It was three weeks after marooning most of the crew when the hallucinations began.
Blackbeard was drunk, which wasn’t a surprise. They’d plundered three ships of their spirits and already the bottles were running low. He needed it - how else was he supposed to get to sleep? - and he wanted it to help with all the rest, the thoughts and the dreams and all the wretched ugly feelings, and sometimes it did.
But other nights - well.
Other nights he would retire to his cabin earlier than most, slip into the auxiliary closet, wrap his arms around his knees and have himself a good cry.
It was on one such occasion when he first heard it.
Blackbeard was feeling very sorry for himself, sitting behind Stede’s summer linens against the wall with his knees drawn up to his chest. The bottle of rum in his hand was half empty, and what he really, really wanted to do was throw it against Stede’s stupid fucking shoe collection and watch the glass explode over all that felt and satin but - no, no. It might stain. What if Stede came back and was upset that his shoes and his books were ruined? And why was he still thinking about that being a possibility? He was letting go! Ed had crawled up into a ball and died but Blackbeard was still here, Blackbeard was going plunder a hundred ships - a thousand ships and bring back the finest tea forks and the dinner service on board the Revenge would have a tureen if it was the last thing he did because -
“Fuck me,” Blackbeard said aloud, because he desperately wanted someone to talk to and the one person who would have helped him at least write down all this bullshit was dead. “I should never have killed Lucius.”
And there it was - sudden, unexpected, but clear as a bell.
It was gone as quickly as it came, and when morning came ‘round and Blackbeard awoke tangled in a nest of shirts he was certain he had dreamed the whole thing.
But in that moment, just after the laughter had been strangled, Blackbeard could have sworn it sounded like Lucius.
It couldn't have been, he knew that by morning as he lay with his head hanging out the window and his head fuzzy and every mote of sunlight slicing straight into his eyes, furious with everything.
Blackbeard vowed to never drink again.
With two days having gone by, completely sober and without another trace of the voice, Blackbeard decided to un-quit drinking. He kept seriously considering turning the ship around, going back for - well, anyone, really. And that was really keeping him up at night. So he grabbed another bottle of rum, sat back, and waited until he felt warm enough in his veins not to feel stupid when he started talking to himself.
“Hey. I’m sorry,” Blackbeard said to the empty room. There. He apologized, he had put the thing to rest, now maybe -
But there was another snort of laughter, and this time Blackbeard was certain.
He was going mad.
He was going off the deep end.
Lucius died. He couldn’t swim and Blackbeard had shoved him off the ship and never looked back, not even once.
He deserved it though, didn’t he? For giving Blackbeard ideas? For encouraging him to be vulnerable, to open up, and look where that had gotten him! Now his - his spirit or whatever was haunting him - he was hallucinating - hadn’t Stede mentioned something similar happening to him? After the Badminton business, seeing his ghost all over some island? The Not-Lucius was laughing at him, and no one laughed at Blackbeard!
“Well fuck you then,” he said to the voice. “Fucking ghost.”
“Oh piss off. It’s enough you had to go and kill me.”
Blackbeard had seen mirages. He saw how they tricked and faded and made you dream and hope that the thing you wanted would be on the horizon and then would melt away into fucking nothing the minute you got close enough to hold them. But there was no harm in a moment’s fantasy, was there? Believing, for just a second or two, that you were maybe good enough to hold onto the things you wanted?
But there was no answer.
The voice was more active after that night. He heard it once every few days, telling him to go fuck himself or how it hoped he’d die in the next battle or told him to tie an anchor ‘round his legs and go for a fucking swim, why don’t you. Blackbeard had been himself too long to be startled by this level of virulence in hallucinations generated by his own psyche.
“Maybe he will,” he said, after the voice said that he hoped the captain of the sloop they were about to board would shoot him in the head. “Could be fun. At least it’ll shut you up.”
“Nothing can shut me up.”
“Don’t fucking remind me.”
The captain of that ship did not shoot him in the face, but he did stab him in the arm pretty good, and as he bandaged himself up in his cabin that night, he heard the echoing voice of Lucius tell him he wished the captain had got him in the heart.
This time he lasted four whole days without drinking before the poor decision making skills brought about by sleeplessness almost cost them Fang. Fantastic. Now he was hearing things and he was a danger to his crew. So he very begrudgingly took a bottle of gin to his quarters (can't always be drinking rum, right? No harm in changing it up, was there?) to get properly obliterated. And he wasn’t going to try and conjure the voice. Not even a little. He was going to sit and drink and think about nothing and no one until he passed out.
He lasted approximately twenty five minutes before he made his way into the closet and laid down on the floor.
“Why’r you such an asshole?” Blackbeard said. “I didn’t think I hated myself this much.”
“Surprise, surprise, surprise,” the voice said, quiet and sharp, a knife stuck in your ribs before you even knew it was there. That’s a kill.
“Yeah, well, maybe if you had just killed me I’d be a little nicer. But you didn't, did you? You fucking marooned the crew on a fucking island to die of… cannibalism or getting their eyes pecked out by… birds. Or sharks. Or something. What's so fucking funny?” Blackbeard had begun to laugh.
“The marooning! A good fuckery, that one.”
“Wh-what are you talking about?”
“That little spit of an island! It’s a smugglers depot! Izzy didn't even realize - god he was so happy for them to just be gone!”
“What are you saying?”
“I'm saying they’re long gone! Some ship probably came around the next day or the one after that. Cheers to them, wherever they are, yeah?”
“Then they’re… not dead?”
“Didn’t you know that? Aren't you… I don't know, privy to everything I know? Or something?”
“Of - of course I am. Just wanted to hear you admit it to yourself.”
“Just about as well as any of the rest of this does, honestly.” The voice paused. “It is good that they might be alright, though.”
“Yeah,” said Ed. “It is.” He learned against the cushions he saved from the sofa he made Ivan throw in the ocean. The stretch in his back almost felt good.
“Hey. You're Lucius, right?” The voice sighed.
“Someone else sound this charming?”
“Lucius, you’re dead.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I am dead. No thanks to you.”
“I pushed you off the boat.”
“Mmm - I was there. I know.”
“Was there any pain?” A bitter laugh floated across his mind.
“You know, if you had asked me that a day ago I would have told you yeah. It was fucking horrible and I was like, ripped apart by tuna.”
“Tuna shouldn't be in this area this time of the year.”
“Sure, that's definitely something I would know. But no. There was no pain. I was afraid, that's for sure. I was fucking terrified. But then it was like - like slipping into a warm - bath, or something. Fell asleep, woke up and here I was.”
“As a figment of my imagination?”
“I'm sorry again. In my defense, I was really upset.”
“Well, I’m really upset that I’m trapped here, so.” Blackbeard chuckled.
“Yeah, my brain is kinda fucked up.”
“You can say that again.”
“It’s kind of nice though?”
“To have someone to talk to.”
“Hey, Stede’s not in there too, is he?” God he sounded so fucking pathetic.
“Well, how does it work? Like does the person have to be dead before I can start hearing their voice?”
“Riiiight. Dead. Yes, that’s definitely it.”
“So if I killed him there’s a chance he’d show up?”
“Umm I don’t… think you get to pick? Who you hear inside your mind when you lose like… every marble.”
“Ah, well. Worth a shot right?”
Blackbeard thought it was best to end it there. Last thing he needed was to grow attached. Just one more thing to miss when it was gone.
Sometimes Blackbeard told the voice about his childhood. It didn’t matter what he said, because Lucius was dead and all that was left was the voice inside Ed’s mind, a voice that couldn’t go blabbing to everyone the moment he heard a good secret the way Lucius had when he was alive.
“When I was little, I loved my dad,” he found himself telling Lucius’ voice one day. “I thought no one was as big or as strong or as tough as he was.”
“Life beat him down. So he did what any other man would and he took it out on us. Took the shine off his image in my head real quick.”
“Yeah, that would do it.”
“I miss my mother sometimes.”
“We all miss our moms, mate.”
“She did her best.”
“Mine didn’t, and I still miss her. Explain that one.” That was funny. He didn’t remember Lucius talking much about his family when he was alive. Blackbeard was continually impressed with his brain’s ability to concoct elaborate tales to tell itself late into the night.
“You loved her.”
“Despite all her attempts to inspire the contrary, yes.”
“Love is complicated.”
“Ha. You could say that again. Look this conversation is making me want to kill myself all over again - just - just tell me about her, yeah? What was she like?”
“She was beautiful. Kind. Loved me. She taught me how to play the harpsichord. She was a servant in a rich man's house. He let her play sometimes when it wouldn't bother anyone. She brought me to work, taught me when the work was done.”
“That's really lovely, actually.”
“Thanks.” Ed was quiet. What he wanted was to have Lucius write the stories about his mom down in a little book. Maybe someone else would read them, maybe someone else would remember her when he was gone. She deserved to be remembered. But Lucius couldn't do that. No one else on the boat could read or write, and it wasn't as if Blackbeard was about to call up Frenchie to start drawing pictures about his feelings.
“I'm sorry again that I killed you.” There was a sound, like a head softly thunking against the side of a wooden ship.
“Why'd you do it?” God, the voice knew. How could it not? But it always wanted him to talk it through, get all those ugly feelings out in the open and maybe he owed it to Lucius' memory. It was somewhere to start, at least.
“I did it because with Stede gone, you were the only person who could have stopped me from becoming this.”
“And becoming this was necessary because…?”
“It's what Izzy wants.”
“Why do you give a fuck about what he wants?”
“He's known me forever.”
“I just - you know, he already left once. Don't want that to happen again.”
“Oh Jesus christ. Um, okay, alright, let's - I mean that's a lot to unpack there, isn't it?”
“Yeah. And it’s - it’s not that I don’t trust him, you know?”
“But he just wants me to be Blackbeard. It’s all he’s ever wanted from me. All the blood and machismo and posturing, it got so tired after a while.”
“It sounds maybe like your relationship wasn’t working anymore? You wanted to change and he wanted you to stay the same?”
“Yeah - yeah that’s it! And - I don’t know. I don’t want him thinking I’m going back to being Ed.”
“You don’t want to go back to being Ed?”
“Why not?” Lucius was dead, he was dead and this voice was in his head and it was okay if he said ugly things because no one was hearing them.
“Because Blackbeard’s a monster. And monsters are the ones that do the hurting.”
Lucius' voice said something after that, but Blackbeard wasn’t listening. He pulled a fuschia robe over his head and thought about golden hair and kind eyes until the voice finally shut up.
Ed kept talking to Lucius’ voice about all sorts of things. Crew mates, old plunders, his wild youth before he became a pirate.
They talked about Stede. Not as much as Blackbeard thought they might, but enough.
“I mean. I lost everything,” Ed found himself saying one night, after explaining how he had been left at the docks, left to row back to the Revenge all on his own, watching the beach, wondering if he'd just left too soon, if there has been a mistake, if any moment Stede was going to run out from the woods and start shooting at him to come back. “Everything. For nothing! For Stede Bonnet to leave me on that dock and go off to do whatever. Probably went back to his rich little life.”
“I'm sorry, he did what?”
“We were just from two different worlds, you know?” Ed continued. “I'm amazed he kept it up for as long as he did. It was never going to work. I’m not that kind of a person.”
“You’re not what kind of a person?”
“You know. Soft. Born to - I don’t fucking know. Soft things. Silks. I'd just - wreck it some other way. Better to have ended the way it did.”
“You… you know that's all bullshit, right?”
“No it's not. It's the truth!”
“Hrm, okay. Let's say that's true, yeah? Let's say we all come into this world and we don't deserve a single thing better than what we're born for. That's the rules.”
“Yeah. That's the rules.”
“Except you're a fucking pirate! Fuck the rules!”
He was a fucking pirate, wasn’t he?
“You’re fucking Blackbeard.”
“I’m fucking Blackbeard!”
“And you can have any soft thing you fucking want!”
“And I can -” the truth, the awful truth snaked up his throat and lodged there. “I can have… I can have almost any soft thing I fucking want.” Because there was one thing, wasn’t there? There was one soft thing he had wanted more than he had ever wanted before, and it had turned as sharp and painful as the point of a sword broken off in his heart and godfuckingdammit why was there so much dust in here it was always in his eyes -
“Ohhhhkay" said Lucius' voice. "That didn't work. Let's - uh - let's try something else.”
Blackbeard stopped listening.
He didn’t always hear the voice. Sometimes he would sit in the closet, muttering his thoughts to himself for hours and hear nothing. Other times he would be down in the hold, wondering who the fuck was drinking his rum this fast when he would hear: “I think maybe you should slow down, a bit?” from over his shoulder, and of course there was no one there.
Blackbeard thought Frenchie heard it, once.
Frenchie was the cook, and he sewed the sails and did the laundry and whatever else needed doing on the ship that didn’t involve plundering and fighting. Once when Blackbeard was in the galley looking for a bloody orange while Frenchie cooked and cowered beside him he could have sworn he heard Lucius say “Ugh, more fucking rice?”
Only Frenchie’s ear twitched.
Blackbeard was on him in an instant, butter knife in hand, holding it to Frenchie’s eyeball.
“Did you fucking hear it too?” he growled into Frenchie’s terrified face.
“That voice that fucking voice did you hear it -”
“H - he can’t hear me,” said Lucius, and even with Blackbeard inches from him, Frenchie continued to look confused and frightened. “You’re the only one who can hear me and if you kill him Ivan will have to cook your meals and you hate how he always oversalts everything.”
“I do hate that,” said Blackbeard.
“You hate what? What is going on?”
Blackbeard dropped his hold on Frenchie’s collar. “Nothing. Don’t burn the rice.”
“Wasn’t planning on it.”
“And don’t use too much fucking salt.”
One night, he was so out of his mind that he told Lucius the truth about the Kraken.
“I only told Stede before,” he said when it was done. “And now you. At least you’re stuck inside my head. You can’t leave me, eh?”
Lucius’ voice was quiet for a long, long time.
“He shouldn't have done that,” it said, finally. “That was a super shitty fucking thing for him to do to you.”
“Yeah. I hope he's alright, though.” Ed sniffed. He was fine. It was the fucking - the dust in here, no one was fucking cleaning and he should just throw all this shit out anyway -
“Hey - don't cry. I really, really hate it when you cry.”
“I'm not crying!”
“Look, if getting stabbed three times, hanged once and almost executed didn't kill Stede Bonnet, I don't know if anything will.”
“You think so?”
“He’s the most stubborn bastard to ever sail the seven seas.”
“Is he more stubborn than me?”
“Do you remember the night you left the ship to go drink on the beach with Calico Jack?”
“Sure,” said Ed, wondering where this was going.
“He sat in the window all night, watching you. Wondering what the two of you were up too.” Lucius laughed. “He asked me if I thought Jack was better looking than he was.”
“Not a chance,” said Ed.
“Right, well, I glossed over that bit. The point is that if that man would sit up for hours just trying to catch a glimpse of you, he’s not going to stop until he finds you again.” Lucius paused. “Provided he gets his head out of his ass.” But Ed shook his head.
“He doesn’t want me. It was all just - I don’t know. A rich man’s game.”
“That’s not true,” said Lucius.
“Stop being so supportive. Weren’t you telling me to blow my own brains out a few weeks ago?”
“Yeah. Sorry about that.”
“I deserved it.”
“No. Well, yeah, at the time, you definitely did. But not now, alright? Just - you remember the song?”
“Yeah. That one. Just hold on, mate.”
“Hold on,” Ed sang. “Hold on. Holding on.”
In the morning, Ed awoke in the bed, with the blankets tucked around him, like his mother had done when he was a child.
It was late in the morning, judging by the amount of sunlight coming through the windows, and all Ed wanted to do was turn over on his side and go back to sleep.
The voice, however, had other ideas.
“Huh - what??” The voice has never initiated their conversation before.
“Get up. This is an emergency!”
Blackbeard was on his feet in an instant, his gun his gun where was his gun -
“What is it - what's wrong?”
There was no doubt as to who he was.
“Oh - fuck,” Ed could feel what was left of his heart being squeezed out of his chest. “He’s not dead, is he?”
“No, you idiot no one is dead, I mean he’s here, he’s pulling alongside the ship right now. Oh shit it's everyone -”
That would be a laugh, wouldn't it? If he'd finally gone so far off the deep end that the voice in his head was giving voice to his wildest imaginings?
But there was a great deal of shouting up on the deck, and Izzy was calling on Fang and Ivan to ready the cannons so… maybe he would just… go have a look?
“What the fuck are you waiting for? Get up there!”
Blackbeard tore out of his cabin, and burst out onto the main deck. He looked around - Frenchie was by the railing, Izzy on the quarterdeck looking furious, Fang and Ivan fiddling with a single cannon and showing no signs of actually doing anything with it.
And there was Stede, climbing up the ladder.
He looked -
He looked good. He looked bright and kind and golden and nice and Ed wanted to shoot him in the face or fall to his knees and beg for forgiveness or shove him overboard or hold him and demand why, why the fuck did he leave him and holy shit if he ever did that again he was going to burn this ship to the ground.
Ed didn’t get a chance to do any of that, though, because the moment Stede set foot in the center of the deck, a trapdoor hidden against the mast Ed never knew was there burst open, and an extremely furious and filthy Lucius popped out of it and jabbed Stede in the chest.
“First of all, how dare you?” Lucius cried. “This man pours his heart out to you, gives up everything for you, and you leave him to go back to your wife? Now you just waltz back in here expecting him to forgive you just like that?”
“Lucius -” Ed’s eyes were very blurry. If they were less blurry, Ed might have seen Izzy turn as pale as a sheet, or Fang and Frenchie share a guilty look between them.
But Ed wasn’t looking at any of that. He was watching the man he killed two months berate the man who abandoned him.
“You’re lucky I don’t shove you off the boat right here!” Lucius declared. “He really liked you! Loved you, even! And if you think for one minute you can go right back to how things were then you can -”
“Lucius?” Ed asked.
“What?” Lucius didn't take his eyes off Stede, who was looking between the two of them like he was wondering just what the fuck was happening, which, of course, he was.
“You’re alive?” Why did Ed's voice sound so choked up? What was happening? Why was Stede taking one of his hands and wow okay not as soft as he remembered but still just as warm and that was nice and he shouldn't be as accepting of that as he was but Lucius was alive and everything just seemed a little too much and too fuzzy at the moment.
“Oh fuck.” Lucius looked himself over. “Yeah. Um, supriiiiiiise?”
These were the last words Ed heard before he, quite understandably, passed out.
Later, after Stede and Ed had made up, as Lucius always knew they would, after the crew had been reunited (very intimately, in his and Black Pete’s case), after Roach had chased Frenchie out of the kitchen for rearranging all the knives and pans and “ruining his workspace,” and celebrations were had all around, Lucius stood at the bow for the first time since that horrible night Blackbeard tried to kill him. He expected to feel - something. A twinge of fear, a full flashback episode of some kind, a wild fury, maybe.
It was strange to feel nothing. Strange to feel like he was just on another part of the ship, a ship that he had come to know quite well over the weeks he had spent inside her hidden passages.
“What are you doing here,” Ed asked, coming up from the cabin.
“Wondering if you’re finally going to finish the job,” Lucius replied. Ed nodded.
“I’m glad you’re not dead.”
“Yeah. Me too.”
“And I’m glad you were in the walls.”
“Would have been nicer to not be.”
“Yeah. You uh - you’re gonna forget most of what I said, right?”
“Believe me, I’ve been trying to forget most of it since you said it.”
“That’s - good, then. It was all just an act, you know. Draw you out of hiding. All of that was just… made up. Fictional character stuff.”
“Riiiiight.” Lucius rolled his eyes. “Look, getting back together with someone who dumped you is a rough go sometimes and if…” He threw back his head and sighed. “If you ever find yourself needing to talk it through, well. I’ve had lots of experience.”
“I’ll remember that.”
“And you have to promise not to stab me in the face.”
“Or make me eat my own toes.”
“Sure. Of course. If it ever comes to me needing to talk, I won’t make you eat your own toes.”
“Lucius?” Black Pete called from the bow. “Did Blackbeard throw you off the boat again? You promised me I could watch if he ever did it again and it would be pretty uncool if you guys just went ahead without me.”
“No, babe, I’m still here. I’m coming.”
Lucius smiled apologetically at Ed and climbed up onto the deck to meet his boyfriend.
Ed stayed there for a while longer.
It hadn't been in his mind. None of it. Had he known? Had he guessed? Had it all been an elaborate ruse from the start? Can't kill Lucius again if he's just a voice in your head, after all, if he's just a figment of imagination, of hope and bitterness and a very frightened man smashing his trauma together until he could build a castle in the air out of plausible deniability.
Then again, he had been very drunk.
Ed’s mind decided to conjure something else. Ed imagined Stede tucked up in bed in their cabin, reading one of the books Ed had recently looted from a plundered ship’s library by candlelight. Ed would walk in, and Stede would turn, and smile, and say some totally bizarre thing related to what he was reading that Ed would half understand. Ed would lean down and kiss him, and it would be warm and right and perfect.
It was a nice thought.
A man could get used to fantasies like that.
Ed went down to meet it.