She saw it first, the shine in Thomas’ eye and the answering glint in James’ own. It was something that she had looked for, maybe without knowing that she sought it, for her husband, kind as he was.
She did not know, then, what she would come to know in time, but she had developed an eye for what pleased him and what others might give him that she could not.
Theirs was a marriage of friendship and camaraderie, simple joys and outspoken partnership. And so when Miranda Hamilton saw the glint of fire, she was hardly quiet about it.
Still, Thomas took his time after so long parched. There was no mistaking what was plain as day, and he did not begrudge her. He knew as well as she did that she was ever in such a similar predicament.
There was an understanding between them, and Miranda had felt the power of him, rushing just under the surface, where she would not go.
She knew that Thomas was dedicated. Much of his dedication was to her as his wife, the one who knew, whom he allowed to know his truest feelings out of trust.
She knew that they would keep each other as kin, and she could wear his secret for him in a way he was likely not allowed. And so she carried it as well, and that secret brought James forward and in toward them like the moon bringing waves forward toward the shore.
It was a bond that Miranda knew well, one she had sworn at least one of them would have. They protected each other, in their own ways: Thomas with his station, and Miranda with the way she could tell their story.
James came inward, to land, and bringing him away from the sea, even temporarily, would start a fire for all three. Still, it was a fire so fierce that none of the three of them could have known the results.
They did not know all of how things would proceed, or who would carry things forward from there. How James and Thomas would be marked forever by their love, and how James could hold her in his power and convey all that was needed, ensuring safety, love, companionship, family.
Theirs was a chosen bond, in every way that it could be so. This was the way, even then, even then.
Protection. Solace. And a place to stem the tide and soothe the wounds left by time. They built, and rebuilt, and rebuilt. All three together, with the way that the sea burned in their presence, and the land and the water were both theirs to traverse freely.
There was nothing that could separate them, and they were happy knowing this. There were memories of pain before their family had become whole, and of all the ways they had been silenced, though Miranda was ever the most vocal of the three. She could pull them close as if curtianing them, and though they were three equals Thomas and James recognized her contribution and welcomed it.
Even immortals need solace. Even immortals need peace.
Though the cannons could roar, they never tore the three asunder, and peace, hard-won, was theirs for the taking.
The fire of it was in their eyes.
One day, Miranda smiled a fierce smile and said, “I have perfected it. The Bullet Catch. Of course it’s ours now.”
And Thomas smiled with pride and Flint almost growled, because he would never be without his half-madness. It was in him from the start, but it was eased by the love shown to him by his family. For all of them had chosen in equal measure to bide their time together, and it was time they had.
There was nowhere that the bond they shared could not carry them. There was no port that could best them. And Thomas rode the sea as easily as he strode upon land, and everywhere he went he lived as himself, as it always truly should have been. James was full of pride as he taught him to sail, and they had all the time in the world to perfect it. Thomas lived easily upon the sea, and if anyone questioned their union they simply never sailed again--with James or with any other.
All of the time, and all of the love, carried them forward as a unit, destined as they were. There were no questions anymore--they simply were as they were meant to be. And as the sea rolled under them or they slept in port, they knew each other and the force of the bond that had brought them together.
There were times that even the greatest bond was not enough to keep loneliness from them, because they saw those without a bond such as theirs perish and fall where they had been swept by the tide. But for them, there was a forever fire, something unshakeable and theirs.
Some of the fight went out of them as the time passed, but the memories of what had very nearly happened to Thomas kept them in fierce loyalty to one another. For that was one truth that never left them, and perhaps it was this that kept their fire burning so very strong. Theirs was a fierce love, and they saw it among others as they passed through, but it was still rare and very much belonged to them, carved of could-have-beens that never came to pass.
The day they had found the fire lived on as the day they had made a family, one that would never waver. They could rend the sea with the power of their commitment, and they never feared the turning of the days again. Upon the sea they could rest in their love, and they bore the marks to prove this was so. When three hands were entwined, their marks matched easily where skin met skin, a family of three who could never be torn apart by time nor fate. And so it was.