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we were warnings

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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. 

Fuck.  

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.

“How’s that?”

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.

 


 

Stede stays. 

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 -

Stede stays.

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 -”

“What?”

“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?"

“Ed -”

“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 out.” 

“Wait.”

“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.

Great.

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.



Chapter Text

 

 

The bed linens have been changed and the bed is piled-high with blankets and an obscene amount of pillows. Blackbeard strips without thinking about it, gets into Stede’s bed without thinking about it, keeps breathing and blinking and doing fuck knows what else without thinking about it. That’s how he spends most of his days, so this shouldn’t be any different.

Except Stede is there pulling blankets over him, and it makes Blackbeard feel dangerously - present. He can feel the ache of his muscles from shivering, the soft slide of the sheets against his skin, the warmth flooding his hands like needles.

“I’ll leave you then,” Stede says, “If you’re okay. If you’re certain. If there’s nothing else you – want.”

The word sounds obscene in his mouth. Blackbeard leans his head back on the cloud of Stede’s pillow, and imagines the rest of the gentleman pirate’s night. Drying off below deck, maybe? Joining the crew in the kitchen or bunking with someone or huddled in the dark, shivering through the cold. He can still hear the rain hitting the side of the ship. The wind seems to have calmed down some, but there’s no way anyone’s sleeping on deck tonight.

Blackbeard wishes he was a different kind of man, sometimes. One born for great, gentle things. Barring that, a man born without the capacity to want them.

But he isn’t.

He catches Stede’s wrist before he can pull away, and it’s a mistake, a fucking mistake, because his wrist is so soft and his pulse is so fast under Blackbeard’s thumb. It’s all he can do not to bring it to his mouth and bite it.

Stede’s eyes go wide, but he stays silent, and Blackbeard studies the dampness of his lower lip.

“You’re shivering,” he says. “Don’t be a fucking idiot. Dry off and get in.”

He drops Stede’s wrist instead of looking at him, and shoves over as far in the bed as he can. Then he awkwardly rolls onto his other side, turning his back because he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to stay conscious otherwise. He’d thought the cold would have killed it, but even the contact with Stede’s wrist suddenly has him all flushed and half-hard. Ridiculous. He can’t fucking believe he just invited the man to bed with him. 

He waits for Stede to - say something. Make an excuse why he shouldn’t. Blackbeard’s almost hoping that Stede will back out so he can wank himself stupid in a bed that smells like lavendar and pass out in his own filth. 

He waits - but then he hears footsteps. The muffled sound of fabric moving over skin (is Stede using the same towel as I did, Blackbeard wonders, is he getting me all over him, does he like it, does he -) and then the lantern goes out. 

The room is dark but there’s a sliver-moon outside the window, casting a slice of pale light across Blackbeard’s pillow.

He hears rustling behind him, like clothing being pulled off. Hitting the floor? Nah, Stede isn’t the type to just let things fall where they will. He’s probably folding them or hanging them up or something. And now he’s probably standing there, with moonlight all over his skin, and looking at Blackbeard’s tattooed shoulder, scarred up back. Maybe he’s rethinking everything, about to get his kit back on and make a run for it, or maybe he’s coming closer, about to reach out, God please -

Blackbeard holds his breath so Stede can’t hear how fast he’s breathing.

Then the bed creaks. The mattress shifts as someone crawls in behind him. The blankets adjust and Blackbeard squeezes his eyes shut and tenses every muscle in his body, hoping to all hell that his trembling isn’t shaking the whole bed.

He hears Stede sigh. Feels it even, right against the back of his neck.

“I forgot how comfortable this bed was.” 

Blackbeard can only grunt a reply. He didn’t know how comfortable this bed was either. He was too afraid to even consider it.

“Are you - warm enough?”

“Yeah. Good.”

He can sense Stede shivering behind him, though their skin isn’t touching anywhere. Blackbeard won’t let it.

But there was a time, wasn’t there, when he couldn’t let their skin touch enough. Back before all this shit, he was out of his mind wanting to be touched. Letting Stede fix his collar or put a hand on his knee. Letting Stede take his arm to show him something. Clinging to each other in the crow’s nest on the first day they met! He’d never been like that before, so he can’t be blamed for not knowing what it meant. 

Sometimes he wishes he hadn’t figured it out. Everything might have gone better.

Now they’re naked in a fucking bed together, and there’s so much space between them it might as well be the ocean. Those easy, early days are done, and they’ll never find their way back to them. 

That’s too bad. Blackbeard was happy there.

He listens to the sound of Stede’s breathing behind him. There’s no way he’s going to fall asleep like this, not somewhere this soft. He was never meant for fluffy pillows and feathertop this-and-thats and down or whatever. He’ll wait until he’s warmer, til his feet thaw out and the prickling leaves his skin, and then this’ll be over, thank Christ. He can creep away in the night and forget it.

Stede shifts a bit in bed and something absolutely murderous-cold brushes against Blackbeard’s spine.

“Bastard shit-fucking – was that your hand?”

“Sorry! I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to –”

“Jesus.” No one was towelling Stede’s hands dry, were they. No one was drying his hair and rubbing feeling back into his skin. 

( Don’t do it .)

Come here,” he says.

There is no sound behind him, not even a breath.

“Give me your hand,” he says again, when Stede doesn’t move.

“Are you –”

“Yes, shit, I’m sure. Come on.”

In the almost-dark, there is the touch of a cold hand at the dip of his waist. It makes all the muscles in Blackbeard’s body tense, but he exhales through his nostrils, forces himself to relax. He puts his hand on top of Stede’s and draws it up to his chest. He puts his other hand on top of it too, holds it there, warm (or warmer, at least) against this delicate block of ice.

He ignores Stede’s quick gasp of breath. He ignores the way it makes his toes curl. 

Tremors run through the arm stretched over Blackbeard’s ribs, but he holds on. Doesn’t let go.

After a few minutes, the tip of a cold nose touches the back of his neck and rests there. 

Stede stays.

 


 

Stede avoids him for a bit after the kiss (just a kiss, who cares about a kiss, Blackbeard’s kissed loads of people, and who wouldn’t want to kiss him, he’s Blackbeard.)  But he doesn’t disappear into the night. He’s still there every morning, and Blackbeard tries not to look at him and fails all the time.

One day, he overhears an argument in the crew’s quarters. Pete is shouting and Fang is shouting back, and Blackbeard is just going to carry on to the gun deck and let them sort it out with violence when Stede’s voice stops him.

“No, listen guys. Guys! We’ve got to clear the air, all right? If you have something to say to each other, you have to say it. Otherwise it will fester, and no one likes festering. But that also means you’ve got to listen . Okay? Fang - you go first. What do you have to say to Pete?”

Of all the complete shit - this is a pirate ship, not some poncy fucking school. Izzy will find them soon enough, curse them out and send them all back to work, so Blackbeard just ignores it.

Or he intends to. 

But that night when he’s checking their coordinates with Buttons, something goes wrong in his head.

“Shouldn’t have left you on the island, mate.”

It comes out of his throat like a cough, and Buttons stares at him with his perpetual severe and wide-eyed look while Blackbeard screams “ fuck ” silently in his head. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. Why the fuck did he say that?

Eventually Buttons replies, “Thank ye, Cap’n,” and Blackbeard nods awkwardly and they both go back to their business. He blames it on sunstroke and tries to forget about it.

But it happens again.

Oluwande looks confused and Jim sneers at him and it just keeps fucking happening. Even Izzy, that rat, who sold him out and almost cost them their lives - Blackbeard finds him on the orlop, can’t even look at him while he stammers out whatever his broken brain insists he say.

“Where’s the laugh, right? Kind of messed up to be honest, not the right way to deal with – all of that.” He waits but Izzy says nothing. Blackbeard can hear the grinding of the man’s jaw from across the room. “And if you fuck with me and the crew again, I’ll tie you to an anchor and put you in the water, all right? That’s pirating. Good talk.” He raps his hand on the doorframe a couple times for punctuation before he leaves. 

 

Stede brings him a mug of tea the next morning. 

“It’s nice to see your face,” he says, which is weird. Until Blackbeard realises he’s forgotten to put his paint on.  

When’s the last time he wore it, actually? It feels kind of nice without that tacky shit all over his skin. It got in his eyes sometimes, and his hair was always stuck in it. 

He doesn’t reply, just takes the tea, and the next day he forgets the paint again.

 

He’s not drunk when he gets Izzy to fetch Lucius for him, but maybe he should be. Lucius will barely enter his cabin and lingers by the doorway shifting from one foot to another, making Blackbeard feel more uncomfortable than he already does.

Yeah, he should’ve been drunk for this (he’s been trying to settle down a bit with that, but he’s clearly made a mistake.)

“See you’ve changed up the place,” Lucius says, and  Blackbeard realises he hasn’t seen the room since everything was cleared out. “Made it your own, good for you. Did you need something?”

“I wanted to say –” This is the fucking worst. This is the worst idea Blackbeard’s ever had, and once he tried to ride a dolphin. “I wanted to say - I’m glad you’re not dead.”

That takes Lucius a minute. “Wow.” He smiles but doesn’t actually look like he’s smiling? It’s a thing he’s done before, Blackbeard’s seen it a lot. “Huh. Well. Me too, actually.”

“I fucked up there.”

“Cool.” Lucius just stands there, smiling with violence. “That’s great. Really.”

He’s using massive aggression, Blackbeard’s sure of it. He’ll allow it this one time, probably owes him a little after the attempted drowning. He waits for Lucius to piss off now that the air-clearing is done, but instead, Lucius wanders further into the room. He looks around cautiously, almost casually, though he twists his mouth when he sees the bookshelves.

“You kept that art, hey? That’s a choice.”

Blackbeard follows Lucius’ eyes to the stupid lighthouse painting on the wall. He should’ve cracked it over his knee by now, should have lit it on fire and scattered the ashes. It’s only good for looking at while crying, and even then he could probably find something better.

“Not my favourite,” Lucius says, taking a few steps closer to examine it. “But I’m more of a charcoals guy myself.” He glances briefly at Blackbeard, then frowns. “You know, I grew up in a town with a lighthouse.”

Is he supposed to care about this? Is this what clearing the air gets you? Fuck, he’d rather have things fester.

“On the coast. There was a harbour nearby and a canal or something, a narrow bit -” Lucius obviously knows less than nothing about sailing, and he makes a gesture like something - swimming? through another thing? Blackbeard must look as confused as he feels because Lucius rolls his eyes.  “ Anyway . It was like, the ships wouldn’t have made it through without the lighthouse there. It was a - light.”

Blackbeard nods.

“Also a house.”

“Yeah, got it.”

“I’m just saying, it’s not all about rocks and warnings, is it.” Lucius looks like he’d rather be anywhere else, maybe even overboard.  “Sometimes it’s about - safe passage. Sometimes they guide you home.”

Something twists in Blackbeard’s gut.  “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“He told me what happened,” Lucius says quickly. “What he did.”

“Did he.” Blackbeard wishes he had a piece of glass to bite into. 

“And I’m really mad about it, just so you know. It’s not okay, absolutely not - but we also do a lot of murdering and robbing and stuff on this ship, so - you know. Comparatively.”

“We’re fucking pirates.”

“Yeah, and sometimes we fuck up.” Lucius swallows. “And I know – I know he loves you.” He says it like he’s pulling a sword from his stomach, and Blackbeard’s suddenly on his feet. 

Lucius raises both hands, backing up immediately. “Are you going to throw me overboard again because I’ll start screaming right now, I swear –”

“I’m - no. I’m not going to do that.”

“Or stab me in the face.”

“... no.” 

He has to think about it first. But just for a second. He lowers his hand from his knife, and they look at each other, silently.

“So. Um. What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” Blackbeard says, and he means it, and he hates that he means it. 

“Are you  – I can’t believe I’m asking you this, given all of the everything but – do you think - are you going to be okay?” 

“I don’t know.” He hates that he means that too.

 

“The crew was wondering,” Frenchie asks him a few days later, “if Cap- Mr. Bonnet could - uh - return to his previous nightly - entertainments.”

He’s standing at the doorway of the great cabin, which should have been shut and locked. That was dumb. A beginner's mistake.

“Wee John is - particularly interested, sir Blackbeard, um, and they asked me if I - well, we drew lots and -”

“Do you think I fucking care whether you have a story hour? Do whatever the fuck you want, and get out.”

Stede may not have his books anymore, but he seems to have no lack of stories to share with the crew. Blackbeard always makes sure he’s not on deck to hear them, but sometimes, even from his cabin, he’s startled by a bit of laughter, a shouted question, a gasp.

Sometimes he'll put his ear to the door.  He can’t make out the exact words, or not all of them, but he can hear the cadence of Stede’s voice. He imagines lamplight on his face, and the crew gathered around him, eyes fixed on the expressive movements of his hands.

Blackbeard remembers those.

Sometimes on these nights, he’ll slide to the floor, sit there with his head against the door and the music of Stede’s voice in his ear.  Sometimes he falls asleep like this. And while he does, a tiny golden thing deep inside him, one he thought he’d murdered long ago, shakes itself awake.

Just for a moment. Buried in the cavern of his ribs, something beautiful keeps breathing.

 


 

The bed is very comfortable, so Blackbeard can’t be too put out when he hears Stede snoring. It’s a gentlemanly snore, not enough to keep anyone up at night. He murmurs in his sleep too, talks a bit, and Blackbeard’s known this since they met. 

He keeps a tight hold on his hand in the darkness.

It was a terrible idea to lie down here, and an even worse one to let Stede join him. He should have given Stede the bed and spent the night on deck, even if they’d have to scrape him off in the morning.

There’s as much space as there can be between them, but he can still feel the warmth of Stede’s skin reaching across the distance. It would be so easy to roll over and take the man in his arms, he might do it without thinking about it, and the thought makes him feel almost sick with panic. 

He hates the space between them and he hates this soft fucking bed that he can’t sleep in. He hates his body for wanting things, he hates his heart for being used up. He hates Stede Bonnet, he hates him so much sometimes it feels like that’s all he has inside him. If someone hit him hard enough he’d crumble inward like a wasp’s nest, and all that hate would come stinging out.

Stede pulls away, turning onto his back with a murmur. His hand slides from Blackbeard’s grip, and he resists for as long as he can before he rolls over too. On his side, so he can look at Stede while he’s sleeping. Sometimes that’s all he wants, just to look at him, just a little.

The moonlight spills over Stede’s face. He’s expressive when he’s dreaming – his eyelashes flutter, and his lips move restlessly. There are lines on his forehead and around his eyes and mouth, and Blackbeard wants to memorize them with his tongue. He wants to look at Stede every day until his eyes go weak and milky like his mum’s did (probably something that’s coming for him down the road, but odds are he won’t survive ‘til then.)

“You don’t –” Stede murmurs, the words blurred together.

“I don’t what?” Blackbeard asks the dark, but Stede doesn’t answer him, just says something too quiet to be heard.

“Oh,” he says after a moment, and Blackbeard watches the flutter of breath beneath his skin.

“Oh, yourself.”

Stede’s nice to watch while he sleeps. That probably sounds a little creepy. Well. Maybe he’s creepy, so what. He’s always like seeing people at ease and unguarded. It’s not a thing he gets to do much in his line of work. The first day they met, Stede was mostly unconscious, and Blackbeard was fascinated by him - how did anyone sleep like that, belly up, throat bared for the world to tear out?  Blackbeard could’ve killed him then without even waking him.

Instead he just sat there, wanting to touch him.

“Oh,” Stede says again, and it’s higher in his throat. Blackbeard can smell him, and it doesn’t seem fair that even without his lotions and perfumes and whatever else - silks, probably - Stede still smells like himself. 

Is it a posh thing? Blackbeard doesn’t think so, he’s met his share of rich arseholes who smelled like spoiled milk, maybe with a bit of rosewater overtop. But Stede smells like - lavender, yeah, but also salt and - and honey maybe. The bed smells like him, the air smells like him, Blackbeard’s fucking hair smells like him now. 

He wishes he could regret it. 

Oh, ” Stede says in his sleep, and there’s a - tenor there that Blackbeard was not expecting. His chest is rising and falling a bit quicker beneath the blankets and - is this -

This isn’t - 

Is it?

Fucking hell, Stede is writhing, there’s no other word to describe it. Blackbeard can’t take his eyes off him. He should cough or something, wake the man out of whatever’s going on in there, but he can’t. He’s a monster after all, and this is too close to what’s been lurking in the shallows of him for ages. The look on Stede’s face right now, the sounds he’s making. There was a time Blackbeard would’ve done anything to be the cause of these noises (that day on the beach he thought - maybe it’ll happen. Maybe someday it’ll happen. He’d spent the rest of it in a fog of affection and panic and gentle lust, swears his feet didn’t touch the ground after they kissed. 

He thought it was just the start of everything.  He didn’t know it was the end.)

Stede makes a soft little injured sound, and shudders. Blackbeard’s prick is aching, but it’s nothing compared to the sharper ache in his heart. He leans in a little bit, not enough to touch Stede, just enough to study the shape of his mouth when he makes that noise so that Blackbeard can remember it for the rest of his life.

This is of course when Stede’s eyes open.

“Ed?” His voice is rough and he blinks, clearing his gaze. “I thought - I thought I was dreaming.”

“Please let me kiss you,” Blackbeard says, and Stede is on him immediately.

Thank God, thank Christ. There is a mouth hot and open on his, and hands in his hair, tugging him closer. They both make a noise as their lips collide, and Blackbeard’s hands are frantic, ribs shoulders back waist , he can’t stop touching him. Their bare calves rub together, their thighs, and it hits him like a bullet: he’s never done this before. 

He’s never kissed anyone in a bed. 

Stede tilts his head back, gasping, so Blackbeard kisses his throat the way he’s always wanted to, with his teeth scraping up to his jaw, sucking at the hollow of it, desperate to hear that little gasping sound again. It feels like he hasn't been kissed before in his life, like he’ll never be kissed like this again. Maybe this is another one of those ‘last times that feel like first times’, but no - Blackbeard can’t think about that or he’ll start snivelling and go soft. He’s got to pretend.

“Your skin,” he says, fascinated by the feeling of Stede’s neck against his lips, by his perfect unbroken collarbones. “I - can’t believe your fucking skin.”

“Here, please come here,” Stede says, and oh Christ - he’s rolling on top of him, slotting their thighs together. “Is this okay?”

“This is fucking perfect,” Blackbeard says, clutching Stede’s body against his own. The air outside their little world is still cold, Stede’s nose and lips are cold, but his prick is hard against his belly, and when Blackbeard pulls his hips close, Stede flushes like he’s got a fever.

No one who breaks your heart should be allowed to look that pretty, it’s really annoying. Blackbeard decides to suck Stede’s tongue into his mouth so he doesn’t think about that anymore.

“God.” Stede keeps having little hitches in his breath that make Blackbeard want to bite him (hard), see what other kind of sounds he’d make. “I want to do this when it’s light out. I want to look at you.”

“Sure thing,” Blackbeard says, feeling a stab in his gut at the thought. Let’s see if Stede is still here in the morning. See if he still wants it, see if the sight of Blackbeard, scars and all, doesn’t send him running again (don’t think about that either.)

“Stede, Christ. Wait.” He pulls back, trying to calm down. “What do you want?”

“You. I want you.” 

“Okay, yeah, but –” It’s hard to focus when Stede leans in to suck on his earlobe, just a hint of teeth, perfect.“What specifically?”

Stede seems a bit flustered now, but Blackbeard needs him to say it. He needs it to be very fucking clear.

“Anything. Everything. Whatever you like.”

“That’s not an answer –”

“I want to suck your cock.”

The air leaves his lungs. He makes a hiccoughing sound of surprise and that’s not cool, it’s the least cool thing ever. 

“I – you don’t – you –”

“It’s what I want. You asked.” Then Stede gives him a sly, small grin. Blackbeard’s seen that grin only once before, on a fancy burning party boat. “But only if you want that.” 

If I want that, fuck’s sake -”

“I admit my imagination has been quite - vivid in this regard.” Stede kisses his neck and his chest and Blackbeard moans, gasps, clutches at his hair. He’s too stunned to do anything but lie there as Stede trails his mouth down his stomach, kisses a scar or two on his ribs. Stede's hands pet down his hips and thighs, and he shoulders his way between his legs. “If I do this wrong - you might have to tell me. If it isn’t what you like.”

You’re what I like, Blackbeard doesn’t say, you’re all of it. You couldn’t do this wrong.

“I’ll like it, swear to God.”

Stede licks at the hair below Blackbeard’s belly button, and Blackbeard wishes it weren’t so dark out so he could see everything. Wishes he could see Stede’s eyelashes flutter as he looks at him for the first time. Wishes he could see the man’s tongue wetting his lips, the nervous clench of his fingers on Blackbeard’s hips.

“Is this okay?” Stede asks and Blackbeard’s going to die before he gets off, he can just tell, but he moans and nods and then Stede’s licking the crease between his hip and thigh.

He has to close his eyes at the first touch of Stede’s tongue. Then he has to cover his face with his hands, tug on his own hair, focus on anything else so he doesn’t just spill at the image of it happening in his head. There are a few tentative, very delicate licks and what the hell , even if he just keeps doing this, it’ll work.

“Oh,” he hears Stede breathe, and then lips are encircling the head of him, a warm mouth is drawing him in, and Blackbeard has to reach down for Stede’s hair so he stays exactly where he is. Sometimes he kind of - goes away during sex, but he doesn’t want to do that now. He wants to be here, he wants to feel it.

“Is this - ?” Stede asks, pulling off slowly, and Blackbeard nods frantically even though no one can see him.

“It’s good, it’s so good,” anything to get Stede’s mouth back on him. “It’s perfect, you’re perfect -"

Stede swallows him down again, making a pleased little sound. He’s still uncertain and a bit sloppy. There’s spit everywhere, Blackbeard can feel it dripping. He tries to keep his hips from shifting, resists the urge to fuck up into that wet heat until he goes blind. Stay here. Feel this.

“Fuck me to hell,” he grits through his teeth. “Just like that.”

Stede keeps his movements steady and slow, a simmering sort of pleasure. Sometimes he tries to take him a little deeper, and then Blackbeard feels the flutter of his throat, and it’s murderous, actually. He’d have a better chance of surviving being run through on the right side, and he keeps flexing his fingers in Stede’s hair, trying to be gentle, trying to hold on.  He can’t - fuck - the end is going to wreck him, he knows it -

Stede stops suddenly, gasping. “It’s so much.” He’s breathing hard, hands clenched on Blackbeard’s hips.  “You’re so - I want -“

“What do you want? I’ll do anything.” Blackbeard pretends he doesn’t hear the way he sounds as he says it, like he’s gratefully signing away his life.

“I think I want you to - to fuck me.” He’s quiet, barely above a whisper. “If you want that.” His voice catches like silk on metal, and Blackbeard’s brain whites out for a little bit. He opens his arms and Stede crawls up the bed and kisses him, touching his hair, mouth wet and trembling.

“I’ve thought about it. I’ve - wanted it,” Stede tells him, and the image (Stede on his hands and knees fucking himself on Blackbeard’s cock demanding more, Stede riding him, little jumps of those gorgeous hips, prick spurting without even a hand on him, Stede with those legs up over his shoulders bent almost in half shocked speechless by how good it feels- )

— might have crossed his mind. Once or twice.

“Do you want that?” Stede asks and Blackbeard hands are tight on his shoulders. He feels a bit too much suddenly, an ache in his chest that he can’t speak around. He’s quiet for too long, and Stede lifts his mouth from his throat.

“Edward? Are you -“

“I don’t know how,” Blackbeard says in a rush. “I’ve never done this.”

“No. Really?” Stede blinks at him in surprise. “That’s not - you give off certain vibes, so I -”

“I mean - not like this. Like how you deserve it. Like – gentle or good, I don’t think I can –” Oh fuck he’s panicking, nothing sexier than panic.  “I’ve never.”

“Well. Then we’re the same.” Stede gives him a tiny smile, and that turns into a kiss, which turns into another and another one. His hands cup Blackbeard’s face. “That’s kind of nice. Makes me feel better.”

How did Stede survive in the world long enough for Blackbeard to find him? How the hell did he they end up here? With a final kiss (on his nose of all the fucking indignities) Stede leans away. He reaches off the side of the bed and rummages beneath it, while Blackbeard falls in love with each freckle on his back.

“No,” he says when Stede returns with a flat tin of something. “Under your fucking mattress?”

“It’s for my cuticles,” Stede says.

“Yeah, I’ll bet it is.”

“Oh, shut up.” Stede presses it into his hand, and kisses his throat. He’s shaking, but it’s not from the cold, and anyway Blackbeard is shaking too. “Edward. Will you show me?”

He doesn’t correct him. It’s impossible to care what his name is when Stede is so gentle beneath him, shifting his knees so that Blackbeard can fit in between (he has to lift each one in turn to kiss the back of them immediately, there’s no other option.)

Whatever it is in the tin melts in Blackbeard’s palm and smells a bit like oranges. He fingers Stede open so slowly, and it feels like a dream and a bullet and a ghost that’s going to haunt him for the rest of his fucking life. Stede's slick and warm and every time Blackbeard presses in, Stede’s beautiful cock jumps, and he makes this sound like he can’t believe it, a surprised little bird sound, and Blackbeard’s going to lose his mind. 

He never does this sort of thing. Just takes or is taken, there’s no build up to the act. But the noises Stede’s making, the way he keeps reaching for his cock and then pulling his hand back, like it’s so good he can’t stand it.

Blackbeard doesn’t even care if they get to the main bit. He could get Stede off just like this and probably get himself off just watching it.  They could take all night, and if Stede’s hips needed a break he could put his legs up on Blackbeard’s shoulders and get eaten out a bit. That'd be all right. Blackbeard would make it good.

“This is so good,” Stede murmurs, hissing as Blackbeard adds another finger. “How is this so good?”

“Cuz it’s me.’

It’s supposed to be a joke, but Stede reaches out to brush his hair out of his eyes, and the look on his face is so gentle. “You’re right.”

Fuck, Blackbeard has to stop for a moment, press his head to Stede’s stomach and breathe until his body stops trembling. He holds his hips very carefully away from the mattress. 

“So fucking - embarrassing,” he mutters into Stede’s skin and the other man laughs. “Sorry, I’m just -” 

“It’s all right, love. Take your time.”

Love – it’s still not a word that Blackbeard can hear. Even though it’s in his mouth as well, burnt onto his tongue with the edge of a hot knife. He bites Stede’s hipbone to shut him up, and then gets back to it.

“I think I’m ready. I think you’d better -”  Stede is breathing heavily, and he shifts backwards, murmuring as Blackbeard’s fingers slide free. Blackbeard sucks once on the tip of his prick, just to get the taste, and it makes Stede cry out and almost kick him, which is probably a compliment. “God, you're so good at this."

That should be feeding Blackbeard’s ego because yeah, he knows what he’s doing, but instead his stupid brain just latches onto the word ‘good.’

“Yeah?” he asks. “You like this?”

“Please come here.”

He pulls his hair up into some sort of knot on his head, because the last thing he wants is it getting in Stede’s eyes.

“Are you sure?” He can’t stop shaking as he slicks himself, as he hitches one of Stede’s lovely legs up around his waist. He’s got to make this feel incredible and he’s got to make this last and he’s not sure if he can do either of those things right now. “Fuck, are you sure?”

“Yes. For heaven’s sake, y-es –” The word cracks in half a little bit, because Blackbeard is lining himself up, is lifting Stede’s hips and slowly pressing inside. Something breaks open in his chest as he does, and Stede wraps his legs around him like it’s their wedding night, hissing and tilting his head back until he’s filled in one long stroke. 

“O-okay?” Damn, it’s hard to do this shit when you’re in love with someone. Maybe he just needs to practice, and that’s – no, we’re not thinking about that.

“It’s perfect,” Stede says. “You’re perfect.” He gasps as they rock together, lets out a breath every time Blackbeard is completely inside him.  His hands don’t stop moving, fluttering down Blackbeard’s back, running up his ribs, gentle and constant and leaving a trail of goosebumps behind them.

Blackbeard's not used to being touched like this.

“Take it easy with those hands, mate,” he says, shivering with it. “It’s uh - a lot.”

“Oh, sorry.” Stede kisses him then, and Blackbeard grabs at his hair to hold him steady, but not a moment later those soft hands are petting his neck, slipping silvery against his skin.

“Stede, Christ -”

“I’m so sorry, I’ll try. You just feel - everything feels -”

“A second, give me a second.” Blackbeard holds himself still, hisses a breath through clenched teeth. He can’t believe he’s so touch starved that Stede’s fingers on his shoulders are moments away from ruining everything.

“You could help me,” Stede says. Even without much light, Blackbeard can see how dark his eyes have gone. 

It’s like that, is it? Blackbeard feels the blade of a smile on his face. He gathers both of Stede’s wrists in one of his hands, stretches them up over his head and pins them there. 

“Okay?” he asks. His prick throbs inside him, and Stede’s thighs shake around his hips.

“Um - very, very okay.”

“Good.” He pulls back and thrusts in a bit more sharply. Both he and Stede make matching gutted noises as he does. The tenor has changed suddenly, things don’t feel slow and dreamy anymore. Stede’s eyes are fixed on him, and Blackbeard can’t stop moving, hard and deep, the pulse of Stede’s wrists running all the way down his spine like fire.

“You feel so fucking good,” Blackbeard says, the words bleeding out of him like he’s severed an artery.  He’s never felt anything like this, never had his whole heart fucked out of his body. “Think you were made for this, just to lie back and take me. Could fuck you all day, been wanting to, been -” dreaming of it, gagging for it, lying awake and feeling sick that I’m not touching you all the time every second.

Stede leans up to kiss him, and the bed beneath them shakes.

“What do you need?” Blackbeard says, and he can’t hold back, can feel everything building too quickly.

“You, that’s all - oh, do that again.”

“Like that?” Christ, it feels good. He should’ve known it would be like this, should have known it. “Can I touch you?”

“No. Just like this. It’s enough.” Stede whimpers beautifully, and Blackbeard can’t help but bend to bite at his neck, his jaw, kissing as much of his chest as he can reach while still pinning Stede down. He’s too close, it feels too good.

“I’m going to come inside you.” He says it with a bit of shock, disbelief. Oh Christ, it’s happening, he’s here. “I’m going to –”

“Yes,” Stede says and Blackbeard feels him then, spilling hot and wet against his stomach and his chest. Stede makes a surprised, pained sound at his peak, and the surprise - like Stede never expected it to feel as good as this - is what sends Blackbeard over the edge. That’s hot, that’s so fucking hot, and Blackbeard wants to make him feel like that three times a day every day for the rest of his life. 

He bites his lower lip, presses his face against Stede’s neck, and falls apart. It goes on and on and he’s choking out some kind of noise that he doesn’t want to think about. Fuck. Fuck.

“I love -” Stede starts to say, but Blackbeard kisses him, clutches him, and won’t let him go. 

Everything gets gentler after that. Their bodies slip apart, and Stede is wiping his chest clean, pulling the blankets back up and murmuring nonsense at him, the horrible healing kind. 

“Your neck,” is the last thing Blackbeard remembers saying, and he doesn’t know why (besides - objectively - Stede’s neck) before he’s falling asleep all tangled up in someone else’s hands.

Tonight, dark water doesn’t drag him under.  Blackbeard dreams, and his dreams are soft.

 


 

He walks very slowly as he crosses the deck, trying his best to make sure nothing spills. Stede is winding rope with Oluwande, and when he sees Blackbeard approaching, he smiles at him like no one ever has in his life (except this fucking man. Over and over and over again.)

“Brought you tea,” Blackbeard says, and wishes the boat would capsize.

“You brought - me -” Stede looks at him like he just strung the world on a silver chain and handed it to him.

“Getting you back, whatever. Probably too hot or something.”

Stede lifts the teacup to his lips. “It’s perfect. And where did you get this? I don’t think I’ve seen this pattern before.”

Blackbeard shrugs, one-shouldered.

“Did you bring me tea?” Oluwande asks.

“Fuck off,” Blackbeard says, only feeling a little bit bad about it.

Stede is still smiling at him, and Blackbeard panics, says,  “I, uh, better get back to it,” when what he wants to say is ‘I don’t know how to forgive you, and I don’t know how to forgive myself, and I am absolutely fucked in the head in love with you, would peel off my skin and pull out my teeth if you wanted them, because love has always been violent, but maybe that’s not what you want, maybe you deserve better things and I might not know how to give them to you, how to be them for you, and I never thought I’d live long enough to feel this way.”

“Thank you,” Stede says. Like he already knows.

 


 

As dawn slices across the sky, Stede touches his face slowly in the new light. He’s very careful about it, and it makes Blackbeard feel precious beneath his hands. Stede drags his short nails through the whiskers on his chin, while Blackbeard tries to hold his whole heart inside his chest. It keeps trying to claw its way free, and maybe he should let it.

Clear the air.

“When you left,  I went a bit… off.”  He hates how weak his voice sounds, how broken, like a little kid in a bathtub.

Stede just nods, and doesn’t stop touching him.

“I did too.”

“Why - weren’t you there?” he asks the question, even though it costs him a year of his life to say out loud. “I waited for you.”

 He presses his forehead against Stede’s and closes his eyes. 

“Ed, I thought -”

“I couldn’t hear it. You tried, but I couldn’t.”

A cautious hand cards through Blackbeard’s hair. A cautious kiss is pressed to the ridge of his eyebrow.

“Tell me again?”

He keeps his eyes closed, because he hopes it will be easier that way. If he opens his eyes, if he sees Stede’s face he’ll get lost, he’ll want to kiss him, he’ll feel ugly or starving or both, so keeps his eyes closed. He focuses on Stede’s breath, the whisper of it against his mouth. He focuses on Stede’s skin against his, the heartbeat he feels like a ripple through the mattress.

Stede tells him. 

Do the reasons matter, in the end? Blackbeard hears his apologies and his fears and his regrets, and it all hurts. Every word hurts. 

It hurts because it can’t fix anything, can’t undo any of it. It can’t make the clocks wind back to that day on the beach, where everything seemed possible and the horizon of his heart was wide and gold and endless, the whole world waiting for the two of them to find it. Stede’s reasons don’t change anything in the war-wound of Blackbeard’s body. 

 

But this time, Edward hears them.

 

In the morning the sky is clear. Ed wakes before Stede does, listens to the music of his steady breathing. He puts on his trousers and one of Stede’s old silk robes, belts it, and leaves the door to the auxiliary closet open. 

On deck he finds Buttons at the helm and Wee John on watch. They nod at him as he goes to lean against the railing. The sails have been repaired and the sea is calm, as if it’s never even heard of a storm. He stands there, looking at the sky. He smells faintly like lavender, and the wind blows his hair out of his face. 

The horizon is wide and gold and endless.

Not long after, Stede comes out to join him. He has two cups of tea and a purplish bruise high on his throat. He’s the most beautiful thing Edward’s ever seen, and he would attack the Spanish and give up piracy and cut his own heart out, he would do it all over again just to see him in this perfect light.

“Good morning,” Stede says, handing him his tea.

“You love me,” Edward says, and Stede drops his cup. It shatters on the deck, spilling everywhere, and Stede doesn’t even seem to notice.

“Yes. Yes, I do. I do, I — yes, I have for so long. Yes.”

Something in Edward’s throat untangles, and he takes a breath. 

Maybe those early, easy days are gone. Maybe they’re both too broken, and they can’t go back to where they were, a time when neither of them had hurt the other – though Stede ran Ed through on one of their first nights together, so maybe they were bound in blood from the start. Maybe it was always going to happen, the painful bits, the wounding. 

Maybe what matters is what happens next.

“Well then.” Edward leans his head against Stede Bonnet’s shoulder, not caring who sees them. His heart feels like a key in a lock. “All right.”

Or maybe they will find their way, maybe it’ll just take time. Right now, Ed thinks he can see it far off on the water, like a light glittering, one that only gets brighter the closer Stede stands beside him. 

Maybe after everything, it’s still possible. Maybe they’ll reach it some day. 

 


 

They do.