Over the next couple weeks, Thomas gets into the habit of stopping by the tavern every night before closing. Sometimes he manages to drag Flint along with him, but usually he’s alone. If Flint comes along they’ll usually have dinner, but if it’s just Thomas he’ll maybe have a drink and then join John on the walk home. Part of John is a little annoyed by the possibility Thomas is only doing this because of John’s leg, but it’s nice to have the conversation.
One night it’s particularly late when John finally closes up the tavern and heads home with Thomas. The day had been long and hard so John doesn’t speak much except to hum agreeably at whatever Thomas is talking about. Luckily, Thomas doesn’t seem to mind.
They turn a corner near the edge of town, and John stops dead in his tracks. Thomas skids to a halt, looking around in confusion for whatever John had seen. Hiding just off the road is a huddled shape that John recognizes all too well. At the sound of Thomas’s voice a mother’s head looked up, eyes bright and wild. She clings to her child--a young girl about four years old--and tries to retreat into the shadows.
Slowly, knowing he very well might frighten the young Romanis away, John approaches, pulling out a couple of gold coins from the cache that he always kept in his pocket. The bird on his shoulder stays blessedly quiet. The little girl, still too young to mistrust the kind-looking stranger, pries herself from her mother’s grip and waddles forward. John leans down, hand full of coins presented. The mother stares at him, arms still outreached to try to prevent the escape of her daughter, suspicion clear in her eyes. The little girl stares at the colorful bird in awe.
“ Jolie !” she says excitedly. John grins back at her.
“ Comment vous appelez-vous ?” he asks softly.
“Lennor,” she replies brightly. Suddenly she sees the gold shining in John’s hand and lets out a little squeal of glee. She grabs the coins, which is almost too much for her tiny hands, and runs back to her mother with a quiet, “ Maman !”
“ Ê tre prudent, mademoiselle ,” John says softly. The young woman looks between the coins in her daughter’s hands and John, suspicion morphing into confusion. She leans forward to frown at John for a moment, looking him up and down, eyes on the space below his stump for a moment before settling on his face. A small, unsteady smile grows on her lips.
“ Merci beaucoup ,” she rasps, tugging her child in closer.
John nods and straightens. “ Au revoir, Lennor,” he says with a small wave to the girl. She waves back excitedly, hand still clutching the gold.
John turns back to Thomas to see he’s watching with a strange expression on his face. John stubbornly ignores the look and continues home. Hopefully the gold would be enough for the little family to find somewhere safe to live, at least for a little while. It was the least John could do. After a moment, he hears Thomas hurrying to catch up.
“I didn’t know you spoke French,” Thomas says.
“ Sacré Dieu,” Captain Flint declares.
“I speak a number of languages,” John admits quietly. “Though most of them not well.”
John glances at Thomas, waiting for more because, god, if Flint had been witness to that… But Thomas seems satisfied leaving it at that. Thankfully, they kept walking in silence. Thomas opens the door for John, who smiles at him wearily and enters the little cottage. He looks around the living area with a frown.
“Is Fl--James already asleep?”
Thomas chuckles, closing the door behind him. “I already told you--the postmaster asked him to stay late tonight. There’s a man from Savannah with letters and packages from abroad”
John winces slightly. “I wasn’t paying attention. I’m sorry.”
But Thomas’s smile still shines in the dark as he steps closer, a strange twinkle in his eye. “It’s all right. That was incredibly selfless of a hardened pirate to do back there.”
John huffs, turning to the water basin and splashing some of the cold water on his face as Captain Flint flutters to the counter, dipping her beak in the water for a drink. John turns back to dismiss Thomas’s sentiment, but Thomas is suddenly very close. John steps backwards, knocking into the counter and almost losing grip on his crutch.
Thomas raises a hand slowly, like he’s trying not to spook John, and tucks a curl behind John’s ear. John blinks. If he was being honest with himself, he realizes with sudden clarity, he saw this coming weeks ago. He’d ignored it, though, because Thomas and Flint were made for each other. But John still lived in their house, honestly spending more time with Thomas than Flint. Thomas’s eyes flit to John’s lips, and John feels something warm curl in his gut. Thomas must see something change in John’s expression because a practically feral grin blooms on his face and then John is being manhandled up against a wall, crutch forgotten, a hand in his hair, a thigh between his legs, and a pair of lips on his own.
John moans into Thomas’s mouth, knee shaking with the effort of keeping himself upright. Thomas grabs John’s left leg and picks it up, wrapping it around his waist, and pushing John harder against the wall. John wraps his other leg around Thomas’s and lets his weight fall on Thomas. Meanwhile, Thomas’s free hand tugs on John’s hair, and John gasps. Thomas takes full advantage of the opportunity and shoves his tongue past John’s lips, exploring and eager. John hangs onto Thomas by the shoulders, unable to do much more than let himself be ravaged. He can’t remember the last time he was kissed like this.
There’s a sound a few feet to the left that doesn’t register at first. When it does, John pushes Thomas back, wrenching his head around to look. Thomas doesn’t move far, though, still keeping John pressed up against the wall, left leg held steady around his hips. Thomas actually lets out a little laugh and turns to look as well.
To John’s absolute horror, Flint is standing in the open doorway, eyes flicking between John and Thomas before finally landing on Thomas.
“You could’ve warned me,” he says. Thomas laughs.
“It wasn’t planned, was it?”
Flint shakes his head, rolling his eyes, and closes the door behind him, walking to the bedroom. John watches him go, heart thudding heavily in his throat along with other regions. Thomas chuckles again, turning his attention back on John, stroking his cheek. John bats his hand away, staring at him in disbelief.
“Flint--” he starts, feeling sick.
“Is no longer the feared pirate captain you remember,” Thomas says quietly, bringing his hand up to John’s face again. “And we like to share.”
John still can’t believe what happened the night before when he wakes up in the morning to Captain Flint nipping at his nose. John gently brushes her away and goes to leave a small pile of seeds for her on the drawers. She hops over to it happily and starts pecking away. John watches her for a few minutes, mulling over the night.
It was true he’d come here with the hope, however fleeting, that he would be able to make amends with Flint. With Madi missing, John felt the need to be with someone. Twenty or so years ago the idea would have appalled him. He’d operated alone, needing no one and nothing to get by. But he’s become so accustomed to having someone else to rely on. He’d hoped he could somehow convince Flint to forgive him and rely on his friendship for… for however long. He hadn’t considered getting so close to Thomas first.
“We like to share,” Thomas had said. Flint had told him, that night by the fire, that Thomas, Mrs. Barlow, and Flint had all been in a relationship together. But it had sounded like it had been an equal relationship in all directions--for the most part. This, with Thomas… Not that John didn’t want with Flint… Not that he hadn’t always wanted.
But Flint had been wrought with grief over Mrs. Barlow and Thomas those decades ago. And it wasn’t like he would’ve wanted John anyway. He still didn’t understand why Madi had, especially after his betrayal, even after all this time.
Stifling a yawn, John peeks out his door to see if Flint or Thomas were up yet. Satisfied with the stillness of the early morning, John heads to the postmaster’s. Thomas had mentioned a delivery from abroad had arrived yesterday, and there was a letter John was expecting.
John puts one of the kitchen crew in charge of the bar that day and pays another a small sum in order to borrow their horse. In the back of his mind, there’s a quiet voice admonishing him for not telling Thomas or Flint he’s leaving, but he’ll be back, and the news born by the letter John had received that morning was too important. His entire body was vibrating with anticipation. Black Dog was in Savannah.
The sun is setting when John arrives. By some strange coincidence Black Dog had suggested they meet at the old Oglethorpe plantation. The place was a wreck now. Almost two decades ago there’d been a riot from the prisoners, and they’d burnt the place down. Blackened walls still stood in some places. So much time has passed since the revolt, plant life is growing high and wild everywhere. That combined with the waning light gave the plantation an eerie look.
“Tie him to the taffrail when she’s yardarm under!” Captain Flint squawks as they walk into what still stood of the building. John clicks his tongue at her, and she has the decency to look at least a little guilty. From behind a corner came a low chuckle, and John glared in it’s direction. Still chuckling, Black Dog walked out, looking as imposing as always.
“She’s gonna get you in trouble someday, Captain,” he says with a toothy grin. “Don’t know why you keep her around.”
John ignores him. “The letter said you’d found Madi.”
Black Dog’s grin dies, and he nods. “Yes, sir. That I did.”
John doesn’t bother to respond except to raise an eyebrow expectantly. The man sighs and rolls his shoulders, a few loud cracks ringing in the air. There was a reason John had hired him onto his crew. The man was huge and, quite frankly, terrifying. He had a scar that ran down the right side of his head, tearing into an ear, and traveling all the way down his throat, past his shirt collar. His skin was so pale it almost glowed in the dim light. Something about him looked vaguely spider-like, and it didn’t help that he was a bit psychotic.
“Your woman was arrested just days after you left port. Don’t know where they took her, but you can bet she’s been hanged by now.”
John has to tighten his grip on his crutch to avoid falling over. No. He snarls and stalks toward Black Dog. “You said you’d found her,” he seethes.
“I found what happened to her, Captain,” Black Dog replies, unbothered. Don’t understand why you care so much, anyway. Like your bird, there--she’s just an animal.”
John backhands Black Dog across the face without thinking about it. The man’s eyes bloom wide, and he steps back.
“Madi was my wife ,” John hisses. “She was no animal.”
Black Dog is quiet for a moment, then he shrugs, undisturbed. “We was also wondering, Captain,” he says conversationally, “when we’re gonna get the crew back together. I understand we lost men on that godawful island, and all that fucking treasure went to the squire, but we think it’s time we start hunting again.”
The few gems in John’s pocket seem to grow heavy. Keeping his eyes steadily on Black Dog’s, John stands up straighter. “I’m retiring from the account,” he declares.
Black Dog’s eyebrows knit together. “To what?” he says. “To live in a nowhere village and die alone?”
John doesn’t answer, but Black Dog steps forward, in John’s space again.
“Or there something keeping you here?” Black Dog continues. “You always said old Captain Flint died here in Savannah. Maybe he didn’t die after all.”
John forces himself to not react. It was so easy to forget how smart the man was when you were constantly forced to deal with how imposing he was physically. How he could’ve figured this one out, though… Shit.
“But you hated Captain Flint, didn’t you?” Black Dog says. “So why would you come for him now?”
“You’re talking nonsense,” John insists, forced to take a step backwards as Black Dog continues to approach.
“You know what I think? I think you somehow got some of that treasure.”
Fuck. John glances around to see a few familiar faces slinking out from the darkness. Members of his crew that had stayed behind with Black Dog. He can’t name most of them, but he recognizes O’Brien and, of course, Angel Marie. He thanks any god listening that he thought to bring his pistol with him--he’s been leaving it at home since coming out here--and draws it, trying to measure who to take out first.
“Treasure that we’re owed.”
John doesn’t have time to react before his crutch is knocked out from under his arm. He topples, Captain Flint flying away with a wordless squawk, gun going off with no real direction. There is a grunt from a few feet away, so hopefully he hit someone, but he’s got no sword, and the truth is, he’s out of fighting shape. There’s a hard kick to his gut, and he curls in on himself, choking up blood. He tries pushing himself up and grabbing for one of his assailants, but his outstretched arm is yanked back. There’s a loud pop, and John yells as pain blooms from his shoulder. There’s a blow to his face, to his back, to his stump, and then he loses track of everything except the pain.
John has no idea how long the beating lasts. The blood streaming down his face is warm in the cool night air--almost comforting. He knows they’re going to kill him. He knows it without a doubt. He just prays that they’re still too afraid of Flint’s legacy to go looking for him as well. John would never forgive himself if that were to happen. He’s been the cause of too many people’s deaths, now including Madi’s… To be the cause of Flint’s and Thomas’s… At least he won’t be alive to have to bear it. Vaguely he hopes dear Captain Flint got away.
John’s barely aware of it when the beating stops--everything is still pulsing with agony. After a few long years he’s able to move from his side where he’s putting too much pressure on his stump to his back. Tall grasses grow all around him, hiding him from any passerby’s view. It’s a good thing, he supposes. This way he can just die in peace. His vision is hazy and swimming, but he could swear he sees a figure above him with red hair and a brightly colored blob on its shoulder. He tries to reach out, instinct still wanting help, but the world twists and turns black, and John gives into the sweet bliss of unconsciousness.