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Near Miss

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His shot rings out, echoing off the trees, and the world around him freezes. John, the savage-woman, and the warrior. Thomas had been aiming for him, but shooting was certainly not his forte – not even when John Smith’s advice was running through his mind.

”Keep both eyes open.”

It hadn’t worked. Or maybe it had. They weren’t fighting anymore.

Instead, a lock of straight black hair drifts in the breeze. Behind the savage, the bark of a nearby tree is cracked and splintered, and Thomas swallows when he sees it. He… He doesn’t want to think what that should would have done to a person, even one so strange and wild as the one he’d been shooting at.

He lowers his musket slowly. His movement is what breaks the spell, and the savage-woman darts between John and the warrior, and with one hand on each of their chests, she pushes them apart. She’s speaking in a language that sounds utterly alien, but wonderfully beautiful despite her anger and her fear.

The warrior lets himself be pushed away; he’s no longer looking at John, or even the woman. He’s looking directly at Thomas.

His eyes are a fierce, liquid black. Even though he was almost shot – that lost lock of hair is testament to that – he seems more irritated than afraid, and almost curious. It’s not a pleasant look, Thomas thinks. It’s sending shivers down his spine. It’s almost as if the warrior is trying to peel his skin off to see right down to the very heart of him – a heart that’s beating faster than usual.

“Thomas? Thomas!”

John sounds more frightened than anyone else, and that more than anything else, is what draws Thomas’ attention to him.

“What are you doing here?”

“I came looking for you,” he replies. “Ratcliffe was looking for you. What were you doing here?”

He doesn’t need to ask, but the sight of John’s face colouring, and the glance he shoots back to the woman is somehow worth it – it’s a reminder that as much as John’s the perfect explorer, he’s also just a man.

But any actual answer he might have got is lost as the voices of Ben and Lon drift through the trees. They must have heard the gunshot.

“You have to go,” John says. It’s the stupidest thing Thomas’ ever heard; John can’t possibly think that Thomas would just leave him here. Not when an entire civilisation of warriors like the one he almost shot probably heard the gun fire as well.

He glances towards the warrior. He’s still staring at him, and his face is as calm and smooth as a lake, but in his gaze a storm is brewing. Thomas swallows. He feels like he’s just been thrown overboard again.

“You’re coming with me,” he says. “No arguments. You can’t be found here either. It’s not just our lot who will have heard that.” He doesn’t let John argue, either, grabbing him by the arm and pulling him away from the savages and towards where Ben and Lon are still calling for them. He ignores John’s backward glance; tries to pretend he doesn’t glance back himself – to the warrior standing so still and deadly at the edge of the river.

It doesn’t help his reputation, their story. It’s not much of a lie to say that he missed, but instead of telling the whole truth, he says he was spooked by rustling in the undergrowth and that he almost shot John while he was making his way back. It’s horribly believable, and that’s why he tells it – face flushing as he ducks his head and talks to his boots; he never was a good liar, but it’s easy to pass it off as embarrassment this time – and the teasing is worth the temporary peace that falls over them. With John back in camp, it’s easy for him to slip even beneath Ratcliffe’s notice as the Governor is distracted, and he spends his time trying to make Jamestown more…habitable than the mud-pit it actually is.

If, every so often, he thinks he glimpses movement in the trees surrounding them, he keeps it to himself. The savages haven’t attacked yet, nor do they seem willing to. Even when they venture out for food, hunting birds and deer in the woods, the savages keep their distance. They’re watchful and wary, but not aggressive; Thomas likes to think that that’s a good sign.

Being stuck in the camp, except for a few hunting trips – no one really trusts him to point a gun at anything - is starting to grate on him. He’s covered in mud almost constantly, and he feels confined by the towering fence that they’ve built to protect themselves. It’s grating on John too, he can tell; he’s getting shorter and shorter with Ratcliffe, and one day, Thomas knows he’s going to snap and do something that he’ll regret.

So it’s in a quiet moment by the privy, surrounded by flies and stench, that Thomas draws him aside.

“Just tell Ratcliffe you think I need experience with something – that I’ll be a risk to the whole settlement if I don’t learn how to survive here,” he says. “Lord knows he already believes it. Shooting! Make it shooting. Or hunting, and all we’ll need to do is make sure we bring back a deer or a couple of birds, and you can slip off to see your woman again.”

“Her name is Pocahontas,” John corrects him. “Why are you doing this?”

Thomas can’t tell him it’s because of the warrior – of how he’s been dreaming of the way he looked at him so fiercely across that clearing – but it’s not a lie when he says, “I don’t want to go to war with these people.”

Their plan is agreed to with little suspicion. He says ‘little’: Ratcliffe is a suspicious man by nature, but fortunately, he’s also been thoroughly convinced of Thomas’ relative uselessness in the settlement. He thinks his damn dog and the ridiculous fop who grooms it are more useful than Thomas, so any excuse to send Thomas out of the settlement, shamefully clutching a gun, while loudly proclaiming that “Smith will make him a man”, is perfect.

“You’re a clever lad,” John comments softly as they step into the treeline.

“You’re welcome,” Thomas replies.

The river is cool and crystal clear. Thomas can see fish flitting through the water and the pebbles on the bottom. Before coming to the New World the only river he’d ever seen was the Thames, and there was no comparison between the two – true the Thames was bigger, but it was also a fetid, stinking thing.

Sometimes, Thomas thought that their coming here might be the worst thing that could happen to this place.

Further off, behind a screen of trees and bushes, John is with his savage-woman - Pocahontas. Their laghter filters through the trees; sometimes Thomas catches snatches of conversation; the beautiful, alien language of her people mixed with just enough English for him to guess as what they’re speaking of. He tries not to listen, of course. It’s none of his business. But he learns enough to know that they are exchanging vocabulary; that there is none of the gold that Ratcliffe is making them dig for - that makes him scowl down at the water when he hears it.

He and John can’t pass the information on – not without revealing where they got it from – but even if they could, he doubts that Ratcliffe would ever give up. He’s invested too much in the success of their mission here; he will die digging – will make them all die digging – before returning to the King as a failure.

He’s half asleep, dozing against a tree when he realises he’s not alone. The warrior is there. He’s as tall and intimidating as he was the last time; his eyes are just as fierce, and once again, Thomas is pinned by their gaze just as surely as he would have been had the warrior launched his spear through his chest.

His heart flutters against his ribs as he takes in the painted paw-prints on the warrior’s naked chest, the muscles in his arms and his legs. He can feel his face heating. Whether the warrior notices or not, he doesn’t know, but he hopes that he doesn’t. Bad enough that his own people think little of him save as an extra.

He watches as the warrior walks forward. He sees those dark eyes glance quickly to where John and the woman are hidden behind trees, and to the gun resting by Thomas’ side. They linger there for a moment, but the warrior obviously sees no threat because he lays his spear aside when he sits cross-legged on the grass next to Thomas.

He raises his hand in a strange gesture, and then places a closed fist over his heart. “Kocoum,” he says, and his voice is low and oddly kind.

A smile tugs at the corner of Thomas’ mouth. He raises his own hand, introduces himself in the same way, and lets the smile widen when the warrior – Kocoum – mouths his name.

And if, after that, they sit in silence while John and Pocahontas laugh and sing together, then it is their business – but Thomas is, and remains, glad that he missed his shot.