"He is so terribly in love with you," Madi murmurs to him from out of nowhere, sitting easy in the curve of his arm in the shade of their small porch. Silver digs his chin into her shoulder in retaliation, ignoring the way his heart kicks twice against his ribs, heavy and threatening. Saying it out loud makes it hang in the air, too real, given weight.
"Why are we talking about this," he sighs, and glances over to where Flint has occupied the bench in their garden, shorn head bent quietly over a book in his hands, looking for all the world like a harmless country scholar. Hah, he thinks. "I've known."
"Neither of you are subtle," she answers, and there's a smile in her voice, and he digs his chin in again and gets an elbow in his ribs for his trouble, and when they're done with the resulting laughing tussle, she has a hand in his hair and that little line between her brows that means he'd better pay attention. "It has been different, between you, since he came back from Virginia. Better, I think."
Silver looks across the garden at Flint again. He cannot deny it.
Silver had never really wanted to be a king. He'd never really wanted to be quartermaster, for that matter, but he'd long ago learned that fighting the inevitable was for the wealthy, the foolish, and Flint. And in the first days after the terrible, bloody destruction of the final battle for Nassau, he’d found he had a talent for fixing things, and a fondness for it that he'd never felt for the war itself. Men went where he directed them, crews to clear the streets and bury the dead, a building set aside for the injured, captains falling into their roles and pulling their crews into order. Nassau had been battered and bloodied but not burned, and on the fifth day as he stood in the window of the makeshift office in the Governor's Mansion, and heard a fish vendor calling out his wares into the afternoon, he'd known they would make it.
Flint, sitting behind him in a chair, thick bandage around his head and twice-broken arm in a sling, had known it too.
"The Dolphin leaves for Virginia in a week," Silver had said to the air. They hadn't spoken directly about the news of the work colony, the possibility of Thomas Hamilton's presence there, but it had been silent and substantial between them since Flint had awoken from his injuries and been given the news of their victory.
"Does it," Flint's voice had still been raw, gritty with gunsmoke and screamed orders, his tone flat as his own saber blade, and Silver's eyes had flinched closed. His stomach had been a hard knot, tension and grief and hope and something else, and he'd nodded.
"She does, and you'd best be on her, Captain Flint." He'd grabbed his courage with both hands and turned, meeting narrowed green eyes with his own serious ones. "We're rebuilding Nassau. The ghosts who walk with you will have no place here. Go put this one, at least, to rest."
Flint's stare had gone incredulous, as it so often did during their little chats, and Silver smiled a little. He'd stumped over to his chair across the table from Flint, and slumped into it.
"Seriously, James," he'd said, much more casually. "Don't be an arsehole. Just go."
"If he's not there," Flint had answered him, then stopped, like the words were choking him.
"Then you'll know," Silver said steadily, looking him right in the eyes. Not saying the thousand other words crowding behind his tongue, or acknowledging the questions he could see in Flint, the things they'd danced around saying for months, now.
Flint had tipped his head, and had taken the advice of his quartermaster.
Silver and Madi's house is just outside Nassau proper, and he'd hired a few ship's carpenters to build it after the war. It's...unique. There are angles and shapes to it that you won't often see on land, odd buttressing to the walls, strange little rooms tucked into too-sharp corners, nautical turns to all the rails and doors and trim. Many an old sea-dog, when passing by, has stopped and looked at it with a smile. Madi had crossed her arms and lifted an eyebrow at him when she'd first seen it, and he'd shrugged. Ship's carpenters, what can you do.
It's extremely waterproof.
Flint adores it.
"Darling," Silver calls from the front steps, one morning in September, staring at the man with the cart piled high with boxes at his small, tidy front gate. "Madi, darling, why is there a man at the door with twenty large boxes for you? Are we starting a shop? Are you leaving me to go into trade?" He’s trying to ignore the way so many islanders, pirates and town residents alike, step aside with little bows when he passes. And this one hasn’t even come all the way to the door.
"Oh!" He hears her voice and then running feet, and she beams at him as she sweeps by him, out the door, and presses some coins into the deliveryman's hand. "Bring them in, right in here and to the left. The third door down, please. Set them on the floor, anywhere will do."
"Yes, mum," and Silver's feeling terribly ignored in his own home, but he knows enough to get out of the way and follow the tide of action, here.
When he gets to the formerly rather empty room they'd decided on as a study, Madi is already on the floor by a box, reaching in and reverently taking out book after book. Her face is lit with pleasure and he smiles to see it, then frowns.
"Are those Flint's books?" Surely no one else on Providence Island could have such a collection. Surely no one else would be delivering them to Silver's house.
"They are," she practically sings, running fingers over the worn leather spine of one. "I have not read even a quarter of these yet. Look at them all, John. We will need another shelf."
"Is he bribing you? What does he want?" John's suspicion runs deep. He's seen his Captain flee a burning ship carrying only his sword and as many books as he can hold. His eyes widen suddenly. "Is he dying?"
"You are an idiot," she informs him coolly, still petting the books in a way that Silver feels would make a lesser, more insecure man quite jealous. "Of course he is not dying. His house has fallen into some disrepair while he has been away. He does not want to see his books damaged, so naturally I said he should keep them here."
Silver contemplates that for long moments, looking at her, looking at the books, looking out the window towards where Flint's allegedly decrepit house still stands in the interior. "We are not adopting him," he tells her firmly. "He’s not a stray cat. He has his own house, he's not moving in here."
The eye-roll that earns him is truly epic. "As if I could tolerate two of you under this roof. Rattling about and pretending to be content while you both would so much rather be at sea."
"I hate the sea," Silver reminds her, and he sounds like a sulky child even to his own ears, and winces a little.
"Of course you do, my love," she says with what can only be pity, and goes back to her greedy, delighted discoveries in the boxes of books.
“You should not have shaved, John,” Jack had informed him as he’d breezed into his office six months after the establishment of Free Nassau, resplendent in a new purple coat, matching hat, gilded swordcane, and Anne Bonny on his arm. “I simply cannot take you seriously when you look like the urchin who set us all tits over arse for that logbook page without having a clue what you were about.”
“It’s bloody hot,” Silver had growled back at him, running his hand over his smooth chin. “And anyone who has issue with my looks is welcome to take it up with me personally. Including you, Rackham.”
“I think it’s fine,” Anne had volunteered unexpectedly, from under the brim of her hat. “All these fucks with their beards is just asking to be compared with Teach anyways. And none of ‘em fuckin’ wins.”
“Thank you, Ms Bonny,” Silver had inclined his head respectfully. Her scars had healed, but her legend had only grown, and he of all people knew how very much of it was true. “Jack, sit the hell down, you’re giving me a headache.”
“We found Max,” Jack blurted out, flinging himself dramatically into a chair. “In Jamaica. She’s already bought a hotel and a tavern. She’s setting up to be just as much a power there as she was here.”
“With what fucking money?” Silver had heard the stories, Max fleeing in the night with Eleanor Rogers and her household, being ferried away from the island in the middle of battle, secreted out, very possibly, with help from the inside. It hadn’t bothered him overmuch. Loyalties and alliances here were as liquid as the tides that ruled all their lives. But there’d been no mention of large sums of cash leaving with them.
“That’s what we wanted to know!” Jack had sat forward eagerly, then reached inside his coat and produced what was possibly the loveliest pearl Silver had ever seen.
“Her and her easily moveable assets,” Anne had chimed in softly, bitterly, from her post at the door, and Silver hadn’t had to look at her to read a great deal of their story in that.
“I thought the Spanish had accounted for all of that. Except your chest-full,” Silver pointed out, ideas and thoughts and possibilities ticking over in his mind, the prospect of sudden wealth--tools for Madi’s people, supplies for the town, weapons for the fort, repairs for the three ships still crippled in the bay, so many places to spend it--he was nearly dizzy with it.
“That money was floating around this shit-heap for weeks before any of that went down,” Anne answered, her slouch a little less tense now. “Ain’t no way some clever sorts didn’t stash some here an’ there. Set some aside for a rainy day, like. We did some o’ that ourselves, nothing like this, but enough. And we talked to Max. She told us where there was a pile of ‘em. For old times sake.” Her eyes, meeting his, were cold, cold. “Figured we’d let you have a few.”
It was the most words he’d ever heard her say at once.
“Indeed,” Jack had gone on, grand in his generosity, and Silver had found himself grinning. “A tribute to our new king. Even without a beard; John, really? You couldn’t even keep a goatee? You look twelve, man. Is everyone in this place still so terrified of you that they won’t give you so much as an honest word about your personal grooming?”
“Better than whatever that mess is on your face,” he’d replied peaceably, ignoring the last as a bit too close to the truth. “Now stop fucking around and tell me where I can find some of these caches. Before half the island sees your coat, puts two and two together, and is out with a shovel digging holes in the goddamn roads. We’re trying to get agriculture up and running, here, you know. Bit tricky to do that without roads.”
“Farming?” Jack had sneered, a curl of his lip so perfect that Silver had had to laugh.
“Farming,” he’d agreed. “Not everyone can be a pirate. And even pirates need to eat.”
“We’re expecting harbor privileges for this,” Jack had warned him, pulling parchment and a pen across the desk and starting to scribble. “Introductions to that new fence we’ve heard rumor of. Free meals at the Inn. Best spots on the beach. Whores for days-”
“Shut up, Jack,” Silver and Anne had said in tandem, and Silver had laughed again helplessly into his hand as Jack sputtered with indignation.
There’s no escaping it. John Silver is bored.
“This is amazingly fucking boring,” he informs Featherstone, who stops cold in the middle of his recitation of the day’s receipts and gives him a look so paralyzed with fear that Silver throws a pen at him.
“Get out, Featherstone. I’m not going to gut you just because I’m bored, Jesus. I haven’t so much as yelled at anyone in months.”
“Yes, sir,” Featherstone says quickly, scooping up his books and ledgers and backing hastily towards the door and away from Silver’s scowl. “Very good, sir.”
“Christ,” Silver breathes as the door closes, and then kicks his good foot against the leg of the desk, “fuck, Jesus, ow.”
“What on earth did you do to Featherstone? The man’s practically quivering his way down the stairs,” and of course Flint doesn’t knock, and of course he strolls in while Silver’s wincing and clutching at his foot. Those stupidly expressive eyebrows of his shoot up to his hairline at the sight. “Or should I be asking what he’s done to you?”
“No, you shouldn’t. I’m fine.” He thumps his fist on the table twice more just to help with the throb in his toe, and then points an accusing finger at Flint. “Or I will be fine, when you stop wooing my wife with your damn library.”
“Oh, they’ve arrived?” Flint actually smiles at him, all pleased and cheerful, the bastard, even the relaxed line of his shoulders displaying how alarmed he absolutely is not by Silver’s dramatics. “Excellent. Your library was an embarrassment. As is, your lady and I have agreed, your education.”
Very privately, Silver sometimes thinks that Flint was actually more tolerable to be around when he was grim and miserable all the time. His sense of humor is vile, and he feels free to say the most terrible things with a smile on his face these days. With no answer to the obvious truth of this last barb, however, he contents himself with a look of flat displeasure in Flint’s direction.
“Now, don’t be sour,” Flint coaxes, and drops the handful of papers he’d been carrying onto Silver’s desk. “Have a look at these, and tell me what you think.”
Silver flips one page up, then another. They’re names and posts, mostly, some familiar, some not.
“What are these for?”
“I’ve been going through the list of everyone who remains on the island.” Flint cocks a hip against his desk. “Most of these are already on crews, of course. The Indefatigable has been in and out of harbor twice already this month, the Lady Mary once. Fully crewed. Anne and Jack and the Vainglorious have a waiting list, of course. But we’ve a few knocking around in Nassau still looking for a ship, and a few just now back on their feet. Six or seven men just blew in from Provincetown, and one’s the old Sailing Master from the Revenge.”
Flint’s voice changes, drops to quietness. “And there’s that lovely little sloop just sitting in the bay.”
“You said you were retired,” Silver blurts, harsh and more loudly than he’d intended. He can’t read anything in Flint’s face, the stillness there, the way everything about him seems to be waiting.
“I did,” Flint answers, still quietly.
“‘That lovely little sloop’ does not speak to me of retirement.” He finally looks down, away, unable to bear it anymore. Flint, going back to sea. Sailing away, again, but this time without the war, the gold, and the ghosts hanging from his shoulders. Silver can almost taste the salt spray in the air.
“Charters. A bit of protection. Perhaps some shipping. I won’t be flying the black again, John.”
“Then why the fuck are you talking to me?” Silver shoves the papers aside, practically shaking with the need to pace, or possibly hit something. “I’m the King of the Pirates, or hadn’t you heard? Merchant Marines are a bit outside my purview. No matter what their provenance might be.”
“It seemed like the right thing to do.”
“It seemed like the right thing to do.”
“Will you stop repeating everything I say?” Flash flare of that red temper of Flint’s, and Silver is back on slightly more familiar ground, at least.
“You’ve barely been back two months,” he points out. “All that talk of walking inland with your oars.”
Flint is silent for a long moment, just looking at him with those disconcertingly clear green eyes. Silver meets them steadily, far too accustomed by now to the feeling of being seen, and known, and understood, all the way through.
“Retirement isn’t really working out for me,” he finally answers, and that breaks Silver’s anger into an unexpected huff of laughter, and a smile, and he reaches out, greatly daring, and shakes Flint’s shoulder gently.
“Come take my spot, then. Be king of this place. I’m quite awful at it, and they don’t need me anyway.”
“What the fuck?” Flint seems genuinely startled at this, rearing back to study his face. “What are you talking about?”
“I was a pirate for a grand total of...what was it, eleven months? Two of which were spent either unconscious or nearly so.” He taps his iron leg in illustration. “Featherstone keeps the books and Idelle has the Inn and hospitality well in hand. Gilly and Allemagne run the Captain’s Council, and well. The town is more or less in good repair, and I honestly don’t know enough about the business side of things to manage it anyway.” His hand tightens a little on Flint’s shoulder. “I was the face of a war. Billy made sure of it, and it worked very well. But the war is over.”
“It’s only been a year.” Flint is very still under his grip. Silver’s palm is warm with the heat of him.
“It’s been a shitty year.”
“Heavy lies the crown?” There are little sun-wrinkles at the corners of Flint’s eyes that, when they deepen, are the best indication that he’s trying not to smile.
“I am now, officially, more feared than liked,” Silver admits on a sigh, finally slumping back and releasing that hold that suddenly felt so dangerous. “And the most interesting thing I do these days is perform weddings.”
“Anyone I know?” Flint’s eyes light with interest, the old gossip, and Silver grins.
“Joji and that tall fellow the Lady Mary picked up in Tortuga, believe it or not. The one with the seventeen gold earrings? They’re making it official, full matelotage. They’ve even hired a band.”
“That sly dog,” Flint chuckles, and then glances at Silver, sobering. “You’re not wearing that, are you? First shaving the beard, now wearing those old things. No guns, not so much as a bandolier? You can shed as much of Long John Silver as you like, but you’d better dress the part for Joji’s wedding.”
Silver rolls his eyes. “You’re as bad as Rackham. I’ll be fearsome enough when the time comes.”
Black clouds had boiled, heavy and menacing on the horizon, the first wave of winter weather approaching the islands. The gusts of wind had felt nearly solid as they’d slapped against the sides of the building, clattering shutters and blowing curtains sideways.
Silver had pressed his clasped hands against his lips, praying as hard as a heathen like himself could that it would hide the quiver in them that he just could not restrain.
“A Quaker!” James Flint had gestured wildly with the bottle of rum held aloft in one hand, “Sworn to non-violence. Pac-paci..peacefulness. In Massachusetts!”
“That explains what took you so long,” Silver had agreed, then snagged the rum as it passed by on its sweep.
“He’s married,” Flint had mumbled at him. He’d had quite a lot of the rum.
“They told him we were dead.”
Silver hadn’t wanted to laugh anymore. He’d wiped his lips on his sleeve after taking a long, warming pull of the rum, and handed it back.
“Seemed to be a lot of that going around.”
She finds him in the study in the middle of the night, his leg aching with a fierce burn that still can’t rival the churning tumult of his thoughts. Slim arms come around his waist and he lets out a breath that is more than half a sob, letting her draw him back against her strength.
“Tell me,” she presses a hand over his heart.
“I love you,” he grits out, and feels her nod against the back of his neck.
“I know this, like I know my name.”
“I’ve never...in my life, I’ve never been needed like that before. A part of something so big, an important part. It’s worse than opium. Worse than rum. My crew, my men. My captain. They were all mine, and I was theirs, and it was--god, what a mess.”
“James. He told you today, he’s going back to sea, yes? And you want to go with him.”
Silver goes still against her. Breathes once, twice, to make sure he remembers how, and turns in the circle of her arms, careful not to twist against the boot.
“He told you?”
“I know you, John Silver. And I know your Captain Flint.” Her smile is shining beauty in the darkness. “Do you think I do not notice when you come back from town restless and frowning? With nothing but stories of tedium? Do you think I enjoy being called away so much, working with my people, leaving you here in this house alone?”
“I have offered to come with--”
“John.” Her fingers against his lips silence him instantly. “You love him. And you love me, and those things can be true together. Long ago you asked me if I would come away with you, if you would be enough for me. And I could not answer, because the question was wrong. I could never leave my people, they are mine and I am theirs. But this is not enough for you. You need your people as well.”
Silver just looks at her for what feels like an eternity. When he bends to kiss her, she leans up to it eagerly, heat flaring between them as it always does. Her mouth is lush and sweet, and she bites at his lip just how he loves, and her hands on his waist feel like they might burn him.
A minute or an hour later, she pulls away and murmurs, “I have heard that Captain Grace O’Malley has two husbands. This seems very sensible to me.”
Silver laughs until the tears come, and then takes her to bed.