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the aftershocks remain

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When Silver blearily opens his eyes, it’s to the sight of Flint looking at him thoughtfully, a soft, not-quite smile on his face.

This in itself is unusual, as Silver can count on one hand the times Flint has genuinely smiled at him, but more unusual is the sight of Mrs. Barlow just behind Flint, staring at her - husband? Lover? Silver’s never really gotten an answer on that - companion , utterly distraught. Between the two of them, it’s usually the other way around, Flint looking upset or angry about something or other paired with Barlow’s knowing, patient smiles.

He must make some sort of confused noise, as Flint’s eyes widen and he goes to leave the room. Silver’s confused until he hears him shout Howell’s name; he’s a bit slow on the uptake, tired and fuzzy-headed. He thinks he’s perhaps been given something to help him sleep, which makes his stomach lurch: the things he could let slip in such a state do not bear thinking about.

“I take it your time in Charlestown didn’t go as planned?” he asks Barlow, words slurred, because if he doesn’t say anything, he’ll go mad from the sheer awkwardness he feels at being left alone with her.

She doesn’t respond, still staring after where Flint last stood, her back mostly to him.

“Mrs. Barlow?” he asks, slightly concerned.

She whips around to face him fully, eyes wide and shocked, mouth agape. Silver doesn’t understand why, until he finally sees the bullet hole in her forehead, until he realizes the shine he’d absently noticed in her dark hair hadn’t been water, but blood.

“You can see me?” she gasps, and - yes, there it is, that familiar blue haze surrounding her body. He wonders why he hadn’t noticed before. She’s also slightly translucent, as all ghosts tend to be. Fuck, it must be laudanum Howell’s put him on, if his mind is this clouded.

Silver tries to sit up, and it’s then that he feels a blinding agony in his leg. With the pain comes the memory of Vane’s quartermaster, of being held down by a crowd of men, his men, and - his eyes fly open from where he’d closed them in pain. He looks down with horror to see an empty space where the lower half of his leg once was. His breath starts to come unevenly as true panic begins to set in - he’s a cripple , he’s trapped here, he couldn’t run from this even if he tried - and dark spots start to cloud his vision.

“Mister Silver?” a soft voice says, and when he raises his eyes, now filled with frantic tears, Barlow is staring at him in confused wonder.

She’s dead, does she know she’s dead? She must know, she’s such a clever woman - oh god, his leg, it hurts so much , how can it hurt so much when it’s not there anymore?

Flint comes back, the doctor in tow, just as he finally starts to speak.

“Mrs. Barlow - I’m sorry, I’m so sorry - ”

He’s crying now, from the pain and the shock and the sorrow he feels for her and - why has Flint stopped moving? Why is he just standing there? Why is he looking at him like that?

Silver doesn’t have time to ponder this, because Howell is forcing something foul-tasting down his throat and the world around him starts to fade.

 

*****

 

Silver doesn’t speak to Barlow again until after Flint storms from the cabin, fuming with rage and cursing Jack Rackham to hell and back.

Silver’s no fool: he knows Flint suspects him, but he’s quite honestly too fucking tired to worry about it at the moment. Everything hurts, but everything is also slightly hazy; he’s off the drugs, yes, but he’s perpetually tipsy from all the rum.

He shifts around, trying to get comfortable, and nearly jumps out of his skin as Miranda fucking Barlow’s head pops up through the cushion on the bench where his calf should be.

These past few days he’s been just lucid enough to watch the goings-on in the captain’s cabin, and through slitted eyes he’s seen her adjust to being a ghost: her surprise as she’d started to float one afternoon; her delighted laugh as she realized she could indeed control when and where she levitates; the sound of alarm she’d let out as Flint had unknowingly walked right through her.

She’s also been trying to engage Silver in conversation near constantly. He understands, really: ghosts aren’t too common on ships, and the only ones on the warship currently are Randall and Joshua, if he remembers correctly.

Joshua passes through about once a day, clearly having just as good a time as a ghost as he always seemed to as a man. Barlow complained to Silver once, in an attempt to lure him into talking with her, that Joshua is more interested in seeing how high he can fly or how far deep into the ocean he can dive (no need for air anymore, after all) than actually conversing with her.

And, well, if he only had Randall for company, he’d be pretty desperate for intelligent conversation, too.

“You’re lying about the gold, I can tell.” she says, giving him a suspicious, narrow-eyed look.

He gives her what he hopes is an annoyed expression. He probably just looks tired. “And who exactly are you going to bring these suspicions to?”

Her eyes positively light up, and she soars into the air, the rest of her body gliding through the bench and then hovering above Silver.

“Finally! I knew you could see me, I knew it. I worried maybe you’d been hallucinating because of the drugs, that it had been a horrible coincidence. You wouldn’t look me in the eyes or talk to me at all, and - ”

Her irritation at his deception of Flint seems to have faded in her excitement, but he has no doubt it’ll come up again at some point.

“Well, I’ve hardly survived this long by talking to ghosts in front of people who can’t see them.”

Barlow pauses at that, and floats her way down until she’s sitting - or, at least seems to be sitting - on the bench next to Silver. “‘Survived?’”

He sighs, closing his eyes against the pain as he tries to sit up more fully. He might as well face her fully, if they’re going to be having an actual discussion.

“How well do you think a little boy talking to ghosts would go over at a Catholic orphanage?”

He doesn’t mention his father. The point’s been made well enough, and that’s not something he’ll ever speak of again, if he has his way.

The face she makes is not one of pity, like he’d expected, but rather empathy, as if she, too, has been ostracized, has been cast out. Maybe she has; Silver knows next to nothing about her.

“What do you normally do, when faced with ghosts?”

“Pretend I can’t see them. Don’t interact, don’t wave, or even really look at them, unless I’m alone. Can’t have people thinking I’m mad, can I?”

She nods to herself, thoughtful. “So these past few days, you’ve been ignoring me because you didn’t want James to suspect anything was amiss.”

“Yes. I am sorry. I understand better than most what a poor conversationalist Randall is, and - well, Joshua’s always been more interested in having a good time than a good talk.”

She considers him for a moment, then smiles brightly. “Well, it was horribly rude of you, I’ll admit, but considering the circumstances I suppose I’ll have to forgive you.”

He gives her a bemused sort of look. “How magnanimous of you, Mrs. Barlow.”

She tuts at him, shaking her head. “Miranda, if you please.”

He feels his brows raise, surprised at this insistence on informality. Although, in a way it makes sense. Flint seemingly thrives off confounding and aggravating Silver: why shouldn’t his woman surprise him just as well?

“That’s awfully familiar, don’t you think?”

“Well, we’ll have to be familiar if we’re going to be friends, John ,”  Miranda replies, as if she’s speaking to a particularly thick child.

There’s a mischievous glint in her eye, a playful smile on her face, and, not for the first time, Silver regrets ever opening his mouth.

 

*****

 

At first, Silver doesn’t really know how to talk to Miranda.

This isn’t to say he doesn’t want to speak with her. In truth, all he wants to do is pester her with question after question, to find out everything about her and who she is to Flint. But he has a feeling he’d get nothing but vagueness for those efforts.  

Sometimes it feels as though he’s lost his tongue as well as his leg, for how difficult it is to put voice to his thoughts lately.

Still, he has nothing to do except twiddle his thumbs or talk with Miranda when the Captain leaves his cabin in the morning so he figures it would be best just - try , at least.

“So…” he starts awkwardly, scooching back until he can sit up properly and lean back against the pillow Howell had placed there. He trails off, though, because he can’t think of anything to say other than Who are you really?, and he doesn’t think they’re quite there yet.

So , John. When did you first realize you could see ghosts?”

He should have realized, of course, that a lady like Miranda Barlow would know exactly what to say. He has a feeling she’s had some practice at playing hostess, at steering conversations where she wants. Isn’t that what rich English women do, in their fancy parlors and salons?

“You really want to talk about this? Doesn’t it upset you? Considering you…well….”

“Died?”

Silver winces. “Yes. That.”

Miranda shrugs. “I had over a week to come to terms with my own mortality while you were mostly unconscious and convalescing. Of course, it’s difficult to see James in such pain, but to be honest John dear, I don’t think you’ve yet earned the sort of trust that warrants such discussion from me or him.”

He wants to point out that he has, after all, just given his leg for Flint’s men, but he elects to stay silent.

“Therefore: ghosts,” she finishes, giving him an indulgent sort of smile, like she doesn’t understand how he didn’t come to this conclusion himself. It is, to be fair, the most obvious conversation choice. He blames the rum and Howell’s attempts to drug him for keeping him from thinking of it first.

“Alright,” he agrees, keeping his voice relatively low - it wouldn’t do for any passersby to think he was talking to himself in an empty cabin - as he answers her question. “I’ve always been able to see ghosts. Ever since I was small.”

And so they’re off. Miranda wants to know everything: can a ghost change what clothes they’re wearing? Silver hasn’t seen it. Do animals have ghosts? Silver has seen a few dead pets, but rarely things like cattle or wild birds. Has he ever seen a ghost hold something, like an object? Only if someone’s heart failed while reading a book, or died with a gun in their hand or something like that, he explains.

“Have you ever met anyone else who can see ghosts, like you?”

Silver shakes his head, the pauses.“Although, for all I know, I might’ve, and they too thought it wise to keep it a secret.”

Miranda frowns, giving him a thoughtful, almost pitying expression. “It must be a rather lonely life.”

Silver looks away, fidgeting with a loose thread on his trousers. Or, rather, the trousers of that Spaniard Flint killed all those weeks ago. “I suppose.”

“I know a thing or two about loneliness,” Miranda says, and when he looks back at her there is nothing but warmth in her eyes, dead though they may be.

He believes her, but part of him wants to argue: how can she know true loneliness, when she’s had Flint all these years? When she’s had someone to call her own? But for once, he holds his tongue, and simply gives her a strained smile. He knows that his pain doesn’t invalidate her own, that he’s just being self-pitying and overly dramatic.

It seems he has nothing but time for self-reflection, lately. He doesn’t enjoy it.

“Say, shall I tell you about the time I met John Donne?” he says, because he doesn’t much care to think about the isolation he experienced growing up, or indeed Miranda’s own struggles. John Silver is nothing if not willing to ruin the moment.

“As a ghost?” Miranda asks, her curiosity piqued and that mischievous glint back in her eyes.

“‘Death be not proud,’ isn’t it? Christ, was it true for that poor sod. Never did I see a sorrier ghost.”

Miranda laughs delightedly, shaking her head in amusement. “You do know that’s not what the poem is about, don’t you?”

Silver shushes her, smirking. “Hush. Don’t you want to hear the story? Now, let me see...it was the summer of 1700. I wasn’t much more than a lad, really, and I was walking through Piccadilly Circus when I heard the most ghastly of coughs…”

He weaves her a ludicrous tale, in which he and the sickly, dribbling spirit of the famous poet go and track down the ghosts of his twelve children - one of whom, as it turns out, is hiding in the London catacombs - and finally his long-suffering wife. It’s near lunchtime by the time he’s reunited Donne with the family, all fourteen of them disappearing in a burst of light, finally at peace and together at last.

Miranda is still smiling when he finishes, looking surprisingly fond for someone who’s known him for so little a time.

“I do believe you’ve made that up,” she says, though not accusingly. She sounds amused, actually. “I thoroughly enjoyed it, don’t misunderstand me, but it’s absolute horseshit.”

Silver barks out a laugh at that, oddly thrilled. He hadn’t been necessarily trying to convince her his tale was true, but that she never once fell for his usual tricks is a delight.

In truth, he’s never been to England, despite the put-upon, practiced accent that has become instinctual, and despite the many, many lies he’s told about an orphanage in Whitechapel. He's never been further east than Dublin.

“You’ve got me there. In truth, the most famous ghost I ever saw was the spectre of Henry Morgan.”

“Really?” Miranda seems suspicious so soon after his blatant lies, but curious nonetheless. “What was he like?”

“I have no idea. I took one look, and ran in the other direction.”

They both dissolve into laughter, Miranda letting out a horribly unladylike but terribly endearing snort as she giggles.

“That,” she says once she’s calmed down some, “I can definitely believe.”

 

*****

 

For all that Silver enjoys spending time with Miranda, their brief moments of levity are not enough to detract from the fact that they are both recovering from the events of Charlestown: Silver from the loss of his leg and in some ways his freedom; and Miranda from the loss of not only her life, but her future.

“That first night,” Miranda says on their fourth day together, when Silver is feeling particularly maudlin and isn’t up for a tale, “I raged.”

“I don’t blame you,” Silver says, staring out the window as it slowly starts to rain. “I’d be pissed, too, if I died like that.”

“I died screaming, you know,” she says, and Silver pauses, looking back at her in surprise. He can’t imagine her raising her voice at all. “Years of anger, pent up and righteous, just - spilled out of me, unstoppable, and then I was dead. I - appeared, I suppose, just as James had begun his attack on Charlestown. I thought maybe knowing Peter Ashe was dead, watching the city burn, would be enough to quell that rage, but when Charlestown was ashes and the flames had finally ebbed, James was still alone, and I was still dead.”

“I’m sorry,” he replies, because what else could he possibly say?

“James went down to the hold and tore it apart, and in my anger - I joined him. Boxes he had barely touched would crash against the wall in pieces, lanterns exploded… I’m surprised James didn’t notice.”

“It’s amazing, the things grief blinds us to.”

“My god, I’ve never known such anger. The satisfaction I felt, in the hold - I wanted to destroy everything, I wanted to - ”

“You’re lucky you didn’t get stuck like that,” Silver says, mostly to try and distract her. She looks so distraught, so conflicted. “Some spirits get lost in their fury, their grief, and become violent beyond reason. They lose themselves completely.”

“Poltergeists?” Miranda asks, and he nods.

“I think,” and here he pauses, because it’s not as though she’s asked for his opinion, and certainly they’ve avoided talking about Flint before now. But still… “You have a right to that anger. And in the coming months I have a feeling Flint will do what he can to satisfy that anger, in your memory. You wanted to watch the world bleed, and he’s prepared to play executioner. But I believe you’re here because Flint needs you, just as you are. Not just your anger, not just your pain, but your love, too. He’s the one in danger of getting lost, I think.”

“And that concerns you?” Miranda asks.

He grimaces, slightly insulted. He’s not completely heartless. “Of course it does. Flint is my captain.”

“Just your captain?” she asks, an odd look on her face.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” He asks, frowning, but Billy comes into the cabin before he can get a straight answer out of her.



*****

 

Sharing a cabin with Flint isn’t too terrible, Silver supposes.

That softness Silver had glimpsed when he first woke after Charlestown is all but gone: Flint has perhaps a little more respect for him, and certainly has sympathy for his pain, but it’s clear that he still trusts Silver about as far as he can throw him. He definitely suspects that Silver played a role in selling the gold’s location to Rackham, though he seems to be waiting for them to reach Nassau before he acts on that suspicion.

For the most part, Flint and Silver keep to themselves. Flint is rarely in his cabin, anyway, probably doing his best to keep himself distracted from his grief. When he is there, he barely speaks to Silver beyond asking about his leg politely. Silver’s mostly fine with this arrangement; he frankly doesn’t have the energy to deal with Flint’s moods, understandable though they may be.

So no, sharing a cabin with Flint isn’t particularly uncomfortable. Until the night before they arrive in Nassau.

If he wanted to, he supposes he could blame it on Miranda. She’d asked him, just before dinner, what his parents had thought of his ‘gift.’ He’d brushed it off with some lie about never knowing his mother, about a father who’d run off while he was still a babe, and hadn’t given it any more thought than that.

He dreams, that night, of bloody hands and booze-filled breaths, of glass shattering at tiny, bare feet.

When he wakes, his cheeks are wet, his throat is raw, and Flint’s hand is on his shoulder. He’s still trying to catch his breath, to shake the images, when Flint speaks, hesitant.

“You were shouting,” he says simply, as if he needs to explain why he’d wake Silver from a nightmare.

“Who for?” Silver asks, though he suspects the answer.

“None of my business, who for,” Flint responds, which means, whoever it was, Flint has decided not to touch the subject with a ten foot pole. His hand is still on Silver’s shoulder, his thumb running back and forth almost absent-mindedly.

“Well, I’m sorry to have woken you, captain. Lord knows you don’t get enough sleep as it is.”

“I was already awake,” Flint says, gesturing to the open book at his desk. Silver frowns, and when he looks closer, he notices the skin around Flint’s eyes is blotchy and red. He, too, has been ruminating on the past tonight, Silver would wager.

Miranda’s presence, watching forlornly from the corner, is stifling.

“Flint, I - I don’t know if I’ve been able to tell you how sorry I am about -”

Flint straightens up abruptly and turns away from him, walking back to his desk. Silver cuts himself off when he slams the book shut a tad too aggressively.

“I think I’ll try and get some shuteye before we reach Nassau’s waters. I have Rackham’s head to take, after all.”

Silver can feel his face fall, and he’s grateful that Flint hasn’t bothered to look for a reaction. He’d thought they were having a moment, then, but, as is always the case when it comes to Flint, he’d been wrong.

He’s been staring up at the ceiling for what feels like hours, too afraid of his own mind to risk falling asleep again, when Miranda finally speaks.

“I’m sorry, for pushing you earlier. For asking you about your past.”

Flint fell asleep some time ago, and so Silver feels safe in answering her. “What makes you so sure it was you who prompted that dream?”

The look she gives Silver is not unlike the one she so often gives Flint: filled with regret, and sorrow, and - much worse - understanding.

“You were calling for your father.”

 

*****

 

“Miranda,” Silver says carefully once Flint has left for the morning, no doubt going to micro-manage every call De Groot makes as they sail for Nassau’s ever closer port. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

They’re reading together: Miranda likes to hover behind Silver while he thumbs through whichever book Billy has handed him on any particular day. Today it’s something called El Burlador de Sevilla (“A play about a trickster, for a trickster,” Miranda had laughed). Silver is not so fast of a reader as Miranda - who’d had actual, proper schooling - and so she every time patiently waits for Silver to finish reading before demanding he turn to the next page. Sometimes he turns them agonizingly slowly on purpose, just to make her laugh or groan.

“Yes, dear?” She says, smiling fondly, if distractedly, from where she’s peering his shoulder. No one’s called him by any sort of endearment in - well, in a long while. And certainly no one’s ever called him dear. He likes it more than he should. He likes Miranda more than he should, for that matter.

“It’s about ghosts,” he says, closing the book and turning to face her fully. “And...well, what happens when we reach Nassau.”

This gets Miranda’s full attention.

He takes a deep breath, and bites the bullet. “I have never, in all my life, seen a ghost leave the place in which they first manifested. They tend to remain where they died.”

It takes less than a moment for Miranda’s sharp mind to piece together what he’s implied. “Are you - does that mean - I’m going to remain on this warship, whether I want to or not?”

Silver nods.

Her face twists into a vicious snarl, and Silver suddenly sees some resemblance of Flint in her; both he and Miranda, when they grow angry, feel it in their entire bodies. She’s shaking in her rage, flickering in and out of view with the intensity of it.

“Ten years I spent trapped in that fucking house, on that fucking island,” she says, her voice rising with each word. The empty mug on Flint’s desk starts to rattle. Books quiver on the shelves. Silver tries to surreptitiously scoot further away from her, but he’s so focused on Miranda that he momentarily forgets his leg: he stops moving almost immediately, grimacing in pain. Miranda doesn’t notice.

“And now, even in death, there is some new cage for me!” She shouts, and Silver finally, truly sees the anger she must have felt just before she died, the righteous, burning rage that simmered below the surface near constantly.

“Miranda…” he starts nervously, as Flint’s hammock bed smacks against the wall aggressively.

“I will not be shackled here, like some wailing widow haunting a - ”

“Miranda!” He says, louder this time, because the light fixture on the wall has been ripped off, flying past him with such speed he barely manages to avoid getting hit. If she doesn’t calm down soon, she’s going to get lost.

He can’t go through this, he can’t lie helpless and watch as the world around him implodes, can’t listen to the screams, not again -

“Miranda, please,” he repeats softly, and despite his best efforts some of the fear he’s feeling seeps into his voice.

It’s this quiet plea that finally gets through to Miranda. She looks at him, the storm still in her dark eyes, and frowns. The thunder and lightning and the howling winds of her anger pass, and all that’s left is a hollow sadness.

“I’m sorry John, I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

He shrugs, though he’s still shaking slightly. “I’d have been angry too.”

“I was just - it’s so unfair.”

“I don’t disagree.”

They stay there for a time, Miranda quietly working through her indignation and Silver focusing on getting his hands to stay steady. Once he’s sure she’s in a slightly better place, he speaks again.

“The real question is, how the fuck am I going to explain what happened in here?”

 

*****

 

It’s painful to say goodbye to Miranda as he disembarks, knowing he may never see her or hear her laugh again. Howell had been adamant that he remained in a bed, though, without the sea tossing him about, for the next several weeks, at least while negotiations were being held.

As quartermaster, he should be present for those meetings, but he cannot find it within himself to particularly care about the outcome.

As soon as he’s been put to bed in the brothel (sans whores, though he’s hardly been in the mood as of late), he requests an audience with Max, who gives him a rare genuine smile upon entering.

“I’ve put aside - ”

“I don’t want it,” he interrupts, fingers playing with the frayed edges of the blanket on his lap. “Give it to someone else, or spread it out amongst yourselves.”

Max pauses for a moment, utterly baffled, before smoothing her expression into something more sympathetic. “Silver, I understand you must be under an enormous amount of stress. You’ve been through so much in so little time, and - ”

He cuts her off again, meeting her eyes with his own red-rimmed ones. “I don’t. Want it. I’m the Walrus’s quartermaster now, I can’t - I can’t squirrel away some small fortune that I stole from them. God, what sort of person would that make me?”

Max’s eyes narrow, assessing him shrewdly. Absently, he thinks, she and Miranda would have gotten along. “You never much cared what people thought of you before, or indeed what kind of a man you were.”

He shrugs, looking away from her and toward his stump of a leg. “Things change.”

He needs that crew, those men who believe in him, far more than he needs that gold. There’s few people in the world who would put their faith in a crippled thief, he knows, and he intends to hold onto this as long as he can.

Max nods in understanding, turning to go. She stops at the door, however. “I know you think this is the only way, and I will not try to change your mind. But - there is a world beyond Captain Flint. Take care not to get lost in him.”

She takes her leave at that, and Silver just barely manages to restrain himself from throwing something at the door.

It’s not about Flint.

It isn’t .

He sighs, almost immediately starting to second guess himself. He’s just made what will probably be the biggest mistake of his life (other than, of course, refusing to give up those fucking names), given up everything he’s ever wanted, his freedom , and for what?

So some bedraggled, murdering pirates might call him brother .

What has become of him?

“So you were lying,” a voice says, and Silver lets out an alarmed yell, flailing and falling out of bed with a sharp thud. The agony that laces up his leg is sharp and swift, though he was lucky to land mostly on his good side.

He’s still gaping up at Miranda when Flint barges in. “What happened?” he asks, sword drawn as if expecting some sort of threat. This is, of course, a logical explanation, as opposed to the truth of the matter, which is that Flint’s dead lover simply scared the living hell out of Silver.

“I - uh - was reaching for a book,” Silver says through gritted teeth, clutching his leg as if it will make any sort of difference. There’s a bookshelf in the room, after all, and what else would he be trying to do? Walk? Take a piss?

Flint stares at him for a moment, as if he cannot comprehend how stupid his quartermaster is, before letting out a put-upon sigh and sheathing his weapon.

“Billy’s already left you a pile of books,” he says, pointing to the small stack on the bedside table.

Right. Shit.

“I...uh...was in the mood for some philosophy?” he tries, and Flint gives him an unimpressed look. Still, he reaches down and helps Silver back into bed, so that’s something, at least.

“Sometimes, John Silver,” Flint says as he plucks a copy of Plato’s Symposium from the bookcase (and really, Silver’s just lucky that there actually was philosophy on the shelves. He probably has Rackham to thank for that) and brings it back over to the bed, “I think you might be the strangest man I’ve ever met.”

Miranda lets out a quite-unladylike snort at that, and Silver sighs, thunking his skull against the headboard. It doesn’t do much to quell his frustration, but the throbbing in his head does distract from the pain in his leg.

“You have no idea,” he replies, and Flint leaves him at that, without so much as a goodbye. Not one for pleasantries, his captain.

As soon as the door is closed, he whips his head about to face Miranda, who’s floating cross-legged next to the bed. “What are you doing here?” he hisses, incredulous.

She shrugs, clearly not as concerned with the situation as Silver. This happens, he’s noticed, with ghosts; nothing ever seems as urgent when one isn’t alive anymore.

“You told me I would have to stay on the man-of-war, but as soon as James got far enough onto shore, it was like an invisible string pulled me after him. I held off following as long as I could, but it really was quite impossible for me to stay away. I suppose I’m here now because he’s only across the street in the tavern.”

He stares at her, completely aghast. Everything he knows about ghosts is a lie. Miranda is being remarkably calm about this, considering he’s supposed to be her resource on all things ghost-related. Silver’s never heard of a ghost being tied to a person before, but it would seem that Miranda’s spirit is not tethered to the Spanish warship, like Joshua and Randall, but Flint himself.

Silver has another little epiphany, and bangs his head once again against the board behind him, feeling like a complete idiot. He should have realized sooner that something about her situation was off: she died in Charlestown, after all, nowhere near the man-of-war where Silver first saw her.

Something occurs to him, then.

“But, if ghosts can attach themselves to people, then why didn’t my - ” He cuts himself off, unwilling to share something so personal or indeed to voice the thought at all.

The look Miranda gives him seems terribly knowing, but for once she doesn’t press him.

“I wouldn’t worry about it too much,” she soothes. “You said I was here to resolve some kind of unfinished business, yes? Well, clearly that business is connected to James. That’s all.”

That’s all, she says, like Silver’s entire worldview hasn’t tilted. “Why didn’t you come see me sooner? We left the warship hours ago.”

“Well, I was making new acquaintances, of course. There’s a great deal more ghosts in Nassau than on that ship, you know, Mister Silver. Now it will be you who has to fight for my attention.” She replies with a teasing smile. “I even met one of your former crewmates, if I’m not mistaken. He’s downstairs with his lover, also a ghost.”

Silver frowns. The last time he’d seen Logan and Charlotte, they’d just been murdered and were screaming at him in hysterics as he’d tiptoed over their bodies and pretended not to hear, busy scheming with Max. He doubts he’d endeared himself to them.

“They seem quite happy to spend eternity haunting this place,” she says, and Silver raises a brow. He’d always thought Charlotte had just been indulging Logan’s romantic fantasies for some extra coin. Still, he supposes being brutally murdered together might forge a deeper bond. “Say, did you know ghosts can have sex?”

Silver does, in fact know this. He’s known this far longer than he’s comfortable with. Ghosts, or at least the friskier ones, like to take advantage of the fact that no one can see them, which means that he will, on occasion, encounter some freaky ghost sex out in the middle of the road, or in a crowded tavern. It’s amazing, what inhibilitions people lose when no one’s watching.

“Yes,” he says, but holds up a hand when she opens her mouth. “I don’t want to hear about Logan’s sex life! He talked about it more than enough when he was alive, thank you very much.”

“Then would you prefer to talk about that discussion you had with the madam just now?”

Silver grimaces, slouching down against his pillows in an attempt to seem smaller, more pitiful. “Oh. That.”

“Yes, that.”

“I don’t know what you want me to say,” Silver says, refusing to meet her eyes. They’re friends now, yes, but Flint will always be her priority. What good would it do, to explain himself to someone so firmly entrenched on the other side?

“Perhaps an explanation? You did betray James, after all, if I’m inferring correctly,” Miranda says, and she looks so patient, so calm, not at all accusing or angry. He can’t tell if this is simply the result of her good breeding or if she genuinely isn’t cross with him.

Still, he stalls. “Isn’t it enough that I gave up my share? Isn’t that evidence of where my loyalties lie?”

“Why are you so hesitant to answer me?” Miranda asks. “ Who am I going to tell? The drunk who died forty years ago?”

He rolls over onto his good side, facing away from her. “I was angry, and feeling reckless, so I lied to Flint. I sold the Urca’s location to Max. It was a selfish thing to do, but I am by and large a selfish person.”

Silver feels a sudden chill as Miranda glides through him, lowering herself until she’s eye level with him on the bed. “That’s it? That’s all you’re going to tell me? What happened to my great storyteller?”

Silver closes his eyes, letting out a sigh. “Miranda, leave it.”

When he opens them again, she’s hardly a foot from his face, scrutinizing him intensely. “Not this time, I’m afraid, John. You’ve told me what you did, but not why, and I think that’s a rather crucial part of this particular tale.”

He sits up then, leaning forward until his elbows are resting on his thighs, running his hands through his hair in agitation.

“Fine. Fine . You know, you’re just like him, sometimes. You both just have to get your way,” he snaps at her, though he knows it’s not her fault. He doesn’t like to think about that night. It stirs up too many doubts, too many unresolved issues.

Miranda frowns. “John - ”

“Flint used me. He needed my help to corral the men, and he knew it, so he lied to me about his intentions to hunt the Urca. And you know, I could have forgiven it, I suppose, if he hadn’t then taken it upon himself to remind me how desperately I needed him . It’s not the most pleasant thing, Miranda, to have your only ally remind you how pathetically alone you are in the world, to remind you how little you matter to anyone.”

“I’m sure - ”

“I realized, that night, while you were waiting for Abigail to arrive at the tavern, when Hornigold nearly took the Walrus, that I was worthless to him. After everything we had gone through, everything I’d gone through to gain his trust and protect his captaincy, I was just another pawn in his games. Easily discarded. I’d thought - ” He cuts himself off. He’d thought that they had been approaching something like friendship, that Flint might have actually given a shit not just about what he had to say, but about him . “It doesn’t matter what I thought. I was wrong, and I was angry, and that’s why I went to Max.”

It’s exhausting, how Silver’s constantly had to show his worth to Flint, to find new ways to be useful, for fear of being cast aside. He’ll have to work twice as hard now, he knows, to prove that his merits as a quartermaster outweigh the inconvenience of keeping an invalid aboard the Walrus.

He’s breathing heavily by the end of his little rant, glaring at Miranda simply because she’s there and Flint isn’t. She’s silent for a time, giving him that same searching look, the one that always makes him feel so exposed and uneasy. When she finally speaks, it isn’t some defense of Flint’s behavior, as he’d expected.

“I hadn’t realized you cared so much what he thought of you,” she says quietly, questioningly, and he flinches. This is why he prefers to just leave his issues buried. Talking about the things that haunt (no pun intended) him brings nothing but pain. It leaves him too vulnerable, too open.

So he does what he does best, and avoids the topic. “I know he’s important to you. I didn’t want to upset you. ”

This time it’s Miranda who cuts Silver off. “John, I have no illusions when it comes to the kind of man James is. In fact, I consider myself partially responsible for what Captain Flint has become over the years. There is more to him than what you know, yes, but I knew and loved the flaws just as much as the virtues.”

Morley had told him, of course, about the Maria Alleyne, about “the Barlow woman” and her agenda. But Silver has never really considered just how much Miranda contributed to the mythos of the infamous Captain Flint. She knew him before , after all. She’d been right beside him as he’d built himself up into the scourge of the seas.

Howell comes in before he can respond, and the conversation, for the time being, is left alone. Miranda takes the opportunity to go test how far her tether will allow her to go from Flint, and so when the doctor takes his leave Silver is left to either rest or read fucking Plato.

It’s as he’s lying down, trying to sleep, that he allows himself to finish that awful, heartbreaking thought, the one he so desperately tried to avoid voicing with Miranda.

If ghosts really can attach themselves to people, if they really can move beyond the place where they died, then why did his mother leave him alone in that wretched place?

 

*****

 

He’s five years old when he runs into their ramshackle house, singing and tittering to himself, only to find his mother lying on the ground in a pool of red.

“She slipped,” Papi says in a language he’ll have all but forgotten by the time he’s fifteen. “Tripped and hit her head.”

He doesn’t believe Papi, because Papi never means what he says, Mami told him. Mami told him that Papi doesn’t mean it when he slaps him, or when he shouts and calls him names, and so he knows that Papi isn’t telling the truth when he says that Mami fell.

He can’t put voice to any of the questions spinning through his mind, though, too busy kneeling next to Mami, too busy shaking her shoulders, trying to wake her even as the blood around her head spreads into a stained halo like in the pictures he sees on the fancy church windows in town.

He doesn’t have long to miss her. He sees her hovering over his bed that very night, illuminating his little corner of the room. He pops up like a shot, beaming from ear to ear at the sight of her, and she stares at him in astonishment.

“I’d always thought your friend Solomon was imaginary,” she says, looking at Silver’s half-there playmate as he prances around with his little kitty, a swirl of shiny blue surrounding them as they dance in circles.

“I told you,” he tells Mami, for what feels like the hundredth time. “Solomon lived in this house before us with his àvia . But then he got the pox, and his àvia didn’t like living here without Solomon no more, so now we live here.”

Mami’s hair is awfully shiny, and she tells him it’s just because she went swimming up in heaven before she came to visit him. He thinks of that little red halo on the floor, and says nothing.

He spends his days playing with Mami and Solomon and Solomon’s cat, Gordito, and pretends not to notice the way Papi’s eyes get redder and redder as time passes, the way they go glassy and far away the few times he stops to look at him, or how his hands are all shaky when they reach for another bottle.

Papi leaves for work just before sunrise, and comes home just before sundown. Papi doesn’t pay him much attention, but that’s just fine. But sometimes Papi will tell him to sit at the table and eat his supper like a big boy, and so he sits and chatters as Papi grunts and mostly ignores him.

“Mami says spring will come soon,” he says, munching on his stale bread happily, and he doesn’t notice how Papi’s hands have gone still around his drink. “She says the snow will melt, and then the flowers will grow. What color will the flowers be, Papi?”

“Don’t talk about your mother like that,” Papi says angrily, standing and snatching what’s left of the roll from his tiny hands. “She’s not some imaginary playmate, like your fucking Little boy.”

He doesn’t talk about Mami again for two whole weeks after that, but he’s small and easily excited and he forgets the rule one evening while Papi’s almost asleep in his chair, bottle slipping from his loose fingertips.

“Mami says if I’m extra good maybe you and me can go to the market tomorrow, Papi, cause you don’t got work.” He says it real casual, just like he practiced all day, and Papi sits up straighter and throws the bottle at his feet. The cold whiskey burns as it seeps into the cuts on his tiny toes.

He slips up a few more times, and he only gets little smacked around for it a little. But then he makes the mistake of repeating the words Mami says to Papi when she thinks he’s too distracted with Solomon to hear.

“Mami says it was an accident,” he says, drawing little pictures in the dust on the floor. The flowers were purple when they came, but he just has to imagine the colors as he traces his fingers through the grime. “She says she knows you didn’t mean it, says she shouldn’t have yelled at you.”

Papi drops the mug in his hands, the metal of it clanking loudly against the wooden table. “What the fuck did you say?”

“Mami says she’s not mad at you.” He’s not looking at Papi, but he should be. If he did he’d see that Papi’s got that look in his eyes, the one he had that day Mami was lying on the floor. “She knows it wasn’t on purpose, nope nope nope. She says it was her fault for yelling. She knows you didn’t mean to push her so hard, she says.”

“Demon boy,” Papi whispers, and for a long, silent moment he just stands there, still as a stone.  Then Papi grabs him by the shirt, starts to tug him toward the door. But Mami starts to yell real loud, hollering and screaming and saying all sorts of nasty words that he thought only daddies could say, and he’s covering his ears and asking Mami to please stop and Papi’s looking at him like he’s something scary -

The windows shatter suddenly, like Mami’s so angry the house is angry too, and there are bottles flying against the wall and Mami’s still screaming even as Papi’s dragging him away and Solomon is staring out the open door, reaching out to him.

Papi drags him through the empty streets, until his bare feet are caked in mud, until his collar is stretched and torn. They stop when the moon is at its highest point, right above their heads, in front of a set of big iron gates. One day he’ll be able to read those big letters at the top, know they say St. John’s Home for Orphan Boys, but right now he’s just frightened and confused, and Papi won’t tell him what’s happening no matter how he pleads.

Papi tosses him onto the steps of the big dark building. “God have mercy on you,” Papi spits out, and walks away, closing the gates behind him and latching it closed.

He chases after Papi, screaming and crying and begging him to come back. He’s too short to reach the latch and push it open. So he’s left to wail and shake and pull at the gates uselessly until some strange men in black take his tired hands and bring him inside.

He can’t answer their questions, doesn’t understand a word of the language they speak, so they put him in a room with two dozen other wide-eyed boys, and decide as they look at his tired, tear-stained face, to call him Cillian.

 

*****

 

Silver doesn’t see Miranda again for two days. He figures it’s for one of three reasons: one, Flint went back to his house inland, and she simply can’t see Silver until he returns; two, she’s out acquainting herself with the ghosts she hasn’t met yet and no doubt endearing herself to them; or three, she really is much angrier than she’d let on about the gold situation. He’d like to think it’s one of the first two, but despite all the time they’d spent together on the man-of-war, he still doesn’t really know her all that well.

Max stops by on what will be his third Miranda-less night, just as the sun has set. “I’ve brought you something,” she says with a smirk. “To lift your maudlin thoughts and perhaps distract from the pain some.”

It goes unsaid, but whatever this is, it’s probably a thank you for handing over the information in the first place. She’s a rich woman now, thanks to his treachery.

Max steps aside, and - oh, it’s the girl from that first day. Idelle, that’s her name. God, but that feels like a lifetime ago.

“You two seemed to get along well, the last time we were all together,” Max says, and - well, fair enough he supposes. They both got off, after all.

She leaves them, and Idelle gives him a cocky smirk that, before, would have made his blood run hot with anticipation. Now, though, he barely feels anything, beyond the simple observation that she is just as beautiful as he’d remembered.

Silver props himself up on his elbows, just taking her in for a moment before he has to speak and ruin the mood. “I uh - I can’t really do much, at the moment.”

He gestures to his lower half with what he hopes is an apologetic look. He’s irritated, yes, but with his own limitations, not her. He doesn’t want Idelle to think he’s harboring any resentment toward her.

“Oh, right. I guess you can’t really fuck like that. I could ride you?” she offers, matter of fact, blunt in that practiced way most whores are when it comes to sex. He shakes his head in the negative. Howell had given him an exhaustive list of things he wasn’t allowed to do while staying in the brothel. The list had included several sexual positions Silver hadn’t even heard of. She hums, thinking. “I could sit on your face for awhile. You certainly liked that last time.”

He huffs out a laugh. If ever there was a way to get a man out of his head…

It is, of course, while he’s half-hard and tongue-deep in Idelle’s cunt that Miranda reappears, right fucking next to his head. He doesn’t even notice until she starts speaking.

“Goodness, you’ve kept busy, haven’t you?”

He startles, badly enough that Idelle starts to move off him, asking if he’s alright. He doesn’t respond, just pulls her back to him, pushing her down until he can barely breathe, until he can get a better angle at her clit. Fucking Miranda, choosing now, of all times, when his mind is finally fucking calm, to pay him a visit. She’ll just have to deal with Idelle’s presence, because if there’s one thing John Silver is not, it’s a bad lay.

“It’s so nice to see a man enjoy this, don’t you think? So many men think it a hardship, but how can it be, when she looks like that? Why, it’s a blessing to have a woman this way, to watch from below and worship at her altar as she comes undone,” Miranda says softly, and Jesus fuck , what does she think she’s playing at? He groans against Idelle as he listens to her whisper filthy, reverent things to him, couldn’t stop himself even if he tried.

“You know,” Miranda goes on, and if Silver doesn’t know if he wants her to shut the fuck up or keep talking until his face is completely drenched. “I thought I might come over here and offer you some advice, tell you just how she’d like it, but you seem to have it well in hand. The noises she’s making, they’re loud enough to keep James awake next door.”

And - fuck.

Fuck, fuck, fuck - the thought of Flint, lying in bed just on the other side of the wall, listening to Silver - as he’s -

He moans desperately, feels his cock start to swell further against his stomach, and the noise Miranda lets out is far too intrigued for his liking.

“Well, isn’t that a pleasant surprise,” she says delightedly, and this time the groan he lets out is mostly annoyance, not that Idelle would know the difference from where she sits.

Used to be that making a woman moan and clench around his tongue was enough to get him hard as a fucking rock, just like that. Max had even told him, after his encounter with “Blackbeard” and the others, that he’d endeared himself somewhat to the girls for how enthusiastically he’d taken to the task, for how eager he’d been to get them off. He doesn’t want to give too much thought to why it’s the thought of his bloody captain getting him there now, making something burn low and fierce in his gut.

Idelle is silent when she comes, a rare thing for a whore. He’s grateful, a little, that she hasn’t bothered to put on a show for him, that she’s taking her pleasure without pretense. He’s had enough of pretense to last him a lifetime, and he’ll surely have more of it before his time as quartermaster is over.

She offers to suck him off, but he says no, says it’ll jostle his leg too badly. He has no idea if it’s true, but she seems to take his word for it. But before she goes, as she passes him a wet rag to wipe his face with, she gives him a far too knowing look.

Why do all the women in his life look at him like that?

“I know I’m not who you would have chosen, if you could have had your pick,” she says, and he doesn’t miss the look she gives to the wall behind his head, where Flint is apparently trying to sleep. He’d had no fucking idea the captain was there, truly. “But it was nice not to do the work for once.”

A kiss on his cheek, and she’s gone, leaving him alone with Miranda.

“Well, that was certainly - ”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” He thumps back against his pillows with an embarrassed groan, covering his face with his hands. How is she being so casual about this? Miranda Barlow must be the single most unflappable woman who ever lived.

Except maybe Idelle.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed about, you know,” Miranda says, and something in her tone gives him pause. It’s like there’s some unknown weight behind her words, like she’s said them before and means them all the more for it. He peeks at her through his fingers, and there isn’t a trace of that teasing playfulness anymore.

“I know there’s nothing to be ashamed of, because nothing happened.”

“John, it’s all right to admit you’re attracted to James.”

He sits up then, because why the fuck would she put voice to it? Doesn’t she know there’s power in words, even if no one else can hear them?

“Are you out of your fucking mind?” he hisses, chucking a pillow at her. It sails through her of course, doesn’t make a single difference, but he feels a little better for it. “I can’t just go around lusting after my fucking captain! A captain who, in case you’ve forgotten, finds me intolerable.”

Miranda, as per fucking usual, does not react at all in the way he expects to his perfectly reasonable outburst. She floats her way over to his bed, sits on the edge delicately, and purses her lips thoughtfully.

“So it’s not the thought of being with a man that’s unsettling to you, but the thought of being with James?”

He doesn’t even know where to start with that. “There are no thoughts of being with him! In any sense of the word! No thoughts!”

“Have you been with a man before, John?” Miranda asks, a strange glint in her eye, and really, she is far too interested in this.

“I don’t see what that has to do with - ”

“Was it just a tryst? Two men seeking comfort on a long journey at sea? Or was there real affection there? Did you love him?”

He lets out a snort before he can help himself. “Well, I was certainly fond of the coin he gave me afterward,” he says snidely. That had been the first steady income he’d ever had, spending his nights on his knees in back alleys. It had been slightly more difficult, in the winter, but - oh, shit.

He glances over at Miranda, and sure enough, she’s staring at him like she’s never seen him before, completely blindsided. “I - I didn’t - ”

At his nervous stammering, Miranda’s shocked expression shifts into something softer, more reassuring. She reaches out to place her hand over his, letting out a sigh when she simply phases through him. Still, he appreciates the gesture. “I told you before: it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I’m not ashamed,” he snaps immediately, defensive. And it’s true. He did what he had to do, did the best he could with the hand he’d been dealt. There’s no shame in trying to survive, and he knows any one of the girls working here would agree with him. “I’m just - it’s not something I’d want spread around, either.”

Especially not now, after the men just gave him their votes. No one wants a whore for a quartermaster, retired or not.

“Well, I certainly don’t think less of you for it, and neither would James, if he knew.”

He huffs out a sigh, flopping back down. Back to Flint, it is. “Miranda, even if he did know - which he never will - it wouldn’t matter, because there’s nothing between us.”

Miranda looks between his face and his flagging erection with a raised brow.

“That was a fluke!”

She chuckles, shaking her head. “I suppose I could leave it be. For now.”

He lifts his hands as if in thanks to God, and closes his eyes.

“You know, for such a short man you really do have a lovely cock,” Miranda says conversationally, and Silver throws another pillow across the room, his cheeks beet red.

 

*****

 

Silver has absolutely no idea how Rackham managed to convince Flint not to flay him alive for stealing the gold from under him. He almost wishes he’d been there, if only to have seen the look on Flint’s face as Rackham had waffled on for what was likely far too long.

He’s been bedridden for two weeks, with hardly any company to keep him entertained: only Miranda; Howell during check-in; and Idelle, when she has a spare moment and comes to gossip with him (Dufresne, he’d been delighted to learn from Idelle, has a pitifully small cock). As lovely as Miranda and sometimes-Idelle are, Silver’s just about ready to crawl his way out of this godforsaken room on his elbows, and now Flint has walked in and declared the deal brokered.

“We’re to start our raids on the mainland in the next few weeks, so you’d best rest up,” he says, and he starts to leave, as if Silver isn’t worth any more of his time than is absolutely necessary.

Well, fuck that.

“I’ve done nothing but rest for two fucking weeks!” he says, perhaps a tad too loud. He takes a deep, calming breath, so as to avoid yelling at his captain. “Those men made me their quartermaster. So let me be their quartermaster.”

Flint turns to him then, giving him an assessing, thoughtful look. It’s the most attention he’s given him in some time, since before that night with Idelle, and fuck if Silver doesn’t feel more alive than he has in days. Something about Flint’s eyes, the way he stares at him, through him, has always set Silver ablaze, made his heart pound.

“For fuck’s sake, James, give him something to do. He’s read Romeo and Juliet six times, and he doesn’t even like it,” Miranda pipes up, as if it’ll make a difference. Silver’s grown so used to her presence that it takes a moment for him to remember not to make a scathing comment about over-dramatic, sexually frustrated teenagers while Flint is still in the room.

Finally, Flint seems to come to a decision. “We need a dozen or so new crewman, to replace the ones we lost in Charlestown. At least four competent riggers, and I’d say six men capable of joining the vanguard. I was going to do some recruiting at the tavern: do you think you could manage the journey across the square? It would be good to have your input on this matter,  given how closely you’ll be working with whomever we choose.”

Silver, in all honesty, has no idea if he can make it to tavern without his leg giving out.

“Yes, of course,” he lies, willing to risk humiliating himself in public if it means getting out of the fucking brothel for even an hour.

Flint nods, and leaves without another word. Silver would be annoyed at his sudden departure if he couldn’t hear Flint moving around in the room next door, looking for something. He reappears with a pair of crutches moments later.

“I - have you had those this entire time?” Silver asks, torn between incredulity and irritation. His freedom had been right fucking there, on the other side of the wall.

“Stop pouting. It’s unbecoming for a quartermaster,” Flint replies.

It takes nearly half an hour for Silver to make it to the tavern, and by the time he does his good leg is shaking from the effort, his brow is covered in sweat, and his stump is in agony. Flint, to his credit, simply waits patiently, walking slowly next to him as Silver struggles and pants and tries not to scream out of frustration with his own hateful body.

Miranda is with him every step of the way, whispering encouragements and platitudes as he stumbles and swears. He’s almost embarrassed at how comforting he finds it.

Flint orders a bottle of rum as soon as they’ve sat down, and Silver is pathetically grateful for the alcohol as it burns the back of his throat.

“I thought you said you could manage the journey,” Flint finally says, once Silver has drunk enough to dull his pain just a little.

“I made it, didn't I?” Silver says, glaring petulantly. It’s odd, to sit on the same bench as Flint, to not have the barrier of a desk or table between them. He can feel the warmth from Flint’s thigh where it presses against his own.

Not long after they’ve sat down, they’re approached by the first interested party; apparently, Flint had told Max to spread word that the Walrus was looking to take on new men. His name is Callow, he says, and Silver hates him almost instantly. In theory, he’d be a perfect fit: he’s been sailing for ten years, fighting for longer, and he’s built like a fucking brick wall. But, as Callow introduces himself to his would-be captain and quartermaster, Silver watches as his eyes flick down to where the rest of his leg should be, watches as they linger there just a hair too long. Callow barely even glances his way after that, instead directing all his attention to Flint. Any questions Silver asks are answered as if the captain himself had spoken, as if Silver isn’t even there.

Silver has spent his entire life trying to slink into the shadows, trying to become one with his surroundings and slip by without anyone paying him too much attention. But this? This willful, purposeful dismissal, from a man who knows nothing of him but what he lacks? It makes Silver want to set himself on fire.

Callow takes his leave, and Flint stops Silver before he can write his name in their ‘yes’ column. “He won’t be joining us.”

“Damn right he won’t,” Miranda says heatedly from where she’s hovering next to Silver. When Silver had subtly glanced her way during their exchange with Callow, she’d looked absolutely murderous. He’s oddly touched by her protectiveness, though he knows it would bother him coming from anyone else.

“What? Why not? He’s more than qualified,” Silver asks both of them, baffled. Yes, he was an ass, but it’s not as if Silver’s never dealt with one of those before.

“I can’t have a man on my crew who won’t even bother to look his quartermaster in the eye,” Flint says, giving him a level, somber look, and Silver shifts uneasily.

“Look, I know you all think I’m fragile , like some broken little bird after what happened, but I’m a grown man. This is my reality now, Captain. Do you really think he’ll be the only one to look at me and see nothing more than a cripple? You’re not that naive.”

He knows his tone has grown snappish as he speaks, but he can’t help it: he feels as though he’s constantly on edge, on the defensive, since Charlestown. He doesn’t need anyone to take care of him; he’s never needed anyone but himself, and he’ll be damned if he’ll let that change.

Flint just gives him a steady, understanding look, and it makes Silver want to throw something. “Even if we put aside any personal feelings you or I have about how he treated you, how do you think the crew would respond to their new member being so blatantly disrespectful to their heroic quartermaster? He’d be hated.”

“Why John, you’re blushing,” Miranda remarks, and Silver scowls.

“Fine,” he snaps, eager to move on and pretend he hadn’t felt a strange tightness in his chest when Flint had called him heroic. “Who’s next?”

Silver finds, as the hours pass, that he’s actually, surprisingly, good at this. He’s always been adept at reading people, and that skill is invaluable in this sort of task. He can tell within a few minutes of conversation whether or not someone would be a good fit with the crew; if they’re hiding something; if they’re lying about their capabilities (much as he had that first day); if they’re at all committed to Flint’s cause.

By the end of their little recruiting session, Silver has eight names written in the ‘yes’ column, and six in the ‘maybe.’ Four were flat out ‘no’s. He frowns as he reads through the list, and Flint makes a questioning noise.

“Too many John Smiths,” Silver explains. “We’ll have to rectify that, if we take them on.”

“You can’t just order them to change their names, Silver,” Flint says, sounding vaguely amused.

“Sure I can. It’s not like these are their actual names,” he replies. He points at the first John Smith on the list. “This one, the one with the strangely blonde hair? He’s a convict, no doubt just barely escaped the noose before he came here. He had those bruises around his wrists, remember? And he kept glancing to all the exits while we spoke. Plus, that tattoo on his arm is from Port Royal: I’ve met at least four other men with the same one, all done by the same inmate. And this one, the Smith with that hideous jacket? He’s clearly just left a marriage. I’d say widower, except he looked far too shifty for that.  Probably just fled in the night, abandoning his wife. Did you see the tan line on his ring finger, the way he kept fidgeting with it? He’s not yet accustomed to its absence. This one, the John Smith with the horrible sunburn, was probably a teacher or something like it, then gave up on the life when he realized there was more profit to be made as a pirate. He was far better spoken than most of the other applicants. Plus he had that condescending way of talking that all teachers seem to have innately.”

Flint and Miranda both simply stare at him, evidently not expecting a dissertation on the three Smiths.

Silver had made a similar assessment when he’d first encountered Flint: the way he carries himself indicates a military background; the small scars on what skin was visible to Silver had implied a history of violent encounters of which he’d been the victor; and the carefully waxed mustache (a habit Flint has stopped, Silver’s noticed) had shown an understanding of the importance of maintaining an image, of shaping oneself and choosing what the world perceives.

His initial observations of Miranda had been less extensive, as he’d made them from a distance: she’d carried herself like a true lady, despite her drab clothes, and therefore had probably come from money; and the way she’d touched Flint’s hand and looked at him had spoken of a long history.

Silver fidgets, suddenly self-conscious, and takes another hefty drink from his cup. He’s only survived this long by being observant, it’s true, but he doesn’t normally share his findings with anyone. Perhaps he’d gone overboard?

As always, when nervous, he starts talking again. “Besides, I’m not sure how I feel about such appalling lack of originality. I mean, John Smith, really? They’re practically holding a sign above their heads that says ‘THIS IS AN ALIAS’ in bold letters.”

Flint smirks at that. “You don’t approve of their choice?”

“When it comes to creating an identity, you need something that won’t stick out too much. Something like John Smith is too vague, too bland. The smart magistrates and officers know to look for overly common names when reading a passenger list or what have you when searching for a fugitive. The trick is to pick something that’s just unique enough to be believable, but not so unique as to draw unwanted attention.”

Silver had once named himself Frederick St. Glasscock. A terrible choice, to be sure, but it had been fun while it lasted.

“Like John Silver?” Flint and Miranda speak simultaneously, in the same carefully neutral tone.

Stupid fucking perceptive mystery lovers.

“Fuck off, both of you,” he says without thinking, stealing Flint’s cup and draining it out of spite.

Miranda sucks in a sharp gasp, but Flint just heaves a put upon sigh. “All right, if you’re oversharing and seeing two of me, then you’ve clearly had enough. Let’s get you back to bed before Howell has my head.”

To be fair, Silver has had six cups of rum; Flint’s not so far off the mark.

“Alcohol, my friend, can excuse away virtually anything,” Silver says to Miranda, giving her a wide, practiced smile as the captain moves to sling one of his arms over his broad (freckled, Silver remembers, so freckled ) shoulders and help him back to the brothel.

“Now I know you’re drunk, calling me friend,” Flint says, and Silver frowns, confused.

“What are you talking about? Of course you’re my friend. You were my only friend in the world, for a whole week . Until you didn’t need me anymore. When you said I didn’t matter.”

Flint stiffens, and when Silver glances up from where he’s trying to get his foot under him, he looks remorseful. “Silver…”

“Not to worry, Captain! I matter now. To lots of people, even. Who would have thought?” Not Silver, that’s for damn sure. Probably not Flint, either. Fuck, he’s dizzy. He can’t tell if it’s the drink or the pain or both.

“Oh, John,” Miranda sighs, like she’s only just understood something, though Silver couldn’t say what.

They’re silent on the walk back to the room, mostly because Silver is too focused on staying upright and keeping the contents of his stomach down for conversation. His leg is, of course, on fire, but the liquor has helped to keep the flames somewhat manageable. Why does he always stop after one drink? Clearly, the answer to his problems is to simply be drunk at all times.

He can’t help but notice, as Flint helps him into bed like a particularly reluctant nursemaid, how very nice his captain’s hands are. Slimmer than his own, with longer, almost daintier fingers, and freckles scattered here and there. Silver wonders if there’s a single part of Flint not covered in freckles, and finds his own hands itching to reach out and investigate.

Miranda is watching the two of them with an oddly soft look on her face, and Silver is suddenly reminded of the conversation they’d had the other night, after Idelle had left. He looks back at Flint, at his strong jaw and sharp cheekbones, and it becomes suddenly, vitally important, as he tamps down on the hot rush of want he feels, that he reminds her.

“I’m not ashamed,” he says quietly, staring at the hollow where Flint’s neck meets his shoulders. He glances at Miranda only once, just to let her know it is her to whom he’s speaking. “I’ve never been ashamed.”

He can feel sleep tugging at the edges of his mind, feel his eyes start to droop, but not before he sees a stricken expression cross Flint’s face.