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Briefly, it occurs to Miranda to feel sympathy for Billy Bones and his daemon, who look very much as if they would rather be anywhere but here. Billy is acting quartermaster until such time as John Silver wakes up, though, so he hasn’t really got a choice.



“Anne Bonny is an exception, and they think you’re a witch, Miranda, they’re not going to agree and I don’t need another mutiny on my hands!” James insists, and Miranda forgets Billy to glare at James.



“I am not going to rot away on a farm again, James, so if I’m not going to be here with you then something else will have to be figured out.”



“I want you safe - I promised - ”



“No, you weren’t there!” It’s cruel, and reckless too, for them to be talking even vaguely about Thomas in front of one of James’ men, but neither of them care, their daemons tense and ready for a fight. “I was there, and I did promise. We were to take care of each other. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, I stood by too long! I will not go back to that, James.”



“Uh, actually, after she was involved in making the deal with Rackham for the gold, most of the crew’s thinking that, if she’s got magic, they’d rather have it on their side than not. The rest… Well…” Billy stops talking even as they both turn to stare hard at him, looking uncomfortable with whatever else the crew is thinking. His wolfhound huffs, and finishes for him.



“The rest think the captain here might be less of a grouchy bastard with you aboard,” she tells Miranda as her human’s ears and neck flush red.



Miranda, who can guess exactly why they think her presence would improve James’ mood, has to laugh, Arete chirping his own laughter. James doesn’t seem to find it funny, but Mona huffs in that way she has when she doesn’t want to be amused but is in spite of herself.



“Well, you usually are in a better mood right after coming back from inland,” Billy says defensively, fingers curled in his daemon’s ruff as if that will stop her from speaking out of turn again.



“What would you do?” Mona asks.



“Desdemona!” James snaps, and the use of his daemon’s full name is a warning that the wolfdog chooses to ignore, as she ignores the wolfhound’s startled yip.



“She’s not taking no for an answer, James, so we might as well think it all through.”



We are right here,” Arete says, though he’s calmer now, settling on the floor near the sleeping Irial.



“I don’t know for sure,” Miranda is forced to admit. “I imagine negotiations with fellow captains, however much use I might come to be in such a thing, isn’t common enough to use as a reason. I see no reason I can’t learn a useful skill, though.”



“You can’t fight,” James argues.



“My, how quickly we forget. I seem to remember you teaching me to shoot and use a sword, which I still have stashed away in the farmhouse. Just in case, you said. I admit to being out of practice, but that can be remedied.”



“You’re educated, yes?” The wolfhound again, and Billy scowls at his daemon and hisses for her to shut up, which she ignores.



“Of course we are,” Arete says, his voice amused and insulted all at once.



“We need a new accountant,” the wolfhound says lightly.



“For fuck’s sake, Morgaine -” Billy snaps.



“No, she’s right,” Mona admits. “Billy, you could plausibly do it as part of your duties, so could Silver, probably, but there’s reasons we separate the jobs as we do for anything beyond the short-term. And Miranda’s fair, so it’ll earn the crew’s trust to see that regularly - which can’t hurt her and Arete, and might help James and I.”



“Help us how, exactly?” James asks, still scowling.



“Well, you’re married, aren’t you?” Morgaine asks. “So if the crew likes her and the cat, they’ll come back ‘round to liking you and the hellhound there.”



Miranda is vaguely aware of Mona insisting she is not a hellhound, but mostly - It’s ridiculous to be blindsided by the fact that people think she is married to James. They’ve even discussed it, from time to time, that it would be practical if something happens to him. But Pastor Lambrick would never have done it, Mr. Gates would have but that would have meant crewmen as witnesses, which James said might have put her at risk. He’d claimed not to know of anyone in Nassau who could do it.



And these were excuses to avoid the fact that she still wears her wedding ring, and James wears a signet ring that was made for Thomas, and the idea of marrying each other feels like a final death for him that they cannot - that they haven’t -



“Not exactly, not in the official sense, but we might as well be,” she hears herself tell Morgaine, her voice easy and calm despite her thoughts.



“Best to tell the crew you are, even so,” Billy says, having given up on keeping his daemon quiet. “It’ll simplify things like shares and all.”



“I haven’t agreed to you staying,” James finds his voice again.



“Well, do you have another idea that doesn’t involve me going back to the interior?” Miranda fires back, Arete coming to stand beside her with his teeth bared. Mona, at James’ side, whines with her ears going flat and her tail drooping, before she goes to curl around Irial as her way of backing out of this fight.



Billy and his wolfhound slip out before James says anything, and he drops heavily into the captain’s chair. “You don’t know what this life is, day in and day out. Miranda, it’s not… Most of it is horrible.”



“Charles Town was horrible,” Miranda points out, sitting across from him. “Finding out Peter betrayed us was horrible, setting you on Alfred and regretting only that I wasn’t there to see it is horrible. Arete isn’t a housecat, and I haven’t been a lady in a long time, James. It was our blow that killed Peter - yours would have but we were faster. I told you I won’t go back, and I can’t see a better way forward. So, again, unless you have a better idea…”



There’s a long silence, broken only by the sounds of ship and sea, and a brief murmur of something not English from the still-unconscious Silver, silenced when Mona licks Irial’s ears. Finally, James sighs. “We won’t be going back out for a while. Silver will need a chance to heal enough to handle ship life again, and God knows it’ll take time to settle a council with Eleanor gone. I’ll need to be part of that. And we’ll need to work on your weapons skills. But… If I can’t talk you out of it, I’ll make sure you can survive it.”



“It’s settled then. I’ll go back for a little while, bring him with me,” Miranda says, nodding to Silver. “It’s best if we both get ourselves together out of everyone’s sight.” She gets up, and so does he, closing the distance and just… holding onto each other for a little while. That is what they’ve been for ten years when you come right down to it, someone to cling to in the dark. They have always needed this.



She ought to have insisted on standing together a long time ago.



<><><>



If he’d been more coherent, he wouldn’t have ended up here. John is reasonably certain of that much. Where he would have ended up he can’t say, but at Miranda Barlow’s house in the middle of nowhere on New Providence is absolutely not it. Maybe nowhere, because if he’d been left alone he might well have simply decided to end it.



Maybe he still will.



The trouble is, there’s nothing within reach worth anything as a weapon. “I suppose you could tear my throat out,” he says to Irial, studying her new form. She doesn’t think it’s final, says it doesn’t feel quite right, and the last time she slept John woke to find her in the form of a spotted cat, like a tiny leopard. She’s always liked to sleep in cat forms, and sometimes he’s seen her fall asleep in some other form and shift without waking.



But the golden jackal has jaws strong enough to kill him with. If she would. “You know I won’t do that,” she tells him, laying her head on what’s left of his left leg, careful to rest high on his thigh, away from the wound. “I admit, I half-thought Flint would do it for us, when I told Mona what we’d done.”



“And that’s another thing,” John starts, trying to be angry but too worn down to manage it. The truth is they’d begun regretting their plan almost as soon as they’d set it in motion, as soon as they saw how right Flint had been about the men. Men who gave a shit about what John said, who trusted him. Which makes him think of Vincent again, and then he has to swallow hard against the nauseating lurch of his stomach, remembering as the axe -



Irial’s soft yip of greeting pulls John back to the present again. Mona settles by the bed, huge in comparison to Iri. She usually is, of course, but somehow now that both of their forms are canine, it’s painfully obvious. “I promise, you don’t have to watch us all the time,” John says with a wry grin that feels sickeningly empty.



Mona huffs her disbelief. “I’ll be the judge of that. Your door was open, if you didn’t notice.” Suddenly she snarls, leaping onto the bed, and Irial is knocked down with a careless swipe of a paw when she leaps to defend her human. “Do you really want your throat torn out, John? Is that how you want this to end?”



“You won’t do it,” Irial says. John’s pulse may be racing, and he’s scrambling back as much as the bed and his single leg will allow, but Irial’s voice is icy calm, and she is on her feet again, watching steadily. “You won’t hurt us,” she tells Mona with all the confidence John cannot feel.



Mona is only not touching John because blankets cover his skin, and he can feel her breath - like all daemons, curiously cool - against his face as he fights to calm his own breathing. She leans forward, growling low in his face. “Don’t,” he says, hating how small and shaken he sounds.



“Good,” she says, jumping down again. “I will not leave you alone, because I don’t want to find that you’ve worked out how to hang yourself with the bedclothes.”



“Why do you care?!” John snaps, rage more than replacing the terror of a moment ago. “Why the fuck do you care?!” There’s a book on the small table by the bed; he picks it up and flings it at the black wolf, even knowing she’ll dodge it. “I don’t want this! I told them I didn’t want this! They should have listened to me, it was my fucking choice!”



“And once you’ve calmed down, you’ll realize someone as focused on survival as you doesn’t really want to be dead. This isn’t the end of everything you seem to think it is, John.”



“I’m a cripple! I might as well be in prison, I can’t even cross this room on my own unless I crawl!”



“That’s what the crutches are for. You don’t have to crawl, you’re simply refusing to relearn how to function,” says a new voice, and John supposes that as soon as Mona showed up, he should have expected Flint.



“Fuck off.”



“I think I need to remind you you’re in my house.”



John glares at him, and Flint glares right back. “I didn’t ask to be moved here. You should have just tossed me in the sea like Billy.” It’s a low blow and he sees the flash of rage in those green eyes. It gives him a bitter sort of satisfaction.



“Suicidal self-pity does you no favors, Silver,” Flint says. “My crew wants you for quartermaster, and I -”



“Need someone who can spin tales to keep people loyal, instead of the ones you have that only fire them up for a little while?” John spits. “Find someone else. Like your wife, or witch, or whatever she is. Wasn’t she part of the negotiation with Rackham? Just leave me alone. I don’t want help.”



“What makes you think I care what you want?”



“Oh, fuck you.”



“You’re going to learn how to live again, Silver,” Flint says flatly, and in the sunlight slanting through the window his eyes are the same shade of green as a river not far from home, that they said belonged to the Fair Folk. If you went swimming there, they might steal you away. John meets Flint’s gaze and thinks he’s already been stolen, he just didn’t notice till now.



Flint shakes his head and the moment is lost. “And if you still want to die then, well… It would be a waste, but your choice. But you don’t get to make it till you’re in your right mind again, and I am happy to drag you back to life kicking and screaming, you hear me?”



<><><>



She can’t touch her own daemon.



At first, Miranda hadn’t had the chance to notice anything was wrong. The blade had shattered even as it came slicing down, hit by stray debris from the cannon shots. Miranda hadn’t even thought about the jagged pieces still cutting through the air between her and Arete, or the shards that sliced her daemon’s skin and her own despite their best attempts to cover themselves. Too much had been happening. The physical injuries of the shards were easily fixed, in the end.



But the rest…



She finds herself thinking of the men who’d put her in the stocks, their blank eyes, their docile daemons trotting along beside them. She doesn’t want to remember their hands on Arete, the dizzy nauseating wrongness of it, like someone had reached inside her ribcage and grasped her heart, crushed her lungs. But they were the only ones unafraid of the structure they were locking her into. Even Peter had eyed it with fear, and though he hadn’t given the order, it had been his decision to put her there.



Were those men unafraid because whatever it usually did had already been done to them? Was that emptiness her sentence from Peter, as death had been for James?



And what had those broken pieces done to her? Why does it feel like an icy blade to the heart every time she touches Arete? And it’s the same for him, he’s told her, curling up miserably just out of reach.



They haven’t told James and Mona. They don’t know how. Arete has never been the most physically affectionate of daemons, so it hasn’t been hard to avoid touching each other in an unobtrusive way. And the only visible difference is that there’s a streak of golden specks like dust running along Arete’s belly, so he just has to stand a certain way and it’s invisible. Anyway, James and Mona are distracted by their worry for her houseguest. Not that Miranda blames them. She, after all, had been the one to catch John Silver on the floor with a smashed rum bottle in hand the day after he woke up, the sharp edge just an inch from his wrist. And he’s been barely eating or drinking since his arrival, as if he’s trying to starve himself but can’t quite commit to it.



Three days in, James goes back down to Nassau proper, after finally confronting Silver. Miranda had been out in the garden to offer some degree of privacy, and doesn’t know what was said, only that James and Mona left in a frustrated huff. She’s brewing tea when the thunk of wood on wood makes her look up.



Silver is pale and gaunt, the stubble thick on his jaw now, his lips pressed tightly together as he maneuvers on the crutches. His Irial - he’d called out for a Kevay in his fever, and his daemon had responded, but Miranda’s decided to pretend she never heard it - is beside him, murmuring soft encouragement in what must be their native language. It reminds her of the Scots some of the Hamilton servants spoke amongst themselves, but it’s not quite the same. Welsh or Irish, she thinks, because James said it wasn’t Cornish either when he’d heard it as feverish babble.



“You’ve decided to rejoin the living, I see.” Some people respond well to kindness, and some take it as pity. Miranda suspects that Silver is the latter.



“I’m considering it, anyway,” Silver replies, his voice rough with disuse and lack of water. “Sorry to be such an inconvenience.”



“You’re not the first injured man James has left on my doorstep. It’s almost like a cat leaving dead mice. He must think I need company, but I must say, you’re not very useful in that capacity.”



For a moment, anger flares in bright blue eyes, but then it fades as Silver manages a short, harsh laugh. “Again, I can only apologize and say that I will strive to do better, my lady.”



Miranda’s eyes narrow. “I’m not a lady.” Not anymore, anyway, not since she became a widow if not before.



“You were, though. It’s in your voice.”



“Hmm.” Miranda pushes him into one of the chairs, setting a cup of tea in front of him. “And the fact that you’ve been refusing food and drink is in yours. If you’re going to be better company, the first step is taking better care of yourself, Mr. Silver.”



<><><>



He still isn’t entirely sure that he wants to live. He has the crutches now, it’s true, and Howell stopped in to check on him and said that once the wound is healed they can resize Randall’s peg for him. But even so, John still wonders if maybe he should have just given up.



The worst part is needing help. He’s taught himself to rely on no one but himself and his daemon, and letting himself accept support anyone else is terrifying. “We’ll take care of you,” he remembers Muldoon saying as he’d struggled on the table. It makes his hands shake with fear. He cannot lean on anyone, no one stays, they never stay. Even when they might want to, life takes them away. Out here, though, it’s just him and Mrs. Barlow - Miranda, she’d reminded him on the second day he’d been up and about - and it’s…



She doesn’t hover, for which he’s grateful. But he still has to grit his teeth every time she needs to steady him. Right now, he’s trying to wean himself down to a single crutch, which means he’s prone to falling as he makes his way back and forth through the house. One afternoon, he slips and feeling her hand on his elbow to steady him is just - too much.



“Leave it! I have to learn this!”



Miranda lets him go, and he does fall, going down on his whole knee. He grits his teeth and uses the crutch to pull himself upright, to find Miranda giving him a sharp look. “It’s not pity to want to keep you from splitting your head open on my floor. I just cleaned it.”



“Afraid if I die here I’ll become a ghost and never leave?”



“I don’t want to see the look on James’ face if you die from being an idiot, actually.”



“Said the pot to the kettle,” John says abruptly, and he hadn’t meant to say it, had meant to let Miranda keep her secrets, but now he can’t. Because he’d seen human and daemon flinch when Miranda’s Arete had brushed her ankle, and Iri’s seen the gold streak on his belly. They know what that means.



“Excuse me?”



John takes a deep breath. “Ashe put you in the Device, didn’t he?” He doesn’t get any satisfaction from the way she goes pale at the memory. He remembers staring up at an amber blade in fear himself. Remembers the wall of amber stone in the box he’d been put in, for a different test, the pain deep in the center of him as the box had been wheeled away.



There had been many devices at St. Edward’s (the story of an orphanage was real, but John had changed the name when he told Flint), but only the worst of them had a capital letter in it, and he heard Vane describe the one in Charles Town. When it works properly… when it works properly, there is no going back. When it doesn’t, there can be.



Miranda isn’t looking at him anymore. She’s turned away, studying her bookshelf as if it holds answers they both know won’t be there. “You know what that blade was.”



“More than I’d like. The stone, they call it amber obsidian. Don’t know where they find it. But something about it… There’s old folktales of Druids, how one of their rites of passage was a stone circle, a very specific circle, that daemons could not enter. How if the Druid entered it, forever after his or her daemon could wander far away, as a messenger, a spy, or a lookout. I don’t know if it’s true, there are other stories like it in other places I’ve been to. But the amber obsidian… hurts your bond, it doesn’t stretch it. Did the blade break?”



“It was shattered by debris, in the very moment it was coming down.”



“It wasn’t aligned properly, when I saw it. It has to come down just right to do its worst. But they said, after, that it was a sharp pain, every time they touched their daemons. Is that what you feel?”



She’s helped him, let him stay in her house to recover. Maybe he can return the favor, and feel less indebted. That’s the worst part of it, after the expectation of trust that he cannot give. The feeling that he owes a debt every time someone helps him makes him uneasy. He can repay the crew, even Flint, in time, by doing his best as quartermaster, however mad they must have been to vote him into the role. But Miranda is harder, and he owes her more for having put up with him more regularly.



“Cold and sharp, like a knife made of ice,” Arete says when Miranda is silent. Irial hesitates, then carefully licks the wild cat’s ears the way she’s seen Mona do, trying to be comforting. Arete startles, but lets her do it, and after a moment he even purrs a little.



“It burned, for us, but then, they did a different thing to us,” Irial confides, because it is easier for her than it is for John, and her golden scar is visible so they can’t really hide that they’ve been damaged now that Arete has his own mark. “But we’ve seen the cutting gone wrong. Or, gone right, in my opinion, because wrong by their standards can heal.”



“Cutting,” Miranda says slowly. “You can’t possibly mean -”



“Cutting away a daemon? Severing that bond permanently? Yeah, I can. I do mean that,” John tells her, meeting her eyes squarely when she turns to face him. He doesn’t tell her about the days spent in the box, in the same room as the Device, watching. That last day, when the Device had gone wrong with Sol and Lizzie and they’d taken their chance, and pulled him out to run with them. Three hurting children and their daemons, on the streets of Belfast. Only John was a native, and that knowledge had been invaluable in their escape.



“You have to touch him,” he says quietly. He remembers the uncertain press of Sol’s chapped lips, how small Lizzie’s hand had been in his own. “Arete. It hurts like hell, but you’ve got to.”



“Why?” Miranda asks, sitting at her table. John grits his teeth and makes his way over, using his free hand to brace himself on various objects along the way. He sits across from her, Irial and Arete curled up near them, taking comfort as daemons will.



He thinks of Sol’s wide eyes, his sudden sharp gasp, how one moment he’d been bright and alive, hopeful even in the chill of Dublin in November, and then the next moment toppling over, his eyes glazed in death as Aliza vanished into golden dust. He remembers how Lizzie had screamed his name and Oberon had shrieked, how he and Irial couldn’t make a sound.



“It’s like a tear in fabric,” he says carefully. “If you let it go, it will split wider, until - your bond will sever one day, and the shock of it... It often kills even with the Device, but not always. Like that, though, out of nowhere, it will. But, when you touch your daemon in spite of the pain, hold on as long as you can, at least once a day… It fades, eventually. Like how relocating a joint hurts, only you have to do it regularly for it to take. You’ll never be the same , but you’ll heal.”



Lizzie had been healing, the day the man had -



“How are you not the same?” Miranda’s voice is quiet, steady, and her eyes are piercing as she studies John’s face, as if she can see all the memories he hasn’t spoken of directly. Her eyes are the same shade of brown as Lizzie’s, he realizes abruptly, and it makes his head spin. But he’s reached the limit of what he can talk about without memories overwhelming him.



John shrugs. “Nothing serious. She can go apart from me, and it might be why Iri can’t settle. Just - I’m not an honest man, but on this I won’t lie. Partly because I’ve seen it happen, and partly, if you think that’s a lie, because if I told you something that made things worse, Flint would kill me.”



“Until recently you wanted to die.”



“Still kind of do. But he’d make it slow, if I hurt you intentionally. That I don’t want.”



Miranda considers him over her tea cup. “Very well, I trust you - on one condition.”



“What’s that?”



“I’ll follow your advice to heal - if you follow mine.”



John blinks, caught off guard, but then he nods, lips twitching in something not quite a smile. He probably should have predicted that, but since he walked right into it, what else is there but to give it a try?



<><><>



Arete is leaning against Miranda’s leg while she sits on the porch, breathing deeply with her hands clenched into fists in her lap. The pain seems to get worse with every passing moment, a wave that doesn’t want to crest. In front of her, Silver is trying to walk a circle round her house with both crutches, working to regain his balance on even ground.



She cries out at last, Arete darting away, at the same moment Silver tips sideways, crashing down into the dirt. “That’s the longest any of us have lasted,” Arete calls, his voice hoarse with the aftermath of their shared pain.



Silver, struggling to get upright again, gives Arete a dark look, but his Irial laughs. “Are you the optimist around here now, Arete?”



“Not really, but someone has to try,” Arete says easily, as Silver manages to get up and heads for the porch, Irial scampering ahead to meet Miranda’s daemon on the stairs. She shakes dirt off her fur onto his, and he yowls, swiping at her. But his claws are sheathed; it’s mostly in fun.



Silver doesn’t bother to find a chair; he sinks down right on the steps, tilting his head back to rest against the porch rail. “Feeling any better?” he asks.



“Well, the pain is less sharp today, but still bad.” Now that she isn’t experiencing it, it’s easier for Miranda to compare today to yesterday, and the days before, and she can see that it was a duller ache today, but still a fierce one.



“I only fell once, so we’re both improving,” Silver offers, closing his eyes as a wry smile curls his lips. He’s letting his beard grow in and his hair grow out; soon Miranda will have to tell James to take his new quartermaster aside for some grooming tricks before his beard turns into a bush.



“Don’t go to sleep there, Silver, it won’t help your aches any,” Miranda informs him, poking his arm with her foot. Silver opens one eye, shrugging.



“Not planning on it, but it’s nice to relax for a bit. Also, you really should call me John by now, it’s only fair.”



“John then,” Miranda says with a nod of agreement. After a few moments, she’s fairly sure that he’s changed his mind about falling asleep there, so she opens the book and starts to read. It’s one she took from the warship - they took a majority of the books, Vane shrugging and saying he didn’t want them. There were a few in English that his jaguar insisted on taking, saying something Miranda didn’t fully catch about Caelia , which if Miranda remembers right is the name of Jack Rackham’s mongoose.



“You could share, Miranda,” Arete says. Rolling her eyes, Miranda starts reading aloud, in a low voice. Her spoken Spanish is a bit rusty, but she isn’t expecting the lazy, half-asleep correction from the man on her steps.



“It’s a good story, better in Spanish than English,” John says without opening his eyes.



“You read Spanish?” She knows he’s literate and can speak Spanish from James’ stories, but still, to be bilingual in both speaking and writing usually assumes a degree of education she wouldn’t have expected from John Silver.



“Mm. I’ve better written Spanish than English, actually,” John says, sitting straighter and seeming to blink awake.



“But it isn’t Spanish you and Irial speak when you’re alone.”



John’s eyes go blank. “No. It isn’t. But Spanish is much more useful.”



“You don’t like to talk about your past, do you?” Miranda asks, setting down her book.



“No more do you or Flint.”



“Actually, that’s more James.” It isn’t that Miranda would freely discuss everything on a whim, but - it had been good, after so long a time, to speak of her past, to speak of Thomas, to share things that are still good, even if they are bittersweet with hindsight. The trouble is that Pastor Lambrick had been part of her world - sort of - and Richard Guthrie adjacent to both respectability and the pirate world James inhabits. John, though, is a member of James’ crew, second only to him in power there. In some ways he has more power; he has the trust of the men in a way James does not, and he’s clever enough to keep up with his captain.



And, of course, he stole the Urca from under James’ nose, even if his daemon gave it back.



Now, she intends to join James on his ship, she intends to fully inhabit his world and John Silver will be with them there. Miranda doesn’t doubt this decision, but it does make her question what she can say to John.



“So what would you talk about, if you could?” John asks, as if he can read her mind.



“I don’t know, actually,” Miranda admits, and then she goes back to reading aloud, because it’s easier than trying to figure out how honest either of them are willing to be.



<><><>



Flint is here. It’s the first he’s been back in the nearly two weeks since their argument, the one that had shaken John from his semi-suicidal daze. He hasn’t decided if he’s grateful or resentful for that yet, and so for now he’s avoiding his captain. It’s easy enough to do; Flint and Mona are outside with Miranda and Arete, so all John has to do is not go outside.



But he’s bored, and so is Irial, which means they’re poking about in places they probably shouldn’t. Which is how they find the painting.



“That is not a good likeness of Miranda,” Irial declares, and John has to agree. She looks wooden , blank and oddly stern, nothing like the wry, sharp-tongued woman he’s come to know. Even Arete doesn’t look quite right - the painter tried to make him look like just a big housecat.



“I wonder who the man is,” John murmurs. He assumes that, whoever he is, the likeness of him and his owl are as inaccurate a rendering as Miranda and Arete are.



Mr . Barlow, maybe?” Irial says.



“I assumed that was Flint,” John says honestly. Up till now that had made the most sense, that Flint and Miranda are married and Barlow is Flint’s legal surname. Although, this doesn’t look very much like a Mr. and Mrs. Barlow, more like a Lord and Lady Something, so he might still be right. A second marriage, maybe?



Dimly, he remembers Miranda and Flint talking, when he’d been only semi-coherent in the days after losing his leg. They’d mentioned someone named Thomas, so maybe this is him. Either way, he supposes it isn’t really his business. He’d like to know, of course, but…



Well. He doubts either of them would tell him even if he asked, and since he’s likely to be just as unwilling to answer similar questions, he supposes he can’t really complain.



The sound of clashing metal draws him outside, where Flint and Miranda are -



Huh. Somehow, even knowing that Miranda plans to join them on the Walrus when they set sail again, John’s surprised to find them swordfighting. He’s even more surprised to find that Miranda seems to have some idea of what she’s doing, but it makes sense once he’s close enough to hear their talk.



“I wouldn’t be rusty if you hadn’t stopped practicing with me,” Miranda is saying.



“Yes, as you’ve said already - keep your point up!”



Miranda’s sword goes flying a moment later and John yelps as it lands a bit closer to him than he would have liked. He looks back to find them both watching him, with almost identical amused expressions on their faces. It’s Mona who laughs, coming over to greet Irial with licks to her face.



“Be careful, he’ll have you at it next,” Miranda says as she draws up a dipper of water from her well bucket, drinking it down and pouring the next one over her head. She wrings out her hair, frowning at it. “I’ll need to do something with this,” she mutters.



“Braid it?” Flint asks.



“You know very well I never could get the hang of braiding my own,” Miranda says.



John isn’t sure whether to be angry or not. “He can’t have me at it next,” he says, voice a little too harsh, and he gets two startled looks in return. “One fucking leg, remember?”



“Don’t be stupid, you’re not the first or last who still has to defend himself with only one leg,” Flint says briskly. “But we’ll work on your shooting first. Both of yours, actually.”



“I can shoot,” John says at the same time as Miranda does. He blinks in surprise, and she grins.



“That, I think I’m a little less rusty with, if only because aim is aim,” she adds, pushing loose strands of hair off her face. “I’ll probably just end up cutting this short, should be easiest. I can’t ask you for help every time I need to braid it, James, and I just don’t think the pins are up to it.”



“I could always help,” John offers without thinking. He refuses to look embarrassed, even if he can’t help how his ears burn at Flint’s expression and the way those green eyes bore into his face. Miranda, for her part, only shakes her head, a little smile on her face.



“No, I’d rather just do the simple thing and lop it off. Since even after ten years I cannot get the hang of braiding my own hair, though I can do someone else easily.”



Flint sighs, but doesn’t argue the point. He’s watching John, and his face is unreadable. “I’ve brought spare pistols. I want to see how you both do with a target to shoot.”



John remembers, suddenly, being almost thirteen, and Uncle Declan showing him how to make a bow and arrows. “Archery’s outdated, my lad, but you aim an arrow right, it’ll kill sure as a bullet, and it’s easier to get than a gun. I’ll teach you to throw knives next - arrows and knives can be used again, not like bullets.”



His fingers itch for a bow, or knives, if he must have weapons, but archery and throwing knives aren’t much use at sea and knives used any other way are too close-range for him now. And anyway, he doesn’t think he should be any more Sean Teagan than he can help. John Silver will use pistols, and supposedly a sword one day, though John is still skeptical about that .



“All right,” he says at last. “What’s the target?”