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an unsung melody is mine (for safekeeping)

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******

 

Silver’s had his fair share of families over the years.

There’d been his father, a warrior who’d died heroically in battle defending his men; he’d told the boys back at the home countless stories about that particular man. Then there’d been his invalid sister (and oh, the irony is not lost on him now), hardly more than a babe and fighting to live: she’d come in good handy when he’d been standing at street corners, begging well-dressed strangers for spare change. He’d had a sickly, silver-haired grandfather at one point, and the tears in his big blue eyes as he’d explained that he just had to take that wooly blanket, ma’am, honest, he gets so cold in these winter months had gotten him off with a pitying smile and a pinch on the cheek from a saleskeep. When he’d been twenty his father had shifted from a martyred hero to a belligerent drunk; easier to relate to his new coworkers at the docks that way. There had been a younger brother at one point who’d died of scarlet fever on Christmas Eve when John had been a boy, so that’s why he couldn’t celebrate, sir, it’s just too painful to think of little Andrew.

Mr. Baldwin back at St. John’s had told them time and again that they were all a family, brought together by God or some such bullshit. Silver (though of course that hadn’t been his name then), all of ten, hadn’t wanted any part of that, hadn’t wanted a lecherous old creep for a surrogate father or a room full of violent, lost boys for brothers.

Family, he’s learned, is nothing but a lie. It’s a balm to soothe old wounds, a fairytale people tell themselves to keep the pain of loneliness at bay.

His memories of his true family, of his mother and grandmother, are fading, haunting things: a gentle hand running through the tangles in his hair; a soft, off-key lullaby, lilting in his ear; the smell of smoke, the blinding blaze of fire, a voice screaming -

Silver doesn’t dwell on those memories too often.

The point is, he doesn’t put much stock in the idea of family. He hasn’t for years.

So why is it that when Billy Bones had first called him his brother, he’d felt an almost painful warmth spread through his chest? Why had there been a sudden tightness in his throat? Why does he look down at the Walrus men as they board the surrendered merchant vessel and feel such genuine concern for their well being, such genuine affection as a few of them look up and wave to him? Why does he look at these dirty, selfish, murderous men, and want nothing more than to deserve that brotherhood?

He’s pulled from his musings by the sound of a sudden shot. He whips around, gripping the rail tightly as he sees a fight break out on the lower deck of the merchant ship. Damn these merchant captains with delusions of grandeur; they all want to be the one who took the nefarious Captain Flint by surprise.

Flint, of course, doesn’t seem remotely fazed by this sudden turn of events. He draws his sword on the captain, guts him without a moment’s hesitation.

The skirmish is over within minutes, but Silver is still irritated. They’d surrendered; there was no reason for there to be any bloodshed today. Silver had laughed and called Flint a paranoid bastard for insisting the crew be on high alert and prepared for any sudden attacks after their prize had waved the white flag, but here they were. They could have lost someone, if Flint weren’t so insistent on vigilance from his crew.

Why is the man always right about these things?

He’s distracted from glaring at the back of Flint’s head by Davies, one of the younger men, calling his name as he comes back onto the Walrus deck.

“Sir, there’s - there’s a girl on board.”

“So?” Silver knows some consider it bad luck for a woman to stay on board a ship, but it’s not as if she’ll be joining them on the Walrus.

“There’s something wrong with her, Mr. Silver. It’s like she’s possessed, speaking in tongues or somethin’.”

Oh.

Well, then.

It’s a rare thing for Silver to make the journey across the planks and board a prize (it takes a lot more effort with one leg), but Davies seems genuinely alarmed, and it’s not everyday one sees a frightened pirate.

Silver highly doubts that she’s actually speaking in tongues. He doesn’t believe in such nonsense as demons and devils, but the last thing he needs is for Davies to run around shooting off at the mouth about some possessed girl laying a curse on the crew. So he follows him down to what seems to be the ship’s pantry.

Billy is waiting just outside the door, arms crossed and looking vaguely irritated as he speaks with Dobbs.

“She’s not speaking in tongues, for fuck’s sake,” he insists. “Do you know how many languages there are in the world? Maybe she’s speaking Turkish, or Urdu or something.”

Tongues , Billy,” Dobbs insists, wide-eyed.

Silver chuckles at Billy’s growing consternation, and when he peers in and sees the girl in question, he starts to laugh even harder. “Dobbs, she can’t be more than five.”

“You think the devil can’t find his way into a child?”

Silver, shakes his head, still laughing as he moves into the room, walking slowly so as not to startle the girl. The amused smile fades from his face as he gets closer and finally hears what it is she’s saying.

He - He’s a little boy again, sleepily repeating after his mother as she pulls back the curtains from his window, letting in the morning light.

It’s not Turkish.

It’s not Urdu, or some other Asian language they hardly ever hear in these waters.

It’s Hebrew.

She’s reciting the Modeh Ani, no doubt the prayer she knows best, and the only one her panicked mind could think of. He wouldn’t be surprised if that was the most she knew of the holy language. It’s all he really remembers either, if he’s being honest.

If he were a scared child hiding in a closet as men screamed and fired above, he’d be praying too.

It’s been so long since he’s heard the language, let alone spoken it; it’s enough to make tears sting at his eyes. It hurts, almost, to hear it in a voice that isn’t his mother’s, no matter how vague his memories of her are.

He glances at the men, who, thankfully, are paying him no mind and arguing over what Greek sounds like.

Silver turns back to the girl, who has stopped praying and is instead staring up at him with frightened, teary eyes. He sighs, holding out his hands in a placating gesture before clumsily moving to join her on the ground.

“Do you speak English?” he asks softly, hesitantly. There’s nothing he wants more than to say something in Ladino, or what little Hebrew he remembers, but he’s learned the hard way what happens when he lets slip the truth of his heritage. The last time he’d trusted someone enough to tell them what really happened to his mother, how he’d really found himself in England, had been -

He won’t make the same mistake twice, no matter how fond he is of Billy and the others. He just doesn’t know how the dread pirates of Nassau would react to discovering a Jew, even a lapsed one, amongst them.

When all he gets in response to the English is a blank, fearful look, he tries French. This is a French vessel, he’s pretty sure.

“Parlez-vous Français?”

Nothing.

"Hablas Español?" She nods, clearly excited.

Well, shit.

No wonder she’s hiding in the bowels of the ship; she’s probably a stowaway, no doubt sent away by her parents or some such person to keep her safe. It’s dangerous enough to be a Jew in Europe; to be a Jew in Spain  - a practicing Jew, no less, not even one of the conversos - is practically suicidal.

“My name is John Silver,” he says in Spanish, careful to speak slowly and gently so as not to spook her. “What’s yours?”

She hesitates, wringing her hands in her skirt nervously. For the first time, he regrets growing out his beard. He’d certainly look less fearsome, less like a pirate, if he were clean shaven. Eventually, she speaks.

“Catalina,” she whispers.

“That’s a very pretty name. Catalina. Almost as pretty as ‘John’.”

She rewards his joke with a shy smile, which he returns tenfold.

“I’m not going to hurt you Catalina,” he says, trying his best to placate her. The tears seem to have stopped for now, and he’s anxious to keep them at bay. “And neither will any of the men on this ship.”

She shakes her head at that, her big brown eyes wide and nervous. “I’m not supposed to be here,” she says guiltily, peering over his shoulder to get a good look at Billy and the others.

He’d been right, then. A stowaway.

When Catalina realizes the men are staring right back at her, she lets out a startled “meep” and scurries back into her little corner.

“Well, we’re not supposed to be here either,” he reasons. This infallible logic seems to be enough for the girl, because she calms visibly, nodding to herself as if he’s made a compelling argument.

“Would you like to come aboard our ship?” he asks, because there’s no way in hell he’s going to leave this little girl to fend for herself, and he doubts there’s a man in his crew would feel differently. “It’s called the Walrus,” he adds, because if there’s one thing he remembers about children, it’s that they fucking love to talk about animals.

As if on cue, her mouth drops open in surprise. “Like in the pictures?” she asks excitedly, and, as if to demonstrate, she makes two little tusks on her face with her fingers.

He turns to Billy and the men, laughing. “Look boys, we’ve got ourselves a real live walrus!”

 

*****

 

It takes a considerable effort to get both Silver and his new friend across the thin planks: she won’t let go of his coat no matter how much he reassures that he’s not going anywhere, so trying to maneuver to the Walrus with both his peg and a child clinging to him like a limpet is a slow process.

Of course, once they’re back on the Walrus she immediately wraps herself around his good leg, hiding her face in his thigh. This poses a problem, as he needs to speak with Flint regarding their new crewmate immediately, and he can’t exactly walk over to him.

Eventually, he settles on waving his arms frantically until he catches Flint’s eye, unwilling to shout and startle Catalina, who’s still skittish as a colt. He looks ridiculous, and he doesn’t doubt that Flint is judging him yet again for acting like an idiot, but for once he doesn’t mind.

By some stroke of luck, Flint is for once not covered in blood in the wake of a battle, so at least he won’t traumatize the girl.

“What the fuck are you doing?” he asks bluntly, and Silver sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“If you wouldn’t mind watching your language Captain, we have a lady present.”

Flint looks completely baffled for a moment, before he finally notices the extra appendage Silver seems to have grown.

“Oh, shit.”

“Captain!” he hisses, covering the ear that’s not pressed against his leg. Flint actually looks properly chagrined, but Silver doesn’t take the time he normally would to feel smug about it, instead bending down to speak with Catalina.

“Catalina, this is Captain Flint. We’re going to go get you cleaned up in his cabin, alright?”

As soon as they’d been out of the pantry and he could see her better, Silver had realized that she was absolutely covered in filth from head to toe. She looks as if she’s been rolling around in soot for the past week.

She peeks out at Flint from where she’s nervously burrowed her face against Silver, peering up at him with one big brown eye.

“Captain Flint, meet Catalina. She was a stowaway on the merchant ship.”

“Uh… hola?” Flint tries, looking lost. Silver wonders if he’s ever had any experience with small children. Probably not, he decides as Flint gives her an awkward wave.

“Captain, I was wondering if I might use your cabin while I get her cleaned up?”

Flint, still staring at Catalina, nods his assent. “I - uh - I’ll have someone send a bucket up for you.”

“Make it Billy or Davies, if you would? She’s at least a little familiar with them.”

Dobbs still thinks she’s possessed. Best let him get over that before reintroducing them.

Another nod, and Flint walks away, though Silver notices him looking back at them several times as he speaks with DeGroot. He can’t seem to wrap his head around the sight of a child on his ship.

“Señor Silver?” Catalina tugs on his jacket, and Silver looks down at her with a smile.

He leads her by the hand up to the cabin, and after a moment’s deliberation he sits her down on the table normally used for laying out charts and plotting their courses. He’s hardly gotten her settled before Davies comes in, carrying a pail with a rag that’s actually clean . Silver wonders where it came from.

Davies is gone within a minute, but not before he gives Catalina a tentative smile. She returns it after a moment, though she’s still holding onto Silver’s sleeve.

It’s only once they’re finally alone that Silver turns to her, mind made up.

“Catalina,” he begins in Spanish, “there’s something I need to tell you, but you must promise that it will stay between the two of us.”

She nods, screwing her face into what she probably thinks is a serious expression as she waits.

His Ladino is rusty, and it takes a few halting starts, but eventually he says what he needs to: “I’m Jewish, like you.”

It’s as if he’s said some sort of magic words: her eyes light up, and she positively beams at him. She throws her arms around his shoulders, babbling excitedly in a broken mix of Spanish and Ladino. He hugs her back, careful not to squeeze too tightly as something horribly soft settles in his chest. He’d forgotten how easily children form attachments to new people, how quickly they grow to love.

He pulls back after a moment, putting his hands on her shoulders and giving her what he hopes is a stern look. “Remember, this is our secret. We can’t speak Ladino in front of anyone else.”

She nods, still smiling. “Just like with Mommy,” she replies, and Silver feels a horrible twinge of melancholy as he remembers a similar conversation he’d had with his own mother as a child. He’d thought it had been a game of sorts, to have his own secret language with his grandmother and her.

He’d been so wrong.

He shakes himself from those bittersweet memories, reaching down and wetting the cloth so he can start wiping away the grime on her face. She scrunches her nose and pouts at the temperature, but she’s giggling soon enough as he coos at her in Ladino and Spanish alike, little nonsense phrases to make her laugh and distract her from the cold.

The last time he’d done anything even remotely like this had been back when he’d been twelve at St. John’s, when five-year-old Andrew Dorne had fallen in a puddle of mud and manure and he’d been the only one willing to brave the stench.

Speaking of…

“How old are you?” he asks. She holds out three fingers, and he takes the opportunity to wash her hands.

Three? She’s practically a babe. It makes his heart ache, to think of this sweet little girl, only three years old, hiding in some dark closet on a crowded ship.

Once she’s clean enough, he takes in the state of her clothes. They’re absolutely disgusting, and moreover, she can’t exactly go around getting her dress caught on things. He’d had to mend enough rips on his trousers growing up; he can’t imagine how many tears a billowing thing like this would accumulate running around on a pirate ship.

“Right,” he says to himself, and turns to Flint’s wardrobe. He pulls out one of the two shirts hanging inside, and takes a pair of the pants as well. Then he grabs a sash to use as a belt for her tiny waist. He holds the trousers up against her hips, then lays them out on the table and cuts them off at the knees with his pocket knife. They’d look ridiculous on Flint now, but they’re the perfect size for a three year old. He makes a similar tailoring decision when it comes to the shirt, cutting off a portion of the torso and shortening the sleeves considerably.

He turns around to give her privacy as she starts to undress, then he remembers that she’s a baby and probably can’t undo the laces.

He’s right.

So he helps her get dressed, tucking in her shirt and wrapping the red sash around her waist three times over before tying it in a tight knot to keep the trousers up. For once, the buttons on Flint’s shirt are actually used , so the collar doesn’t slip right over her shoulders.Then he rolls the sleeves up several times so she’ll be able to use her hands easily. By the time he’s finished, she looks like the cutest little pirate to ever sail the seven seas.

And then it’s time to work at her dark hair, which is a tangled, curled mess.

This in particular he has decades of experience dealing with. He pulls his comb from his coat pocket, grateful he hadn’t thrown it overboard last night in a fit of frustration.

He approaches her again, and the look on her face as she sees the comb tells him she’s had similar issues with her own hair in the past. He dips the comb in the water and as gently as he can works it through the knots. It’s tortuous, and in the end he decides to put it on one long plait, so he can avoid going through that again anytime in the near future.

He doesn’t have anything to tie the braid with, so he undoes the leather strap in his own hair and finishes his handiwork with it. He’ll borrow another one off Joji later.

Silver slumps heavily into Flint’s chair, doing his best to keep the fucking excruciating pain off his face as she hops off the desk and spins around to assess her new ensemble. He might have overdone it today, crossing over to the merchant vessel and back, and then staying on his feet as he tended to Catalina. Still, he doesn’t want her to see him in pain: the last thing she needs is for her new friend to start grimacing at her.

Catalina climbs into his lap, jostling his leg as she gets settled. He winces, but gives her a tight smile nonetheless.

She gives him one of those earnest, soulful looks only children can muster. She looks horribly concerned . “Are these Mister Flint’s clothes?”

He nods.

Her brow furrows as she looks back down at herself, fiddling with the sash around her waist. “Do I have to grow a mustache like him too?”

Silver can’t help it; he bursts into laughter, so hard he has to brace himself against the arms of the chair. Catalina, too, is giggling, and when she places a finger across her lips to mimic a mustache it just sets them off again, until they’re collapsed against the back of the chair, breathless and snickering. He can’t remember the last time he’d laughed like this; his face has begun to hurt from smiling.

 

*****

 

For a moment Flint simply stands in the doorway, taking in the sight before him. Silver hasn’t noticed his arrival, so caught up is he in his mirth. Flint finds himself glad for it; he can hardly remember when he’d last seen his quartermaster smile without a shade of bitterness or self-deprecation clouding it, and it’s oddly nice to see.

Silver used to smile all the time, before his accident. He’d always been quick to grin and charm his way out of a situation. The smiles might not have always been the most genuine, but there’d always been a twinkle in Silver’s eye, at least.

But now, watching Silver giggle with the girl, Flint wonders if he’s ever really seen Silver truly smile. There’s no agenda here, no wheels turning behind those clever eyes; just a man enjoying himself.

Flint feels something warm settle in his chest at the sight, startling in its tenderness.

This doesn’t bode well.

The girl - Caitlin? Catalina? - shrieks with laughter suddenly, and Flint realizes that Silver has begun to tickle her sides. She wriggles on Silver’s lap, and Flint can see the moment she lands too harshly on his bad leg: Silver sucks in a sharp breath, scrunches his eyes shut tightly, then visibly calms himself, smiling down at her through the pain.

Silver’s become a master at hiding the agony his leg causes him, Flint knows. The only people who have ever really seen what the pain does to him are Howell and Flint himself, thanks to the weeks they spent together in the cabin of the warship while Silver was recuperating.

Silver’s more likely to just suffer through it than move her from his lap, so Flint at last clears his throat, announcing his presence.

He has to hold back a laugh of his own at the twin looks of wide-eyed guilt sent his way as Silver and the girl realize who it is that’s intruded upon their carefree moment.

“Captain, I - uh - ” Silver starts to get up, but Flint raises his hand and stops him.

“I just came to tell you supper will be ready shortly. I thought, given that your friend will be staying with us at least until we get back to Nassau, you might want to take it in the galley at my table. She’ll have to get used to the men, I suppose, and - are those my clothes?”

Silver smirks, rolling up one of the girl’s sleeves from where it had fallen. “Not anymore, they’re not.”

“I only had three shirts!”

“Well, for a pirate, that’s practically excessive,” Silver retorts, then he turns to the girl. “Catalina? Tienes hambre?”

She shoots Flint a curious, nervous look, before shoving her face into Silver’s chest and nodding against it. Flint wonders, absently, what’s happened in the past twenty minutes to make her so very attached to the man.

It takes some coddling, but eventually Silver convinces her to go to the mess with them, tiny hand clenched tightly in his own.

Annoyed as he is with Silver for mutilating his clothing, Flint can’t help but admit when he sees her standing next to the man that the girl is - well, the word precious comes to mind.

The mess falls silent when they walk in, and Catalina reverts back to her old ways, hiding behind Silver’s good leg. Silver smiles down at her reassuringly, before turning to address the crew.

He stomps twice. It’s echoed back.

“We have a guest with us tonight, friends, so I’ll expect everyone to be on their best behavior.” He bends over, whispers something in the girl’s ear, and ushers her in front of him, his hands on her shoulders. “This is Catalina.”

There’s a murmur of greetings from the crew, a few waving cautiously. It’s considered bad luck to have a woman on board, and Flint has no doubt that the less wise of the lot are wondering how this superstition applies to a miniature one.

The new cook they’d brought on, a man called Taylor, pipes up as he walks over to their table, handing them their stew.

“Kitty-lina? Wharse tha’ then, Sparnish?” Taylor had the misfortune of having been struck by apoplexy several years back, as well as being from Lancashire. The combined result of the accent and the apoplexy left the man’s speech somewhat lacking. A decent enough fellow, and a far better cook than Silver, but near-impossible to understand at times.

“That it is, Taylor,” Silver (who, of course, has never once struggled to understand the man) replies.

“That’s a good name for her,” Davies pipes up. “Kitty. You know, small and cute, likes to hide in tiny places?”

Silver turns to the girl, who’s been happily slurping at her stew, oblivious to the crew’s chatter. “Que piensas? Te gusta ese nombre? ‘Kitty?’”

She thinks on it, rubbing her chin as she’s no doubt seen countless adults do. “Que es ‘Kitty’?”

“Un gatito.”

Catalina’s whole face lights up. “Soy un gatito? she squeals, clapping her hands together excitedly.

Silver laughs again, a full, boisterous thing. “There you have it, Davies! Kitty it is!”

Catalina - Kitty, now, Flint supposes - beams up at Silver adoringly before turning back to her food, kicking her legs back and forth as she hums a little ditty to herself.

Silver’s good mood seems to be infectious, and soon enough the whole of the crew is laughing and telling jokes, singing child-friendly shanties together. They’re all encouraged by Kitty’s delighted applause and cheers as they finish their songs.

It’s amazing, what one child’s enthusiasm can do for the crew’s morale. Though Flint wouldn’t be surprised if some of the men were more focused on keeping Silver happy than entertaining their guest.

It’s only when Kitty’s eyes start drooping, and her head starts to nod perilously close to her bowl, that Silver calls off the merriment, excusing himself to see the girl off to bed.

And then he seems to remember that she doesn’t have a bed, because he pauses and frowns thoughtfully.

Flint rolls his eyes, careful not to jostle Kitty too much as he picks her up. He knows Silver would prefer to do this, but Flint frankly isn’t sure he could manage it, given how many times he’d winced in pain during supper.

“She can stay in my cabin. I’ve spent my fair share of nights on the floor.”

Silver nods, but the concern hasn’t fully faded. “I - uh - ”

Flint sighs. “You can stay there too, if it’ll ease your mind. I’m sure she’d prefer to have you close.”

Silver seems to slump in relief, sending Flint a grateful smile. “I’ll have someone bring my hammock up?” he asks, and Flint nods, waving him off.

The rest of the men call out their goodnights to Kitty, smiling broadly and even letting out soft “aww”s as she waves sleepily back at them, rubbing her eyes and burrowing into Flint’s shoulder. He’s surprised that she’s being so familiar with him, but he supposes to a tired three year old any relatively soft surface is a good enough pillow.

Tucking her into bed is quick work; she’s out almost as soon as her head hits the pillow of Flint’s cot bed, and the sleepy grin he gets for draping a blanket across her shoulders makes his heart melt just a tad.

Silver and Muldoon come in soon after she falls asleep, the latter setting up Silver’s hammock without complaint as Silver limps over to check on his charge.

His soft smile at the sight of her curled up under the blanket is not one Flint’s seen on Silver’s face before. It’s almost tender.

Flint dismisses Muldoon, Silver nodding his thanks as the man takes his leave.

“I’ll take the floor,” Silver says quietly, and Flint snorts.

“You most certainly will not,” he replies.

Silver sends him a bewildered look. “The one time I try to show you some deference, and you’re - ”

“Do you think I’m blind?” Flint interrupts him, and Silver shuts his mouth with an audible click. “You’re in pain. You’re always in pain, of course, because you refuse to use the crutch like the goddamn doctor tells you - ” He cuts himself off. Now’s not the time for that discussion. He can’t yell at Silver for being a prideful idiot when there’s a sleeping babe in the room, after all. “ - I will take the floor, and you will take off that fucking boot and get in the hammock.”

Silver takes a step forward, eyes bright with anger. “I don’t need your fucking pity - ” he hisses, but Flint doesn’t let him finish the thought.

“It’s not pity, it’s common sense. You sleep on that floor, you’ll regret it in the morning.”

Silver scowls at him, clenching his jaw, but he says nothing more as he walks toward the hammock. They don’t exchange any words after that, retiring in stubborn silence. Flint falls quickly into an uneasy sleep, the adrenaline from this afternoon’s battle and the excitement of finding their stowaway wearing off, finally.

 

*****

 

At first, Flint doesn’t know what wakes him. It’s not until he hears the pit-patter of tiny feet along the wooden floor, and a sleepy rumble, that he realizes Kitty has gotten out of bed in search of Silver.  She’s crying, sniffling and hiccuping pitifully. There’s a quiet, strained grunt, and he knows Silver has pulled her up onto the hammock with him.

Flint realizes he could take this opportunity to reclaim his bed, but he doesn’t want to disturb the moment, or startle the crying girl.

“No lloras, mi amor,” Silver is murmuring softly, shushing her as she mumbles in rapid spanish, saying things like ‘mam á and ‘oscuro.’

There’s quiet for a time, just the occasional sniff and whimper from Kitty, until Silver starts to sing. Flint can just barely make out the words:

 

“Durme, durme, mi alma donzella…

durme, durme, sin ansia y dolor…

durme, durme sin ansia y dolor...

Heq tu sclavo tanto dezea...

ver tu sueño con grande amor...

ver tu sueño con grande amor…”

 

It’s strange: Flint’s spent enough time on the seas to know what Spanish sounds like, but there’s something not quite right about that song. It sounds like Spanish, yes, but somehow not. Like a strange hybrid of a language.

Silver’s voice grows softer and softer as the song goes on, no doubt hushing himself as Kitty starts to fall asleep.

Silver’s voice is rough and unsteady, as if he’s struggling to remember the words as he goes along, but it’s pleasing enough to the ear, and there’s enough warmth in his tone to enchant even the coldest of listeners.

The lullaby is meant to soothe Kitty, but it is Flint who finds his eyes growing heavy as he listens to Silver sing.

 

*****