The sun has been high in the sky for a few hours by the time they arrive in Savannah. The house Peter Ashe had found fitting to hide them away in is a small estate, high fences all around, with a well-kept garden in the front and what Miranda assumes are some fruit trees in the back.
"This is my grandfather's brother’s house," Abigail explains to her as they ready themselves to exit the carriage.
They're greeted by a tall man, with a tired, worn out look, standing in front of them in light clothes and no wig. He looks a bit like Peter around the eyes, and just that simple resemblance is enough to make Miranda hate him a bit right away.
"Cousin John," Abigail greets. John steps forward and takes Abigail's hand so he can greet her. Miranda lets herself observe from a distance.
"Cousin Abigail," John greets back, smiling. "It's pleasure to meet you at last, even if under these unforeseen circumstances."
"Indeed," Abigail agrees easily, voice airy, in a way Miranda has never heard from her — it's always different when one is following protocol.
"Is this the party that accompanied you?" John asks, his eyes going over the three guards that came with them and stopping in Miranda, a frown on his face. "Cousin Peter said that they're to return to Charles Town promptly, but we can provide refreshments if need be."
One of the guards makes to speak, but Abigail intervenes, "Actually, Mrs. Barlow is to stay, to lecture me and keep me company. I'm afraid this was arranged quite last minute, so I’m not sure if Father remembered to inform you."
John nods, his eyes widening, as if suddenly remembering that piece of information. He nods to Miranda in greeting, and she curtseys in answer. "Very well. I'm afraid the rooms are still being prepared, but in the meanwhile we'll have tea and then I'll leave you to get settled. I'm sure you must be exhausted from the journey here."
Miranda follows them into the house. The corridors are straight and narrow, the walls empty except for the occasional painting. Abigail turns to look at her, and Miranda tries to find a smile within herself to give her. She's not sure she succeeds.
"Mother is ill-disposed, I'm afraid," John is saying. "You've never met her, have you, Cousin Abigail?" he asks without looking.
Abigail looks forward again. "No, I've never met Aunt Lilian."
John hums in agreement. "She usually comes down to lunch, but you're probably not going to be seeing much of her beyond that. She prefers isolation these days. Still, I'm sure she's looking forward to meet you. Sit, please.”
They’re in a small library, with a few sets of shelfs, a desk in the corner, a small sitting area in the front. She and Abigail take a sit side by side on the sofa and Abigail pours each of them a cup of tea.
“It’s a quiet life here,” John says to Abigail, a cup of tea on his hand as well. “My children, your second cousins, Adelaide and Jamie, they help brighten up the place. They are out right now, but you’ll meet them later.”
Miranda doesn’t really listen to what John says. She looks out the large windows behind him, to the garden outside, the high fence surrounding it. Behind it, she can see bits of trees. She knows there’s not many houses around, that she’s as good as alone here.
Miranda is brought back to the conversation when she hears her name: “Has Mrs. Barlow been with you for long?” John is asking. Miranda takes a sip of her tea while Abigail answers, pain throbbing harder from her shoulder at the movement.
“Yes, she came with me from London,” Abigail says easily. “Thankfully, we managed to keep together during the whole…” Abigail’s voice dies down. She seems at a loss for words on what to call her stay in Nassau. John nods in agreement, mouth opening to apologize, but Abigail cuts him. “Anyhow, I could hardly come alone from Charles Town after everything,” Abigail concludes. The lies fall easy from her tongue; Miranda would never have thought Abigail, someone so earnest in her opinions and beliefs, a good liar, but it seems like she was mistaken.
Miranda knew a man like that, once.
“Indeed,” John agrees easily, with his eyes — Peter’s eyes — full of sympathy. Such emotion seems wrong in them.
The butler — Parker, Miranda will learn later — comes into the room and nods at John.
“Seems like your rooms are prepared.” John says, getting up. “I’ll leave you to go rest. Cousin Abigail, I hope I’ll see you at dinner. Will Mrs. Barlow be joining us?”
“Perhaps it’s simpler if I take my meals upstairs,” Miranda offers, speaking up for the first time. Abigail looks displeased with the answer.
“Yes, indeed,” John agrees easily. He moves across the room to the desk. “Parker will see you to your rooms.”
They follow Parker up the stairs, Abigail in front of her. Miranda’s room appears first, and Abigail smiles at her before Miranda goes in. Just this time, Miranda doesn’t smile back.
Her room has yellow walls, a large window opposite to the door, a small round table in the corner and a dressing table to the right. In any other occasion, Miranda would have paid attention to all those details, but this time she just goes through the motions.
There are no clothes for her to change into, but she undresses nonetheless, until she’s down to her shift. She has bled through it, but not through the dress, thankfully. She takes off the bandage around her shoulder and doing so reminds her of the many times she has done that for James. So many scars of his have been healed by her, watched over by her as they went from red to white.
She pushes him out of her head.
She’ll have to ask Abigail for clean bandages and for some alcohol for the wound, but for now she only washes her bandages, twists them to take as many water out of them as she can, and then wraps them around her shoulder again. The motions are strange when she does them on herself.
It’s only when that’s done that Miranda finally lets herself collapse on the foot of the bed, leaning against one of the posters. She’s exhausted. She closes her eyes, finally, and all she can see is James. She has not allowed herself think of him throughout the day, not while she stood in front of everyone, but he is all that exists on her mind now. She can see his anger, his pain, his devastation. It fills her senses until even breathing gets hard.
She wonders if he knows she’s alive. Somehow, she doubts Peter would allow him that much.
She wonder is he’s alive. She doubts that too, but hopes nonetheless. Against her closes eyelids, she sees him in the middle of Charles Town, noose around his neck, body hanging limp.
A maid comes over a while later, with clothes on her arm. She steals only a glance at Miranda, and Miranda wonder what she sees. Through the mirror, Miranda looks at her own face, red and swollen even though Miranda’s not sure she has actually cried.
Her shift still hangs off one of her shoulders and the wound has bled through the bandage again.
“Miss Ashe asked me to bring you some clothes,” the maid says, drawing Miranda’s eyes away from the mirror. The maid in her late twenties, probably early thirties, but her voice doesn’t sound older than Abigail’s. It’s an odd contrast. “I didn’t know you were injured, Ma’am. Would you like me to bring you some supplies?”
Miranda tries for a smile. “That would be lovely, thank you.”
The maid nods. “Of course, Ma’am. I’ll be right back.”
Miranda looks at the dresses the maid brought, one light yellow and one light green. There’s also a baby blue sleeping gown. Even from a distance, Miranda can see they’re too big to be Abigail’s. Maybe they belong to her aunt, or to John’s wife, wherever she is.
The maid comes back soon and offers to help Miranda with the wound. Her hands are cold against Miranda’s skin, and the alcohol makes her hiss, but the girl is quick and precise in her movements. Better yet, she doesn’t ask questions, barely frowns at Miranda’s bullet wound or at her still blotchy eyes.
The maid takes the things with her when she leaves, but she promises to be back later to help her change the bandage again. Miranda thanks her again and, as soon as the door closes behind her, she lets herself fall back into the bed.
She must have a couple of hours until sun down, so Miranda finally allows herself to cry. Through it, she doesn’t make a sound.
Abigail doesn’t come to see her until morning. Miranda is sitting on the room’s small round table having breakfast, when Abigail knocks and Miranda welcomes her in.
Abigail has a weird smile on her face. Her eyes are blotchy, just slightly.
“I hope you’re feeling better,” Abigail says in a trembling voice. “I know you don’t want to be here and I’m so sorry for it. I promise that as soon an opportunity comes up I’ll help you leave.”
Miranda smiles. It’s no use telling Abigail what is really happening: that Abigail’s cousins think her a traumatized, unstable girl, so she’s not to leave under any circumstances. Miranda, in turn, is to stay with her at all times. She doesn’t tell Abigail that, had Miranda chosen not to come, she’d have a bullet in her head and not just one in her arm by now.
They’re trapped trapped here, both of them.
“I’m feeling better, thank you,” Miranda answers.
Abigail nods and sniffles. Miranda frowns. “Is everything alright, dear?”
Her lip trembles. “I- Cousin John got news from Charles Town. Apparently, it’s all the talk in town. Captain Vane and Captain Flint have escaped trial and Charles Town has burned to the ground. Papa is dead,” she says it all in one breath, the words stumbling ones over the others.
For a moment, Miranda can’t breathe; she’s not even sure her heart is beating properly. Selfishly, she asks, “James is alive?”
Abigail nods. “Him and Captain Vane have escaped,” she confirms, and how Charles Vane is involved Miranda doesn’t know. “I don’t know what to think,” she adds, voice weak, crying fully now.
Miranda stands there frozen for a moment before putting her cup down and making her away to kneel beside Abigail. Abigail reaches for her, hugs her, hides her face in Miranda’s neck. Miranda hugs her back.
James is alive. For a moment, she lets herself savor the thought. James is alive. He is alive. She can’t think of sweeter news.
Abigail sobs loudly into her neck, and Miranda returns to her, holds her tighter. She can’t say she’s sorry about Peter Ashe being dead — she would’ve done it herself if she had had the opportunity. However, Abigail had just survived the worst weeks of her life and Peter Ashe was her father, her only close relative, the only person she knows properly who’s not in London right now. The reason why she crossed the Atlantic and got involved in this whole mess in the first place. She doesn’t condemn her for crying and mourning. Instead, she kneels, and Abigail cries.
Settling in Savannah is a slow, steady process.
During the first week, they’re all dressed in black in mourning. Miranda hates it, partly because she’s got nothing to mourn when it comes to Peter Ashe, and partly because the person she was afraid she’d be mourning is actually alive and she wants to celebrate it — wants to dress in the most outrageously colorful dress instead.
After that week, things settle into a routine. Miranda is with Abigail most of the day, the two of them seated side by side in the library, each with their own book. They talk about them later, in the afternoon, when the sun is softer and they can go for a walk in the garden. Apart from that, there is a harpsichord in one of the rooms and sometimes Abigail plays, with Miranda watching from a corner. For some reason, she doesn’t tell her she plays too.
She meets John’s kids: the oldest, Adelaide, who is about to reach twelve years of age, and the youngest, Jamie, who is barely eight. Jamie is quiet and observant and has flaming red hair. Watching him feels like a cruel joke. Abigail tells her one afternoon that their mother, Anne, died two years ago in childbirth.
She also meets Ms. Smith, the children’s governess, and Mrs. Middleton, the children’s nanny. There is nothing particularly remarkable about Mrs. Middleton, but Ms. Smith is younger than Miranda would have expected, probably in her mid-twenties. The kids seem to behave better around her than around anyone else, so she’s probably good at her job. A few days a week, in an unusual arrangement, Ms. Smith’s younger sister Charlotte comes in the afternoon to help with the kids, to engage them in painting and art. She’s not more than a couple of years older than Abigail, so Miranda hopes that at least Abigail can make a friend of her own age.
Besides that, Miranda rapidly concludes that, like in any household, the servants like to gossip. They’re not used to her, and she’s not used to the rhythms of the house yet, so she catches them often: huddled together at the end of a corridor, talking in low voices as they set the table. She knows that they probably talk about her, but of all the things that’s what bothers her the least, even when it sometimes it reminds her of her old life, when she was Lady of a house and had servants of her own.
They’ve yet to set a foot outside the fences of the estate.
Overall, it’s a boring life. Miranda hates every day of it.
The quiet hours between breakfast and lunch are the ones where she and Abigail are truly alone. John is always out doing something or another, the kids are having their lessons in another room, and the servants are upstairs arranging the bedrooms. Abigail’s aunt is not a concern for anyone, since she’s always closed in her rooms, so much so that Miranda is yet to meet her.
When alone, Miranda and Abigail are usually in the library, where they can open the large windows and close the curtains, allowing for the air to flow without the sunshine being overbearing. They each read from their own book, and Miranda has gotten into the habit of reading the most boring, mots hateful romances she can find. It’s a strike opposite from how it used to be: when James brought her books, he always took care to bring her only the ones he thought she might like, ones he had read himself or that were by authors they knew. Perhaps that’s why Miranda takes some pleasure in reading the ones she utterly dislikes, that make her want to roll her eyes so far up in her head so she’d make sure she didn’t have to read a single word more. Or perhaps it is because they serve as a flicker of emotion in the midst of all that desert.
“Miranda?” Abigail calls her one day.
Miranda looks up, waiting for her to speak. Neither of them are silent when they read, Miranda with noises that she makes mostly unconsciously, and Abigail with doubts over the meaning of certain words or over what Miranda thinks of a certain turn of phrase. Sometimes, Abigail asks if she can read aloud, which Miranda always complies with and returns with a particular bad passage she’s read. She does so in an attempt to make Abigail laugh because that girl needs to laugh more, and she doesn’t know if she notices it is on purpose or not, but it usually works.
Abigail is looking at her, a slight frown between her brows. Not a book question, then. “Can I ask you something personal?”
“Sure,” Miranda says easily.
Abigail nods. She seems to ponder her question carefully. “You and Captain Fli- Mr. McGraw, I mean… Were you very close?”
Miranda wonders what brought this one. News about what happen in Charles Town keep on coming, tales about how Captain Vane cut fingers of men for prizes, about how Captain Flint forced a mother to kill her children in cold blood. About how Captain Flint was the one who killed the Governor with a merciless sword to the chest. Other tales, too, about how they have taken to attack other towns, anywhere they hang a pirate, they say. The news come mostly through the servants, but the house hears them nonetheless. Miranda knows that most of it is made up, but so far removed from Nassau and from the pirates, sometimes it is hard to know where the lie ends and the truth begins.
She’s not sure if that is why Abigail is asking, but Miranda wonders if she is having a hard time at it, conciliating the man she spent days living in close quarters with, with the man who, if the tales are true, killed her father with a sword to the chest.
“We were, yes,” Miranda says simply. She knows, consciously, that James is alive, but part of her never got over the visions of seeing him hanged in Charles Town, and that part of her is still grieving his loss, making it painful to bring up any memory of him.
“How long have you known him for?” Abigail asks, voice soft.
Miranda wants to withdraw from the conversation, but she says instead, “Ten years. We met in London, in 1705, when he came to work with my husband. Thomas,” she adds his the name belatedly. She’s barely spoken his name in a decade and it feels painfully weird in her mouth. “I’m not sure you remember him, you must have barely crossed paths.”
“I don’t, I’m sorry,” Abigail says, and she sounds truly grieved by it. “Did they get along, Mr. McGraw and Lord Hamilton?”
“You can call him Thomas, he’d probably prefer it,” Miranda says before answering the question. “They did, yes. They were very close,” Miranda answers, putting her discomfort aside for the moment. If asking this questions will help Abigail in any way, then Miranda will answer them.
“What did you like most about Mr. McGraw?” Abigail asks, her book totally forgotten now.
Miranda is taken aback by the question, has to ponder her answer for a moment. It wasn’t one particular thing that made her drawn to James, she thinks. She tells Abigail that, and adds, “But I did know that he worried. That he cared. About me. I loved that about him. He was at sea often, never at home for long and tired when he was, but still he liked to help around, with the gardening and the cleaning. I think it made him feel at home. And he always brought me something when he came, a gift that he picked carefully, something that he thought I might like.”
Abigail nods. “You like that he thought about you,” she says, putting it in simpler terms that Miranda ever could.
Miranda nods. “I did. I was alone a lot, and I thought of him often, worried about him. It was good to know that I wasn’t alone in it.” James and I were often closer when we were apart, Miranda thinks, but she doesn’t voice it. She’s not sure how her voice will come out if she does.
Miranda looks at Abigail, watches as she opens her mouth and closes it, her eyes uncertain, until she finally settles on a “Thank you,” and goes back to her book.
Despite the fact that Miranda spends her mornings and afternoons with Abigail, she also spends an unfathomable amount of time on her own. She spends meal times in her bedroom, and Abigail likes to play with her cousins in the early evening, before she goes down to dinner, so Miranda leaves her to it. It would remind her of Nassau, except it is somehow worse: she doesn’t have to prepare her meals or clean her dishes, doesn’t have her garden to plan and take care of, doesn’t have her clothes to wash and to mend.
(Doesn’t have James’ visits to look forward to. Doesn’t have her space filled with small reminders of his existence, like a pair of trousers he forgot, his sleep clothes on the foot of her bed, the old rings that he left behind when he changed them for new, shinier ones. His absence is the hardest part of all, and if Miranda focuses on it for more than a second, she feels despair swallow her up, so she doesn’t.)
(It’s an odd thing, to grieve a man who’s actually alive.)
She often spends the nights alone and awake and that what most closely resembles her old life- Except the mattress is harder than she likes, the pillows are taller than what her neck can tolerate, and she never finds the occasional red hair lost in the sheets. In Savannah, everything is, somehow, worse.
She gets used to taking her time with the meals, in an attempt to occupy the time. Abigail asks more than once if she wouldn’t like to join them, but Miranda can’t stand the thought of eating a meal across a man who reminds her so much of Peter, not when the last meal she had with Peter ended with her shot and James in chains, not when other options are available.
In the evenings, while everyone is downstairs for dinner, she gets used to helping Mrs. Middleton with bathing and putting the kids to bed, even though Miranda has no skill for children and Mrs. Middleton doesn’t actually need the help. Nowadays, it’s often only Jamie that has to be taken care of, since Adelaide is reaching the age where she can join the adults for dinner, and she does so more often than not. Regardless, Mrs. Middleton allows Miranda to help and she’s not afraid to correct her when she does something wrong. The part that Miranda most likes is that Jamie is his most talkative during his bed time routine, which helps distract her: he is currently obsessed with horses, and by now Miranda knows more about the animal than she ever expected to in her life.
After that, she retires to her bedroom, eats her dinner, and waits until the maid comes to retrieve her plate to finally undress. The wound on her shoulder is healing, but it still hurts, especially when she moves her arm too much or too rapidly.
She lets herself walk around naked most nights, even though she knows it is hardly proper, but she can’t find it in herself to care. She enjoys opening the windows wide, letting the cool breeze of the night wash over her body. She takes the time to pleasure herself, too, taking advantage of the fact that there is no one around to hear — not that sound is a problem since she barely makes any.
Her orgasms feel good and empty most nights, but occasionally, there is one that leaves her feeling tingly and satisfied. She can never know which one it is going to be when she starts, doesn’t know how to predict when her orgasm will be actually satisfactory, but maybe that’s why she chooses to do it every night — because the hope feels good regardless of the outcome.
“Miranda?” Abigail asks.
Miranda looks up from her book. Abigail is looking right at her from the other side of the room. Miranda wonders if she’s been like that for long. “Yes?”
Abigail swallows, nervous about whatever she wants to ask. Miranda smiles, reassuringly. “Did- Were you and Lord Hami- Thomas, I mean. Were you happy? Did you love each other?”
Miranda smiles and relaxes into her chair. “We did, very much.”
Abigail nods. Her eyes look sad. “May I ask, how did you and Thomas meet? Did you love him when you met?”
Miranda smiles again, looks down at her hands folded on top of the book. Her wedding ring rests on her finger, a small reminder of before, of the life she sometimes doubts she lived. She looks up at Abigail. “I did not. In fact, I hated him a little at the time.”
Abigail’s eyes widen, book forgotten. “Really?”
“Yes.” Miranda wets her lips. “I met Thomas when I was fifteen, ten years before we got married. My father was doing some investments with the Hamilton family, so we met as a result of that. My father, obviously, hoped that one of his daughters would be able to marry a man from the great Hamilton family, so he kept on pushing me to them. It should’ve been my sister to deal with all of his pushing, but she was always a little sickly and my father didn’t trust her to be able to be married. So he pushed me to the Hamilton boys, mostly to Thomas, since his older brother George was engaged to be married and his younger brother was only six. That’s how our friendship started, as a result of inconvenient parents.”
“How old was your sister?”
“Margaret was nineteen,” Miranda answers. “My father didn’t try to marry her off because nobody wanted a wife who would not be able to carry a child. She died the year after I married Thomas.”
Abigail looks down. “Do you miss her?”
Miranda nods. “Very much.” Miranda takes a moment to remember Margaret; the two of them had always been so close in looks and so distinct in personality. “It’s funny, though, because I never really understood her… but she was very dear to me.”
Abigail smiles, like she understands the feeling. Miranda thinks back to the news of Peter Ashe’s death, wonders if Abigail feels some of that too — love without understanding.
“Why did you hate Lord Hamilton at the time?” Abigail asks, getting back on track.
Miranda smiles, thinking back to that moment. It feels like a dream, to remember her father’s house, and Thomas, so young at the time. “I thought he looked small.” She pauses. “Especially when compared to his father and brother. They were both big and loud, and Thomas was… small.”
Abigail frowns. “What do you mean?”
“Growing up, I always knew it would fall on me to marry right. Like I said, my sister didn’t have a good health. Yet, I feel like my parents always overlooked it a bit. I was always a bit of a mischief, ever since I was young girl, but my father never worried. In fact, my father found me funny, he enjoyed that I had such wild spirit, that I had such funny ways, as he said.” She looks at Abigail, absorbed in her words. “I think my father never worried because he always thought that I would grow out of it, when the time came for such a need arise.” Miranda laughed. “Of course, it never happened.” She looks to see Abigail smiling at her, and she smiles back. “But he was so convicted in his belief that I would grow up the proper way, that most time I believed it too, even though there was always some part of me that relished in the idea that I could manage my way around was expected.”
“But you didn’t, right? Grow up the way your father expected?” Abigail asks. She seemed eager to know the answer.
Miranda laughs. “Of course not.” Abigail smiles, big and bright. “But I didn’t know I wouldn’t when I met Thomas. And because I didn’t know what the future held for me, I had grown up with the idea that I wanted to marry someone big. Not big as in wealthy or recognizable, but someone who people looked to, who would make people look at me too. Someone who would make me… noticeable. And someone who I would be able to get a rise off, who would look at me when I screamed or acted crazy, who would do those things as well. I liked to live dangerously, then,” Miranda admits, trying for funny, for she knows that no woman dreams of marrying a man who likes to get into fights.
“And you didn’t think Lord Hamilton could be that,” Abigail concludes.
“Oh, I know he definitely couldn’t,” Miranda assures her. “However, when it came to him, I was right about a few things, and wrong about many others. Falling in love with Thomas was the only time I enjoyed being wrong in my life,” she says, feeling a dreamy smile on her face. “At the time, I was convinced that I would never be able to get a rise out of him, since he seemed to have grown talented in the art of ignoring those who spoke above him. He also seemed too quiet to ever be interesting. I was right about my first assumption and wrong about the second. He was quiet, but just so long as his mouth was shut. God, did he like to talk,” Miranda says. She smiles into the room. “I can’t remember his voice anymore.”
They sit in silence for a while, but Abigail doesn’t go back to her book and so Miranda doesn’t either, preferring to watch Abigail as she thinks. Eventually, she looks up, a thoughtful look in her eyes, and she’s careful as she speaks her next words, “It’s a lonely existence.”
Miranda tilts her head. “What is?”
“Being a woman.” Abigail looks down. “It’s alright to be loud and carefree, but only when we’re children and as long as no one can listen to us. And then when we’re grown people pretend to listen, but only so long as it pleases them. No one wants to know the ugly. That’s to be kept only to ourselves.”
Miranda looked at Abigail, at the traumatized girl who had somehow fallen into her care. She wonders how many monsters live in her nightmares. “You can always come to me with the ugly.”
Abigail smiles to her hands. “Thank you.”
Like Miranda hoped, Abigail and Charlotte get along. Abigail starts spending the afternoons when the girl is around with her, in the kid’s room, and her fingers are always dirty by the end of it. Sometimes Miranda joins them, most times she doesn’t.
Charlotte is fun and quirky, odd in an endearing way, and the kids love her. She paints with them, does theatre with them — apparently, Adelaide likes to write small plays for them to act out together — and is always up for whatever kid play the kids come up with. Sometimes, she brings baked goods made by her mother in her pockets, which she feeds the kids when Ms. Smith is not looking. When Abigail starts joining them, she starts to bring them for her as well. Abigail laughs comes easier when Charlotte’s around and she doesn’t seem as troubled and haunted as she usually does. Miranda can certainly understand why.
One of the evenings after Charlotte has come and gone, Abigail comes into her bedroom just as Miranda comes from putting Jamie in bed. For the first time since Miranda had met her, she seems nervous in a normal, not tragic, way. “Charlotte sells her mother’s bake goods every weekend at the town market,” Abigail explains.
Miranda looks at her, careful to keep her expression neutral. Her book rests open under her hands. Just for the sake of saying something, she says, “I can see why. They’re certainly delicious.”
Abigail beams, seeming proud of it. Miranda tries her hardest not to laugh, for she knows it would certainly not be appreciated, “Yes. Anyhow, I was wondering: do you think that, if I were to ask, Cousin John would let me join them sometime? Apparently they’re without a helper, and I have more than enough time to help.”
For all that John resembles Peter in Miranda’s eyes, and though he has made it clear he doesn’t want them to leave often — which might be related to the fact that he always seems troubled around Abigail, as if he is waiting for her to break-down and start throwing things any time now — Miranda has the feeling he won’t actually say no. “Suggest going only for a morning,” Miranda says. “If he says yes to that and everything goes well, maybe he’ll let you stay for a whole day soon.”
Abigail seems displeased — she’s only a child, she wants to be out and about — but she nods. “I will do that. Thank you.”
So Miranda begins to spend her Saturday mornings alone. She starts to let herself stay in bed until later, just lying there awake, so much so that her breakfast is cold when she finally eats it. It’s barely a change of pace, but it is a change of pace nonetheless, so Miranda tries to appreciate it as such. Afterwards, she usually goes down to walk the gardens, to gauge what she would have kept and what she would have done different. She knows the planning of it is done by Abigail’s aunt, who she has crossed paths with only a handful of times and is yet to trade any word with.
When Abigail comes home, she comes with baked goods and full of stories from the market, about the costumers and some of Charlotte’s friends, talkative in a way she rarely is. Miranda usually accompanies her to her bedroom, so Abigail can talk and change clothes for lunch at the same time. One time, a couple of months after Abigail started going, Miranda notices a mark in her breast just where the dress would have hidden it. It looks like a love bite. Abigail seems too relaxed to be aware of it, and Miranda draws her gaze away before she can notice her looking. She never brings it up.
“Miranda?” Abigail calls. She has a particular way of doing it when she means to ask her something more personal and not something about what she’s reading. Miranda looks up from her book.
“Yes?” Miranda asking, marking the page on her book and settling for the conversation. Abigail is always the one who initiates them and she has started to do it more and more often. She likes asking Miranda questions about her life, about James and Nassau, about London and Thomas, about Miranda’s own childhood. It had been weird and uncomfortable at first, Miranda too unused to talk about such things, but it’s become easier with time. It has made thinking about them, about James and Thomas, easier, too. They don’t haunt her mind like they used to anymore.
Abigail hesitates, like she often does. “How was your first kiss like?”
Miranda smiles, knowingly. “It was… Sweet, simple. A little bit weird.”
Abigail nods. “Was it with Thomas?”
“No,” Miranda says. “My first kiss with Thomas was years after we met. It was great. He was a very good kisser,” she says.
Like many other things, she can’t remember how he kissed anymore. It’s a weird disconnect, to know the feelings an act stirred whilst having no recollection of the sensation. It hurts more than she can say, to not be able to remember so many things.
Abigail nods again, with a teasing smile on her face that Miranda takes a moment to recognize as her own. The realization makes her blink, but it doesn’t go away. “How about your first kiss with James?” she asks.
Miranda has never put it out plainly, what was going on between her and Thomas and James, but, perhaps foolishly, she has never hidden it either. Still, she’s not sure how much Abigail understands of the situation. Instead of dwelling on that, she answers, “It was… Playful. Daring. Fun.” It was in a carriage and we had sex right there, she thinks, but obviously doesn’t say. She also doesn’t explain to Abigail how James’ kisses had changed with time: they were a bit clumsy at first, as if he wasn’t used to the act, but he was practiced by the time they got to Nassau. Sometimes, certain movements he made reminded her painfully of Thomas’, and she had to pull way and take a moment to gather her senses. She’s pretty sure he wasn’t aware of that, for she had never told him. She wonders how he would have reacted if she had.
Abigail takes a moment to contemplate her next question, and Miranda doesn’t rush her. “The first time you…” Abigail blushes and doesn’t finish. Miranda doesn’t pretend she doesn’t understand. “Was it with Thomas? Was it… good?”
Miranda takes a moment to consider her answer. It’s not that the questions feel any more intimate then others Abigail has asked — remembering quiet moments with Thomas or James will always be much more intimate than that —, but she takes a moment to listen for any footsteps, to consider how candid, how truthful, she should be with the girl in front of her. She takes a leap of faith. “It wasn’t with Thomas,” she says. “The fall after I met Thomas, my parents decided to send me away for a few months. My mother has always thought me too childish and she thought it was time I grew out of it. My aunt had this house up north, where she unofficially trained troublesome girls, relatives and daughters of friends and the likes. A bit like a finishing school, but more familiar and private.” Miranda takes a breath, watches Abigail following her story eagerly. “One day, I was tired of lectures so I decided to pretend I was with a terrible headache and had to go lie in bed. It wasn’t the first time I did that, and it didn’t always work, but when it did it gave me a couple of hours alone and unbothered in my room, which was what I wanted. That particular afternoon, Sarah, one of my friends, came to knock on my door a bit after I had gone up. She was a year older than me, and utterly beautiful. We had kissed before, at night, when the girls were sleeping or pretending too, but that afternoon we had time so we decided to try get undressed and see where it lead.” She looks at Abigail, notices the blush high on her cheeks, the way she seems to be barely breathing. “At the time, it was the greatest thing I’d ever done, but looking back we were awful.” Miranda laughs. “We got better with time. I found out later that troublesome girls seemed to have the habit of finding each other attractive, and apparently we weren’t the only ones getting undressed together under my aunt’s roof.”
Abigail nods, like she usually does, and takes deep breath. “Thank you for telling me,” she says, not looking at Miranda. She doesn’t seem to be bothered by the things Miranda revealed to her, just… elated, perhaps?
Abigail doesn’t take long to ask her next question, as if she’s eager to get as many in as she can before Miranda changes her mind about talking about such tops. “Is it different, with a girl and with a man?”
Miranda frowns, thinking it over. She hasn’t had any good sex with either in so long, it feels hard to remember. “The bodies are different, and they feel different, but I think you already knew that… But yes, it can be,” Miranda says. Abigail watches her silently as Miranda tries to figure out the words. “With women it can be more intuitive. It’s easier to guess what feels good, and when guessing doesn’t work, it’s easier to ask. It can also last longer, which can be a lot of fun,” Miranda throws, just to make Abigail blush again. “With men, they tend to be unaware of your pleasure or even that you can have pleasure too. It tends to be more forceful, less kind.”
Abigail seems lost in thought, going over Miranda’s words. “How was it with Thomas?” Abigail asks, because she always seems to want to know Miranda’s personal experiences.
“Me and Thomas…” Miranda sighs, wondering how to explain it to her. “Thomas was always very kind. He asked a lot of questions, and he was always interested in the answer. However, it’s important that you realize… We didn’t always have sex the way you imagine sex to be,” she says. “There are many reasons for having sex. Sometimes we did it because we were bored and wanted to have fun, sometimes we did it because we had this cool new trick we wanted to show the other, sometimes we did it because we were apart for a while and wanted to feel close again,” she explains to Abigail’s puzzled expression. “Because sex between us didn’t always happen with the same purpose, it didn’t always look the same, and it didn’t always feel good and pleasurable in the same way. Do you understand this?”
Abigail frowns. “I’m not sure.”
Miranda feels herself smiling. “Sex can look like many things. Sometimes it can be what you imagine sex to be, sometimes it can be lying naked next to each other and touching each other softly. Sometimes good is gentle and slow, and sometimes it’s fast and easy. So if you’re asking me if it was good with Thomas, whom I shared a bed with for quite a long time, then the answer is yes, but I think it’s important you realize that good won’t always look the way you think it does.”
“I suppose,” Abigail says, but she still looks doubtful. She sighs. “Me and my friends in London… We never talked about it like that. I didn’t know it was supposed to feel- to be pleasurable. That there can be so many ways of it.”
Miranda nods, understanding. She didn’t either, when she was Abigail’s age. Time and her stubbornness had taught her, and she’s so glad they had. She’s glad she gets to teach Abigail, too. Maybe she won’t have to go through the same pains she went through. “There are as many ways of it as you can imagine. But it’s important that they always feel good. Why else do it, if it only brings pain and makes you feel bad?”
“I suppose,” she concedes again. “You’ve given me much to think about,” she says, and opens back her book. Miranda observes her for a while, her eyes glued to the page but unmoving, and then opens her own book and goes back to reading.
Abigail’s birthday comes at the end of October. At her request, Miranda spends the morning in the garden with her, where Abigail tells her about the book she’s been reading while they collect flowers for her bedroom.
At night, for the first time, Miranda joins them for dinner, in a lavish new gown that she was given specifically for the occasion. It is deep purple, the closest thing to her gowns in London that she had worn in a long time. Unsurprisingly, Miranda hates it on sight.
They eat, and then Miranda accompanies them to the drawing room, where they are unusually joined by the kids, Adelaide in her childish gown and Jamie in pajamas, and by Abigail’s aunt Lilian. Lilian stays quiet in the corner for most of the evening, barely glancing at any of them, but she asks Abigail to play them something in a low, sweet timber, to which the girl obliges. Miranda knows from watching her play that she enjoys the quick, technical songs, cheery and light, and that’s exactly what Abigail delivers.
Once Abigail is done entertaining them and has moved on to a game of cards with John, Miranda excuses herself and goes upstairs. She leaves the dress in the bundle on the floor and sits down in her shift to start unpinning her hair and getting ready for the evening. She’s surprised by a knock on the door.
“Who is it?” she asks.
“It’s Abigail,” Abigail’s voice comes through. She sounds tired in a way Miranda hadn’t expected, not after what seemed like such a good day.
With her hair half up, half down, Miranda reaches for her robe and opens the door so Abigail can enter. “Is everything alright, dear?” she asks, motioning for her take a sit. Abigail makes her way to the foot of the bed, and sensing her vulnerability, Miranda sits beside her.
“I’m glad you came down tonight,” Abigail starts, and Miranda smiles at her, as if to say Of course. “I- I’ve come here to say that, I know that you don’t want to be here, and I promise that I haven’t forgotten the promise I made you when we first arrived. I will help you leave as soon as I figure out a way.” She pauses for a moment. “Still, even though I know this is not what you wanted, I cannot begin to explain how grateful I am for your help and your company over the last few months.” Abigail, who has been looking down at her shaking hands so far, looks up at her, earnest and sure. Miranda finds herself, strangely, at a loss for words, so she reaches out to take Abigail’s hand instead.
Abigail squeezes her hand hard and takes a deep breath, then another, until Miranda finally realizes she’s trying not to cry. “Abigail, are you alright?”
Abigail shakes her hand, a small sob escaping. “I miss Father. I- I know that you don’t, so I’m sorry for coming to you with this, but I didn’t know who to go to. Somehow, I spent the day waiting for his gift to arrive, and I couldn’t understand why it didn’t. I miss Father, and I miss my Mom, and I understand that Mr. McGraw was your lover and your friend, but there are times when I hate him so much, and I hate Father too, and-“ She talks until she can’t, until her sobs override her words, and Miranda can’t do anything but stand there startled looking at her. She reaches out for Abigail, puts her arms around her and lets her hide her face in Miranda’s own neck, just like that first morning when she got the news that her father had passed. Miranda holds her, and she doesn’t tell her she’s wrong, and she keeps on holding her until Abigail is so tired that even crying is a hardship.
Abigail apologizes the next morning, though she doesn’t say which part she is apologizing for, and Miranda brushes it off. She’s used to people hating James and she’s yet to know a woman who doesn’t have complicated feelings towards her father.
November comes, and the sun still shines bright every day, but the weather gets colder, making the whole house less stuffy and warm.
“Miranda?” Abigail calls one morning.
Miranda looks up, and smiles at her knowingly. She waits for the question to come.
“Did you and Thomas want children?” she asks.
Miranda blinks. Somehow, Abigail still has a way to get her by surprise with her questions. She takes a moment to think before answering, “We expected them,” she says simply.
Abigail nods in acceptance. “Alright, but did you want them?” she asks again. Miranda smiles. Abigail’s getting cleverer in her questions.
“I’m not sure,” she says. “We expected them, so we kept an eye out for it during the first years of our marriage. But it never happened. Maybe there was something wrong with me, I don’t know,” she smiles wryly. She still remembers all the comments she heard about her lack of children and pregnancies over the years. “I don’t know if we wanted them, for some reason that is one of the things we never talked about. We expected it until we reached a point where we didn’t.”
“Would you have liked to be a mother, though?” Abigail asks, and for some reason the question hits Miranda differently than the others.
“I’ve never thought about it,” she admits. “I guess… I enjoyed my life in London, and I enjoyed it the way it was. I don’t think I’d have relished in being a mother then, and probably wouldn’t be a good one,” Miranda says, looking out the window. “And in Nassau… I don’t think I’d have enjoyed that either. So if we’re being practical about it, I think we can say I didn’t want to have children and I’m glad I didn’t have any. But you ask me if I’d have liked to be a mother…” She looks at Abigail. “I honestly don’t have an answer for you.”
Abigail nods. “Maybe-“ Abigail starts and stops. She shifts on the couch. “Charlotte says she wouldn’t like to have children. I asked if she wouldn’t miss the joys of motherhood, and she said that she can enjoy them without becoming one. That she enjoys them by helping out with her niece and with her younger brother, and by coming here to play with my cousins, and by nursing her friends when they get sick. I guess… I wanted to know what you thought of it,” Abigail explains.
Miranda allows for herself to be truly surprised. “I think your friend is very, very smart.”
Abigail nods, beaming, and they get back to their books.
The servants are gossiping again. They pass her on the hallway as Miranda makes her way downstairs after breakfast, two maids huddled together so deep in conversation they barely notice her.
She finds Abigail already in the library, immersed in her book.
“Good morning, Miranda,” she says when she comes in. Miranda greets her back and sits down, book in hand.
Miranda puts the servants out of her mind throughout the day, but something about the whole ordeal is rubbing her wrong. She doesn’t like the feeling.
That night, Jamie tells her all about the stars, his most recent fixation — there were horses, then cats, then giraffes, and then the animals gave place to flowers and he spent a lot of time out in the garden, which Miranda thought rather sweet. Now it’s the planets and the stars. Miranda listens to his chatter patiently as she helps him bath and get into his clean pajamas, and promises to go watch the night sky with him one of these days.
When she and Mrs. Middleton finally leave the room to let him sleep, Miranda turns to her. “Do you know what caused such commotion downstairs? Everyone seems very excited,” she asks as they make their way down the hallway.
Mrs. Middleton rolls her eyes. “Just gossip from the town, I’m sure you know how it is. There’s to be a big wedding in town. The girls think he is handsome, the men think she is pretty. They’d all be complaining about if it were here, but it’s always sweet when it’s someone else’s load.”
Miranda laughs. “Of course.”
“Other than that, there’s not much. There’s been some talk about the pirates recently, but I didn’t get the gist of it.” They stop in front of Miranda’s door. “I’ll say goodnight, Mrs. Barlow.”
“Goodnight, Mrs. Middleton,” Miranda replies, and goes into the bedroom, where her still warm dinner is waiting for her.
She’s down to her night gown and carefully unpinning her hair when there’s a knock and Abigail sticks her head in. She seems worried. “Can I come in?”
“Certainly, dear,” Miranda says, and she follows Abigail through the mirror as she comes to seat down at the foot of the bed. “Is everything alright? You look upset.”
Abigail looks down at her hands. “I’m afraid I don’t have good news,” she says, which makes Miranda stop what she’s doing and come to sit beside her. “I- Cousin John was talking at dinner. Apparently it’s been confirmed. Captain Flint is dead.”
Miranda blinks, her hands curling into fists at her side. “Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure?”
Abigail nods. She looks up, as if in prayer. “Apparently the rumors have been around for a while, but the confirmation came from Boston, from the Guthrie family. Not everyone says he’s dead, some say he has retired but-“
“He never would,” Miranda agrees. “James would never retire, not like that,” she repeats, remembering the little snippets of gossip she sometimes heard when John had his friends over, about the failure of Woodes Rogers in Nassau, about the pirate-maroon alliance that has been formed under the leadership of Captain Flint. She doesn’t know how true they are, but they must have some sort of truth in them to make their way all the way to Savannah. But regardless of them, she knows that James would never quit. It’s something she never managed to make peace with.
Captain Flint is dead. She focuses on her nails digging into her palms and turns to Abigail again. “Thank you for telling me. Why don’t you go to bed now? It’s getting late.”
Abigail nods and gets up. “Miranda, I am so sorry,” she says, just before she closes the door behind her.
He’s been dead to her once, Miranda remembers. When she first arrived in Savannah and all she could see was his body hanging in a square for everyone to see. Then it turned out he was alive, but part of her has been grieving his loss since then. She was desperate and enraged then, as she confronted the reality of his loss, but this time it settles in her slowly, all the way to her bones, until all she can do is stand there, limbs shaking.
The news have been floating around for a while and they still don’t even know if he’s really dead. Not even the certainty of death is granted to him in the end.
Retired. She scoffs at the word, at how ridiculous it sounds. Right then, pettily, she decides she hates it.
The doubt of the situation… It keeps her unable to declare him dead in her eyes, leaves him on an unstable, terrible limbo. She can’t go through his death again just to find out later that he’s alive — just the implications of it, because if she mourns him now and then finds out he is alive, then she’ll mourn him again eventually, and she doesn’t think she has it in her to keep doing it, to keep losing him and getting him back and losing him again. But if she pretends he’s alive and he isn’t… To leave him alone even in death makes her sick to her stomach.
When tears come, they taste of despair.
They settle on a small room at an Inn, not far from where they came from. It’s a reasonable decision: they don’t have enough money to travel, nor any meaningful means of transport. When asked at the reception, it’s Thomas himself that bullshits a story about how they are cousins, coming to visit family, and then they’re given a key and that is it.
James is… Thomas doesn’t really know how to describe him. Words come harder to him these days, so maybe that’s where the inability comes from, and not from how hard James is to read. Thomas observes him as James looks out the window, seemingly lost in thought.
They’ve been as all over each other as they could manage for the past few days, both of them starved of touch and driven by the exhilaration of the reunion, but now as the moment dies down and that they find themselves apart from everyone else, alone in a small Inn room, the mood between them shifts. Perhaps it’s for the best. At least, it doesn’t take as much energy for Thomas to finally open his mouth and ask what’s been on his mind for the last few days:
“Miranda,” he says. James turns to look at him, face white and startled. He looks like he’s seen a ghost. “She’s dead, isn’t she?”
James swallows visibly, but doesn’t look away. “Yes. It wasn’t that long ago,” James says. Somehow, that makes it worse. Thomas closes his eyes against the pain. “Thomas, I’m sorry,” he adds, sounding desperate.
Thomas nods and opens his eyes again. He takes a deep breath and whatever tears he had in his eyes clear out. He smiles at James. “Can you come here?”
James nods, mumbling something like “Sure,” and then he’s sitting down on the bed beside Thomas, allowing Thomas to get his arms around him. James mimics him, his arms large and strong around Thomas’ own slim frame, and his head on top of Thomas’. Thomas closes and leans into his chest, listening to the strong heartbeat inside it.
There’s so much he wants to ask — starting by how the fuck did James get them out of Oglethorpe’s care — but part of him fears the answers he’s going to get. He takes another deep breath and lets James’ smell and heat lull him into a troubled sleep.
They both have screwed up sleeping patterns. They usually lie down at the same time, but just as Thomas wakes up several times throughout the night, he is aware that so does James. Sometimes, even in his sleep, he can feel James shifting beside him, getting up and walking around the room.
Thomas’ sleep is plagued with nightmares, memories actually, from Bethlem mostly. When it comes to James, he still doesn’t know what monsters plague his dreams, but he knows they exist.
Apart from the sleepless nights, they spend their days in an eerie quiet. James likes to sit by the window and watch, and for the most part, Thomas leaves him to it and occupies himself with the book he managed to get from reception. It’s nothing great, but it’s better than nothing, better than he had had in a while at any rate.
“Is it alright if I go out?” Thomas asks, in the middle of day three.
James startles. “What for?” he asks frowning.
Thomas smiles and comes to lean against the wall next to the window, so he and James are face to face. “We have barely any clothes. We can’t stay in here forever, so I thought I might go take care of it. I also thought I might try to get us some food, something other than tea and old bread,” he explains. Not that he minds the tea and bread, it’s kind enough of the Inn keeper to provide them with as much, but he’d like to eat something else if he could.
James nods. “Of course,” he says, as if it makes total sense and he’s just being silly. Thomas reaches out and touches his forehead, where there’s a big unhealed cut. Thomas hasn’t asked him about that. “Take the money, use as much as you need.”
“Thank you.” Thomas leans down so they can kiss, and as usual James takes a moment to respond but then they’re kissing fully. Thomas kisses him on the forehead when they part and then he’s out.
He takes a deep breath once he gets outside. Oglethorpe’s house involved long days and long nights, but one thing Thomas has always been thankful for is the ability to breathe some fresh air, to feel the sunshine on his face and let it warm him up. He finds that he’s missed it, in the three days he’s spent with James in their tiny little room.
He thinks as he walks. Thomas knows he didn’t use to be so indecisive, so why the fuck is it so hard for him to ask James what he has been doing? He decides he will, and just for the sake it, he also gives himself a deadline of two days. Somehow, sharing their stories seems imperative for them to move on, and since James seems to be lost somewhere far away most of the time, then Thomas will be the one to ask.
There’s a clothes’ shop on one of the streets, and that’s where Thomas enters first. The place is fuller than he expected, but Thomas is thankful for it since it allows him to pick men clothes in two different sizes without anybody noticing. He’s not sure what size James wears, so he errs on the side of too big; Thomas knows a bit about how to fix his own clothes now, and he’s pretty sure James knows too, so between them they’ll figure it out.
On his way back to the Inn, Thomas stops to buy them some fresh fruit and some fresh bread. Not far from where he buys them, he can see a church. He wants to go in, but the sun is setting now, so he decides to leave it for another day.
James is where Thomas left him when he returns.
“When you left London, where did you go?” Thomas asks him that same night. They’re sitting in the small table, barely big enough for the two of them, eating what Thomas had brought for them.
“We went to Nassau,” James says. He’s not taken aback by the question. He’s probably been expecting it, Thomas realizes.
“You and Miranda?” Thomas asks.
“Yes.” James steals a look at him. “I- I wanted to stay, when I heard about you, that they had taken you, but Miranda said there was nothing for us to do so we left.”
Thomas doesn’t have to question what ‘I wanted to stay means’. He understands that James meant to go and try to rescue him, but Thomas is thankful he didn’t. He’d never be able to, and he would probably end up arrested. Thomas doesn’t say any of it. He says instead, “What did you do, once we arrived in Nassau?”
James looks up at him and looks away. “We found a house for Miranda there, a small place, with a large garden. It’s all burned down now,” he explains, his hands curling into fists. Thomas reaches out and puts a hand on top of his. “And I-“ James looks up. “I can tell you everything, if you want. I’ve been waiting to tell you everything,” he says, eyes haunted, and Thomas hears the unspoken but I don’t think you’re going to like it.
“Tell me,” he asks.
James speaks and Thomas listens.
They don’t speak for a couple of days. Rationally, it’s not that different from the previous days, but the air feels stifled now and James keeps on looking at him like he’s expecting judgement.
Thomas spends his mornings in the room like he used to, but he takes to walking around the town in the afternoon. The winters are soft in Savannah, and Thomas is used to them now, to the easy sun, the light breezes, and the warm weather, but it’s different experiencing them with nothing to do other than walking leisurely around town.
Most of the time, he thinks about how one of them needs to take up a job soon. The money is plenty for them to survive for a few months, but Thomas is tired of just surviving. He wouldn’t mind taking up something, preferably an occupation that would keep his mind busy.
Every day, before making his way back to the Inn, Thomas goes to church and doesn’t pray. It’s mostly empty when he goes, so he takes a seat and thinks.
He can’t figure out how he feels about James, about Captain Flint. Mostly, he’s thoughts keep coming back to I didn’t ask for him to do any of this for me, but that feels petty and selfish and not at all useful. So he tries to go deeper, and figure out what that actually means: is it the deaths? The piracy? The fact that James decide to transform himself into a shadow of how he used to be so he could accomplish all of it? He doesn’t arrive at any answers, but asking more specific questions helps.
“What were you hoping to accomplish?” he asks James one night. They’re supposed to be asleep but neither of them bothers with pretending. There’s another bed in the room, but they still sleep together, mostly because Thomas can’t imagine parting from him just because he feels lost. They lie side by side, James facing the ceiling, Thomas facing him. The bed is small for the two of them, which means one must always lie on his side.
James hums. “Honestly?”
James takes a moment to think before answering, “When I said we’d leave for Nassau, all I could think about is how it made the most sense. You- we had just spent months on end working for it, so there’s no other place I could think of going to.” James turns his head to look at him. “Flint… He just came to me, I guess. I needed a name, I’ve decided that I wanted to captain a crew, and so it happened.” He sighs. “I just couldn’t let go of the fact that England had taken you from me, from us. To still live under its flag was inconceivable. And since I didn’t feel like I owed them anything, I sacked their ships and I kept they’re goods. It’s a small retaliation in comparison to what they did, and if they thought me a monster for it, then so be it.
“In the midst of all that, I started thinking about how Nassau could become a different place, free from England and its ruling, a place that could self-sustain just like you imagined. The Urca gold would give me the means to start giving shape to the plan. But then Abigail Ashe came along. You know about this part. Miranda told me about how we could get the pardons now and finish your plan, and she was right, we could. So we sailed to Charles Town and… Between Miranda dying and Peter’s betrayal I… I lost it. I thought that, if I couldn’t have her, then at least I could honor her request-“ He stops. He has a hard time talking about Miranda. “Things changed then. I was lost at first, but then Madi and the maroon camp… I figured we could do something different, something bigger. By then, I’d come to realize that it wasn’t just that England had prejudices and misconceptions. It was broken, fundamentally so. There was no fixing it.”
“So you decided to declare war,” Thomas concluded.
James smiles, a little twisted thing. It looks natural on his face, but Thomas is taken aback by the vision, surprised with an expression he has never seen. “Well, it didn’t lead anywhere, so I guess I was wrong.”
Neither of them says anything after that.
James backtracks on his previous statement the following night.
"I still believe in it, in what we were doing,” Thomas was still awake, but he startles at the unexpected voice. "I'm sorry, I know that's not what you want to hear," James continues. He's talking slowly, voice low, but loud enough in their small room. "But... I do think there was no making it better. England, I mean... It was too broken to fix. No matter how we reformed it, someone would always be left out, someone would always be less than. There’s not fixing hate. The war...” He stops. “I understand that you don't think it right, that you believe change works better when we go through the steps. And still-” James’ voice breaks. “We were so close, so close to achieving something big. And maybe we would fail, I don't... I don't know. I just think it was too important not to try," he concludes. He sounds absolutely heart-broken.
Thomas doesn’t know what to say to that. Words fail him nowadays. He gets up and James meets him for an embrace.
Asking questions gets easier after that. James always answers him, as honestly as he can. He’s never graphic in his descriptions, but Thomas has always had a big imagination and it fills the voids for him easily.
He has a hard time of it, conciliating the man he once fell in love with to the idea of Captain Flint. He had heard of him before, on the ship on the way to Savannah, on the plantation itself, about the savagery and the fearsomeness of the great Captain Flint. He used to put it out of his mind then, but it all comes back now, the tales and the stories, even the ones he knows that are purely made-up.
He takes his time observing James during the day. The wound on his head is healing, slowly but surely. All of his body is covered in scars, now. He already had some when Thomas met him, but it doesn’t compare to his current state. Thomas wants to ask, wants to know every story, because perhaps knowing the whole picture might help him come to terms with it. He doesn’t, though, for he doesn’t want to push James’ boundaries like that, force him to retell every gritty wound he has so that Thomas can be comforted.
Sometimes, in the middle of the night, when Thomas happens to caught James in deep sleep, he thinks again I didn’t ask you to do any of this for me. He banishes the thought away as quickly as it comes, but his mind always has time to agree with it.
During the day, James is wary around him. Thomas thinks he knows what he wants: for Thomas to decide whether he forgives him or not. He doesn’t know that’s not what Thomas struggles with, so Thomas tells him so.
“I’m not mad at you,” he says a morning a few days after. Their room is, as usual silent.
James looks up at him. “Alright.” His tone too dry compared to the hope Thomas sees in his eyes. He’s protecting himself, he realizes.
“Yes,” Thomas agrees. “I want you to know that I’m not mad at you. I love you very much. It’s not about forgiving you either, because I don’t think you need my forgiveness. However, if you feel like you do, then know that you have it.” Thomas observes him, sees him drinking in the words. “I just need a little time,” he concludes. Thomas doesn’t tell him what he needs time for.
James nods and turns to look out of the window again. Through the reflection, Thomas can see him close his eyes against the tears. “I love you too,” he says eventually, voice low and weak.
Thomas frowns at the response. It takes him a moment to realize that it is the first time he says it, that he tells James he loves him since they’ve reunited. As Thomas heart breaks, he promises himself he’ll remember to remind him of it every day.
Thomas asks for time and James doesn’t rush him, but Thomas starts to think that time isn’t really the problem. He doesn’t tell James what truly troubles him: that the fact that James decided to do such violence in Thomas’ name. It steals him of his sense of self. If such acts are what his name amounts to, then is Thomas really the person he thought himself to be?
He can’t find an answer for that.
He doesn’t think he ever will.
Still, even among Thomas’ doubts and James’ demons, things do get better, if only slightly. They have sex, finally, and that is something. Thomas is not quite sure why they haven’t so far, because it’s not like they’ve been apart or even sleeping in separate beds. He thinks it’s probably both their faults: James never initiated it and neither did he, and somehow they got trapped in a cycle of inaction. They manage to break free of it, though, and Thomas is glad for it, even as they have to keep extra quiet and take care not to live any strange stains on the sheets. Regardless, sex allows them to be close in a different way and brings a sense of normalcy into their new lives. They do it often too, in the evening, before bed, and in the morning when they wake up. So much sex makes Thomas’ body ache, but he welcomes the familiar, loving pains.
They hold each other close, after, their breaths fast and the sweat cooling on their skin. Usually, Thomas likes to put his head to James’ chest and hear his heart beat, the sound like the most relaxing music. Sometimes, James cries. He never lets Thomas see him when he does, preferring to turn his back towards him and bury his face in the pillow, but he can’t stop Thomas from hearing his desperate sobs. He allows Thomas hug him from behind in those moments, so Thomas does that and he never presses for an explanation.
They don’t talk about Miranda. Anytime her name comes up, James’ face twists in this awful, pained away, and Thomas hates the sight so much he decides it is better not to ask.
He wants to, though, desperately so. He wants to know all about those years they spent together, how she was and how he was, how they were together. He wants to know about all the moments in which James was free to be more James and less Flint.
He remembers James saying she had a garden. Thomas wants to know about it, what she planted in it and how she took care of it, how she learned the skill in the first place. James said she had a home and Thomas wants to know about it too, about the colors and how things were laid out.
He wants to know about how she died, too, if James was there to see it. He wants to be able to share the pain of it if he did. He wants to know who James was, after, to know his feelings rather than just his actions.
He wants the both of them to share their grief for her, instead of each of them carrying their own incomplete version of it.
He misses his wife terribly. Her loss leaves an emptiness in him he doesn’t know how to fill, that he’s not sure he ever could. It’s hard to live only with memories a decade old when he knows there’s a whole life he can learn about; a whole life that he wasn’t a part of, but where she was alive and breathing and feeling.
Thomas asks him about her, just once. It’s late at night and they’re both not sleeping, and for a moment the need is so huge he can’t contain it.
“We weren’t kind to one another,” James says simply. Thomas feels his heart drop at the words, but respects him too much to press for more, so he doesn’t.
Thomas goes to the church almost every day. It has been one of the few constants in this last ten years — the priest that sometimes came to Bethlem, the church in the plantation — and he finds comfort there. More, he finds comfort in the routine of it, of having one place to go to every day.
He sits on one of the benches in the back and he prays, sometimes. He’s not really sure he does it in the right way anymore, but he does it in the way that feels right for him and that must count for something. Occasionally, Father Christopher comes by and offers to take Thomas’ confession, but Thomas always refuses, partly because he doesn’t feel like he has anything of his own to confess, but mostly because he’s afraid of bearing his heart to strangers these days. That fact is something he hates about himself and the person he’s become, but the feeling of mistrust is too strong to override.
Sometimes, though, he goes to church and he doesn’t pray. He doesn’t cry, either, though he desperately wants to. He hates that he can’t, and that is one of the few hates he lets himself feel, since it fuels his rage and the rage fuels his need to cry, and he hopes that one day the feelings will be so strong they will finally break through.
Still, the tears never come. It’s a despairing feeling: his inability to cry makes him feel trapped in his own body, as if he wants to let things out but can’t. He can’t even cry for his wife. Thomas has never been one for self-loathing, but in those moments he can’t stop the feeling from overriding his senses.
He remembered crying a lot when he got to Bethlem. He didn’t understand why at the time, but it wasn’t like he had much else to do, so crying it was. Sometimes, it even felt good, to engage in what is seen as such an unmanly action, to let his sobs join the desperate chorus of voices around him. Now, though, he wonders if that’s the problem, if he had cried so much in those first times that his tear ducts have been permanently impaired. His tears, stolen away from him along with the rest of his life.
Those days, when he finally goes back to their room, he’s exhausted beyond measure.
After a few weeks, people in town start to recognize him. The man from where he buys the fruit starts knowing his taste enough to offer him meaningful recommendations, the woman from where he buys the bread always has his bag ready when he comes every day at the same hour, Father Christopher always greets him when they pass each other on the street, the homeless man in the corner of one of the streets stars looking forward to his daily coin — Thomas doesn’t have many, but he always gives him one.
When asked, Thomas always introduces himself by his given name first, and if the need arises, he gives McGraw as his surname. He’s not really sure what fired that decision, he only knows that Hamilton doesn’t fit anymore and if he and James are passing as cousins, then they’re allowed to share the same family name.
Every day, Thomas asks if James would like to go out with him. James always says no. Thomas never asks why, but he can guess how hard it must to show oneself to the world when you’re not even sure about who you are. Thomas can imagine how hard it must be for James, to try and figure out not only how much of James McGraw he still has in him, how much of it still feels comfortable enough to wear, but also how much of Flint has become so ingrained in his person that depriving him of it would make him not more, but less.
In time, he starts going out on Saturday morning too. That’s when the market gathers and Thomas wants to see it and learn about it, about the lives of the people who gather there.
The first week, Thomas buys them cheese and a salve for their sore muscles. There’s a place small trinkets that he looks at but doesn’t let himself get closer because he knows he mustn’t splurge their money, and that is why he also doesn’t let himself get close to the one selling baked goods, even though they smell so good they make his mouth water.
He’s not so strong the second week, so he does end up on the baked goods stand. The girl managing it is young, with a heart-shaped face and dirty blonde hair secured tightly in her head. “Good morning, sir,” she greets when she sees him approaching, even as she takes old woman’s order. “Abigail, come help!” she screams to another young girl behind her.
The girl who must be Abigail has dark hair and a dress nicer than anyone around, which clearly says she doesn’t belong to this crowd. Nonetheless, she smiles at him and grabs a bag. “Good morning, sir,” she says, her accent strikingly English. “What would you like to order?”
Thomas asks her what each thing is and she responds patiently. At some point, she asks, “Are you new in town?”
“Settling in,” Thomas agrees.
Abigail nods like she understands. “I’ve not been here long myself, but it’s not such a bad place.”
James rolls his eyes jokingly when Thomas presents the bag to him later, but they eat all of the sugary treats that night even though the plan was to save them for the following days. Either the sweets are freakishly good, or they’ve both been deprived of sugar for too long. Probably both, Thomas thinks.
He goes back next to week and for some reason the girls recognize him. “It’s not every day that we receive a fellow Englishman,” Abigail explains.
“What do you ladies do when you’re not here?” he asks at some point in their conversation, because the girls are easy to talk to and if there’s something that hasn’t changed for him is that he still enjoys both talking and meeting people.
The blonde girl, whose name he’s learned is Charlotte, says, “Abigail reads,” with a dramatic roll of eyes.
Abigail rolls her eyes back. They’re both young and unpreoccupied, and that’s a joy to see. “I enjoy my books and I’m not ashamed of that,” she answers, in a way that shows that they’ve had this conversation quite a few times.
“Do you like to read, sir?” Charlotte asks him, but doesn’t wait for his answer as another costumer comes.
“I do enjoy my books as well,” Thomas directs his answer to Abigail instead. “I lost my possessions a while back, though, so I’m afraid reading doesn’t come as easily nowadays.”
Abigail frowns. “Well, that just can’t be,” she says, as if what he said is a great tragedy. “I’ll lend you some, then. The books don’t belong to me, so I must insist that you bring them back. Regardless, I’ll bring you some. What would you like to read?”
Thomas blinks, astonished. “You’d trust a stranger with your possessions just like that?”
Abigail shrugs. “Books are meant to be shared, so I’m willing to take the leap of faith.” She looks up at him and smiles. “I’m only here on Saturday morning, so you must come then. But please do come by, it’s really not a bother.”
She seems so earnest. Thomas finds himself smiling. “Alright then.”
“In that case, what shall I call you, sir?” she asks.
“If you allow me to call you Abigail, then you must call me Thomas,” he offers. Abigail nods.
“Very well, Thomas. Then we have a deal.”
True to her promise, the moment Abigail sees him approaching, she looks around for her bag of books. Thomas observes her as she looks around with a frown and says something to Charlotte before coming to meet him halfway.
“Come with me,” she says in way of greeting, and Thomas does. They walk to the end of the street, where there are still plenty of people, but it is not as crowded as the stands. They stand to the side as Abigail opens her bag and takes out three books. “I didn’t know what you liked to read, so I tried to bring different ones. All things I can vouch for, though.”
Thomas looks them over. Two of the author’s names are familiar, but the titles not so much. He wonders if James has read any of them, for he doesn’t want to take something home that he can’t share.
“You seemed troubled,” Abigail says at some point. Thomas looks up. He had forgotten she was there for a moment. “Perhaps if you told me what you like I could recommend you one?” she suggests.
“That’s not the problem,” he says. “My cousin is staying with me. He’s more updated in current literature than I am, so I’m trying to guess which one he’s less likely to have read.”
Abigail nods in thought and then her lips open in a smile. “Take the three of them, then. That way if one is not to your taste, you’ll be able to pick another.”
“Abigail, truly, there’s no need-“
“It’s no trouble, really,” she interrupts him, still smiling. “To trust you with a book or with three is the same, so take them. Truly, I insist.”
Thomas wants to refuse again, just for appearances sake, but then Abigail might actually withdraw her offer. “Alright, then,” he says instead.
She offers him her bag to transport the books, which Thomas takes too, and then they start to make their way to Charlotte’s stand. “What do you do when you’re not here?” Abigail asks as they walk, her questions a reminiscent of his question last week.
“Not much, actually,” Thomas answers, a little awkward. “I’m currently looking for a job, but I don’t even know where to start.”
“You seem like a lettered man, surely you can find an occupation with ease,” Abigail says with a slight frown. “Have you tried the school? Perhaps they have a position available. At any rate, they might be able to steer you in the right direction.”
Surprisingly, Thomas hadn’t thought about it. “You make a good point. I shall look into it, then,” he concedes.
Abigail smiles and they keep on walking. They’re halfway there when Thomas remembers another thing that has been on his mind. He doesn’t want to push his luck, however… “Abigail,” he calls. “If it’s not too much of a bother, can I ask you something?”
“Surely,” she says, looking up at him. She mustn’t be older than sixteen or seventeen, but she’s surprisingly small, not even reaching his shoulder.
“Since arriving in Savannah, we, my cousin and I, have been staying at an Inn. I was wondering if you know of any place where we could actually settle in? Somewhere inland, preferably, with a small garden maybe,” he explains.
“I’m not sure,” Abigail says. “I’ll have to ask my cousin, he’s more knowledgeable of these things than me. I’ll let you know if I hear of something,” she offers.
Thomas smiles at her. “That would be perfect. Thank you,” he says earnestly.
“Of course. Are you and your cousin quite close?” Abigail asks curiously.
Thomas nods. “Quite. My wife died a few years ago, so I’ve been alone for a while. He’s my closest family,” he explains, the half-lies coming up easily. “What about you and your cousin?”
“He’s my guardian. My parents died, Mother first, Father more recently, so I came to live under his protection,” she explains.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” he offers, to which Abigail smiles. It’s smaller and sadder than usual. “Did you not have any other family in England?” he asks, just because he’s curious.
“Oh,” Abigail says. “I didn’t come because my father died. Father came to the colonies a few years ago and left me in England. Mother had already passed, but he thought it would be better for my education. I was coming to live with him at last, but he died soon after I arrived here,” she explains. “Funny,” she adds, a curious smile on her face. “If I met the person I was a year ago, I don’t think she’d be able to recognize who I’ve become.”
Thomas smiles at that, more sardonically than intended. “Yes, the Atlantic ocean seems to have that power. You’re never quite the same after crossing it.”
Abigail smiles at that. “You’re quite right,” she agrees.
“Do you think she would be proud?” he asks. “The you of a year ago, if she saw who you were today.”
“That’s a funny question.” Abigail’s face contorts in thought. “May I talk freely?”
“Certainly,” Thomas grants immediately.
“I don’t think she would have been, no. Maybe of some parts, but I think she’d be ashamed by the rest,” Abigail says, and Thomas raises his eyebrows at that. “However,” she continues, “I think I’m quite proud of how I’ve managed,” she finishes, the words said in such a way that Thomas is convinced that her story is not as simple as she’s played it so far.
Thomas makes his way to the local school next Wednesday. He doesn’t tell James — he doesn’t know why, he just doesn’t — but he kisses him deeper than usual before leaving, and James smiles like he understands nonetheless.
The school is a small building, smaller than he would expect for the amount of children he’s seen in the street. He wonders how many of them actually attended, and maybe that’s something he could change. Perhaps someday he can start teaching some classes for free, just a couple hours a week, just to teach the children the letters and the numbers.
The headmaster agrees to receive him without any proper warning, which surprises and delights Thomas in equal measure. Thomas is greeted by the short, bald man who introduces himself as Davidson and leads him to his office.
They talk for the better part of an hour. Mr. Davidson is quick to tell him he doesn’t think he has any position available, but the man is friendly and seems to enjoy a conversation, so they seat and talk. Thomas has to make up his story as he goes: where he studied, how he came to Savannah, what he did used to do, but the man seems to take to Thomas, which is always an advantage.
“Tell me, Mr. McGraw, are you familiar with the classic languages? Greek, Latin?” Mr. Davidson asks him at some point.
“I am, Sir. I’ve studied them at school. Do you think that could be a useful skill?”
“Perhaps,” Mr. Davidson agrees. “Not here in the school, of course, but I’m sure there are a number of families around who would be interested in lecturing their children on them. There’s plenty of families who chose to instruct their children at home rather than sending them away. I could make inquires, if you like.”
He could do that, Thomas thinks, teach Greek and Latin. He’d have to dust off his skills, perhaps ask Abigail for a few books, but that’s something he wouldn’t mind doing. “I’d be very grateful if you did, Mr. Davidson.”
He tells James about the meeting when he arrives and when he’s finished James smiles up at him, softer and sweeter than usual. He comes to kiss him and soon Thomas founds himself pressed into the mattress, James’ heavy body on top of his. Thomas doesn’t push him away.
“It seems like you’ve had quite a day,” James says playfully against Thomas neck, where he seems determined to leave a mark.
You seem lighter, Thomas thinks, and seeing no reason to hide the thought, he says it out loud. James doesn’t answer, but he hums against Thomas’ neck showing that he listened. Thomas wants to ask why, wants to know what has changed, but he realizes that it truly doesn’t matter. Perhaps one day he’ll ask. Right now, he’s just happy that James seems happy — or happier, at any rate.
“I’m glad,” Thomas says instead, just because he wants to say something.
James comes up to look at him, his eyes clear as he looks into Thomas’. Thomas is the one who pulls him down this time to seal their lips.
As Thomas lies awake that night he’s assaulted by a new thought: that perhaps better isn’t all he and James can hope to achieve. That maybe there will come a day when they will actually be good.
A couple of weekends after that, Abigail tells him about the old Grangers’ house. “It used to belong to the family of my cousin’s wife,” Abigail tells him. They’ve taken to walk up and down the main street, both of them entertained by the other’s company. “It’s empty now. Cousin Anne, Cousin John’s wife, that is, died a few years ago, and her brother departed for France and nobody expects him to return. For all effects and purposes, my cousin is in charge of it.”
“And he’d be willing to rent it out?” Thomas asks.
“More or less,” Abigail says. “He says he’d like to meet you first, make sure the house doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. It’s not that it is a big place, not compared to many of the others around at any rate, but it did belong to Cousin Anne. It’s sentimentality more than anything else,” Abigail explains.
“Of course,” Thomas says, for they all have their sentimentalities. “He’d like to seat down with us, then, but he’s not unwilling. Am I getting this wrong?”
Abigail smiles. “That’s exactly that. Cousin John is not a hard man. He has his beliefs, but he’s not curious. He keeps to himself, mostly. I don’t think you’d have a hard time convincing him of your honesty,” Abigail says.
“I’m very much thankful to you, Abigail,” he says, for he truly is.
“Of course,” Abigail says. “I do have something that I’ve been meaning to ask you about. My cousin mentioned that he heard someone is looking to tutor Latin and Greek. Would you have anything to do with that?” Abigail questions him. Her smile has turned teasing, as if she’s already sure of the answer.
“I probably would have,” he admits. “But I have to say it wasn’t my idea. Mr. Davidson, the headmaster, came up with it.”
“I think that’s a brilliant plan,” Abigail says, earnest. “My cousin has two children, Adelaide and Jamie, and he seems to be considering lessons for them. Ms. Smith, their governess, doesn’t teach it. But I’m pondering asking him to consider hiring you for myself.”
“You would?” Thomas asks amused. He looks at her. She’s brilliant and witty and he’s grown quite fond of her in very little time. “Well, it would be my pleasure. But don’t you study them already?”
“I used to, in London, but I must admit it’s quite forgotten by now,” she confesses.
Thomas hums. “Are you very close to your cousins?” he asks out of curiosity.
Abigail nods. “I’ve grown to be, yes. Adelaide is a lot of fun. She’s very creative, it’s delightful to see. Jamie is more reserved and I think he’s still wary of me,” she admits. “Miranda, my companion that is, she’s very fond of him though. She finds him quite entertaining.” For a moment, Thomas hearts stops, so much so that he doesn’t actually hear what she says about Jamie. It’s weird, he realizes, to hear that name said by someone other than James or himself, used to refer to someone other than his Miranda. More than weird, actually; it’s profoundly unsettling. “Thomas, are you quite alright?” Abigail asks in a worried voice. Thomas realizes he had stopped walking, so he resumes, trying to shake the feeling off. It’s silly, really, to get so hung up over a name.
“I’m alright,” he says. “Just remembered I have an errand to run before I go home today.”
Abigail is still frowning, but she doesn’t fight him on his answer. “I should get back, at any rate,” she says instead. “I must be home by lunch, which means I’ll have to be going soon.”
Thomas is still shaken up by the time he gets to the Inn.
The time Thomas didn’t spend out in the street, he spends it his and James’ room. Mostly, they read — Thomas had kept good on his promise to Abigail to return the books, and Abigail in turn had kept on bringing more. Sometimes, they talked, mostly about inconsequential things like what Thomas had seen on his daily walk or what they thought of the book Abigail brings them. Other times, they talked about the years they spent apart.
Those conversations were always hard: James had a hard time telling his stories, which Thomas understood but was annoyed by until he realized that James wasn’t the one who had trouble sharing his truth. Thomas’ years had been much more monotonous than James’, so there weren’t as many stories to tell, but it wasn’t the lack of stories that held him back; rather it was the mere thought of those times — sometimes, when James has the window open so the room can air and a colder than expected breeze comes, it takes everything in Thomas’ power not to snap at him to close it.
They still don’t talk about Miranda and they barely talk about the before, about the years in London both before and after they met. Those are the two topics Thomas most dearly wants to bring up, but he doesn’t want to see James pained over them so he doesn’t.
They also don’t talk about the death of Thomas’ father, mostly because Thomas still doesn’t know what to feel about that.
Thomas still has trouble with the nights, when it’s dark and quiet, especially when James is asleep and he isn’t. It’s when his ugly thoughts about James and his deeds come to light. Thomas tries so hard to quell them, for they are unwanted in his life, in this life he’s trying so hard to build with James. He hates their mere existence: Thomas hates that there is a part of himself that is trying to sabotage his love for James.
In the midst of all that, though, James is getting better. His good day all those weeks ago when Thomas had come from Mr. Davidson was a rare thing, but slowly his bad days start to come in shorter bundles, and his number of good days increase. It’s the most beautiful thing Thomas could witness, seeing James crawl out of the dark place he had found himself in.
(Sometimes, Thomas wonders if it was James’ fear of judgement, of Thomas’ judgement, that kept him so bad for so long. Or if it was James’ very understandable issues with trust: he can understand James being scared and cautions, if he thought Thomas could walk out on him whenever he felt like it. He can’t be sure if it is any of it, or if on the other hand, it’s a mixture of both and other things Thomas can’t account for. He doesn’t ask, doesn’t try to put James on the spot like that, but he tries his hardest to show James his trust and his faith, in them, and their relationship, and their ability to move on from the darkest periods of their lives. And if James doesn’t believe it… Well, then Thomas will believe for the both of them until he does.)
One day, Thomas walks in from his walk to see James trying on the clothes he had bought for him at the beginning. They’ve been sitting in corner, casting dust, for weeks, since whenever James goes out (just down to the street and back, just to keep up appearances) he always wears the same outfit. As Thomas expected, they’re big on him, though that might be because James has been losing muscle due to his weeks of inactivity, rather than because Thomas bought them big.
Thomas gets down on his knees to help him mark where the trousers needs to be cut and James laughs as he does so. “What are you doing?” he asks, and his voice sounds like teasing and voice. Thomas hides his grin at the sound by pressing his face to James’ thigh. One of James’ hands comes down to pet him on the head soothingly.
“Helping you,” he says eventually, when it doesn’t feel like his heart is doing leaps in his chest anymore.
James looks at him doubtfully. “Do you have any idea what you’re doing?”
Truthfully speaking, Thomas doesn’t. He knows how to mend holes in his shirts now, how to fix a loose button, but he hasn’t got the slightest when it comes to fitting clothes. “Sure, just tell me what to do,” he says, because that’s the closest thing he can get to admitting he needs help without saying no.
“You’re insufferable,” James sighs, but his voice is light.
That afternoon, they laugh out loud together for the first time.
“How is the job search going?” Abigail asks one day, while they’re strolling through the market. He’s got a couple of new books under his arm, having delivered to Abigail the ones she brought him last week.
“Oh, quite well I think. Mr. Davidson is being surprisingly helpful, I couldn’t ask for a better partner in this endeavor. He’s currently putting together the names of the interested. Some people are asking for interviews, so he’s working on that too.” Thomas thanks the man probably a dozen times every time they’re together, because he doesn’t think he could be doing all that alone. “But speaking of help, doesn’t Charlotte miss you when you’re out strolling with me?” he asks Abigail one time.
Abigail brushes him off. “She’s been doing this without me much longer than she’s been doing it with me. She can handle just fine.”
“I never asked, how did the two you come to meet?” he wonders.
“Oh, she’s Ms. Smith’s sister. My cousins’ governess’, that is. She usually comes by a couple afternoons a week to play with them. Adelaide is obsessed with her,” Abigail says. Her voice sounds both amused and exasperated. “We met there.”
“It sounds like you’ve settled quite well to your life here,” Thomas says, for it is true. She has friends and she talks fondly of her family. Thomas has seen a lot worse.
“Yes, but it was a process,” Abigail says, her expression solemn. “Miranda,” she continues, completely unware of how them name still causes Thomas’ heart to drop, “she helped me so much. I don’t think I could’ve coped without her.”
“She came with you from London, didn’t she?” Thomas enquires, and he doesn’t say her name just because he doesn’t think he could imagine giving that name to anyone other than his wife.
“Yes,” Abigail says. “It wasn’t planned, but I’m forever thankful she did.” She hesitates for a moment. “My father’s death… It… I had a hard time of it.” She looks to the side, and as Thomas glimpses down, he can see her hands trembling by his side. “Around the time he died, I found out things about him, things he had done and people he had hurt. It was hard to conciliate all that while mourning him,” she concludes, looking up at him. “It’s a queer feeling, to love him so much as a father and despise him so much as a man.” Their eyes lock, and whatever Abigail sees in his makes her say, “It seems like you know a little about that.”
Thomas smiles wryly. “More or less. Me and my father… He wasn’t a good man either. He harmed a lot people, a lot of people I care deeply for.” He harmed me. “The things he did to those I love, I wasn’t expecting them,” he admits to Abigail, who’s observing him closely. “But I was under no illusions about the man he was either. I’ve figured out pretty early on, that when it came to fathers and men, mine was bad at being both. It’s something I have come to terms with a long time ago.”
“Did your father know that you felt that way about him?”
Thomas remembers all their arguments that led nowhere, all their screaming matches whose only purposes was settle their prides. “He did. I think that, the fact that he knew I saw him in such a bad light, was part of the reason why we got along so badly. The other part was because he thought me weak, particularly in comparison to my brothers.”
Abigail nods. “Did you love him?” she asks.
Thomas takes his time pondering the answer. “I think I cared for him the way a son is meant to care for their father. I could never wish him bad, but I don’t think I’d have been unhappy if we never spoke to each other. Still, one never expects their father to die, and I could never wish it for him. Not only because, when push comes to shove, he was my father, but also because he was my brothers’ father, whom I cared so deeply for and whom I’d never wish to go through the pain of losing him.”
They walk for a while before Abigail speaks again. “I never got the chance to tell mine how I felt. I think he might have known I was displeased to some degree, but he probably believed it would pass.” She pauses for a moment. “I still mourn him deeply, somedays. I came to the Americas to be with him. Everything that happened because of it… It all feels quite useless without him here. I can’t help but think how much better things would be if I had never set foot on that ship.”
Thomas can’t for the life of him understand what she means by that. He observes her face closely, watches as her own words settle in her brain, as she goes rigid once she registers them. Figuring it is better not to press for more, he says, “I don’t think your pain must necessarily be tied to your morality. You’re allowed to feel it and still recognize him for what he was. His actions don’t belong to you.”
For some reason, Abigail laughs. She clarifies the action by saying, “Me and Miranda, we never really talk about my father, but that sounds like something she would say if we did.”
On Monday, Thomas wakes up to an empty bed and to the sight of James getting dressed. “Are you going somewhere?” he asks, voice thick with sleep.
James turns to looks at him and smiles. He leans down for a kiss. “We are going somewhere,” he says, delightfully cheery for so early in the morning. “I thought, since you have your interviews tomorrow, that perhaps we could do something different today. And then I remembered you talking about the Grangers’ house. I’ve said I have my doubts about it, so perhaps we could quell some of them by going out and looking for it.” Thomas’ eyebrows are probably by his hair with surprise. “Maybe I’ll be convinced if I see it.”
Thomas gets dress as quickly as he can manage and they have some stale bread for breakfast before leaving. They rent two horses for the day and then they get on their way, trotting peacefully side by side.
“Do you have any idea where we’re going?” Thomas asks after a while. He’s become unused to riding and he thinks they might have to stop for a rest soon so he can stretch his legs.
“I asked downstairs,” James says. “I’m not worried, though. If we get lost we have time to find our way back.”
They do get lost, though Thomas isn’t sure how many times, but enough that the sun is high in the sky by the time they find it.
“Are you sure it is this one?” Thomas asks as they unmount the horses. There’s a small stream of water nearby, so they leave them there to refresh as they make their way around the house.
“Yes. The keeper mentioned the blue windowsills,” James explains, and indeed, most of the windows are framed by blue.
Thomas is quite charmed by the sight. The house has probably five bedrooms, maybe six, which is bigger than he and James will ever need but small compared to some of the other houses they passed. There’s what once would have been a garden, but the dirt is now festered with weeds wildflowers. There’s no other house around them, except for one far way enough that Thomas can distinguish the building but not the people.
“You like it,” James says eventually.
It’s not a question, but Thomas answers anyway. “I do. What do you think?” he asks, reaching for James’ hands. There’s no one around to see them, so Thomas doesn’t worry and James doesn’t pull it away.
James takes a moment to consider. “It’s quiet. The house looks big but it seems nice. I… don’t think I would mind exploring this option.”
Thomas smiles at him and then brings him in so they can kiss. It’s a lovely day: the birds are chirping, the sun is shining bright but not overwhelmingly so, and now they have prospects of a house where they can live. Thomas has James pushed against a tree and James’ skin is warmed by the sun when Thomas brings a hand to it. When they part, Thomas’ takes his time to observe him: his hair is longer than when they first reunited, not nearly as long as Thomas remembered it, but long enough for him to be able to sink his fingers in; his skin is whiter than usual from the days without sun, but it shines and sweats under it, alive and just as strong as before; James’ eyes watch Thomas’ as they watch him and eventually one of his hands comes down to cup Thomas over his trousers. It’s truly a lovely day.
“Thank you for bringing me here,” Thomas says in between kisses.
Thomas has two meetings on Tuesday and another two on Thursday and out of the four of them he manages to reach an agreement in three. It’s a good number to start with, he thinks, enough for them to start making some money, but not so much that Thomas will feel overwhelmed by it.
He retells the meetings to James on the day they happen and then again on Saturday to Abigail. “None of the interviews were for your cousins, though,” Thomas mentions at some point.
“Cousin John says he will talk to you about tutoring when you come to see the house,” Abigail says simply, and the statement is perfectly in character with the person he has built for her cousin.
Somehow, their conversation goes from Thomas’ week adventures to the issue of piracy.
"I have quite... Unusual opinions when it comes to the issue of the pirates," Abigail says, her words measured.
Thomas smiles at that. "Really? How so?"
Abigail looks at him. She sighs. "I won't go into details about it, but I have met a few of them. Pirates, I mean. It has... changed my mind on a few things," she says. Thomas notices her hands twitching over the pink skirt of her dress.
"Really? I can't imagine many people would say that, if they encountered a pirate. Quite the opposite, actually, I imagine it would confirm their judgment," he says, more teasing than anything else. Abigail understands it and smiles at him knowingly. "Alright. Do you not believe them the monsters people say they are?" Thomas asks, genuinely curious.
"I don't think that's really the question, is it?" Abigail refutes.
Thomas frowns. "Isn't it?"
Abigail turns her gaze towards the crowd around them, as if gathering her words. "If that is the question that truly matters, than I don't think I have an answer for it," she says determinedly. "They'll always be monsters to people of the sea, but for those who live far away from it, I can't imagine them being truly concerned. They'll have monsters of their own, of course, thieves and murders, but not pirates. And so, if the definition of monster is so dependent on circumstance, is it really such a useful descriptive?" She raises an eyebrow at him, the movement familiar, but be can't say form where. "Thus, I don’t see that as a meaningful question, but I can raise questions of my own."
Thomas smiles in delight. "Can you?"
Abigail smiles back and continues, "When we ask if they're monsters, what we're truly asking is if they are savages, beasts, or if they are men and women like you and me." The deliberate inclusion of women doesn't escape him. "Let's say they are beasts. Are they born like that, or are they raised to become one? Because if they are raised into it, than our issue is not really with piracy, and we should look deeper into what actually makes men become beasts in the first place. And if they are born beasts, than we should absolutely raise the possibility that not all beasts find their away to the sea, and start looking for those who hide in plain sight, among people like me and you. I think those who hide their beastly nature instead of announcing it might be of a much more dangerous sort," Abigail says, the words coming out easily as if she had given them so much thought she already had a speech for them.
"Of course,” she continues, “we can always say that they aren't beasts. And if those people are just normal men and women, why do these people decide to take the illicit root when so many licit others exist? Do they have better wages? Better codes of conduct? Better care? Is it because of the thrill? Because if it is any of these things, then why don't we change these things? If people are seeking them somewhere else, why don't we provide them here? I'm not saying that changing them would kill piracy, but I do think it'd make quite the difference." Abigail is a bit out of breath when she finishes, but she seems pleased with herself, and Thomas has the feeling that this is one of the rare times where he'll actually lose an argument.
He opens his mouth, but for a moment nothing comes out. "I think you raise very valid points," he says.
Abigail beams. "Thank you."
It comes to Thomas suddenly that day, that the Abigail he knows might be the same Abigail from James’ stories. It’s an outlandish thought, but for some reason, Thomas can’t let the idea go. It fits with her story, from the little Thomas recollects of it: the early death of her mother, the traumatic death of her father, who had lived and worked in the colonies for years. He’s not sure why it matters to him so much, but he knows it does.
Thomas’ memory has kept more or less intact throughout the years — he remembers his early childhood, his years at Eaton, his life in London, before and after he married Miranda. It’s a comforting feeling, being able to bring those memories to the forefront of his mind so easily. His years at Bethlem, however, are an exception to the rule.
Thomas sometimes wonders, if the people who enter those gates, are actually mad when they come in, or they become so in there. It disgusts him to his core, the idea that a place meant to heal is such a source of harm. Thomas didn’t feel like he went mad in there, but his memory is not as good as it used to be. The days and weeks that he spent there mingle together, and sometimes he can hardly tell which memories are real and which he made up. That’s why he’s not sure if Peter Ashe had actually ever come to see him, or if Thomas was so desperate for a familiar face he made up the whole ordeal.
He remembers James’ words when he was telling him all about what happened all those years. Peter said he visited, said that you had forgiven him. He had said them in such a way that showed that James himself wasn’t sure if he should believe those words or if Peter had said them just to calm his and Miranda’s spirits. Thomas would never be able to say for sure, but he’s not uncomfortable with thinking the memory true. After all, it does sound like him, to grant forgiveness to a man in a place that grants none to no one. At the time, though, during their conversation, he had said nothing to James’ words, for James never truly understood that Thomas never really struggled with forgiving, he struggled with forgetting.
He considers asking Abigail, ask her for something as simple as her surname, but he asks James instead.
It’s a couple of days later and Thomas arrived just as the sun went down after taking longer than usual at church. “James, can I ask you something?” he asks. Thomas only asks if he can ask when they’re talking about his years of piracy, and James understands the question for what it is.
“Sure,” he says without looking up for his book, in a show of fake casualness.
“I was thinking about Abigail, the girl I walk with on Saturdays,” Thomas clarifies, even though he doesn’t think there’s any need for that. “I never described her to you, but she’s seventeen, maybe sixteen, pretty face, dark curls. I was wondering if she might be Abigail Ashe.”
Thomas observes him closely, watches as James frowns down at his book. His Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows dry. “That’s quite generic. What makes you think that?” he asks, looking up. There’s an odd shadow in his eyes.
“She’s English. She’s not been in Savannah for long, surely less than a year, which fits the timeline for the story you gave me. She talks about how her father died recently, just as she was finding out some of his bad deeds, which also fits your timeline. This week, she mentioned she had had some run-ins with pirates, though she didn’t specify who,” Thomas explains. “I don’t feel like there are many young Abigails meeting pirates. I just think… It feels like there are too many coincidences.”
James puts a hand on his face, scratching his cheek in thought. He takes a moment to answer. “It’s possible you’re right,” James says simply. “I just… I thought she had died in Charles Town. I don’t see how she might have escaped,” he says. The words sound painful. For a moment, Thomas imagines how it might be for James, to have a sense that someone he thought dead — more, someone he thought dead as a result of his actions — might actually be alive. He imagines how hard he must be trying to quell his hope and he almost regrets bringing it up.
“Perhaps she was out of town by the time it started,” Thomas suggests softly. He reaches for one of James’ hands. “Perhaps that was something Peter managed to do right.”
James smiles, pained and angry and sad. He opens his mouth, as if to say something (probably a comment at Thomas’ willingness to always see good in people who don’t deserve it) but he thinks better of it. Thomas leans in to kiss him, reaches to start undoing his shirt and he doesn’t ask the other question on his mind.
(He doesn’t sleep all night thinking about it though: about how James never mentioned Abigail being accompanied by anyone on her journey to Carolina, how he never mentioned another Miranda. Thomas remembers what James had said: They shot at her. It looked like it was meant to kill, but it hit her shoulder instead and They took both of us away. That was the last time I saw her and They brought her coffin to the square. James never mentioned seeing her actually dead. Perhaps Peter thought better of killing her and decided to condemn another Hamilton to a life of isolation and anonymity. It sounds like something he would do to atone his consciousness.
Thomas thinks, Too many damn coincidences.)
He lies awake and he foolishly hopes.
He decides that this is something too big to not bring it up. On his next Saturday walk with Abigail, he asks, “Your family name is Ashe, isn’t it?” He asks like he already knows the answer, like it was something Abigail told him once and he’s just checking.
Abigail doesn’t notice the lie. She nods distractedly. “Yes,” she says simply, then frowns. “Why do you ask?”
“What you told me last week, about the pirates,” he explains. “It made me realize that I had heard your story. Somehow, I’ve only now connected the dots.”
Abigail accepts the answer but she still looks wary. “I don’t like to talk about it much. Most people here associate Ashe more with Cousin John than they do with the former governor of the Carolina colony, which is a small mercy, I suppose” she explains.
“Did your cousin come here at the same time as your father?” Thomas asks. He doesn’t much care about the answer, but he doesn’t know how to ask what he truly wants to know.
“No. Cousin John came with my aunt years before him,” Abigail explains. “He met Cousin Anne in London, once, and they fell madly in love. However, Cousin Anne had to come home, here in Savannah, so my cousin came with her. It’s quite a sweet story, actually,” she says with a smile.
“It is indeed,” Thomas agrees. Thomas thinks about keeping on beating around the bush, but that’s never been his style. He’s not about to start now. “Abigail, can I be forward with you?”
Abigail looks at him with a questioning look. “Of course,” she agrees.
Thomas nods. “Your companion, Miranda. Did she really come with you from London?”
Abigail nods. “Of course. Why do you ask?” and though her tone is light and conversational, Thomas can see the wariness sparking up in her eyes.
“I never told you this, but I knew Captain Flint, once,” he explains, observing closely as Abigail’s expression evolves from wariness to fear and apprehension. “He told me your story, but he never mentioned you being accompanied by anyone else. He did mentioned something about having a partner, a wife if you will, named Miranda. He seemed to be under the impressions she was dead, but perhaps he was lead into having the wrong impression?”
For the first time, Abigail walks away from him. He thinks it is fear that makes her walk away, but when Thomas catches up with her he sees a fierce protectiveness in her gaze. “Abigail, please. I mean you no harm and I don’t mean to upset you either. I just need to know. Please,” he says again, begging.
“Who are you?” she asks. “I don’t remember you on Captain Flint’s crew.”
“I wasn’t on his crew,” Thomas confirms. His heart is racing. “I knew him from before. Please, I really need to know.”
“What is your name?” she demands. “When did you know him?”
“I knew him from before,” Thomas repeats. “From when he still lived in London. My name is Thomas. Thomas Hamilton.”
He doesn’t mean to say that but it stops Abigail in her tracks. She looks at him with bewildered look. “You can’t…” She breathes deeply, gathering herself. “Thomas Hamilton is dead,” she says simply.
“I’m not, I’m standing right here!” Thomas refutes. “Abigail, please. I beg of you. If I’m right about… If I’m right about Miranda, please tell me. Please don’t deny me that,” he asks.
“How?” Abigail asks, looking small and confused. “How can you be here? She told me you were dead.”
“I’m not, though. They were led to believe that I was, but it wasn’t true. It wasn’t my fault, there’s nothing I could’ve done. But I’m here now,” he says, breathing hard. He feels awfully hot in his clothes.
“But… how? How could you have learned of me?” she asks, to which Thomas frowns. Noticing this she clarifies, “Captain Flint is dead. Thus, how could he have told you of my story if he’s dead?”
For a moment, Thomas is frozen on his feet. “Captain Flint- James, that is. He isn’t dead,” he says, a horrible thing settling on his stomach. “Does she think he is? Does she think us both dead?” he asks desperately.
“I don’t…” Abigail looks around, lost. “We heard the rumors,” she says meekly. “About him giving up his war, about him having disappeared or retired. We figured it was a fancy way to say he was dead.”
Thomas shakes his head. “No. He’s here, with me. We’re both fine.”
Abigail doesn’t answer him. She has a hand on her chest as if she’s trying to breath. Noticing the busy street around them, Thomas puts a hand on her arm and pushes her to the side, out of people’s way.
“Abigail, are you alright?”
Abigail looks up at him, eyes shining with tears, and before Thomas can stop her, she has her arms around him, her face hidden in his chest. He hears her sob, and slowly, reluctantly, he hugs her back.
Thomas stays there while Abigail sobs into his chest and then tells her not to worry when she apologizes for the stains on his clothes.
“I’m going to talk to her,” Abigail says. They’re both still leaning against the wall, Abigail holding Thomas’ handkerchief up to her face even though she’s not crying anymore. “I don’t know how she’ll react, so I thinks it’s better if I do it alone.” Thomas wants to protest, but he keeps his mouth shut. Right now, Abigail probably knows her better than any of them.
“Is she alright?” he asks.
Abigail hesitates. “She’s alive,” she says. It doesn’t sound too optimistic. “She plays it well in front of me, but I’ve gotten to know her over the months. I think she really dislikes being stuck in our house.”
“Yes,” Thomas agrees. Miranda’s greatest nightmare has always been being trapped inside a home. “But you’ll let me know, as soon as you tell her?”
Abigail nods. “I will,” she says sincerely.
When he gets to their room, Thomas doesn’t know how to tell James what happened. James never told him all the details of what happened after Miranda died, but he knows enough: Charles Town, the attacks on towns who hung pirates, the storm. He knows he wasn’t alright through all of that and he’s afraid that telling him the truth will bring all of those feelings to the forefront again.
He barely sleeps for the second night in a row and in the morning James sits him down and asks, “Is everything alright? You seem worried since yesterday.”
It’s still early in the morning but they’ve both been awake for a while. Thomas leans back against his pillow and asks, “If I told you something impossible, would you believe me?”
James stares at him. “Alright,” he grants.
“I asked Abigail if she was Peter’s daughter and it turns out my assumptions were right.”
Thomas observes him closely, watches as the signs of both pain and relief settle on his face. “Thomas, I’m… I’m glad,” he says. “She didn’t deserve what happened,” he adds.
“Yes, but there’s more,” Thomas says, making James look up, eyes alert again.
“The reason why I was so invested in knowing if Abigail was Peter’s daughter was because, if it were true, then something else would probably be true as well. Tell me, Abigail, when you found her, was she accompanied by anyone?”
James looks at him quizzically. “No, she was alone, just like when she was captured.”
“Funny you should say that, because she always telling me about her companion who came with her from London.”
“What do you mean?” James frowns.
“Exactly that. Her companion, who accompanied her all the way from London, to Charles Town, to Savannah.” James is about to interrupt him, so Thomas rushes to say, “Her name is Miranda.”
James opens and closes his mouth a few times and then gets up and makes his way to the window. “That can’t be,” he says simply.
“She’s dead, Thomas. I’m sorry, but she is. Perhaps Abigail lied to you,” James says and he sounds truly sorrowful.
“Did you ever see her dead?” Thomas asks.
“Yes. I mean, no, I-“
“Then how can you be so sure?”
“Why the fuck would he keep her alive, then?” James asks, screaming a little. He’s getting mad, Thomas thinks distractedly.
“Because it would keep his consciousness clean. Why kill her when he could just make her disappear? And probably fall into his daughter’s good graces at the same time?” Thomas says, eyes locked with James’. “Besides, he had already done it once and it had worked. Why not do it again when it was just so simple?”
“But-“ James starts, like a child, and Thomas understands, how in denial and in pain he must feel. He gets up so he can embrace James and let him breath shakily into his neck.
“It’s too many coincidences, you agreed with me on that,” Thomas tries desperately. “And Abigail seems to believe we are right about this.” He takes a deep breath. “I know this seems impossible. I know it seems implausible for us to get this lucky, but I just can’t see how this can’t be true.” After a while, Thomas adds, “James, we’ve suffered enough.”
As the sun rises in the sky, they embrace.
The Grangers’ house looks exactly like James remembered. It’s a nice house, James can admit as much, but it feels a bit too idyllic for his taste. Or perhaps he’s just being cynical. Regardless, just the sight of it leaves him a little uncomfortable.
A man is waiting for them by the main door when they arrive. He looks a bit like Peter around the eyes. Thomas is the one to introduce them, the lies about their relationship falling out of his lips better than James could have delivered them. He had asked Thomas, once, if he wasn’t bothered by the lies; as an answer, Thomas had just shrugged, which wasn’t helpful at all because Thomas didn’t shrug and James didn’t know how to interpret it.
John Ashe takes them around the wide corridors and the upstairs bedrooms, dropping comments about how there’s more than enough space for children in case one of them ever marries. Despite his mistrust, James can admit that he probably doesn't mean to insinuate anything by that. Probably.
“Abigail should be arriving soon. I’ve asked her to bring us something to eat so as to make our conversation more comfortable,” John comments as they return to the sitting room. It’s a wide room, filled with windows and with plenty of light — a far contrast to the small room James and Thomas currently occupy. “She’s very fond of you, Mr. McGraw,” he says to Thomas.
“She’s a bright girl,” Thomas compliments.
“I suppose,” John says, in a way that shows James that he mustn’t pay that much attention. “She has asked for me to consider making you her tutor.”
Thomas doesn’t pretend to be surprised by that. “I would be delighted.”
They sit in silence, and it could be awkward, except John seems to be a man used to the quiet and he entertains himself by looking out the window. Taking advantage of his distraction, Thomas calls James’ attention by touching him on the arm.
“What do you think?” he asks, voice so low James only understands it by reading his lips.
“I think it is fine,” James replies in the same tone.
Thomas takes a moment to consider how he feels about James’ answer and then sits back, seeming to have deemed it acceptable. Fondly, James rolls his eyes and settles a little better into the cushions.
There’s a painting of a ship in a sea storm in one of the walls. If they stay in this house, James is dumping it into one of the rooms that they’ll leave unused as soon as he can.
To his side, Thomas is fidgeting. It’s nothing perceptible, except James knows him enough to look for the signs: his fingers drumming against his thigh, his tongue trapped between his teeth. He’s nervous.
James looks away and takes a breath as deep as he can without making a sound, letting the air out slowly. He’s nervous too.
John gets up when they hear the sound of horses trotting, of a carriage pulling up into the front of the house. “I’ll be back in a moment, gentlemen,” he says.
He closes the door to the room behind him so all that James can do is hear as his footsteps as he walks to the front of the house, the sound of the front door opening and then muffled voices.
“I’m nervous,” Thomas says.
James looks at him and, taking advantage of the closed door — soon he won’t have to worry if it is closed or not — he leans in to kiss him. “Me too,” he says.
Except, he’s more than nervous. He’s fucking terrified. He never thought- He never thought he’d see her again. Given, he never thought he’d see Thomas either, but it’s different between them. Miranda had been there when he was Flint and their relationship had shifted in ten years in a way Thomas and his hadn’t. It feels unbalancing, to be about to see them both, together, in such unequal circumstances.
“Abigail has requested a tour of the house,” Miranda’s voices says. James’ neck turns so quickly he’s surprised it doesn’t snap. She’s standing in the room with them, just inside the doors. “I was sent to inform you that they’ll be a while.”
She looks thinner than James remembered, her cheek bones more prominent, her hands more delicate. There is grey on her head. Before James can blink, Thomas is one his feet and by her side. James watches as they take a moment to look into each other’s eyes. He’d smile at the sight if he could manage as much. Miranda puts the basket she’s carrying on the ground and then they’re embracing, softer and less desperate than James had imagined it would be.
James’ eyes are stinging and there’s a lump on his throat. He looks away.
He can hear them talking, kissing. Miranda laughs and it sounds sweet. James’ hands curl into fists by his side.
Someone sits down by his side and he feels Miranda’s skirts brush against the fabric of his pants. “James?” she asks quietly. One of her hands comes down to cover his. “Will you look at me?”
James wants to, but he can’t. He should be happy, goddamn it! Miranda’s alive, Thomas’s alive- he should be shouting from the rooftops in joy! Then why the fuck is it that all he wants to do is scream?
One of her hands comes up to turn his head around and then he’s looking into her eyes, head twisted towards her but body still facing way. Her eyes are brown, he notices, and he knew that, objectively, but for some reason he remembered them black.
She’s so close. She almost seems real. James leans his forehead into hers and they touch softly, one of her hands still on her face, the other on top of one of his. James closes his eyes and they breathe together.
“Are you alright?” Thomas asks. He’s probably been meaning to do so for hours but he chose to wait until they were in private to do it. James can appreciate the effort.
“Fine,” he says simply.
The rest of the afternoon had been a bit of a blur. John and Abigail had returned and they all had a few tea biscuits while Thomas and John talked, James intervening just enough for the situation not to seem odd. Miranda was there, sitting quietly, the whole time. By the time they all left, Thomas had gotten them an agreement over the house and arranged for Abigail’s tutoring. John insisted in having the house cleaned before they move in, probably to give him time to collect whatever possessions he has there, and they can start living there by the end of next week.
James had been there to witness the whole conversation, but he can’t remember much of it. All he can think is, Miranda was there, sitting quietly.
Everything pales in comparison to Miranda.
Thomas looks like he wants to talk, probably about Miranda and about seeing her again, but he doesn’t. “Do you want to have sex?” Thomas asks instead.
James looks up at him and surprises himself by snorting. “You think that might help?” he asks, but he doesn’t say no. The worst thing that can happen is that he cries afterwards, and it would be far from the first time it happened. He doesn’t particularly like it, but he’s learned to live with reality of it.
Thomas starts working on taking off his shirt. “It might help you relax. You’ve been tense all day. Which I understand, but still.” Thomas pauses, considering if he wants to say his next words, “This is something happy. I don’t want you thinking yourself sick over it.”
James considers the words for a moment. He doesn’t know how to explain it to Thomas, that he’s not unhappy or depressed about it, just that he wasn’t ready for it. He never really understood it, the relationship he and Miranda built over the years, but something he knew to be true was that he had come to rely on it so heavily — even when things weren’t good, even they fought more than they smiled — that having it taken away had felt like going through hell a thousand times over. Moving on had been hard and truly exhausting. Still, he had done it. It seemed impossible for him to ever move back from that.
And when it came to happiness… James knew himself capable of small joys, but happiness seem too permanent for someone like him. He doubts he’ll ever be able to conquer it fully.
He doesn’t know how to explain any of this to Thomas so, instead, he reaches for him. Thomas leans down to kiss him and James tries to let himself be carried away by it. Kissing is good, kissing is easy.
Thomas is standing in front of where James is sitting, so James takes advantage of their position and starts to unbutton his pants. One of Thomas’ hands comes to rest on James’ shoulder. He lowers Thomas’ pants down just enough to free his cock. It is still mostly soft, so James sucks him until he’s hard and Thomas fucks his mouth until he comes. When Thomas offers to reciprocate, James brushes him off. He’s already crying by then.
Thomas starts tutoring that week, which means that he starts to leave earlier and arrives more tired than usual.
With him away for longer and with nothing else to do, James starts going to the Grangers’ house regularly, so he can start getting together lists of things they already have and things they need to buy. He walks the rooms so he can figure out which ones they’ll be actually using and which ones he can close off once the maids are done with them. The house has a room that functions as both a library and an office, and when asked, the maids tell him that they don’t have any instructions to take the books, so James spends a good time there looking through them.
He visits the garden too, or whatever is left of it, and tries to figure out what they can plant there, but it’s a failed task. He knows nothing of gardening.
One day, Miranda is there when he arrives. She’s looking out the windows of the same room where they met last time. James halts when he sees her, suddenly out of breath.
“The maids said you’ve been coming by,” Miranda says, turning to look at him. “They let me come to give you a hand.”
“I’m fine,” James says, feeling defensive for some reason. He puts down the bag of new bed sheets he brought with him.
Miranda smiles, but it doesn’t look happy. It looks resigned. It’s a sight James is familiar with and it results in making him instantly feel like a dickhead. “I’m sorry.”
Miranda nods and comes to stay in front of him. She brings a hand to touch him and James lets her. He closes his against the sensation of her feelings tracing his face.
“I thought-“ James starts but he doesn’t finish it. They both know what he thought. He takes a deep breath. “Losing you… it ruined me,” he says instead, an echo of what he said to dream-Miranda once. She stills her hand on his face and then cups his cheek, her hand solid and still.
His statement stays in the air between them and they both breathe through it until it doesn’t feel suffocating anymore.
“Your hair is shorter,” she says eventually.
James opens her eyes so he can look into hers. They’re brown, just as they should be. “I had it shorter before,” he says. “Now it’s just annoying,” he adds. The strands are at a length where they just keep getting on his eyes and tickling his cheeks. He hates it.
He doesn’t say any of it to Miranda and she doesn’t ask for an explanation.
“Can I hug you?” she asks. She looks unsure about the answer she might get and James hates himself for it, for letting them get into a point where not even that is certain.
She hugs him around his shoulders, her hands resting near his neck and James brings his arms to her waist. It’s an uncomfortable embrace until Miranda sighs and lets herself relax into it, prompting James to do the same. He buries his face in her neck, only to find that she smells different than he remembered.
“It ruined me too,” she says, voice so low James doubts he was meant to hear it.
He and Thomas move in next week, and James finds himself settling in better than he expected. Thomas thinks it’s because James enjoys the fact that there’s no one around them; James can see the logic in that, since he does appreciates having the opportunity to get lost between the trees and grass and dirt without worrying about bumping into anybody by accident.
However, personally, James thinks he settles in better than expected because Thomas settles in wonderfully. Even if James didn’t like the house, he’d have agreed to move into it simply for the fact that Thomas looks happy in it, in having hallways where he can walk around, in being able to lounge in his underclothes in places other than his bed, in having a library with books he doesn’t have to return.
Abigail comes over twice a week for her lessons, her cousin seemingly comfortable enough to have her come over instead of insisting on having Thomas come to them, and Miranda accompanies her.
The first time she comes coincides with the first time James and Abigail comes face to face properly since Charles Town. The first time they were in the same room together, during the meeting with John, they hardly interacted, but now it is inevitable. James doesn’t enjoy interacting with her — it’s not that he regrets killing the piece of trash that was Peter Ashe, but he understands that Abigail might not share the feeling —, but she seems downright uncomfortable in front of him, so they tend to avoid each other.
During Abigail’s first lessons, Miranda stayed with her and Thomas, and James got out of the house. It was better this way, he thought, because then she and Thomas could be together without having him lingering over them. In the evening, he always came back late enough to know she and Abigail wouldn’t be there anymore, but still in time to cook dinner. James thought the dynamic was working fine until Thomas says one night, “You can’t keep on avoiding her forever.”
“I’m not,” James says. They’re lounging on the couch and James has his feet on top of Thomas’ lap. The scene is so fucking domestic he can hardly believe it’s true.
“James, come on,” Thomas says, only slightly annoyed. “You’re not fooling anyone, not even yourself.”
“I’m not avoiding her. I’m just giving you both time to be together. We’ve been together for the last ten years. I think we can manage a little time apart.”
Thomas takes a while to answer. “I appreciate that, truly. However, you being here doesn’t stop me and Miranda from being together. Please, just consider it,” he says. There’s more he wants to say, James knows that, but neither of them press for it.
Thomas’ hand comes to rest on top of his feet as he returns to his book, and James spends his evening looking up at the ceiling.
James doesn’t wander out next time, but he does come to sit outside on the garden. The summer is coming, and according to Thomas, summer in Savannah means heavy, intermittent rain and thunder storms, so James tells himself he’s just enjoying the rest of their dry days.
“Mind if I join you?” Miranda asks after a while and James is not in the least surprised that she came to see him.
James nods and Miranda sits beside him on the still dirty bench he managed to find hidden among the vegetation. He steals a glance at her and then looks back at his bare feet. He should wear shows to walk out of the house, he thinks.
“Have you thought about what to plant here?” she asks after a while, her tone tentative and careful in a way that makes James’ familiar wave of self-hate return.
“I don’t know. I haven’t gotten the slightest about gardening and all Thomas says is that everything grows here, which I’m sure must not be right.” It’s the longest sentence James says to her since he had heard she’s alive and it’s about fucking gardening. He truly hates himself sometimes.
James is waiting for her to make another gardening comment, but she chooses to say instead, “I really want things to get better between us, James,” she says. James tries his hardest not to look at her- he doesn’t think he could cope. “The months between Charles Town and here have been some of the most hellish ones in my life. I’ve missed you terribly. I’d…” She sighs. “I’d like to fix things between us, if that’s still possible. I think it is,” she says, sounding absolutely earnest and heart-broken. “But- You have to meet me halfway. I just can’t do this alone.”
James takes a deep breath and waits for the sting in his eyes to disappear, but it doesn’t. He looks resolutely at his feet instead. “I know,” he manages to croak out, eventually. He takes a deep, shaky breath himself. “I love you. I always did, you know that, right?”
Miranda laces his arm against his and puts her head on his shoulder. “Yes. I love you too.”
They stay there, arms laced, until Abigail comes for them an hour later. They don’t speak during that time. (Miranda doesn’t comment on the fact that he’s crying.)
“Stay inside next time?” she asks before they make their way inside. James agrees.
James stays inside next time, and every time from then on, and they manage to come up with some sort of a routine: Thomas and Abigail’s lessons are now carried out in private in the library, while James and Miranda play cards or chess in the sitting room. They don’t talk much, but they don’t need to. They’ve spent ten years being quiet together and the ability seems to not have been lost with time. When they talk, it’s usually about which terrible novel Miranda is reading or about what James is cooking for dinner. Meaningless, perfectly domestic stuff. It feels like coming home.
Afterwards, when Abigail is done with her lesson, she stays reading in the library and James goes for a walk so Miranda and Thomas can be together. Thomas still insists on him staying, but James thinks it is important for them to have time alone. They eventually reach a compromise and James starts staying for tea with them before his walk.
He’s leaving for his walk one afternoon when he’s stopped by Abigail.
“Can we talk, Mr. McGraw?” she asks and the name still feels weird when people use it to refer to him, even though it looks perfectly natural on Thomas.
James doesn’t mean to frown, but he does. “You sure?” he asks, because he knows the girl doesn’t like being around him. He doesn’t blame her, really.
Abigail nods. “Yes,” she says confidently. “Why don’t we step outside?” she suggests and James is the one who follows her out.
They sit on the bench, that he keeps clean ever since Miranda had come outside, and they put as much space between them as they can. Abigail nervously clears her throat before starting. “I thought I might come out here and talk to you because you’re Thomas’ partner and your Miranda’s partner,” she starts and James has to use all his strength not to get caught up in how it feels when someone else says what they are. “I’m very fond of both of them and I’d like to be found of you too,” she explains. “So I thought that I’d come out here and tell you how I feel about you, because maybe once everything is laid out, I might be able to move forwards on this issue. Does that sound doable to you?”
James has no fucking idea about how that sounds to him. “Perfectly.”
Abigail takes a deep breath before starting. “My time with the pirates was a complicated one. The man who took me first, Captain Low, he wasn’t a good man at all. I was terrified of him. After him, I came into the custody of Captain Vane. He wasn’t good either, but he left me alone most of the time and made sure nobody came to mess with me. After that, I came into the custody of Captain Flint. He wasn’t good either. He was the one who killed my father,” she says so in a cold, detached voice. It sounds strange on her. “But he kept me fed, and clean, and safe.” She looks straight at him. “Through all that, I saw all sort of horrors. Murder and violence. People looking at me like I was something rather than someone,” she explains, voice filled with disgust, hands twisting the fabric of her skirt. “And I also saw them laugh and play and mourn.”
She takes a deep breath and continues, “Captain Flint- You. I dream about him, about you, sometimes. I think about how you saved me from a dungeon, kept me safe and delivered me home. And then I think about how you killed my father.” She’s sniffles, trying not to cry. She’s just a child, James thinks. “Sometimes I hate you. Sometimes I’m thankful to you. Most times it’s both.” She looks at him again. “I hope there comes a time when I’m neither hateful nor thankful towards you. I hope there comes a time when I can just… be, with you, in your presence. I’m not sure when I’ll get there,” she finishes. She looks for something else to add, but the words seem to have fled her.
James doesn’t know what to say to her. Abigail beats him to it, “Does that sound doable to you, Mr. McGraw? Can you wait for me to get there?” she asks.
James nods. Just for the sake of saying something, he says, “Is there any way I can help you?”
Abigail tilts her head, considering. “Just treat them right.”
Thomas and Miranda are having sex. It’s not something hard to figure out, mainly because neither of them are hiding it. They use one of the bedrooms that until then was left unused, but sometimes, when he’s lying with Thomas at night, he catches a whiff of Miranda’s new cologne on his skin.
He doesn’t often think about London, but he can’t help it in those moments: he remembers things like that happening there, when their relationship was still so new. He remembers, mostly, finding marks on his lovers that he hadn’t been the one to leave. At the time, it used to make him hot. He loved it, truly. There was other stuff too, more intimate somehow, like Thomas’ pajamas in Miranda’s bedroom or long black hairs on Thomas’ pillows.
James feels like it’s all coming back now; except this time, for some reason, James feel weird about it, and not in a way that feels particularly good.
He doesn’t mean to bring their attentions to the issue, his issue that they shouldn’t have to deal with, but Thomas catches up with it somehow. Honestly, James shouldn’t even be surprised.
“Does it bother you?” he asks as they are lying in bed, Thomas’ candle still lit. “That me and Miranda are having sex?”
“Of course not,” James says, not bothering to open his eyes.
Thomas sighs, just slightly exasperated. “Can you look at me?” James turns on his side and opens his eyes, craning his neck to be able to look at Thomas. “You don’t have to talk to me about it if you don’t want, but I feel like this is the kind of thing you should talk to me about, because it concerns me too.”
He’s right, James’ mind supplies unhelpfully. “I’m not bothered by it,” James says again. “Truly, that’s not it. And whatever I’m feeling… I just feel like it’s not right to dump that on you.”
Thomas smiles at him. “I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t want to know the answer,” he says. It sounds so simple when he says things like that. “Is it jealousy?” he asks, completely non-judgmental, which is something James has no idea how he does.
James considers it. “No, I don’t think so.”
Thomas frowns. “Is it that I smell like her sometimes? It didn’t use to bother you, so I didn’t consider the option that it might now, but I can wash more carefully.”
James thinks it over. Is that all it is? Could it really be as simple as that? “I’m not sure,” he settles on. He imagines Thomas coming to bed fresh and clean-smelling after he had been in Miranda and it doesn’t make him more comfortable than before. “I don’t think so.”
Thomas observes him for a moment. “Alright then,” he says, turning to blow out his candle. He lies down next to James and James turns so Thomas can hug him from behind. “Just think about it, then. If something comes up let me know. Does that seem doable?”
How James got lucky enough to get to have this man not once, but twice, he’ll never no. “Yes, sure.”
“I love you,” Thomas says, like he does most nights. James squeezes the hand Thomas has on his stomach in response.
He can’t fall asleep, though. His mind is too awake trying to figure it out. Since Thomas is not sleeping either, his breathing too fast for that, James asks after a while, “Can I think aloud?” It’s not something he does often, he doesn’t appreciate exposing his mind like that, but it helps him sometimes.
Thomas nods against his hair. “Sure,” he says, planting a kiss on James’ hair.
“I just keep on remembering how… It wasn’t good, between me and her. Sex, I mean. We did it, but it was bad.” It was more than bad, actually. By the end of it, it was honestly awful. James hates himself for thinking that, but it’s the truth.
Thomas hums. “Did it feel bad to you personally, or was it that you didn’t think you were doing enough for her?” Thomas asks. That’s the advantage of thinking out loud, is that Thomas is great at guiding him through it.
James ponders it. “Both, I suppose. I don’t think either of us were particularly satisfied by it.” James hesitates for a moment. “Sometimes, I couldn’t even get hard.”
Thankfully, Thomas doesn’t comment on his revelation. Instead, he asks, “Why did you keep doing it then?” which is not the better.
“I guess… It wasn’t always like that,” he explains, because before it got bad it used to be one of the only things that he could actually enjoy. “In the beginning, it was pretty good. It kept us close and it helped… With the grief, I suppose. You weren’t dead to us then, but it did feel like grieving.”
Thomas kisses him again. “When did that change?”
“I’m not sure,” he says, trying to figure out if there ever was a time where he remembered it going from good to bad. “I remember… There was this one time when I came home after two, maybe three months on the sea and we didn’t kiss. I’m not sure why that happened, but after that it became our new normal. But now that I think of it, I remember that we stopped touching after that. Not just the kisses, but also… touching her hand, cuddling, hugging. They became rare.” James frowns, a thought coming to him suddenly, “Do you- Do you think we kept on doing that because… if we stopped, then we might not get it back?” James hates just the thought of it, the idea that they’re relationship was so fragile that a whole part of it could break just like that.
“It’s possible,” Thomas agrees, in that neutral tone of his. His next words come carefully, measured, “Do you think that you might feel like you do now because of guilt?”
James turns so he can look at Thomas, even though it’s too dark for that. “Guilt?”
“It’s just a suggestion, ignore it if it doesn’t feel right,” he says. When he talks next, it is in that non-judgmental tone of his, which is one of the things James admires most about him: how he can just say things without giving away how he feels about what he’s saying. Such a tone almost looks odd in a man as passionate as Thomas. “I was just thinking that, perhaps seeing us together and satisfied might be causing you to feel guilty for not having been able to provide that.” Thomas leans in for a kiss. “I’m not blaming you for it, just thinking.”
James doesn’t know what to say to that. The words are uncomfortable, but the truth is, perhaps Thomas is right. Still, ‘guilt’ seems too small a word to describe any part of his relationship with Miranda. He doesn’t know what to think about any of it, so he kisses Thomas instead.
“Anyway, if you come up with anything that might help, just let me know,” Thomas reminds him when they part. They’re close enough for Thomas to feel him nodding so James does just that and they settle for the night.
“Did you ever sleep with other people?” Thomas asks the next morning. James looks up at him, wondering where the question came from, but Thomas seems to be asking just for the sake of it. James could ignore it if he wanted to.
“A few times.” Only when I was somewhere I knew I wouldn’t have to show my face in again. “There really weren’t many, I just didn’t enjoy it,” and he leaves the conversation at that.
Once, on his walk, James cuts his leg on a rock. It’s not the first time it happens, but this time it is deep enough for him to decide to go home instead of keeping on. There is music in the house when he arrives, with Abigail playing on the old harpsichord neither he nor Thomas had given much attention to. Thomas and Miranda are nowhere to be seen, which means they are probably upstairs having sex, but when he gets to his and Thomas’ room he can’t hear any moans through the thin walls. Instead, there are voices.
“Grieving you was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I don’t think I ever ended it,” Miranda is saying. James knows he shouldn’t listen, so he excuses it on having to wrap his cut. He seats down on the bed with the alcohol and gauze and starts cleaning it.
“That’s why I asked you to stay together,” Thomas says. “Whatever came, I knew it wouldn’t be good. I was hoping you could help each other out.”
“I think we did, in some way. The first weeks, we were together the whole time. And then… Well, you know the story now, from what I understand. He went on to become Captain Flint and I became Mrs. Barlow,” Miranda’s voice seems empty as she says it.
Thomas hums. “How often did you see each other?”
“It depends. More at the start and then less when he started sailing. Sometimes he’d stay for a couple of weeks between prizes, sometimes he wouldn’t come at all, even though I heard that he was in town.” Miranda pauses. Her voice is careful when she next speaks, “Sometimes I was thankful for it.”
“Miranda…” Thomas says, and he sounds a bit disappointed, but mostly sad.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Miranda says, firm but not harsh. “It was hard being alone all the time, never knowing when or if I’d see him again. But sometimes it was harder being around him. Grief was a constant for me, but it came in waves for him. It was hard to predict in which state he would come to me. Sometimes it was lonelier with him there then with him gone. And…” Miranda laughs, bitter and sad. “I resented him, a little. Don’t look at me like that, he resented me too. I can’t blame him, sometimes I resented myself. Sometimes… I just couldn’t understand why the fuck I’d let myself stay behind, why I even agreed to it.” She takes a deep breath. “I love him dearly, I always have… But we weren’t very kind to one another.”
Despite himself, James huffs in laughter at that. He doesn’t let himself focus on the fact that he hates that she’s putting it all out in the opening, or on how uncomfortable it is to listen it, to her side of the story. It wouldn’t be fair of him to judge her for talking to Thomas about their decade apart when James himself does it often.
Thomas huffs a laugh too, a small exasperate thing. “He told me the same thing.”
“Yeah, he and I were always of the same mind… except when we weren’t,” she answers, a teasing smile in her voice. Thomas laughs harder at that.
After a while, he asks, “Would you have preferred it if I hadn’t asked? For you to take care of him, I mean.”
Miranda takes a bit to answer. “I think… At first we stayed together because you asked for it. I think that if you hadn’t, we’d probably gone each our own way, at least for a while. But by the end of it, I didn’t stay for you. I don’t know about him, but I-” She pauses. Thomas doesn’t hurry her. “I love you very much, and I tried to honor your request. But being alone in a house didn’t feel like taking care of him. It didn’t feel like honoring you, either. Because of this, I don’t think I’d have stayed for you, exactly.” She takes a deep breath. “I stayed because… I’d rather resent him for the rest of my life than risk never seeing him again. With everything that happened this past year, I’m convinced I was right about that. Even… Even when I sent that letter to Boston… I wouldn’t have left if he didn’t want to leave too. Being with him was hard, but being without him was unfathomable.”
“Miranda-” Thomas starts, but Miranda cuts him.
“I hated that I had to stay behind. I knew the logic behind it, and I knew it was easier for him to be Flint if I wasn’t there to remind him of something else, but sometimes I just couldn’t understand why he didn’t take me with him. In my whole life, the only thing I didn’t want to be was stuck to a home. It seemed like another cruel spin of fate that that was what I’d become.” She pauses for a moment. “Mostly, I hated that he got to be loud in his grief and I had to be confined to mine,” she says. “But through all of that, I’ve always loved him more than I hated any of those things.”
Neither of them speaks for a while, and James sits there and tries not to breathe too loudly. He focuses on wrapping his leg. He tries not to focus on the wave of self-despise that hits him.
“You know,” Thomas speaks after a while, voice low, words slow and measured. “Sometimes I look at the both of you, like when you’re playing cards, and something about the way you are in each other’s presence reminds me that there’s this whole life that you had that I’m not a part of. I know-“ his voice gets louder for a moment. James imagines Miranda tried to interrupt him- “That that’s not on purpose, please don’t imagine that is what I’m saying. It’s lovely that you kept going. It just- Sometimes I feel like I’m on the outside looking in, like I should have been there to watch the both of you evolve and I… wasn’t. It feels like my life was stolen from me.”
At those words, James wants to get up and barge into the room and say something. He doesn’t know what. In hindsight, it’s probably better that he’s not there. Miranda and Thomas had always been the best of the three of them at talking about how they felt.
“I know it does, darling,” Miranda says. “I am so sorry.”
Thomas speaks up after a bit. “What was it like for you, in London? Truly, I keep on trying to imagine how you felt when all of it was going down, and I can’t. I keep thinking… I don’t know, honestly. Sometimes I think that this mess should all have been James’ and mine, and that you got caught up in it.”
“None of that,” Miranda says, her voice leaving no space for argument. “This mess belongs to Peter, your father and to anyone else who enable them to take our lives away from us. From all the weights we have to carry, that is not one of them. And I wasn’t caught up in anything, I was there because I chose to be there, to be with you.”
“You haven’t answered my question,” Thomas says, voice soft.
“No I haven’t,” Miranda agrees easily. “I think… Back in London, I think I wasn’t ready for what you and James would become. I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t see it coming, so I suppose it hit differently than I expected it to.”
“What do you mean?” Thomas asks, curious.
Miranda takes a moment to consider her answer. “I had seen you take up different lovers throughout our marriage. There was… Edward, and there was Philip, and there was this other fella that I don’t remember the name of right now.”
Thomas laughs. “Theodore.”
“Theodore, yes,” Miranda agrees easily, laughing too. “He was a darling. Never understood how you could go from him to Edward,” she says, and Thomas laughs again. James smiles at the sound. “You were with them for considerable lengths of time, so I thought that, whatever hardship arose from seeing you stable with another person, from seeing you loving another person, I was used to it. I thought I had processed it and learnt all that I had to learn from it. By the time James came along, I thought I couldn’t be surprised anymore. But then…” Miranda pauses. “At first, I thought I was having a harder time with you and him because we were both involved. It seemed plausible, even though it wasn’t the first time we both went after the same person. However…” She sighs. “I told him once, how what you and he had was entirely something else. I think that’s what made it harder. I wasn’t expecting for you to become so intense so quickly. It left me in shaky place. And with everything going on at the time, there wasn’t much space left for us to sit and talk it out.”
Thomas takes a shaky breath. “I didn’t… I never meant to leave you feeling like you were on the outside.”
James can imagine Miranda shaking her head as she answers, “You didn’t, darling. However I felt, it wasn’t on you.” Miranda pauses. “I think that- If we’d had more time, things would have become better. I mean, I knew they would. It wasn’t the first time we had to deal with the complications that came from being with other people, and we would have worked it out like we always did.” A pause. “But please never doubt: I’d rather go through a little discomfort than compromise your happiness. There isn’t a world in which seeing you happy could make me anything other than happy too. I love you and I love James. That was always true.”
“Yes…” James hears a sigh, he can’t tell from whom. “I love you, too. I hate that we didn’t get more time.”
It doesn’t seem like they’re going to say anything anymore, so James tries to gather his feelings enough so he can get up and go to them. His breathing has returned to normal when Thomas speaks again:
“Remember when you and… Wait, what was her name.” He laughs slightly. “Jane! Remember when you and Jane spent those weeks away, and I was an absolute nightmare when you returned?”
Miranda laughs. One of them gets up. “I don’t think there’s a world where you can be an absolute nightmare.”
They’re both laughing as Thomas says, “You’re too kind.”
“I wasn’t finished. You can’t be an absolute nightmare, but you were a bit tiresome. Then again, I can’t blame you. You were with Edward at the time. If there is someone who can make even you tiresome is him.” They’re both laughing as they speak. James lets it warm him up. “Help me with this,” she asks eventually.
James lets that allow him to go into the bedroom. He gets up, puts the supplies away and makes sure his footsteps are loud enough as he makes his way from one bedroom to the other. He watches from the door: Miranda is facing the mirror and looks up as he enters, smiling softly at him through the mirror, and Thomas turns his neck to look at him. He frowns at James’ bandaged leg. For the first time since they’re reunited, James allows himself to come into their bedroom and sits heavily at the foot of the unmade bed. He watches Thomas help Miranda with her stays. He can’t tell if any of them knew he was listening.
"I know you were listening the other day," Miranda says the next time she comes over as they’re preparing things for tea. “I heard your footsteps when you arrived. You were limping a bit.”
To his horror, James feels himself blush. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean..." He stops. It feels shallow even in his ears.
Miranda lets out a laugh, sweet and small. "It's alright," she says, turning around to face him. She leans against the counter. "There's nothing I said to him that you couldn't hear." For a moment, she seems like she's going to say something else. She doesn’t.
It reminds James eerily of Nassau.
James swallows. "Did Thomas know I was listening?"
Miranda turns back to the stove, where the water is boiling, as she answers, "I don't think so. I can't be sure, though, you'd have to ask him."
James nods, even though she can't see it, and distracts himself with the patterns of the wood of the table. He wants to speak. He lets the want wash over him and when it doesn't go away, he says, "I'm sorry. I didn't know that you... I didn't know how it was for you. I'm sorry."
He can see a small smile on her face when she turns her head slightly to speak, "It's alright. I know you didn't."
James blinks. "What?"
Miranda faces him again. "I know you didn't know. I never told you, so how could you?"
"Why didn't you tell me?" James asks, frowning.
To his surprise, Miranda shrugs. "What good would've come from that? You would feel... I don't know. Guilty, perhaps, for having to leave me behind. I don’t think that would’ve been at all useful." She takes a deep breath. "Over the years, I hated myself more and more for agreeing to your suggestion to hide inland. But I did agree to it. It wasn't your burden to carry."
James nods, even though he doesn't agree with her. "But if you had talked to me, then I would've known that that was going on for you. I don't know if I would have come up with a solution, but I could've helped."
Miranda tilts her head. "Maybe," she concedes. "Still, are you implying you told me about every resentment you had towards me?"
"I..." James grimaces.
Miranda smiles. "Thought so."
"I'm sorry," James says again. He doesn't know for what exactly, but he was at a loss about what to say. Miranda nods like she understands.
"I understand that it is important for us to process everything that happened over the last ten years so we can move on, but I don't think there's any merit in revisiting old grievances. We did what we could, no point in apologizing for it."
She finishes setting the tray and leans in to peck him before picking it up and leaving. James lets himself stay there, lips tingling, wondering why he didn’t follow her to the sitting room until he realizes that that was the first they kissed since they’ve been reunited.
It makes him stand there, lost, as he realizes that are yet to have sex too. That’s not exactly a revelation — he knew, logically, that they were not having sex. Still, he realizes now that this is the first time in… ever, actually, where seeing each other regularly didn’t end up with their clothes on the floor at least once. He wonders, had their relationship been so truly shattered by their years together that there are parts of it damaged beyond repair?
He stays there, heart pounding in his chest. It makes him realize what he did enjoy about sex with Miranda, and that it wasn’t about sex at all; it was that he could always return to her bed, that through all those years, there was still someone be could bear to be naked with.
He has a bed of his own to return to now, and someone who sees him naked on a regular basis, but he doesn’t want to lose that with her. He doesn’t want to replace one thing with another, as if they are interchangeable and not each unique in their own way.
For once, he dares to hope that they will be able to fix the damage. They have suffered enough, isn’t that what Thomas says?
Perhaps that’s true for him and Miranda as well.
Next week, once Miranda has won him at cards again, James puts the cards he still has on his hand down and comes to stand beside her. He tilts her face up, watching her watch him, and he kisses her, deliberately, softly at first and then deeper.
“What brought this on?” she asks when they part.
“I was just… trying it out,” James says, feeling awkward enough that the feeling is probably coming out on his expression. It makes Miranda smile. “Meeting you halfway,” he adds. Miranda smiles brighter.
“Will you be doing it again? Because if so, you might consider pulling your chair closer to mine, so I’m not craning my neck,” she teases.
He does so, and she turns towards him and then they are kissing again, less hesitantly this time. They’re knees are slotted together, one of his between hers and one of hers between his. He reaches for her hand, lacing their fingers, and her other hand dips inside the collar of his shirt, her touch cold against the skin of the back of his neck. It feels perfectly fine.
They’re back to the cards by the time Thomas and Abigail appear, but James can’t help feeling that the air between them feels lighter. It’s curious — he wasn’t truly aware of how heavy it was before.
It’s a nice day, James thinks as the three of them sit outside enjoying the sunset. James is sitting, leaning back against a tree, while Miranda is on the bench and Thomas is lounging next to him, eyes closed, probably asleep. James now holds the book he was reading aloud just ten minutes ago, before the sun tired him out.
He’s already read this one. Nonetheless, his eyes look over the paragraphs Thomas read, remembering his slow, measured voice as he did so. Thomas used to be a great public speaker, used to love reading out loud, but the words come harder now, the coordination between eyes and voice compromised. It bothers Thomas and it bothers James, for different reasons, but James never brings it up. Instead, he listens to Thomas practice and tries to quell the rage that threatens to come up anytime Thomas trips on the words. None of them needs it.
“We never talked about him.” James startles at Miranda’s voice. It’s an unusual feeling; nobody used to be able to catch him off-guard. Then again, Miranda has always been an exception. He looks up at her and watches her smile. It looks sad. “About Thomas,” she clarifies, even though they both knew who she was talking about. “I’d never noticed it, that that was something we did. I thought it was normal.”
“Wasn’t it?” James asks, frowning. Absentmindedly, he reaches out his hand to touch Thomas’, which trembles slightly against his in response.
“Maybe,” Miranda says. “While I was with Abigail, she asked a lot of questions. She wanted to know how my life was, before. It was… unsettling, at first, to lay him- us out in the open like that. But with Abigail I didn’t have to worry with covering up the details, so I could speak freely. It got easy with time.” She pauses. “When we- When I thought you were dead, I used to talk about you too. It felt good. By the time you found me, I felt more like myself than I had in a long time.” She pauses, looks carefully at him. When she speaks, her voice sounds pained, “I think it would’ve helped, if we had mustered the courage to talk about him. Maybe it wouldn’t have hurt as much for so long.” She glances at Thomas, still sleeping soundly. “I think he would’ve preferred it, if we had been able to remember the good parts too. If we hadn’t let his memory become this… weapon between us.”
James hums. There’s a lump in his throat that makes speaking hard, so he lets himself breath through it. Miranda doesn’t rush him.
For a moment, he wonders what it would’ve been like, if had talked about Thomas back then. It seems like an impossible task. He can’t imagine telling any story about him and not have his heart come up through his mouth, leaving him utterly empty.
“I don’t think I would’ve been able to,” he rasps. Miranda smiles at him, a silent I understand, and James can breathe easily again.
“Do you think you could tell me a story?” she asks, and even though she seems desperate to get a yes, James knows she won’t press whatever the answer. Before he can answer, she extends a leg, her foot bare, and presses the sole of it against his. It makes him smile. He presses back, suddenly glad that he never got into the habit of putting on shoes to come into the garden.
He steals a look at Thomas and leans back against the tree. “A few weeks after me and Thomas got together, I spent the night over at the house. You were out, and we had stayed working till late, and when Thomas invited me I couldn’t say no. I didn’t want to. He wakes up in the middle of the night, which was rare and, as you can expect, made me wake up too. Turns out he was very hungry because all we had had for dinner was two light sandwiches and we had had such vigorous activity after.” He doesn’t blush at the words where he once would’ve. Miranda huffs a laugh, which makes him snort. “He talked about waking up someone, but I told him there was no need. He just had to show me where the kitchen was and I’d fix something for us. At first he said yes, but as we made our way downstairs he decided he wanted to be the one to cook, to make up something special for us. I wanted to say no, and I almost did, but we both know how stubborn he is and I’d rather go back to bed. So I agree on the condition that he lets me brew the tea and…” Miranda is laughing openly right now and, to James’ surprise, he can feel a smile on his face as well. He looks back at her, and her eyes are filled with mirth. “You can imagine what happened next. Let’s just say, I’m glad I was the one to brew the tea, because… God, it was dreadful,” he says. He can’t remember what it was that he actually cooked, what it tasted like, but he still remembers how much he disliked it.
“Did you tell him?” Miranda asks, eyes still filled with joy. James wishes to always see her like that.
James grimaces, and he does blush now, or as close to it as he can manage nowadays. “No. I couldn’t manage to tell him that. Miranda, he was so excited!” He looks right at Miranda as he adds, “I even went for seconds.”
Miranda laughs again, a sweet, bright sound. “Oh poor you. You could’ve told him, you know, he knew he had no skills in the kitchen.”
“Yes,” James agrees easily. He can remember Thomas’ hopeful look as he watched him eat, his delight when James agree to finish the dish. “I’m glad I didn’t though.”
“Yes,” Miranda agrees. They smile at each other. Their feet are still pressed together.
James takes a deep breath. “I had forgotten this had happened. Until I started talking, I had no idea what I was going to say.”
“Maybe we can help each other remember,” she suggests.
James presses into her foot. “I think I’d like that.”
“What do you do when Thomas is out?” Miranda asks him one day, as they lounge on the couch waiting for Thomas and Abigail to be done. They’re both half-sitting-half-lying-down, in a truly improper way. They had been kissing for a while and James’ lips are still tingling from that, but all their clothes had stayed on as if they’re both apprehensive of going further, afraid that it might reveal things neither of them wants to know.
“I read,” James says, for that is what he does most of the time. “I go on walks, same as I do when he’s here. I clean and cook, too,” he adds, pretending it came as an afterthought. He does do most of the cleaning and the cooking and he truly doesn’t mind, most days he enjoys the domesticity of it all, but he knows how… unmanly it looks.
Miranda doesn’t comment on it, which is something he actually shouldn’t have been surprised by. She does smile, though, as if there’s nothing strange about he said. “Have you given anymore consideration to the garden?” she asks instead. “Because you really should. If you managed to start producing some stuff here then you wouldn’t have to go into town so often.”
“Thomas is the one who goes into town,” James replies. Mostly, he stays at homes or walks around the house, never venturing far enough to risk actually having to socialize. He lived in crews of over thirty man for years, he’s done enough socializing for his life. “But I haven’t, no. I wouldn’t even know where to start.” He looks to the side so he can watch her. “Why, have you?”
Miranda smiles. “I might,” she says, which for her works just as fine as ‘yes’. “I’ll bring my notes next time,” she offers.
They stand in silence for a while and then James is the one who asks, “What do you do at your house?”
Miranda groans. “Nothing. It’s really a very boring life,” she says, sounding totally irritated by it. “I’m with Abigail, most of the time. We read, we go on walks, we do needlework some times. When she’s with her family or with Charlotte I’m usually in my room. At night I help put Jamie in bed. And then… Sleep and repeat.”
Having nothing better to say, James offers, “I’m sorry.”
Miranda smiles, tight and resigned and unhappy and doesn’t answer. James doesn’t know what to do with that, so he doesn’t say anything either.
The first time James and Miranda have sex, it’s ridiculously awkward, at least at first. She’s the one who asks him if he wants to and James agrees, and so they make their way upstairs. That’s when the trouble starts, because there are only two rooms clean enough to use, the one he shares with Thomas and the one Miranda shares with Thomas. Somehow, it doesn’t feel good to go into either of them.
She looks at his face, his furrowed brow, and she takes her hand. “I have an idea.”
She leads him downstairs and into the room with the harpsichord, which is a small room far enough away from the library that they probably won’t be heard. It doesn’t have much other than the instrument, an unusually large couch and a small window. It’s totally inappropriate and not at all a bad idea.
“Undress first?” Miranda asks and James agrees. They’ve learned long ago that it’s easier to get the clothes out of the way first.
As if through an unspoken agreement, they both dress down to their underclothes, James in his shirt and breeches and Miranda in her shift and stockings. They stare at each other for a moment, but when Miranda doesn’t undress further James doesn’t either, choosing to sit down on the couch instead. Baby steps, he thinks. Miranda straddles him and then they’re kissing.
They hump each other to an orgasm, James coming on his breeches like a teenager, and he’d almost feel embarrassed by it except it feels good, low pressure but still exciting. They’ll fuck each other again one day, he thinks, but for now this might actually be better.
When Miranda keeps on moving her hips after coming, James asks, “You want to go again?” and she nods, biting her lip, so James gets a hand between them so that he can rub her clit the way she likes. With his other hand he plays with one of her nipples and with his mouth he works on sucking a love bite low enough that her dress will cover it. She comes with a strangled moan — James feels the vibration against her throat, and he loves the feeling of it — and then he holds her as she relaxes against him. James is careful not to put his wet hand on her shift.
“Good?” she murmurs into his skin.
James nods and then lifts her head so they can kiss again, slow and gentle. Her cheeks, when they part, are tinted pink; James brushes one with one finger and kisses the other. To his surprise, it makes her blush harder. It makes him laugh, which grants him a joking slap on his arm.
“I’m sorry, never guessed that would be what made you blush,” he says, laughing harder now. “Could have known sooner.” In response, Miranda murmurs something that sounds like fucker.
They clean themselves with James’ discarded shirt, which means he has to go up and get a clean one. Regardless, they’re both dressed and composed and in the sitting room by the time Thomas and Abigail come, both claiming to be starving. James doesn’t think there’s nothing about them that gives them away, but somehow Thomas still smirks at them when they make their way to the kitchen.
“What would you think if Miranda and I got married again?” Thomas asks one evening as they lounge in the sitting room after dinner. They’re in their normal position of James with his feet on Thomas’ lap, and Thomas had been reading aloud until he interrupted himself to talk.
“You’re already married,” James points out, wondering where Thomas is going with this conversation.
“I know, but I was thinking the other day about how I don’t want to keep going like this forever.” James frowns and he adds, “Only having Miranda around two afternoons a week and always under the excuse of Abigail coming. It’s exhausting,” he says, truly sounding like it. “And the truth is, I don’t know what kind of orders Peter gave his cousin about Miranda,” he adds, voice colored with disdain, “but I don’t she’d be able to just leave, not without it causing trouble.”
“However, if you were married, then he wouldn’t be able to stop it,” James concludes.
“It made sense, I suppose. I don’t know. I’m just thinking aloud, really. We would have to sit down and have a proper talk about this if we were to move forward,” he says, matter-of-factly. “If we were to do it, would it make you uncomfortable?”
For some reason, James hates that he’s asking him. “Shouldn’t you be having this conversation with Miranda? She’s the one you’d be marrying, then why are you talking to me?” he asks, perhaps a bit too brusquely.
Brusquely enough for Thomas to frown at him. James hates the sight of it. “Why shouldn’t I ask you? I mean, for one you live here too, so I guess that makes it reason enough.” He stops for a moment. “I mean, apart from that, maybe I don’t have to ask you,” he says, still frowning. “I don’t know, it’s not like there are any rules we have to follow. I just wanted you to be a part of the decision, since this would be for all of us.”
James doesn’t have anything to say to that, so he doesn’t say anything. Instead, he looks up at the ceiling and thinks. He had never given it any thought, the fact that Thomas and Miranda were married. They were married by the time James met them, so it was just the way things were. Even today, they still fall into the old habit of calling each other ‘husband’ and ‘wife’, the same way Miranda sometimes calls him ‘darling’. At the end of the day, it doesn’t bother him that they’re married, but it feels weird to be called into the decision now. Not that there’s much of a decision to be made, since Thomas and Miranda are married regardless. Still, he doesn’t feel comfortable being invited into making decisions about the part of their relationship that should belong only to them.
“We can also have you marry Miranda instead,” Thomas suggests after a while. “If she wants to, of course-“
“No,” James cuts him, once again perhaps too harshly yet again. He tries to explain, “Miranda is not my wife and I don’t want to be her husband. We’re not each other’s spouses,” he says firmly.
He could say more, perhaps, if he tried, but he still doesn’t know how to talk about his relationship with Miranda in a way that other people understand. He and Thomas are more traditional in that sense, if traditional is a word that could ever be applied to them: they’re in love and that’s it. If it weren’t for the fact that they’re both men no one would look twice at them.
He and Miranda though… They’re partners, but they’re not husband and wife. Honestly, James feels like crawling out of his skin at the thought of being someone’s husband, at the thought of ever having a wife.
He and Miranda are partners, but they’re not in love. They just love each other. Their love is not meant to be marriage material, and they both like it like that.
Feeling that he has to say something, James decides on, “You can get married if you want. I’d love to have Miranda living with us.”
Thomas looks at him, observing his expression carefully, so James tries to look as relaxed as he can. “I don’t like it either,” Thomas offers. James wasn’t expecting him to say that, so his carefully curated expression breaks into a frown. “Not the being married part, that I like. I’m talking about the fact that we have to work so hard just to be together.”
At a loss of what to say, James strokes Thomas’ chest with his foot, which makes Thomas smile. “You truly don’t mind?” Thomas asks.
“I truly don’t.”
Thomas smiles again, reassured, and goes back to reading. James closes his eyes and lets his voice lull him into a light slumber.
“We’d all have your name,” Thomas says later that night, voice light and playful. James brain is still coming down for his orgasm so he takes a moment to realize what it means: Thomas has been using McGraw as his family name, which means, if he and Miranda do get married again, she’d be McGraw as well.
“You would,” he agrees, keeping his tone light. He doesn’t want Thomas to notice him blushing at the notion of it. The three of them, the house they built together, united by something real and tangible, united by his name. For some reason, he loves the idea of it.
Thomas and Miranda get married for the second time at the end of the summer. James wasn’t there for their first nuptials, but he imagines they were nothing like the small church event they had this time, only with James and Abigail’s family and friend as witnesses. As he watches them up them at the altar, he can’t help thinking about how fucking beautiful they are.
Afterwards, they have lunch at the Granger’s house, Thomas having hired a couple of cooks to prepare it even though James had offered to do it. “I don’t want to have you working on my wedding day,” Thomas says, leaving no room for argument.
John and his kids leave soon after lunch, Abigail staying under the condition to be home in time for tea, and as soon as they’re gone, Abigail and Charlotte disappear together into the harpsichord room. James never hears the familiar sound of the keys come.
It takes a moment to down on him why. He must make a face, because Miranda laughs. Apparently, she’s been watching him watch them. “Did you know?” he asks, still caught by surprise.
“I had my suspicions,” Miranda agrees lightly. “They seem happy.”
That night, Thomas and Miranda invite him to go to bed with them. “It’s your wedding night,” James replies. “You should spend it together. We’ll have tons of opportunities to be the three of us.”
Thomas rolls his eyes at him in a show exasperation, and since he finds it answer enough, he leaves the speaking to Miranda. “Except, we already had our wedding night, and we’ll also have tons of opportunities to be just the two of us.”
“Please, James,” Thomas says. “Miranda and I might be the ones married, but this is for the three of us.”
James lets himself be convinced by their matching pleading stares. As he follows them into the bedroom, he can’t help but think that this feels like the beginning of something. The notion feels weird and he considers that it might be because, so far, all of his beginnings meant leaving something behind: his name, his heart, his purpose. Not this time, though.
This time, he goes forward complete.