One moment Lucius is on deck clinging to the gunwale, shouting over the storm. Then a wave rocks the ship, and he’s overboard.
He hasn’t even hit the water before Blackbeard’s going in after him.
He thinks he hears something as he falls, a name he used to call himself, but it’s hard to hear anything over the wind lashing the sails and the crash of the sea. He’s shocked by how cold he is, how his muscles immediately stiffen and want to give up. He grabs at Lucius as soon as he can, and Lucius kicks at him, terrified, screaming something that Blackbeard can’t hear.
“Calm fucking down -” Blackbeard tries to say to him but his words are lost, carried off by the wind, and another wave is crashing down on them both before he’s got time to take a breath. He loses Lucius then, both of them buried beneath a thunderclap of water. Fuck - he’s smarter than this, it’s the cold that’s got him so confused, he needs to get his bearings and breathe, he needs to breathe –
He gasps as he breaks the surface of the water, salt stinging his eyes, but before he can open them, the next wave is upon him, and the world is sent spinning.
He has dreams like this sometimes. Dreams of drowning. Dreams of being lost in the middle of the ocean while beneath him something wild starts to rise, great beak flashing and beady eyes fixed on him. The kraken always sees Blackbeard, always has. Monsters recognize monsters.
There are a few weeks in Blackbeard’s life that these dreams change. For a few weeks, everything is a bit water-coloury, a bit soft and stupid and - nice. His dreams are fucking nice . Sometimes he wakes up in his berth on Revenge still feeling warm arms around him, doesn’t know who they belong to. Sometimes he’ll be about to answer a question, sometimes he’ll be smiling and wake up with it still on his lips. He never really remembers the details of these dreams, but the feeling lingers throughout the day as he talks to Stede or laughs with him or follows the man on some stupid bloody adventure or other. He doesn’t really know what to do with those dreams, with that feeling. Happiness was always so heavy for him, so awkward to hold without help. He’d rather put it down entirely.
After he returns to Revenge (alone, alone) the drowning dreams come back. But now it’s Stede drowning, reaching out to him for help and Blackbeard thrashing through the water trying to get to him. Or - or - or it’s Stede’s body floating somewhere, unnoticed and unsought, or it’s Stede behind bars in some foul prison, waiting for Blackbeard to find him. To rescue him.
After these dreams, Blackbeard wakes in a panic, and his mind races back to that day at the dock - why didn’t he wait longer, why did he leave without looking for Stede, what if something happened to him? Stede wouldn’t have just left him there, he knows this, he wouldn’t, he wouldn’t -
But he did.
The past always comes back to Blackbeard with his first drink of the day. He rolls off that stupidly fancy couch thing, whatever it was Stede called it, and squints against a headache and a hangover and too many hours stretched out in front of him, all of them the fucking same.
Stede left him.
Soon, Blackbeard doesn’t dream at all. Or if he does, he makes sure he’s never clear-headed enough to remember it.
The world spins and Blackbeard kicks his way up to the surface. He breathes and he wipes his eyes and he can’t see Lucius, can’t hear him, can’t feel him. Everything is black, black for miles and miles, not a single star in the fucking sky and beneath him the rising tendrils of the creature brush his ankles -
“Ed!” There’s a desperate voice in his ear. “I’ve got you! I’ve got you!”
“Where is he? He fell, he fucking fell -”
There are arms around him, and Blackbeard thrashes against them. In his mind all he can see is Lucius going over the edge, not tonight but that first time, that first time when it was his fault. He can’t let it happen again, he won’t, he’ll fucking die first.
“I’ve got him. Okay? Just -”
Blackbeard sees Lucius then, treading water to his left, hair dripping down his face. A wave smacks Blackbeard and he goes under again but the arms around him don’t let go. The ship looms over them, huge as a nightmare but there’s a rope being thrown down. Lucius is reaching for it.
The water rises, sucking at his jacket, his boots, his hair, the water wants him and maybe it should take him, maybe it’s past bloody time -
“I’ve got you,” that voice says again, and it’s a voice he recognizes from his dreams, the stupid, pretty nice ones. Blackbeard watches as Lucius is lifted from the water, ascends through the air like a very pissed off creature from the depths.
“He’s okay. Just - hold on to me,” Stede says, because of course fucking Stede jumped in after him, of course Stede is holding tight to his waist all tied up in rope, of course.
“I can’t,” Blackbeard says. His hands are cold and clumsy, and Stede’s coat keeps sliding from his grip (he’s had a dream like this too.)
“Okay.” Stede’s doing something with his hands, and there’s a tug around Blackbeard’s ribs. “Then I’ll hold onto you.”
The next thing Blackbeard knows is the smack of the deck under his cheek, the rush of seawater out of his throat. Everyone is leaning in to touch him and Blackbeard waves their hands away, coughs his lungs out onto the deck and tries to shake the stink of Stede off of his clothes.
“What were you fucking thinking?” That’s Izzy, has to be. “Diving in with no lifeline, what -”
He can barely feel the rough boards of the ship beneath his knees and elbows. He must be going numb.
“He fell,” he coughs against the deck. “He fell and I -” He can’t get up off his hands and knees, can’t breathe around the beating heart in his chest. “Where is he? Lucius, where is -”
“Um - hey, I’m all right,” someone says awkwardly, and then Lucius is kneeling down beside him. His lips are blue with cold and he’s shaking but he’s - yeah, he’s alive. “See? All good.”
Blackbeard nods. Then he can’t stop nodding.
“I’m so fucking - so fucking sorry,” he says, and Christ - where did that come from? He’s too cold to get up, and he can’t make his hands do anything but shake as the wind blows his wet hair into his face and his eyes, as it catches at the corners of his mouth. He still might be drowning. Maybe he drowned. Maybe this is what the bottom of the ocean feels like.
“Captain, are you -”
“Guys? Um - is he okay?”
There’s a snap then, a splintering sound that he feels in his spine and he knows that something’s just broken. Maybe irreparably. Maybe it’s him.
“Stay sail!” someone calls out, “Give us some rope,” and feet are pounding on the deck beside him.
He hears Izzy’s voice and flinches. “I’ll take the captain to his -”
“Hey Izzy! Wow, sorry, could I get your help over here? Need your expertise - badly?”
“Yeah for sure, definitely need you over here. Stede, why don’t you -”
Blackbeard tries to ask a question, to say something, but there’s no air in his lungs. Why is he still shaking?
“Right,” Stede says. “I’ll - right.”
He’s being lifted from the deck. His legs work, he can make them work. He can’t seem to cling to whatever strong thing is holding him, his fingers don’t want to close, but he can let the strong thing carry him. He hears voices around him, conversations that he understands snatches of over the rushing blood in his ears but he focuses on putting one foot in front of the other. Not on the scent of lavender he sometimes gets when he turns his head.
Not on the sound of Stede’s voice in his ear.
He confines Stede and his crew to the makeshift brig at first. He needs time to plan. To strategize.
But really to drink himself stupid and cry in Stede’s robe and then maybe figure out what the fuck he’s going to do.
Of course, Izzy is in his ear about making examples of them, whining away like a fly that loves torture, and he’s right. Blackbeard probably should make examples of them. Should cut out Stede Bonnet’s heart and eat it in front of him, show him what that kind of pain feels like. Should - should string him up beneath the new flag where the whole world can see him swinging.
He should do these things.
But instead he stays up all night, polishing off the rum, and not sleeping or eating. He can’t even think knowing that Stede is on board, is so close, is behind bars and cold maybe - maybe hungry.
Two days in, that bloody scribe is found hiding in Jim’s quarters. Apparently he clung to the side of the ship until he managed to climb back on board (un-fucking-likely, and Blackbeard narrows his eyes at a few particular members of the crew, but screw it, now they’ve got a notetaker.)
Two days after that, Blackbeard reaches the end of a very short, very frayed rope.
“Bring him,” he tells Fang.
Then he sits behind the desk he’s carved the shit out of. He puts his knife and his pistol down on top of it, where he can grab them both easily and Stede can see them. He hasn’t seen the man since he first came aboard and was taken away with Ivan’s sword at his back. He tried not to look at him then. Tried not to think about the sunburn on his nose, or the shape of his arms, or the gauntness of his face from the days at sea.
Now suddenly, Stede’s in his room. Sitting right in front of him, in that shirt of his with the really wide neck that - anyway, don’t look at his neck. Fuck his neck.
He sits in a chair across from Blackbeard, with those eyes and his hands and when Blackbeard can’t think of a single thing to say, Stede says, “How’ve you been?”
It almost makes him laugh, but laughter doesn’t usually feel like glass, does it? Maybe he’s out of practice.
“Tip. Fucking. Top.”
Stede swallows nervously and nods. He darts his eyes around the room, takes in the chaos and the emptiness in turn, and yeah - it’s pretty clear how Blackbeard’s been.
“I see you’ve – done some redecorating.”
Blackbeard can’t go into all that, not yet. He feels like a string that’s about to snap, so he just stares at Stede. He tells himself he’s being intimidating, all that staring, all that looking. That he’s critical and alarming and mean. Because the alternative is that he’s hungry for every piece of Stede that he can see, and that’s shit and a bloody lie and fuck you.
“The beard’s coming back in, that’s -”
“If you don’t start saying something worth fucking saying, I’m putting this knife through your hand.”
Stede doesn’t react and he doesn’t look afraid. He should look afraid. He should be terrified.
“I want to apologise,” Stede says. “I - I want to tell you what happened.”
He keeps talking but Blackbeard can’t hear him. His ears are ringing, and the ringing is only getting louder with every word out of Stede’s mouth. It’s all lost in the shrillness, so Blackbeard just sits there and watches Stede’s lips move and tries to breathe and tries to stop biting his through his tongue until his teeth touch and -
“Actually, fuck this.” Blackbeard gets up from his chair. “We’re done.”
“Ed? Let me -”
“It’s Blackbeard now.” He swallows whatever it is that’s hurting his throat so much. “Ed didn’t last.”
“That’s not -”
“I left your crew to die .” His dagger is in his hand and he doesn’t know how it got there. “I tossed your boy over the side of the bloody ship. This is who I fucking am, all right? I don’t know who you came back for, but he’s gone. You were right to run when you did.”
Stede is looking at him, and his eyes flair with hurt - whatever, fuck his eyes.
“I wasn’t. It was a mistake. It was the worst mistake I’ve –”
“Shut up. Just stop - fucking talking.” Blackbeard scrubs his hands over his face, feels the greasepaint smear as he does. “I’m not going to kill you. And I’m not going to maroon you or keep you and your crew in the brig for the rest of your lives.”
“I know ,” Stede says right away, doesn’t even hesitate a second. Blackbeard shouldn’t be offended by that. He isn’t. Or maybe he is, he can’t tell.
He looks into the face of the man he thought he might -
The man he thought he might actually -
(Doesn’t matter now, does it? He was wrong.)
He looks into the face of the man that made him doubt himself. That’s what it comes down to in the end: doubt . Stede Bonnet made Blackbeard think he could be anything other than what he was. That there was more than just anger and gunpowder and violence.
That there could be soft things.
Stories and silk and little white flowers in his hair. There could be someone who cared when he left, and when he came back.
There could be marmalade.
“Stay or leave, mate,” Blackbeard says. He pretends that he doesn’t taste blood in his mouth. “I really can’t be fucked.”
They make it to his cabin, and Stede kicks the door shut behind them.
“Fuck,” is the first word Blackbeard says as he collapses in an armchair. He’s shivering, they both are, and his hands in his gloves still won’t close. If he shuts his eyes, he still sees Lucius going over the railing, and it’s fault, it was his fault –
“He’s all right,” Stede says, like he knows what Blackbeard’s thinking and oh God, let’s hope to fuck not. “They’re taking him below deck, into the galley. Pete’ll warm him up and - well. Um."
He’s moving around the room looking for things that aren’t there, reaching into empty spaces and then flinching. He lights a lantern, and Blackbeard watches the way the fabric of his coat clings to his shoulders and waist, the puddles he’s leaving on the floor behind him.
“The ship -”
“The crew’s taking care of it. It’s fine, it was just a rope that -”
“Why’m I still shaking?” Blackbeard holds up his gloved hands. “I need to –”
“Don’t move,” Stede says firmly, and - yeah, okay, that tone still does something for him. Blackbeard stays exactly where he is. “I think you might be in shock.”
“Shock? I don’t feel shock, I’m fucking -”
“Blackbeard. I know.” Stede goes somewhere for a moment and returns with a bundle of fabric that’s too soft and fluffy, pressing it into Blackbeard’s hands. “We need to dry you off.”
“Where’d you get this?”
“You clearly didn’t find the linen cupboard during your - redecoration.” Stede is kneeling in front of him, right there between his legs like some kind of fantasy - maybe he swallowed too much seawater. Maybe he’s fully lost his mind. “Can I -”
It should be more awkward than it is. But Blackbeard used to be the kind of person who’d say ‘yes’ to anything Stede asked, and old habits or some shit - he nods, not really sure what he’s agreeing to. Turns out it’s for Stede to help him take off his gloves, peel off the black leather and rub the fluffy fabric over his hands, trying to scrub some warmth and life back into them.
Blackbeard lets him. He watches a drop of water make its meandering way to the tip of Stede’s nose, and just hang out there. Looks like a nice place to be, really. So close to all the best parts - eyes and lips and that. He wouldn’t mind being a raindrop.
“How are your hands feeling?” Stede asks, and Blackbeard tries to keep it together but his head is oddly foggy. His fingers don’t hurt but they don’t want to do all that much, still look a bit pale and grey. He’s shivering more than he was on deck. Stede is too, so maybe he’s in shock as well. He’s taken off his coat and left it somewhere, and the shirt beneath is waterlogged and sheer. Every now and then Blackbeard can see a hint of pebbled nipple through the fabric.
He wishes he’d drowned.
“Bit useless,” he says, teeth chattering like an idiot.
“Never useless,” Stede murmurs, “Just need some warming up.”
Blackbeard snorts and ignores him. The leather of his coat is clammy and disgusting against his skin, but he can’t hold his hands steady enough to get the buttons undone. He’ll just cut the damn things off if he has to, fuck this.
“Can I help you?” Stede asks. He’s still on his knees, still looking up at him and Blackbeard is struck by a brief hot light, like a splash of whiskey in his belly. It’s gone just as quickly as it came, but God - he hasn’t felt any kind of anything for a long time. Didn’t know he still had it in him.
“S’pose you should.”
He watches as the fucking gentleman pirate starts unbuckling his belt. It feels like it’s happening to someone else, and Stede’s hands are trembling as he weaves the leather tongue free, sets the pistol and knife holsters aside, and moves on to the next buckle. It takes some time, and Blackbeard’s arms hang like dead weight at his sides, completely useless. His hair is still wet, his start of a beard is dripping down his face, but he can’t seem to take that soft fucking towel and scrub himself dry. So he just watches Stede work and move, hands that are clumsy with cold but still deft, just like they were around the handle of a teacup. Like they were when they were knotting Blackbeard’s cravat and tying bows in the twists of his beard.
Nah, Blackbeard wouldn’t have worn fucking bows in his beard, he must be thinking of someone else.
His jacket is open. He leans forward and Stede helps him peel it off his shoulders.
“Arms - arms up,” Stede says, and Blackbeard can’t stop looking at him, and his arms suddenly obey, as if they were just waiting for an instruction from Stede to spring to life. Stede stands up and pulls Blackbeard’s soaked shirt over his head, gently helping shift his long hair free from the neck of it. His chains are suddenly cold against his bare chest, and they’ve seen each other shirtless before, but not for - a long time. Not like this.
“I’ll just -” Stede hesitates before leaning forward with the towel, briskly dragging it over Blackbeard’s shoulders and down each arm, his chest and his stomach, rubbing heat back into his skin. It would feel good even if he hadn’t just come out of the sea, even if his skin wasn’t tight with goosebumps and even tighter with Stede’s presence in his cabin.
Blackbeard swallows, nods, because he’s got absolutely no idea what his voice would sound like if he tries to speak. Bad, it’d be bad, he can’t risk it.
“Can I dry your hair?”
Blackbeard just nods again. Then gentle hands are tipping his head back, touching his scalp and his ears and his temples for just a moment.
He gets a bit lost after that.
For some fucking reason, he stays.
For a week or so, he tries to approach Blackbeard pretty much once a day, tries to have some sort of conversation about the past that Blackbeard would rather puncture his eardrums than listen to. Eventually he threatens to do as much to Stede to get him to shut the hell up, and the hurt in his eyes feels good, it does.
That should do it, Blackbeard thinks. The man will be in a rowboat within hours.
But Stede doesn’t leave.
He sleeps on deck with the crew, and he does most of what Izzy tells him. The reasonable bits. Blackbeard thinks he should let Izzy fuck with Stede a little because Christ knows Izzy wants to, but the first sharp word his first mate says to the man does something to Blackbeard’s head, like he’s on fire or something. Izzy’s being slammed into a wall and snarled at before Blackbeard even realises that he’s moving.
“What the fuck?”
“You watch your fucking mouth, mate.”
Izzy says nothing else, just twists his face into a whole sneer. Blackbeard lets him go. He walks away immediately, feeling all off balance, and he doesn’t look behind him in case he sees Stede’s face. Can’t stomach that right now.
But Izzy reins it in from then on.
And Stede stays.
The crew seems generally happier with him aboard, not that Blackbeard gives much of a damn what they think. They mostly seem okay with him too, although they’re much more careful, quieter around him than they were before. Black Pete looks at him with murder in his eyes but that’s all right, Blackbeard’s been looked at that way his whole life.
Lucius doesn’t look at him at all.
About a month after Stede’s return, they board a ship, Dutch merchant traders. They’d already surrendered when they saw the flag, of fucking course, but someone had to be a hero, thought he’d try to get a clean shot at Blackbeard. Instead, Stede gets in the way.
Blackbeard doesn’t know what happens to whoever pulled that trigger. One moment he’s looking at a mist of blood coming off Stede Bonnet’s body, and the next moment the sailor is in his hands, and the next moment the sailor’s gone and everyone is staring at him except the Swede who is mopping up the deck.
That’s a bit scary. He isn’t sure he wants those memories back.
Turns out the bullet only hits Stede’s shoulder, and he takes it like a champ, just faints for a little bit. Back on the Revenge, they all watch Roach poke around with tweezers in the hole in Stede’s arm while the man sweats and grows even paler.
“I think I almost had it that time,” Roach says, convincing absolutely no one.
“Fuck this,” Blackbeard says, coming over to take the tweezers from Roach’s hand. He’s been shot more times than he can remember, and he’s been drinking since the raid, so his hands are relatively steady. He passes the rum over to Stede while he sits down beside him.
“Drink,” he says, and Stede is shaking but he does. He makes a face as he swallows, and it’s not an adorable face even a bit. Blood is running down his shoulder from all of Roach’s prodding, and Blackbeard has the sudden thought that he’d like to drag his tongue up the slow spreading red, get Stede’s taste inside his mouth for a just second.
Is that a bit messed up? He’s having a hard time telling, these days.
Blackbeard touches Stede’s skin, and doesn’t look at Stede’s face, too close, mouth breathing too heavily near his own.
“Hold still.” He touches Stede’s skin, keeps his arm steady.
He touches Stede’s skin.
The bullet’s out in seconds, bloody and rattling in Roach’s can full of bullets. Blackbeard splashes rum on the wound, ignoring Stede’s little hiss of pain, and he’s pretty sure that Roach can’t stitch up a man to save his life (he’s seen his arm) so he just holds out his hand for the needle and thread.
He pinches the hole shut, ignores the jump of muscle under his hands each time the needle breaks the skin. When it’s done he leans in to bite the thread, and his hair brushes Stede’s bare chest. They both shiver.
Blackbeard retreats with the rum bottle immediately, and he doesn’t stop moving until he’s safe behind the closed door of his cabin, and then he shakes and shakes and can’t stop shaking -
He works on deck and rolls up his sleeves and freckles in the sun. Blackbeard doesn’t notice this. He doesn’t notice this even a little, and he doesn’t notice the way the bullet hole turns red, then pink, then silvery as it heals - catching the light sometimes and making Blackbeard’s teeth itch.
There’s a night they spend on the run from the British navy, and no one gets any sleep. When the sun rises and the seas are empty, Blackbeard finds Stede with a cup of tea at his elbow and dark circles under his eyes. The mug is chipped, all the good china gone, but it tastes perfect, the most perfect cup of tea he's ever had.
“Why the fuck are you still here?” he asks, voice oddly thick even though he's going for gruff and casual.
“Because you are.” Stede gives him a tiny smile before he walks away, and Blackbeard licks the taste of sugar off his lips.
At the next port, he buys a dumb fucking fancy teapot and a matching cup and saucer. They’re painted with little purple flowers he doesn’t recognize, and it’s a waste of coins, and also just stupid. He doesn’t know why he does it.
They’re pretty though.
He puts them in the auxiliary wardrobe so he doesn’t have to see them.
“Christ, you’re still so cold,” Stede is saying, as Blackbeard comes back from wherever he’s been. There’s a blanket draped over his shoulders, and his boots are off, feet scrubbed dry. “I guess you were in the water longer than I was. I wish we had the fireplace.”
“Boarded it up, mate,” Blackbeard says, which seemed like an excellent ‘fuck you’ at the time, and now just seems kind of pointless.
“We’ll have to get you into bed.” Stede looks at him, and then immediately looks away. His ears are suddenly a bit pink. Blackbeard always loved that colour. “Right. Yes.”
He crosses the room, and starts to open the curtains separating out his bedchamber from the rest of the cabin. Blackbeard somehow manages to get to his feet.
“I don’t sleep there,” he says, and Stede glances back at him. Blackbeard is very, very aware of his bare chest beneath the blanket and the cloud of hair towel-dried around his head. He probably looks like a corpse someone wrestled out of the sea. Stede’s certainly staring at him enough to warrant it.
“But - where do you sleep?”
He shrugs and pretends he can’t hear his teeth chattering. “Here or there. On the couch sometimes or the floor. Wherever I fall.”
Stede looks scandalised, and not a little upset. “You haven’t been sleeping in a proper bed since I -”
Blackbeard snaps his eyes to Stede’s face, begging him to say it. Say it . Since you what.
“Since I was away,” Stede says quietly.
“Course not. What do I care?”
“Sorry, my mistake. You sleep standing up at the prow of the ship, and you eat bullets and your head’s made of smoke -”
“Nothing.” Stede starts to hurriedly strip the bed, as if he isn’t also soaked to the bone, as if his lips haven’t also gone a bit blue. “Well. You’re sleeping in here tonight, and I’m putting clean sheets on. If there are any still left.”
Blackbeard feels the apology on his tongue and swallows it.
“You don’t have to do this,” he says instead. “Don’t need your help.”
“Go grab a nightshirt.” Stede ignores him, bundling up the linens from a bed that Blackbeard has pretended doesn’t exist for the last few months. “Or something warm. Do you have -”
Of course he doesn’t. Stede doesn’t need to even finish asking the question. His gaze moves across the room to the hidden auxiliary closet, then back to Blackbeard’s face.
“Is there anything you can -”
“No,” Blackbeard says, because the truth is still too awful to admit out loud. “There’s nothing.”
The truth is that there’s everything. The closet is basically untouched, and there’s more he’s crammed into it besides. A couple books he remembers looking pretty in Stede’s hands, an exquisite cashmere scarf, some lotion he found that smelled too much like the back of Stede’s neck (he’s only jerked off with it twice and didn’t ever enjoy it.) That completely stupid adventuring outfit that Stede wore in St. Augustine, the one that made Blackbeard fascinated with his kneecaps and the shape of his legs.
The tiny model ship of Revenge .
Yeah, the auxiliary closet is a bloody dangerous place and Blackbeard will never let Stede know it. Because if he knows, then he’ll - know. And that’s just - not going to happen.
“All right. Then I’ll go and -” Stede leaves in the direction of sheets or something, and Blackbeard stands there in his fucking leather pants with lips going numb and goosebumps all over his skin, and realizes that all the black paint in the world wasn’t going to be enough to hide from this man.
He should never have let Stede Bonnet back on his ship. It was just a matter of time, wasn’t it, until things entirely fell apart.
They fall apart spectacularly one night in particular. There is a lot of rum involved. Nothing better for the soul than drinking alone, especially when the love of your fucking life is on the other side of a door that you could easily open. It’s a good time for everyone.
On nights like this, when he's in the pit of it, his thoughts usually follow a reliable path. The first stop is for sad bastards only: you’re un-fucking-lovable, he didn’t want you because there’s a part inside you that’s cracked and he could see it right from the start, and for a second there you thought maybe he saw the broken bits and wanted you anyway but how pathetic was that, a kicked dog for his notice, why would he ever (and on and on. Sometimes he never gets farther than this, it’s really fucking boring.)
If he keeps drinking, doesn’t let exhaustion drag him under, there’s a shift. It’s an angry, ugly shift, a How Dare He sort of shift: he left you and he lied to you, and then he shows up here and expects you to - what? Trust him? Care about him? Fuck that, you’re done, you’re done with him, should have put him right back in the water, should have set his boat on fire, should have fired first, should have run (if he ends up here for the night, he usually wakes the next morning with some unaccounted for destruction. Whatever, it’s his cabin. His stupid things. Blackbeard can do what he likes with them.)
And then there’s the worst part of the night, the place his thoughts must absolutely not go: You should fucking tell him this.
It doesn’t usually get this far. He tells himself when he’s sober that under no circumstances is it allowed to get this far. He’s not allowed to call for Fang, not allowed to storm out on deck and drag Stede back into his cabin, so he doesn’t. And he won’t. And he doesn’t, and he won’t.
But sometimes he does.
Then Stede sits in his usual chair looking sweet and sorry and lovely and Blackbeard can’t stand it, paces around like an animal that’s been kept in a box for months.
“I want to fix this,” Stede is saying, “I think we can -”
“This -” Blackbeard gestures between them with a sloshing bottle, which reminds him that it’s time for another drink, “can’t be fixed.”
“It certainly won’t if you won’t even talk to me -”
“Then leave! Then leave the fucking ship! I’m not here to wait on you, follow you around, am I?"
“That’s not my fucking name!” He takes a swig of rum just to feel something other than this. “I don’t even know who I am! You’ve got me all tangled up, I can’t –” Shit, he really is drunk. This is a bit dramatic even for him.“You made me think I - I could be someone else. I wanted to be that person, I wanted to for you - but you didn’t want him either.”
“I hurt you,” Stede says, so patient and mild it makes Blackbeard feel like tearing his own face off. “And I am so sorry.”
“Fucking right you are! You left me there.”
Stede has no answer for that. His eyes are shining and they should be, he should feel fucking awful about this.
“I waited for you and I worried about you and then I fucking got it, okay. Message received. No note required.”
“If you would just -” Stede stands up and that’s the wrong move. The predator in Blackbeard’s head roars wickedly to life, eyes on Stede’s throat.
“You want to know the - the best bit? It’s fucking hilarious, you’ll love it.” He’s stalking toward Stede even though the ground is tilting, trying to prevent it. “It’s that I still fucking –”
Stede is too close. How did he get so close and soft and smell-gooding here in this ship that’s all piss and shit and scorch marks and empty bookshelves and Blackbeard hates him, hates that he used to be this way all the time and it didn’t hurt so much, hates that he knows the way Stede tastes and how his hair feels -
“- want you. I still - ” Blackbeard’s hand is around Stede’s throat and Stede is gasping into his mouth. That’s fuckin’ right, he should be gasping as Blackbeard kisses him, oh Christ, he's kissing him the way he never got to, not pure and prim and close-mouthed on the beach but open and scorching like he'd always planned, always wanted to. “I want you so fucking much, I -”
“I love you,” Stede says, and – Blackbeard shoves him away, heart pounding.
“Don’t fucking say that.” He tries to slow his heartbeat, but he can’t. He’s shaking and he can’t calm down and he can't breathe. “You don’t fucking get to say that.”
“Ed, please -”
“Get the fuck out! ” He hurls the half-full bottle of rum against a wall where it shatters, loud and messy and everything Stede fucking Bonnet isn’t.
The door slams shut as Stede goes. Blackbeard tilts and so does the world.
He’s sick most of the next day, and doesn’t leave his cabin. He thinks by the time he can stand upright without puking all over himself, Stede will have left the ship. This time for good. Great, let him. Finally.
But he’s still there.
He’s on deck talking with Buttons, gesturing out over an ocean that is the exact colour of a blue-green coat he’s worn before, one that Blackbeard remembers. It suited him, he remembers thinking. Bright colours always did.
Stede looks up across the deck, and their eyes meet for just a moment. Blackbeard wants to hand him his knife and kiss his fingertips and lay his head in Stede’s lap. The man could cut his throat while he slept there, one soft hand running through his hair.
That’d be a good way to go.
Can’t imagine better.