It’s really not a big deal.
Stede tells Lucius that when it happens, right away, just to be sure he knows. After all, Stede had been the one to originally suggest that he teach the crew a thing or two about brandishing swords. Ed taught him so much; he thought it’d only be right to, you know— pay it forward. He’s their Captain, first and foremost. Or, one of them, anyway. He should be teaching them things like this.
So, he organizes their first-ever Training Tuesday. He’d meant to kick things off with a brief demonstration of what Ed showed him, and then they were supposed to move on. It was going to be Jim, mostly, teaching after that; Stede really just wanted to— kick things off, get everybody motivated, show them that he’s involved, too.
He maintains that he is, in fact, very well-intentioned, and that he doesn’t exactly regret taking this on, though— he does, a bit, have to regret the end results.
“It’s really not a big deal,” Stede insists to Lucius, holding one hand over the sluggishly bleeding wound in his side. Lucius is still holding his sword, looking horrified, unmoving where he stands in the center of the deck.
Jim’s already at Stede’s side, a hand on his shoulder, guiding him backward to sit on the stairs right behind him. “You’re okay, Captain—”
“It’s really not a big deal,” Stede repeats to them. He turns to Lucius, insistent. “It’s not, I promise. Don’t you worry about a thing.”
“Don’t you— Captain, I stabbed you,” Lucius exclaims. He looks down at the sword again, then drops it like it’s on fire, stumbling back from it. “Oh, God. Oh, no—”
“I promise, it’s nothing,” Stede says. “Just a scratch.”
He looks down at his front, and regrets it immediately. He also deeply, deeply regrets choosing to wear pale pink today, because the red bloom of his blood is incredibly obvious on the fabric, and it is going to be absolutely impossible to get out. Just seeing it now, he sighs, knowing what a hassle this is going to be.
“Oh, sick,” Oluwande comments. “Cap, you’re, like— bleeding. Like, bleeding bleeding—”
“Yes, thank you, I noticed,” Stede stammers, then looks away again, breathing evenly, staring out at the sea.
“Take this off,” Jim instructs him, plucking at his collar to start helping him tug his clothes off. Lifting his hand away from his side again, so he can pull it up and off, a bolt of pain rockets up from his belly through his chest to the back of his throat, and he bites back a cry of pain, head falling forward as he doubles over.
Jim’s hand flies to his back again, steadying him as he tilts to press his forehead down nearer to his knees. That only makes it hurt worse, though, and he jolts back up.
Jim pats him on the shoulder blade, once, before withdrawing again to keep pulling at his clothes.
“Off,” they repeat. “Let me see it.”
Stede nods, then has to take a deep, steeling breath before he pushes backwards again, laying back against the hard edges of the steps. Jim pulls his vest up and off, then his shirt after. Stede can’t even find it in himself to be embarrassed, right now; the amount of times the entire crew has seen each other in various states of undress is one thing, but he’d do pretty much anything to get the pierce of pain in his side to stop, right now.
“Yikes,” Black Pete comments in a low voice. To Lucius, he says, “Captain’s gonna freak out, babe.”
Lucius blanches, which is bewildering, because Stede has already told him multiple times, this is not a big deal.
“It’s fine, Lucius,” Stede assures him. “It’s really not a big deal, I swear, I asked for you to—”
“Not you, Captain,” Oluwande interrupts him to clarify.
Stede furrows his brow at him, then realizes. “Ah.”
“Oh, God, no,” Lucius says in a rush. “I— Okay, I did not mean to, I would not have done this on purpose, I— He asked me to take the sword—”
“It’s not your fault,” Stede tells him, but Lucius isn’t paying him any attention, already starting to panic in earnest, pushing away to pace the deck.
“He’s going to try and kill me again,” Lucius exclaims. “Oh, no, I’m going to have to go on the run— He’s going to kill me—”
“I’ll go with you,” Black Pete assures him.
“Nobody has to go on the run,” Stede says. “Please, it’s going to be fine— Oh, thank you, Jim,” he says, reaching for their flask as they pull it off their belt, but Jim tugs it out of his reach.
“Try to stop talking for a second,” they instruct him, crouching at his side with the flask of alcohol close to the hole leaking in his side. “Clench your teeth so you don’t bite your tongue. And— Hey,” they say upwards to Oluwande. Tipping their chin towards Stede, they tell him, “Take his hand.”
Oluwande kneels beside him and offers his hand. Stede doesn’t hesitate to take it, wrapping his fingers with his, hanging on in anticipation of the burst of pain he knows is coming. Glancing downwards, he sees the wound really isn’t that bad, barely pushed into his flesh, but it sure is bleeding a fair amount, which is— its own issue, but Jim’s holding the mouth of the flask to his side, then, and he has to look away, stomach rolling.
Tilting his head backwards, rested against the step just behind him, Stede focuses instead on the blue sky above his head. There are a couple of wisps that barely count as clouds drifting in front of the sun, light blazing; he has to close his eyes against it, unable to keep them open in the brightness.
The alcohol hits his new wound then, and he groans without meaning to, an inadvertent, automatic noise that tears up and out of him. He clenches Oluwande’s hand in his, their fingers tangled tightly as he grips hard, harder, fighting to silence himself. He bites the sounds back and down, swallowing them. It’s not behavior befitting of a Captain— but then, he also tells his crew to openly feel their honest feelings, so, he’s not sure where that line is, exactly—
“Oh, son of a—” he bites off a curse when the pain explodes in a new wave. Jim pulls the flask away, hand coming up to cover his side again. “Whew, alright—”
“Good work, Captain,” Jim says, peeling their hand up to examine the injury. “Alright, just keep breathing. I think it’ll only need a couple stitches, no problem.”
“Of course,” Stede agrees, chest heaving. “No problem.”
Black Pete steps forward and presses his own flask into Stede’s other hand instead. Grateful, Stede brings it to his lips, takes a long drag from it— and promptly chokes on it, coughing up lungs full of swill.
“That’s disgusting,” he says, voice strained.
“Yeah, I made it myself,” Black Pete replies. “Have another sip, you won’t feel a thing.”
Oluwande steadies Stede so Jim can start stitching him up. Their needle comes to his flesh, and he can’t help crying out, in the next beat, finally giving in when an instinctive sound comes up. It’s loud, and the crew goes dead silent around him.
Stede doesn’t even notice. He’s just trying to breathe, skin tugging painfully, when a door bangs open at the opposite end of the ship.
“What the fuck was that?” Ed demands from afar, voice heard easily over the crash of the sea around them. “Was that Stede? Where the fuck is he?”
“Oh, no,” Lucius says quietly.
“If you jump overboard, babe, I swear I’ll come back for you,” Black Pete promises him. “You can swim really well, just tread water for a minute or t—”
“It’ll be fine,” Stede promises them through clenched teeth. “Nobody’s jumping overboard.”
“I don’t think you’ll be able to control this one, Cap,” Oluwande tells him.
Stede’s about to answer, but the slam of Ed’s boots is getting loud as he storms across the deck, already demanding, “What the hell is going on? Where the fuck— Why did—”
He breaks off when Stede looks up and sees him through the crewmen standing around him. Their eyes connect, and, in that split instant, Stede can see the fury and shock and confusion and pain on Ed’s face. It sends a jolt through him, and his eyes burn unexpectedly, watching the agonized surprise hit Ed like a physical blow before he’s reeling forward, sprinting towards him. And this—
It’s nothing, literally, nothing, it really— It is really not a big deal—
“What the fuck happened?” Ed spits, shoving through the men crowded around him. “What the fuck did you do to him? J— Fucking— Will all of you fucking— back off, give him some air, holy shit, is this the entire goddamn ship right here?”
Oluwande squeezes Stede’s hand again and backs off with the rest of the crew. The only people who don’t move are Stede, pinned back to the stairs, and Jim, still steadily stitching, not breaking their stride as they work.
Ed kneels at his side, hand coming up to cradle the back of Stede’s head. There’s panic there that he’s not expecting to see, a surprising amount of distress, a surging sort of horror that seems deeply misplaced, in Stede’s opinion. Ed’s eyes flick over his face, then down, examining his injury as Jim’s stitching it back together, pulling his skin back into itself in a neat, tiny row. It’s nothing, in the grand scheme of all the injuries Stede’s received over his lifetime; the blood’s already slowing down, with Jim working as fast as they are.
“What the fuck happened?” Ed insists again, staring down at the wound.
“Training Tuesday just went a little sideways,” Stede tells him, breathing shallowly, just trying to get air in and not vomit all over the deck. “It’s really not a big deal. I’ll be right as rain in ten minutes, don’t worry about me. Just—”
Jim tugs at his skin without meaning to, and Stede bites back another sound, eyes slamming shut, pain slithering up his spine. His hands are clammy with sweat; Ed reaches down to wrap his free hand in Stede’s anyway, replacing Oluwande at his side. His other hand glides down from Stede’s hair to the nape of his neck, gripping tight, holding him in place.
“Tell me you didn’t do this to yourself,” Ed comments, half-asking, his face still drained of blood as he examines Jim’s clean work. They accidentally pull again, and Stede winces, and Ed snaps, “Careful.”
“I’m being careful,” Jim grits out to him.
“God, this is worse than when the Captain rammed his elbow at the helm and Bonnet yelled at the wheel,” Black Pete comments sideways behind him. Stede shoots a glare at him; not a proud moment, surely, but— the wheel had had it coming, hurting Ed like that, when Ed’s not meant to be hurt. And it had been right on the bone.
“It’s fine, Ed, really,” Stede promises him. “And, no, I did not do this to myself, thank you, I’m not quite that incompetent. I was— I was just trying to show them what you showed me.”
Jim ties off the end of his stitches, tells him, “There. You’ll recover,” and claps him on his bare shoulder.
“You should absolutely not be showing them what I showed you,” Ed admonishes him, taking Jim’s closer spot the second they vacate it, examining his injury for himself. There’s still a bit of blood, sluggishly leaking after the alcohol cleaned most of it away.
Ed reaches into his pocket, tugging out two handkerchiefs. One of them is emerald green and very fine, something Stede bought him a few weeks ago on a frivolous impulse; Ed shoves this one away again. The other one, a clean white thing he must just keep himself, he brings to Stede’s skin, starting to gently swipe away the blood starting to dry there.
His attention is all focused down as he goes quiet again. Stede glances at his crewmates surrounding him; Lucius makes eye contact with him, mouths, “What do I do?” without a sound leaving his throat.
As if summoned by his motions, Ed asks downward, “And who did this?”
Lucius is already backing up, ready to disappear below deck at a moment’s notice. Black Pete shifts to stand in front of him, which is rather honorable, Stede thinks.
“It doesn’t matter,” Stede assures him.
“I’ll kill ‘em,” Ed promises him. Stede thinks there’s almost a glimmer of amusement in his words, but it might just be wishful thinking, in the face of his unnecessary anger and unexpected— well, anguish, sort of. Distress feels like too small a word for Ed’s intensity, right now, but Ed’s reaction is too big for the situation, Stede thinks. “You just point ‘em out to me—”
“I basically did it to myself just by asking them,” Stede points out. “So, I suppose you’re right.”
“Help me up?” Stede asks, lifting one arm out to him.
Ed stares up at him for a moment, handkerchief stilling on his skin, disbelief across his face. Then, though, he sighs, tucking the fabric away again before he stands.
“You’re too nice for your own good,” Ed tells him before he crouches again. “It’s going to get you killed.”
Rather than assist Stede in standing, Ed just hoists him directly off the ground into his arms. It’s an impossibly impressive display of strength, as well as just a head-rushingly attractive thing to do; Stede can feel the heat and color finally returning to his face, even though the upwards motion jolts the pain in his side. He bites through it, keeping any unnecessary noises down.
With Stede in his arms, Ed turns back to the crew. It seems like he’s going to speak before his attention is caught downwards.
He evaluates the deck for a moment. There, Stede’s blood is drying into the wood, his sword laying abandoned in the center, and Ed abruptly seems— stony, immovable, his panic receding into a cold rage.
For a long second, Ed just stares downward. Then, he glances up at the crew, cheeks flushed. The amusement is gone from his tone and his face, now, all hard anger coming back in a flood, evident in every line of him.
“I don’t know who did this,” Ed tells them all, “but you touch him again, I’ll run you through.”
“Ed,” Stede hisses.
“Clean this,” Ed instructs the crew, “I don’t want to see a drop of blood when I come back,” and he starts heading through them to make for the captains’ quarters again. They all step apart to give him a path; when Stede makes eye contact with Lucius, he mouths, “Thank you,” palms clasped together as if in prayer.
Already halfway across the deck, Ed’s strides long and fast, Stede says, “You really shouldn’t yell at them like that, Ed. They didn’t mean it.”
Ed glances down at him with an unexpected heat that has Stede’s skin prickling. He looks genuinely upset still, genuinely, even though Stede’s fine now, by his own measure.
Stede can’t help frowning, even as Ed pushes forward, turning his face away again, that burning lick of flame shifted up and off of him for a flash of a moment.
“Hey,” Stede says. Ed kicks the door in to their quarters, slams it shut behind him. “Hey—”
“What?” Ed asks, voice hard in his throat.
Stede evaluates him, trying to read his mood, his tone. Testing the waters, he says, “Has something in particular upset you, love? Because you know I’d love to hear about it.”
Ed stares down at him again. After a long beat where his eyes actually seem to get a little red, he ultimately doesn’t talk, instead taking Stede to lay him in his favorite cushioned seat by the window. The way he sets him down is impossibly gentle, tender, slow, his hand under his head. He moves like he’s a man Stede hasn’t watched stomp on multiple heads; he handles Stede like he’s delicate, like they’re not goddamn— pirate captains. Stede would laugh, if Ed didn’t seem so honestly bone-deep upset right now.
Pushing the curtain back in the window so Stede can get some sun, Ed still doesn’t speak. If he thinks Stede’s just going to forget he asked a question, though— Well, he’ll just have to think again, because they both very well know he won’t be doing that.
Before Ed can step away, Stede catches his hand, tugging him back in. Ed doesn’t look down, for a beat, but Stede pulls on him again.
“Hey,” Stede murmurs. Ed glances down, lets their eyes connect. Frowning, Stede says, “My side hurts just a little bit. Would you— Do you mind?”
Ed surveys him for a long moment before he reaches down to sit Stede up again. He maneuvers him quietly, climbing into the window seat behind him. His legs slip up on either side of Stede, pulling him in tight against his front.
For a moment, he’s stiff.
Then, though, Stede reaches up and takes his hands, pulling them closer around his front, clasping them against his chest, over his heart.
It’s then that Ed starts to loosen up, melting over and into him, burying his face in Stede’s throat. Stede tilts his head into Ed’s, focusing on him instead of the throbbing pain in his side. Just breathing evenly, he runs his hand absently up and down over Ed’s. In return, Ed holds him tight, clinging to him, not letting go.
“You going to tell me what you’re so upset about, then?” Stede asks, keeping his voice low. “Because I know this can’t just be about a silly little cut—”
“A silly little cut?” Ed finally speaks again to repeat. “A silly l— You've got a hole in you.”
“I’ve got a couple of those,” Stede says, smiling slightly. He’s— trying, at least.
“Don’t,” Ed warns him.
“I mean it,” Stede replies. “And I know you’re rather well-acquainted with more than one of them—”
“Stede,” Ed cuts him off. “You can’t really expect me to be happy you got— run through, do you?”
Stede considers this carefully. It seems— disproportionate, to say the least. Particularly from a man like Ed. The— This is a man who ran himself through, on Stede’s sword, when they barely knew each other. This just all doesn’t seem exactly right, in relation to the reactions he’s had in the past.
“I didn’t get run through, though,” Stede reminds him. He looks down, then back up again quickly. “I mean— Not to underplay my own pain, here, because this does hurt very badly, and I’d very much like to sleep soon, and probably drink a little more, but— I absolutely did not get run through. It was just an accident. Barely something to write about. I’m completely okay.”
For another beat, Ed is silent. Then, he says, frustrated, each word shaped sharply, “And what if you’d fucked up where the sword was meant to go? Or if whoever the fuck ran you through—”
“I was not run through—”
“—hit something important when they fucking stabbed you?” Ed continues, as if Stede hadn’t even spoken. “Because you can’t trust them to handle you like I do, Stede, fucking shit. Or— What if this gets all nasty, hm? And you end up dying because your blood’s gone black— What then, yeah? Am I supposed to just— let you die all over again—”
“Oh, whoa, hey there,” Stede cuts him off. He twists back to look at him, but it hurts the fresh wound, and he stops, falling back into him. Ed tugs him back in, arms wrapped tight around his chest.
There’s a beat of silence. Then—
“Sorry,” Ed says, then stops, biting the word out.
“Don’t be,” Stede tells him. “Don’t— Don’t be sorry.” His own eyes are burning, and he tilts up to look at him again. Ed refuses to meet his eye, staring resolutely forward, cast down. “I’m not going to die, Ed, what— What in God’s name are you talking about?”
“Nothing,” Ed says. “Just— Dumb. Nothing.”
They sit in silence for another moment as Stede processes this.
Then, he puts the pieces together, and he tilts back into him again. Pressing his temple to Ed’s, their eyes close together, he tells him, “I’m not dead, Ed, darling.”
“I know that,” Ed says firmly, not looking at him.
“And I didn’t die before,” Stede continues. “And I’m very sorry I didn’t get to tell you that first before you found out on your own, but— But I promise, I’m not going to be going anywhere without you.” He takes Ed’s hand in his, kisses his palm. “I’m right here with you, love.”
Ed keeps staring ahead for a long, long moment. His eyes, already red-rimmed, go a bit glassy. When he blinks, a couple of tears slip free, burning down into his beard.
“Oh, no,” Stede says, reaching back to swipe them away. He shuffles, and winces; Ed gets his hands on him to shift his body for him, pressing him back, tilting his head so he can twist to press their temples together again.
Stede reaches up to pat the side of his face, tugging him in a tiny bit closer. When Ed sniffles, moving to twist away again, Stede doesn’t let him.
“Hey,” Stede says quietly. He pats his cheek. “Hi. Would it make you feel a little better if I got angry, too? Shouted a bit like you did?”
Ed huffs a wet laugh. “No.” He pauses, then says, “Or— You could always yell at the helm again. Maybe that’ll help.”
“Once,” Stede defends himself. Ed smiles again, tucking himself into Stede’s throat, hiding the slight upturn of his lips. “And you could have broken your elbow, Edward, I’ll have you know, you hit just on the bone—”
Ed turns into him, catching him in a kiss to cut him off. It’s short, soft, only a close-mouthed press before he separates them again.
For a beat, Ed actually smiles again. Then, he grimaces a bit, a downward twist of his mouth. “Sorry,” he apologizes, an actual edge of shame coloring his voice.
“Ah,” Stede says. “Don’t be.” He leans into him again, resting against his front, letting Ed wrap his arms around him once more. His hold is loose, comforting, and he kisses the side of Stede’s head, leaning into him. “I’m sure they’ll understand once you apologize.”
“I am not apologizing to them,” Ed informs him. “They ran you through—”
“It really is not that big a deal,” Stede reminds him yet again. “Lucius was just trying to—”
“Lucius,” Ed snarls, mostly playful, and makes to get up again. Laughing, Stede traps him with him, keeping as firm a hold on him as he can manage.
“Lucius feels badly enough. And he’ll still be there later for you to scream at all you please,” Stede says. “I’m sure by then he’ll even be recovered enough to scream back.”
“Hey, you are being a very noisy nursemaid,” Stede complains, unable to fight back his next laugh when Ed growls at him, burying back into his throat. The pain doesn’t seem so bad, now, honestly; he should really ask Black Pete what he makes his— whatever alcohol that was, or counts as— with, because it’s left him feeling relatively rosy in its stead.
Well— It’s probably from both that liquor and Ed, who’s now wrapped around him, his palm coming down to rest just gently over the wound, keeping him safe.
“Sorry,” Ed mumbles again into his skin. He kisses the juncture of his shoulder and throat, then hooks his chin there, tilting to look up at Stede sideways.
“I forgive you,” Stede allows, faux-magnanimous. Ed kisses his cheek again, then falls back into embracing him, face tucked into him, limbs all curled up around him in a protective cage. Against his back, he can still feel Ed’s rabbiting heart, not yet calmed down. “I’m alright, darling.”
“I know that,” Ed says, but his grip doesn’t loosen.
Stede just smiles, leaning into him, letting his fingertips drift absently up Ed’s forearm, chasing the winding paths of his tattoos.
Into the silence, then, Ed adds, “No more Training Tuesdays.”
“Nonsense,” Stede insists immediately. “If anything, this proves the need for Training Tuesdays. You can lead the next one, if you like, though.”
“Unbelievable.” Ed pulls him closer again. “I’m going to lead a mutiny against you, is what I’m going to lead.”
“Try it,” Stede tells him. “I’m their favorite captain.”
Ed grins, and Stede can’t help the flash of heat that rushes through him. The pain really doesn’t seem so bad, now. Almost manageable. Like it isn’t— really that big of a deal.
“Funny,” Ed agrees, “You’re mine, too,” and buries back into him, clinging tight, feeling for his heartbeat. Stede brings it to him, hands clasped to his chest, and relaxes into him, cheek pushed to his, eyes closed.