The man now known as Long John Silver had gotten used to running--to constantly moving--a long, long time ago. It was commonplace before he could even remember. No home was permanent--there’d never even been a house--and no friendships lasted very long. No name lasted long either. Except John, though even that was twisted into different languages now and again. John was a plain enough name that he could keep it. He’d thank his mother for her foresight in bestowing the name, but he didn’t actually know if she had. He seemed to have some vague memory of her calling him something else, but as the years passed the memory felt more and more like a fantasy.
He remembered tents and forests and crackling fires. He remembered brightly colored fabrics and dancing and laughing. He remembered screaming and crying and foreign cursing. He remembered loss and heartbreak and a hard truth. A hard truth that told him he needed to adapt. That he needed to make people forget, to make people not notice. That he needed to be loveable but also forgettable. To be able to work his way out of situations just as easily as he worked himself into them.
Now he has a home--a house. His name is known--throughout the Caribbean in one manner, in Bristol in another. He has people--he wouldn’t exactly call them friends, but they’re about as close as he’ll ever get. (He had real friends once. They were all dead and forgotten now.) He has a wife. And his leg makes him easily recognizable to anyone who’s so much as heard of him.
So when news reaches his ears that an old seadog who drank too much rum and had a spectacularly gruesome scar above his eye was talking about a map that led to a treasure of untold fortunes, there’s a confliction inside of John that he hasn’t felt in almost twenty years. Before the confliction had been his wandering self being pulled into permanence. Now it was his almost sedentary lifestyle being tugged on insistently by the young, bright-eyed boy he used to be.
Madi tells him to go. She’ll find him in New Providence afterwards, she says.
But after The Hispaniola , after the boy, John steals as much as he can and runs again. He runs to New Providence--to Madi.
And she’s not there.
He waits. He waits, and he hides--inland where no one can simply pass by and recognize him. He finds an old abandoned house, and he hides himself and the treasure there. And waits.
He does this for two months before he allows himself to face reality. Most people who knew who his royal persona in Bristol had accompanied him on The Hispaniola , but not all of them. Somehow, something had gone wrong, and Madi hadn’t been able to escape England in time. Whether she was alive or dead, John had no way of knowing.
So he digs a hole and buries the treasure--or most of it, anyway. Let someone, someday, find it and have their life change overnight. It didn’t matter. Not anymore.
He has only one place to go. He doesn’t know if he’ll be welcomed there--in fact, he strongly doubts it--but he’s had men keep an eye on the place for the past two decades, and it was high time he saw it for himself.
As soon as John sets foot in the small little village, the bird on his shoulder goes quiet. John readjusts the rucksack sitting underneath her claws, and she shuffles in compliance. Here he is. In a tiny village a couple hours inland. Somewhat deliriously John wonders if anyone here would mistake an oar for a shovel.
Though the house is on the edge of the village, it only takes about twenty minutes to walk there. It’s a simple house, big enough for two, with a modest garden in the back. It probably produced just enough for trade. It’s dawn, the sun rising behind him, giving the house a strange sort of glow. John stands outside, staring at the house uneasily. He wonders if coming here was a bad idea. The bird on his shoulder tugs impatiently at one of his curls, and John gives her a brief glare. It’s like she knows, somehow.
Before John can work up the courage to walk up and knock, the door opens. John holds back the sharp intake of breath and stares. He looks better than John remembers, even with twenty years added. His copper hair is long again--longer than John’s ever seen it--and streaked with grey. He still stands as tall and straight backed as ever, but the look of shock on his face is new. John grins at him, shoving down the awkward, and waggles his fingers.
“Hi,” Flint says. After a moment, he looks at the bird. “The hell is that?”
John’s grin grows a little strained. “Don’t be mad.”
Flint raises an eyebrow.
“Her name’s Captain Flint.”
“James, what’s going on?” The new voice is unfamiliar even though John’s been imagining it for years. He doesn’t sound quite as aristocratic as John had anticipated. Though, ten years in servitude and twenty more as a commoner would probably do that to a person.
Lord Hamilton appears next to Flint, peering out the door. His eyes widen as they fall on John. He’s nothing like John had imagined, but he keeps forgetting the man isn’t really a Lord anymore. Unlike Flint, his posture is stooped, like maybe he spends too much time writing at a desk. He glances at Flint before pushing past him and walking up to John, hand outstretched.
“Thomas,” he says. “I assume you’re John Silver.”
John’s smile turns wry as he takes the proffered hand. “What gave it away?”
Hamilton actually chuckles before gesturing to the house. “Will you come in?”
“Uh…” John says, glancing at Flint who’s still standing in the doorway, looking suspiciously between John and the parrot on his shoulder.
“He’s on his way out,” Hamilton says dismissively. “Come on in.”
“I think I’ll delay going to the market this morning,” Flint says slowly, stepping to the side as Hamilton leads John inside. John’s entire being wants to keep looking at Flint, partially to convince himself this is real and partially to not show any weakness, but he finds himself fixing his eyes on Hamilton’s back as he follows him into the house. Hamilton pulls out a chair from the table and smiles at John.
John catches the glance at the empty space below his hip, and he would refuse the request, but, god, he’s tired. He sets his crutch against the table as Captain Flint flutters to a piece of bread sitting on the table, picking at it immediately. John sets down his rucksack quickly, shooing her away. Hamilton chuckles again.
“It’s all right. She can have it.”
“What is that?” Flint askes, closing the door behind him, gesturing at the rucksack. John rummages in the pack for a second and tosses a bright red ruby in Flint’s direction. Flint catches it and looks at it with a frown. His eyes flick up to John.
“You found it?”
“Billy Bones got off the damn island somehow and made a map. The curr finally kicked the bucket, and the map made its way to the hands of a squire. This squire decided he wanted to follow the map, and I made sure I and a number of my crew were on that ship. We found Ben Gunn on the island--he’d been marooned there and had found where you hid it.”
“The fuck,” Flint breathes, staring at the ruby between his fingers. A small huff of laughter slips past John’s lips.
“Have you eaten?” Hamilton asks after a moment. “Would you like something to drink?”
“I don’t suppose you have any rum?”
Hamilton laughs. “No. We do have brandy, though.”
John can’t help but look at Flint who’s still looking at the ruby.
“That’ll be fine.”
Hamilton nods and turns to fetch a cup. Flint looks up suddenly, the suspicion back in his eyes.
“How did you find us?”
“I’ve known where you were this entire time.”
Flint scowls. “How?”
Hamilton hands John the cup. “Oh,” he says quietly. “I like Carlos.”
Flint looks positively murderous, and John has to hide his smile. He’s missed that look.
“Why are you here?” Flint growls. John shrugs, taking a sip from his cup.
“Didn’t know where else to go.” I wanted to see you again.
“Where’s Madi?” Hamilton asks. John looks up in surprise. Hamilton glances at Flint. “That’s her name, correct?”
“I--I don’t know,” John admits quietly. “We were supposed to meet in New Providence. She never showed.”
“I’m sorry,” Hamilton says gently.
It’s quiet for a few minutes. John keeps his eyes on Captain Flint and the cup in his hands, all to aware of Flint’s constant stare. He wants to know what’s going on in that head. Is he still angry at the betrayal? Is he angry John found the treasure? Is he angry John has reentered his quiet life with Lord Hamilton? Coming here very well may have been a bad idea.
“I need to go to market,” Flint announces suddenly. “And I’m not leaving you here with Thomas. Leave the bird.”
John glances at Captain Flint, but she’s still happily pecking at the piece of bread so he shrugs and pushes himself back up. Flint nods curtly and turns, opening the door.
“Thank you,” John whispers to Hamilton and follows Flint outside.
They walk in silence, though John is dying to say something. He used to know this man’s mind so well, better even than he knew his own mind, and now he has no idea what Flint is thinking. So John stays quiet. Just as the bustle of the market comes into view, Flint stops and turns to John.
“I would prefer it if you would stay here while I run my errands.”
John blinks at him. “Are you kidding me?”
“I’m not prepared to answer all the questions you’re bound to inspire.”
John stares at him in indignation, but Flint’s expression stays stubbornly impassive. John sighs. “Yeah. Fine. Sure.”
Flint nods at him curtly and turns back to the market. John looks around to find a stone half-wall leading into a church and limps over to sit down and wait. So Flint didn’t want him alone with Hamilton, and he didn’t want John with himself. Coming here had been a bad idea. John looks east longingly, tempted to just leave, but he won’t leave Captain Flint here, and he’s not willing to invoke Flint’s wrath by going back to his and Hamilton’s home without Flint.
So instead he waits.
That evening Flint makes dinner for the three of them, and Hamilton asks if John has anywhere to stay before offering their second bedroom. John accepts gratefully and takes Captain Flint back with him as soon as he’s finished eating. The tension is stifling, and he can tell Flint and Hamilton are wanting to speak without him there. To figure out what to do with him, probably. Maybe John will wake up in the morning and they’ll have abandoned their home, finding somewhere out of his reach.
Coming here had been a bad idea.
The next morning John wakes as the sun peeks through the window. Captain Flint is still sound asleep on the set of drawers, and John sits up with a groan. His stump is killing him.
There’s a soft knock on the door and in walks Lord Hamilton with a bowl of water and a clean rag. “Good morning,” he says with a smile. John nods at him.
Hamilton sets the bowl on the bedside table and holds the cloth out. “Do you mind if I help?”
Silver stares at him for a moment, his throat closing. Did he mind? Fuck yes he minded. The only people who’d seen the ugly scar since the second amputation were the doctor and Madi, and he hated that much. But Hamilton was looking at him with such sincerity, and if it had been Flint asking Silver would’ve barely hesitated. He didn’t know Thomas Hamilton for himself, but Flint did and that… that was enough for Silver.
Still Silver didn’t quite trust his voice so he just nodded and rolled back his trouser leg. Hamilton pulled over the chair in the corner of the room and sat down, dipping the cloth in the water and gently cleaning the stump. His administrations were careful and soft, making Silver wonder if he’d ever cleaned Flint’s wounds. From what, Silver has no idea, but he wouldn’t be surprised if Flint had at some point gotten into a bad scuffle in the past few years.
“Do you mind my asking…?” Hamilton says after a brief moment.
John stares at him for a minute. “You give up a few things… chasing a dream,” he says.
“James told me what happened,” Thomas says, “but in his stories the amputation was right below the knee.”
John’s smile is tight. “After… after Savannah,” he says awkwardly, “I started wearing a boot again. I was always warned about the dangers of not taking care of it, but… well, it became infected. I was out at sea at the time. By the time I got home, the decay was so much the doctor had to practically cut the whole damn thing off.”
“Did you learn your lesson?” Hamilton asks with a small smile.
“Well, I don’t--I can’t wear a boot anymore. And my wife forced my hand. Besides, by now it’s such an old wound…”
“It still needs care.”
John hesitates. “Yes. Thank you.”
Hamilton inclines his head slightly, keeping his attention on the stump.
“Where’s Flint?” Silver asks after a few moments when the silence becomes too much.
“His name isn’t Flint,” Hamilton says, the ghost of a hard edge in his voice. “And he’s gone to work already.”
“Sorry,” Silver says, a little taken aback. Flint had left him alone with Hamilton? And work… What sort of work does a retired pirate captain do? “Does he go by McGraw again?”
For some reason, Hamilton pauses, hand hovering over the bowl of water. He lets the cloth sink into the water and lets go of Silver’s leg. Silver starts to roll the trouser leg down.
“He goes by James Cooper.”
Silver freezes and looks up at Hamilton, who’s looking back at him with chagrin, leaving no doubt in Silver’s mind. Flint had chosen that name on purpose.
“How did he…?”
Hamilton shakes his head. “You’ll have to ask him for yourself.”
Silver swallows thickly, finishing with the trouser leg and leaning back on the bed. “And you?” he asks.
“Thomas Barlow, at your service. But, please. Call me Thomas.”
Well, that makes sense, considering the man’s wife had gone by the same name for over a decade. Against Silver’s will, though, he wonders if there’s any significance in the same vein in Flint using Silver’s real last name.
Hamilton--Thomas--looks over to the bird on the drawers who’s blinking awake slowly. “Would she like to fly around in the yard for a while?”
“She’s actually rather sedentary,” John says hoarsely after a moment. “But thank you.”
“Were you the one who taught her to talk?”
John looks between the bird and the former lord sharply. Dammit, she’d been so good around him… Thomas laughs, a true, genuine laugh, and it hits John how Flint must’ve fallen in love with him.
“She has got quite the mouth on her.”
John winces. “I’m sorry about that. She’s spent too much time surrounded by pirates and other such degenerates.”
Thomas smiles, petting Captain Flint with a single finger. John watches in awe--she usually only allowed himself and Madi to touch her.
“I imagine so.” He turns back to John. “Breakfast?”
John pushes himself up from the mattress. “That would be wonderful.”
“Do you read Mr. Silver?” Thomas asks as he leads the way to the kitchen.
“Some,” John says. “Nothing like Fl--James does.”
“I don’t think many people read like James does,” Thomas says with a chuckle. He pauses at a tall bookshelf, filled to the brim with books of varying sizes and languages, and pulls out one. It’s interesting, but he doesn’t even seem to have to look for it--like he knew exactly where this particular book was before grabbing it. He turns and hands it to John.
“I think you might like this one,” he says before turning back toward the kitchen. John follows him more slowly now, frowning at the book in his hand. On the spine it reads Meditations .
“What’s it about?” John asks, sitting in a chair by the table and cracking the book open.
John gives the former lord a raised eyebrow. Thomas grins.
When Flint comes home Thomas and John are long finished with breakfast, but John hasn’t moved from his spot, transfixed by the book. He looks up at the sound of the door opening, and there’s Flint, staring between the two men like he expected to find some other gruesome scene. His eyes flick to the book in John’s lap and his eyes widen in recognition. He shoots Thomas a glare but closes the door quietly behind himself.
“He’s got you reading,” he says to John in the same impossible to read tone he’s had since John’s arrival. John shrugs.
“He asked me to trust him.”
Flint’s eyes settle on Thomas with a look that was somewhere between fond and exasperated. “Yes. He does that.”
Days pass. John finishes Meditations with a new perspective on Thomas Hamilton and how Flint fell in love. Of course, he’s also been spending a great deal of time with the former lord and that’s revealed a lot as well. He helped Thomas prepare meals, pick fruits and vegetables from the garden, and do laundry. Thomas was easy to talk to and was honest, brave, and true. And, other than that question the first morning about John’s leg, he doesn’t ask questions that are too personal. Even when he asks about Madi it’s with a gentleness that doesn’t make John grieve too horribly.
A week after arriving, John wakes to the usual gentle knock on the door that signals Thomas is getting breakfast ready. John bids him enter, but instead of Thomas it’s Flint standing in the doorway.
“I imagine you’re feeling rather cooped up,” he says, still impassive as ever. “Would you like to come with me to market?”
John frowns at him suspiciously. “Will I have to wait by the church again?”
“No. You should probably come up with a pseudonym, though. And a story for your leg.”
“And when people ask how I know you?”
“We’re friends,” Flint says. “From a long time ago.”
We’re friends. Were they really? Or was that just the story they were telling? But John wasn’t prepared to ask that question yet, so he grabbed his crutch and got dressed for the day before following Flint out the door. Thomas gives him an encouraging smile as they pass him in the kitchen. John smiles back. Maybe coming here hadn’t been such a bad idea after all.