he’d like to after their exchange yesterday; his mood darkens when he imagines telling Silver about Thomas. It was difficult enough to share it with Madi, who is one of the least judgmental people he’s ever met, but with Silver it seems downright inconceivable.

The Kumasi is a little banged up after the storm. After the necessary repairs, they walk the coast picking up the flotsam. It’s mostly parts of Silver’s ship and James is glad to see that some of them can be used to fix up their sloop. They also find Silver’s two crewmen, cast ashore like rag dolls: one of them looks Spanish, the other one Indian, and James can’t help but wonder how they came aboard that vessel with Silver.

They bury them in the graveyard overlooking the eastern bay. James has visited it once before, after their victory over the British in the forest, when they buried their dead--Maroons and pirates alike--in the sandy ground. The burial ceremony was a daylong affair, with songs, speeches and drumming, while this is hurried and makeshift, but sufficiently respectful. The Maroons make an appeal to ancestors and spirits, and he crosses himself on reflex; it seems somehow right, especially considering that the Spaniard was probably Catholic.

When they’re sorting through the wreckage they’ve accumulated, Manu sidles up to James, casting a huge shadow on the sand next to him.

“Say, Flint, where did you learn so much about ships?”

“Are you doubting my expertise on this rigging?” he asks, untwisting the seaweed from rope.

“Not at all.” Manu’s face has an innocent expression, but then it always looks like that. “Just wondering. Is there a school for this in England?”

“Not that I’m aware of, no. I served in the British Navy. Twenty years.”

“Ooh. That’s a long time. And where are you originally from?”

“Cornwall, the British Isles.” James puts the rope down and fixes him with a look. “Is there a reason for this questioning?”

“There is.” Manu tilts his head. “I realized I know so much about the other men in the crew and so little about you. I want to know more.”

“Didn’t I use to be the talk of this island?”

“Let me rephrase: I want to know things of substance, not stupid gossip, like that your wife was a witch.”

It was so long ago he almost forgot people said that about Miranda; that his crew had found it so unbelievable that his trusted partner and closest friend would be a woman, they became convinced she was a witch holding him in her thrall.

“She was a formidable woman, that much is right,” he says, looking at the waves lapping at the shore. “All right. What else do you want to know about me?”

“What do you want to tell me? I don’t know that much about what you call the Old World, never been there. Were you born in a big city? What was it like?”

“It was just a small town, cold and windy as hell. You probably wouldn’t like it there.”

Manu gives him one of his disarming grins and James ends up telling him about himself. It’s a sanitized version of his story, of course, rid of the most heartbreaking turns of events, but true enough. When he realises it was actually not that diffcult to share, his mind goes back to Silver denying him his past. It’s been a bone of contention for James ever since that moment on the cliff and now, for the very first time, it really gets through his head just how terrible Silver’s past must have been if there’s nothing left after cutting out the worst parts.

They’re chatting amicably and getting ready to head back to the village when they hear voices coming from the forest. A moment later, a squealing group of children scatters from the end of the path and women carrying baskets and sacks appear right behind them.

Manu runs up to his daughter, grabs her and twirls her in the air as she giggles excitedly. His wife pulls out a huge watermelon out of her basket and shakes it jokingly in the air, and behind her James sees Madi, striding across the beach with her sure, measured steps, her skirt billowing in the wind.

“You came--” he manages as she comes closer, leans in and kisses him on the cheek.

“We came up with a plan to save you today’s trip back up.” She hands him her basket. It smells divine. “The idea was to boost spirits after the recent disasters. I figured it might be a good idea for me to get away, if only for a night.”

“Oh. Yeah. Thanks for joining me.”

Some of the men build fires and makeshift tents for their families; James spreads sailing canvas on the sand for the two of them. Thankfully, it doesn’t rain and the breeze from the ocean alleviates the heat, so the evening becomes pleasant.

They all huddle around the fires to eat and tell scary stories. James listens to tales that originated a long way from the West Indies, so different from what he’s used to that he needs to listen very closely to follow. Upon his turn, he tells them the story of the Flying Dutchman, careful not to overdo it on account of the children, but they get scared anyway. He even sees a few adults glancing fearfully at the darkening ocean, as if it was about to bring a haunted East Indiaman their way.

He gets up to relieve himself in the forest and when he’s back, Madi isn’t sitting on the canvas. He looks around and sees a lone silhouette at the shore. The closer he gets, the more light-headed he feels and a memory surfaces in his mind, clear as day: Silver standing like this in the lake, one leg of his trousers pulled up to the knee, the other covering the metal boot, turning to look at James, the corner of his mouth turning up in a welcoming smile.

He shakes it off and stops next to Madi. The waves lap at his bare feet.

“So? Did it help?” he asks.

“Beg your pardon?”

“The distance you put between yourself and whatever presumable source of discontent there might be in the village.”

She shakes her head, eyebrow arched.

“It did not, thank you for asking. I feel like we are running full speed towards a sharp bend in the road and no one knows if we’ll make the turn.”

“That’s one way of describing it.”

“I keep thinking about the last thing he said to you.” She scrunches up her forehead. “About you not being able to say if you would choose your Thomas over our war.”

“Yeah?” He looks at the ocean, dark and unforgiving as far as the eye can see.

“It’s a… A situation I would not judge in moral terms. Whether it’s praiseworthy or despicable.” She sways so that her shoulder bumps lightly against his. “It has to do with the values we hold dear. The goals we set above all others. And he knows it, I think. He wanted to hurt you by saying that, but I don’t think the blow should land.”

“The blow did not know that when it landed,” he says dryly, returning the bump.

“I did not trade him for the war,” she says abruptly and he turns to her, taken aback. “John. Back when I was being held hostage by the Governor. He offered me a trade--John’s life for our cause. I said no. I told him to--”

“Go fuck himself,” James finishes grimly. “I can imagine.”

They look at each other in the dark, two survivors of a war that never really came to be. He feels something alight inside, a flame that has no business being there after everything that has happened, and he’s not sure if he wants Madi to see it, so he draws her in with an arm around her waist. She embraces him readily, arms around his neck.

They sleep on the canvas, covered with James’ coat and Madi’s shawl, in the middle of the makeshift camp. There are sounds of snoring and sighing, people moving around and rustling, and it’s a little like sleeping aboard a ship again, with the exception of a mother talking to her child in hushed tones somewhere nearby.

In the morning, they have communal breakfast and then the carpenters get back to their work while the rest departs for the village and their chores. James’ mind is curiously blank most of the day, occupied with sorting and transporting the flotsam, the squawking of birds in the forest, the rumble of surf against the shore, the glare of the tropical sun. Then, all of a sudden, he’s two years ago in the Maroon village, looking at Silver looking back at him from his spot by the lake. It felt like a mirror opposite a mirror, reflecting the same object indefinitely.

He stepped closer, ensnared by that smile that was both knowing and a little uncertain. Water sloshed against James’ boots and they both looked at them as if it had been a surprise that James was wearing Spanish leather.

“You should take those off, Captain,” Silver said--or something along these lines.

“Uh, yeah,” James said cleverly and took his boots off to wade into the water. It was pleasantly cool after the heat of the feast. They were celebrating their victory over England fiercely and endlessly. “Needed a break?”

“Just to cool off.” Silver looks at him, his face boyish in its wide-eyed wonder. James always felt that the beard and moustache were an attempt to make him look more mature and respectful, but his eyes always betrayed his youth. “It’s so beautiful here. If this was my home, I don’t think I would ever leave.”

“Don’t you like Nassau?”

“Nassau?” Silver scrunched up his nose. This close, James could see there was colour in his cheeks; he had much to drink, as a lot of men wanted a round with their quartermaster. “I have to admit I don’t really see the appeal. It’s smelly, rowdy and threatening to fall apart at any given minute. I know, I know, it’s all about the idea behind it, but Nassau itself is… slightly off-putting, to be frank”.

James laughed then; he remembers, because it felt so weird to laugh again. Silver turned to him and they bantered about Nassau being a dump, James struggling not to notice the sweat pooling in the dip of Silver’s neck and deciding ultimately it was futile.

“Let’s go back,” Silver said at some point. The first step he took towards the shore proved false and he lost his balance, which was somehow both funny and not at all. James jerked forward on reflex, catching him by the waist before he fell face first into the water. Silver was light, his waist narrow, narrower than his clothes alluded, and James had never even dreamed of something like this in all his clandestine fantasies, Jesus Christ. He quipped about Silver not holding his liquor well and they went back to the shore, Silver’s hand on James’ shoulder, his hand hovering just over the small of Silver’s back, just in case.

There was an overturned boat nearby and they sat down on it to put their boots on, which hid them from the view of the raucous party in the background.

“We really did something today, didn’t we?” Silver asked, his voice weirdly hushed and shy, as if touching upon subjects that should not be discussed aloud.

“Yeah,” James managed, closing the buckles on his left boot. He heard a sigh and Silver slumped against his shoulder. He was so close their thighs, knees, calves were touching. “Bodes surprisingly well for the future.”

Silver was looking head on, his profile only partially illuminated by torches, a stray curl of hair falling from his temple to his cheek. James was wondering if he’d welcome it, the attention, if he dared to offer any of it, say, on the basis of the implications that have recently arisen between the two of them. But then there was the princess, Silver’s interest in her was clear--but he couldn’t disregard the conversation they had on the nature of darkness--

Silver looked up suddenly. His eyes were fully aware, lips parted, but his expression indecipherable. James felt something hot shoot down his spine and something heavy settle in his chest. If Silver just got up and left, it would be a rejection, if he stayed, James truly couldn’t be held responsible for his actions.

Suddenly, there was the sound of footsteps running down to the lake.

“Captain!” It was Dooley, or someone else, James doesn’t bother remembering. “There you are! We were looking for you and Mr Silver, we are putting on a re-enactment of taking the fucking warship and it felt lacking without the two of you!”

Of course they were, of course it did. He got up then and offered his hand to Silver, who usually avoided help if he could, but this was not about help and Silver must have known that. He hesitated for a fraction of a second, eyes flicking from James’ face to the offered hand, and then took it with a smile, his grip strong and warm.

Back in the present, James stops to reconsider. Silver is barely a walk away, but it feels like an ocean, not an empty one at that, but full to the brim. It would be such a terrible, terrible waste.

When they finish, he disregards the secret work he wanted to do on the sloop and walks up to the village with the rest of the crew. He takes a shower, changes into clean clothes, even fucking brushes his hair and trims his beard, all of it like a man possessed. He spares a glance at Madi’s house on his way, but she’s not there, probably busy with the elders, judging from the crowd in the council hut.

Silver is still being guarded, but James is allowed in without discussion. He ducks so as not to hit his head on the doorframe. Silver is napping on his cot, one arm across his bandaged chest, his good leg drawn up and bent at the knee. The blanket he has been covered with has slipped down, revealing the bump of his hip bone and the crease next to it. James is so annoyed with himself for noticing it he grits his teeth; the floodgates have opened, resistance is futile.

He clears his throat to alert Silver to his presence. He opens his eyes and sits up, which goes easier than the last time.

“Captain?”

“I’m not your Captain anymore,” James says, on reflex.

Silver swallows, obviously aware of the implication behind that. It would be so, so easy for James to just let rage cloud everything again, but something drifts back to his mind like flotsam and he can finally, triumphantly make use of it: he’s not broken by what has happened and not afraid of what is about to happen.

Silver watches his face like always--he learned that early on, as a survival technique--and seems emboldened by what he sees there.

“May we just...” He adjusts himself on the cot. “Just, you know, talk this time?”

James nods and sits down on a stool, hands clasped between his knees.

“Is Thomas here?” Silver asks, his tone cautious but genuine. “With you?”

“No,” James replies, raising his gaze from the sawdust floor to Silver’s face. “He’s probably in England by now.”

“And you--”

“I came here a few weeks ago with Madi.”

Silver nods. James is learning how to read his face anew; he’s quite sure he sees regret and anguish there, but there’s also something else--and then Silver sends him a dark look from underneath his eyelashes and he’s quite sure it’s jealousy. He expects it and takes it in stride, even lets Silver see the effect it has on him.

Silver relents quickly, dropping his gaze. Even thin, injured and miserable, he’s still striking; his hair wild in the humidity, his eyes vulnerable and just as blue as James remembers. His hands are clenching and unclenching on the blanket so hard it makes James worry that he’s hurting.

“Flint,” he says finally, his voice trembling with emotion. “You know I--I did not succumb to selfishness on this. I just don’t believe anything is worth a human life. Our lives--eating breakfast, hanging our pants to dry, watching the sun set on the bay--are all we have. I know you hold different values dear, but you have to trust me on this: I did it to spare lives."

“What lives?” James asks, struggling to keep calm. “Madi’s brethren enslaved on plantations? Pirates hanged in every port in the colonies? I did not drop off the face of the earth, you know, I know it. I saw it.”

“Madi's folk is free to live on this island as they see fit,” Silver replies, ignited. “As is Nassau to thrive again. Do you know that Nassau is at the exact point you wanted it to be? Under fair, pirate rule. There's trade. Commerce. Craft. There's life there.”

“It’s just pretense under British rule. Madi told me all about it.”

“Yes, but they are free to live as they wish. Did you hear that Rackham and Bonny are still on the account? Hardly anything's changed there… Other than the lack of terror and bloodshed.”

“So what?” He feels a spike of anger and his face probably twitches, because Silver takes an apprehensive breath. “Do you want me to concede to you again? Accept that I sacrificed everything in vain? Because that’s not going to happen!"

“Captain.” Silver shakes his head, eyes searching James’ face. “One man alone cannot fight the entire British Empire.”

“I was not alone,” James says brokenly. “I had you.”

Chapter Text

“I was not alone.” Flint’s voice breaks momentarily. “I had you.”

Silver’s blood runs cold at this admission, his mind already working at the reasons why Flint would say this. They’ve never communicated this openly: it was all about ellipses, euphemisms and literary references between them. Something must have changed fundamentally for Flint to be able to get that out; the ground has shifted underneath him and somehow he hasn’t noticed.

Flint’s face bears a striking resemblance to the expression he wore in the forest on that goddamn island, and in many ways this feels like a natural continuation of their conversation there. Sure, Flint had him, first as a hostage of sorts, then an unwilling member of his crew, his quartermaster, then--whoever fucking knows what he’s become to Flint--but he would bend himself in two before he said anything of the sort out loud.

Here and now, Flint takes a shaky breath. He pats his thighs as if he’s finished with whatever he planned and just walks out without another word. Silver watches his retreating back, almost sick with loneliness as he reacquaints himself with the slope of his shoulders, the sway of his step. Flint never looks back and Silver, as always, decides to follow him at the last possible moment, only now he is not able to--they haven’t given him a crutch; the medicine man pretends not to know English and he sure as hell is not going to ask Madi or the Queen for one.

He swallows the sour taste in his mouth and lies back on his cot. His eyes burn.

He wonders sometimes what was the key moment for him. Perhaps one of those times when he decided that it was better to stand by Flint despite all evidence to the contrary--when he saw him cradling his quartermaster’s dead body in his arms, when he jumped into the sea after him, when he decked a Spanish soldier with a lantern to save him. All of these moments could be perceived as poor judgement on Silver’s part, and if somebody sat him down and asked:

“Mr Silver, why exactly did you lend a helping hand to Captain Flint all these times, despite there being so much evidence against his trustworthiness, the effectiveness of his outrageous plans and his character in overall?”

He would probably stutter out something about the gold being the main factor in his reasoning, but that would just be smoke and mirrors for naive spectators.

If he sat himself down and asked himself the same question:

“John, why the hell did you always follow Flint?”

He wouldn’t have a ready answer, possibly no answer at all. The concept of Flint, for him, dated back to the moment when he saw him raise his bloody face to the crew and lie so preposterously Silver felt his blood run cold and hot at the same time. He hasn’t been afraid of him for some time now, but his body has never really stopped reacting with apprehension, hackles rising, shivers running down his spine, as if the lizard part of his brain always warned him of imminent danger that just happened to take Flint’s shape.

His stomach growls loudly and he realises it must be close to dinnertime; it’s easy to lose sense of time stuck inside the hut all the time. Soon, he hears footsteps nearing his place of detention and expects it to be Amma, but he’s wrongt: it is Madi, in a flowing white dress tied with a sash, so similar to the woman he met as a prisoner of the Maroons, with only her face and eyes--especially the eyes--betraying the difference.

She sets a steaming bowl on the stool next to the cot and regards him with her hands on her hips. He feels studied, examined.

“G-good evening,” he utters.

“I have just come to see if you are recovering,” she says. “I know that in addition to being a lying snake you can be terribly stubborn and refuse the help you need.”

He accepts the blow without protest and lies back on the cot. Madi leans in to inspect his bandages and the bruise on his forehead that put him out of commission for most of the storm, which brings her face and her neck so close to his that her braids brush his collarbone. He still remembers what the soft skin below her ear feels like and doesn’t resist the temptation of breathing in her smell, masking it as an indignant huff.

“Don’t think this means you’re forgiven,” she warns him, narrowing her eyes at him. The hand that has just brushed his hair away from his forehead vanishes and he aches, oh, he aches. “I do not mince words, John Silver.”

“I’m aware of that. But you know my reasons too.”

“They do not change the fact that you betrayed my trust.” She crosses her arms on her chest, underneath the bust of the dress, and he knows he is in for an argument.

“I did it with good intentions,” he says, holding his bandages as he sits up again, a little tired of proving his point again and again.

“It does not matter in the least. You should not have done it at all.”

“I don’t agree. Why I did the things I did--it has to change the toll somewhat.”

“The toll,” she repeats with a sad smile. “I’ve heard some Christians believe that there is a divine judge keeping a toll of all deeds, good and bad, somewhere in heavens. If that is indeed the case, he might have just put down a little less sin on John Silver’s account. Unfortunately, I have not. You are such a clever man, John, what is it that you do not understand about this?”

“I’d think that with what we had you’d be more willing to--” he says and immediately regrets it.

“With what we had I am even less willing to forgive that betrayal.”

Dead, he thinks, gritting his teeth, think about her dead in that hold, on that ship, shackled in a cell, beaten black and blue. That’s why you did this; so she could stand here and call you a viper nourished in her bosom.

He nods. His ribs hurt, his head hurts. It seems it has all been a mistake.

Madi goes then, with a great, heaving sigh of a person leaving a battlefield victorious, but still frustrated with what it took to win. He’s left alone and he doesn’t mind it that much; he knows how to pass days and even weeks with only himself for company, he’s done it before. He melts into the cot, the hut, the ground beneath, empty but not absent, waiting but not idle, just--at a distance from his situation.

He feels utterly powerless, but experience has taught him that this feeling does not necessarily reflect reality, like with Flint: he gave Silver power over people’s lives and he was certain that with deposing Flint he had divested himself of that power. It did not turn out to be true: once word got around that he’s in Havana, they came to him from all over--pirates, privateers, cutthroats, pickpockets, all the wretches of the West Indies, wishing for a glimpse of glory, the smallest hint of the location of the treasure, a glance at the cripple that shook the foundations of their little world.

The inkeeper of the tavern he was working at, first rather prone to pushing an invalid around, gradually became more and more afraid of him. That fear has finally driven him to permitting Diego Silva to leave the kitchens and hold a court of characters who, albeit shady, always consumed a lot of food and drink and usually paid. It wasn’t difficult, really, to find five naive enough to woo them with the story of a Spaniard named Vasquez. He wonders what became of them after the falling mast hit him on the head and rendered him unconscious; the last thing he remembers is desperately trying to outrun the storm Gutierrez had been certain would not catch up with them. Surprise, Gutierrez, you stupid fuck: it would and it did, it crashed into them with a ferocity only matched by the storm that killed Muldoon and cast the Walrus out into the Sargasso Sea.

It seems like ancient history now, not knowing Madi, not having Flint at the back of his mind, constantly, inescapably. As day turns into night and the light fades outside, leaving his little hut shrouded in darkness, his thoughts circle around the two of them and the suspicious familiarity he’s noticed in their interactions, something he knows but doesn’t exactly want to name just yet.

Sometime in the evening, he hears footsteps approaching and sees a weak, flickering light. Soon enough, Flint appears in the doorway with a candle holder. He’s still in his sleeveless coat, but barefoot, as if he didn’t have time to put his shoes on for this visit.

“Has something happened?” John asks, slightly alarmed.

“What? No,” Flint is taken aback. He places the candle holder on the table, next to his untouched dinner. “Have they left you here without light?”

Silver shrugs. It’s not the only thing they’ve left him without. The silence stretches uncomfortably between Silver keeping his mouth shut and Flint standing there, levelling him with an inquisitive gaze.

“I was--thinking about our conversation earlier,” Flint says nonchalantly, as if they haven’t been discussing Silver wrecking their lives. “I still have something to say, if you don’t mind.”

“Go ahead.” He makes an inviting gesture. It still doesn’t seem right, though, as an annoyed Flint could go days without speaking to him back in the day. “It’s not like I have anything better to do.”

Flint hooks his thumbs into his belt. The candlelight casts a warm glow at his beard and sideburns, which makes them look fiery red. His hair is so long it can be tied, which makes him look younger somehow, less troubled. Silver had no idea he’d missed his hair, that you could even miss hair.

“As conceited as it may sound, I have some experience shaping the world according to my will,” Flint says. The hut offers limited space for pacing, but he seems unable to stand still. “Either by violence or manipulating others to do my bidding, as I’m sure you can recall in various instances. The one who inflicts their influence on the world needs to suffer the consequences of it as well, and I have, sometimes to great chagrin. While this--the Maroons isolated here after they’ve signed the treaty with the Empire, Nassau putting on a show of a good little colony for London, everyone we knew either dead or dispersed or here--is the world you made. I wanted to know if you are satisfied with it.”

Silver huffs indignantly.

“If anything, that’s a world we made together, and one could argue that your contribution was greater. Is that why you’re here, to play the blame game? Because I have to warn you, I have some aces up my sleeve.”

Flint makes a sullen, resentful face, but doesn’t say anything.

“So why are you standing here, talking at me? Do you expect to hear something surprising about my reasons? I believe you do still know me, and if you do, then you realise I am not going to pretend to turn over a new leaf for your benefit. However uncomfortable this makes me, you know how I am. You know what I am.”

“That’s true, I do.” Flint nods and it seems ominous somehow. “Maybe for the first time ever. You know, I did a lot of thinking back when it was only the bottle keeping me company, and I have to admit that a lot of it was about Long John Silver.”

He turns, hands clasped behind his back in that familiar military stance of his, and faces the doorway. Silver can only see his back and hates how he can read that too.

“From the moment we met you tried to ingratiate yourself with me, because you figured it might make me less likely to strangle the life out of you. That was smart, and it worked most of the time. Then you realised--" his voice falters briefly, “--that it might not spare you from my wrath, and you decided to make yourself necessary. Indispensable, even. Somewhere along the way, you’ve crawled so far inside me I would not be able to hurt you lest I hurt myself. And I’ve got to give it to you--that was ingenious. So many people tried to defeat Captain Flint one way or another, but you were the only one that succeeded. By, essentially, wrapping me around your finger.”

He turns on his heel and Silver instinctively expects him to be angry, but he’s not. It’s Flint, of course, he flies into a rage at the drop of a hat, but there are certain signs Silver’s learned to watch out for: face twitching angrily, voice dropping, eyes cold, shoulders tense. None of them are really there: Flint seems concerned, but it’s difficult to say for sure with his face shrouded mostly in shadow, beyond the reach of the candle.

“There’s just one thing I haven’t been able to figure out,” he continues. Silver steels himself. “When we were hunting the Urca with the Ranger as consort, and stumbled upon the fucking warship, and it started punching holes in us left and right… I went down. Certain I would never resurface. Next thing I know I’m waking up at the beach. Patched up. Taken care of. Why did you do that? There were no direct benefits to rescuing me back then. Only that they’d hang both of us, and not just you.”

“I already threw my lot in with you when I fired that cannon,” he says, struggling to keep his voice steady.

Flint takes a few steps closer to the cot. His face is within the reach of the light now, but Silver would really rather it wasn’t.

“Really?” Flint asks, his voice rising on a sarcastic note. “To the point of diving into deep waters and hauling me to the shore? From what I remember, we were quite far from the beach. I am heavier than you, went down in my coat, fully armed. It must have been hell getting me out of there.”

It was, Silver was ready to leave him behind about ten times on the way. Flint was dead weight and if they hadn’t stumbled upon a piece of rigging big enough to hold them both, Silver would have let him drown halfway through.

“I don’t know what you want me to say,” he says, looking for a deflection. “Do you really think so low of me that you don’t expect me to have any altruistic impulses?”

“Not ones that go that far, no,” Flint replies, painfully frank. “Besides, there were plenty of people drowning and yet you chose me to to haul painstakingly out of the water.”

“I don’t know! Okay? I don’t know why I do things half of the time I do anything.”

“Only that’s not true. You calculate things like that.” Flint snaps his fingers. “In the time that I’ve known you, you’ve never done anything on impulse. Miscalculated sometimes, sure, but never acted on the spur of the moment.”

“I don’t know what you want from me,” he says. His breaths are coming quicker now and his ribs hurt. “And I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I can’t really walk away from this conversation.”

Flint scowls at him and that’s better, that’s familiar territory. He narrows his eyes at Silver’s hand on his ribs and he leans in--while Silver leans back on reflex. Flint takes a stiff step back, his face going cold.

“I’m going to let you rest now,” he says, retracting the hand he extended to Silver awkwardly, the other still behind his back. “Keep the candle.”

He moves to leave and Silver, even though he almost feels sick with whatever just happened, calls out to him:

“Are you going to come by tomorrow? You know, to bother me some more?”

Flint looks back over his shoulder. “We’ll see each other tomorrow.”

John puzzles over the whole conversation, mostly ineffectively, before sleep claims him. In the morning, he receives a visit from Amma who comes to take away his bucket and give him breakfast. Spotting the untouched dinner bowl, she sends him a disappointed look.

“You should eat, Mr Silver. Besides, it’s not good to waste food.”

“I know, I’m sorry. I just couldn’t muster up an appetite yesterday. Thanks for taking care of me.” He gazes up at her gratefully and gets a smile in reward. “Would you grant me one more favour by any chance?”

“Yes?” She looks down at him with her hands braced on her hips and reminds him a lot of someone he used to know a long time ago. “What is it?”

“What do people say of me in the camp?”

She shrugs, her expression a little puzzled.

“Well, some of them think you had something to do with the fire we had a few days ago and the storm, but that’s just superstition. Some don’t know why we are keeping you here under guard and think it was a good thing you did, with the treaty. But some hold it against you. You know, like people do.”

“And what do you think?”

She seems to consider whatever it is that she has on the tip of her tongue, and finally gives him a toothy smile.

“I liked the pirates. I miss them.”

He huffs out a laugh.

“So do I. Thank you, Amma.”

He eats his breakfast dutifully and doesn’t even manage to settle in for his long, pointless day when the medicine man comes in. The appraisal of his health goes the same way as all previous days: it’s quick, gruff and unceremonious, his bandages changed and his healing ribs smeared with some more of the potently smelling salve, a foul-smelling tea given to him for a quick drink--gulping down, really, with the man urging him on in Twi--but he seems more satisfied with John than before. He clasps him on the shoulder and hands him a little canvas pouch and a thick, long stick before he leaves.

The stick is obviously for walking, which is a nice thought after he’s been stranded in the hut for the last three days. The pouch contains toiletries: there’s a brush, a comb missing a few teeth, a leather hair tie, a razor, some soap and a small bottle of oil. He squints at it in confusion until he notices a few red hairs clinging to the brush. Flint has sent these his way, probably along with the stick.

He puts the comb and oil to use, taming his hair so that it’s malleable enough to put into a tie at the back of his head. Getting it up from his neck and shoulders is a relief in the heat--the feeling spreads down his joints and muscles, loosening them up, letting him breathe more freely. He raises himself up from the cot, putting his weight on the stick, and lurches to the doorway, expecting to be met by firm arms and shoulders of his statuesque guards denying him exit.

As he sticks out his head from behind the curtain hanging in the doorway, he realises the guards are no longer there. No one is, really, because the hut is at the the edge of the village, almost at the treeline. He looks around, drinking in his surroundings, and he finally realises why it felt so familiar: Flint used to live here before and Silver called on him often that summer.

He walks outside, encouraged by the lack of supervision, and sees Amma rushing towards him, her necklaces jangling in her haste.

“Mr Silver! Good to see you up and about. We need to put you to work.”

“Work?”

“Since you are to stay with us, you need to earn your keep like everyone.” She offers him her arm, but he waves thanks and leans on his stick instead. “You are supposed to work in the kitchens.”

“Somehow I’m not surprised.” He goes after her but isn’t able to keep up without jostling his poor ribs. “Wait a minute, does that mean that Flint has been put to work around here?”

“Mr Flint? Of course. He works with the carpenters.”

He finds the image of Flint hammering away at a plank bordering on ridiculous and as they walk down to the centre of the settlement he keeps an eye for Flint and his carpentry, but he’s not around. Neither is Madi, as far as he can see.

The kitchens are comprised of a long open hut behind the dining area, along with ovens, furnaces and perches for drying and curing meat. He knows the area, but chiefly from stealing food for his long nights with Flint or Madi. There are adults and children milling about, getting water, skinning animals, grinding seeds, boiling things in enormous pots, but Silver is led straight to the peeling station. He’s the only man there and the women are surprised and delighted at him joining them for some quality sweet potato peeling time. He thinks the amount of food being prepared preposterous, but apparently they are gearing up for a feast in the evening. It’s a joint celebration: an approximate anniversary of the founding of the settlement and the day of the god of sea.

They let him off in the afternoon and he hobbles back to his hut tired and hurting but in a relatively good mood; there’s something calming about peeling such an amount vegetables and fruit. It’s hot inside; he sprays some water on his face. Once the surface of the water stills, he’s able to see his murky reflection in the bucket--not at all like the man that peeled the potatoes onboard the Walrus or sneaked onto the fucking warship with Flint, decking Spaniards left and right.

His eyes fall on the grooming accessories Flint’s lent him, then on the reflection, then back again. He’s reminded suddenly of the way Flint punished himself by shaving his hair off after Charlestown, how definitive, tangible it was for him to change that way, and he reaches for the razor.

Chapter Text

He sits on the porch of his hut, arms thrown over the railing, one leg swinging, the other hanging. The breeze feels fresh and cool on his bare cheeks and neck. People are going about their business against the backdrop of the lush forest and the lake glimmering in the distance. He’s not certain if the invitation to the upcoming feast extends to him, but he’s not in any capacity to change this state of affairs, so he resignes himself to enjoy the simple pleasures of sitting outside and drinking in the sunlight--the short interlude of isolation in the hut reminds him of how used he got to the tropical weather. He scowls at the thought of going back to Bristol, or even Madrid.

As the afternoon darkens into the evening, the working crews come pouring into the settlement. Hunters, gatherers, farmers and last but not least--carpenters, distinguished by the axes and saws they are carrying. There is a flash of a fairer complexion among them and Flint suddenly appears between two statuesque Maroons, exchanging words with them, mouth stretched in a toothy grin. Before Silver’s disbelieving eyes, he lets himself be clapped on the back and, possibly even more out of character, claps one of the men back.

Silver cranes his neck to see better from the distance. Flint separates from his companions and strides towards Silver’s side of the settlement, shoulders swaying in that arrogant swagger that used to set so many people’s teeth on edge. His chest is bare, shirt and axe thrown over one shoulder, the other shining golden in the sunlight. Unaware of being watched, Flint stops over a barrel and sprays rainwater on his face and chest. Silver adjusts his position on the porch; there’s heat shooting down his spine that doesn’t seem to have much to do with the sun. In all his memories, every recollection of the time they spent together, Flint was this solid, powerful presence, looming over him despite little difference in height. Now that he’s looking at the real thing, his admiration for Flint takes on a different, possessive, feverish edge that is almost disconcerting.

Before Silver can fall even farther down that particular rabbit hole, Flint shakes the water off his hand and disappears into his own hut, hopefully to lose that ridiculous axe and make himself decent. Silver scrambles back inside to pretend he’s busy, in case someone comes by to collect him, but ultimately it is Amma who does, and not begrudgingly, as he expected, but with an air of polite hospitality. She has an elaborate, patterned headwrap on her head and he realises that he might not be dressed for the occasion, seeing as he only has a pair of second-hand drawstring trousers and a plain shirt, but it’s too late: Amma leads him to the common area as if he’s a newcomer, and in a sense he is.

They must be a little late, as everyone is already at the tables, row after row of Maroons, women in headwraps, men with dark curls or locks. The flickering torchlight makes it hard to see and easy to pretend not to look for an auburn head among them. Amma leaves him to sit with her family and friends and as he lurches forward, leaning on his stick, it becomes clear to him that he’s been deemed a sensation. There are fingers pointing and mouths whispering and he feels something cold and slimy coil inside of him.

He grits his teeth and soldiers on in search of a place to sit. Suddenly, there’s a hand on his elbow and he’s so keyed up he almost strikes out at it.

It’s Aloysius Fairweather, of all people.

“Just head on to the first table, Mr Silver. There’s going to be a place for you there, I bet.”

“Thanks,” he says stiffly, unable to disguise his surprise at seeing Aloysius here. It seems to imply that not all pirates were exiled, and he saves that tidbit of knowledge for later.

He continues ahead, along the benches, until he almost reaches the kitchens. There, at the last--or first, if you count backwards--table he finally sees Flint and Madi. Flint, judging from his sweeping gestures and exaggerated facial expressions, is telling a story and Madi must be enjoying it immensely since there’s a smile playing on her lips that transforms into a short laugh as the story, whatever it is, reaches its climax.

He is transfixed at the sight, elated, even willing to overlook the fact that it is Flint who is making her laugh as long as it is a part of his reality. She is wearing her hair up, supported by a richly embroidered scarf that gives her a roguish look, more fit for a pirate than a Maroon princess, and a pair of golden hoop earrings. She is so lovely he could probably just die on the spot and go to heaven, or hell, or wherever he is supposed to go.

Flint finishes his story with a flourish and as he looks over the table, he notices Silver standing there awkwardly. His mouth falls open in disbelief.

“Silver?” He waves him over, brow furrowed in a curious look. “Can hardly recognize you.”

He pats the place on the bench next to him. It doesn’t escape Silver’s attention that he hasn’t shifted to let Silver sit between him and Madi, but remains in the middle. Well. Silver leans on his stick and steps over the bench with his good leg, hauling the shorter one after.

Madi leans over the table to get a better look at him and her eyes flicker in surprise over his freshly shaven face and shoulder-length hair.

“Ah, yes.” Flint clears his throat. “This is the way he used to look before he--he adopted the fearsome-pirate-of-the-West-Indies style.”

“Hey,” says Silver, smiling.

“Hello,” says Madi. She seems confused: torn between manifesting her resentment towards him and--something else, equally sharp, but more heated. “I am glad you decided to join us.”

“I wasn’t sure if I was welcome.”

“There is no reason why you should be barred from celebrating with us.”

Flint raises his eyebrows, as if he could think of a few reasons. He is dressed in a white shirt, laced so loosely it shows the scattering of ginger hairs on his chest. Silver, slightly uncomfortable, averts his eyes and looks around instead. He’s sitting at the end of the table, and on the other side there are some people that he recalls from his earlier visits, mostly the elders of the settlement. He nods to them in greeting, eager to make a good impression now that they’ve let him out of the doghouse. At the far end of the table, however, there is a person that scowls at him so intensely he almost recoils.

“Yeah, you should try to behave yourself,” Flint says in his ear, his voice low. “She is not a big fan of yours.”

“Hardly anyone is here,” Silver whispers back while giving the Maroon Queen his most sincere and polite nod. She ignores him, turning back to the elderly man to her left, and he realises that a lot must have happened behind the scenes for him to appear here.

Whatever they’ve been talking about is now a dead topic. Flint fills the silence by filling cups while Madi fiddles with her food, her mouth tight. Silver fidgets, racking his brain for a topic they could find interesting and non-offensive, but comes up with nothing. He used to be able to talk up anyone, and here he is struggling to strike up a conversation with two of his closest people in the world.

He opens his mouth and it just comes out, as if it’s been there all along, just waiting for them to get together again:

“Have you been to Nassau recently?”

Flint takes it in stride, sitting back so that Silver and Madi can see each other.

“Madi has, I think.” Blink and you miss it: the twitch in his cheek, the vein in his forehead.

Madi leans her elbows on the table, her gaze fixed carefully above Silver’s shoulder.

“Yes, on business. It is… well, it is just as I remember it. There was a robbery at gunpoint attempt in the harbour. Some newcomers from Tortuga, not aware that the arm of the law might actually reach them now.”

“Back in the day you’d just throw them in the bay,” Flint murmurs.

“I did throw one of them in,” Madi says, eyes flashing in the torchlight. Silver wants her back so much he could choke. “But that’s a story for another time. Regarding Nassau, Max and Idelle are in complete control of the town’s affairs. Mr Featherstone is just there to shake men’s hands and sign charters.”

“That guy!” Silver exclaims. “He always knew which way the wind blew.”

Flint scrunches up his nose.

“Yeah, an opportunist through and through.” He picks up a bowl of sweet potatoes and absentmindedly drops some on Silver’s plate even though he hasn’t asked. “Say, was it Amma that brought you in?”

“Yeah, why?”

Flint and Madi exchange that smug, knowing look that make Silver grit his teeth.

“Do you know who she is?” Flint asks slyly, his eyes flickering over Silver.

“No…? Other than Amma, the benevolent supplier of water and food to my humble abode?”

“She’s the Seagull,” Flint says with relish. “Have you heard of her? I mean--”

“Of course I’ve heard of the Seagull.” The image that comes to mind is of a towering woman in full pirate wear, with a cutlass in her hand and a swirl of thick black locks. It does not go along with the beatific Amma who made sure he didn’t die of thirst during his detention. “What, really?”

“Yes.” Madi nods her head. “She joined us after the failed Jamaica rebellion. Swore off the sword and piracy for her children.”

“She had children while on the account?!”

“Kept it secret for obvious reasons, but yes. She has two kids. They’re probably over there, somewhere.” Flint waves his hand in the general direction of other tables. Then his attention comes back to Silver, who’s almost forgotten that at its full strength it’s like a beam of light that bores right through his very being. “You should eat.”

Silver doesn’t argue. He is actually hungry for once, so he dives into his food and keeps silent, turning something over in his mind. The mention of Jamaica reminded him of the ace up his sleeve, the bargaining card he planned to leverage against their distrust and resentment, but at the moment he is actually tempted to just share it as a sign of good faith.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Flint pour something into their cups. Judging from the citrusy smell, it’s probably grog. For some reason, he suddenly remembers how Flint asked him about his impact on the world. This--if he were to share it--would undoubtedly change the shape of their reality as well, and he’s not sure if either he or reality are ready for that.

Flint raises his cup and looks first to his right, to Silver, then to his left, to Madi. There’s a warm expression on his face, with the hint of a smile just beneath the moustache. Silver has both missed this man terribly and never met him before.

“Regardless of the circumstances,” Flint says, “I think this calls for a toast.”

“Yes?” Madi asks dryly. “And what are we celebrating exactly?”

Silver avoids her gaze, preparing for the blow, but Flint might have as well taken it for him.

“Simple facts of life,” he replies, eyebrow arched. “That we’re still here and so many others are not.”

The silence that falls is weighty, almost drowns out the chatter of other junketeers, the buzzing of insects in the hot evening air. Madi and Flint exchange surreptitious glances, communicating wordlessly, and Silver, on the other side, wants to tell them that he has also lost people, so he deserves to be let in on the secret, but he knows better. Any sense of familiarity is short-lived and unwarranted here; they only want to show him what he’s lost.

He drinks all of it in along with the grog: the way Madi’s eyes lit up when people come up to talk to them, Flint’s meandering stories about his life at sea, laced with more than a little nostalgia, the unsettling, deceptive normalcy of it all. When the world gets hazy and distant, he blames it on the alcohol, but that’s just a ploy he once swore he’d never use: self-deception.

After the feast, they wander away from the tables. The conversation now concerns the everyday life of the settlement, so Silver’s attention strays--mostly to the cradle of Madi’s hips. He almost walks into Flint’s back when Flint suddenly stops in the clearing between huts.

Madi steadies him with a hand on his elbow. Her eyes are hooded, her grip strong.

“Uh,” Flint clears his throat, his eyes flickering from Silver to Madi, head nodding almost imperceptibly. “Seems like a good time to excuse myself for the evening. Have a good night, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He actually fucking bows before heading off to his hut, hands clasped behind his back, and it’s so obvious and ridiculous Silver rolls his eyes.

“Thank you for this evening,” he says to Madi. It’s heartfelt, hopefully also to her.

“Let me walk you,” she says. She has that way of walking close to his side that is their equivalent of arm in arm, so that he can lurch forward without losing his balance and it doesn’t feel like she is helping him walk. Their shoulders brush from time to time and he’s not sure if it’s by accident.

He thinks of the ace up his sleeve and even opens his mouth to say something about it, but what comes out is entirely different from intended.

“I’m so sorry I hurt you,” he whispers, as if someone could overhear and take offense.

“I know,” she says. “But I am stronger for it.”

That is something; John has never felt stronger after the things that happened to him, only more brittle and forced to make up more for it. Maybe that’s the difference between them: he will ultimately be broken by his life and she will emerge victorious.

They are almost at his hut. Silver doesn’t even dare think that this might go further, but Madi squeezes his hand all of a sudden.

“I had no idea what your face really looked like until now,” she says.

“Do you like it?” he asks, rubbing his chin self-consciously. It feels naked and weird without hair.

“I do,” she replies and kisses him.

He’s dumbfounded, lost, weak. Has to grip the porch railing not to fall, but still stumbles a bit. Madi loses her balance as well and smacks her nose into his forehead. Between the railing and her feet firm on the ground they manage to stay upright, but now she is gripping his shirt tails and her breasts are pressed against his chest. It’s inevitable, really.

He surges forward to return the kiss and she doesn’t push him away, but gives as good as she gets; even though she’s always been quite forward in these matters, there’s something even sharper and more confident about her now. It goes on for quite some time, in the shade of the porch, away from the heart of the village and with the unceasing voice in his head telling him it’s just an illusion of his grog-addled mind, until Madi grips him through his trousers and whispers:

“Let’s get inside, shall we?”

And it’s so English with the phrasing and the intonation that it sends a spike of irritation through him despite the arousal. Madi drags him by the hand to the hut, where she makes quick work of her shirt and skirt. Soon, she is gloriously, unbelievably naked--save for her headwrap and shoes, which Silver finds incredibly enticing, and she knows it.

“Uh,” he says cleverly, setting his stick against the wall and sitting on the cot. “We--”

“Shush, John Silver.” She closes the distance between them and puts a finger against his lips. “You cause so much trouble with your talking that you could just shut your mouth from time to time and see what happens.”

And just like that she straddles and kisses him, urgently, fiercely. He puts his mouth to good use: her jaw, her neck, her collarbone, that delicious stretch of skin between her breasts. She gasps when his hands find her buttocks and knead, then lift so that he can scoot back on the cot without dislodging her from his lap. It backfires and she falls over, lands sprawled over him, and even though his ribs hurt like hell he can’t complain; he’s never even dreamed of having this again, not with her, especially not so soon, with the echoes of their previous encounters still alive in his mind.

They push and grind against one another, Silver still fully dressed, straining against his trousers painfully. He doesn’t want this to end yet, since he has no idea if they ever get an iteration, so he pulls at her arms and shoulders until she’s crawling up the cot to sit on his face.

He gives her a cautious, experimental lick and feels her shudder. There’s a loud thud, too, as if she’s slammed her hand against the wall. Silver, enjoying this immensely, smiles against her, grips her hips and gets on with it in earnest. His poor ribs twinge with every breath he takes and once she starts riding her face he struggles to come up for air so much everything goes dark for a second, but he’s hard as a rock, barely able to think.

Madi comes silently, with a long, shuddering breath, and lies down next to him. There are still tremors going through her body. The cot is so narrow he needs to keep her pressed to him with a hand splayed on her back.

They lie like that for a moment, breaths mingling in the humid air, and then Madi’s hand snakes down to his waistband, undoes the ties of his pants and slips inside. He bites his lip, panting, hurting and burning all at once, head thrown back, as Madi slides down his body and straddles his thighs. Once she takes him in her mouth, it takes embarrassingly little time. Finished and done with, and he hasn’t even taken off his shirt, Jesus Christ.

Madi sprawls half atop him and he resolves to lie awake as long as he can, enjoying this to the fullest, but in the time-honoured tradition of men all over the world, he falls asleep immediately after sex.

It is the first light of dawn and a vicious cramp in his side that wakes him. There’s a warm body next to him--and he surges to full wakefulness with the memory of their night encounter. They are lying on their sides on his little cot, pressed together from head to toe, with Silver’s arm over Madi’s side, holding one of her breasts in the palm of his hand.

He draws it back and slides it lovingly down Madi’s side. Her figure makes him think of the women depicted in art, in paintings and sculptures of half-naked ancient goddesses. Flint, the irritating know-it-all, could probably name a good likeness of her curves, but Silver’s admiration had to be limited to the earthly and imminent.

On its way up her body, his hand reaches the joint of the neck and shoulder and he’s surprised to see a mottled bruise there. It looks old, definitely older than last night, and on a closer look it’s obviously a love bite.

He draws back as much as the cramped quarters allow, which isn’t much. Despite the warmth between them he’s gone stone cold. There is a conclusion forming inevitably in his mind, but he slides his hand back down first, watching her skin closely for any other marks. And there they are: small, dark bruises on her thigh that have obviously come from fingers gripping too tight for the delicate skin there.

He draws in a shocked breath and slides out of the cot legs first, then grabs his stick and walks out to gather his thoughts and piss. It’s all coming together now: the way she approached him yesterday, what she said about growing stronger--she obviously wanted to teach him a lesson, make him feel the burn of betrayal, and what better way to do that than to show him what he’s lost. How diabolic it all was, especially taking into account that Flint had to know about it when he left them together yesterday. He had to!

He storms back into the hut, his face and neck burning from humiliation. Madi has already woken and is sitting on the cot rubbing her face sleepily.

“You’re sleeping with him,” Silver blurts out. “With him! Even though we--”

“Excuse me?” she says icily.

“You are sleeping with Flint,” he repeats even though he already know it’s not going to lead him anywhere good. “Despite what we had. Despite being my wife--”

Madi does a double take at that.

“You must be forgetting yourself.” She reaches for her shirt and puts it on, every movement precise and indignant. “I was not your wife nor will I ever be. Would you really have me free from one kind of bonds just to fall prey to another? I know what being a wife means in your world, John, and knowing what you know of me I am unpleasantly surprised that you would wish that on me.”

“I didn’t--I just assumed we--”

“What?” She looks up from fastening her belt. “Were close, so you have laid claim to me for the rest of our lives? Did you really think you were the only man I have taken my pleasure with?”

He did, actually, and it must show on his face, because she shakes her head in annoyed disbelief.

“I admit, I assumed some things,” he says, frantic. He’s aware that she is angry and hurt, but his thoughts keep swarming around the fact that Flint, Flint has been having an affair with her behind his back. “And that might have been wrong. However, it is custom--maybe not your custom though--that couples…”

He trails off, unable to put what is going on inside of him into words. He looks at Madi instead.

“What do you want me to say, John?” She tips her head expectantly and he feels an angry tirade coming on. “Actually, I know the answer to that. You want me to forgive you for ruining what was between us, for embarrassing me in front of my people and changing my future to a less favourable one. More than that, you want me to tell you how to fix what was between you and James too! But I am not going to do that. And what is between James and me is none of your business. It stopped being your business the moment you started plotting against the two of us.”

With that, she shakes her head once more and leaves, her footsteps thudding angrily on the planks of the porch. Silver is suddenly struck with such weakness he just sinks to the floor where he stands, clutching his stick feebly. His mind is trying to dissect what she said, but keeps getting stuck on what was between you and James, and he realises suddenly that she was actually talking about him and Flint.

Chapter Text

Flint has been a frustrating presence in his life, right from the mind-numbingly scary moment on the Walrus when he handed Billy a bloody piece of paper that Silver was sure he had in his pocket, to when, held at gunpoint, he had the audacity to tell Silver he would regret ending the fucking war. He manhandled and mistreated Silver, swore and barked at him, disregarded his input and ideas, ordered him around, underestimated him and fought him--until he didn’t, and that was terribly frustrating too.

What he feels now is more than frustration, it’s anger, maybe even rage. Confronted with Flint now, he would not be able to contain himself. He can picture himself striking out at him and Flint catching his fist mid-swing, because he’s always been the faster, better fighter. Or maybe he’d be so surprised at Silver lashing out that the strike would connect with his jaw, leave a mark. Or he wouldn’t stop Silver at all because he’s a glutton for punishment; Silver will probably never forget how unflinchingly Flint stares down a loaded gun. Or--

He jams his knuckles into his treacherously wet eyes. He’s still on the floor, like a petulant child denied a treat, so he picks himself up and sits on the cot they shared with Madi for the night. The thought has him physically hurting and he presses a hand to his ribs and tries to calm his breathing. His side is cramping again, too, so he lies down on the cot, waiting for the cramp to subside. The pain is actually preferable, this once, he will take the usual ailments of a cripple over the rest of it. He hates both of them now, resents the way they’ve made him this fragile, this susceptible to these bouts of intense feeling that render him completely dumb.

Nobody comes with water or breakfast, this time. Amma stops by, but only to tell him to get to work.

“You can have something to eat in the kitchens,” she adds, probably taking pity at his miserable expression. “There are leftovers from yesterday.”

“How long do I have to stay here?” he asks, unable to imagine facing Madi or Flint ever again.

“I don’t think that’s a question for me,” Amma shrugs, standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips. “Probably another month or so. Until the storms subside. What, don’t you like it? Not used to our hospitality?”

“Oh, no, I’m used to it and grateful to it.” He hurries to the door, brushing his hair with his fingers on the way. “Just wondering.”

Amma harrumphs, setting a pace that is easy for him to keep. He has the impression her role here is close to a quartermistress and that they did not leave him in her care by accident. Now that he knows who she used to be, he notices the slightly swaying gait of a sailor, the thickness of her arms, a whitish scar leading down her neck.

“Do I have something on my face, Mr Silver?”

“You used to be the Seagull, didn’t you?” he blurts out.

“Used to?” She lets out a surprised laugh. “Oh, my boy, I still am her. Only in disguise.”

She leaves him in the kitchens and winks before walking away. He smiles at her retreating back and joins the kitchen crew. Not surprisingly, there’s a lot to do; in addition to peeling and flavouring heaps of vegetables and fruit, there’s also a huge pot of soup to oversee and he’s stationed there for the better part of the afternoon, stirring and stirring. The women do not make allowances for him; when they set out to pick pineapples, he goes with them and throws his pineapples into other people’s baskets, since he’s not able to carry his own. He’s grateful for the work and their chatter, as it drowns out the anxious voices in his own mind.

He’s able to avoid Madi and Flint the whole day. He only sees them once, at dinnertime, walking together and talking animatedly, Flint in his shirtsleeves, Madi in trousers. Silver immediately ducks behind the soup pot, pretending to have dropped something. It would have been bad enough to meet either one of them but to stumble upon both--he’d just die on the spot to spare himself the humiliation and heartbreak.

The shift eventually ends and he goes back to his hut to agonize over what has happened. He is starting to suspect that this was Anane’s plan all along: to give him just enough freedom to make an ass out of himself in front of Madi. It all gnaws at him so much that even though he hurts all over after work, he just has to leave this place of misery, so he grabs his stick and hauls himself outside. It’s evening, and a beautiful one at that; the crescent moon hangs over the forest, like in the beginning of a German fairytale.

He stalks away from the settlement, leaning heavily on his stick. His ribs twinge with every move, but at least he’s not thinking about Flint making love to Madi, his hands squeezing her thighs so hard they leave bruises, definitely not, at least he’s out here, ready to melt into his surroundings and become no-one from nowhere again. He’s alone--until he isn’t.

He’s barely at the treeline when he hears the telltale crack of a twig under somebody’s foot. He freezes, senses going into overdrive: there is someone walking behind him, a lot more silently than people usually would, probably trying to get the jump on him. His hand flies to his waistband but doesn’t find anything other than the drawstring there; he’s unarmed, still injured and--to be frank--a little crazy from everything that is going on in his head.

Running used to be his number one solution to all problems. Since that is no longer an option, he drives the stick into the ground and swivels around to face whoever is coming.

Five men, of the bigger variety, Maroons all of them. It’s too dark to see their faces, but he has a feeling he knows them, and he probably does, seeing as he once led hundreds.

“How can I help you, gentlemen?” he asks, slipping into the slightly threatening persona of Long John Silver.

There is a pause, as the men all look at the one standing in the middle, probably the ring leader. He is dressed in an expensive-looking coat lined with buttons, so Silver pegs him for a pirate.

“We’d like to ask you something,” he says in a clearly English accent.

“I’m somewhat lost as to why here in the dark, but by all means, go ahead.”

“Why did you sign the treaty after we prevailed over the Governor of Nassau? We could have gone on, but you put a stop to it. We know. We wanted to fight, but you ended the fight for us.”

For once, Silver is grateful for the dark; at least they can’t see the expression he makes at being asked the same thing again.

“Why do you think?” he asks. It doesn’t escape his attention that the others spread, blocking his already limited escape routes. “I can see that you are not satisfied with this outcome. Then why do you think I chose it?”

“You’re not going to play your games with us, Long John Silver,” barks one of them.

“Just tell us fair and square,” says the ringleader, coming closer and looming over him uncomfortably. Silver has a feeling that there are no correct answers. “And we might reconsider.”

“Reconsider what?” A familiar voice cuts in and Flint suddenly appears at his side, as if conjured out of thin air.

“Mr Flint,” says the ringleader darkly.

“Mr Bowles.” Flint’s eyes flash in the darkness. He is all angles and shades of grey. “It seems I interrupted your conversation with Mr Silver. How impolite of me.”

His tone suggests he does not consider that rude at all and Silver is sure the men can read that too, as well as the steely undertone.

“It seems so,” Bowles replies, but doesn’t move away from Silver.

“It’s such a pleasant evening,” Flint continues in a monotone. “It would be a shame to make it less so.”

There it is; the moment tipped at the edge of a knife. Silver would hold his breath if he didn’t know that these things always go in Flint’s favour. This is no different: Bowles glares at him one last time and moves back, taking the men with him. Silver stares at them until he feels Flint’s eyes on him.

“I don’t need you to protect me.” He turns to Flint even though there’s no point in trying to read his face in the dark.

“I’m not protecting you.” His tone is lighter, flippant, even. He’s standing so close that his elbow brushes Silver’s arm. “Were the tables turned, I’d appreciate your coming in and talking them out of… whatever they were trying to do here.”

“And what were they trying to do? What do you think?”

“I don’t know.” He kicks something, probably a rock, that rolls into the bushes. “Threaten you some more. Maybe beat you up in a way so humiliating you wouldn’t report it out of shame. Nothing more, probably, since they know better than to risk exile. What were you doing here, anyway?”

“I was talking a walk. What were you doing here?”

Flint clears his throat.

“I saw you leaving for your walk and--then those guys following you, I was sure that wouldn’t lead anywhere good.”

“Yeah.” Silver doesn’t want to get into why Flint was watching him in the first place. He pulls his stick out of the dirt. “Shall we?”

“I actually have something I wanted to give you,” Flint says, as if it’s nothing special, as if he used to give Silver gifts all the time. He sets off towards the village and Silver starts after him like the blind following the blind, all the while trying not to think about--things. He realises that both he and Flint have recently been with Madi and that makes him feel weirdly connected to Flint, to the point where he needs to resist a shiver.

Flint leads him to his hut, jogs up the walkway and goes inside. Silver hauls himself up to the porch and, hearing Flint rummaging inside, sits on the chair that is conveniently placed outside. Something angular and stiff digs into his left buttock and he pulls out a book from under his ass. Of course. Flint, ever the voracious reader, must have left it there.

He comes out of the hut with a long object shoved under his arm. As he presents it proudly in the light of the torches, Silver realises it’s a crutch.

“I noticed how uncomfortable the stick must be for you,” he says, a little breathless. “Just check if the height is all right, I made it from memory.”

Silver is more than a little overwhelmed by the images that, unbidden, appear in his mind: of Flint bent over a piece of wood, carving it lovingly so that it fits Silver’s fucking pit, wiping the sweat from his forehead with a gouge in his hand, trying to match the length of the pieces of wood to himself. He swallows and takes the crutch in hand. It’s smooth to the touch and very well done; he had no idea Flint could carve that well.

“Thanks, you needn’t have.”

“It’s nothing.” Flint pretends to brush it off, but Silver notices the little smile pulling at the corner of his mouth.

The crutch fits, of course. Silver uses it to take a few steps on the porch, turn at the railing and go back to the chair. Flint leans against the doorframe and watches him silently, thumb brushing his beard.

“So.” Silver sits back down and lays the crutch across his knees. “How come you’re here carving wood and not in England, doing anything else?”

“I don’t think I can ever go back to England, knowing what I know about it.”

“Even for him?” Silver asks, unexpectedly daring.

Flint freezes. His eyes darken.

“He’s gone to England to be away from me,” he replies after a while. His voice is shattered glass. The thought of punching Flint, the one Silver entertained earlier in the day, now seems utterly ridiculous. “I think it naive to expect anything good to come out of England anymore.”

Silver remembers England. It was miserable. If you were to suffer, you could at least do it somewhere nice and warm, like the Bahama Islands.

“So, tit for tat.” Flint recovers quickly. He unspools from the doorway and perches on the railing instead. “Why are you here? Honestly, the way I answered your question, despite it being rather blunt. Is it for the treasure?”

“I don’t care about the treasure anymore.”

“Not even a little bit? Not even if you think what you could do for her with that kind of money?”

Silver narrows his eyes at him.

“Well, sure, the cache could come in handy. But Madi--is she very angry with me?”

Flint snorts.

“Well, she’s not happy with you. Though I wouldn’t call it angry. She’s more--disappointed.”

That’s even worse, somehow. Silver scowls at his boots. Flint is still standing there expectantly, his breathing loud in the serenity of the evening, the heat where Silver’s outstretched leg touches his calf searing.

“And you?” Silver asks, raising his head. “Aren’t you jealous? I mean--of her? With--” He gestures to himself.

“Who says I’m not?” Flint says, his eyes flicking over Silver’s body. He’s used to it, being examined by Flint, but it feels different now and he fidgets in his seat. “However, I’d say this is not about me, but about her. She is my friend, so I wouldn’t want to stop her from doing things that make her content.”

“That’s not the way this usually works.”

“But we’re not usual, are we?”

Silver blinks at the word we, because it obviously means that Flint considers him a part of--whatever this is. And just like that, he’s sucked back into the maelstrom of Flint’s mind so suddenly that he almost feels the shift in perspective. It’s like that moment when Flint asked him for his opinion for the first time, in the Captain’s cabin on the Walrus. Silver was younger then, whole, less experienced and unaware that history will likely repeat itself. Similarly to the present, he looked at Flint and felt himself slide into an unfamiliar reality where he could actually understand understand the reasoning behind Flint’s actions, and it was scary and exhilarating all at once.

Here, now, Flint takes a deeper breath and starts to talk, taking Silver’s silence for uncertainty.

“I once got into this horrid argument with Miranda,” he says, looking up with a wistful smile. “Unable to concede, I slammed the door behind me and sailed out to sea. We were about to hunt this merchant ship, supposedly carrying textiles from India--but it turned out to be a brig headed for the Tellier plantation on Saint Domingue. It was one of the richest prizes I have ever seen, no Urca, of course, but the sheer volume and luxury and value of what was ordered for that manor… There was just everything there. Expensive furniture, crockery, clothing, textiles, stores of the kind the men have never seen or tasted in their lives… We took it all, but I forewent my share of the prize revenue to secure most of the household items. I resolved, you see, to furnish our humble home in the interior of New Providence Island in a manner Miranda was used to in England, expecting her to be so content with regaining at least a semblance of her previous life that she would forgive me for being a dick to her.”

Silver snorts into his fist. Flint notices that and send him a dirty look, but continues:

“So I had it all hauled to the Walrus, then to the beach, then transported to the interior. As you can imagine, getting a four-poster bed rowed to the shore was a nightmare. Hal was furious with me. Everyone was. I got so much stink eye that day it’s a wonder I did not cause a mutiny.”

“Maybe that’s when they started thinking about it.”

“Perhaps. So, once I had it all carted home, I waltzed in there expecting to be forgiven. And while, in time, she started to appreciate that fucking bed, I was not, because what she wanted from me was not the bed, or the vanity, or the harpsichord, but an apology and an acknowledgement that she was, in fact, right.”

“I never thought I would be taking relationship advice from Captain Flint,” Silver quips.

Flint smiles, his teeth flashing, but his face immediately takes on this painful, resigned expression that means he’s thinking about the people he’s lost. There always seem to be a space carved out for them in him and it makes Silver feel jealous, hopeful and strangely affectionate all at once. It must show on his face because the moment Flint looks at him his expression changes to something soft and warm, quite unbecoming of a man able to kill Silver with his bare hands.

Silver can read that expression all too well and it scares the living daylights out of him.

“So.” He clears his throat and moves to get up. “I’ll get going. Thanks for the crutch and--everything.”

“Ah, it’s nothing. You’re welcome.”

Upright, he’s suddenly very close to Flint on the little porch. Again, this in itself is nothing new; Flint used to crowd him in on a regular basis, first usually for the purpose of intimidation, then for private conversation, but now it feels dangerous and weird, and he needs to fight the instinct to flinch away.

Still, he’s back at Flint’s side, Flint’s eyes are crinkling up in the corners at him, so that merits at least giving Flint a smile in passing. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Flint raise his hand, but it’s just to tuck a stray strand of auburn hair behind his ear, nothing more.

He hops off the porch, using his new crutch, and heads for his hut, resisting the temptation to look back. Once washed and undressed, he lays down on the cot he abandoned earlier in the day and lets out a deep sigh. He’s still hesitant to face Madi, sure, but he’s looking at a different world than just an hour ago.

Now, if he sat himself down and asked:

“John, have you ever considered that there might be something more between you and Flint?”

He’d be lying like a dog if he said:

“Not at all, it’s just companionship and a bond forged in the heat of battle.”

Because it wasn’t, and he’d be stupid not to notice that, and if anything, John was not stupid. He’s just never entertained it seriously; he could compare their relationship to that of a homeowner and a cat. The homeowner is fond of the cat, the company it provides, likes to look at it, but mostly appreciates it for its hunting skills. As soon as the cat dies--or the homeowner kills it--he’ll just get another one, and like it just as much. He’s had plenty of cats after all.

He tries to work out a way to insert Madi into that comparison, but fails utterly; he’d coined it before he learnt that the woman he loves has taken up with a man he is really conflicted about.

In the morning, he sets out to find Madi, but the ever-vigilant Amma drags him to the kitchens where he’s made to peel pineapples all day, and it’s really not unlike shucking corn below deck on the Walrus. He sees Madi walk by a few times during the day, but she’s never alone: first with her mother, then with a woman he does not recognize, finally with Flint, at dinner time, and he realizes that they must be having dinner together. The jealousy is so intense all of a sudden that it almost wrecks all of his noble intentions, and he needs to take some time to cool off at a water barrel.

Finally, he sees her leave Flint’s hut and head to the center of the village, so he approaches her casually.

“Hey.”

Madi bristles at his appearance.

“What is it?”

“Could you please spare me a minute of your time? I’d like to talk to you.”

She considers it, her mouth tight, and gives him a nod. There are still some people around, but they’re out of hearing range, so he just ducks under one of the walkways.

“What is it that you wanted to say?” Madi asks, crossing her arms on her chest.

“Just that I am sorry for the way I behaved yesterday,” he says, his throat suddenly tight. “It was wrong of me to assume things and react with anger at something that comes naturally to you. I have no right to police who you spend your time with, however you choose to do it. I am just--not used to all of this and it--it shows.”

Madi tilts her head, as if she is considering the sincerity of what he’s just said. It seems to pass the test, since she sighs and looks at him with warmth and only a little annoyance.

“I realise it is probably James who told you how to approach me about this,” she says, “but it does not diminish the intent behind it. Thank you, John. I--I think we are all out of our depth here.”

“You seem to be adept at navigating these treacherous straits, I have to say.”

“Well, I’ve always learned fast.” She puts a hand on his arm, just shy of the rolled sleeve. “Do you want to walk me?”

“It will be my pleasure.”

They head off together, and he stealthily wipes the sweat off his forehead. This was far harder and scarier than facing red coats and Spaniards bent on killing him on the spot, but he’s aware it’s just the first step on a very long road.

Chapter Text

Silver thrives when he has an agenda, and now he does: it’s to get back into Madi’s good graces and improve his social standing among the Maroons so that he might be permitted to stay. The staying part is still a controversial idea in his internal world, since it’s mostly at an opposition with his true nature: to want to belong anywhere, if you could even call it that. He’s simply decided that in lieu of better solutions he might as well remain on the island. Going back to Havana is not an option after losing the sloop, what with the debt and Gutierrez’s brother who’d want his head, and even if he got away from all of that, he’d what? Spend the rest of his life serving tortillas in Carlos’ dusty establishment to smelly Spaniards who have no idea who he used to be?

To avoid that fate, he decides to address the source of the hostility that he occasionally feels in the settlement, one that was embodied by those four men that would have gotten the jump on him had Flint not intervened. He begs Amma to arrange an audition with the Queen, but she refuses time after time, so he plies her with stories about his seafaring adventures until she relents.

Anane receives him in the evening on an ugly, rainy day that has everyone trembling in fear of another hurricane. She is dressed in a simple shirt and skirt, but her headwrap is piled high as usual, and John is a little in awe of the effort it must take to put that on every morning. He has so much trouble with keeping his hair in check that he can’t even muster the energy to shave every day.

“So, Mr Silver. Here we are again.” She sits down at her desk and he remembers vividly the first time he saw her: she asked him to step out of the line and everything in him screamed not to be singled out like that, but he did it anyway, such was the power of her authority. “Please, just don’t tell me that you’re here to talk about your reasons for ending the war.”

Silver smiles at her apologetically. She shakes her head.

“All right. You may have this one last try to convince me of the nobility of your intentions, but I can already tell you that even if you succeed, it won’t have any bearing on your situation here.”

He straightens up and delivers the speech he’s prepared beforehand. It’s one of his best, really, heartfelt, but not too emotional, because he knows the Queen keeps her feet firmly on the the ground. It appeals to the values of community, leading a good, decent life and keeping one’s loved ones safe above anything else, because they’ve both been through what they have and it’s still fresh in his mind. He’s not lying, only embellishing the smallest bit, because he’s recently found that he actually cares about these things--or would like to be someone that does and for him it is one and the same.

The speech ends on a hopeful, warm note. The Queen sits still, watching him intently. He swallows: the women of this family seem to look straight through him.

“That might come as a surprise to you, Mr Silver, but I do understand all of that,” she says finally, turning to watch the rain outside. “As a person that was forced to make some very tough choices I recognize that you imagined to have been between Scylla and Charybdis and simply chose what you considered the lesser of two evils. Some may still resent you for that.”

“And they do,” he says, his tone neutral.

She tosses him a look. It’s heavy.

“I have the impression that you have suffered a lot, too,” she continues. “For someone your age and standing. I do not think, however, that you have ever been placed in chains.”

Silver shakes his head.

“And that makes for a fundamental difference between us. If you have ever had every bit of power over your life stripped from you, you would have never assumed to make decisions in someone’s stead. In my stead. In Julius’ stead. In my daughter’s stead. You’re very clever, so you can surely understand how that last issue offends me on a personal level and bodes ill for the future of any intentions you may have towards her.”

“Thank you for being so frank with me,” he rasps out.

“You do not seem to be enjoying that frankness,” she points out and he gives a small laugh. “You do possess one admirable quality, Mr Silver. You are durable. It seems to me like the tide has been against you for some time now and yet you fight it still.”

“I try to.” He nods, struggling to keep his face impassive. It’s a lot harder without the beard hiding his mouth from view. “Thank you for this conversation.”

He leaves, a little disappointed and startled at her admission. He has never considered himself tough or resilient, or any of the things he admired Madi and Flint for. He quite enjoys being thought of that way: a fighter, when he’s only ever been a runner.

Outside, the village is settling for another night of rain; there are muddy creeks and streams running underneath the walkways and he realises there’s no chance of meeting anyone for a decent conversation before retiring to his hut. He slowly makes his way there, trying not to slip on wet planks and holding tightly to the railings.

A few days ago, it turned out his roof was leaking: he woke up in a soaked-through bed that was standing in water. The hut dried out quickly once the sun came out, but the roof had to be patched up before it started pouring again. Silver reported it to Amma, expecting one or two Maroons to show up in the afternoon, but instead he got Flint coming to the rescue.

It was an odd experience, watching him work for Silver’s benefit, well, watching him work, period. He knew that Flint possessed the ability to do manual labour, since he saw it with his own eyes back when Flint had been deposed as the Captain of the Walrus. Flint wasn’t doing much back then, since the boatswain was terrified of making him work, so he mostly hovered about, plotting to overthrow Dufresne. This, however, was honest, hard work that had Flint sweat and exert himself, guessing from the grunts he emitted once in a while. Silver tried to make himself useful by fetching him water and handing the tools, all the while fighting an impression that it was just a hallucination brought on by the sun bearing too hard on them.

Fortunately, now his hut is as dry as anything can be in this kind of weather. The constant dampness and humidity in the air makes his joints hurt and the stump pulse vaguely, as if trying to reconnect with the remainder of his leg. He lights a few candles, strips off his wet clothes, wraps himself in a blanket and lies down on his cot, trying not to feel lonely and forsaken despite being, very clearly, lonely and forsaken.

Since that fateful night after the feast, Madi has not joined him in bed and he should know better than to assume, but assume he does. He has lain more than a few times, sleepless, fighting the images that appear in his mind’s eye: Madi riding Flint, her body undulating slowly while Flint grips her hips and watches her with that hungry, intense look on his face that Silver can somehow imagine with great detail. There were some variations on that theme, too, namely Flint with Mrs Barlow, naked and intertwined under the canopy that was supposed to hang over a rich planter’s bed in Saint Domingue, but they soon transformed into Madi and Flint, too. Anytime it happens, he’s hot and annoyed with himself and resorts to counting the planks supporting the roof, over and over again, until he finally falls into a fitful sleep.

In the morning, it stops raining for a few hours, so everyone is rushing about, trying to do as much work as they can while it lasts. Silver takes it slow, figuring that squeezing limonettes for juice is not going anywhere so he might just as well enjoy the weather. He’s sitting on a barrel just outside the rows of dried meat hangers, face to the sun, when he hears someone come up.

“John.” It’s Madi’s voice, so he opens his eyes squints at her. “Am I interrupting? You seem to be working on your tan and I would hate to bother you on such a busy morning.”

“Not at all, you’re welcome to join me.”

The corners of her mouth lift almost unnoticeably and he considers that a success. Now that his eyes have recovered from the sun, he notices she’s carrying a roll of maps under her arm, not exactly hiding it there, but not flaunting it either.

“We are having dinner today,” she says, shifting from one foot to the other and sliding the maps a little farther back. “You’re welcome to join us if you’d like.”

“I--I’d love to. Thank you.”

“Then come by my place at dinnertime.”

“I will. Thanks.”

She gives him a meaningful look and leaves, her skirts swishing. It seems weird for her to approach him like that, contrived somehow, seeing as hasn’t gotten further with joining them than his bedtime fantasies. But--she’s invited him and it would be stupid of him not to go.

When his shift ends, he doesn’t have time to go back to his hut to make himself presentable, so he just leans over a barrel of water to clean his face and brush his hair with his fingers. He makes his way to Madi’s hut, nodding to people he recognises on the way. He stops at the doorway and knocks twice on the doorframe, just to be respectful.

“Enter,” calls Madi’s voice from inside, so he does, taking small, cautious steps on Flint’s crutch.

They’re both seated at the table, Madi at the top, Flint to her right, in Silver’s place. He feels a twinge of jealousy at that, but squashes it fast, because the mood is already sour.

The source of the uneasy, tense atmosphere is, of course, Flint. Silver learned to read his moods quickly and efficiently back when they might have meant a difference between life and death, and he can easily see now that Flint is sullen and irritable, not angry yet, but very close to it. This is the mood he can fly into a rage from if something rubs him the wrong way. He is currently trying to hide it from them by appearing impassive, but not doing a very good job.

“Good evening,” Silver says, taking the seat opposite Flint and sending him a little smile. Flint just nods his head at him.

“Hello, John.” Madi reaches for one of the bowls in front of her. “Go ahead and help yourself.”

He does; it’s the dish they made today in the kitchen, sweet corn and a spicy root that grows in the jungle on the island. For a longer while they eat in awkward silence and Silver is tempted to break it, but feels that Madi should do it, as the hostess, and not he. Fortunately, finally she puts her fork away and turns to him.

“Did you have a good night, John? No trouble with the rain?”

“Not at all,” he replies, pushing the images of the two of them together away as they are entirely unhelpful at the moment. “The roof doesn’t leak anymore, thanks to some incredible carpentry.”

He casts a friendly look at Flint, who just narrows his eyes at him. He wonders if this is why he has been invited to this--to crack and disarm whatever is brewing inside Flint, because she doesn’t seem to know how, despite everything they’ve shared.

“So,” he prompts, setting aside his spoon, “what are your plans for when the storms cease?” At Madi’s surprised look, he adds, “I saw you carrying maps today and wondered where you were going.”

“Oh. Yes.” She appears taken aback, but recovers fast. “We are probably going to call at Nassau first. We have some wares from the last prize to sell there. Then we might swing by Kingston for information and trade. It depends on what we learn in Nassau, of course.”

“How do you call at Nassau, if you don’t mind my asking? I mean, in light of there being no pirates allowed and so on.”

Flint tilts his head curiously, breaking off a piece of bread and soaking it in the sauce.

“As a crew of freemen,” Madi replies. “We have papers that will hold up in any port in the Indies, maybe save for Havana. Unfortunately, we still rouse some suspicion, what with being an all-black crew of pirates.”

“With the exception of Aloysius,” Flint says. It’s the first time he’s opened his mouth this evening.

“Yes, with the exception of Aloysius.” Madi nods. They exchange looks, but Silver for the life of him cannot decipher what they mean. Surely, if Aloysius is the only Christian* on the crew, Flint does not sail with them, but then--sailing is not the same as being on the crew, after all; you have to sign the articles first, to be considered a pirate and get a share. So what, once Madi sets sail after the storm season, is Flint staying back to saw wood and repair roofs? That does not seem believable—Flint is not the kind of man to ever play second fiddle.

As he looks at them, partially in on the secret, partially from the outside looking in, he’s suddenly struck with the realisation that he has seen Flint like that before: tired, annoyed, sad and hopeful all at once. It was back when they were travelling with Mrs Barlow to Charlestown and while Silver was not exactly allowed into the Captain’s cabin on the same terms as before, with two women staying there, he glimpsed enough of Miranda Barlow to know what kind of woman she was. The Puritan dress, that calm countenance hid a steely core and a fierce soul, not unlike another woman he has known.

It does make a twisted kind of sense. The only question that remains is who he is in this iteration of the story.

This whole train of thought takes only a second or two, but shocks him into silence. He disguises that by eating what is left in his bowl. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Madi get up and walk across the room. Flint follows the movement too and then catches his eye, letting Silver realize he was watching him watch Madi.

As if on a dare, he looks Flint in the eye. What he sees there is not jealousy after all--it’s fear. What would Flint be afraid of, though? The only explanation is Madi, probably, Madi choosing John over him.

“Are we going to get another storm like the one that punched through my roof?” Silver asks. It’s deflection and Flint knows it.

“Hard to say. Contrary to what you both seem to think, I’m no expert at predicting the weather.”

Flint holds his eye. Silver tries to decipher his expression, but all of a sudden the crinkles in the corner of Flint’s eyes, the grooves framing his mouth, the arches of his eyebrows tell him nothing.

“I don’t remember it being this rainy in Nassau,” Silver says, a little breathless.

Madi comes back with a pitcher and pours grog into their cups. Silver keeps his eyes on Flint.

“The climate is a little different here,” Madi says, seemingly oblivious to the game that has been going on at the table. “We are completely open to the sea, no other islands shielding us from the changes of weather it brings. We get a lot of flotsam and jetsam. Like the two of you.”

She gives Flint a warm, kind look. Silver suddenly thinks about the maps she carried earlier in the day--if they plan to sail to Nassau and Kingston, why would they be needing maps? And Flint--why did she bring him here in the first place? What about Thomas Hamilton?

There’s another point to be made here: if Madi did in fact invite him here to get Flint out of his shell, she might not know that appeasing him is not the way to go.

“I have a feeling that there is something you two are keeping from me,” he blurts out.

“Really?” Flint asks, derision clear in his voice. “What gave you that impression?”

Silver ignores him.

“Whatever it is, I’d gladly know, and if it’s in my power, lend help.”

Flint opens his mouth, no doubt to say something rude, but Madi sends him a look that shuts him up. There it is again—they are communicating silently: Flint’s face twitches, eyebrow arches, Madi shakes her head almost imperceptibly.

“I admit we might not have been forthcoming with you,” she says coolly. “But you can imagine why that is.”

“You don’t trust me,” he spits out.

“You have not been conducive to that the last time,” Flint snaps, his lip curling in a snarl.

“Excuse me? I’d like to have you remember you betrayed me too, you dragged that fucking cache off the ship at dead watch and—”

Madi places her cup on the table with a little too much force. The grog sloshes over the brim and onto the table.

“I suggest we keep from digging up things to accuse each other of,” she says, her voice calm but tense. “That will not benefit us here, now, in any way I can think of. I might have not forgiven or forgotten your actions, John, but I’m willing to look past them.”

“But not trust me with whatever you’re planning,” he says. He feels betrayed again somehow, let down by those closest to him. He has apologised, grovelled, showed good will and in the end it—it does not matter in the least.

Neither Madi nor Flint say anything and he doesn’t feel strong enough to look at either of them. He keeps his head down, blinks to get rid of the burning in his eyes and slowly pushes away from the table.

“Thank you for the company.”

He grabs a hold of his crutch and leaves, stomping accusingly. It has just stopped raining, the walkways are slippery as hell and in his rush to get away from Madi and Flint he slips and falls on his ass, his crutch askew.

“Fuck!” he shouts out, mostly at the sky, but a little bit at himself too, for being too hopeful, too dependent on others where he should have only counted on himself. “Damn it all to hell!”

He picks himself up and makes his way to his house, mind swirling with bits and pieces of the recent past: Flint giving him that sly, knowing, little smile, the haze after the shipwreck, Anane’s disappointed expression, Madi telling him she would not help him repair what he had with Flint, deciding not to tell them about Jamaica, at least not yet. It was all just a fool’s errand, a delusion he allowed himself in his despair.

He’s just come into his hut and is in the process of unlacing his wet trousers when he hears wet steps outside. He whirls around to see Flint enter, looking rushed and disheveled.

“Why are you here, Flint?” He rounds on him, angry and exasperated. “Because I think you made your point clear back there—or do you want to add something to how disloyal and undeserving of your trust I am?”

“No, no, I--disliked the way we left things,” Flint says, but it feels weak and contrived, so against his better judgement, Silver takes a step closer.

“Why are you really here?” he asks, tilting his head curiously. “Because I have a feeling that you keep coming back for something.”

Flint takes a step back. His nostrils flare, cheeks redden. He seems found out, caught at doing something unsavoury.

Silver is coming down from the high of anger and feeling the first pinprick of fear; he knows that a cornered Flint is a dangerous Flint, but at the same time he’s really tired of the song and dance. So maybe he’s reckless, or maybe he’s daring, like the young sailor that suggested that he and Captain Flint could become friends, but he takes another step closer.

“And something tells me that it’s not for talking,” he finishes in a low tone, raising his gaze to look at Flint.

He’s stricken, going pale where he’s not already red, and his fight or flight reaction turns out to be the latter--he turns on his heel and tries to flee, but Silver reaches out and catches him by the arm. Flint freezes in place and then slowly turns back to face Silver. Oh, that face, it tells him everything he wanted and didn’t want to know, it’s all there, like in a book he used to be too stupid to understand, but he does now, so help him God.

Slowly, calmingly, he slides his hand up Flint’s arm and shoulder to rest it at the back of his neck. The hair there is soft and a little wet from sweat. Flint looks close to fainting, completely disarmed, and Silver feels the pleasant shiver of holding this much power over someone like him.

He raises himself on the crutch and looks at Flint expectantly. Flint’s eyes are searching his face, feverish and huge, and he gets it finally that Flint will sooner lie down and die than make the first move.

Fuck it, it’s gonna work out somehow, he thinks and drags Flint in, hand on the nape of his neck.

Their lips meet and it’s tentative at first, searching, Flint’s whiskers prickling his skin, one of his hands on Silver’s ribs, supporting him, the other already in his hair. Even through the haze of shock and novelty, it’s immensely pleasurable, and Silver tips Flint’s head and opens his own mouth to deepen the kiss.

Flint groans and slips his tongue into Silver’s mouth and Silver only has the presence of mind to think holy fuck, this is Flint’s fucking tongue in my mouth before he’s shoved against the wall with Flint’s hand cradling the back of his head. The crutch clatters to the floor as Flint’s body presses flush against his, Flint’s thigh sliding in between his legs, Flint’s hands supporting him in one moment and grabbing, fondling in another, Flint’s mouth moving over his, hot like a brand.

He wraps his arms around Flint’s neck, sliding his fingers into Flint’s hair, underneath the collar of his shirt where the skin of his neck is burning hot. It suddenly doesn’t feel all that weird anymore, to be with him like this, and Silver wants more, longs to crawl inside him the way he crawled inside his mind and to be able to say he possessed all of Flint at once.

He feels Flint’s mouth slide over his jaw and stretches his neck to expose his throat, and then there are steps on the walkway and a knock on the doorframe.

“Sorry to interrupt—Flint, I was looking for you, because the rain stopped—”

Flint tears away from him in wide-eyed panic.

“I’m coming, Manu, ju--just a minute.”

He looks back at Silver, who is still propped against the wall and somewhat at a loss about what just transpired.

“I’m so sorry,” Flint whispers ruggedly. “I asked him for help with something and—the rain stopped—I can’t tell him no now.”

“No, of course, go,” Silver replies, swallowing thickly and clamping down on the desire to grab Flint, shake him, and kiss him some more. “Yeah.”

Anyone who’d take one look at Flint would know exactly what’s just happened: his lips are swollen and wet and he’s red all over. It’s so, so obvious.

“But we’ll come back to this,” Flint says, gesturing vaguely at the inside of Silver’s hut. It’s not exactly a question but Silver feels Flint needs him to express his willingness explicitly, as if his actions have not done that in a sufficient manner.

“I certainly hope so,” he says, giving Flint his best smile, blood pounding in his ears, heart straining in his hurting chest.

Chapter Text

PART 2.

 

The events of Skeleton Island left Madi feeling odd in a way that was difficult to describe even for her own sake. Betrayed and hurt--that was easy enough to identify--but bizarrely empty too, devoid of any triumph or relief that might come up after escaping such an ordeal victoriously. After all, out of those closest to her, she had only lost her father and Kofi, which you could say was a small price to pay for throwing a challenge to an Empire that held half the world in its vice-like grip. With her mother, and Amma, and Fiba and the rest of of her childhood friends, the crew on the account, their whole community--it was a struggle to explain feeling so alien and removed.

Amma called it a “big world fever”, but Madi’s estrangement had less to do with thirst of adventure and more with lack of connection, understanding. With James and John she felt stronger, formidable, sound. Not complete, but in the process of becoming something else than her parents expected, that she herself might have imagined in her younger years. Less of a queen, more of a general, flanked by her two lieutenants: one whom she had already gotten to know and love, and the other still half-shrouded in shadow, but promising. Even then, she understood intuitively that their alliance worked because of their friendship, and that friendship was sustained by the concern and respect they had for one another.

Now, two years later, she sits at her table with James at her right as John storms out, offended by not being forgiven for breaking that covenant and completely oblivious to the fact that she is trying to rebuild it.

They sit in silence for a second, staring at the table as if it contains solutions to their problems or at least a witty retort that might ease the tension. As Madi breathes out, the world tilts itself slowly on its axis and she thinks: we have changed and a different situation just needs a different approach.

“You should go after him,” she says, raising her head to look at James.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he snaps, leveling her with a look that curdled the blood of some men. Madi not only is not a man, but has also recently grown completely impervious to his glares. James relents and sighs dramatically, but she can see he’s still disgruntled, and it’s a mood she hasn’t been able to shake him out of for some time now.

“On the contrary. He would certainly appreciate company now.” Outside, they hear a thud, followed by John cursing loudly. They both jerk in their seats but stay put. “And some comfort,” she adds. “Which is something that I may not be able to give to him now.”

“Then why do you think that I would be the one to do that?” James asks, voice rising at the end of the sentence by an octave.

“James.” She sighs, trying not to sound patronising, but it’s difficult to assume the oblivious mindset once she’s realised what route they should take. “Let’s do ourselves the favour of being honest with one another. I, for example, am still feeling hurt by John, perhaps too hurt to make sure that he is not suffering too. But you--I have a feeling you want to go after him. Does that strike you as true?”

James opens his mouth and closes it a few times, looking for all the world like an offended fish. She can almost hear gears turning in his clever head, the myriad of voices warning and castigating him, urging him on and convincing to just throw caution to the wind. He has a wild streak in him, but the exhaustion and disappointment he’s mentioned to her might work against it. Still: she’s seen him look at John, the line of his clavicles, the veins in his forearms. She knows the look on his face, because it’s been mirrored on her own.

She slides her hand across the table to touch his lightly and he flinches, suddenly focusing on her with bladelike clarity.

“Yeah.” He nods, seemingly surprised at his own resolve. “I do. I--yeah.”

She raises her eyebrows, as if to question why he’s still here if that’s the case, and James springs up and leaves, squeezing her shoulder fleetingly on the way. Madi gets up as well, but slower, taking her time, wandering to the porch to enjoy her grog outside since it stopped raining.

The settlement spreads out in front of her like a vista for a painting from the Old World. She can see Amma scolding children for stirring up trouble, a group of farmers coming in late from a field, chatting. A little further out there’s James, striding resolutely towards John’s hut. Closer in, she spots Manu, looking around as if searching for someone. Upon seeing her, he waves, and she waves back. Manu is going to be on their crew, she’s sure of that.

Two nights ago, she was in bed with James, reading, James engrossed in One Thousand and One Nights and her still in Seneca, as her progress was often halted by lack of knowledge of Roman customs. Sailing had just been mentioned in one of the letters and she asked:

“James, who is going to be on our crew?”

“Huh?” He looked up from the Nights, hair loose and framing his face, making him look younger. “On our crew? You mean, on the sloop? Uh, I suppose Kumi and Aloysius will join us.”

“We need more, don’t we? You said eight to ten.”

“Yeah, comfortably, but we could do with fewer, if pressed. I think Manu will also join us.” He put the book aside and turned to her. “That would already make five with the two of us.”

She looked at him. He averted his eyes, and that’s how she knew their train of thought was the same.

“What about John?” She hadn’t cleared her throat and her voice broke a little on his name. “He is already here. He would join us in a heartbeat. It will be difficult keeping this from him.”

“I don’t think he’d like us to revisit this,” James said, voice low. “And even if he did, would we like to revisit it with him?”

James’ voice always took on a different quality when he spoke about John and she bit her tongue in order not to say I’m sure you’d like to revisit something with him. She had, and she enjoyed it immensely: the feel of his muscular body beneath her, those big hands gripping her thighs, his mouth--

James was still looking to the side, a frown on his face. He has been more vocal about his anger at John, but she had a feeling that it didn’t run as his deep as hers did. There was something else there instead: a sadness, an envy for something just out of arm’s reach. She wanted to distract him, so she leant down and kissed him thoroughly for all his wasted years, all of his missed chances and opportunities. James held the side of her face, his thumb caressing her jaw, and she found herself aroused from both the kiss and the memory of sleeping with John, her thigh slipping between James’ and rubbing his groin.

James was different from other men, also in not being as distracted by sex as one could expect him to be. When the powerful wave of her climax ebbed into a lazy afterglow, she looked down her body to find him lying with his chin propped on her thigh, thinking, a worried expression on his face.

“James?” She frowned. “What is it?”

“It’s nothing.” She jostled him with her other leg and he grunted, pushing it away. His beard glistened with her wetness. “It’s about us. And you and Silver. I am afraid--aren’t there going to be consequences for--for what you are doing?”

She sat up, dislodging him in the process.

“Do you mean for consorting with both of you?” He made a face at the word consort, but nodded. “You needn’t worry. I am free to do as I wish.”

“Good,” he said, moving to sit next to her, elbows propped on his knees. “That’s good.”

“My mother told me once that our people used to practice polygamy,” she said. It came out of nowhere, or so she thought. “Back in the old days, before we came here.”

“Huh.” He looked at her curiously and she could swear he had something to add to that, but eventually didn’t. She refrained from pursuing the subject too, since she was unsure of her own feelings on the matter. When James blew out the candle and lay down with a sigh, she pressed herself against his back despite it being ungodly hot. After a while, she felt his hand cover her own where it lay on his ribs.

The practice of polygamy, as far as she remembers, only ever refered to having multiple wives; she’s never heard of a wife with several husbands concurrently, not consequently, if the previous one, for example, perished in battle. On the other hand, she is the future ruler of their community, like her mother--they might not be called chieftains, but they are leaders, and they are granted their rights and privileges accordingly. If she took a husband, he would not become the chieftain, just her consort, so who says that she would not be allowed to have more than one? Why would she need to marry anyone at all? She understands that these concepts stand in opposition to each other, but she lacks the ability to examine them sufficiently and grasp their implications, either by what she knows of Western culture and English language or her Asante roots.

Back in the present, she no longer sees James in the distance; he must have already reached his destination. There’s a tightness in her chest that has less to do with humidity and the meal they’ve just had and more with not being included in whatever might transpire between the two of them. It is going to be brought back to her sooner or later, it always is, but it is not the logical part of her mind protesting, but another one, deep and frail despite everything it’s weathered.

The following day, she goes to the gardens with Fiba and the others to plant okra. It hasn’t rained all night, so the soil is not muddy, but easy to dig in, and they kneel on it, planting pods in long rows. Fiba has a habit of talking during work and her current focus is Madi’s love life.

“By god,” she says, shaking the okra pods out of her apron into her hand. “Who will it be now, Madi? I am shaking with anticipation. The older one, with a fiery temper and green eyes, dangerous but tender--there is a big age difference, sure, but it probably counts as an advantage with all of his experience, if you know what I mean--”

“Fiba!” Madi hisses, aware of all the other women probably listening in behind the bushes.

“Or the younger, prettier one? He has that kind face and a wonderful smile, I swear, when he smiled at me once I almost dropped my basket--”

“Stop that, I know what he looks like.”

“Too bad that he is crippled. I’d say that counts against him.”

“Why?” She makes an offended face and rubs her hands together to clean them. “I do not care about that at all and it does not reflect on the man he is.”

“Hm, I guess you do not need a man who can work a field.”

“I am not sure if I need a man, period,” Madi says. “I’ve managed without them all this time.”

Fiba snorts into her fist and gets her nose dirty with fresh soil.

“Ah, so true. All I’ve got for a man is a loaf who refuses to do any washing up and snores constantly.”

It is instinctive to Fiba to make it into a choice, but Madi no longer feels that it is the default. Yesterday, she sent her current lover to talk to her previous lover and possibly take him to bed, because she decided that it would be most beneficial to all of them. She has no idea how she is supposed to feel about that. There are no guides and no pointers, it’s all shrouded in darkness, but just because things do not have a name in the languages she knows, it does not mean they do not exist, just like the lands the British Empire has not discovered yet. They’re still there, somewhere off the Western horizon, and those who are brave enough might reach them.

After gardening, she has dinner with Amma to drop a few hints about their planned voyage. From the way Amma’s eyes shine, it’s clear she is rather receptive to the implication.

“Where would we be going, if said mysterious journey came to be?” Amma asks, pushing the chicken leg to the side on her plate. “It’s the duration I’m mostly interested in, as you can probably guess. If I’m to leave the little ones, I would rather it’s for a shorter time rather than longer.”

James was supposed to plot an exact course using the maps she provided him with, but she hasn’t seen hide nor hair of him all day and Elami, Manu’s wife, confirmed that they were at the beach, working on the ship. For the moment, she only has the initial estimation they made from memory.

“It would amount to a month,” Madi says. “Within the West Indies. It should not be a dangerous voyage in itself, but--”

“Every one is,” Amma interrupts her. “The moment you step on board, you never know what the last step will be. And the more questionable the company you keep, the more risk--do not take any offense at that, of course, I do consider myself to be questionable company too.”

“Do you consider me questionable company as well?” Madi asks, deadpan.

Amma hesitates and narrows her eyes at her. Madi can easily imagine her pointing a gun with that expression.

“I feel like I’m treading on thin ice here, Madi.”

“Not at all. I am not judging your fitness to join us, I am extending an invitation. Think about it. I only request you keep it strictly in your confidence for now: no need to discuss something that might not come to be.”

That is a little white lie, of course; Madi will make sure they set out, whatever the consequences. The only real obstacle to that, beside the weather, is being found out by Mother, so she has woven a web of lies and misconceptions around her plans. Any word of their voyage should be confused with the Kumasi setting out for their first hunt after the summer, any inquiry into missing stores explained by rodents or, alternatively, insects getting to them, carpenters disappearing at the beach by various innocuous events. It’s hard to keep all the stories straight and she would really appreciate the help of the one person she knows is the master at lying and deception, but his status on the voyage is currently still undecided.

John, a boyish man, a beautiful invalid, a loving snake. She thinks about him in the evening, making her way to her favourite spot by the lake, where she’s less likely to be surrounded by mothers bathing her children or preening young men. The sun is slowly setting, sending the insects into their frenzy. Madi pushes past the bushes and steps into the clearing, hands working at her belt, a fresh towel thrown over her shoulder, when she sees a shadow seated on the crooked palm tree she uses as a hanger.

It’s John, hair loose, covering his face. He’s sitting with one elbow on his good knee, chin propped up on his hand. His shorter leg is hidden in shadows.

She takes a few steps towards him, then stops. She has daydreamed about this and quite foolishly at that: coming here to bathe and stumbling upon him, beautiful like an ancient Roman statue. He’d smile and look at her from underneath his eyelashes and she’d say John, what are you doing here?, clutching her dress to her bosom, and he’d reply with something smooth and just slightly provocative, and her heart would pound.

It’s not at all like that. Her belt weighs heavy in her hand and she feels awkward, as if she’s encroaching on something that does not concern her. He finally notices her and turns his head. There’s a tightness in his mouth and redness to his eyes that speaks volumes.

“Madi,” he says flatly. “Hello.”

“Hello, John.” She approaches him and hangs her towel in its customary place. John looks at it and then shifts his gaze to her. It’s inquisitive, still troubled, but sharper, not unlike the way he looked when they first met.

“Have you ever wondered,” he asks, “what you’d do differently if you were able to redo the past?”

“Of course I have.” She leans against the crooked palm tree next to him. Memories of Eleanor and the Spaniard flood her mind. “Everyone does, because everyone makes mistakes. But we should not be dwelling on it too much.”

“Why not? Isn’t it the only way to learn anything in this goddamn life?”

It was, for her. After the pirates left, the first thing she did was learn to use her fists, a sword, a pistol, so that no one ever would best her like that man did, back in Flint’s old house. She looks at John’s upturned face, so young and earnest, and realises that the reason why he hasn’t changed at all is because he is stuck in the moment where it all went wrong for him, whatever that moment may be.

“It is an opportunity to learn, yes, but once that’s done, you should move on,” she says. “We only live in the present, not the past or the future. We should not let past events poison what we have here and now.”

That earns her a resigned smile.

“How are you so much wiser than I am?” He frowns. “It’s as if you’ve already lived a few lifetimes.”

“I read a lot, and they say that each book is a separate lifetime.” She shakes her head and sighs. “You should know that the world quickly verified most of what I thought I knew. It was all--”

She breaks off and he doesn’t bother finishing the sentence for her, probably knowing all too well what the world is. The setting sun sets the surface of the lake on fire and it is so resplendent and vivid that all that they’ve discussed here, all of their doubts and tribulations feel small and trivial in comparison to its glory. Then, the light moves across water to the village and the lake is encased in darkness, Kwame’s canoes just shadows swaying on the water.

She can’t help but wonder if the regret John is obviously going through here is for something that happened with James, but she does not feel it is her place to urge him to tell her anything; she has pushed those boundaries enough with James earlier. She just hopes they haven’t messed it up already and knowing them they might have.

She glances at John. There is just enough light to see the set of his brows and mouth--he’s thinking, probably turning their earlier conversation around in his head. She has always found watching his thought process--digesting things he heard somewhere deep inside, twisting them, adjusting to his needs--deeply fascinating.

He inhales sharply and raises his face to her. She can see the change in his expression.

“Do you have any idea where the Captain might be?” he asks nonchalantly. “I--haven’t seen him all day. Yesterday he left for a thing with Manu and…”

“He’s probably at the beach.” They are supposed to fix the sloop’s rudder. “They needed good weather for work.”

“Do you think he’s--he’s hiding down there?”

“It is not inconceivable, knowing him, but I suspect he is trying to do as much as he can before it rains again.”

“Hm.” John hums. “I--I apologise for not being able to approach you properly about this, but he and I… We…”

“I am not sure if there even is a proper way for it,” she says, mostly to deliver him from a very painful attempt at saying it out loud, and he smiles lopsidedly. The look he gives her is frighteningly earnest.

“I do not want to--assume anything,” he says, in fits and starts. “Nor am I sure what terms the two of us are on--or ever will be, but for the life of me I would never like to do anything against you again. So, if you find this objectionable--if you ever find anything I do objectionable--tell me. I can take it. Or at least I will bravely attempt to.”

Maybe she should regret some of the choices she’s made to arrive here. She sees herself crying on the floor of her room. Standing up to the Governor of Nassau. Stepping on board a pirate ship for the very first time. Laying her eyes on the one-legged quartermaster of the Walrus, ready to plead for the life of his crew and his Captain.

“I know,” she says and extends her hand to stroke his hair. It catches on her fingers, heavy and fine. “It’s not that late, and it does not look like rain. If I were you, I would take a walk down to the beach.”

He looks up at her, both content from being stroked and slightly suspicious at the same time.

“And if you were me, where would you go exactly?”

“Down the way to the anchoring bay and turn right at crossroads, then down the cliff,” she says, continuing the stroking. “The shipwreck bay is that way.”

He gives her a splendid smile and kisses her wrist, then goes.

Chapter Text

They work on the rudder the whole evening and the following day: once they have that done, Manu explained, the ship will be seaworthy and all that is left is fitting new sails and re-fitting the interior. Finding a time for both of them to disappear from the village and work undisturbed in good weather presented quite a challenge in itself, so the moment Manu had almost walked in on them James knew the whole matter with Silver had to wait. When Manu says they go, they go.

And so they went, James clenching his jaw so tight it might never pop open again, Manu going off about his wife’s affinity for giving him vague hints and being angry when he doesn’t get them, and while James had a liking for Manu, he couldn’t care less about Elami being passive aggressive just minutes after pushing Silver up a wall. His body had not gotten the message that it was currently getting further and further away from the source of its agitation and ran feverishly hot; his mind, on the other hand, still had trouble grasping the concept of crossing that boundary with Silver, as if they had both been celibate monks on the brink of forgetting what their lips and hands and cocks could also be used for.

Even after they’ve worked a couple of hours by torchlight and lain down to rest in the makeshift tent, the experience he’s shared with Silver remains fresh and immediate, so sensual and carnal that had James not been sharing with Manu, he would probably slide his hand into his breeches. Even so, he lets himself think about it: Silver’s head ducking into the tent, easily discernible from the shadows by its curly halo--there’d probably be that easy smile on his face, but James would not be able to see it in this darkness anyway--sneaking inside, lying next to James, not where Manu is currently snoring softly, but closer, so that their arms are touching. Or maybe--Silver just going straight in, stripping his shirt along the way, covering James with his body, his mouth hot, wet, eager, the way it was earlier.

Fuck. He puts his palm to his forehead so forcefully it’s almost a slap. Maybe a slap is actually something James could use, maybe he should wake Manu up so he could give him a good, sound slap in the face, because this--this hardly befits a man his age.

He gets better in the morning, even manages to have a half-decent conversation with Manu at breakfast--about English sport, of all subjects, since Manu holds an active interest in all things related to the Empire--and then busies himself with work. It’s good, honest, demanding labour, the kind that would have made the Protestant ancestors on his mother’s side proud, provided they wouldn’t know it was to keep thoughts of fucking his cook-come-quartermaster-come-friend at bay.

“We have done good today, James.” Manu claps him on the shoulder once they’re done and standing on the beach gazing at the fruits of their labour. “We can be proud of ourselves.”

James doesn’t really share that sentiment, but nods just for the sake of it.

“I’m going to head back.” Manu wipes his face with his shirt. “Are you coming with?”

“Ah, not yet. I’ll take a look at the interior to do inventory of what we need for the refitting.”

“Don’t be too long.” Manu squeezes his shoulder and lets go. “I daresay there might be someone waiting for you home.”

Dread twists in his gut and he tamps down on it. Manu probably doesn’t know and even if he does, he probably doesn’t care, what’s more, he most likely means Madi, who hasn’t really hidden her interest for James recently. It must have been noticed and discussed among the denizens of Maroon Island, also in less than favourable terms, and he’d felt a little uneasy on her account until she reassured him that there was no danger in it.

To him, however, what happened with Madi has been more of a transgression than this--thing with Silver, but their kiss and the vague promise of further intimacy bears more adulterous undertones. When chess pieces swapped places on the board of James’ life and Thomas reappeared, while Silver retreated into the shadows, it was supposed to come easy to forget hunting sharks, swordfighting lessons, easy smiles, coy looks. It wasn’t, as if Silver had left his messy fingerprints all over his life, his memories, his ideas for the future. Thomas even asked him once: James, was there anyone else? He denied it expressively and immediately, but Thomas’ mildly surprised and disappointed inflection rang in his ears for days. Was there anyone else? Not for James McGraw, he had never loved anyone other than Thomas and Miranda (Bonnelly struck out, Sofia forgotten). John Silver was Captain Flint’s, so if Flint’s eyes strayed, it had no bearing on James’ feelings for Thomas. The logic behind that was so backbreaking he could hardly grasp it himself.

He watches Manu climb the cliff in the waning light of the day and gets back onto the sloop, which creaks out a warning under his weight. It’s still beached on rolling pins, awaiting a bigger crew to drag it back to sea, but when he ducks under the deck, it is real enough and his chest tightens painfully at the memory of the Walrus.

He goes from deck to deck, cabin to cabin, trying to memorize what they need to redo in order for it to become a passably comfortable vessel. Working on the ship, the quiet routine, the sound of the sea remind him of New Providence Island, the way he worked with the men at the beginning to show them he knew what was what, of jumping on his horse and riding it to the interior to find Miranda working in the garden, in her sunhat, or already in bed, deliciously naked, or making him lemoncakes--he never knew what to expect and loved her for it even more. He’s aware that a lot of the more painful memories have been conveniently erased by some tool, some process deep within his mind, leaving only these ones accessible, but he doesn’t find it in himself to protest that.

It soon becomes too dark to see much below deck, so he leaves the ship and jumps onto the shore. There are crabs rushing down the empty beach, glistening wetly in the moonlight, and he might as well be the only man in the world.

He walks leisurely to the shack where they keep their tools and take their meals, and all of a sudden there’s a lone silhouette next to it. It seems absurdly dark in the night, completely devoid of light, like a wight, and James stops dead in his tracks, dread washing over him. There are unfortunately many revenants that could be out to get him, since he made a lot of people leave this mortal coil before their time, and he just wonders who would be the one most willing to drag him to the abyss with the rest of the anguished ghosts.

Then, the silhouette moves, proving that it’s just a man with a long, dark shadow cast by the moon and the torch James is holding. He’s not even as tall as he seemed a moment ago and one of his legs ends below the knee.

“Silver,” he breathes out with relief, tipping his torch down. Silver looks like Medusa with his head of curls; he’s dressed in a dark shirt and drawstring trousers that cinch him at his narrow waist and James needs to tamp down on the furor that suddenly arises in him.

“I’ve come to see you,” Silver says, in the tone he usually uses to convey something meaningful but pretend he’s flippant at the same time.

“Just like that? With no light?”

“My my torch blew out on the way. I was almost at the beach then, fortunately.”

“Uh--come on in, sit.” James shows him to the shack and its only chair. He uses it sometimes for writing or resting when he’s staying at the beach, and he never thought to make another, so he will have to stand while Silver sits. “Would you like something to drink?”

“Yeah, just some water, if you don’t mind.”

“Let me get that.”

He turns away from Silver to grab a cup and dip it in the bucket of fresh water. To see me, he thinks. This one-legged man has come down a few hills and a steep cliff just to see him here, why the hell would he do that? He swallows and draws out filling the cup as long as he can in order for Silver not to see his face.

All of that furious thinking has rendered him incapable of making conversation with the same person he’s shared his cabin and so much of his time with. Silver, too, atypically keeps silent; James can only hear his breathing, a little louder than usual, and the rustling of his clothing when he adjusts his position on the chair. James realises, all of a sudden, that this is going to end in ruin and he’s not sure how much more ruin he can actually take. There’s this enormous discrepancy between how easily and eagerly he falls for people and how arduous it is to let go when they die or leave, so when this finally comes to an end, he’s not gonna fuck around with drinking like last time--

“Captain?”

He blinks and turns. Silver is looking at him inquisitively. A stray lock of his dark hair has fallen across his forehead and cheek.

“Is everything all right?”

“I told you I’m not your Captain anymore,” James rasps, his throat feels tight, his face unwieldy and strange.

“And I don’t fucking care,” Silver replies, in that annoying, sing-song tone of his. “You’ve never stopped being Captain to me.”

James is officially no longer able to restrain himself, damn the past, damn the future, damn the cache and Spain, and the entire British Empire; he throws the cup back into the bucket, spins on his heel and bends down to grab Silver by the face. Silver’s eyes close in anticipation of the kiss, his mouth opens just a fraction and there’s stubble over his upper lip, a smudge of dirt on his cheekbone. James kisses him quick and deep. He’s been looking through a glass, darkly, and now they’re face to face.

Silver fists his hands in James’ shirt and drags him close. James needs to brace a hand against the back of the chair not to lose his balance and the chair creaks in warning; it hasn’t been a particularly good piece of carpentry and it probably will not sustain them, especially not with the way Silver is attempting to drag James into his lap. Silver’s mouth is fervent, confident, not at all as yielding as he’s expected it to be and he’s dangerously on the brink of something, half expecting holy thunder to strike down on them or Manu to appear once again, Hey, I’ve changed my mind about going back, what are you up to? Then Silver gasps into his mouth, which sends a wave of maddening, powerful want through James’ body and he bends further down, to Silver’s neck, but the chair is having none of it and gives a loud, ominous creak that has them breaking apart.

They stare at each other for a second, panting, and then Silver springs up from the chair, grabs James by his shirtfront and perches on the table. James lets himself be dragged into the vee of his legs, but keeps his hands hovering awkwardly over Silver’s thighs, mindful of the strange look in Silver’s eyes, the way his fists tighten their grasp on his shirt.

“We don’t have to do this,” he says with paramount effort. “If you--”

“We’d better,” Silver says rakishly, pulling his shirt out of his trousers and sliding one of James’ hands underneath it, up his belly. It’s firm and warm to the touch. “I want it.”

And then, just like that, the floodgates have opened. James blinks, lets himself comprehend the magnitude of it for a second, and then leans in to press his mouth to Silver’s jaw, his hand grazing Silver’s side, mindful of his ribs. Silver’s right leg comes around the back of his thighs, pushing their hips together, and he feels his body respond to the evidence of Silver’s arousal. Silver’s hands are on his back and in his hair, clutching James to him, and he probably wouldn’t be able to get away if he tried.

For all of his wishes and fantasies, he’s never really expected to be here, that is: between Silver’s legs, mouthing at his throat, both of them hard and ready to consummate on James’ worktable. He closes his teeth lightly on the pulse point and Silver throws his head back and moans, terribly loud, but it’s just them and the crabs after all, and the crabs probably don’t care about two fumbling men in the dark.

Silver gets impatient and pulls him back to his mouth by the hair on the back of his head, which James finds so arousing he groans. This kiss is messy, full of teeth. Silver’s other hand snakes down to work at James’ belt, to no avail, so James smiles against Silver’s mouth and undoes the belt, then the breeches. He doesn’t expect Silver to have experience handling another man’s cock, but he seems to be more apt at it than at belts and flies, and when James raises his eyes to Silver’s face, he sees Silver watching him, lips parted, eyes shining.

It’s a charged moment, maybe too charged for James’ liking, too reminiscent of a precipice, the danger of falling down a whirlpool imminent, so he breaks it by untying Silver’s trousers and drawing him out. He’s cut, which is both surprising and not that much, really, and James doesn’t say anything out of respect for Silver’s wish not to revisit his past selves. Instead, he takes him in hand and Silver’s head falls back with a gasp, exposing his beautiful throat, and James leans in to kiss it again, falling into a rhythm. The crash of the surf is drowning out the noises Silver makes, so James brings his head up with his other hand, nips at his earlobe, shudders at the gasp that Silver now utters straight into his ear. It sends a frisson of heat down his back, pooling low in his spine and belly.

Silver, suddenly, starts fumbling blindly between their bodies, throwing James off his rhythm, and it becomes clear he’s trying to bring them together. James helps, because he knows it’s better this way, and then they’re touching each other, and it’s new and ancient at the same time, and exhilarating, and terrible, and completely worth it in the end. James comes first, body rigid and jaw tight, as usual, but he realises he’s missing a crucial component of the usual course of events: the hot pinprick of shame.

He raises his head from where it leant against Silver’s shoulder and kisses him on the mouth again; Silver gives a strangled cry and reaches a shuddering climax. For a while they just pant softly against the sound of the surf in the distance, and then something crosses Silver’s face, marring his features briefly, and he throws his arms around James’ neck, pressing himself to James tightly. James’ arms come around Silver’s waist on reflex, but his fingers twitch before they take hold of the shirt on his back. It’s somehow more definitive than what they’ve just done and he can see the vortex lurking, just below the surface.

“I’ve missed you,” Silver says into the crook of his shoulder, sounding a lot younger than he is.

“I’ve missed you too.” James noses into his hair, or rather it gets into his nose. It seems to be everywhere now, but he doesn’t mind.

After a while, Silver draws in a breath and James feels his embrace slacken, so he lets go and tucks himself in to recover a semblance of decency and normalcy. Silver takes a look at himself and tears his shirt off through his head.

“I need to wash this off.” He reaches for his crutch and pushes away from the table. “It’s my only nice shirt.”

He starts off in the direction of the ocean and James stands there for a minute, blinking, and then follows, mostly to tell him that there’s a bucket of freshwater right there. By the time he catches up, Silver is already balancing precariously on his leg and his crutch, washing come from his shirt with seawater. It’s somehow so like him that James feels a warm wave wash over him, entirely different from the one lapping at his shoes.

Silver straightens, his shirt thrown over his shoulder. Moonlight glints off his shoulders and clavicles, gives his curls a silky, coruscant quality. James grits his teeth, suddenly reminded of all the betrayals and the unpleasantness he’s inflicted on Silver since they met in Nassau, a lot of it unnecessarily, just because he was used to being a dick to everyone or just because Silver was there.

He feels the need for a statement or a gesture, but for the life of him cannot come up with anything, so he just stands there, worrying, looking at the black maw of the ocean. Silver turns to him slowly and smiles.

“Shall we go for a swim?”

“What?”

“How long has it been since you just--took a leisurely swim, just for the sake of it?”

“I, uh, I don’t know.”

“Then come on.” Silver drops his trousers and wades into the ocean on his crutch. His ass and legs are distinctly paler than the rest of his body. “I could probably use a bath after that walk. It’s a fucking nuisance to get down here.”

In the absence of a better idea, James strips down and walks into the water. It’s pleasantly cooler than the air, the surf gently lapping at his calves, then knees and thighs, and he can’t help but think that such calm seas foretell a storm, maybe as soon as early morning. He’s watching Silver out of the corner of his eye, wondering how he’ll manage but loath to interfere or offer help.

As soon as Silver is in waist deep, he turns around and throws the crutch to the shore like a javelin. He’s wobbly, but the water keeps him up, and a few hopping steps later he takes a deep breath and dives in.

James totters after him, the water resisting him a little. Something brushes against his leg and he flinches, launches into a swim. He’s never really enjoyed swimming for the sake of it, and he feels weird with his ass exposed to the sky, but then something brushes against him again and it’s Silver, surfacing abruptly, spraying water everywhere and laughing.

“You should have seen your face!” He throws an arm around James’ shoulders, sleek as a seal. James’ arms go around his waist, as if they belong there.

“Hey,” he says, no longer able to resist the trepidation creeping up on him. Silver looks up at him, serious and alert. “So how long have you--you know, wanted this?”

Silver tries to squirm away, but James holds fast, so he stops resisting and tosses his wet hair away from his face.

“I don’t know.” He looks down, at the dark water swirling around their bodies. “I don’t--keep track of these things, and I don’t understand what bearing it has on anything. Is it better to pine futilely after someone for years?”

“No, I guess not,” James says, thinking of Thomas, then of himself, yearning like an idiot on this very island, more than two years ago.

“But I know you find these things important,” Silver continues, his fingers threading through the hair at the nape of James’ neck. “You like to find definitive points in the past and anchor yourself to them. So, I seem to remember looking at you the day you came and offered to teach me how to fight and you looked--so different, somehow--I don’t know--and I thought to myself fuck, what is this?”

James has been feeling some of those anchors loosening and now they seem to release him from their bonds: so, just maybe, he is the same person through and through. The embarrassed young lieutenant and vengeful pirate wraith. And this tired castaway too, finally free to do whatever he wants, so he takes a deep breath and kisses Silver on the mouth. Silver is so surprised he yelps and sways in the water, grabbing at James with his other hand until it lands on his cheek and jaw, and James just presses him closer.

Chapter Text

Flint is asleep next to him.

Silver takes his time looking at this almost supernatural occurrence: his sharp profile, the rise and fall of his chest, the whole solid shape of him. He’s alive, which is miraculous in itself, and the fact that Silver is clearly accountable for that that fills him with relief and quiet pride. Flint is still handsome in his late forties, with the those deep lines on his face attesting his experience and character; age sharpening the features of a Welsh ginger he must have been born with. He wonders what Flint looked like in the past: as a boy, joining the British Navy, as a young man, fighting in one of those senseless wars the Empire waged all over the world, as an officer, meeting the Hamiltons in London. Did he wear sideburns back then too? How long was his hair? How did he look in a uniform? Did he take any pasty lieutenants to bed for a quick tumble, or did he pine away quietly, waiting for the urgency of deeper feeling to risk that intimacy in a world that punished for it harshly? All of these Flints--or rather Jameses, because that was long before the birth of Flint--are inacessible to Silver now. He only has the present one.

Flint’s deep, regular breaths turn into snores, which will probably make it impossible for Silver to fall asleep, but he doesn’t mind. His mind is whirring anyway, working out all possible outcomes of this situation, and attempting to find the most plausible ones, the ones he’ll have to deal with. He’s willing to let Flint sleep in the meantime, especially that the man deserves it: he must have been exhausted by the time they got to the tent, what with carrying Silver out of the water, slamming him down onto the sand and debauching him thoroughly.

The memory sends a pleasant shiver down his spine and sparks the need to adjust his trousers. He’d done it all before, or had had it done, in some instances, to him, which was better left un-remembered. It felt infinitely better with Flint, which could probably explain the force with which he clutched at Flint’s hair as Flint took him into his mouth. Being on the receiving end of it left John kind of at a loss as to what to do other than hold onto Flint’s head, so he looked at the sky speckled with stars--there were clouds gathering already, hiding them slowly from view--and the leviathan shadows of the wrecks moored in the bay.

The wrecks, he thinks now, his toes skimming over Flint’s calf. He noticed them then, but could not really focus on what they meant, for obvious reasons. Soon enough, he spiralled into the blessed, thoughtless darkness of his release, almost blacking out from the sheer force of it. Flint propped himself up on John’s thigh, smiling smugly, and said something about finally rendering Silver speechless, which was kind of a cheap shot, but Silver laughed nonetheless. It was surprisingly effortless compared to some of his experiences of dealing with Flint and he wanted to enjoy it for as long as he got it.

The tent opens to the beach, a long stretch of sand, a few palm trees swaying on the wind. Silver casts one last look at Flint, who is still enjoying his well-earned sleep, and slips outside. He reaches for the crutch leaning against the entrance, puts it under his armpit and walks into the direction of the bay. He’s thirsty, and the water is in the shack, but he might just as well have a drink first.

He drinks two whole cups and washes his face in the water. His neck burns slightly in places; it has to be from Flint’s beard. He wonders if Madi had the same issue back when John wore a full beard--and if she had Flint kiss her like that too, as if she was a sip of cold water for a man straight out of the desert. If what they’re going to become now, Madi and he, are Flint’s twin satellites, orbiting him closely, but never meeting. He hopes not, but anything else is too outrageous for him to imagine, they aren’t spoiled English aristocrats in a London mansion after all.

Flint’s torch is still burning so he takes it off its stand and heads down to the bay where the wrecks are moored: huge, looming creatures of hulls, sad crosses of sail-less masts. He tries looking for the Ana Lucia, but it’s impossible to tell her apart from other ships, this sloop that he had put so much effort into acquiring and that was supposed to be the fastest in the West Indies. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t; Silver has difficulty keeping down sailing knowledge and has to depend on others to do all that for him, and it turned out that not everyone was as skilled in the matter as Flint was. Gutierrez was supposed to get them to the island and he’s at the bottom of the sea, maybe not far away from here, and Silver feels a shiver run down his spine. The company of these dead ships is not encouraging.

At the end of the graveyard, behind a rocky outpost, he comes across a ship resting on dry land, on a row of wooden poles and chocks holding it upright. Its sterburt bears signs of recent repairs, as does the rudder, and it’s cleverly hidden from sight of anyone who comes down the cliff or even into the bay. It seems like such repairs would require a few men, and at least one of them should be a skilled ship carpenter, such as Manu. Since the dry dock is in the open, good weather would also be necessary for this endeavour.

Just like that, everything clicks into place. They are obviously preparing a ship for a journey that will take them further than Kingston or Nassau, and it’s a destination only Flint really knows: that place on Skeleton island where he buried the treasure, just before Silver pulled a gun on him and disarmed him--once and for all, or so he had thought.

He sits down heavily on a rock, driving the torch into the sand. He’s been betrayed, that’s for sure, but in a different manner than he’d betrayed the two of them. There’s no element of public humiliation here--he’s sitting on the beach by himself, having figured it out from bread crumbs of information. It was different when he led Flint down that hill at gunpoint, struggling to both keep his face straight and the gun level. Different still, when he came back with the imperial treaty and Madi ran out of the council hut in anger. He wonders if this betrayal has settled as heavy on them as that one did on him, or if they are both sleeping the sleep of the just and self-righteous.

He hunches over, broken as always: some pieces feel the sting, the bitterness, a slight thirst for rebuttal, finally using the ace up his sleeve, the others are complacent and accepting of it, either as a punishment or another senseless act in a long line of senseless acts. Some are just wishing for Flint to look at him they way he’s looked this evening, and none of them have the final word. Just once he’d like to feel about something as strongly as Flint, flipping over tables and shaking with rage, so surely as Madi, with her iron conviction and steely gaze. He just doesn’t seem to have the capacity to produce that sort of intensity from within himself, it has to be spurred on, roused, awakened from the outside.

He picks himself up and walks back in the dark, curiously empty. The ocean beats against the shore, incessantly, and the sky is overcast, the air ripe with the coming storm. John crawls back into the tent and wakes Flint, who grabs him by the throat.

“It’s me,” Silver whispers. He has to be careful, as Flint’s hands can kill.

“Where did you go?” Flint asks sleepily, his touch slackening and turning into a caress.

“Just to get some water. There’s a storm coming.”

Flint growls noncommittally and lies back down, Silver next to him. The bad taste in his mouth is receding, but he’s weirdly hot and a little queasy. Now that Flint’s opened that door, he’s finding it more and more difficult to believe that he hadn’t wanted this place by Flint’s side all along, even closer than the one he’s occupied before. And just like that, he’s made up his mind: he won’t breathe a word of what he’s discovered if it keeps him here.

He’s not sure what the rules are on their new-fangled intimacy so he doesn’t melt into Flint like he’d like to, but once the storm starts ripping the skies open, Flint’s hand lands on John’s chest and smoothes over his side, as if calming a frightened horse.

When he wakes in the morning, Flint is gone. He lets out a shaky breath. Everything is damp and the rain is pounding against the flimsy canvas of the tent.

Flint sticks his head into the opening.

“You’re up,” he says. His hair is wet, eyes strikingly green. “I’ve got some food in the workshop, if you’d like to join me.”

Silver gropes around for his shirt, discarded somewhere in the post-coital haze, and ties the string of his trousers, then crawls out of the tent. The sky is grey-blue, the sea almost the same hue. He hurries after Flint to the shack, where there’s more than just some food: it’s a full-blown breakfast of dried meat, biscuits, fresh fruit and coconut water.

Silver sits in the lone chair, the same one that narrowly avoided destruction last night. He casts an anxious look at Flint, trying to judge his mood. He’s businesslike and brisk as usual, bustling about with the fruit and the water, but when he bends down to place food in front of Silver, his hand lands on Silver’s hair and strokes over it affectionately.

Flint doesn’t have a place to sit, so he perches on the corner of the table, hunched over his food. They make small talk during the meal, Silver watching Flint hungrily: he used to be protective of Silver before, bringing him water to drink or wash or giving him his shoulder when the terrain was rough, but this is more, this is domestic Flint, tamed even. He wonders what Muldoon or Billy would say to this facet of Flint’s, but almost everyone who used to know them before is dead or gone, and it dampens his mood a little.

Flint feels his scrutiny and returns the gaze. Silver feels self-conscious, hot, transparent--Flint’s looks have always been piercing and intense, but now they can strip him bare, too, and remind of what exactly transpired in this very shack last evening.

“We’ll need to go back soon,” says Flint, breaking eye contact and focusing on his biscuits instead. His sleeves are rolled to his elbows, showing the myriad of freckles on his forearms. “Hope it stops raining.”

“Do you think we’d be missed if we stayed?” Silver asks, throwing him a look from underneath his eyelashes that is calculated for a specific effect. From the way Flint’s mouth twitches and eyes glaze over, he knows the goal has been reached.

“Yes,” Flint grumbles, undoubtedly thinking of Madi and Manu and anyone else he answers to.

Ah, Madi. Silver’s managed to ignore the nagging issue of her stake in this until now, but now he wonders if Flint is going to report their progress to her and if so, in how much detail. The prospect fills him with a mixture of arousal and anxiety that he tries to hide by tucking into his biscuits.

“So,” Flint says, rubbing his beard, “there’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”

“What would that be?”

“Something that perhaps should not come to your attention just yet, but it’s been--weighing on my conscience. Though you will probably understand why it’s been kept from you.”

Silver nods, his face blank. Suddenly, he’s two years ago on Nassau beach, bargaining for Flint’s trust and his own life.

“We want to go back,” Flint says, bending a little closer to Silver, even though there’s nobody there to eavesdrop on them. “To the island. For the cache.”

“To Skeleton Island?”

“I’ve charted the course and repaired one of the ships moored here. It’s no Spanish warship, but it’ll serve its purpose.” He gives Silver a small smile. It looks apologetic. “That’s what I needed Manu’s help for. We do it all in secret, because the Queen disapproves.”

“Madi, I understand.” Silver says, leaning back and twisting his hands together on his belly. “That cache can buy a future for her people, a future she still feels she has been robbed of. But you? What is your stake in this?”

“It’s mine too,” Flint says, referring either to the cache or the future.

“Yes, but what for exactly? You’re not thinking of going back to Nassau, are you?”

Flint looks vaguely offended at that. “You’ve done away with that option.”

“It was Max with Bonny and Rackham, to my knowledge, but I see what you’re getting at.” He counters Flint’s accusing stare with his own, and Flint huffs with annoyance. “Why do you want to go back there?”

“I want them to have it,” he admits reluctantly. “The Maroons. I don’t have any need for it. I’m not going to buy a mansion and farm sugarcane, for God’s sake. And Nassau, like you said, it’s thriving without me. Turns out they did not need me after all.”

“We wouldn’t have defeated Rogers without you,” Silver says flatly. “Don’t sell yourself short, it doesn’t suit you.”

Flint scoffs, but Silver can see he’s placated, even a little flattered. He looks around the shack, lips pursed in thought, and then furrows his brows suspiciously and focuses on Silver.

“You’d figured it out already. What we’re planning. You weren’t surprised in the least.”

“Yesterday, yes.” Silver nods. “When I went out for water, I saw the ship.”

“Well. You’ve always been far too clever for your own good.” Flint slides off the table and squeezes Silver on the shoulder. It’s a good squeeze, strong and reassuring, rousing a desire to reciprocate the gesture, but Silver has never really been good with those and by the time he raises his hand, Flint removes his own.

Neither of them mentions the question of whether Silver will join them on the voyage, but Silver thinks that’s for the best. He has no doubt that the issue will come back soon, since something has shifted the moment he’s embraced Flint and told him he’d missed him, almost imperceptibly, but surely, and Flint has turned his life around before, so why wouldn’t he be able to do it now.

Any hope he might have had for continuing their little affair in the tent sizzles out when Flint starts packing his things. They move out shortly thereafter, first up the rocky coast, then up the cliff. Flint walks briskly in front of him and extends his arm to help Silver on steeper parts of the trail. The rain has abated, but they’re wet from water falling from the trees and brushing against the foliage anyway.

He looks at Flint’s strong back on the way and thinks about the other people that took up the mantle of being Flint’s partner through the years. The first one to come to mind is the dignified Mrs Barlow, with her clever eyes and smart mouth; he’s never heard anyone speak to Flint the way she did, other than maybe himself, and that’s the moment it hits him: it isn’t Madi who’s filling Miranda’s shoes in their strange arrangement, but him, having almost naturally slipped into her place the moment Flint emerged from the abyss of his grief. She was his friend, his partner, his caretaker, but also his lover, just as Silver has become, and while he more or less has a handle on the first three, he’s not really sure with his footing as Flint’s--exactly what, if not lover? He recalls a few unflattering words for men who lie with men that he’d rather not try on, and some more poetic terms that he’s not sure even apply. None of it comes with a rulebook.

They’re almost at the lake--it’s already glimmering through the trees--when Flint suddenly stops and spins around.

“You’ll come round for dinner, right?” he asks and Silver is so dumbfounded by the worldliness of that question that he mostly gapes. Flint takes it as a yes, grabs him by the shirt and kisses him soundly, which perhaps should not delight Silver as much as it does.

At the village, they part their ways--Flint has his carpenting to get to, and Silver loads of sweet potatoes to peel, probably. He changes into his other shirt and drags himself to the kitchens, where the preparations for today’s meals have already begun. He’s so preoccupied with thinking back to the beach and the tent and the shack that the women notice it and make fun of him, but unlike Carlos’ shitty tavern, it’s all good-natured, so he laughs along with them.

Flint comes to fetch him at dinnertime. He’s dressed in a crispy white shirt and a pair of dark breeches, with a sash tied around his middle, very sharp and pirate-like, and he looks Silver over with a doubtful expression.

“Don’t you have anything better to wear?” he asks, eyebrow arched.

“I was in a shipwreck, remember?” Silver gets up, the crutch safely under his pit. He dolefully thinks about his black Spanish leather ensemble that went down with Ana Lucia. “What’s the occasion anyway?”

“It’s Manu’s soulday.” Flint steers him into the right direction with a hand on his shoulder. “We’re to give him our best wishes.”

“Does he know I’m coming with you and not Madi?”

“Madi’s coming too, and he won’t care.”

Silver glances at Flint, who is walking next to him with his usual slight scowl on his face. Flint notices him looking and the corner of his mouth turns up in a smile, as if daring Silver to pester him further.

“Who is Manu exactly, your foreman?” Silver can’t, of course, resist.

“Yeah, you could say that.”

“And doesn’t it bother you to take orders from someone after being in command for so long?” He detested it himself and frequently fantasized about beating Carlos up with his crutch, on darker days--even putting it through his skull. “Even a little bit?”

“Only sometimes,” Flint says, in that tone of voice that suggests it is not entirely true.

“How did you become Captain of the Walrus anyway?” Silver shoots off as they approach Manu’s hut, riding the wave of reading Flint’s expressions, the subtle shifts in his body language, the timbre of his voice.

“I’ll tell you some other time,” Flint says, and it’s cocky and suggestive rather than deflecting.

They don’t enter the hut, but circle around to the clearing behind it, which in England would probably be called a yard. There’s a table there, a lot of children, people milling about. Silver recognizes Manu, the broad-shouldered, kind-faced giant he’s often seen with Flint, and Amma, who seems a little surprised at his appearance. There’s a round of introductions, then the giving of wishes to Manu, where Flint shows off that he’s actually learned some Twi, damned bastard, and finally a lot of food that Silver immediately delves into, since lusting after Flint has made him terribly hungry.

While eating, he watches Flint talk to Manu, gesture expressively and laugh at something he has said, his head thrown back and teeth shown not in that terrifying shark-like smile he liked to intimidate Silver with in the early days, but like a normal human being that finds something funny. It’s actually pleasant seeing him like this, a far call from the man he met back in Nassau. He wonders if that person even still is Flint, without the weight of his command, his crew, his war--all the things that Silver divested him of in good faith, as he’d like to think, or in a bout of selfishness, as others tend to.

There’s some commotion among the people gathered in the clearing and it turns to be Madi’s late arrival. After making her round of greetings, she comes up to Flint, who leans in so he can kiss her on the cheek, and Silver almost contorts out of jealousy and fondness. They talk in low voices, focused on one another and apparently oblivious of Silver watching them from the other side of the table. Madi asks Flint a question and he answers with a wolfish smile, and she lightly jabs him in the side with an elbow, her eyes shining with mirth. Silver is sure they’re talking about him.

“It seems like you’re staying with us, then,” Amma says right next to him and he snaps out of it.

“I certainly hope so,” he says, making room for her on the bench. “Do you know where I could get some new clothes? I seem to be lacking in the wardrobe department, for obvious reasons.”

“I’ll take you to the chests where we store clothing.” She picks up the pitcher with grog and pours drinks for both of them. “I think we might have one of your coats from before. You left it in your haste.”

“My haste to be exiled,” Silver finishes. He does recall the coat; he got it from some of the crew after his injury, when he was reconstructing both his life and fashion style, and thought it too vibrantly blue back then. “But thank you. You’ve been nothing but extremely hospitable to me this whole time, and I’ve never thanked you.”

“You’re welcome, Mr Silver.” Amma lifts the drink to her mouth, but her eyes follow the movement of a loud group of children running around. They seem to be playing a game, but it’s not any of the ones Silver knows.

“Which ones are yours?” He gestures to the swarm that has just frozen and is counting down to something excitedly.

“Those two.” Amma points to a girl and a boy. Silver doesn’t have enough experience with children to tell their age, but the boy seems quite small, which might be the reason why Amma did not join the Maroon-pirate endeavour the last time he was here.

They get into a conversation about the children’s antics, Silver wholeheartedly hoping not to steer into their own childhoods, but before it comes to that, they are approached by Flint and Madi. They look very dignified strolling through the clearing shoulder to shoulder, chins high, backs straight, and Silver’s convinced he’d look like a wretch next to them. Flint engages Amma with sailing talk, while Madi takes Silver aside, and he immediately thinks of their secret and betrayal, but tries to keep his face from showing disappointment and hurt.

“I would like to talk to you tomorrow,” Madi says conspiratorially. “James has let me know that you figured us out, so you can assume it is going to be a serious conversation.”

“I understand.” He nods. The urge to touch her, at least on the sleeve of her intricately embroidered blouse, is very strong, but he resists. “Madi, I…”

“I have told you.” She notices Flint approaching and gives him a nod, then turns back to Silver. “I’ve told you already, it is all right.”

She exchanges those infuriatingly knowing looks with Flint and leaves them to join Amma in herding the children to bed. Flint stands very close to him, but not touching, and the hairs on Silver’s arms stand on end.

“Hey.” He touches his forearm lightly, just with the tips of his fingers, and hears Flint inhale sharply. “Do you want to get out of here?”

“Yeah.”

There’s no discussion on the direction or destination: Flint takes him straight to his hut. Silver has never been inside, just on the porch, but isn’t surprised to see a shelf of books, maps on the desk, his brown sleeveless coat on the back of a chair. It’s somehow not unlike the captain’s cabin, he realises. One of Flint’s arms comes around him from behind and the other brushes his hair from his neck, then Flint’s lips close on the juncture of his neck and shoulder and Flint’s rough, calloused hand slides forcefully under his shirt and up his chest.

Silver groans and presses himself tight against Flint’s body. It’s barely been a day and he’s starving for it, lightheaded with arousal, frissons of excitement going down his spine. He throws his head onto Flint’s shoulder, letting Flint mouth up his throat and palm his chest, shameless and panting with how good it is, this thing they’ve been dancing around for so long, like the two fucking idiots they are.

Flint grabs his head to turn it his way and they’re kissing, sloppy and awkward due to the angle. The moment Flint’s tongue slips into his mouth, Silver feels something snap inside of him: it’s brazen, it’s dirty, it’s wanton, and it must have been hiding inside him all this time. He turns around, puts two hands on Flint’s chest and pushes him back. Flint stumbles, arms flailing, but on his face there’s a wolfish grin and a blush visible even in the dim light.

Silver almost rips his shirt in the hurry to take it off, wobbles over to Flint and pushes him down onto the bed. Flint goes down with an oomph and Silver straddles him, throwing his crutch aside.

“What do you want?” Flint asks, his voice throaty and low, running his hands up and down Silver’s thighs.

“Anything and everything,” Silver replies, bending down to him.

Chapter Text

Madi walks back home in the evening gloom, maneuvering between puddles and muddy spots on the ground. There’s a chill in the air that foretells another storm, and she pulls her shawl around her, feeling all the more lonely and forlorn in the dreary weather.

Once in her hut, she lights all the candles and sits on the bed, still hugging the shawl about her. She feels the cold burn of disappointment, all the worse for it being directed at herself. She really thought herself better, nobler than this. Oh, and smarter--so much more than anyone else, overcoming obstacles as smoothly as a sloop breasting waves at sea, and all she got for it is curling up here alone and envious of all that she is probably missing out on.

She should undress, review her plans for tomorrow, choose a new book to read since she’s finally finished Seneca, but she only gets as far as the first step and flops down onto her bed completely bare. She saw them leaving Manu’s soulday dinner together as she walked the children to bed. They walked briskly, very close together, shoulders bumping in that spirit of companionship that formed an invisible bubble around them, impossible to penetrate by anyone else. Rationally, she could surmise she probably had the same air when walking with James at her side, plotting their journey to Skeleton Island. Or with John, the previous time he stayed here, when they were still teetering on the edge of the abyss of sweaty bodies, messy sheets, love bites. But that is reason, and though she prides herself on it so much, she feels it slipping away as something far more unbecoming is taking its place.

She eyes the nightgown hanging on a bedpost. It is not that far to James’ hut, and there is nothing, really, keeping her from going save for her conviction to keep John at arm’s length until she can devise a way for him to redeem himself--selfish or self-preserving. To grant them a chance to enjoy a new type of intimacy--magnanimous or noble. To keep away until she feels welcome--untenable or frank. Probably the first, in all three. Mother has always called her selfish, haughty and overly sensitive in their arguments. She’ll hate whatever Madi is trying to do with John and James, Madi knows it already.

She sighs deeply, running her hands down her chest. It’s a little drafty and her nipples have hardened, which is just the side of uncomfortable. She can, unfortunately, easily imagine the feverish light in John’s eyes when he leans over with red swollen lips. The quick breaths James takes as she slides her hands up his chest. They feel different, of course, but essentially the experience is the same, or at least on the same spectrum. It’s no wonder she finds it so easy to put them together: now it is John running his hands up James’ chest, James’ hand tangling in John’s wild hair, their bodies sliding sinuously together. She’s not sure about the technicalities of the act, but assumes it follows roughly the same lines as it would with her--and who can blame her for being curious, purely academically, technically even, about what they could do to each other, what they could do together.

She puts her hand between her thighs, first sliding her fingers between her lips, pretending to be a lover mapping them out, finding them already wet, then rubbing at the sensitive point between them. She gasps in the silence of her hut. The feel of James’ beard on the tender skin of her neck, John’s impatient, smart mouth pressing kisses down her side, the feeling of overwhelming fullness when one of them thrusts inside--

She climaxes silently, eyes open, slightly disbelieving that it took so little effort, as her climax usually needs to be coaxed and encouraged when she’s alone. She lies on her bed, breathing deeply, enjoying the waves of pleasure still lapping at her limbs, and the image of her with the two of them settles slowly in her mind, no longer a fantasy, but rather a prediction of the future.

She rolls off the bed, sated, and stretches, then remembers that the inside of her home is alight and visible to every passer-by. As she reaches for her robe, there is a knock on the doorframe.

“Yes?” she calls out, pleasantly excited at the thought of them calling on her.

“It’s me,” Mother says dryly. “Good evening, Madi.”

“Oh.” She pulls the robe closed, excitement nipped in the bud. “Come on in. Is everything all right?”

“Yes, of course.” Mother steps inside, throwing cursory looks around. Madi feels thirteen again. “We just hardly see each other anymore.”

“Well, there is a lot to do this time of the year.”

“Yes.” Mother nods, finally looking over at Madi. “Do not mind me. The older I get, the more my sorrows eat at me.”

She sits down at her desk, looking up at her mother. Her back is straight, as always, face smooth and composed, but there’s a strand of hair coming out of her headwrap, and she looks pale, diluted somehow.

“Do you miss him?”

“Lately more than before,” Mother says. “It could be the season; your father usually stayed for a while in the summer.”

Madi suspects that it also has something to do with the James’ reemergence, both as a man from her father’s other world and as her consort. The latter has upset the dynamic they had going on after the pirates left the island: ruling mother and daughter, two iron virgins, sworn off men in their grief and disappointment.

“I miss him too,” she says, her voice high and shaky, like a girl’s. And she does: her father would know how to sort all of this out. But on the other hand: if not for his passing, she would have never put on trousers and gone to war in his stead, and everything could have turned out differently.

“As time passes,” her mother starts, deep in thought, “I am more and more inclined to believe that we should just let ourselves accept things the way they are. Not all of them, of course: there are some transgressions that require our resistance. But some facts… are just that: facts. Perhaps it is more beneficial to recognize them and acquiesce if it means a lighter load.”

Madi looks at her curiously. She is referring to her own grief for Father, that much is clear, but what is Madi supposed to apply this to--maybe John’s betrayal? It has been, after all, the most formative moment of her life to date, and the most difficult mouthful to swallow. The disappointment and humiliation she’s suffered wars continuously with the sentiment she feels now, her dignity with the longing. Her parents tried to equip her with everything they knew when they raised her, but nothing prepared her for this. For John Silver.

Mother leaves after a short while and Madi falls asleep reading Machiavelli’s Prince not much later. It’s pouring when she wakes up, which means that field and garden duty is cancelled, so she uses the time for some beauty treatments in the peace and calm of her hut. When she finally emerges, close to noon, stepping carefully on wet stairs, she feels like an armoured warrior of the Old World.

She goes by James’ cabin first, but it’s empty; there are sheets and clothes strewn around, evidence of an eventful night and James being so preoccupied that he disregarded his usual obsessive need for tidiness. The kitchens are also a miss: John Silver has not come in to work today, despite being assigned to peeling mangoes and Nyama isn’t very happy with him. The rain is still pouring, limiting visibility severely, and she hovers near the kitchens, trying to think of a place they could have hid in. Then it strikes her: the workshop is shielded from the rain and a little to the side, plus James likes spending time there.

It’s still pouring, so she picks up a palm leaf and holds it over head on the way. As she approaches the workshop, she begins to pick up bits and pieces of a conversation through the wall of rain: two masculine voices, one low and gruff, the other lilting and teasing. She rounds the corner and there they are: James standing over a trestle, a hammer in his hand, John comfortably seated on a nearby barrel. They don’t seem to notice her arrival until she crosses the threshold and shakes the water off her skirt.

“Madi,” John jumps down from the barrel and wobbles, hand shooting out to James’ shoulder for support.

“Glad to have you join us.” James turns his head and she sees the corner of his mouth turn up in a smile.

Feeling charitable, she squashes the impulse to tell them off about John’s missed shift and the mess in James’ hut. John reaches for his crutch and steps to the side, and James’ project comes fully into view.

“What is it?” She points at the wood on the trestle.

“A table,” James says with an air of an exasperated teacher.

“Two planks do not constitute a table, Captain,” John says with a twist to his mouth. His hair is wild in the humidity, raising like a halo around his head, and his shirt slips down one of his shoulders.

“The top is the most important part of a table,” James counters, lofty, then turns to Madi. “I was about to show this habitual doubter the extent of my carpenting prowess. Come, sit.”

She comes nearer, but doesn’t take the seat, just stares at the ground instead. Her sandals do not offer much in way of inspiration, so she looks over at the two feet in Spanish canvas shoes, opposite of her, and the one muddy and bare foot to the right. She can feel the heat of John and James’ silent attention on her.

“I would like to discuss our arrangements for reclaiming the cache of jewels from Skeleton Island,” she says, throwing a cursory look behind her shoulder. “We are still assembling a crew for that voyage and it would make sense for you to be part of it, John.”

John starts a little at having it addressed so directly. He leans back against the barrel and tilts his head curiously, eyes narrowing.

“What has made you reconsider? Don’t get me wrong, the offer is most welcome, I am just wondering what circumstances changed to make this possible.”

“Well, for one you’ve discovered the ship,” Flint says, voice low.

John ignores him and locks eyes with Madi. The blue of his irises is unnerving. The rain pounds incessantly against the roof of the workshop, the trees, the island.

“This is not as much about external circumstances as about your share in this endeavour,” Madi says. “I am sure you have given it thought in the time you have spent here.” She doesn’t want to give him anything. She’s offered enough, and on a silver platter at that.

“There’s a promise that I could make,” John says immediately, as if it were on the tip of his tongue. He looks pale underneath his tan. “I am aware of how little my word is worth… But wouldn’t that make it special? Long John Silver keeping to his word for once in his life?”

“And what would that promise be?” Madi asks. James draws in a sharp breath.

“To never go behind your back again,” Silver says. His lower lip trembles. He looks anguished, ruined. The contrast with the light-hearted man she has just heard laugh is so stark it almost hurts, but then John has always been full of contradictions.

“Is that it?” Madi takes a step closer.

“Madi,” James interrupts, “we have gone over and over that and it hasn’t gotten us anywhere, so let’s just leave it--”

“No, I don’t think it is,” John says. There’s a stubborn set to his jaw now. “I would promise to--never go behind your back when I’m afraid you are doing something unreasonable again. And I would accept your--decisions. Despite it going against every instinct that I have--every lesson that I learned the hard way--”

Madi nods, eyes narrowed.

“Yes. That would work. If you keep to it, of course.”

John gulps.

“But that’s just one side of it, isn’t it?” He glances feverishly from Madi to James and back. “This is just putting me in a losing position. For it to be fair, I’d need something from you too.”

“And what would it be?” James asks. His voice is rough, but face soft.

“A promise, as well,” John says, eyes alight. “A promise to not do anything suicidally stupid. I know--I admire your dedication to your causes, but in order for me to be able to actually uphold this--you--we can’t be in the same place we were two years ago--where you want to cast away your fucking lives like they mean nothing.”

His nostrils are flaring, eyes blinking rapidly. It must be tears, Madi realises, and whatever let her get through this conversation with a straight face melts down. She moves in to embrace him; he swallows audibly and puts one arm around her waist. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees James shift uncomfortably from one foot to the other, looking at the ground, and she extends one of her arms, beckoning him closer. He hesitates for a second, but then joins them, awkwardly wrapping one arm around John’s shoulders and the other around hers. James feels strong and reassuring, and she suddenly remembers the conversation they had on the beach when John had gone missing, how it dismantled everything she thought she knew about Captain Flint. How she hated the idea of going on without John. How she hated that John came back at all, afterwards.

They stand huddled together for a while, sharing breaths and something more than that, something the medicine man would probably call spirit energy, but Madi would not go as far as that: she would stop at an influx of emotion. John exhales into her ear and James raises his head, his expression turning from forlorn to alert.

“There’s someone coming,” he whispers, and they break apart. John is furtively wiping at his eyes with his sleeve, but James is all action, back straight, face haggard. Madi steels herself and turns.

It’s still pouring, turning the approach to the workshop into a muddy slide. Beyond the thick curtain of rain, there are three figures struggling towards the shack. One of them is her mother, and Madi feels her stomach drop.

Mother slips just before the threshold, arms whirling in a gesture that in a different situation could be comical. Madi starts forward, but Musi is just behind her mother, and manages to catch her by the elbow just in time. They stagger inside, dripping wet. The third figure, hot on their heels, turns out to be Amma, her long locks stuck to her face and neck, heavy from the water.

“Hello, Madi,” Mother says. James and John seem to only deserve a nod.

“Mother?” She steps forward. “Has something happened?”

“You could say that.” Mother nods. There’s an angry glint in her eyes. “I am glad to find you in the company of Mr Flint, since it has come to my attention that you two are planning a voyage that I explicitly forbade you from. Now that I see Mr Silver here, I do hope to all that is good and holy that he is not involved in that endeavour as well.”

Madi’s mind is whirring, unable to spot what she might have missed when covering their tracks. She hears James huff angrily behind her and almost feels him bristle.

“I would not think this sanctioned a walk in this kind of weather,” she says, polite but cold. Not only is her aging mother wet as a fish, but it also leaves the impression of being pursued, hunted. “You are right, however. We do plan on going back for the cache.”

She says it openly the second time this day and it’s such a rush she actually smiles. Mother’s expression is thunderous.

“I will not have anyone defy me like this.”

“I am afraid you will, if your decisions are unreasonable,” Madi shoots back.

“You think this is reasonable?” Mother gestures to John with her sodden armsleeve. “Dealing with this man that has already betrayed us terribly once? I thought you were smarter than this, Madi. Musi, take him to the cage.”

“Excuse me?” Madi says, probably louder than necessary. Musi, ever the loyal henchman, moves towards John, but stops dead in his tracks when James stands in his way.

Musi is larger than him, but James certainly knows how to be menacing: he squares his shoulders and tightens his fist on the hammer he must have picked up from the trestle. Musi, who has sailed with him before, knows what he’s capable of, and seems to be reconsidering that order.

Madi turns back to her mother.

“If this is the way you want to solve this, I’m afraid you have to take all of us to the cage. Let’s see what our people say then, when they realise why we are there. That you overreacted when all we wanted was to reclaim the treasure that had been promised to us, and use it for the sake of the whole community!”

“This is not about the treasure,” Mother counters, “but about trust. That trust was broken. I imagine you know when and how.”

“If I may…” John emerges from behind James’ shoulder, but both Madi and Mother look daggers at him, and he shrinks back. “Or not.”

“This is about trust, I agree,” Madi says. “And out of all the people collected in this room, you should trust me first and foremost. I know what I am doing. There is no wool pulled over my eyes, no snake hissing in my ear. I have learned from my mistakes, and I’ve found that the way to go is not to distrust everyone by default, but rather to choose to forgive sometimes, and count on others learning and improving themselves too.”

Amma, who is standing next to her mother, seems to find that surprisingly good advice and nods, smiling slightly. Mother, on the other hand, doesn’t look impressed or convinced. Madi misses her father fiercely; he would see the merit in this, encourage them to make a new attempt at something they’ve failed at before. He was like that. Mother has always assumed the more cautious, preservative stance, and now it shows: she has no idea what to do about them and is obviously running out of options. She won’t risk a show of force when there’s a threat of true violence, and her authority is no longer sufficient to stop any of Madi’s plans from happening.

“I will be leaving on that voyage, Mother,” Madi says, to nail the point home. “With a crew of volunteers. On a ship we have repaired ourselves. We’ll be back within a month, with that fortune in our hold.”

“I don’t want you taking any more supplies from the community,” Mother snaps, eyes flicking to Amma, and Madi realises what gave them away. “I don’t care if you don’t have enough. You can call at a port to get more, but I don’t want you draining our resources towards such an unwise goal.”

“That’s fair. We can use James’ money towards that.”

“Of course.” Mother nods stiffly, her gaze landing on James. Madi knows she had other plans for that gold. “I assume Mr Flint would be the Captain for the duration of the voyage?”

“Yeah,” James says, curt. “That’s correct.”

“And Mr Silver?” Mother asks, feigning indifference.

“That hasn’t been decided yet.” Madi shakes her head. “Is there anything else?”

“I would expect to be informed about the crew and your date of departure as soon as it is decided.” Her tone is ice cold and peremptory. “You would do good to reconsider this, too. Musi, would you lend me your arm?”

Musi lends it, eager to please after his failed attempt to capture John, and they walk back into the downpour. Amma stays, looking very guilty.

“I’m sorry,” she says when the other two are out of earshot. “She has noticed the inconsistencies in the tallies of our stores and I could not lie about that.”

“I did not expect you to,” Madi says. “Are you still interested in joining us, after this?”

“Of course.” She flashes a smile at James. “I’ve always wanted to sail with one of the big ones.”

“Please.” James scoffs. “You are a legend in your own right. You’ve inspired me to use the headwraps and costumes when taking prizes, which easily doubled our success rate.”

“A great idea, that. I am afraid I cannot take the credit, though, I spotted it in Tortuga back in 1702, or sometime around that.”

James nods, hooking his thumbs in his belt. Something comes alight in his eyes.

“That was the year I first caught a whiff of Spanish gold,” he says, swaying slightly on his heels. “Hadn’t even dreamed of the West Indies then.”

Amma looks more than ready to ask him more, but there’s a sudden thud, and they all flinch. It’s John’s crutch, having fallen from his hand. He bends at the waist to pick it up, holding onto the barrel, then straightens up with a shaky breath. They watch silently as he moves towards the exit, pale and shifty, and when he’s at the threshold, Madi moves to go after him, but James catches her by the arm.

“Don’t.” He shakes his head. “I think we should let him… collect himself.”

John walks out into the rain, his hair flattened to his head by the force of the downpour. He doesn’t head back to the village, but somewhere to the side, and they watch him with James until he’s out of sight. James’ expression, once more, must be a mirror of her own.

Chapter Text

The rain continues to fall, disregarding any wishes or plans the inhabitants of the island may have, and, frankly, threatening to drown the whole thing. The moment James walks out of the workshop, he sinks into the mud to his ankles, probably ruining his espadrilles.

“God damn it.” He slides down the slope, and it’s so awkward and undignified he’s glad Madi is not there to witness it. She’d left and he stayed in the workshop, ostensibly to finish the top of the table, but really to be there if Silver returned, gave James a big smile, threw his arms around his neck and, maybe, possibly wanted to defile another piece of furniture.

No such luck, however, so he wrapped up his work and decided to head home. Looking at the creeks and ponds forming in the lowest points of the terrain, he abandons any attempt of getting home on the ground and climbs onto the network of walkways instead. The easternmost walkway doesn’t quite reach his cabin, so he crouches at the farthest edge of it, sways on his toes, gauging the distance through the curtain of rain, and finally jumps onto his porch.

He lands with a thud and the porch creaks horribly, but takes it. He straightens and makes his way inside, shrugging off the ruined shoes and sodden clothing on the way. The hut is already a mess, with yesterday’s clothing strewn everywhere, overturned cups and a single discarded shoe, which in any other situation would probably spark the question of its missing pair, but James remembers that Silver flicked it off his foot crawling up James’ body and the shoe hit the desk, sending the cups flying. Silver never recovered it, opting to go barefoot instead. James picks it up now and sits down heavily on the bed to try it on for size. It’s too big; Silver’s foot is strangely huge for the rest of his body, just like his hands.

Silver has always been the one more skilled at reading people, but he’s not as dissembling as he perhaps would like to be: what crossed his face when he was leaving the workshop was very clearly thinly veiled anger. No wonder: he was all about amends and redeeming, and any annoyance or impatience he might feel at not being forgiven soon enough would not go over well with the two people he most needed forgiveness from, so he made himself scarce.

James sets the shoe down and gets up to clean up the cabin. With the signs of Silver’s presence so imminent, so tangible, he’s unable to keep himself from going back to the maze that spans whatever is between them, specifically the parts that are unmapped, like the aftermath of Skeleton Island. It was carnage, pure, unadulterated rage at the loss and the betrayal he felt, somewhat alleviated by Thomas’ presence, then rekindled after the separation, rendering James mostly mindless, passively accepting most turns of events since the anger took up too much of his mind and energy.

At some point, however, the money, the war, the title, the ship, the crew stopped being all that relevant to James, and what persisted was the outrage at the personal angle of it all. That it was Silver who did him in, not Rackham, or Rogers, or anyone else he could perceive as a rival, but the one person he--well, he trusted most, and felt other things for, things that he would mostly be loath to name. It was less exhausting than the all-encompassing anger of before, but no less engaging, and in hindsight, it might have been partially responsible for his inability to repair things with Thomas.

One day he woke up not hating Silver anymore and in want of any other object to focus his anger on, he started hating himself. For the sheer stupidity of trusting someone that had already stolen a mountain of gold from him. For the short-sightedness that made him ignore warning signs that were a dime a dozen. For the naivety of walking into it almost willingly, accepting anything that might befall him from Silver’s hand, because he had not expected anything so cruel and senseless as what Silver had eventually done to him. And so, in the time-honoured tradition of distraught men everywhere, he turned to the bottle in hope it would yield any sense to the farce that had been his life.

Then there came a period of wandering around seaside towns and outposts, heading steadily south like a bird migrating for the winter, staring wistfully at the masts of ships anchored in the bays. The bottom of a rum bottle looked a little like the dark deep waters of the ocean and a whisky lens reminded him of the orange glow of sunset on the bay of Nassau. Unlike Britain, which he detested still, the now-unattainable Nassau has gained a benign sheen of nostalgia that gnawed at him with every recollection of his time as Captain Flint. And it really was over, a closed, weird chapter of his life--until Madi walked into the tavern in St Augustine with a gunbelt on her hips, and Aloysius and Kumi at her back, such a clear, obvious reminder of what he’d left behind.

And now here he was, sleeping with Silver--finally, setting out to sea with him--again. That can’t be wise. He’s shrugging on a fresh, dry shirt when there’s a rap on the doorframe.

“The rain is over for now.” It’s Kumi, laconic as ever. “The roof over the dining tables fell. Are you coming?”

“Yeah, coming. Just give me a minute.”

He pulls on his boots and walks out, shaking off the wraiths of the past. Kumi is waiting on the porch, leaning casually against the doorframe, and James reflexively gives his impressive physique an appreciative look, like he used to do with Billy. But while Billy was irked by it, Kumi seems unfazed; he simply unspools from the doorframe and follows James into the muddy crossing.

“I heard the sloop is ready,” Kumi says suddenly, startling James, who’s expected him to keep quiet the rest of the day.

“It is,” he replies. His boots make unpleasant sucking sounds in the mud. “We’ll be getting underway as soon as the weather goes back to normal.”

“Is the Princess coming?”

“Yes, well, she’s the main force behind this endeavour, so she’s definitely coming.”

“We will go too, Aloysius and I,” Kumi states, then stops and grasps James’ forearm firmly, looking him straight in the eye. “But we expect no funny business from you, Captain Flint.”

James scoffs, suddenly a little uncomfortable, but any other noise of protest dies in his throat as he remembers the exact state Aloysius and Kumi saw him in back in St Augustine.

“No funny business,” he promises, and Kumi lets go of his arm and just plows on in the mud as if the conversation never happened.

The roof over the dining area has indeed collapsed. The kitchen workers have huddled under the part that withstood the weather and James spots Silver among them, peeling mangoes sadly. Silver’s head snaps up immediately, as if James’ gaze was a tangible thing, and they watch each other across the expanse of broken poles, tables and thatching, until Silver swallows and goes back to his peeling.

By the time they’re done with the roof, Silver is finishing up. James watches him ruefully from where he’s standing on a ladder, wondering fervently if their brief respite is already over, pretty much before it’s really begun. Madi comes by later and he wants to sweep her off for some glorious evening literature conversation, but she’s adamant about having dinner at the communal tables and letting people talk to them about the upcoming expedition. She’s right, of course: the news have spread and a lot of people have questions, concerns or encouragements; they even manage to find a few potential volunteers.

When left alone, they talk about Silver, incessantly, inevitably, as if a dam has finally opened and flooded a few villages on the way. It’s both such a complete novelty and a total recall, so powerful that at one point James turns to get some more food and what he sees out of the corner of his eye is a flash of straight dark hair and satin. He flinches and shakes his head to snap out of it.

“What is it?” Madi asks.

“It’s nothing.” He reaches for his cup. “Just a--rogue memory flitting by.”

Madi gives him an inquiring look, but doesn’t pursue the subject. He feels a pang of guilt; she deserves so much more than being just a facsimile of a woman he knew, especially with how different she is, how freer, how much more self confident than Miranda ever was, which he has a feeling has to do with how differently they were brought up and treated in their lives.

“Did you know that he is Jewish?” He blurts out, eager to get back to the topic of John Silver’s enigma.

“Jewish?” Madi repeats, brow furrowing in incomprehension.

“Uh--of Hebrew origin?” He explains feebly and probably incorrectly. “Jewish faith predates Christianity. It’s what the Old Testament, the older part of the Bible is about.”

He finally sees some comprehension dawn in Madi’s eyes.

“Does it carry any special meaning?” She leans closer to him, suddenly sharply curious. “Is he religious? Do you know?”

“I don’t think he is. Jewish people don’t eat pork and I’ve seen him wolf down bacon like there’s no tomorrow. But you have to know that being born Jewish is bad news in the Old World. They’ve been persecuted for centuries. It might even be one of the reasons why he abhors his past so much.”

“How do you know about it then?” Madi asks.

This question takes him by surprise. He opens his mouth and then closes it, feeling a blush creep up his neck.

“They, uh…” He leans closer to Madi. “Once you’re in bed…”

He’s fortunately saved from explaining further by Bowles dropping down on the bench next to them. James bristles immediately; Bowles has been throwing him dirty looks ever since he scared him away from Silver, unwisely keeping James’ resentment at a consistently high level.

Madi stiffens, but keeps the conversation civil, even though Bowles is there to mostly paint Silver in an unfavourable light and ignore James’ glares. In the end he takes them by surprise by offering to volunteer for the crew. James wants to decline on the spot, but Madi raises a hand to stop him and promises to get back to Bowles about it.

“We will antagonize him less if we decline later,” she says when Bowles is out of earshot.

“I don’t have the patience to deal with men like that anymore.” James empties his cup of grog. “How much longer do you want to stay?”

“Just a little longer,” Madi says, valiantly attempting not to look around for Silver.

He doesn’t come. James takes Madi to his hut, since she’s avoiding her mother, and gives himself a quick wash while she’s looking through his books. His throat is tight with how much he stupidly misses Silver and he’s of half-mind to run to his cabin and drag him here, but--well, they’re not in the middle of the forest, people have seen him and Madi walking here, and that’s enough to cause tongues to wag, and people would certainly notice the infamous Captain Flint leading his former Quartermaster by hand.

He turns to the bed, toweling off his face. Madi is lying on her belly, legs crossed at the ankle. Her feet are bare, their arches high.

“Madi.” He says, serious. She turns and looks at him over her shoulder. “I have a feeling you intend for us to become an… an arrangement.”

“I do, and I don’t think I’ve been hiding that. And you haven’t been hiding your concern.”

“No, and for good reason. You know I had a similar situation end in…” He shakes his head, unwilling to even put it into words. “Even in a place like this, where people seem open-minded or lenient about unusual choices… It’s still very unorthodox. And quite a challenge for those involved.”

He sits on the edge of the mattress, his hands between his knees, fidgeting with the towel. Madi rolls onto her side, watching him with dark eyes.

“I do realise it is not going to be easy, knowing the three of us,” she says. “But John told me once that whenever the two of you put your heads together, there was nothing you couldn’t do. I firmly believe we could do this too.”

“I don’t worry that much about our capacity for this, but rather about the capacity of others to understand and tolerate this. From my experience, it is easier to come to terms with just--sodomy.” He makes a face at the word. “People--they think that there are two sides to others, like coins. And the one side of the coin is what is between you and I. And the other… between Silver and I. They might argue that the other side of the coin is wrong somehow, or that it should not come to light for whatever reason, but it is easy to understand. When faced with the discovery that these are not two different sides, but in fact one and the same, and that one’s desires might just not discriminate between the sexes…”

He’s not sure if she follows, since it’s the first time he’s put this into words and he has a feeling he’s not doing a very good job, but she nods and puts her hand on his knee.

“James.” Her eyes are just like Miranda’s, only they aren’t. “We will be safe here.”

“Will we? Mr Bowles there is an example that we very well might not be. And with your mother being so opposed to this endeavour, we might not get the support you expect, if we need it.”

“I am able to protect you,” she says, breathtakingly honest and confident. “Both of you.”

“I’m more than able to protect myself. But I don’t want to be forced to do it here.”

Madi catches the implication in that sentence. She slowly takes her hand back and sighs, rolling onto her back.

“You are afraid and it is entirely natural,” she says. He bristles with dismay at being called that. “I am a little afraid too and I wouldn’t like it stopping us from living our best lives, but if it will, there’s nothing I can do.”

He sighs. Thinks of the lake glimmering in the sun, a canoe carrying him home. Madi’s peaceful face in her sleep, the curve of Silver’s lips when he’s looking up at James. He knows what the alternative is, because he’s been there, and doesn’t want to ever go back.

He reaches out and puts a hand on her ankle to rub it gently. It’s the least he can do when he’s so undeserving of all of this.

Suddenly, there’s a knock on the doorframe and they both look up.

“Yeah?” James gets up, the towel still in hand.

“Good evening.” Silver pops inside. He’s wearing a blue coat that James has seen somewhere, but doesn’t recall where exactly. His hair is wet from rain or washing, drying into ringlets. “I’ve heard voices and decided to come up, since you’re not asleep yet.”

“Come on in.” James ushers him in, flustered all of a sudden, probably blushing all the way down his chest. This is a space where they did—things, so many wonderful things yesterday, but Madi is here now, so it doesn’t seem appropriate to recall exactly what and where. He also keeps wondering just how long exactly Silver hovered by his cabin and if he’s managed to hear anything out of their conversation.

Despite being offered a chair, Silver goes to stand by the shelf. Madi sits at the edge of the bed, eyes trained on him.

“There is still something that I have managed to keep away from you two,” he says, “and according to our new policy of radical honesty, I should not be doing that. But let me preface that with saying that I had an epiphany today while peeling fruit, which is an act that I abhor greatly. Peeling, not having epiphanies. See, I used to be a king, and now I’m a cook.”

“You used to be a cook before, and not a great one at that,” James interjects, because he’s an asshole.

“Not a particularly good one, I admit.” Silver raises his hand. His eyes belie his flippant tone and James regrets that remark. “But that’s beside the point. And you, Madi--you used to head an armada, free slaves from plantations, be living proof that there’s a life here, free of chains.”

Madi makes a sound between a scoff and a sigh, as if she ran out of words on that particular topic or didn’t want to waste any more of them.

“And you.” Silver looks over at James. His eyes are hooded. “You used to sail. You might have hated the life and what it made you become, but you fucking loved to sail. You still look at those ships like--like they’re mountains of gold.”

“All true, I suppose,” James says. He feels uncomfortable under Silver’s scrutiny, but he supposes his love for sailing is not something he’s ever tried to hide. “But what are you getting at?”

“I have heard some news back in Havana. It was absolutely incidental--two freemen came into the tavern one evening and I overheard their conversation, since they did not expect anyone to know English there--”

“Freemen?” Madi repeats, eyes narrowing.

“Yes. From Jamaica. They were Jamaican Maroons and they are planning a revolt.”

Madi opens her mouth and closes it, stunned speechless. James moves in to give her time to digest it.

“Why exactly are you telling us that? Just today you made it very clear that your concern for our lives is so great you not only did what you did but made us promise not to put ourselves in harm's way anymore. And now this? You don’t really expect Madi to ignore this information, do you?”

“Of course not,” Silver scoffs, pushing away from the shelf and coming closer. “Honesty is what I was aiming for, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the term.”

James bares his teeth. He’s almost forgotten just how annoying Silver could be.

“Honesty is one thing, rational expectations another. What are yours?”

“Being smart about this,” Silver says, looking up at James. “Not another all-out war against the British Empire, but establishing allies, trade routes, escape routes. Help. Advice.”

“According to your treaty, the Maroons should not be taking in escapees,” James snickers.

“Fuck the treaty,” Silver says and James swallows, suddenly hot all over.

“I agree that we should be smart about this,” Madi pipes up from the bed. “Is that all you’ve heard? Or was there anything more specific--names, dates?”

“No, it was just that.” Silver turns to her. “I tried to follow up with some of my contacts but I left before they had responded. But that news--it was electrifying. It brought everything back.”

Everything you took away, James thinks despite himself. It’s a testament to his willpower that he doesn’t say it out loud.

“Could you recount that conversation to me?” Madi asks, sliding over on the bed, clearly in an invitation for Silver to sit down. He shoots an anxious glance at James, who gestures to it in assent, and Silver sits.

James hovers over them, unsure how to proceed, then finally bends down to pick up the towel and finishes with the washing as Silver repeats everything he knows to Madi. It feels vaguely familiar, this setting, though he’s aware that they’ve never actually been this intimate before.

They talk about what they know about the Jamaican Maroons, Spanish Town, Kingston, and James speaks up now and then from his experience. Silver is right about his fondness for sailing, but he’s reluctant to get tangled up in a rebellion just now. He’s been enjoying his violence-free streak, cultivating his image of a pirate turned peaceful in his later years, appreciating the trust and easy smiles of his neighbours. He still gets the odd suspicious look from Aloysius or women hanging the washing, and he can’t really blame them. He doesn’t really feel retired, but rather lying in wait, biding his time until it’s the right moment to pounce.

Later in the night, he goes outside to take a piss and meets Manu who has left his family nest for the exact same purpose. They stand side by side in the bushes, passing comments about the weather, and when James comes back in, Silver is passed out smack in the middle of his bed, while Madi is stroking his hair, looking both guilty and transfixed.

He raises his eyebrows in a mock question and Madi just smiles, completely disarmed and looking her years for once. He knows the feeling. Sleeping, Silver seems angelic, with his handsome face and curly hair, his mouth slightly curving up, as if Madi’s touch has sent him somewhere pleasant in his sleep. The impression probably has a lot to do with the fact that he’s keeping his mouth shut.

Madi starts to get up, but James waves her down.

“No, stay. It’s late. I can sleep in the armchair.”

“You must be joking,” she whispers furiously at him. “Get down here, James, or we are going to have words—” She stifles a yawn. “Tomorrow.”

“We should go down to the beach tomorrow,” he says, laying down on the other side of Silver, who mumbles something and turns onto his side. “To take a look at the sloop. I think you’ll be interested in the progress.”

“I’d love to. I’ll get us out of work duty somehow.”

Madi leans up on her elbow and blows out the last candle. The cabin is suddenly swamped in darkness and James blinks rapidly to adjust his eyes. His heart is thumping as if his body has recognized his urgent need to put all of this somehow to memory in as much detail as possible: the smell of the jungle wafting in from the outside, the cicadas chirping feverishly, Silver snoring lightly right next to James, the opening of his shirt showing his tantalizing clavicles, the dip in his throat.

“Good night, James,” Madi says, rustling on the other side of the mattress. It’s not terribly big, so she probably needs to find a position that limits the risk of falling off of the bed in the night.

“Good night,” James replies, low so as not to wake Silver.

He shifts a little closer to Silver and after a while, in the dark, throws his arm over Silver’s waist. Their breathing mingles in the humid air of a tropical night, and James would certainly fight the British Empire for this.

Chapter Text

He wakes to the sound of hushed voices having a conversation right over where he’s pressed against a warm, solid chest. It must have been going for a while now, judging from the context, only he has slept through most of it.

“And when you were twenty-eight?” Madi asks, her tone tentative and a little playful.

“What’s with the sudden curiosity?” Flint rumbles right next to John.

“It’s not sudden. You’re an interesting man. I want to know you.”

There’s a pause in the conversation where he imagines coy smiles and looks being exchanged. Flint draws in a deep breath and snorts, which blows through Silver’s hair.

“I was a mere midshipman aboard a Navy frigate.”

“What does that mean? You know I don’t follow military ranks that well.”

“A midshipman is a candidate for an officer. A great distinction for a humble son of carpenter, such as myself, as everyone made sure I was aware.”

“Did you live in London?”

“Yes,” Flint says wearily. “It’s the biggest city I’ve ever seen in my life. But you wouldn’t like it probably. It’s cold and people tend to be quite rude and closed-minded.”

“I would like to see for myself one day,” Madi says and Silver can see her getting off a ship on one of the Legal Quays, wrapping a shawl tightly around her shoulders in the chilly breeze. Flint would probably take her somewhere boring, like a bookshop, while Silver could show her what London really was about--but wouldn’t want to, because no one should want to go back to those places.

There’s a lull in the conversation and he considers letting them know he’s awake, but then Madi’s leg slides from underneath his only remaining calf and the bed creaks loudly as she gets up. There’s some more rustling as she dresses and puts on her shoes, and then Silver hears her walk surreptitiously to the other side of the bed.

“I will get back to you about going to the beach,” she whispers and it suddenly sounds so close Silver opens his eyes just a fraction to see her bend over and give Flint a sound kiss on the lips. Flint puts his hand on her cheek and draws it out, goddamn him, his lips moving over hers with confidence and familiarity. It’s so odd, watching them kiss, when he’s been on the receiving end of both and knows exactly what it feels like, but isn’t participating.

“Okay,” Flint says and Madi straightens up and leaves, taking special care to tread silently.

They lie in silence for a minute, Flint breathing steadily, Silver pleasantly surprised that his leg--the one that is no longer there--doesn’t hurt. There’s just a slight twinge in the knee, but the burning pain of yesterday, which kept him miserable and mostly unfit for company the whole day, is gone.

“I know you’re awake,” Flint says, almost absentmindedly, tapping Silver lightly on the shoulder.

“Yeah?” He curls in on himself, loath to face the world again.

“Yeah.”

Silver rolls away from him and stretches, opening his eyes. The morning sun assaults him and he groans.

“Eavesdropping, were you?” Flint squints down at him.

“I just wanted to listen in. It was interesting conversation.”

“You could just ask. If you want to know anything.”

“I have a feeling there are some questions you’d rather I didn’t ask, actually,” Silver says, sliding over to the edge of the bed. He’s rumpled and feels weird, suspended between the reality he’s known and this new, strange one.

“Why? I’ve laid myself bare for you, haven’t I?” Flint says, evidently eager to turn it into a thing.

Silver looks at him over his shoulder. Flint is reclining comfortably, head propped up on one hand, the other resting on his bare chest. There’s something cat-like and dangerous about him even now that Flint has turned into his protector.

“Well, I have been wondering about something during the time we were apart,” he says and pauses, giving Flint time to understand that this is going to be one of those questions of a greater caliber, and sure enough, Flint’s smug expression is marred by a fleeting shadow of apprehension. “A day did not go by that I didn’t return to that damned island, or Nassau, or this place. And you… I found it hard to digest that you could just forget about me.”

“Do you really want to breach another subject guaranteed to hurt you?” Flint goes stiff despite his relaxed pose.

“I just find some things hard to reconcile,” Silver continues, because once that gate has opened, he can’t keep things from getting out. “Like how you walked up to your Lord and forgot all about me.”

“You banished me to the Colonies as if I was an embarrassment.” Flint raises himself slowly to a sitting position, the muscles in his abdomen and chest twitching and bunching impressively. “Cut me off from everyone I knew. Cost me my captaincy, my ship, my crew and my gold. What was I supposed to do? Write you every other month?”

“I could not stop thinking about you. It was as if only when were forced apart that I understood the extent of my obsession with you. Madi was the other part of it, of course, but I ruined that myself, and with you--”

Flint opens his mouth, undoubtedly to say something scathing and burning with barely repressed fury, but then seems to reconsider. He sort of deflates and hunches over his drawn up knee.

“Of course I didn’t forget,” he says, quiet and restrained. “I thought about you too. At first they weren’t very pleasant thoughts, as you can imagine. But then I just--I came to miss what we had. And he suspected your existence,” he adds, as if on an afterthought.

Silver freezes. He did not expect Thomas Hamilton to ever dedicate a single thought to his mere existence, and here it is, the proof of him doing at least as much.

“What did he say about me?” He turns to face Flint fully on the bed.

“Why do you want to know?” Flint asks with exasperation, clearly regretting his earlier decision to be forthcoming.

“I don’t know. Forget it.”

“Do you want to know if he was jealous about you? Because I think he was, even though he hadn’t even met you. He was mostly jealous of the notions he had about you from what I’d told him--because I tried to tell him things, but he just couldn’t grasp them the way I thought he would--” He pauses and the faraway look in his eyes vanishes. Instead, he focuses on Silver and his attention cuts like a knife. “Are you--jealous of him?”

“Is that so inconceivable?” Silver shoots back. His eyes are burning.

“It’s not inconceivable,” Flint says, voice hollow. “It’s unnecessary. It is not--he is not--in the picture anymore.”

The look on Flint’s face makes Silver regret asking in the first place. He turns away to get a hold of himself, and hears Flint clear his throat and get up.

Flint shuffles around the cabin, picking out clothes to wear. Silver spots his shoe, the one he left there the day before, standing in line with Flint’s leather knee-high boots and a pair of ridiculous Spanish shoes. Flint, ever the military man, keeps everything very organized. Silver’s cabin looks as if a hurricane went through it.

He swallows thickly. They say it’s better to have loved and lost than never loved at all, but he thinks it bullshit. It has only made him mad and unhappy, and Flint--Flint hasn’t fared well either, as his life would have undoubtedly been better had he not fallen in love with Thomas Hamilton. He would not be here, on this island, lacing his shirt as John is watching him from the bed, and if not for Flint, Silver would not be here either.

As if feeling the weight of Silver’s gaze, Flint rolls his shoulders and turns. He walks up to Silver and crouches in front of him. His face is solemn and soft, like another man’s, and Silver suddenly realises that this is what led him to believe that Flint is in fact two different people.

“In the story,” Flint starts, laying one hand on Silver’s good knee, “Orpheus married Eurydice after his expedition with the Argonauts, but their happiness was short-lived. Eurydice, see, was bitten by a snake while out in a meadow, and died. Orpheus could not accept that and went down to the underworld to try and bring her back. He played and sang so beautifully that he entranced everyone who tried to stop him… and he managed to get his lost love back. They could both resurface. There was only one condition: she would be walking behind him, and he wouldn’t be able to look back at her until they walked out into the sunlight. And so they climbed up out of the Stygian darkness… but Orpheus started to doubt Eurydice was in fact walking behind him, suspecting that the gods were tricking him. And so, at the last minute Orpheus looked back at her, condemning her to the underworld forever. We mustn’t look back, John. Not now, not ever. We’re almost out.”

It’s so ridiculous--and so like Flint--to use an obscure reference to express his feelings that Silver is suddenly overtaken with deep fondness. He reaches out for Flint’s face but his hand lands on Flint’s chest, just below his neck, instead. It feels as if he’s holding Flint at arm’s length, and that’s a funny notion, since all he’s ever wanted to do since he met Flint is to get closer to him, perhaps even so close he could vanish in his essence.

“I am not looking back,” he says, eyes searching Flint’s face. “I am just attempting to find my footing. Pardon the pun,” he adds, wiggling his useless stump with a grimace.

“There’s no need to do that either,” Flint says, touching his bad knee softly. “You first insinuated yourself into a position by my side and then truly earned it. You are my partner. The one that was supposed to be my end. And you were, but here I am.”

He ends the sentence on a sigh, as if it was such a nuisance, getting back from the figurative grave. Silver tightens his hold lightly and Flint’s eyes flicker to his. Flint’s look is one of those that speak volumes but Silver suddenly remembers that they can do more now than just exchange loaded glances and leans down to kiss him.

Flint teeters forward in his crouch and wraps his hand around Silver’s bicep to keep his balance, then drops to his knees. His mouth opens under Silver’s and his hand slides into Silver’s hair, nails scratching slightly against the scalp, sending a shiver down Silver’s spine.

Flint’s freckled skin is hot to the touch and his mouth strangely tender. This kiss is supposed to mean things, Silver thinks, eyes open, Flint’s cheek too close to focus on. Flint’s eye is closed and scrunched up a little in the corner, his eyebrow arched, and Silver realises he’s seen this expression on Flint’s face before, but was too thick to see it for what it was.

It’s blissful, the world slowly turning as they kiss like they’re the only people left in existence, silent but for little huffs of breath. Flint smells of herbal soap and something distinctly him--a smell Silver picked up all that time ago, back when Flint made some ancient part of his brain scream danger. It’s the same scent, but it has a different effect on him now and he inhales it greedily, pushing his nose into Flint’s hair. Flint groans and bites his neck, and Silver sees Madi’s bruises and lovebites in his mind and barely suppresses a full-body shiver.

Flint mouths up his neck while his hands run slowly up Silver’s thighs. He’s been half hard since waking up and this makes his blood run downwards so fast his head spins and he needs to hold onto Flint’s shoulders. Flint smiles against his neck and bites his earlobe as his hands untie Silver’s trousers to draw out his cock.

Silver bites off a hiss. Flint looks up at him and there’s a familiar fire burning in his eyes, green and fierce. He bends, his shoulders pushing Silver’s knees wider apart, and takes him into his mouth.

Silver is beside himself, frantically curling his fists in Flint’s poor shirt which obviously does not deserve that kind of treatment. We could have been doing this the whole time, he thinks, throwing his head back, but he would not have knelt for me as Captain. Or would he? Would he have slid off his fucking chair and sucked me off right then and there in the Captain’s cabin? Flint sucks filthily and deftly, showing not only expertise, but also a penchant for it that so utterly does not fit his carefully cultivated manly image that Silver needs to look down to see him doing it again. Flint’s eyes are closed, lashes fair against flushed cheeks, and despite himself Silver wonders if he’s just as good at pleasing women with his mouth, if Madi clutches at his shoulders like this too.

Flint does something with his tongue that has Silver’s eyes rolling back in his head and he forcibly pulls Flint up by the collar of his shirt.

“Come on,” he says, sliding awkwardly back onto the bed and dragging Flint down with him.

He goes willingly, undoing his pants and covering Silver with his entire body, which is extremely enjoyable but also quite heavy, and Silver hisses as his ribs twinge with pain. Flint raises himself onto his elbows and just looks down at him. His hair is hanging in his face, his lips are obscene, swollen and wet, eyes feral. He grinds his hips and his cock rubs against Silver’s, wet with spit and painfully hard. There’s still an electrifying novelty to this and Silver fights to stay on the surface, clinging to Flint’s shoulders, writhing underneath him, but both the conversation they had and the sex they are having opens him up to himself and he sees things he usually keeps away from himself, feels things he, John Silver, has no business feeling, and something hot unfurls in his chest, chokes him and burns. It’s want, he realises and comes hard, choking on a cry, because they’re not alone after all, not really.

Flint kisses him hotly, his hands bracketing Silver’s face in a way that’s both tender and possessive, and then sits up, straddling his hips. Silver realises reciprocation might be in order and raises himself up on an elbow, shaking off his postcoital langour. They just look at each other for a beat. Silver thinks, this man killed for me in cold blood and I pretended we were just friends and reaches out to touch Flint’s abdomen under his shirt, then slides his hand down to Flint’s cock. He strokes it with growing confidence, watching Flint’s face keenly so as not to miss anything. The expression of pleasure--eyes closed, jaw slack, lips open--is so like the one he wore when he rode Silver the other night that it’s like a punch straight to the gut. The memory comes rushing back: Flint moving over him slowly, muscles in his thighs flexing, fingers tightening and loosening on Silver’s pectorals, his panting loud and clear in the evening air. How John clenched his teeth and wished just to last a little bit longer, to wake up one day in a world where he could just be that, a source of pleasure to them both, regardless of how crippled he is.

Flint comes much too soon, his body folding in half like in surrender. Silver exhales and lays back down. There’s a silent debate over whether or not to embrace Flint--he’s not good with those affectionate gestures--but then he does and Flint exhales with contentment. Their come dries and sticks to the skin in a way that Silver knows will become really uncomfortable in a minute, but he really doesn’t care.

Afterwards, Flint rolls over and walks over to the basin to wash himself and from the way he carries himself Silver can tell he’s already thinking about the day ahead of him. Silver stretches, mellow and sated, just slightly anxious about how significant it all was and a little reluctant about facing the harsh light of the day. Flint doesn’t seem to have those inhibitions, as he tosses a wet rag onto Silver’s chest and slaps his bare foot in a gesture that can only mean let’s get going.

They go get breakfast, probably oozing the blissful energy of those freshly fucked, but everyone else pays them no mind. Madi comes by to tell them that they will set out for the beach in the evening and since the weather is good, they should join their crews for work, and Silver sighs wearily. He has not expected making amends would mean thankless, menial labour, but apparently it does. Flint hears the dramatic sigh and sends him an amused glance.

The kitchen crew is assigned to tending to the fields and recovering crops damaged by the excessive rain while the carpenters are repairing the coop. Silver is only grateful that neither of them have been relegated to chasing the chickens that ran away into the forest, because that just would have been excessive. From where he’s perched on the ground, tying up okra plants, he can spot the women and children running frantically after the scared birds in the bushes up the hill.

He waits for the evening all day, even though it means that exhausting trek up and down the hillside again, and is fairly disappointed when their excursion turns into a family outing when Manu joins them with his his wife and children. Silver cannot really begrudge them their their excitement for seeing the new ship, sure, but he’s not really certain why they have to go along. Then, before they even leave the village, Amma jogs up to them with a canvas bag thrown across her shoulder, and Aloysius and Kumi are following, locked in step as usual.

“Anyone else?” Silver turns around and sure enough, he spots Madi’s friend Fiba rushing in their direction with a picnic basket. “I was not aware we were moving the whole village down there.”

“It’s mostly our crew,” Flint says, slightly disapproving. “And anyone who wants to help is welcome, it’s been a fucking nuisance working there just the two of us.”

Flint’s kept it from him for so long, for one, and it’s not like Silver can do any of the heavy work required for refitting the sloop anyway, and he swallows the bile gathering at the back of his throat. Fortunately, their merry band takes its time walking down to the beach and he doesn’t feel like a cripple slowing them down. They set up tents and shacks and have a common supper, so any hopes Silver might have had for some time alone with Madi and Flint vanish, rendering him snappy and impatient with everyone.

“What’s gotten into you?” Flint hisses at him finally, when they sit down by the fire. “This is what you’ve wanted, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” He forces a smile. “I’m just—I’m tired.” He hates pulling out that particular card, because it admits to his weakness, but at this point he’d rather Flint thought him weak than know just how much John wants to be with him and with Madi, how much he yearns for both of them. It’s a different kind of weakness and he considers it a lot more dangerous than the physical one.

Flint looks him up and down as if taking measurements and something in his gaze softens. His hand lands on Silver’s thigh with a soft clap and he rubs it encouragingly. When he gets up to bond with Manu over ship carpentry, he nods to Madi and she immediately drops down next to Silver.

“I hope you know why I am doing this,” she says softly. She has something in her lap and in the glow of the fire he sees it’s a mango and a small knife.

“Doing what?”

“Putting all of this together.” She peels the fruit. There’s juice dropping down from her hands. “I do not intend to start another war. We need the money to keep going here, as a community, not necessarily even growing, but maintaining what my parents have built. Any hurricane could wipe us out and we wouldn’t have the resources to rebuild. I want to buy livestock and tools, and seeds, and paper and books.”

“I get that, Madi. I do.”

“I just want you to be sure about my intentions.”

“I know you mean well, I don’t need assurances for that.” He meets her gaze head on and holds it. “Can we just sit and enjoy the evening for once or does it always have to be life or death with us?”

She gives him a small smile and a slice of the fruit, which he takes and proceeds to drip all over himself.

“Come to think of it, you’ve always had a flair for the dramatic,” Madi remarks.

“Who? Me?” Silver acts offended.

“Yes, you. You have a feeling for what will make an impression on people and you’re not afraid to use it.”

“I have a feeling we both know someone way more dramatic than I’ve ever been.” He nods towards Flint, who is currently talking to Manu’s wife, face frozen in that polite expression that is neither a smile nor a frown.

“What’s the saying?” Madi waves her hand in the air. “Pot calling something else black?”

“Pot calling the kettle black.” Silver grins.

Madi eats the rest of the mango and sidles up to him, her shoulder pressing against Silver’s. The knuckles of his hand now brush against her thigh. There’s the familiar weight of responsibility settling on his shoulders, though it’s not crushing now, but rather reassuring. He feels Madi’s warmth against him and looks at Flint with their new crew, and it opens him up to a world of possibility.

Chapter Text

They stay at the beach for two days, which is as much as Madi haggled out of her mother for the purpose of making their sloop entirely sea-worthy. Together, they turn the orlop into comfortable cabins and crew quarters, using mostly flotsam and parts of the wrecks collected in the bay. If John and James wonder about the fates of their crews, they do not ask, and Madi does not breach the topic either. It’s a pleasure watching them work together with her people, even if it means hellishly hot days on the beach and carrying heavy pails of water from the creek for the workers to drink and wash themselves.

Fiba and Elami help with that and cooking, while Amma works alongside the men, nailing cots together and pulling planks onto the deck. Madi did not know her back when she was the Seagull, the Bane of Caribbe Islands, but she can definitely see her pirate provenance now: aboard, she moves deftly, confidently, and is as skilled in putting up rigging as James himself, which forces a kind of begrudging respect out of him.

John cannot do any of the heavy lifting, but there’s plenty of other work to go around, such as going over the supplies and making sure that everything is packed and secured in the cache on the beach. There isn’t enough stores to last the entire voyage, which means they will have to resupply as soon as possible, and the best and nearest port of call for that will be Santo Domingo. Despite holding a grudge for the Spaniards, the thought of calling at somewhere that isn’t their island makes Madi light-headed from excitement, to the degree that on the evening of the second day she follows John out of the camp with very specific intentions. She stalks him like a big cat in the jungle, silent and focused on her unsuspecting prey, and corners him near the creek. There’s a hitch in his breath when she takes his hand in the darkness. She can’t see his face, but feels the heat coming off of his body, the puffs of his breath on her cheek. When they kiss, it’s better than the first time they ever kissed, in her little hut before the war. It’s a revolution, it’s a revelation. His mouth tastes of lime they put in their grog, his hair smells like sea salt.

Upon her return, she stumbles into James at the edge of their camp. He is standing just outside the field of light cast by the torches, looking out into the darkness, evidently waiting for either or both of them to return. She’s still wiping her lips and rearranging her hair and probably looking a little wild-eyed, and one glance at her is enough for him to know what transpired by the creek. His pupils dilate and lips open slightly, eyes trailing up and down her body. She knows that look and would love nothing more than to push him down, hitch up her skirt and ride him hard, but there is no privacy in the camp, so they only exchange heated looks. Madi goes back to the tent she shares with Fiba and Amma, and lies in the stuffy darkness, having philosophical debates with her own self. She’s either utterly foolish or amazingly wise to want back the man that has hurt her so much, but then James also wants him, so they can’t both be wrong, can they?

In the morning, they push the sloop off the rolling pins and pull it into the bay. It’s terribly hard work and would probably not be finished without Manu’s oxen strength. When the ship hits the water, they all collapse on the shore, panting heavily. James is so red in the face Madi is afraid he has pulled something, but when she reaches for him, he waves her away. She can’t believe his former crew was able to careen ships four or five times this size.

“There’s one crucial element missing,” says John, slipping off the rock he directed them from. “Our sorry lot has managed to launch a ship without a name. Any ideas?”

Num,” says Amma immediately, sitting up in the shallow water. She’s wet from head to toe. “I know the custom is to give them female names, but this is no English ship.”

Num?” James repeats, scowling a little.

“It’s Mr Scott’s name.” John says before she can even open her mouth. “His proper first name.”

“All that time and it had never occured to me to ask for his first name.” James shakes his head and turns to look at her. “What do you think? Shall we commemorate him like that?”

“I think he would like that,” she replies, her throat a little tight, and they get out of the water while Aloysius and Kumi climb onboard to drop anchor so that Num does not sail out to sea. Her father did have a love of sailing that was constantly at war with his love for their island. It was particularly visible at those times when he needed to leave for Nassau: while he was hesitant to leave her and Mother, his face lit up at the sight of a ship on anchor.

They pack up and head back home. Finally so close to getting what she’s strived for, Madi feels oddly out of place. She needs an anchor, so that she’s not carried out by the currents herself, and she weaves her arm under Fiba’s elbow as they walk.

Their village is bustling with life when they arrive: there are children running and dogs barking, people repairing their traditional garments, bringing out drums, hanging out flowers for decoration, and a powerful smell of spice wafts from the direction of the kitchens.

Odwera!” Fiba slaps her forehead. “I completely forgot it starts today!”

“We were here for it the last time, right?” James stops in his tracks.

“The tail-end of it, yes. It lasts a week,” Madi explains, not bothering to hide what she thinks of such long holidays. At Fiba’s scandalised look, she adds: “But I might not enjoy it as much as others do. And we need time to remember our homeland. So it takes a week.”

“Do we set out afterwards?”

Madi hesitates with her answer for a second too long and James turns to her with an inquisitive look. The whole crew of the Num is now waiting for her decision, even Manu’s children have ceased their endless bickering and are looking up at her, though more cluelessly than the rest.

“Yes,” she says finally. “If the weather allows we set out after Odwera.”

“Then we have a plan.” James smiles and it’s such a rare look on him that Madi would like to take a moment to appreciate it, but there are already people seeking her out and she is whisked away to her duties before she can even nod.

There’s a flurry of pleasant excitement all over the village that is detectable even in the meeting with her mother.

“Do you still intend to go through with your plan?” she asks after they go through the details of the upcoming celebrations.

“Yes, I do. We will set out after the holidays.”

Mother nods. Her jaw is tight and she seems a lot older than the last time they met.

“I can tell you I am not going to stop you. I do not think it is wise--not unlike some of your other decisions…” Her eyes look right through Madi and she gulps. She knows, of course she knows, but then Madi is a grown woman and not ashamed of it. “However, I will support you, as you are my only daughter. We have brought you up to the best of our knowledge and ability and I do not think I should be second-guessing that. I would only ask that you own whatever comes out of this plan of yours, good or bad.”

“Of course I will. Thank you, Mother.”

She feels a pang of guilt for not telling her about Jamaica, but--that also falls under her responsibility and until they make any contact or need any resources, she intends to keep it under wraps. No need to put the council into a panic. It’s all a part of the future.

Mother takes a step forward, falling into shadow, becoming just a silhouette. She extends her arms and Madi steps into her embrace on a reflex.

“I just don’t want them to hurt you again,” Mother says, her headwrap pressing into Madi’s cheek.

“I know. And I can defend myself,” she replies, taken aback at the worry in her mother’s voice. It is true--she has leverage over both John and James, could hurt both of them if she had to. She hopes she never does.

She only needs to run something by Amma and the council, but by the time she gets to her cabin, it’s almost dinner time. Her skin is still dry and tight from ocean salt, arms and legs sore from pulling the sloop, and the cold water she brings in a pail from the lake is a relief. Then she pulls out her journal and lies on the bed to count the days like Mother taught her back when she was a girl. It was knowledge passed on from mother to daughter for generations in her family, or at least that’s what Mother told her. It was against the customs of their people, but you will never be self-standing if you do not have a say in your own fertility. Until that conversation, Madi used to wonder why she was an only child, but then a lot of things about her parents suddenly became clear.

She changes into a dark red skirt and a finely embroidered shirt with a low-cut neck, the one she’s always kept away for special occasions that aren’t really abound on their little island. James is already waiting for her at the stairs to her cabin, impeccably dressed himself. His gaze travels lazily all the way from her ankles to her face, and she feels slightly jealous about all the other people that got to enjoy his attention, as if it was a finite resource and she might have it suddenly run out.

John joins them on the way, hair freshly washed and combed, still smelling faintly of soap. He’s changed into a new grey shirt, undoubtedly procured by Amma from her chest of wonders, and, well, it’s all a far cry from the way he was brought here in rags, returned by miracle from the sea.

The drums are sounding already, but Madi ignores their insistence and leads the two of them leisurely down the walkway. They follow half a step behind her, at the same relaxed pace, and descend into the common area. The crowd parts visibly, opening a path to where her mother and the elders are standing, admonishing and admiring both at once. It feels like a pre-emptive triumph, and she looks defiantly ahead, daring anyone to speak out. No one does.

Then Odwera begins and there is a procession, appeals to the ancestors, toasts, drums beating out a frantic rhythm. It’s easy to get lost in it despite all the wishes and attempts to the contrary, especially when it gets dark and the music starts to feel tangible, rippling in the air and reverberating in the ground. She gets turned around at one point and loses John and James in the jiggling crowd, but forgoes looking for them. She’s hardly alone with these people, her family, her kin, and as she is going through the steps of the dance, she suddenly spots her father in the throng. He’s there one second and gone the next, of course, but she’s so startled she needs to take a moment. She pushes through the crowd, partly angry at herself for succumbing to the drums and partly relieved that she might be watched over after all, and stumbles right into Ato.

“Ah! Madi!” He is is bearing two cups in his hands and gives her one of them, liquid sloshing over the side. “I have a gift for you.”

“A gift?” She takes a sip from the cup and her eyes water from the strength of the drink.

Ato leans down to her, his breath smelling tellingly of spirits.

“Four French eight-pounder cannons, in a cache on the beach. You make good use of them.”

She looks up at him, astonished. Ato gives her a smile and staggers off with his drink, disappearing into the darkness outside the dining area. Madi takes another sip and it goes straight to her head, so she makes a beeline for the set tables, to offset the effects of rum with food. James is already there, wolfing down some stew, his red head seemingly ablaze in the glow of the torches.

She taps him playfully on his shoulder and he jumps in his seat.

“Madi.”

“Sorry.” She sits beside him and reaches for some bread. “Did not mean to startle you.”

“No worries. The drums have me a little unsettled.”

She thinks of the vision of her father in the crowd but doesn’t want to ask if he has seen anyone, because that would be lending it credibility, forgoing the reason she has dedicated herself to.

“I actually wanted to talk to you about something.” James sets the spoon aside and wipes his beard. “I think you should be the Captain of Num, not me. It’s your legacy after all.”

“But you’re the most skilled at captaincy.”

“Perhaps.” He raises one eyebrow in a self-deprecating look. “But it’s also a part of myself that I have left behind, like I told your mother at this very table. And I have no doubt that you will do brilliantly, too.”

She’s so startled by this admission that she’s not really able to process it right away. She’s always imagined James at the helm of the sloop and it’s difficult to shake it off.

“What are you going to do then, if not be the Captain?”

“Well, between your and Silver’s sailing knowledge, you will definitely need a skilled sea master.” He gives her a little smile. “And I happen to be a very good navigator.”

His eyes search her face for a reaction, and she realises she’s still looking at him with a dumbstruck expression.

“I--thank you, James. I will try to do my best. I’ve certainly learned from the best.” She slips a hand onto his thigh and his expression changes, grows darker, heavier, but they do not have a chance to see where it leads, because they are suddenly beset by Elami and Manu. They drag a meekly protesting James to the dance, and he sends her an exasperated look on the way.

She enjoys her meal thoroughly. Everything has the fresh, savoury quality of the storm season and she’s washing it down with James’ drink as John drops down next to her, his crutch knocking against the bench.

“Here you go.” He presents her with another cup of rum. He has this cheerful, careless air about him that makes her think that he’s been socialising. “Where’s Flint?”

“Out there.” She nods with her head in the direction of the dancing crowd.

John barks out a disbelieving laugh at the sight of James moving to the drums with single-minded focus on getting the steps exactly right. It makes her feel strangely pleased that he’s so serious about it. There’s warmth growing behind her ribs and spreading, bringing a blush to her cheeks, wicked thoughts to her mind.

“Never in my whole, miserable life I’d thought I’d see Flint dancing,” John says, eyes shining with mirth. He looks over at her and frowns. “What is it?”

She downs her drink and leans in close. John’s eyes follow her every movement, curious and apprehensive.

“I would like you to go over to James,” she says, lips close to his ear, “and tell him to come to my cabin. Shortly. And so should you, John Silver.”

John shivers bodily and turns his head. His hair tickles her cheek, breath ghosts across her mouth.

“I will get to that immediately, then.”

He disentangles from the table and hobbles over to where the crowd is jiggling to to the sound of music from their old homeland. She thinks, this is our home now as John seeks out James, grabs his elbow and whispers in his ear. It’s too dark to see his expression, but Madi can easily imagine it. She raises and walks away from the common area, covering the distance to her cabin with quick, sharp strides, her skirt twining between her legs.

Odwera is about shedding old sins and a new beginning, which seems quite fitting for what she has planned. She scales the stairs to her home and crosses the threshold, breathless and a little at a loss at what to do now. She spins around, moves to straighten the sheets on her bed and lights more candles, so that the interior is bathed in a soft glow. Then she takes her shoes off, which is one of those logical homecoming gestures, and sits at the table, but that strikes her as a weird position to entertain guests of that nature, so she chooses to stand, hands clasped together, face frozen in an expression that is not supposed to convey any anxiety, any hesitance, anything that could make them second guess this.

They take their time, but finally there’s the sound of footsteps on the walkway and John appears in the doorway, hair and eyes wild. James is following closely behind, red in the face, which makes her think that something happened on the way here.

“Come on in,” she says, brushing away any unbidden images of kisses in the dark.

They enter. James clears his throat and sets a pitcher on the table.

“Grog,” he says. There’s a stain on the side of his breeches where some of the contents of the pitcher must have spilled on the way.

Madi wants to say something, but deems it unnecessary and pulls her shirt right off, drops it to the ground. John gapes at her, while James catches on: he strips to the waist and moves towards her, but stops at a safe distance. His eyes flicker to hers, eyebrow raised in a silent question. Madi nods and tilts her head towards John, who has to yet recover his capacity to move or speak.

They move in sync, Madi approaching him from the front, and James from the back, effectively ambushing him. Madi grabs him by his shirtfront and John shivers. James’ arms are sliding around his waist, pulling his shirt from his trousers, as Madi leans in and kisses John, tender at first, then, feeling James’s hand skimming up and down John’s sides, hungrily, and John surrenders, sags against them, his back against James’s chest, his mouth open for Madi.

They divest John of his crutch and his clothes and tumble onto Madi’s bed, which creaks under their combined weight. John lets out a laugh that gets swallowed by James’ mouth as he presses John down with a hand on his shoulder. Madi kisses John’s neck, his chest, runs her tongue down the crease by his hip. He’s fully hard already and she takes him in hand, gives him a good, slow stroke, and John moans brokenly. It’s a pleasant sight, that hard cock, not just in itself, but also for the enticing opportunities it presents her with--and James, as his hand is sliding down John’s chest to join hers on John’s cock.

The drums beat out a rhythm in the distance. The crickets are attempting to compete.

Madi straightens slowly, drinking in the sight before her: two men at her beck and call, James’ hair escaping from its tie, John’s hand clamped on his shoulder convulsively. It occurs to her that there’s an item of business she needs to deal with before this goes any further, and that’s to kiss James senseless. She leans over John’s body and grabs James by the nape of his neck, a little roughly, because he likes it, and there it is: a hiss of breath between his teeth, his hot and wet, with a slight aftertaste of rum, his beard prickling her cheeks. When they break apart, she breathes deeply, scenting the air. There’s such a different quality to the way the two of them kiss, feel, even smell, she’d like to discover them anew, lay her claim and declare herself a conqueror, not the first to land, but willfully ignoring her predecessors.

John’s eyes are huge as medallions, his chest heaving. She glances at his leg--prone to spasms and cramps--but it’s relaxed, his thighs open, the sight distractingly arousing. There’s a roar in her ears as she straddles John, rubbing against his hipbone. Heat is gathering in her abdomen, obscuring her mind, narrowing the world to the bed, the bodies. James moves about, jostling her thigh with his knee as he gets behind her, his hands moving to her breasts and then down between her legs. John comes up like a spring at the sight, grabs her hips and latches to her neck with his lips and teeth. There are going to be bruises, but Madi will bear them like trophies, banners of victory. She went down to a dark place, the last time, and came out stronger for it, stranger too, maybe, her edges sharper, hands greedier, mind clearer.

Braced between the two of them, she slips onto John, momentarily lost in the sensation. John and James kiss filthily over her shoulder and she graciously lets them ignore her for a minute, spiralling into another kind of darkness. There’s rugged breathing and the slide of skin on skin, James’ calloused hand caressing her breast, fingertip rubbing the nipple. She shivers, the shudder rippling through her whole body, and John’s eyes roll back in his head. She lets him slip out of her and strokes him in her fist to completion, James’ bigger hand around hers.

John comes with a piercing, inmisteakably climactic shout that blends into a louder cheer coming from the celebrations. His face contorts in pleasure into the features of a younger, more careless man, and she watches with satisfaction, her hand sliding up his chest. He’s hot to the touch and shivering through his aftershocks, and she bows down to kiss him. It’s sloppy and wet and she loves every second of it.

There’s a thud as James collapses onto the mattress next to them. Madi opens her eyes to find John’s open too and she can swear they are both of the same mind: she slides off of John and they both pounce on James, who lets out a gruff laugh, but his arms open for both of them.

The drums beat out repentance outside while Madi is swept under by an inescapable, powerful current.

Chapter Text

The party--if one could even call it that--is over. There’s hardly any sound save for a few stragglers calling out in the distance, one of them seemingly having lost his shoe and attempting to find it, and the other insisting on going home sans the shoe. Their English is weirdly accented, but perfectly understandable in the sweltering Caribbean night.

He’s just lying there, listening to the drama outside unfold, when something comes over him: a freezing fist squeezes his insides, his skin breaks out in goosebump despite being pressed against bodies radiating heat and emitting sleeping sounds. He clenches his teeth, willing it over and away, but it persists. Washes over him, changes into heat, his blood pumping faster, and he exhales heatedly, convinced that anytime now he will wake the two of them up with the sheer force of his feeling.

He picks up Silver’s hand from its comfortable place on his hip and places it on Silver’s own thigh, then cautiously slides out from between him and Madi. Madi’s sleeping on her front, one hand under her cheek, the other clenching on the sheet where James has just been. He turns away, yanks a pair of breeches on and rushes outside, ostensibly to relieve himself, not to put distance between himself and this cabin.

He does piss--he’s had quite a lot to drink at the celebrations--and doesn’t turn on his heel and walk back to the warm bed awaiting him in Madi’s cabin, but rather starts off into the opposite direction. He’s reeling, fraying at the edges. As he passes the two idiots arguing about the shoe, they fall silent and gape at him as he rushes towards the welcoming darkness of the treeline. He ponders becoming a hermit, the lone crazy ginger man in the jungle, never returning, watching Madi and Silver’s beautiful dark-haired children from afar. Walking down to the beach in the dark, getting on the sloop, sailing away. Going back to Nassau, giving everyone a fright, rebuilding his old house and hoping they’d never come to hang him.

He walks into the forest that is brimming with nightlife. Fruit bats flutter and click in the canopies. A moth smashes into his face and he waves it away, stops under a palm tree, braces both hands against its coarse trunk. He has no idea what has come over him. He has enjoyed himself tonight, shamelessly so, and his--his partners were emboldened too, by the drink, the mood of the night. He had Madi and then he had Silver--for the first time ever, after Silver suggested it, wanted it, asked for it--one of Silver’s legs thrown over his shoulder, the other held up gently by the knee. Madi ground herself against Silver’s face, muffling the sounds he made, and that was probably the only reason James lasted as long as he did. His climax was sudden and hard, wrecking him, draining, sending into oblivion: a little death, exactly what the French called it. When he came to, he was the only one awake and he just lay there, looking at the roofing, swatting away mosquitoes, listening to the sounds of the celebrations. Now, here he is, half-naked, communing with a tree in the middle of the night.

It’s terror, he realises with a full-body shiver. He almost sees people walking Madi out of her cabin, her mother ordering her wherever they send unruly Maroon princesses around here. Musi fisting his huge hand in Silver’s hair and dragging him to the cage, the thief, the liar, the trickster that he is, having fooled the Maroons twice, shamed them again. Himself, finally, cast out like they had cast him out of England. All the roles in this play have already been assigned, maybe even before they took any steps towards Madi’s bed.

He breathes deeply, trying to force himself into reason and away from the bone-deep fear. It’s quite a feat when there’s such a horrible precedence to it and the anticipation of a repeat is launching him into the Captain Flint approach to problems: acquire allies and resources, identify and eliminate the biggest threats, reach deep into his capacity to become intimidating and prone to violence. It all comes back to him with terrifying ease--rage prickling at the corners of his mind, blood coursing hot through his veins--and he has to grit his teeth, actively pushing it away with memories of Thomas withdrawing with fear and repulsion, of Silver drawing the gun on him, Madi looking down at him with pity and annoyance.

He hunches down, head between his shoulders. If only it were as easy as declaring that Flint could be destroyed somehow, or unmade, erased from reality, but it’s not; he can pretend to entertain the notions Silver has about that, but deep down he knows Flint has always been with him and will probably never leave. He’s almost fucking fifty, and he hasn’t changed one bit since back when he broke a boy’s arm in a fit of rage at twelve.

There’s a chirping sound above him. He looks up and sees two eerie, shining eyes in a creepily human face. He stares at them. The eyes blink and so does he, stunned. As he gets used to the darkness, he notices the crest of light fur around the tiny human’s head and its hunched position on the branch. It’s a monkey, of course, and it has given him quite a ridiculous fright.

He takes a step back and opens his arms in an instinctive gesture of peace. The monkey chirps at him again, this time as if in warning, so he just shrugs and turns back, looking at the sparse lights of the village through the leaves. What a fool he’s been to run out like this, leave that warm bed behind, those two lovely, young people who by some miracle have decided to take him in. He takes a breath and walks back, as if the brief encounter with the monkey has put everything in perspective. There’s still some turmoil, but he has a handle on it, and his stride is now even and relaxed, his feet patting softly on moist, yielding ground.

There are two huddled silhouettes on the porch of Madi’s hut: the first one, akin to a ghost in a white dress, on closer inspection turns out to be John Silver in James’ white shirt. The other, bulkier one, becomes Madi wrapped in a blanket.

“Where could he go?” he hears John ask as he walks into the reach of the torch, narrowing his eyes against the light. John’s voice goes up in pitch as he does. “James?”

“I had to relieve myself,” he says, his voice almost steady. He doesn’t think Silver has ever called him James before and it has a nice ring to it. “Why are you up?”

“You vanished in the middle of the night and had us worried,” Madi replies. There’s a wrinkle between her brows. “Are you all right?”

He comes to a halt in front of the steps and looks at the two of them. Madi is fully awake, piercing him with her eyes. The corners of the blanket she has thrown over herself part alluringly at the point where her thighs touch. Silver is bleary-eyed and tousled, stubble dark on his jaw and chin.

James nods and walks up to them. It doesn’t feel like walking up shoddy stairs to a wooden cabin, but like something a lot grander and more serious; it’s just that he doesn’t have a good simile at hand.

Silver extends his arm and claps him on the shoulder.

“Come on, old man. Let’s get you back to bed.”

They lie down, Silver in the middle this time, his chest to Madi and back to James. As he inhales the earthy smell of Silver’s hair, the vision of Musi and all the Queen’s men slowly fades, but doesn’t disappear entirely. If need be, Flint would rise from the dead and rain holy fire on those who oppose them.

They set out to sea a week after that. It’s not supposed to be a big affair, but the family and friends of the crew throw a small goodbye party, and a lot of people come, because the news has spread: there’s a lot of hope, an abundance of high expectations as well as some bitterness from those who are already setting them up for failure. Mr Bowles, who unsurprisingly did not make crew, has also come, mostly to loom threateningly over Silver. James notices them from the corner of his eye and pushes through the crowd, his best intimidating glare already fixed on Bowles, but Silver raises to his entire unimpressive height and says something to Mr Bowles that makes him turn on his heel and retreat.

The weather is good, no sign of clouds, but that doesn’t mean that the last storm of the season is not hiding somewhere over the horizon. James leans against the railing, inhaling the scent of the sea with a satisfied sigh. The island is decreasing in size as the sloop gains speed, but if he narrows his eyes, he can still make out a lone figure on the beach, in a long white skirt and high headwrap.

Their crew has been joined by four young men and boys eager to learn the craft. Amma, the boatswain, is ordering them around on the main deck. Madi is on the quarterdeck, the wind pulling at her hair and the sleeves of her shirt as she looks around. He keeps an eye on her but doesn’t approach her; she’ll make it on her own, he’s as certain of it as the deck beneath his feet.

Tap-thud, tap-thud. Silver stops by his elbow, hair tied back, only one lock of it falling across his cheek.

“Don’t you miss being the one on that quarterdeck?” He asks, his shoulder bumping lightly against James’. His eyes are strikingly blue against the backdrop of the sea.

“Not at all,” James says smugly. “I did not enjoy keeping an eye on literally everything, because you never know when it might all go to hell. Navigation is something I actually enjoy.”

“Just when I thought I knew you.” Silver scoffs. “You’ve always seemed so indefeasibly right for being a Captain. I had to fight and struggle for my role on the crew, while you just assumed yours so easily… Like shrugging on that black Spanish coat. I’ll probably never forget how you looked when you first walked out your cabin after regaining your Captaincy--”

He cuts off with a sharp intake of breath, as if he’s just realised he shared too much. James stares at him, probably way too obviously, but he’s unbelievably hungry for Silver’s thoughts and impressions, especially for the grand, uncanny reflection of himself in Silver’s eyes. He wants to fill himself with knowledge about Silver too, tries to absorb it bodily somehow when they sleep or sit together, legs pressed closely, or divine it from the way he does his hair, the slips in his accent, the expletives he murmurs when he cuts his finger, words and names he exclaims in his sleep. So far, he’s only figured out that he might be a Spanish Jew. Madi, of course, is of no help in this matter and it doesn’t seem to fascinate her nearly as much as it does him. On long, boring night watches, he fantasizes about asking Silver about his past, but even in his own mind it always goes the way it went that time on the cliffs: Silver doesn’t want to shed his cloak of mystery and he will likely never will, for either of them.

One day, after the evening watch, he enters the Captain’s cabin to find Silver already there. He’s sitting on the desk, hands clasped between his knees, and looks up when he hears the door close. He’s let his beard grow again, but it’s neater now, trimmed into a goatee, and the moustache is twisted up at the ends, which plays well into the theory of his Spanish provenance. The setting sun hits the gold earrings in his ears just right, giving them an orange shine. James is violently launched back more than two years into the past as delight, sentiment and lust all coil within him at once.

Silver’s lips part. One look at James and he’s shucking his shirt off. James crosses the distance in about two strides, stops in between his legs and does what he can to immortalize that sight: grasps with his hands, drinks in with his eyes, maps out with his mouth. Silver sighs and writhes in his arms, hooking his legs around James’ waist, digging his fingers into his scalp. Eventually, he attempts to tug him forwards and onto the table and James extends one of his arms blindly to swipe everything off of it, but then his eyes land on the inkpot, the maps and Madi’s journal, and he freezes. Silver blinks at him curiously and laughs.

“Shut up,” James grumbles, picking him up bodily from the edge of the desk. Silver yelps and wraps his arms around his neck. “My knees would not forgive me for that anyway.”

He carries him to the cot and sits there without dislodging Silver from his lap. Strips him bare, unties his hair, sucks a bruising kiss into the side of his neck. Silver is daring and blunt with him today, let me ride you this time, he says into James’ ear, and finds purchase at the edge of the shelf above the cot. James might as well sit back and enjoy himself, as Silver does almost all the work, moving on him with single-minded intensity, lifting and lowering himself on his arms, but he presses close, hands tracking over Silver’s flexing back. They’re both sweaty and panting in the gathering dark, the ship rocking below them on the waves, creaking here and there, seagulls squawking in the distance. There’s a small, wistful part of James that does not let him fall headfirst into this, that keeps him aware that they’ll never have exactly this again, so he’d better make the best of it. And he does: he feels Silver stealing more from him, other things than his gold and his power, and he gives freely.

They have some regard for the crew, so he smacks a hand over Silver’s lips in crucial moments and bites into Silver’s shoulder to silence himself. Afterwards, they collapse onto the cot side by side, panting like animals, and James needs just a minute’s rest after what transpired, since he’s not thirty anymore, and all of a sudden it’s completely dark and Madi’s is in the cabin.

“There you are,” she says, shining a lantern into their faces. “Amma has been whistling for the seamaster, but he was nowhere to be found. She wanted to come down here herself, but I discouraged her from that. Fortunately.”

“Damn it.” James swings his legs over the side and pulls up his breeches. “I completely lost track of time.”

Madi sets the lantern on the desk and looks at them with her hands on her hips, equal parts fond and exasperated.

“Sorry, Captain.” Silver stretches and yawns. “I’m afraid it’s entirely my fault.”

It takes a second for James to register that Silver’s addressing her and not him. Madi uses that time to step closer to him and drag him down for a kiss that leaves him breathless.

“Go ahead.” She hands him his coat and pats him on the shoulder. “I’ll hold down the fort.”

She’s undressing already as he leaves, closing the door behind him. He’s slightly annoyed with himself for being so easily distracted by the promises of bodies, the anticipation of closeness. It was one of the reasons why it was such a terrible idea to carry on with Silver back in the war. There were other reasons, he’s sure, but suddenly not able to remember what exactly.

Amma sends him a knowing look when he arrives on the quarterdeck, but doesn’t say anything. The crew probably knows--it’s difficult not to in such small quarters--but Madi has been right about her prerogatives: nobody questions the two of them coming and going from the captain’s cabin, and the whispering behind their backs is not ill-willed, but rather curious and amazed. James is slightly awed himself at the turn of events that brought him here from that shithole in Saint Augustine where he had been convinced his life would end.

They make port in Santo Domingo on schedule. The city is a white-and-orange vision among the green hills of Hispaniola, the Ozama river winding around it like a glimmering band. The spires of churches shoot up into the bright blue sky, bringing awed sighs out of the lungs of young Maroons who haven’t seen colonial cities yet. James, as weary and jaded as he is, emits a little sigh himself at the familiarity of the sight.

They are admitted entrance to the harbour and James carefully steers the sloop into the narrow passage. The port is bustling with activity, with most of the ships flying Spanish colours, some French, other English and Dutch. As they’re casting anchor, Madi approaches him with a roll of papers in her hand.

“These are the documents I’ve mentioned,” she says, handing them to James. It’s the title of the ship and its sailing itinerary as well as receipts for the cargo they were carrying. He recognizes the handiwork of Mr O’Brien immediately.

“These were forged in Nassau,” he remarks, browsing them. The last receipt is different, probably forged more recently, maybe by Madi herself. “How did you get them?”

“From Max. We supply her fencing enterprise,” Madi says, like it’s so obvious that she’s working with someone who has dismantled their plan for Nassau and is thriving there in their stead. “We have a few sets of these. How do you think the Kumasi can call anywhere?”

“Fair enough. And are you okay with me taking over?”

She shrugs. He can read annoyance in the lines around her mouth.

“I’d rather we did it another way, but that would not be smart. Let’s go, then.”

They crowd onto the launch, him, Madi, Silver, Aloysius, Kumi and Amma. The rest of the crew peers curiously over the railing as James and Kumi row towards the quays. The sun beats down on them relentlessly and James feels himself get even more sunburnt than he already is. He is the most fair-skinned from their bunch, though Aloysius is a close second with his pale Irish looks. Silver, usually tanned golden, has been getting progressively more brown these past weeks. He’s sitting opposite of James in the boat, catching his eyes from time to time, which feels a lot more intimate than anything in a rowboat full of people should.

They dock at the farthermost quay. James helps Madi and Silver onto the jetty and ties down the boat as the rest get out. It’s the middle of the day and the quays are crowded with sailors, porters and merchants milling about. There are quite a few privateers in their midst; James can spot them a mile away, from their stances, the sabres they are carrying, the pistols hooked behind their belts. They remind him so much of Woodes Rogers that he feels himself grow a little hot under the collar and reach instinctively for a sword, but his fist clenches and releases on empty air.

They seek out the surveyor, which is no easy feat in at this time of the day. He’s a short, stocky Spaniard with a twisted, greasy moustache, and he ignores James the first two times he attempts to get his attention, and when he finally turns to them, it’s to glare with blatant suspicion. The papers state they are the crew of Mr Wallingham, a cloth merchant from St. Kitts, on route to Bridge Town on Barbados, but James is aware they look anything but.

Si, bien. Todo está bien.” The Spaniard clucks with discontent at their papers apparently checking out. Then he glances at Madi, who meets his gaze calmly and head on. “And the Negroes?”

“They are freemen, employed on our crew,” James grits out in Spanish. Out of the corner of his eye, his sees something dark pass across Aloysius’ face. “Is there a problem?”

It would, of course, be easier to just say they are slaves, but he doesn’t even consider it a valid option in this company. The surveyor, meanwhile, sends James that knowing, cunning look that has him reaching for his purse.

“Our customs,” he says, straining to sound polite. “And some extra.”

“Thank you, kind sir.” The surveyor pockets the money without another glance at the papers. “Enjoy your stay in Santo Domingo.”

James looks over at Madi to see if she agrees with this resolution and she nods at him. They bid the surveyor goodbye and hurry to leave the quay behind.

“Is this how it usually goes for you?” James asks as Madi catches up with him. She’s dressed in trousers, but she’s left her gunbelt behind this time. The sun catches on the beads in her hair, and he registers a fleeting impression that Miranda would like her very much.

“It goes differently each time,” she says, chin and eyes up. “I have different approaches, too. I kill them with kindness or I intimidate them.”

“How does that work out for you?” he asks wryly.

“I’ve learned from the best.” Madi’s eyes flash dangerously. “There are, however, places we do not call at anymore. Now, for the supplies and trading… We should split up, don’t you think?”

“Agreed.”

He stops and waves the rest over. They huddle on the boulevard, under palm trees swaying on warm wind. Madi reaches for her belt and pulls up a clinking purse much heavier than James’, drawing everyone’s eyes straight to it.

“Let’s split our funds and try to peddle the cloth. We do not need it, and we could get a good price for it here. This is mostly your share, James, so that you are aware.”

James nods. Silver tilts his head curiously.

“You have money?” He asks, when they drift away from the other group, comprised of Kumi, Aloysius and Amma. Madi is walking in front of them, leading them through the crowd towards the marketplace.

“Of course I have money.” James makes a face at him. “You haven’t put any away?”

“N-no? I’ve never thought to.”

“God, you’re such a piss-poor pirate.”

“Hey!” Silver exclaims, and it’s just the side of too loud, as heads are now turning into their direction, and Madi sends them a chiding look over her shoulder. “You know why I’ve given away my share,” he adds, ducking his head low.

“I know,” James says, looking around to get his bearings--he doesn’t know Santo Domingo that well--when all of a sudden he walks into Madi’s back.

She’s stopped at a busy crossing, letting a group of Spanish men pass in front of their little group. They look tough, a little shabbier than royal privateers, but better than porters or sailors from merchant ships. One of them stops mid-stride, looking intently over Madi’s shoulder, and James bristles instantly at the thought of being recognized, but the Spaniard is not looking at him at all. He’s staring at Silver.

“Señor Diego Silva,” he says, raising a hand to draw the attention of the other men. “I thought I recognized your voice. And I am certain I recognize your gait.”

He looks pointedly at Silver’s missing foot and James feels familiar heat rising in his chest and cheeks. He sizes up the man, hands inadvertently flexing into loose fists: the Spaniard is his height, lanky, with black hair pulled tight in a queue and an annoying, wispy moustache.

“Señor Gutierrez,” Silver pipes up, pushing forward. “What a surprise to meet you here. Is Havana not up to your taste anymore?”

“Not that much, no.” Gutierrez turns fully to the three of them but he has yet to acknowledge either James or Madi. “Not since my brother went missing at sea. With you onboard, said to be able to lead men to great treasure.”

Silver opens his mouth and closes it. James can pinpoint the exact moment his mind switches into survival mode, as John is snuffed out and whoever is necessary takes his place. It is somewhat impressive.

“I am afraid your poor brother perished at sea,” he says, his face scrunched up in concern. “We ran into a terrible storm coming up to the Caicos, and I am its only survivor, unlikely as that might sound.”

“That does sound unlikely,” Gutierrez agrees. His companions have flanked him and together with the three of them they form an immovable island in the stream of people traversing the marketplace. “Just as much as the other things you have been filling my brother and other men’s heads with. You see, I am smarter than Antonio, and I have put the pieces together.”

Madi looks back at James, alarmed. Her Spanish is not very good, but it must be enough to catch the drift of the conversation, and that drift is not very promising. He moves forward, putting himself between her and the Spaniards. There’s five of them, all armed, but they would not risk an altercation in middle of the street--

“Oh, you mean my stories?” Silver smiles charmingly, but James can hear the edge in his voice. “You know you can’t put stock in everything sailors say, and that’s the case with my sea stories too, I’m afraid--”

“Stop with the lies,” Gutierrez says, suddenly switching into heavily accented English. “Long John Silver. You murdered my brother and kept the treasure for yourself. If I can’t have my brother back… I’ll have the treasure.”

Chapter Text

Fuck, Silver thinks, while the expression on his face slides from polite concern into benign confusion. Fucking Armand Gutierrez, once too good to be associating with sailors and the lot, now in their midst in fucking Santo Domingo, just standing there with one hand on his cocked hip and the other on the hilt of an ornate broadsword.

“Who?” Silver asks in Spanish. For reasons he’d rather not dwell on, playing dumb has always come easy to him. “I’m Diego Silveira. Carlos’ cook. These good people here have saved me from the waves in that God-awful storm, but Antonio… He did not make it. I’m sorry, Armand.”

“You don’t get to be sorry.” Gutierrez narrows his eyes at him. With his lackeys, he’s mostly blocked the movement in the alley, and they’re getting more and more looks from the locals. “My brother, God rest his soul, has always been a little dumb. I should not have put it past him to believe the half-cooked stories of a washed up, crippled pirate… But he was also foolish enough to take the money our grandmother left him, and put it towards buying a ship that you, my man, wrecked.”

At wrecked he extends his hand and jabs his forefinger right into Silver’s chest. He wears his nails long and the jab smarts a little.

There’s an angry huff next to him as Flint takes a step forward, effectively putting himself between them.

“I am not quite certain what you’re accusing my friend of,” Flint grits out in English, “but I’d rather you stopped and let us continue with our day, and we can forget that this ever happened, Señor Gutierrez.”

Silver freezes, inwardly cursing Flint to hell and back. If Armand puts two and two together, which he’s bound to, what with being the smarter brother, he’s going to recognize Flint in a second; everything about him, from the mane of red hair and the snarl on his face to the all-around threatening air he is giving off screams Captain Flint to Silver.

Apparently it doesn’t to Gutierrez, who scoffs and casts an unimpressed glance at him, and for just a moment Silver looks at him with an outsider’s eyes: a greying, sunburnt, angry man in nondescript clothing, making empty threats with empty hands.

“Better keep your friend in line, Señor Silver.” He sidesteps Flint and jabs Silver again, and Silver’s becoming really tired of it. “Because if you don’t, I will have to report you to the Governor and Captain-General, Brigadier Fernando Costanzo. And I’ll have you know that Spain is still looking for the one-third of her lost fortune in gold, and they would be very glad to hear that the thieves are right here on Hispaniola, under the banner of the Spanish Kingdom.”

It seems that Armand too believes the claims of a crippled, washed up pirate, if he’s showed up here for the gold. His face splits into an unpleasant smile as he looks into their faces to soak up the effect his words have, but Silver denies him the satisfaction, and so do Flint and Madi. They stand with their arms crossed and faces stony, eerily similar in stance and countenance.

The incident is beginning to attract the attention of bystanders; the nearby fishmonger is gaping at them openly, his customers have forgotten their salted fish and are taking in the scene in front of them with wide eyes and open mouths. It doesn’t help that they’re basically in the middle of the street.

“If it was only within my power to help the Kingdom, I would not hesitate.” Silver spreads his arms in a gesture of unfortunate helplessness. “Regrettably, my only participation in the matter of the Spanish fortune is that of a storyteller. Sure, the real gold is probably buried out there somewhere, but I tend to tell stories to--”

“Don’t you test my patience, Long John Silver.” Armand extends his hand, probably to jab him again, but changes his mind at the last minute, and just flecks dust off of his coat. “You will lead us to the gold, or we will have you hanged in a matter of days. I don’t think the former Pirate King of Nassau is going to be very popular with the Captain-General.”

“It was just a ruse your brother unwisely believed,” he says, letting a note of resignation creep into his voice. “Not very honourable of me, but I needed to get out of Havana--”

“I don’t believe any of that horseshit,” Gutierrez snaps. “You’re telling me you’re here with your companions and slaves just to enjoy this colonial shithole? Really? You’ve forsaken my brother and his ship for it, and now you’re stacking up for a voyage to get that treasure!”

Time for a reality check: there’s five armed people against the three of them. Even Flint couldn’t take on this many at the same time, unarmed; Silver had, admittedly, once sent six men after him and Flint dispatched all of them, but back then--there--on the island he had the element of surprise and the terrain on his side. Here, they’re facing off in an alley. Any kind of violence would have the militia show up, and they would not take kindly to an Englishman beating up Spaniards in the middle of the market. Other options, then: they could cause a commotion and try to run, but it would draw a lot of attention of the unwanted kind, and Silver knew what Spain did to those it found unwelcome. He’s already tried lying and Flint’s already tried intimidation; Madi has kept silent and watchful, probably waiting for the moment to strike. It makes him shiver with anger and trepidation that Gutierrez thought her a slave, that he might actually hold the power to make her that.

John swallows, pushing back the influx of those ancient, unwelcome memories of Spain’s cruelty, and wills his mind to consider the only outcome left: the unlikely one, the one he would not even entertain once, but which seems inevitable now.

“You’re coming with us,” Gutierrez says smugly, and he nods. Madi frowns.

“What?” Flint barks.

“I will show you the way to the treasure,” Silver says, words rolling off his tongue with frightening ease. “I am sure we can work out an arrangement about the division of it, or any other fees.”

“Now wait a minute--” Flint puts his hand up, and Madi steps to the side in an unmistakable fighting stance.

“Arrangement,” Gutierrez scoffs. “Let’s not waste any more time on this drivel. We’re going!”

One of Armand’s lackeys surges forward, but someone else grabs Silver first. It’s Flint, crushing Silver to himself, his lips to Silver’s ear.

“St Kitts,” he whispers urgently and Silver wants to tell him to just go, leave before they string both of them up, but he has no time for anything but a panicked breath; the Spaniard grabs his arm and pulls, and he has to step away in order not to lose his balance. Flint’s hands ball into fists, his face changes terribly, but he’s rooted to the spot. Madi is holding him by the elbow, her expression grave.

“You two,” Armand points at two of his men. “You keep an eye on the pirate’s amigos. Make sure they don’t leave Santo Domingo. If they behave, Long John Silver, they’ll still be here when we’re back with the gold.”

It’s not gold, not exactly, but Silver doesn’t correct him. He’s facing far bigger problems. One, he doesn’t know where Skeleton Island actually is. Somewhere on the Atlantic, yes, outside the sickle of Caribbe Islands, but the last time he was there, he depended entirely on his navigators. Two, he has no fucking idea where Flint buried the cache: he simply never asked and Flint never told. Curiously, the thought of asking has resurfaced most often when they were fucking, which showcases the scary ways in which his mind works.

Gutierrez’s men lead him away. When he throws a panicked look over his shoulder, Madi and Flint are still standing at the crossing, following him with their eyes. He feels bile rise in his throat. If he even gets Gutierrez to the island, past the wrecks of ships, the cloying mists, what then? Is he going to lead the Spaniards in circles until Madi and Flint arrive? And what if they don’t, what if they quit on him, the whole project of taming and civilising him that has been going on until now--

He’s so distressed at that thought he exhales a loud, shaking breath, that has the Spaniard at his side laugh out in derision.

“Walked right into that one,” he says, jostling Silver with his elbow. “That is some luck, Captain!”

“It wasn’t luck entirely,” Armand says in his annoying, Asturian accent that has Silver refocus on his current unfortunate situation.

If it wasn’t luck, finding them here, then what was it? Nobody could know the itinerary of Num, since it hasn’t existed until a month ago. Was Santo Domingo on Ana Lucia’s itinerary? It couldn’t have, otherwise he would have dissuaded Madi from calling at this port, but he does not remember Ana Lucia’s ports of call exactly, nor a lot of other things about the voyage onboard of that ship, as if the blow to the head he received during the storm erased them from his memory. He might have misremembered, or just missed that, and landed them in this predicament.

They lead him through the trading district back towards the quays. All around them, life goes on as usual, errand boys and street urchins are rushing down the alleys, women are hanging out the washing, soldiers playing dice in a tavern. They don’t even spare them a glance, oblivious that Long John Silver is being marched down to the harbour, haunted once again by the ghost of the Urca de Lima cache, and for a moment Silver envies them their simple lives, even if they’re living them out under the Spanish rule.

“Have you been staying here long?” he asks Gutierrez in Spanish.

“In Santo Domingo? A few days,” he answers, seemingly startled by Silver’s question. Then something comes over his face and it’s once again off-putting. “You were agreeable enough to show up conveniently fast.”

“You just stumbled upon me by accident?”

Gutierrez ignores the question. He casts another look at John’s missing leg, which pulses faintly, as if offended.

“You make for quite a memorable persona, John Silver.”

“Glad to be of service.”

“I hope you will be. I’ll have you know I did not joke about going straight to the Governor’s office about you and your companions, so you’d better keep in line.”

“How can I know you haven’t alerted the Governor already?” Silver asks conversationally.

Armand throws him a contemptuous look.

“You can’t know that, I’m afraid.”

You’re bullshitting me, you dick, Silver thinks. Somehow he’s still taking Silver to the island himself, and not letting him rot a few days in a cell first and then cough up this information to the Captain-General, Brigadier Fernando Costanzo. He’s intent on recovering it himself for some reason.

St. Kitts, Flint whispered in his ear. It was one of the little islands to the west from Hispaniola, at the edge of the West Indies. Halfway to Skeleton Island, if he remembered correctly--and Flint no doubt wanted them to go through there.

They march him down the quay and force onto a launch. He pretends to be a lot more unsteady on his one leg and crutch than he is in reality, even though it earns him a few cruel remarks from the men accompanying Gutierrez.

In the distance, he can see the proud mast of Num. The weather deck is not visible from this position, so there’s probably no one there who could have a visual of him being rowed away from their ship and crew, and even if they were, Silver doubts they would be able to stage an escape at this point.

Before him, a little ways from the riverbank, there’s a schooner flying the Spanish banner. It looks very new--straight from the shipyard, the figurehead still painted in vivid colours. La Serendipia, reads on its starboard. It is no Ana Lucia, bought by a single foolish man’s inheritance, no, this ship speaks of a larger endeavour. It means that someone--maybe even the Governor of Cuba--put enough store in Gutierrez’s story to award him a ship and at least two-score men. Not enough to send Spanish regulars or Navy ships, but sufficient to hire privateers in their stead.

Armand parades him onboard, then walks him to the captain’s cabin and sits him down opposite a great desk. Silver looks around and smiles.

“Anything funny, Mr Silver?” Armand asks in English.

“Believe me or not, but I’ve been in these circumstances before,” he says, smoothing down the arms of the chair with his palms. “You will probably have me recount the course to the island now, won’t you?”

“Do you have a problem with that?” Armand asks slowly, supposedly to intimidate him, but it’s a weak effort even without Flint around to compare the glower to.

“Of course not. I’d rather not disclose the location of the island at once, though, and I believe you understand why I’d take up that precaution.”

“We still need you on the island, to pinpoint the location of the treasure itself,” Armand says, switching to Spanish, pen already inked. “So what does it matter if you let me plot the whole course or just the half of it?”

Silver launches into a long and elaborate explanation why it’s easier to plot the course from St. Kitts, mostly repeating phrases and tidbits of information about the winds that he’s heard from Mr Featherstone and Flint back in the day. Armand attempts to taunt him into discerning the location of the island, but Silver doesn’t budge, so Gutierrez finally gives up with a heaving sigh and plots a course to St. Kitts. All the while Silver sits in the chair under the watchful eyes of two of Armand’s men, and tries to focus on his current situation and not think about how a similar situation on a Spanish ship ended for him and his appendages.

Armand finishes the calculations, calls in the bosun and tells him to get them underway. Silver watches him go about those duties--he’s about Silver’s age and probably could be described as handsome once he got rid of that stupid moustache. He’s dressed in breeches and a jacket of black leather, not unlike the ensemble that Silver once won off of his brother back in Havana.

“So.” Armand leans back in the chair and steeples his hands together. “Now for the somewhat less pressing questions. Who are you, Diego Silveira?”

It is so reflexive now to say I am no one, from nowhere, because he is, especially to the Spanish, but it doesn’t exactly strike true anymore.

“I am John Silver,” he says instead. “From the West Indies.”

“That’s your English alias, for the English pirates.” Armand frowns. “Who are you really?”

“John Silver. You had that right. I am him.”

Armand casts a disbelieving look at him. John can see himself in the reflection in the windows behind Armand: he’s no longer the wild-haired snarling pirate, but he could become him at a snap of his fingers, it’s just that Gutierrez is too short-sighted to realise that.

“Why did you lure in my brother? I know it was to reclaim the gold, but why him?”

“I didn’t single him out.” Looking at Armand’s fallen face, he does feel a pang of conscience. “He just was the first to catch the hook. It could have been anyone else, and then we would not be sitting here.”

Armand nods slowly, his fingers flexing on the pen. He looks like someone just about to jump across the desk and punch Silver in the face, and there’s nothing stopping him, really.

“How did he die?” he asks and Silver recognizes the tone. This is someone deliberately hurting themselves, attempting to issue some kind of self-prescribed punishment. Silver is just a convenient tool in this pitiful process.

“Like I’ve told you. In the first big storm of the storm season. It came upon us quite suddenly, and Antonio was sure we could outrun it.”

He hasn’t even put any bile into his words, but Armand seems to grasp the implication anyway. He watches Silver with huge, dark eyes, equal parts hateful and miserable, and Silver decides to strike.

“What are you going to do with the treasure?”

“What do you mean, what?” Armand’s face contorts into the obnoxious scowl of their former conversation.

“Is it too soon to talk about divvying it up?”

“There will be no divvying done, certainly not for you,” Armando hisses, getting up from behind the desk. Silver straightens in his chair. “Cortez! Take him down. Bolt the door.”

Silver calmly meets his eyes over the desk, and that is what finally pushes Armand over the edge: he springs up from his chair and backhands Silver. Silver can see it coming, but he’s seated, so it’s not really possible to dodge it. His head whips back with the force of the blow. It stings, but not nearly as much as he expected it would.

Armand takes a step back, as if expecting retribution, but Silver just throws him a look designed to express just how contemptible he finds people that hit prisoners.

“You will tell me what I need to know,” Armand snarls. “If not for me, then for my poor, stupid brother.”

The man named Cortez grabs him roughly by the arm and takes him down to the hold. He’s pushed into a dark space filled mostly with sails and ropes, which he knows from experience is the luxury cabin of hold compartments. He roots around it, looking for anything useful, and eventually makes himself a lair of sail canvas, strips his off his jacket and lies down on it with his hands laced behind his head.

The ship creaks and bounces on the waves as it sets off, and he does his disappearing act: lets his body sink into the canvas, his mind wander. The immediate threat to his survival dismissed for the moment so he drifts back to the the topics his mind dwells onto most often. Imagine Madi: her hair heavy and glistening from the oils she’s rubbed into it. She took pity on bloody, dirty him, back in the day, and took him to the cabin by the lake where the Maroons practiced their beauty and health treatments, and acquainted him with them. It felt very intimate despite the fact that they were fully dressed and touching no more than necessary, maybe because the cabin reminded him of the ritual bath of his childhood, maybe because it was so superfluous to the relationship they had back then. He hasn’t even yet started to figure out what it all meant, her hand on his shoulder, the clarity of her gaze when it landed on him, the shadow of her clavicle visible over her neckline. She cornered him a few weeks later at the lakeshore and took him by the hand, led him to her bed. Her skin was silken and fragrant with coconut oil.

And Flint, their mouths slotting together perfectly just outside Silver’s cabin, not even a week ago. He clutched at Flint’s shoulder when he heard someone walk by, and they froze, pressed against each other in the dark, breathing surreptitiously, and then Flint surged back against him, erasing all thought and reason from Silver’s mind. It’s difficult to describe in words, this intensity with which he regards and handles Silver, and which only seems to match his propensity for violence, as if he’s pouring it out the same amazing, terrifying, bottomless source. Silver still can’t comprehend how in the time they were apart Flint was with someone else, and not only that: that Flint has also left someone, or rather that someone has left him. He’s frustrated with Lord Hamilton’s figure not only out of jealousy, but also incomprehension: he returned James to Thomas Hamilton, but it has misfired completely.

La Serendipia tacks west, towards St Kitts and Nevis. Silver is let out of the compartment sometime in the evening, to eat a few biscuits and listen to Gutierrez rant about the foolishness of his brother on the weatherdeck. He glances stealthily astern, but there is no sign of lanterns on the horizon, so the Num is either pursuing dark… or not at all.

“You know, I thought you’d be taller,” Armand remarks, leaning on the railing. He does have a few inches on Silver.

“Then I would perhaps be called Tall John Silver.” Silver can’t help himself. “Who gave you the information on me?”

Armand tilts his head inquisitively. Silver can feel his gaze on himself even in the dark.

“Eh. I might as well tell you. My bosun’s wife has a twin brother who used to sail with Edward Teach.”

Silver sighs inwardly. Fucking Teach and his numerous privateers.

“He lost his--well--taste for pirating when he saw Teach brutally keelhauled, but he had had a good look at you by then, and then heard you had a falling out with your pirate friends. And you must have, to land a cook in Carlos’ seedy tavern?”

Silver nods, because it’s a short, brutal and quite accurate description of what happened.

Armand shifts from one foot to the other in the dark and inhales loudly.

“And who were those people you were in Santo Domingo with?” he asks. There’s a note of worry in his voice, as if he has just now realized that Silver did use to associate with some very well-known and deadly pirates.

“Oh, they were just a carpenter and a slave,” Silver replies, his face tight.

Chapter Text

John turns to look at them as he’s being led away: distraught and terror-stricken, as if he’s pleading for rescue. Only through sheer force of will does Madi stay rooted in place, both feet braced against the cobblestones. She should be able to order the Spaniards to turn back and leave them be, but the moment they entered a colonial harbour she was stripped of all her usual power and--to add insult to injury--reduced to less than any of these men.

She’s working fervently on how to make that into an advantage as she glances askance at James’ face, contorted into an expression of rage and dread. As she watches, his brow smoothes out and eyes narrow, and she knows he’s just decided on solving this with violence.

No, she shakes her head lightly. He sees that out of the corner of his eye and glances at her, nostrils flared. She lifts her brows, trying to mitigate him into cautiousness. James huffs, turns on his heel and starts into the opposite direction.

She hurries to catch up, and so do the two Spaniards that have been assigned to them. Judging from their dress and attitude, they’re probably privateers--in her experience, a lot even sorrier and worse than pirates. Her and James’ fate might depend on how clever these two are and how fast they are going to realise that rather than watch over the two of them they should just turn them in.

She’s not sure how they can do that, so she keeps looking around conspicuously to spot any office or station that proper Spaniards could use to inform on pirates in their midst. The town is not as big as to make it a long walk, so they don’t have much time, and she can’t speak to James about this either--he is hurrying forward like a one-man army, his jaw set, hands squeezed into fists, so it’s difficult to say whether he’s arrived at the same conclusions or not.

They pass the plaza with the church tower where women are selling flowers and fruit, and she realizes they’re nearing the harbour. Her hand flexes in the air as she stops herself from reaching into her pocket. There’s a knife there, in a little scabbard sewn to the inside right where the trousers flare at the thighs. She doesn’t part from it in seaside towns like this.

The two Spaniards stride behind them, their sword belts and purses clinking tellingly. She throws a look over her shoulder. The taller one is young and all puffed up with the importance of the task he’s been given, the shorter one older, scarred and squinting at her suspiciously. She has no doubt which one of them is going to make the connection sooner.

She tugs on James’ sleeve, slowing down her pace.

“What are we going to do without Mr Silver?” she asks in a worried tone, and James stops in his tracks. So do the Spaniards, trading surprised quips.

“Let’s not do this here,” James says, tugging her into a side alley. There’s a line across it with someone’s clothing hung out to dry. The whole area smells of urine.

“Eh!” The shorter one protests, his hand going to the hilt of his sword. “Where you go?”

“We just need to talk,” James snaps, and turns back to her. “Well, we can’t get him back now, can we?”

The Spaniards stand in the mouth of the alley, hanging onto their every word. Judging from the short one’s exclamation, their grasp of English is about the same as hers of Spanish, which would be enough to catch the meaning of their conversation.

“I don’t suppose so,” she replies, playing the part as best as she can. “So we just carry on without him?”

“We make trade and wait,” James supplies, gazing at her reassuringly. He’s actually good at this, not as good as John, of course, but convincing. “It might take a few weeks though, so… That bastard. He’s never been particularly trustworthy, and this…”

Madi looks up at him, eyebrows drawn together in concern, and he pulls her into a comforting embrace. It’s awkward, with one of her arms pressed to her side, but she returns it eagerly, cautiously sliding the knife up from her trouser pocket and down behind the sash tied around James’ middle, as if she were shyly touching his side. He feels it and momentarily tightens the hold on her shoulders, while the Spaniards whistle and jibe at them.

“Are we going to have to kill them?” she whispers into his ear, feeling him tremble with anger.

“Probably,” James says, cupping her cheek with his calloused hand in a surprisingly tender gesture. “Don’t worry. It will be alright.”

They part, Madi keeping her eyes modestly down in an attempt to appear benign. The Spaniards’ shoes are dirty and scuffed, and she feels a pang of resentment go through her and, unusually, she lets it bloom into anger. These men have taken John away from them and were interfering with their operation for their own selfish reasons, and it’s going to cost them.

“We will not be leaving Santo Domingo,” James says to the privateers. He’s assertive but calm, and she thinks too calm for a merchant in these circumstances. “We have business to do here, regardless of Mr Silver’s fate. So you can leave us alone.”

“No deal,” replies the shorter one. “El Capitán was clear. We keep an eye on you.”

James shrugs and shoulders past them back onto the street, Madi trailing closely behind. She casts another cautious glance at the Spaniards, pretending to look past them, at the way they came--they’re walking at a distance, talking in voices so low they don’t carry.

They turn right from the church plaza and enter a part of the market Madi instantly recognizes as fishmongers, mostly due to the smell. It’s visibly shabbier than the streets they’ve just traversed, so she suspects James is leading them to the shantytown that was visible from the deck of Num as they anchored. There’s a crowd, both at the stalls and between them, so James is naturally forced to slow down, and the privateers catch up to them, faces set and impassive.

“Eh!” The shorter one calls out. “You, redhead! Stop!”

Madi wavers, but James doesn’t budge, just plows on with a stony expression on his face. The Spaniard surges forward and grabs him by the elbow, and James just drags him behind himself for a few steps as if he weighed nothing. It would be comical, if Madi didn’t know where this is inadvertently leading.

The short privateer tugs on James’s sleeve so hard it rips, and James whips around.

“You will let us go,” he says, low and intimidating, and it has an immediate effect on the Spaniard: it finally sinks in that they might have underestimated James severely. “Now. Or things will take a really unpleasant turn.”

The tall privateer gapes at him, dumbfounded, while the short one hesitates for a second. Madi’s eye flicker from his hand creeping to his broadsword to the doorway behind his back; it’s more of an arch, really, leading to a narrow alley or a cul-de-sac, overgrown with bougainvillea. She also notices the gathering audience: the nearest fishmonger and his two clients, clearly looking for entertainment in the midst of the fish market.

Then, two things happen simultaneously: the short Spaniard goes for the sword, and Madi swats at the air next to her backside.

“You will not be treating me like this!” She rounds on the tall privateer, who takes a step back out of fear. “I am a free woman! Not a wench in a tavern you can fondle as you please!”

The Spaniard’s eyes boggle and he flails his arms as the attention of the bystanders switches to him. Out of the corner of her eye, Madi notices James dragging the shorter privateer into the side alley.

“Ay--n-n-no!” The young man stutters. “I d-d-did not! I watch only!”

“Leave me alone, you pervert!” She raises her voice even more, which is both cringy and strangely liberating. “Get away from me or my husband will deal with you!”

He reaches out to grab her elbow and she does the first thing that comes to mind out of what Kumi has taught her: she socks him in the jaw.

The gathering crowd oohs. The young man’s hand first flies to his injured jaw and then to the hilt of the broadsword. A very clear memory of Kumi’s serious face fleets through Madi’s mind: when unarmed and in a losing position--you should run. Just run, and don’t look back.

And so she does. She turns on her heel and breaks into a run down the fish market, pushing people rudely out of the way. There are cries out of outrage in her wake, but she doesn’t care; she is running for her life, pumping her legs as hard as she can, cursing all those years when she’s looked down on running as a demeaning activity. As she rounds the corner, she turns her head and sees the young Spaniard pushing his way through the crowd in pursuit.

Where to go now?! She’s sprinting down a side street lined by houses, her knee-high, wooden-soled boots thudding loudly on the dirt. The harbour is down there somewhere, but there’s no guarantee someone from the Num will be there to help her; most likely they’re still shopping, and if she runs into the men who apprehended John, it’s not going to be useful either. That only leaves James, who, she knows, is immensely imaginative and effective in these matters.

Spanish streets are usually charted out in squares, so if she only takes rights, she should be back where the started after another, what, two turns? So as she nears the corner, it’s a right again--and a glance back. The Spaniard, with his long legs, is gaining on her, and she’s not going to be able to run that fast the whole distance, especially on cobblestones, but fortunately, and there it is, the church plaza. She bursts into it, very nearly colliding with a cart filled with oranges.

“Sorry! So sorry!” She ducks and skirts around the cart. The elderly driver shouts insults in Spanish at her, but she’s already further down the plaza, almost at the bell tower, rounding the corner at breakneck speed.

Suddenly, a hand closes on her neckerchief--it’s the Spaniard, he’s right behind her. The knot is so loose it slips, leaving the privateer with the neckerchief and Madi faltering for a second, then gaining speed again. She skirts around the fishmonger’s stall, veers right into the archway--and enters an empty alley.

No! By all means and purposes James should be here, he’s just dragged the shorter one in here, so where are they now? It’s impossible to hide in the narrow passage, so they must have left, maybe in pursuit of her. She comes to a stop, fear-stricken, frantically looking around for any possible weapon when she spots a pair of scuffed shoes behind a pile of refuse.

It’s a body. Maybe a dead one, maybe unconscious. But a body.

Hearing footsteps, she whirls around empty-handed. The younger Spaniard is at the mouth of the alley, red as a beet and panting. She has given him a run for his money, yes, but she’s at loss as what to do now. She has been in this situation before: facing off an armed man keen on hurting her. She survived by blind luck. Eleanor didn’t.

She lets out a shaky breath and takes a steadier one. There’s movement behind the privateer, but she focuses on his face and his hands: her scarf is one of them and the broadsword in the other. He moves closer, saying something in Spanish she doesn’t understand. Blood is rushing in her ears, making it difficult to hear and think.

She brings her hands up and bends her knees, getting ready to duck if he lunges at her. It’s not necessary: a hand closes on the Spaniard’s mouth and her knife flashes in the sun, stabbing him in the chest. As the privateer bends over with pain, James is revealed behind him: tousled, flushed red and panting with exertion.

He walks the Spaniard deeper into the alley and Madi turns to let him pass, in an awkward, four-legged amble, so she doesn’t see what exactly ends the young man’s life, just hears him give a muffled cry of pain, then a heart-wrenching sigh. James lays him down behind the pile of refuse and she dares to look: there are two bodies there now, side by side, like on a bier. The other one has a slit throat and there’s a pool of red next to him, fresh, reflecting light.

This is dangerous, she thinks and tugs rags from the pile over the bodies. There’s not nearly enough of them to cover the bodies in their entirety, especially her tall pursuer, so she settles on hiding the boots from sight. It seems of the utmost importance, even though she knows that these deaths are going to be discovered soon, rags or not.

When she looks up from her task, James is standing next to her, extending his hand.

“We need to get out of here.”

“Yes.” She takes it. It’s warm and sticky, and she knows why. “Let’s go.”

He leads her deeper into the alley, towards a narrow passage between the walls of two tenement houses. They squeeze through and land in somebody’s small, muddy pig pen, wedged between the walls and a row of outhouses in the yard. The pigs, fortunately, are not moved by their appearance and just watch them with slitted eyes, lying on their sides. The heat and the smell are stifling.

Madi glances at James as they are washing their hands in the water trough--he must have had a scuffle with the short Spaniard, judging by the scratch mark on his cheek, and there’s blood on his shirt, hardly visible on the dark cloth. She wipes it down with her wet palms as he holds his head up, eyes flickering over their surroundings. He’s all coiled, dangerous energy under her hands, ready to be unleashed on those who wrong them, and she might take a just little too much time cleaning him up, but he doesn’t seem to mind. His breath is coming easier by the time she’s done.

They leave the pigs alone and walk briskly to the harbour, trying to strike a balance between appearing inconspicuous and being tense and alert. It seems to work, as no one stops them on their way, even though they have just killed two people for the cache, again. Gall rises in her throat at the thought of how many lives that treasure has claimed already and how another one might be added to the toll if they aren’t swift or clever enough.

When they arrive at the jetty, the launch is still there: empty, rocking on the choppy water of the harbour. The other party has not arrived yet. They row the boat to Num anyway, since time is of the essence, and Madi cranes her neck to look for ships departing from the mouth of the Ozama.

“There!” She points at sails in the distance. “It might be theirs. She’s flying Spanish colours. And she certainly is large enough.”

James sits up to look, upsetting the little boat, and Madi braces herself against the sides.

“A schooner,” he says with a scowl. “Anywhere from eight to twenty guns on it.”

“And we only have four.”

“Four and a crew of ten. But it could be theirs. We’ll track her out of the harbour to make sure.”

He sits back down and hunches over the oars again. With his back to her, Madi lets herself sag and rub her temples. It’s so tempting to just sit back and let him take over--she can sense he already has a makeshift plan ready to put into place, and it’s like second nature to him to lead and bend everything to his will--but she has a feeling it wouldn’t be a decision she’d feel right with in the future.

They climb aboard. She puts up her hand and he looks her over inquisitively, opens his mouth to say something and ultimately snaps it shut. Manu runs down to them from the quarterdeck, panting and alarmed.

“Where’s Amma and the rest of the crew?” He looks between the two of them, disheveled and very obviously not in possession of any stores. “Have you even bought anything?”

“I’ll tell you in a second. Right now, we need to get ready to get underway. Have one of the deckhands row the boat back to the jetty to collect Amma and the rest,” she instructs Manu, who nods and turns on his heel, refraining from any further questions. She turns to James, who is watching her with narrowed eyes. “Are they going directly to the Island? Can you tell?”

“No. I told John to direct them to Saint Kitts, so with any luck that’s where they’ll be going. I’m not sure he knows exactly where the island is, though…” He shakes his head. “We can’t catch up with them any further than there.”

“How can we follow them on that course, since I suspect that tailing them directly is out of the question?”

He scrunches up his face, looking at the receding sails of the schooner.

“We can cut north, sail around Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on the windward side,” he says, plotting the course in his mind as he goes. “Then veer south to approach Saint Kitts from the windward too, which is going to give us the weather gage--”

“That seems like a longer course than just going south,” she interjects.

“And it is, in nautical miles. But the winds are stronger on the oceanic side, and we will have the benefit of that, as well as a lighter and faster vessel. And they will have to tack at least some of the way if they sail east, which I suspect they will.”

“And what at Saint Kitts? We ambush them?”

“Yes. There’s a perfect place for an ambush there and--uh--” He turns back to her and sighs, as if he’s been through all of this before and it left him really exhausted. “I’ll have a plan by the time we arrive.”

For a short while they just look at each other and nod, taking stock of the risks and the challenges they will have to face, and then he claps her on the shoulder and walks off to join Manu in unmooring their vessel.

One of the deckhands rows away towards the quay and Madi climbs to the quarterdeck to have a better view of the crew’s efforts. She’s in that state of excitement mixed with dread where it’s nigh impossible to discern anything else she might feel or think other than the need to change the outcome of this situation to anything more favourable than this.

Amma, Aloysius and Kumi row back in short order and they get underway. Once Num is safely out of the Ozama and taking an eastern course, the crew gathers on the quarterdeck for a more complex information on what has transpired, and Madi finds herself telling them a summary of events that downplays some aspects of John’s involvement and heightens the elements evocative of sympathy towards him.

“So, to sum up the situation,” Manu jumps in once she falls silent, “we need to recover John Silver before he leads the Spanish privateers to our treasure? And I assume he will not give away that location willingly?”

Madi shakes her head.

“He will not. But we do not know how far they will go with their threats.” She takes a breath to continue, but it doesn’t seem fitting to disclose John’s terrible history of resisting such threats just like that, in front of the entire crew, even though she suspects some of them might know it. “So, in short, yes. We will want to recover him in Saint Kitts.”

She looks closely at the faces surrounding her, expecting to see reluctance, resistance even, but there’s none. Some of them might not know John well, or like him, but he is the key to the goal of this whole enterprise, so it makes sense for them to retrieve him, even at cost to them.

James and Amma work the crew hard to gain appropriate speed. It’s gruelling labour that upsets their previous system for watches and has everyone stay on their feet well into the night. Madi helps with the ropes, the stores, pores over the maps, trying to fully comprehend James’ plan and not just take it on faith alone, infinitely disappointed in her own ignorance.

She walks into her cabin well after midnight and sits down on the cot. The ship creaks comfortingly around her, but the cot is cold and empty. John’s hairbrush lies on the seat by the window, its silver bristles glittering in the glow cast by the lantern Madi carried inside.

She waits for James to come down, but his boots don’t sound on the stairs or anywhere else. Her eyes burn, so she pushes her knuckles into them and gets up to look for him.

James is sitting at the stern, propped up against the rail. He shields his eyes against the lantern. The glow shines on the tiller that he is minding, tied in position with rope. The sails flutter above them on the wind.

“You should be resting,” he says in that matter-of-fact, slightly castigating tone.

“I can’t sleep, I’m worried.” She sits next to him. He likes to wallow in misery alone and she forces her presence on him on purpose: he’s not alone in this, and neither is she.

“What about?” He turns to her, his profile sharp in the flickering light.

“That I’ve been making unwise decisions.” She lets her legs sprawl and one of her boots touches James’ outstretched leg.

“Unwise how?” he asks, voice low. “Leading to unpleasant consequences?”

“For one.”

“No use for that. There’s no way to control what happens once you set the gears in motion.”

“What if the decision in question might have been… misinformed?”

He tilts his head. His eyes are dark, but she can read the doubt and apprehension in the set of his brows and mouth.

“Well, there’s no way to discern that now.” He looks down at his shoes. “And no way around it either. The only substantial difference might lie in the intent with which you take action. That’s the only thing we hold any real power over.”

Well, she supposes intentions are the one thing that John usually has in order: a covert, but innate conviction what is right, or rather: what isn’t. John is so much more than he assumes himself to be, and she feels like she’s only begun to scratch the surface.

James glances at her with a lopsided little smile.

“That there--it’s the lasting damage that he’s caused. That we’re sitting here worrying about being betrayed rather than rest, or have a drink with the crew, or anything else.”

She sighs and lets her head fall back against the rail. Even if--even if there was anything suspect about happened with the Spaniards and John, she doesn’t want to be a person that assumed it straight away. That distrusted everyone and looked for a fault in them to justify that distrust. It might have been smarter than forthrightness, but it took something out of the experience of working with others towards common goals, and if she ever were to help the Jamaican maroons, she’d like it to be on different, more genuine terms.

They sit there together for a longer while, the sloop ploughing the waves along the darkened coast of Hispaniola.

“There’s something you might not know,” James says all of a sudden. His throat bobs as he swallows. “John doesn’t know the exact location of the treasure. Only I do.”

“And what was your intent behind hiding that fact from the crew earlier?”

He snorts with dismay.

“Recovering him is going to be very risky, Madi, and everyone is aware of that. And I--I’m not even sure if he knows where the island is. They’ll kill him if we don’t come for him.”

“So we will,” she says, sliding closer to him so their shoulders and thighs are pressed together.

“It’s in a cave,” he blurts out, locking eyes with her. “The cache. There’s a ridge overlooking the cove--”

“You don’t need to tell me, I trust you,” she says, but he tells her anyway.

Chapter Text

He stalks the ship like an exhausted, pissed-off wraith, making the deckhands scatter at the mere sight of him, just like back on the Walrus. There’s no coat swishing behind him now, no plotting crewmen, no Eleanor waiting for his haul, no home on Providence Island anymore, but it still brings back back the memories: they’re a mixed bag, really, the exhilaration of his command mixed with a powerful bout of nostalgia and a belated, unpleasant awareness that his poor crew deserved better than what he had subjected them to.

But this isn’t the Walrus, and on the evening of the second day at sea Manu stops him in his tracks with a firm, but kind hand on James’ shoulder.

“James. My man.” He leans down to peer into his face as James scowls at him, confused at being halted so unceremoniously. “When have you last rested?”

“Ah. I don’t know. But the helm--”

“I can man the helm. You can go lie down for a few hours.”

“But I--”

“I understand your concern,” he says. James doubts that. “I do. If it were Elami, I would be halfway there already, swimming across the Caribbean Sea as fast as my arms could take me.”

The casual way he likens John to his wife takes James’ breath away. The old panic makes an appearance, making him freeze, but Manu just gazes at him kindly and a little patronizingly, as if he was a misbehaving child, and eventually James just nods gratefully and goes down to the cabin.

He’s used to secrecy, from fumbling in cable stores to keeping their curtains tightly drawn in Boston. With Thomas, they pretended to be widowers and lied profusely to their neighbours and acquaintances, and it had quickly become drudgery to James. There he was, with Thomas at his side, unexpectedly, miraculously even, but there was no one to share the singularity of it with--and later on, the despair, as things went sour. Miranda was not there to wrap his wounds and he couldn’t recover. Was there anyone else?, Thomas asked, finally, and there was, there is, and they’re at least tolerated, if not accepted, though he suspects some of it might be ascribed to a white man’s fancy.

Never mind. He falls into a fitful sleep, in which he’s running from English soldiers through a thick, dense jungle. Meaty leaves slap him in the face, roots trip him up and he stumbles and falls. Bleeding from his forehead, he staggers into a clearing--and Miranda’s cottage is there. That’s the way he’d always thought about it, Miranda’s cottage, because they bought it with money from selling her jewellery and because he had never been more than a guest there. And she’s there, sitting on the porch in her light blue dress, and she dons an apron at the sight of him and goes inside to boil water, while he pants and shambles inside, dripping blood everywhere. This is respite, a safe haven. He closes his eyes and when he opens them, the hands tending to him are broad, with thick, stubby fingers. They’re John Silver’s hands. It was one of the first things he’s ever noticed about Silver: that he has the hands and ambition of a much bigger man.

He wakes up groggy and half-certain that the last two days were just a mirage, but no: John Silver, his prodigy quartermaster, his brilliant right-hand man, was enough of an idiot to tell a bunch of Spaniards about the cache and get himself caught by privateers. He suddenly thinks about the Spaniard they buried after the storm that had destroyed the ship Silver tried to reach Maroon Island with-- that might have been Gutierrez’s stupid brother. He probably wasn’t stupid at all--perhaps just gullible, overeager to believe in the treasure, or just particularly susceptible to Silver’s charm.

He sits up and rubs his face. Madi is sitting at the chart with a compass in her hand. He splashes water on his face and leans over her shoulder, wiping himself with his shirt.

“Where are we?”

“On course, making good time.” Madi points to their position on the map: passing the Virgin Islands. “We should reach Saint Kitts in the night, if I’m counting correctly.”

“You are. Well done.”

She smiles faintly. He tilts his head to get a look at her face: there are shadows under her eyes and a pronounced wrinkle between her brows.

“So what happens when we catch up with them?” she asks.

“I’m working on it,” he snaps and she looks up at him sharply. He feels his gut twist and a part of it is definitely hunger, but the other is disappointment, and he could never handle that well.

He nods stiffly and staggers onto the weather deck. The sun is blinding, the sea like a brilliant mirror to it.

“It’s not your watch yet,” Amma calls out to him from the helm.

“I know,” he shouts back over the wind. They’re at full sail. “But put me to work!”

“With pleasure!”

Usually, manual labour helps his mind work on intricate, out-of-the-box solutions, but not this time: he handles the sails all morning, but is stuck in a rut all the same. They do not have enough resources to successfully board Gutierrez’s ship, and no sophisticated plan is going to change that.

They are relieved by Manu and Kumi in the early afternoon and are sitting in the mess when Madi joins them with a pen and a piece of paper.

“Are you taking inventory?” Amma asks.

“How many pistols and muskets do we have?”

“Six pistols and two muskets,” Amma answers immediately. “Why? Are we boarding them?”

“Aren’t we?” Madi looks straight at James, who groans. “There’s not much time left, James.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“Then why aren’t you working with us to figure this out?” Madi asks and he feels twenty-one-year old and facing his angry boatswain again.

“You’re right,” he says, even though the urge to get up and walk away from this is powerful. “Let’s put our heads together.”

They go over the facts and Madi writes down what they know and what they assume: their opponents are flying the Spanish flag, the crew is two to three dozen men, they’ve got at least eight guns on a schooner like that. James admires her process: it’s very logical and analytic, taking them step by step through the circumstances.

“And what did you tell John exactly, when they were taking them away?”

He scowls in an effort to remember.

“Just the name of the island. Saint Kitts. There wasn’t time for anything else.”

“What would John tell them about it? Are they going to stop anywhere? Or just keep going? If so, on what course?”

“I have no way to tell, really.” James shrugs. “Which is, I admit, a gaping hole in that plan. In my defense, I only had a second to come up with it.”

“Weren’t you supposed to read each other’s minds or something?” Amma asks coyly, rolling an empty cup between her hands. “What? I heard that passed around back in the day.”

“Honestly, I don’t know what is going through his head most of the time.” James crosses his arms, uncomfortable with the direction the conversation is taking.

“Neither do I,” Madi says, pensively. “But he is very good at figuring out what other people are thinking, especially when it comes to you, James. I think he will tell them to go where you would have expected him to go.”

“Yeah, I suppose so. And I wouldn’t call at either Saints Kitts or Nevis, because we raided both of them four years ago and--it’s too risky.”

“It was you,” Amma says with an undertone of wonder and terror.

“It was us.” He avoids their eyes. “There wasn’t much left, but what was--is now probably very wary of pirates. The passage between the islands, though--the Narrows. That’s why Saints Kitts immediately came to mind.”

“And John would be aware of the Narrows?” Madi asks.

“Yeah, I told him how I myself had once gotten ambushed there. He will definitely recall that.”

“So we can expect them to sail into this narrow channel between Saints Kitts and Nevis…” Madi draws a crude likeness of the two islands with the Narrows between them. “And we can meet them head on there. What then?”

“Any scenario I can think of is going to be immensely risky. And this is not a usual crew--”

“I know you’re used to big crews and big ships,” Amma interjects, “but I’ve once taken a brigantine with a crew of twenty--”

“This crew might not have signed the articles,” Madi says coolly, “but we have all boarded Num with the knowledge of what this voyage might entail.”

“Not the deckhands.”

“Not the deckhands, no. I realise that you are used to a certain way of commanding, but I will not be giving an order here. I will be asking for help to board that ship and find John. No more, no less.”

He doesn’t have a response to that. It feels naive and idealistic, but it suits Madi, and if anyone can make it a reality, it’s certainly her. With this out of the way, he feels the plan come together from the scattered ideas he’s played with the whole day. With Amma, they polish it and walk through contingencies, while Madi solemnly completes the captain’s log. Her writing is neat and precise, but strangely angular and he realizes she didn’t learn it at a grammar or parish school after all.

The Num plows forward, full-sail, a white tail of foam at the stern. They’re making nine knots, which should be enough to outrun the Spanish schooner, and he’s amazed at how well their rigging is holding up against what they’re putting it through. It feels very familiar, almost like a hunt, despite the prize not being anywhere close yet and it’s only when he’s suspiciously silent and light going down the steps to the gundeck that he realises that he hasn’t armed himself. He walks down to the magazine and finds Amma there, oiling a musket laid across her lap.

“I need a sword,” he says.

“Broadsword or sabre?” Amma asks, propping the musket against the wall.

“Sabre.” He’s always preferred them over broadswords, and Amma hands him an elegant Armenian sabre in an ornate scabbard. “That’s… very special.”

“It’s from my personal cache.” She grins, her teeth flashing, and turns around to look for a sword belt. “I have some stashed at home, behind the outhouse. Chickens shit on them.”

She saunters over with a belt and two pistols. This close, it’s very apparent that she’s almost his height and could probably easily arm wrestle him too.

“Thank you,” he says, strapping on the belt and tucking the pistols behind it. “You know, I count myself lucky not to have met you hunting. You must have been a formidable opponent.”

“We should spar when we’re on land, Flint.” She claps him on the shoulder. “Make it a spectacle, have people bet. They’d love it.”

He snorts and takes a step back to slide the sabre out of its scabbard. It comes out with a hiss that makes him exhale with reverence--it’s beautifully kept, sharp like a razor, so shiny it reflects a tiny sliver of his face. He shakes his head: so much for being kept behind the outhouse.

Amma sends him a knowing look.

“Got that off a French merchant ship. Great haul, that one.” She sits back on the chest, legs outstretched, arms crossed over her chest, a pensive look on her face. “Eh, I know it was a shitty life. We’re both lucky not to have lost legs to shot or necks to the gallows… But times like this, it just brings you back to what it was. Chasing prizes. Outsmarting privateers. Most of it was just scratching by, but other times… it could be glorious.”

“Yeah,” he says eloquently. There’s a catch in his throat that he doesn’t want her to know about, so he just nods and exits, the sabre and pistols heavy on his belt.

The sun is slowly setting over the horizon, painting the sea orange and pink. They are veering around Anguilla, and Aloysius and Kumi need help with the rigging, so he lends them a hand. When he stands at the rail again, the ocean is swathed in darkness. In the distance, there’s a tiny glimmer that might be Basseterre on Saints Kitts, a town he once left in a smouldering ruin. Silver usually waited for him at the rail when they were raiding, but not that time; if James remembers correctly, he was on the orlop deck handling a crisis when the vanguard climbed back onboard. Or was that Charlotteville? No, it must have been Saint Kitts, because someone had slashed him with a sword back there and his clothes were wet and stiff with blood by the time he staggered into his cabin.

Silver came in some time later, when James was attempting to unstick his shirt from the wound. His hand was shaking so badly it was making everything worse.

“You’re hurt.” Silver stopped in the doorway, a very strange look on his face, then closed the door and stepped closer, hobbling slightly on the peg. “Did you--”

“Just leave me be,” James snapped. Silver came closer and an embarrassing scuffle ensued with Silver trying to help him and James slapping his hands away. “Leave it! I don’t need your fucking help!”

“Shut up!” Silver barked at him finally and James went silent with shock. Silver’s expression was exasperation mixed with apprehension, as if dealing with a sick, unruly child, and James thought with venom, I hope that you like this, that this is what you wanted, which was completely uncalled for and truly cringeworthy to remember. It was so soon after everything that had happened, all the death, destruction and mauling, and Silver showed some remarkable grit enduring those weeks.

James stared at him with a hot mix of shame, guilt and rage and Silver gently reached out for James’ wounded arm with his big hands.

“Just let me,” he said with concern. It was genuine. Begrudging, almost forced out of him, eyes big and dark in the gloom of the cabin. “Will you let me?”

Back then, James walked in a perpetual smoky haze; this cut through it like a knife and resurfaced later in dreams that had a lot less to do with dressing wounds and a lot more with undressing. That scene, that phrase, it has stuck with him so soundly he can recall it in the finest detail even now, sleep-deprived, anxious, tired from hauling rope this way and another, at the rail of a completely different ship: Silver’s searching gaze, strangely soft expression, his ridiculous growing beard, heavy hair tumbling over his shoulder, Let me.

He shudders at the touch at his elbow. It’s Madi, visibly surprised at his reaction.

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah, it’s just a chill. You?”

“I’ve made the rounds.” She leans on the railing, gazing out in the direction of the island. “Manu will stay with the ship, along with Kwasi and Arko.”

“Are they going to be able to man the guns?”

“Yes. Manu will show them, and set it up ahead of the time. The other two boys wish to join the vanguard, with Kumi and Amma, and Aloysius will be the bait.”

“Ah. Aloysius, the expert bait.” He props his chin on his palm. “And you?”

“I will be by your side,” Madi says, as if it’s completely obvious. He treasures and dreads it all at once. Miranda did not stay behind that one time and see how that worked out, a mean little voice whispers to him, but he knows Madi is not one to observe the action from afar, if her unflinching countenance with a gun pointed at her is any evidence--and perhaps Miranda would have preferred not to either, given the opportunity.

Madi leans into his shoulder and he leans back against her, rendered speechless by the intensity of the admiration and protectiveness he has for her. If only they’d met sooner--he could have thought about the slaves on New Providence Island earlier, could have done something. He glances at her sharp profile and it reminds him strongly of her father.

“Madi.” He clears his throat. “There’s still something that is weighing on me. That I would like you to know.”

“Yes?” She glances at him curiously. He wonders if there’s anything he could spring on her that would truly throw her off, but seeing as they have already seamlessly entered a triumvirate with John Silver, probably not.

“I am terribly ashamed about how passive I used to be about the issue of slavery.” He shakes his head. Admitting to mistakes has never come easy to him. “I mean--I’ve always found it absolutely repellent but before I met you I’d never seriously thought about doing anything about it. It was just a fact of life to me. Abhorrent, yes, but always there, and such an enormous industry--”

She doesn’t interject, just nods, her expression serious.

“I see now that it was wrong,” he continues, staring dead on. “That Eleanor should have freed your father, I should have been stricter with the crew when they didn’t want to release people from slaver ships… I don’t know if it counts for anything, but I’m sorry, and if you’re thinking of aiding the Maroons of Jamaica, I’d like to help you, to at least try and amend that oversight now. And the cache is yours, to do with it as you see fit. I have no need for it.”

He falls silent, not wholly satisfied with what he’s managed to utter on the subject. Madi sighs again, and it’s very world-weary for a person this young.

“It seems to me,” she says, gesturing with her right hand, “that we should just get rid of all of this. All of our grievances, disappointments, ailments… Just bury it in the sea. Imagine it at the bottom, never to surface again.”

“In Davy Jones’ locker.”

“In what?”

“It’s what sailors call the bottom, for some reason.”

“Yes. Down there.”

He feels something coming on and tenses in anticipation, but it’s not the bout of rage or mind-numbing sorrow that he’s expected, but rather a tentative prospect for the future: himself, walking down the path to the Maroon village, but once he’s at the lake he sees it’s not a village anymore, but a settlement, affluent with Spanish treasure, its people content and free. In his mind’s eye, its little streets are more than a little mingled with what he remembers of Nassau in its better days, but there are far more children than ever in Nassau. There’s more--there’s always more--that his treacherous mind supplies, images he’s never even dreamt of before, too frangible to grasp with reasonable, level-headed part of his being, all the more so delightful. It seems within reach and he’s somehow not resisting its siren call.

“We are at the turn!” Amma shouts from the helm, and he shakes out of his reverie and gets into the rigging.

They swing into the Narrows, heeling hard onto the Num’s starboard. James half-expects to see the lights of an approaching—or leaving—ship, deeming their whole pursuit futile, but the channel is dark. They maneuver to the side and moor at an angle, half-turned towards the shore. The whole crew, even the boys, keeps quiet, as if their silence could keep them hidden just as much as the dark.

They prepare the skiff, lower it onto the water and watch Aloysius, Kumi and Amma row away into the darkness--there are two lanterns on the rowboat, one on the prow and the other on the poop, but even with them it takes a lot of squinting to judge the distance between the two vessels. Finally, James gives the signal to stop rowing and the skiff starts bobbing freely on the waves, while the Num goes dark: all lanterns, both on deck and under, are extinguished. The people on the rowboat might see them as a shadow in the darkness, but for anyone further out they all but vanish.

Madi momentarily grasps for his hand in the darkness. It grounds him, the touch of her dry, warm palm. While he’s been secretly wondering if he’s able to stand up to the ruthless legend of Flint now, having not held a sword in his hand for years, that concern is gone now, and a terrifyingly final awareness seeps into him: he’d do anything for her and Silver, he’d maim, kill and burn, and do it gladly.

He squeezes her hand and they stand like that at the rail until a light shows up in the Narrows, small and flickering, almost unreal.

“Are you seeing that?” Manu calls from the helm. “She’s coming!”

There’s a flurry of nervous movement as they strip down to their shirtsleeves, tighten the belts, ties, check the ties on their light shoes and sandals, chosen specifically for swimming. James is aware that the ship is going to take a lot more time to get close, but the instinct to be fully at the ready is stronger. He thinks about Silver being dragged off by those Spaniards and huffs with annoyance and worry; he doesn’t know what to expect from seeing him again, bruises on his face, ribs re-broken—his fist tightens on the hilt of Amma’s Armenian sabre. It would be smarter of Gutierrez and company to treat such an important hostage well, but you never know, not if they deem him a pirate.

The little spot of light in the all-encroaching darkness grows and splits into a few flickers. The remaining crew—Manu, the four deckhands—are glued to the rail, shuffling in anticipation. James takes out the spyglass and directs it at the lights. Something doesn’t sit right with him and he nervously counts the nautical miles and speeds in his mind for the hundredth time that day. Unless Gutierrez pushed his crew severely beyond their capacities, they couldn’t have taken this route without the Num noticing. Unless they also went dark, which they had no reason for, not knowing they were being chased. He did expect them a little later in the night though, not this early. As the vessel draws nearer, he finally notices it.

“God damn it all to hell.” He pushes the spyglass shut. “It’s not the right ship. It’s someone else.”

“What?!” Manu exclaims and adds a few colourful phrases in Twi.

“Are you sure of that, James?” Madi asks coolly.

“Take a look yourself.” He hands her the spyglass. “I know it’s difficult to see, but she has three masts, not two. And the lights are spread out at a larger distance. This is simply a bigger ship, maybe even a brigantine.”

“So what do we do now?” She swings the spyglass towards the skiff before them. “They have begun preparing already. I can see Aloysius moving about.”

“We have to warn them not to approach the wrong ship, or the whole plan can go to shit.”

“But we can’t use light, or we’ll betray our position. We’ll have to swim over to them now, look for a contingency--”

“Right, yeah.” He glances at the two boys who want to join the vanguard. They might not be more than seventeen, but then he at that time had already seen battle. “You coming?”

They nod energetically and sit on the rail. Madi does the same. He can hear her exhale shakily.

“In the water, follow me. If you get lost, don’t panic, just look for the nearest light. It’s not far.”

“What do we do?” Manu asks, hovering over them. “Await your signal?”

“Yeah. Keep an eye out on what is going on.” James pushes the spyglass into Manu’s hands. “Thanks.”

“Good luck.” He claps James on the shoulder and nods to Madi. “Or should I say: good hunting.”

He could, actually; this is very close to piracy, even if what they want to steal does not have that much value to anyone else. James stands on the rail, facing the black, endless maw of the ocean, and dives.

He makes an arch in the air, hands steepled above his head, and hits the water like a javelin. Goes down, eyes open in the dark, swirling water, and suddenly, clearly remembers how it felt to let go and sink. He would have, then, after the Urca fiasco, gone right down, tangled in the kelp, lungs full of briny water, had Silver not dragged him out in an act that was closer to folly than any calculation Silver might have done, any kindness he would probably never admit to. Come to think of it, all Silver has ever wanted was for Flint to live.

Deep, deep in the water, James kicks with his legs and resurfaces.

Chapter Text

“Hit him in the face”, Armand Gutierrez ordered.

“Why?” asked his lackey. Silver, bravely, didn’t even wince.

“It’s a better incentive.” Armand took him by the chin and tilted his face up in a gesture reminiscent of a lover. Silver stared up at him and his stupid moustache with unconcealed hatred. “He obviously prizes himself on it.”

He released Silver and the lackey slugged him in the jaw. His head snapped back and for a while all he saw was red and black, then a thought appeared, as if written with luminescent ink on the dark velvet of his awareness: I need to tell them something or they’ll knock all my teeth out, and Madi and Flint will not want a toothless wretch back.

Back in his compartment in the hold, he slumps down into his nest of ropes, pressing a wet rag to his jaw. He made up a course for Gutierrez, eventually, once the black-and-red mist eased, but it’s bound to land them in the middle of the fucking ocean, and then no lie, no matter how well thought out, is going to help him.

The pain radiating from his face aggravates the phantom foot, which is pulsing in rhythm with his heartbeat. It makes it impossible to think and he needs to, he has to, in case no one comes for him. He rubs his aching stump and squeezes his eyes shut.

What was it that Flint whispered in is ear when they were pulling him away? Saint Kitts. And now they’re here, in the one place Flint thinks can be dangerous, the narrow channel between the sibling islands Saint Kitts and Nevis. Flint used to regale him with tales of his hunting prowess during Silver’s recovery on the warship--bandage change was especially traumatic, for various reasons--and Flint took special care to tell him the most interesting parts exactly then, like that time when they were hauling cargo from Barbados and Captain Roberts ambushed them in the dark in the Narrows.

Silver was, of course, too dazed and miserable to notice that tactic at first, but he connected the dots a little later, when they arrived at Nassau and he was left to his own devices in the brothel--supposedly to recuperate, but really to give Flint a chance to take out his grief on the world. Flint raged, attempted to kill Jack Rackham, drank, threatened random people in the tavern with a pistol, gave Augustus Featherstone the scare of his life by ambushing him by the outhouse, got in a fight with Charles Vane, drank some more, cut off his hair, and finally passed out on the doorstep of Silver’s room in the tavern. Back then, Silver was so weak it was quite an achievement for him to even stumble to Flint’s body on the floor. He only managed to drag him across the threshold, push the door closed and slide a bunched-up coat under his freshly and unevenly shaved head. He cried, then, in his miserable vigil and Flint cried in his drunken sleep, and the unspoken anguish of that morning cemented their uneasy partnership that year.

He picks himself up to walk up to the basin and soak the rag in some more water. He’s surprised he still remembers that in so much detail; it seems like everything related to Flint sticks to him like glue. Same for Madi, really: the shape of her jaw, her sharp accent, her relentless belief that he’s more than just dregs from a London canal, rubbish brought in by the tide.

He taps his crutch against the floor, thinking. He’s still missing the final piece of the puzzle: what Gutierrez needs that treasure so desperately for, because it’s obviously more than just greed. Once he finds that out, he’ll figure out a way to strike a deal, con him, get off this godforsaken ship.

Then, there are heavy footsteps thudding outside, and the sound of the lock turning. Silver turns to the door and suppresses a shiver when he sees Cortez, the man that beat him up no longer than an hour ago.

“The Captain wants you on the weather deck,” Cortez mumbles to him in Spanish. He has the decency to look a little ashamed at the sight of Silver’s bruises.

He follows Cortez out to the weather deck, leaning on his crutch a lot more than necessary. Gutierrez is on the quarterdeck with a spyglass, but Silver doesn’t need the glass to see that they are quickly approaching a ship. It seems to be moored to the starboard, a little ways off from the main course across the Narrows.

“Do you see that?” Gutierrez asks, glued to the spyglass.

“I do.” Three masts, big hull, flying Spanish flag and the signal for help. She isn’t showing any outside damage, which is slightly suspicious. “It’s a merchant ship. A fine prize.”

“Do you know it?” The threatening undertone is clear in Armand’s voice.

“No,” Silver answers, truthfully for once. “I’ve no idea who this is. We’ve left everyone I know behind in Santo Domingo and sailed here full sail. This is just a random ship in need of help.”

Now that he’s said it, he’s certain this has something to do with Flint and Madi, and he schools his face into a genuine, concerned expression in order not to betray any smugness. He knows Flint to be a fucking magician with ships and Madi to relentlessly pursue her goals. Their crew are mostly pirates who managed to live up to an age when they could retire, which is somewhat rare in that profession. If this is indeed just a coincidence, Silver will cough up all the money he is due Flint, and that’s a fucking lot.

Gutierrez stares at him suspiciously for a while, then turns back to the spyglass and the ship. Silver glances at his quartermaster and bosun. They are both clearly eager to board the merchant, be it out of kindness or for the promise of plunder.

“You can just ignore it, of course,” Silver says, his tone flippant. “I’m sure someone will come this way soon, this is a well-traveled route.”

“It is. To Africa.”

“Yeah.” Silver shrugs. “Let’s go. No one will know.”

Armand flinches slightly, as if someone touched him with a cold hand, and sighs. Silver is quite sure he struck the right chord; for Antonio half of the appeal of their whole Skeleton Island excursion was that he could appear a benevolent hero to his peers.

“All right.” Armand nods to his quartermaster and bosun. “Gather the vanguard. Let’s be brief about it. And watchful. Cortez, fetch me my sword and pistol.”

Cortez casts a confused look at Silver, who is lounging by the railing looking disinterested in the proceedings, and makes himself scarce. Gutierrez nervously twists his moustache, eyes fixed on the other ship.

“Are you going to take it as a prize?” Silver asks. He can just about read the name on the broadside: Condesa--very cute for a stocky merchant ship.

“Of course not, it’s a Spanish ship,” Armand snorts. “Besides, we have a more important goal to reach, and we should do so without distractions.”

“And possible threats to your credibility before the Governor… or maybe even the King?”

“Has anyone ever told you that your tongue and what it’s waggling might get you in trouble?” Armand asks conversationally, and Silver nods his head.

“Many times. I just find it interesting that you have to fetch this treasure yourself. Or are you keeping it for yourself?”

“It’s not mi--” Armand starts and stops himself. “Why are you still here? Get under this second, or we’ll revisit the unpleasant conversation we had with Cortez.”

Silver shuts up preventively, as his jaw hurts still. Gutierrez finds another crewman to escort Silver back under the deck and this one is cleverer is Cortez, having Silver walking in front of him and thus keeping him from aiming his crutch at the sailor’s head. Silver casts one last look over his shoulder and sees the Condesa drawing nearer, sailors roaming her weather deck, but seemingly no one familiar. His stomach twists; maybe he’s wrong and they did just stumble across someone who needs help navigating out of the bottleneck that is the Narrows, and there’s no heroic rescue attempt in his immediate future.

The Spaniard leading him down doesn’t react to any attempts at making conversation, just growls and locks Silver back in the compartment. He huffs with annoyance and paces. There’s no way to know what is now going on on the outside, which might have become his only chance to get off La Serendipia and into safety. He leans against the door to test it, but it’s strong, barred on the other side, and he’s on his crutch, a cramp already in his side for taking so many stairs.

Well, there’s always the trick with the prisoner calling urgently for help--it has gotten him out of trouble at least once or twice, although it has its disadvantages, but before he even gets to banging on the door and yelling, he hears a noise outside the ship. On the hull.

He drops his raised hand and gets closer to the broadside. In this compartment, he’s close to the stern and he could swear there’s someone on the other side: banging, thudding and knocking about. It’s so unexpected and weird his mind comes up with the image of a shark launching itself at the hull, or maybe a chain let loose from the anchor, but then it strikes him: it’s someone disabling the rudder, a covert pirate tactic. Flint preferred to point the broadside of the Walrus at whoever they were targeting and either threaten them into submission or blast the hell out of them, so they never had to use it, but he heard about it from Rackham.

His heart pounds. It’s them, it has to be. Now, about getting out--

He launches himself at the door, putting on a brilliant show, but no one comes, so he freezes with his ear to the wood. From the faint echoes of shouts outside he guesses there’s something going on, just hard to say what--boarding? fighting? Then a gunshot rings out and the commotion seems to cease. Someone runs across the deck and down the stairs.

John steps back to the side and leans against the wall, his crutch in his hand. He has a fantasy of it being Flint, flinging the door open and throwing himself in his arms, but it’s most certainly not him; he knows the sound of his steps by heart and it’s not it.

The door opens. It’s Cortez. Silver almost club him in the head with the crutch, but Cortez’s hands are empty and up in a gesture of peace.

“Come with me,” he says in Spanish. “Now.”

“What’s going on?” Silver still keeps him at the distance of the crutch.

“They are asking for you,” Cortez grits out. “The pirates.”

“What pirates?” he asks even though he already knows. Something in his chest comes alight and surely must blind Cortez in a second.

“The black woman and the red-haired man.” Cortez seems completely perplexed by this turn of events. “I have no idea how they’ve made it--”

“Let’s go.” Silver shoots out of the compartment.

His thudding gait and Cortez’s heavy breathing are very loud on the narrow stairs leading from the orlop. As John surfaces, he starts to hear noise from the outside. It’s the creaking of rigging and the sound of voices carrying over from somewhere nearby, just the side of intelligible.

“That treasure is not yours!” Gutierrez yells and adds a few garbled Spanish curses.

“Well, neither is it yours,” Flint shouts and it is so like back in the day he breaks out in shivers. “That cache--that treasure does not belong to Spain. It comes from here, or from Mexico, or any other land Spain has robbed in the last dozen years.”

Silver turns left and there he is, in full view of the scene: the crew of the La Serendipia at the starboard rail, behind it, not moored, but drifting alongside, is the Condesa, her deck swamped in light. Flint is at the front, holding up a gun to a resentful, unarmed Armand Gutierrez.

“The New World, it turns out, is not empty and yours to take however you like it. When you’re ferrying riches from the Old World to the New World, it means you’ve stolen them from someone else. You’re robbing this land for the gain of your King!” Flint roars and Silver feels the righteous indignation rise up in him as it always does when Flint gives his voice that ferocious quality.

“And your robbing us is making it right how?” Gutierrez sneers.

Upon coming closer, Silver’s eyes land on Madi, standing to the side, her dreadlocks pinned high on her head, holding Armand’s bosun at musket point.

“We have earned it,” she replies, her voice cutting through the murmurs of the sailors like a knife. “And we will not be building a palace out of it. We will take it to help our people survive.”

Step-thud, step-thud. He’s almost at the rail and he sees more people there: Amma, Kumi, Aloysius, some of the deckhands, people who he can only assume are the innocent crew of the merchant ship--but Silver only has eyes for the two of them: Madi and Flint, Flint and Madi.

It’s like Flint feels his gaze because his eyes flick momentarily from Gutierrez to John and he smiles in that terrifying, shark-like way that always has had Silver’s heart pounding.

“Return John Silver to us and get on your way,” he tells Gutierrez. “It’s that simple. We don’t want your money or your ship. Just sail away and you’ll never see us again.”

Gutierrez seems to hesitate and Flint slowly but surely presses the barrell to his temple. Armand pales a little and his eyes flick to the sabre Flint is holding in his other hand: it will disembowel him the second he makes the wrong move and Gutierrez seems to know it just as well as Silver and Flint do.

Flint’s armed hands can be very convincing. Armand heaves the dramatic sigh that Silver’s come to anticipate from him and turns his head to La Serendipia.

“Let the fucking pirate pass,” he orders Cortez in Spanish, but he’s looking straight at Silver as he does it. “Throw a plank across and let him pass.”

There’s a flurry of movement and a plank is found and thrown across the gap between the two hulls. They aren’t very far apart, kept in parallel by hooks and lines thrown by the boarders, but it’s still a challenge for a one-legged man.

Silver climbs clumsily onto the railing, balancing with his crutch, and straightens. From this vantage point, he can see more of the Condesa’s deck. At the helm, the helmsman looks shifty as hell, and Amma slowly shakes her head to discourage him from doing anything stupid. A little higher up, on the quarterdeck, Aloysius and Kumi are guarding the merchant captain and his mates. He flicks his eyes down and sees Madi send him an intense look, meant to encourage, and he swallows. There he is, John Silver, the invalid that launched a ship or two.

The crutch squeezed tightly under his arm, he takes his first step on the gangplank. It’s narrow and buckling under his weight. The sea churns ceaselessly in the darkness below. Directly before him, Armand Gutierrez and Flint have a quiet stand off, framed beautifully by the shadows cast by the masts and their crewmen: Armand looking directly at Silver with his hands spread in an ominously welcoming gesture, Flint in profile, gun trained steadily at his opponent’s temple.

Silver thinks this is one of those moments that are going to be committed to memory forever, unblemished by time, and then a shot rings out.

It comes from behind Silver and he ducks instinctively. The crutch--so lovingly carved out by Flint--slips on the gangplank and he cartwheels uselessly for a second, suspended between the two ships, and falls.

It’s not a long fall.

He drops gracelessly into the water, ears still ringing from the shot. The water is a dark, swirling void, no way to know which way is up, so he kicks lightly with his legs and his outstretched arms bump against something solid. He feels it blindly and it’s the hull of a ship, yes, so he scrabbles for purchase with his fingers and climbs up and up and up.

He surfaces with a gasp. There’s hair in his eyes and nose. Everything has gone mad above him, with gunfire, screams, flashes of light. As he’s catching his breath and trying to figure out what is what, a body falls down from the railing and splashes into the water next to him. The possibility of it being Flint twists in his gut, so he pushes away from the safety of the hull and grabs ahold of the man. He’s dead, shot in the head--dark hair, black beard.

It’s Cortez, the culprit behind John’s aching jaw.

He shivers and lets the body go. There’s still shooting overhead, but he needs to climb back on deck, since even in his limited naval experience the space between hulls is a very dangerous place to be during a sea battle. He swims alongside them with his head thrown back, trying to distinguish between the two ships in the dark.

“John!” Someone leans over the railing on the right. “Get over here, John, quick!”

He recognizes Madi’s voice and swims over to the broadside of La Condesa. Madi throws something overboard and it falls down with a promising swish. It’s a rope ladder, thank God, he couldn’t imagine climbing a piece of rope with just one foot; where Madi produced it from, he has no idea and doesn’t care. He climbs up, water streaming from his trousers and coat, and realises he’s lost his only shoe.

He’s halfway up when a shot whizzes by his ear and punctures the hull. He ducks but holds on to the ladder for dear life. Overhead, Madi utters a sound he has never heard before--something between an angered yell and a roar--and fires.

It has to be a really powerful shot, because suddenly there’s an explosion and things go flying from the deck of the Serendipia. It can’t be only Madi, has to be cannonfire, but he doesn’t realise where from until he climbs the last few feet and looks over his shoulder at Gutierrez’s ship: it must have been chain shot, there’s carnage, split wood, people screaming.

Behind the tipping mast he can just make out the silhouette of the Num, dwarfed by the two larger ships. It’s Manu, come to their aid through some amazing pirate instincts. Holy shit, he says to himself but he’s so deafened by the shots he hardly hears it.

He tumbles gracelessly over the rail, lungs and arms burning. Madi’s no longer there, but by the quarterdeck, fighting Gutierrez’s huge bosun with someone who can only be Amma, judging from the long dreadlocks whipping around when she ducks and feints.

He looks around and grabs the musket she’s left to use as a crutch. His instincts scream at him to hide and wait it out, but it’s not an option for Long John Silver, not anymore, so he hobbles over to them.

The bosun doesn’t see or hear him coming. John swipes the musket at his legs. The bosun topples to the ground and Amma is immediately on him. Madi averts her eyes when blood jets from his throat, but John just turns on his heel to look for Flint.

The Condesa’s deck is now empty save for the bodies of Armand’s escort and Kumi, leaning over a wounded Aloysius. The merchant crew is watching silently from the quarterdeck and the rails. On the forecastle, Flint is duelling Gutierrez, and not in the style he taught to Silver on the sunlit cliffs of Maroon Island, but a much more refined one that has the sabre hiss and flash like a flame. From the distance, it’s difficult to say who has the upper hand since Flint is red in the face and breathing hard, but Gutierrez is bleeding profusely from a wound on his chest.

Madi sounds the bosun’s whistle, and Silver almost jumps out of his skin.

“Crew of La Serendipia!” She addresses them with a ringing voice. “Stop fighting. Lay down your arms and let us leave in peace, and no more harm will come to you.”

Gutierrez’s crew, properly pacified by Manu’s scarily accurate shot, stick their heads from behind the Serendipia’s rail. They look to their captain, who is currently locked in a clinch with Flint. Silver sees Flint’s teeth flash in a threatening smile. Gutierrez, exasperated, pushes him away and stumbles back a step, panting.

“Do you honestly think you will not be hounded for the rest of your life for that cache?” he asks, eyes fixed on Flint. “I am not the only one who wants it. I am after it for the Crown--”

“I think the Crown has enough treasure as it is,” Flint says. He’s absentmindedly patting himself around the middle, but his belt is empty. “Let go. Take your ship and fucking go. I have no interest in killing you.”

Armand’s eyes bulge as if Flint has seriously offended him. Silver notices a pistol lying to the side and picks it up. For once in his life, he seems to have a smidge of luck, since the gun is loaded and half-cock, and he presses it to his hip as he slowly makes his way over to the forecastle.

“This is all so much bigger than you and your motley crew,” Gutierrez rants, slipping smoothly into Spanish mid-sentence. “You don’t even know. You’re just fucking knocking about the West Indies with no idea of what we could build here. The royal family--they would let the Gutierrez clan--we will finally be allowed back to Madrid--”

“I don’t give a fuck,” Flint shrugs. When Silver approaches with meaningful thuds of the musket, he turns his head and it’s as if he’s turned into another man. “John. There you are.”

John is soaking wet and barefoot, slightly chilled in the night breeze. Flint’s gaze makes him so much warmer. He hands him the pistol with a smile, but it falters when he notices the sneer on Armand’s face.

“Oh, so that’s it,” he scoffs. “That’s what you’re after. The treasure is one thing… but you’re after your boy. The fearsome Captain Flint is a fucking sodomite.”

John freezes and he imagines everyone within earshot does too; he just hopes Madi isn’t witness to this humiliation. He dreads looking at Flint, knowing his history, but Flint just lifts his eyebrows, fierce as ever.

“Is that supposed to offend me?” he asks, his tone just as lofty and threatening as when they first met, and Silver shivers with the memory. “Don’t you think I’ve heard this and worse already? You’re not the first one to try to instill shame in me over this, and I have to tell you that it has never worked particularly well on me. It has, however, made me change my mind about killing you.”

He raises the pistol and cocks it. John knows what is coming, but Gutierrez obviously doesn’t; he raises his hands in a gesture supposed to question the seriousness of the threat. Stupid fuck, Silver thinks. He’s met far worse people in his life than the Gutierrez brothers and recognizes Armand had the option to walk away from this, to try to return to Spain some other way, but effectively wasted it.

Flint shoots without as much as a blink. Armand drops to the deck.

Silver takes a step closer, takes Flint’s wrist and lowers his hand with the gun, smoke still coming out of the barrell. He realizes belatedly that Gutierrez’s crew could be expected to shoot at them in retaliation, but La Serendipia is quiet in the wake of his death.

Flint’s gaze flicks from Gutierrez’s lifeless body to Silver’s hand and his face relaxes. His eyes change too, but Silver cannot pinpoint exactly how.

There are quick, sure footfalls on the deck behind them. It’s Madi.

“Are you all right?” Her gaze takes in Silver, then Flint, and stops on a gash in his shoulder. “You’re wounded.”

“It’s nothing.” He sheaths his sabre and spares one last glance at Gutierrez.

“I am glad you dispatched him,” Madi says, brow furrowed, and Flint snorts and takes her forearm, which completes the connection from her through him to Silver, and the triumphant smile on his face freezes. He tries to remember what he imagined would happen once they met again, back in Havana, daydreaming at the stove, baking tortillas, but he can’t; probably because he’s never made it this far in his mind. He only got to the part where he’d attempt to wrestle the forgiveness out of them, never where he actually acquired that, and it hits him suddenly that it can’t be real: who would forgive him and--and take him to bed--and trust him with their people--and race through the West Indies to recover him--

Flint must feel a shudder go through him and tilts his head to look at John. His eyes crinkle up in the corners and his gaze turns warm and slightly exasperated, as if he knew exactly what Silver is thinking and found it ridiculous. He clasps Silver on the shoulder, which makes a wet, squelching noise.

John turns to Madi--she’s watching them with an affectionate curve to her lips, one eyebrow arched; noble, benevolent, gloriously alive and inexplicably at his side. If he were a dragon, he’d hoard them like gold, burn all trespassers with his fire breath, never let go.

“Come on,” Flint says, and they go.

Chapter Text

EPILOGUE

“This place really gives me the chills,” Manu says when they slowly and cautiously enter the cove where the dead ships are moored.

“Just as creepy as I remember,” Aloysius adds, leaning with his right elbow on the rail, his left arm pressed to his chest in a makeshift sling. “And quite accurately named Skeleton Island if you think of how many actually met their end here.”

Kumi sees Manu cast a glance at Flint, who is manning the helm, and remembers that nearly whole Flint’s crew went down here. They are now passing the burnt-out wreck of a majestic brigantine that must have been The Walrus and like seemingly everything that ever goes through Flint’s head, it shows on his face: it’s pale and twisted with sorrow.

Kumi once considered joining his crew--since they apparently treated dark-skinned folks decently--but it did not come to pass, for a reason he does not recall specifically now, but it’s only thanks to it that he is not currently lying in seaweed, bobbing gently underwater with the rest of Flint’s skeleton crew. He makes a gesture to thank the ancestors for that stroke of luck, and Aloysius notices that and copies it reflexively.

John Silver is at the rail too, but at a distance from them, and with his face turned deliberately away from the observers. Kumi is unsettled at their grief; it feels palpable and ominous against the foggy, grim backdrop of the island.

They cast anchor further in the cove, away from the wrecks and their morbid sunken cargo. No one seems very eager to make land and Flint wrestles with the ropes of the skiff by himself, mumbling curses, until Kumi comes to help.

“How big is that cache again?” Amma flings her sword belt over her shoulder. No one questions it even though they should be the only people on the island.

“It’s a fairly big chest,” Silver says, looking shifty. “Two men can carry it, as I clearly recall.”

Flint shoots him a dirty look.

“I buried it, I can get it out,” he says.

Amma looks pointedly at the wound on his shoulder, but Kumi recognizes the vein of ultimate self-reliance and stubborness in Flint’s expression. His father used to be like that; he’d chop wood with an arrow lodged in his thigh.

Eventually, it’s decided that Manu, Aloysius and the deckhands will stay with the ship, and the rest will hike to find and uncover the cache, which according to Flint should take more or less until sunset.

When they go get ready, Aloysius catches Kumi under the deck.

“Be careful, darling,” he says, touching Kumi’s cheek with his good hand. His hair is curling in the humidity. “Will you?”

“He promised,” Kumi says. He recalls his last conversation with Flint vividly. No funny business, Captain Flint.

“I know he did, and I want to trust in that too, but still. This is not a good place, so you’ll do right to take care of yourself.”

Kumi nods and leans down to kiss him. He’s sworn to protect the princess and to cherish his matelote, and the rest is not of much concern to him.

They crowd into their slightly burnt skiff and recall the recent rescue operation to lighten the mood. They were unlucky enough to encounter the merchant ship, La Condesa, before their target, but eventually it worked out in their favour: Aloysius set the skiff on fire in order to draw the merchant captain’s attention and once they boarded it all it took was a heated discussion to persuade the crew to stand aside for their boarding of La Serendipia. If not for the blow to Aloysius’ right shoulder, they would have emerged from it almost entirely unscathed.

The air is heavy with humidity, and with the chill in the air it has fog rolling in from the water. They climb up the embankment, which puts them over the cloud, giving the ridge the appearance of a little island in a bigger one: a misty atoll. The terrain is rough and Silver struggles on his crutch. Madi lags behind to give him a hand, but he politely declines her help.

Kumi slows down to let him catch up. Silver audibly grits his teeth.

“You must think this is ridiculous,” he says after a short while, to which Kumi just shrugs. “This whole spectacle. Betrayals, lies, blood spilt… All because of that cache in the ground. Just a fraction of Spain’s riches.”

Kumi doesn’t comment. John Silver plows onward, his hair wet from sweat and the fog, black and glistening in the muted light.

“It’s more than that, you know,” he adds despite Kumi’s steady silence. “So many people sacrificed so much. Went through so much cruelty, so much strife for it… Because there was hope for a better world in it, too. The means to sustain a whole community. Freedom from the yoke--”

He stops and looks Kumi straight in the eye, as if he’s trying to convey the enormity of that to Kumi more directly than with words. Kumi doesn’t say anything; he just looks back into these blue, strangely translucent eyes. This drive to make the world better is a beautiful sentiment and a noble motivation, but Kumi doubts that there is an amount of money in existence that will stop slavers taking boys from their forests, their gardens and their fields, and dragging them onto their ships and into a terrible unknown.

Silver finally drops his gaze and they continue along the ridge swamped in dense greenery. The jungle is alive with the sound of animals and insects, so the silence that falls once Flint disappears from view is all the more striking.

They all stop in their tracks. Amma’s hand goes immediately to the hilt of her sabre and Madi runs up to the front.

“James? What--”

Flint’s head suddenly sticks out from a bush.

“It’s down here,” Flint rasps. “Let’s light a lantern, it’s quite dark.”

Madi breathes an audible sigh of relief and Kumi’s clenched fist relaxes. They all crowd around the entrance to the cave hidden in the shrubbery. It’s quite difficult to spot, its mouth a dark maw between the leaves.

Amma twitches, watchful as ever.

“Where’s Mr Silver? He was right behind us.”

Kumi turns. He must have lost Silver in the last minute or so, which means he can’t be far. He backtracks to the place where they had their conversation and, sure enough, Silver is sitting on a fallen tree trunk, his head in his hands.

Kumi stops at the edge of the clearing, Amma right beside him. Madi walks right past them, Flint at her heels.

“John?” She leans over him, hands on her hips. “What is it?”

“I’m sorry.” He looks up and Kumi can’t recall when he last saw a man in such intense existential despair. “I’m sorry this is who I am, and I can’t change that no matter how I try.”

Madi sits down next to him on the log and Flint hovers before them awkwardly. Kumi can only see his back and the sloping line of his shoulders and he thinks: fish out of water. Men like Flint shoot their problems, not console them.

“Well, who says that you should?” Flint rumbles and it’s so close and personal Kumi turns away. Amma does too and they stand there like two uncomfortable sentinels, ignoring the murmur of the conversation behind them. The humidity has rivulets of sweat flow down Kumi’s back and chest and he heaves a sigh.

“This whole trip has been quite a ride,” Amma says. There’s something wistful in her voice. Kumi thinks about home: the shadows of palm trees, Aloysius’s strangely pale skin. There are things that make it worth it.

A few minutes later Flint steps between them, his face flushed and determined. He swallows with nervous energy.

“Shall we?”

They go into the cavern and dig up the treasure while John Silver holds the lantern overhead. Kumi does feel a little surprised that the cache is in the ground exactly where they were supposed to find it and expects it to be empty until the last moment, but it’s not. It’s full of gold and jewels that reflect the light like anything he’s ever seen in his life, and for a short moment he understands the madness that drives people to seek treasure; then it passes like a warm shower of rain in spring.

 

 

Max begins her day with looking out onto her town from the balcony.

Anne is usually asleep when she wakes. Max leaves her in bed--her face so peaceful in sleep--and puts on a robe. It’s silk, just the side of sheer, rather inappropriate for stepping out, but she needs to take a look to make sure her town is there. A tsunami hasn’t come in the night and washed it away. A hostile navy hasn’t moored in her harbour and wreaked havoc on the beach. A trigger-happy maniac isn’t inciting the hard-working people to rebel against the English yoke. And every day she finds Nassau there, as smelly and vibrant as ever.

Then, Eme brings her breakfast and helps her dress, and they go through the most urgent issues of the day on the way to the market. While there, she takes a look at all the stalls. Orders some fine cloth from Mr Williams. Gets some fresh fruit from Mrs Jennings. Checks in on the price of sugarcane. The market street is the heart of Nassau, the trade--her blood, and Max makes sure it’s pumping.

“Oh, and the Kumasi has arrived this morning,” Eme adds once they’re done with the agenda. “She was the first ship in, must have come in the night.”

“The Kumasi”, Max repeats, glad at the thought of seeing Madi again. “Are they looking to trade?”

“They have a load of cloth and spices. And coin to spare, too.”

“I have not seen them in a while,” she muses. She has a feeling there was something about Madi she was supposed to remember and it’s right there, at the tip of her tongue, but then she runs into Jack.

“Good morning, mademoiselle.” He bows and almost sweeps the street with his ridiculous hat. “May I accompany you this morning?”

“You may, unless you’re going to attempt to barter compliments for money to fund another one of your harebrained endeavours,” she chides him, but they fall into step all the same.

He opens his mouth to protest but then deflates and reconsiders.

“I--I feel like I am being unfairly judged here.”

“I told you you have to earn your keep, didn’t I?”

They push through the morning crowd, dodging porters and merchants. Max turns her head to glance at jewellery and when she looks back ahead, Madi steps out from behind a tall Indian sailor.

“Madi!”

“Max. It is so good to see you.”

They exchange a quick embrace and a kiss on the cheek. Madi smells like fragrant oils, which is a familiar smell, reminiscent of childhood, Max’s mother, her cousins.

“I can see business is booming,” Madi says with a smile after exchanging pleasantries with Jack and Eme. She’s dressed in a finely embroidered blouse and a pair of dark, loose-fitted trousers, but there’s no pistol at her belt, just a heavy purse. “I was hoping we could sit down for a transaction or two.”

“Of course,” Max replies, intending to suggest a meeting, maybe even accompanied by a bottle of wine, but something gnaws at her in that relentless way that warned of her trouble many, many times before. Madi is always accompanied by the two men sworn to guard her and while there’s no one at her back now, Max can see someone dark-haired at the nearest stall. His hair is not straight though, like Aloysius Fairweather’s, but curly, and when the man turns to his companion, Max immediately recognizes John Silver’s perky profile.

In the background, Jack is awkwardly making conversation with Madi, but Max just stares, increasingly upset at the mere sight of John in her town. His hair is braided and adorned with beads, giving him the appearance of a Maroon or a Native, and he seems to have discarded the crutch in favour of a new wooden leg. All the girls at the brothel used to rave about how handsome he is, but Max always thought him rathe cute and boyish, and considered his attempts to appear older and more serious with the unkempt beard ridiculous. Now, he looks his age, groomed, tanned golden by the sun and uninhibited in the way he is gesturing and throwing his head back to laugh.

As Max watches, Silver realizes Madi is not beside him and looks around to find her. His gaze finally, inevitably lands on Max and Jack, and his cheerful expression slides into something wary and serious. He sways a little on his false leg upon turning and leans onto the shoulder of his companion for support.

They walk over, which is a short distance, definitely not sufficient for Max to regain her composure, especially that she is starting to recognize the other man as well. It’s not immediate, like with Silver, but gradual: the arrogant, swaying swagger, the ginger beard peeking out from under the brim of his hat, the penchant for tightly fitted breeches--here, now, on a November morning in the middle of Nassau John Silver is leaning on no-one else than the infamous Captain Flint.

Flint politely takes his hat off and gives a curt nod to Max, and she whips around to face Jack, who’s staring at Flint in unabashed horror.

“You told me he was dead!”

“As good as dead,” Jack supplies, apparently aware that it’s not going to suffice. Panicked, he turns to Silver, who is regarding all of them with a little smile. “You were not supposed to be back here, even less with Flint of all people!”

Silver shrugs with fake innocence.

“Just James,” Flint interjects calmly, putting his hat back on. “If you mind. I am trying to keep a low profile on New Providence.”

Jack gives a choked chortle at that. Flint looks at him with the unmistakable air of a threat, which clashes with the avuncular appearance he adopted: a farmer’s wide-brimmed hat, white shirt open on the chest, longer hair shot through with grey.

It’s not having the desired effect on Max.

“I do not know why you are back here,” she says, her voice level by utmost effort, “but I hope it is not to wreak havoc. I have worked too hard for this town to be what it is for you to just come back and put it on fire.”

Flint scoffs and prepares for a retort, but Madi places a hand on his forearm, which effectively silences him.

“We are only visiting,” she says with a tight, apologetic smile.

“Visiting?” Jack repeats, reaching an unsettlingly high pitch. “Visiting from where?”

“From the Maroon Island,” Madi replies. “John and James are staying with me.”

There is a beat as they all digest that information. Max looks more closely at John Silver and notices a reddened bite mark on his neck, just above the collar of his shirt. That smug smile is back on his face, seemingly drawing from a source deeper than just the shock effect, and she realises at once that they must have recovered the cache. Flint was the only one who knew its location. Madi had the resources to reach the island. Silver has always had that inexplicable hold on both of them.

It’s so obvious once she understands it, and she feels her mind bend under the force of that discovery, make room for it, and return to normal.

“So,” Flint, no, James clears his throat. “I wanted to see what all the racket was about. About Nassau. It’s a joy to see it thriving so.”

Max bristles a little but Flint rises his head to show her the genuine expression on his face. That’s favorable; she’d hate to be at odds with him again.

“How long are you staying?” Jack asks, probably trying to calculate his chances for being assaulted by Flint, however affable he seems to be.

“A few days,” Silver answers, squinting in the sun. “Just to trade and restock. Have a drink in the tavern. See if I need to send anyone the black spot. You know.”

Max shakes her head, looking at three of them. They give off a strong feeling of comfortable company, unity and familiarity, and it makes her miss Anne’s presence despite seeing her no more than an hour ago.

There’s no use denying that the balance of power has shifted and all that remains is to see how and whether she can somehow use it to her--and Anne’s, and Jack’s--advantage. Plus, she is really attached to the idea of having dinner with Madi.

“We spoke earlier of sitting down together, and I would like to extend that invitation to all of you,” she says, to Jack’s silent but fierce disapproval. “Dinner is on me tonight. I will send someone for you. But please, be discreet.”

And just like that, with a swish of her skirts Max moves away. She barely registers the dumbfounded looks on their faces, but the astounded laughter reaches her even across the crowd. All around her, Nassau’s pulse beats as strong as ever.