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Ed stared into the candle flame, not daring to make eye contact with Lucius. The boy’s words were too soft, too kind and he knew he’d lose whatever scrap of control he had if he gave in to the sheer fucking… niceness of that boy. Cutting him to the quick, with the power of just being there and listening, so much like his Captain. It was absolute witchcraft and he knew if he stopped looking at the flame long enough to make eye contact that would be it for his last shred of dignity.

“What if it’s not a death?” Lucius murmured. “What if life just begins a—what the fuck?”

Ed’s eyebrows rose, then furrowed as he dared steal a glance at Lucius. Then he heard it too: a knocking, like something beating rhythmically against the side of the ship.

“Lucius, would you—”

“Already on it,” Lucius said grimly. He ducked out of the blanket fort. Beyond, Ed could make out a baffling series of noises: the sound of the window squeaking open, a murmur of voices, Lucius’s going shrill for a moment, the clonk of something heavy hitting the floor. Ed frowned and shifted to gather the pink silk robe around him and get to his feet when Lucius scrambled back into the fort.

“Right, remember all that stuff I just told you about letting go?” Lucius was beaming, hard, so hard that biting his lip did nothing to suppress his smile. “Forget all that. Utter nonsense. Drivel. You should definitely keep holding on and do not let this one go. I don’t know what he did to his hair but it is a good look. A very good look.”

“What are you on about?” Ed said blearily.

Lucius reached his hand out, hesitating an inch above Ed’s, then he patted Ed’s hand in what might have been a comforting manner if he didn’t immediately recoil like it was a snake. “You’ve wallowed in here long enough. There’s someone waiting for you out there and frankly, I don’t plan to be anywhere near this room to spoil things. So up! Get up and out there!”

Lucius dove back out of the blanket fort, muttered something to whoever else was there, then there was the sound of the cabin door slamming shut.

Well, things were definitely weird enough at this point that the weight of despair that had been crushing Ed these past days lifted a little. Enough that with great effort, Ed pushed himself to a sitting position and gathered the silk robe around himself, taking a second to scrape the last traces of tears from his cheeks with the palm of his hand. He ducked out, blinking into the afternoon light of the cabin. It took a moment for his vision to clear (after spotting from the headrush of lying flat for so long) enough to make out what was before him.

Stede was standing by the window.

Correction. Stede was gazing out to sea, framed by the light from the window, looking like an angel. His hair was swept back from his face, his white shirt was open at the collar to reveal a good portion of his chest, and his sleeves were rolled to the elbows. He looked… weirdly calm. Usually, there was this sort of cringing, frenetic energy about Stede, like he would do anything to please others. Like he wanted to do so much more, to be so much more, no matter how much Ed told him that everyone else was awful and Stede was fine the way he was.

The Stede in front of him looked like he’d listened. He looked comfortable in his own skin, taller somehow. He looked… really fucking good, to be honest, Ed’s mouth was a little dry.

Ed also realized in that moment how he must look. There were empty rum bottles cluttering Stede’s cabin, which in addition to the mess had taken on the distinct odor of feet. Ed was wearing Stede’s robe, and his eyes were puffy and his cheeks covered in dried tears from several days of crying jags. His fingers were sticky from eating marmalade straight from the cup and that was probably the sweetest smell on him, given the rank odor of drunken flop sweat on his skin and in his hair that made it fall around his shoulders in greasy strands. The absolute picture of romance, he was.

But none of that seemed to matter to Stede. He turned—suddenly backlit by the sun and really that was just overkill—and at the sight of Ed his eyes lit up and he smiled like all his dreams had come true at once. Frankly, it was embarrassing to be at the center of that kind of a look.

“Ed?” Stede breathed. In two steps he was in front of Ed and he didn’t stop there. His hands were moving, caressing Ed’s cheek, sliding down to his neck and Ed must have made a sound, half shock, half unfiltered pleasure when both of those soft hands came up to cup his face and even softer lips were on his. He supposed he should do something, kiss back maybe, but he was shocked stiff and could only sit there feeling his insides melt at the smell of Stede, at the warmth of his touch.

Stede broke the kiss first, while Ed was too dazed to do much more than lean into it, swaying at the loss.

“Sorry,” Stede said. “Probably should have said something first but, wow…Ed, you look amazing.

Ed looked down at himself, feeling more stunned than stunning at the moment. “… Thanks? Stede, wh-what are you doing here?”

“Well, it’s my ship isn’t it?” Stede said, then quickly corrected. “Our ship, that is. We’re co-captains, aren’t we?”

“But you left me. On the dock,” Ed said, a bit stupidly. And it felt a bit stupid because it was hard to muster any outrage over those words when Stede was, in fact, standing right in front of him having just kissed him senseless.

Stede winced. “Yes, but I swear it was more complicated than that and I want to tell you all about it, but first let me just say I am sorry, Edward. I never should have left you like that and I’m going to make it up to you, in any way you wish. I’m here for good now and I’m,” Stede paused, his smile grew thoughtful and his gaze a bit distant before snapping back, “yeah, I’m all yours, for as long as you’ll have me.”

Ed bit his lip, feeling it tremble despite it. Shit. He was already on edge from Lucius’s damned gentle prodding, worn out and worn down by days of poking at the wound of Stede’s abandonment. He’d put everything on the line for this man, sat through the cold night waiting for him and known, just like all those voices that sounded suspiciously like Izzy and his father had said, that somehow his everything had been found wanting. That Stede was another fine thing that belonged to other people. Fuck that this was what finally tipped him over the edge.

“You… I thought you were…” Stede startled beneath his hand as Ed reached up to clasp his shirt and buried his face against Stede’s shoulder. It was something to hang onto when he finally broke down. 

“Edward, are you ok?” Stede wrapped his arms around Ed’s shoulders and drew him close. His skin was sun-warmed, radiating heat, and Ed didn’t think of himself as a small guy, but he felt cradled, gathered against Stede’s chest as the last days’ darkness drained out of him--that feeling he’d carried around inside like a handful of shattered glass falling away with each gasping sob--until he was shaking and breathing hard through aftershocks.

“Yeah, I’m fine, how are you?” Ed squeaked the words muffled by Stede’s shoulder.

He could feel Stede smile into his hair, the kiss he pressed after it as he held him close, “Never better. Glad to be home.”