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It's Little, and Broken (But Still Good)

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There’s something quite gratifying about watching the great Blackbeard stumble and trip over his own two feet from where he was lounging against a wall after Stede steps out to reveal himself. “So? What do you think?” Stede asks, arms stretched out as he tries to bite back his smirk.

Ed’s eyes trail up and down from Stede’s slick backed hair to his knee high boots, lingering on the billowing wide-necked tunic. “You. Um. You look good,” Ed replies, clearing his throat. “Very. Piratey.”

“Why thank you dear, that was the intention,” Stede grins. After all those weeks trying his best not to ogle Ed in his dark skintight leathers, it’s nice having the tables turn for a moment. “I assume you’ve mugged another man to procure us a boat?”

Ed blinks twice. “Boat. Yeah. I got us one,” he eventually mutters before striding over to Stede and touching his head. “Did you do something to your hair?”

“Yes, I felt like something new. Do you approve?” Stede asks, looking at Ed from under his eyelashes.

“Do I…yep mhm.” His eyes trail down. “And these are. New clothes?”

At this Stede shoots him a wry grin. “I thought it was about time to embrace more of the piratey side of things. Besides, I’ll have limited funds moving forward so my previous wardrobe would be just a tad unreasonable.” Watching Ed’s face shutter Stede gently tucks a stray strand of hair behind his ear and cups his cheek. “Of course I’m not planning on abandoning the finer aspects of my lifestyle. And we mustn’t forget I still have an entire wardrobe on the ship you are free to pick from whenever your heart desires,” he adds gently. His heart squeezes at the way Ed brightens at this promise before Stede bites his lip. “That is to say, if only Izzy hasn’t thrown it all overboard.”

Ed’s expression darkens at this and he growls, “I’ll kill him if he has.”

“Now now no need to be jumping into dramatics, love,” Stede replies, patting his chest. “But yes, the sooner we find them the better I believe. And I'm confident we'll find them in no time!"

***

“I spy with my little eye…something blue.”

“The ocean.”

“Hey now, you can’t guess with your eyes closed!” Stede protests as he takes another stroke through the water. Despite his exhaustion under the oppressing sun, he can’t help but admire the way it shines on Ed stretched along their boat, hair spread out and tattooed hands clasped over his chest. He rowed alone for hours this morning despite Stede’s protests but eventually acquiesced and let Stede take over so it’s nice to watch him rest. It’s been a mind-numbing journey surrounded by nothing but water for days but Stede is confident that they’ll find their ship soon. Possibly. Somehow. He hopes.

Sighing, Stede continues his strokes and gazes up at the sky, following the path of a seagull and feeling a piercing nostalgia for his crew. Alighting on the idea to use the seagull in the game, Stede turns back towards Ed. “I spy with my little eye-” His breath catches. “Our ship!”

“That’s not a color,” Ed grumbles.

“No Ed-” Stede sets aside his oars and hurries to stand, almost capsizing them in the process. “It’s our ship!”

Ed flails as the boat rocks before steadying himself, eyes wide as he follows Stede’s gaze. “Well fuck me,” he breathes out before grabbing one of the oars and throwing Stede the other. “C’mon. Let’s go home.”

***

“Ahoooyyy! We’ve come- oh.” Stede blinks as his crew freezes from where they’re halfway to throwing Izzy off the ship.

“Oh thank God I really didn’t wanna be captain,” Oluwande sighs, walking over to where Jim is leaning against the mast with a look of bemusement and resting his head on their shoulder. And hold on- Jim? When did they return?

“Mutiny?” Ed asks the group at large.

“Mutiny,” Frenchie confirms.

“The fuck happened to your face?” Jim grunts, nodding towards Ed.

“And your clothes?” Wee John adds with an arched brow at Stede.

“Yes yes there is much to catch you all up on but-”

“Yeah there is,” Ed drawls, throwing an arm around Stede and winking.

“Oh my god. It’s finally happened,” Lucius breathes out.

“I called it! Pay up you fuckers!” Roach crows.

“Now hold on, you're not the only one who placed a bet on this. I for one would like to know how they got their shit together because for all you know I won,” Oluwande protests.

“Wait won what? What’s happening?” Black Pete asks, looking around.

“I too am a bit confused,” Swede adds, raising a hand.

“Aye, the cap’ns always possessed a bond that transcended the ties of their pasts,” Buttons declares in that grandiose way he says most things. “”Tis not surprising that they would return to us having found their way ta each other.” The crew all turns to him, never quite sure how to respond to his commentary before he adds, “And I also had money on this here bet so I might’ve won.”

“Wait, how much money are we talking here?” Ed asks, stepping forward with a curious glint in his eye.

“What I was going to say,” Stede says, raising his voice over everyone, “Is we can catch you all up on this later but I am in desperate need of a bath!” And with as much dignity as he can muster given the fact that his cheeks are burning red from the knowledge that half the crew was placing bets on his and Ed’s relationship, Stede marches towards his cabin.

Ed watches Stede escape with mild amusement before his eye catches on the wriggling man currently sprawled on the deck. Sighing and knowing that the sooner he handles this the sooner he can see about joining Stede in that bath, Ed crouches down and unties Izzy. Izzy stands up with a grimace before staring long and hard at Ed who grits his teeth at the look of disgust painting his features. “Look at what that ponce has done to you,” he rasps, gesturing at his face with a jerky motion. “How can we call you Blackbeard now?”

Trying to muster up the fondness he once held for this man, Ed claps a hand on Izzy’s shoulder and looks him in the eye. “Blackbeard’s not real. He was a myth. And he’s dead now Iz.” He pauses to let that sink in and watches with vague curiosity the devastation now shattering his scowl. “You have two choices. You either accept that and move on with us.” His grip on Izzy’s shoulder tightens. “Or you get off my fucking ship.”

The bickering around them starts to taper off as the whole crew seems to tune into the drama unfolding, but Ed manages to keep his focus on Izzy who’s slowly shaking his head. “I should’ve let the English kill you. This…whatever it is you’ve become…is a fate worse than death.” Ed scoffs but Izzy continues, gesturing at him. “Look at you. You're just a namby-pamby pathetic man following that twat around like a dog for scraps until he gets bored of you and sails off back to his fuckin’ wife.”

Ed listens to Izzy’s indictment and breathes in slowly before Izzy finds himself back on the deck floor with what is certainly a broken nose. Shaking out his hand Ed whispers, “Get off my ship. I won’t ask again.” Turning his back on the one man who’s been by his side unfailingly for years he adds, “If you ever decide that you’d like to meet Ed, maybe you’ll get a second chance. If you grovel hard enough.” And with that he strides through the cabin doors, desperate to be wrapped in Stede’s arms and his soothing voice to silence Izzy’s words echoing in his ears.

Stede is grumbling to himself as he attempts to heat up the water and fill the tub when he finds himself spun around and wrapped in a strangling hug. “I’m not a dog begging for scraps,” Ed mumbles in his neck.

“Um. Of course you’re not darling,” Stede responds, not quite sure what’s happening but more than aware that Ed needs some comfort. He attempts to wrap his arm around Ed to pat him reassuringly but finds himself entirely trapped within the other man’s hold. Which is something he would ordinarily not complain about, but in this particular instance is less than optimal. “Why don’t we sit down and you can tell me what happened, yes?” Ed squeezes him impossibly tighter and Stede is faintly concerned that he may just pass out if this continues but is thankfully released a moment later when Ed steps back with a burst of breath.

Stede furrows his brow, studying Ed to try to understand what could have happened in the time he left to now. Averting his eyes, Ed turns to the tub. “You were gonna take a bath.”

Stede hesitates, before alighting on an idea. “Actually…would you mind terribly if you go first?”

Ed blinks up at him. “Me?”

With a soft smile Stede pours more heated water in the tub. “Yes, dear. Let me take care of you.” By the expression on Ed’s face the concept of someone taking care of him is entirely foreign, which promptly breaks Stede’s heart. Ed stands stiffly as Stede slowly approaches him before helping him remove his simple sunworn clothes. A thrill runs through his spine at seeing Ed bared and vulnerable, his scarred and tattooed skin a privilege for Stede’s eyes only.

Ignoring his interest at the sight, Stede guides Ed into the tub and watches as his eyes widen once he’s fully submerged. “It’s so warm.”

“Only the best for you darling,” Stede murmurs. Setting all of his materials to the side and grabbing a stool, Stede settles behind him. “Now, I want you to close your eyes and let me take care of you. And if you want to share what’s on your mind you can do that too.”

Ed wasn’t sure what to expect when he came rushing into the captain’s quarters, but it certainly wasn’t this. He’s not quite certain how he ended up in a bath with Stede tenderly pouring warm water over his head but he can’t find it in him to complain. Instead, he allows himself to sink further into the tub while relishing in the foreign experience of someone tending to him. He’s never been naked in front of someone without the intention of sex, certainly never had someone offer to bathe him. After all, why would Blackbeard seek out any sort of tenderness?

He shivers as Stede’s fingers begin to comb through his hair and bites back a whimper when the ministrations stop. “You okay?” Stede whispers.

Ed releases a shaky breath. “Yeah. I’m okay.” Silence falls between them again as Stede massages a lavender-scented oil in his hair. If only his enemies could see him now. What would they say? At that thought he’s violently reminded of what brought him running in here in the first place. “I kicked Izzy off the ship.”

Stede’s hands pause before tracing down his neck to rest on his shoulders. “I feel slightly guilty but part of me can’t help but be pleased. Though on the other hand, he is the reason we got together in a strange way.”

Ed stiffens at the idea. “I don’t wanna owe him anything,” he grits out. “We would’ve found our way without him.”

A gentle kiss presses against his head. “Of course we would, darling.”

Relaxing at that assurance, Ed licks his lips. “Said he wished he let the British kill me. Said I was just a dog chasing for scraps. And eventually you’ll come to your senses and leave me.”

Stede’s grip on his shoulders tightens before he slowly relaxes them and begins to massage his sore muscles from days of rowing. “I don’t suppose he’s still on the ship so I can have a go at him,” he comments lightly.

Ed barks out a laugh. “I’d like to see it.”

He frowns when Stede’s hands are removed but soon finds him beside the tub in a mirror of that time all those weeks ago when Ed confessed his darkest secrets. Stede gazes at him, eyes a mixture of sorrow and resolve. “Ed. I’m not going anywhere. And you’re not a dog. You’re my North Star.” Ed’s breath catches in his throat; it’s no secret that Stede is horrid with navigation (which makes it all the more ironic he found the Revenge) but as they journeyed together Ed began to teach him about the stars. When he explained the purpose and importance of the North Star, Stede beamed, shining in the moonlight and said, “What a coincidence. That’s how I view you. Perhaps you’re my North Star.” Ed was speechless for the rest of the night.

He’s drawn back to the present as a hand that’s beginning to feel roughened by callouses cups his neck and draws them together so their foreheads touch. “I’m not going anywhere Ed,” Stede repeats. “I’m right where I want to be.”

Swallowing past the lump in his throat, Ed gives a jerky nod. “So. Um.” He scrambles to find something to say. “You got any of that yummy soap lying around?”

Stede releases a gentle laugh and draws away, eyes twinkling. “I suppose we can use some if you don’t try to eat it this time.”

And finally feeling like the remaining specter of Izzy Hands has faded away, at least for now, Ed sinks further in the tub and grins. “No promises.”

***

As much as he missed his crew, he may have forgotten how…spirited they can be.

“Wait so if they kissed at the privateer academy I dunno if anyone won the bet since none of us bet on that,” Frenchie broods, chin resting on his clasped hands as they all crowd together on the deck.

“How the fuck could any one of us predicted that Blackbeard would end up in a place like that?” Wee John comments.

I said they’d probably kiss on a beach so I think I win,” Lucius sniffs.

“I just can’t believe Blackbeard actually cut off his beard,” Black Pete sulks, pouting when Lucius only responds by patting his head.

“So does this mean you aren’t Blackbeard anymore if you don’t have your beard?” the Swede asks with a cock of his head, turning to where Ed is standing in front of them with his arms crossed, shoulders stiff.

“Of course he’s still Blackbeard you twat. It’s just some feckin hair.” Wee John rolls his eyes.

“Um. Guys?”

“But the name has beard in the title so you would think he would, you know have a beard,” Roach protests.

“No no it can create an air of mystery!”

“Guys!”

“Who the fuck cares about mystery?”

“I swear I’m gonna stab each and every one of you if this goes on for another minute,” Jim growls, stabbing their knife into the deck.

”I care about mystery,” Frenchie mutters.

“GUYS!”

Stede straightens and clears his throat as the crew finally silences and turns to him. “Thank you,” he sighs. “Now, yes, Ed doesn’t have his beard anymore.” He glares as the Swede raises a hand to speak. “And yes that may take some getting used to. But-” he turns to Ed, realising he shouldn’t speak for him but Ed only gestures for him to go on. Nodding, Stede turns back to the crew. “But he’s Ed not Blackbeard. Please call him Ed or captain moving forward.” At the confused mutterings Stede raises his hands up in entreaty. “We all deserve a chance to move beyond our past and reinvent ourselves yes?” Now the mutterings sound more like agreement while Jim stares at him unblinkingly. “So that’s exactly what we’ll allow Ed to do.”

“I always liked the name Ed,” the Swede remarks after a beat.

”Who doesn’t like the name Ed?” Frenchie adds with an eager nod as the whole crew bursts into agreement.

"I mean what kinda name is Blackbeard anyway? Why are you trying to describe your beard?" Black Pete scoffs.

"Like you have any right to talk," Oluwande remarks with a roll of his eyes, gently replacing the knife Jim is sharpening with his hand. Stede eyes them with curiosity when Jim freezes before ducking their head and smiling. And when did that happen?

Regardless, satisfied at a job well done, Stede takes a step back. “Anything you want to add, dear?” Stede murmurs to Ed who wraps a strong arm around Stede’s waist and tugs him close.

“Hm. No.”

When he turns to look at Ed he’s faced with an expression of disbelief, Ed’s eyes tracking one crew member to another. Stede snuggles into his embrace, fingering the soft robe Ed slipped on after his bath. “We’re all a band of misfits Ed,” he murmurs. “I think you fit right in.”

“Does this mean we’re out of a job then?” Ivan cuts in from where he and Fang have been hovering on the side. And oh dear, Stede nearly forgot about them.

Stede glances at Ed uncertainly who shrugs. “You can either head back to my old ship with my old crew or stay here and continue on as before.”

“So you’re still a pirate then?” Roach asks, turning from what sounded like a new debate regarding whether a coconut or a crab make a better weapon.

“I’d never deprive you lot the thrill of the chase,” Ed says slowly, to which several of the crew grin. “But perhaps we can be a new kind of pirate.”

“Ed?” Stede asks, wondering where he’s going with this.

“Maybe we can be part pirate ship, part restaurant,” he shrugs.

There’s a beat of silence for a moment and then- “How the fuck would that work?” Jim demands with an arched brow.

“Well…” Ed clears his throat and shifts on his feet. Stede gives him a reassuring squeeze, even if he has absolutely no idea where he’s going with this. Was he serious that time on the beach? About dreaming of opening a restaurant? “We could sail around and serve food for visiting ships when we have our restaurant flag up and when we have our pirate flag up we pillage and kill and maim, the ushe,” Ed shrugs. He glances at Stede before muttering, “Just a suggestion anyway.”

“I think it’s a wonderful idea dear,” Stede exclaims even as he’s trying to mentally calculate the cost of a floating restaurant. Oh well, that’s for Future Stede to worry about. Of course, if they ever run low on funds they can always pillage a ship.

Huh. Perhaps there’s merit to this idea after all. And the way Ed’s face lights up at Stede's encouragement and the crew's newly launched debate regarding what their menu could look like? Stede would raid and pillage hundreds of ships to see it every day.

***

“Ed. Tell your children it’s far too early for this.”

Ed groans, turning over so he can bury his face in Stede’s chest. “They're your children when they're fighting over their performances for the talent show.”

“From what I recall the talent show was your idea ergo they’re your children,” Stede counters, and Ed knows if he opens his eyes he’ll be wearing that little smirk that always gets Ed’s heart going.

“It’s too damn early for words like ‘ergo,’” he grumbles.

Stede yawns, stretching, and Ed can’t help but crack open an eye to admire the pale stretch of skin in the morning light. “Well I’m afraid I won’t be able to get up if you continue to lay on me so if you’d like me to be the one to pipe them down you’ll have to move,” Stede remarks playfully, stroking fingers through Ed's hair.

“Hm. Too bad,” Ed muses, pressing a kiss to Stede’s bare chest. He has no intention of moving as long as Stede’s fingers are in his hair.

“Then again, I’m sure they can be left unattended for a while. They are adults after all,” Stede muses as he reaches down to make this morning more interesting.

As if on cue, they both flinch at the crash of something undoubtedly breaking before they release twin sighs. “You had to say it,” Ed mumbles.

Raising his head, he shoots Stede a half-hearted glare but he only returns it with a bright grin. “Come now love, it’s not too bad an idea to get up. We still need to rehearse our duet after all.”

At the reminder of their performance, Ed feels himself blush. “Can’t believe you convinced me to sing that song in front of everyone."

“It’s a lovely song,” Stede insists, pecking Ed’s cheek where he’s been working to grow back a beard. It took some time for him to eventually decide to grow a short one but with some coaxing he eventually admitted to Stede he felt naked without something there. (And after Stede mentioned how often he imagined what that beard would feel like against his lips Ed was convinced.)

When he gazes at his reflection nowadays he doesn’t see Blackbeard, only Ed. Ed, who wears a fine fabric and takes tea not rum in the mornings and mans a crew of misfits and imbeciles who have more loyalty in their pinky fingers than anyone he’s ever met. He flinches at another crash. And who are gonna get them all killed one day.

When they reach the deck it’s to the sight of utter chaos, which shouldn't surprise Ed at this point. “Touch my lute and you die!” Frenchie declares, standing atop a barrel and raising his prized instrument above his head.

“C’mon just for a moment! I think it’ll really add to my performance,” Lucius begs, dodging where Buttons is wandering around aimlessly with a seagull on his head holding the same note and seemingly not breathing.

“For the last time Ivan you do the somersault and then leap into my arms,” Fang explains with what is definitely blood running down his face.

“C’mon Jim just a little two step,” Oluwande wheedles, holding their hands while they stand stiff as a rod. “I’ve seen those feet move I know you can dance.”

“Look guys! I can juggle with kni-” Roach’s grin fades from his face as he blinks down at where a knife is now protruding from his foot.

“Looks like you can put those stitching skills to work again, eh Roach?” Wee John comments from where he’s lounging and fanning himself with what looks like a leaf.

“Oh for goodness sakes will someone please get Roach some medical care!” Stede huffs as he wraps his robe around himself and comes to stand beside Ed. "And Black Pete I told you to ask permission before raiding my art and costume supplies!"

“We live on a ship of maniacs,” Ed observes calmly, tucking himself under Stede’s waiting arm as Black Pete mutters under his breath about how. "Ed didn't need to ask permission when he wanted to dress like a ghoul last night." With a casual whistle Ed sticks out his leg and watches with satisfaction as Black Pete trips and falls with a yelp.

"Sorry love but you did deserve that," Lucius observes as he continues to scrabble for the lute despite the chokehold Frenchie currently has him in.

“Why, Ed, haven’t you heard?” Stede grins, turning to look at him. “All the best people are maniacs.”

Ed chuckles, coiling an arm around Stede. "Can't argue with that mate."