This isn’t how he imagined it. There is no cannon fire, there are no flowers, they aren’t lit by a full moon and a star-speckled sky, and actually Stede has a splinter in the sole of his left foot and it’s really uncomfortable. He knew Ed still wouldn’t have a beard, he knew he would be a bit cross and very hurt, he didn’t expect to have had to chase him around the Caribbean hearing about how he’d become more fearsome than ever and then finally come across The Revenge in a tiny bay before he’d had time to prepare himself. And the flowers. And check the lunar calendar.
“Ed.” Stede whispers, not quite horrified, but not exactly happy about this either.
Maybe he is horrified. It’s certainly horrid enough. This isn’t his Ed, this isn’t even Ed at all. This is Blackbeard . That name and identity used to thrill Stede, even just the mention of it. Now it’s frightening, because Blackbeard has taken Ed and swallowed him up again and it’s clear in his black-lined eyes.
“For fuck’s sake.” Blackbeard sighs, shrugging, and silently calls Jim over with a casual wave of his arm. It only seems casual though, because the shoulder doesn’t drop down again after the movement and when Blackbeard turns and shoves his hands in his belt (in lieu of pockets, he never has enough pockets), Stede sees the other one rise up and join it. “Kill him.”
The crew are back on their feet. They’re clearly still loyal to Stede and, while he is so so glad of that, he won’t have them hurt for him. He signals them back, shakes his head.
“Wait, Captain,” he implores carefully, “May I request an audience–”
“In my cabin.” Blackbeard agrees immediately, not turning back. “Jim, tie him up and bring him in.”
Jim appears to have become some sort of loyal right hand person, and Stede is honestly quite proud of them for it. They are still kind to him though, checking his hands aren’t bound too tightly and letting him walk without shoving towards what used to be his own cabin.
“Careful, Captain Bonnet,” they mutter as they leave, “He’s not who he was when you left.”
“I can tell.”
His things are gone. Stede takes a moment to wonder if he’s surprised (he’s not) or sad (he definitely is) before taking a deep breath, setting his chin high and striding forward to stand in front of his old table, now covered in dents and scratches and scattered with maps at one end.
“Captain,” he begins, nodding in respect and acknowledgement of his own loss of position, loss of his boat, loss of his… well his everything, really. He’s standing there in rolled up trousers and sleeves, not even a shoe on.
Blackbeard sits in the only chair, kicks back and swings his legs up to rest booted feet on the table. Dares Stede to react with a wicked curve of eyebrow.
Stede, however, is beyond caring about the state of that table and what is on it. “I’d like to join your crew, sir.”
“Why?” It’s a grunt.
“Because we can’t just get away, start over, reset–”
“Don’t.” That’s a growl.
“I won’t say I made a mistake.” Although maybe he should. That would have been a better opener. Stede looks down at his toes and continues, “I had to do it. I had to go back and see right by my children. I could have done it better, I admit. I could have talked to you, it was all such a muddle. But Ed, I never wanted to hurt you–”
“Hurt?” He demands, standing suddenly. His voice rises to an almost shout. “Who says I’m hurt? I’m not hurt.”
“It’s ok to–”
“Blackbeard doesn’t get hurt . Do you know who I am? Do you know what I do?” He is yelling now, rounding the table. He reaches out a gloved hand, towards Stede’s throat, and snaps it back just before contact.
“You did .” He bellows. His voice drops to a low murmur. “You did. Not now.”
There is something in his eyes then, beyond rage. Something cold and more than a little frightening. Stede tries to hold his hands out, soothe and calm him, but he’s forgotten they’re tied behind his back, so he ends up doing a clumsy sort of shoulder shuffle that causes a tip sideways that he then has to correct with a full step and it ends up looking like an odd little dance. And wow Stede, way to go.
“Ah that was, yeah, I’m not… Sorry, that was actually really awkward.” Stede clears his throat.
“Get those fucking ropes off.” But his voice isn’t angry anymore. It’s more… reluctantly amused. He stalks behind Stede and slices them with his knife. There is a moment of stillness where they both realise he’s there, behind Stede, with a knife.
“I am sorry, Ed.”
“Me too.” He snaps. “And Ed’s long gone now.”
Stede has always been good at pushing his luck. Especially with this man. “I don’t know, I think I see him, lurking around under all that dirt.”
“It’s not dirt . It’s kohl. It’s deliberate, you know. Looks all… scary and dark and… look man, I’m Blackbeard, I do what the fuck I want.” Ed is definitely hiding under there. And so is a smile. Just twisting at his lips and curving his cheek a little. “You know what, fine, stay. Whatever.”
“Really? I can join the crew?” He hardly dares believe it.
Ed grunts. “I said you can stay.”
It takes two nights of very very little sleep (one in a slightly putrid hammock below deck - but, shit, the lack of air and the low ceiling was a dose of seasickness Stede did not need - and one on the deck looking up at the stars) before he caves and crawls to the Captain’s cabin at nightfall. He knocks, waiting for the brusque “wot” before opening the door a tiny bit and slipping through, like that makes it any better. Like it’s not sneaking into Ed’s quarters if he doesn’t open the door properly.
“Did I say come in?” The demand is raspy, but also incredibly pissed off.
Stede, however, is exhausted and mildly hysterical by this point, hasn’t seen Ed all day and is a bit stuck on how to fix things. And mildly hysterical, yes. So he just blurts out, “Can I sleep here, I’ll take the couch, or the chaise, I just really need to sleep or I might throw myself overboard in a fit of insanity and I just need the ceiling over the stars but the windows in the walls and perhaps something that’s a little soft but not scratchy and someone who doesn’t snore…”
He trails off then because he realises what he’s looking at. Ed is folded up in the corner of the bed nook, against the window, knees to chest, hands around the back of his own neck. His lightly bearded face is clean of make-up, the moonlight highlighting the shadows of his cheekbones, and the candles heating the warm tones of his skin back to how they should be. He looks tired, though, and thin, and oddly small, wrapped in a soft woollen blanket. Blackbeard is nowhere in sight.
“I don’t snore. Or sleep, actually. You can have the bed.” He might even have been crying, by the sounds of his voice.
“But–” He doesn’t know how to fix this. The vulnerability accidentally revealed is killing him.
“Sleep here. Just. Don’t. Let’s just. Can we…”
“Can we be friends again? Friends, just… just that.”
Stede’s heart cracks a little. More than a little. He looks down to see, it must be visible from the outside surely, blood and tears in his skin. Some sign of this injury. Has he really fucked up quite this badly? That Ed doesn’t even think they’re friends. And doesn’t want to be anymore than that.
“But don’t call me Ed.”
“I kept some of your clothes, you know?”
“I’m quite content as I am.”
“You’re a fucken awful liar.” Not-Ed tips the splintered stick of a lever where the miniature mannequin used to be and reveals the immaculate wardrobe within.
Frenchie’s smile later, when he sees Stede decked out in an Autumnal brown silk jacket, is blinding.
It’s the name thing that trips him up. Stede ends up having to just call him Captain. Blackbeard was never who he actually was; it was a persona he had adopted, a reputation, a defence. Stede doesn’t hate Blackbeard, not when he’s looked after Edward for so long. He doesn’t greatly like him either. He’ll always just be Ed in Stede’s head though, in his heart.
“But Shakespeare. Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, Hamlet.”
“I know that one, yeah. Prince pretends he’s gone crackers, while actually accidentally going crackers, everyone else goes crackers and then they all die. Also no one ever remembers the pirates.”
“It has some splendid soliloquies.”
“Bless you.” Ed glances from the corner of his eye, amused by himself. A dark chocolate twinkle and crinkle. Takes Stede’s breath away for a second.
“There are so many fascinating ways to read into the text.” Stede leans towards him, showing him the open pages of the book. “Have you read it recently? You could borrow it if you fancy?”
“S’it got any pictures?”
There is a thoughtful pause and the book is closed. “Ah.”
Ed closes his eyes too. Stede knows he’s reining something in, be it embarrassment or anger. He’s still a bit snappy, regardless. “Yuh, I mean, I can read.”
“Well, I never implied or assumed otherwise,” Stede smooths over, glides his words through the air casually as if he hadn’t a spit nor spot of concern. “Perhaps if William isn’t to your taste. My whole… half-full library is at your disposal, Ed. Please just go ahead.”
“Maybe I will.” A defensive shrug.
He won’t though, Stede thinks. He remembers the sharp stab of the ‘ X’ Ed had made on the Act of Grace contract. Edward Teach, born on a beach. It’s a silly little rhyme, but it says more than it pretends to, doesn’t it. Boys born on beaches don’t get a boarding school education. They don’t get nannies and governesses and tutors, or shipped off to England to learn the classics. They get salt in their hair and sand under their nails and fathers that beat them.
Which makes the fact that he’s assisted Stede’s recent restocking of the shelves all the more meaningful, really.
“And you know how fond I am of reading aloud.”
“I do, yes.” He’s back to quietly affectionate now.
Ed doesn’t hate him. Stede has never been so relieved in his life, even including all those times he nearly died and somehow didn’t. They don’t discuss it, but they’re both somehow co-captains again now. Stede thinks it was partly the sharing of quarters, and partly the crew - sneaking about, discreetly increasing the volume when they address him as Captain Bonnet, until they just use the title normally and no one reacts negatively. He’s pleased, especially when Ed doesn’t even flinch at it. He knows he’ll never have his trust again as he did before, but to have his trust as a colleague, a business partner even, that can be enough, he thinks, maybe.
It’s not enough. Stede watches Ed sleep on the couch, unconscious and defenceless, his growing beard resting on his chest in the folded and crumpled position he’s lying in. There’s a little length to it now, at the chin. More than shadowing of his cheeks. Stede wonders if it’s as soft as it used to be, or if that takes more time.
The light from the guttering candle sconces is enough to see the rise and fall of his flat belly, the twitch of his tattooed fingers as they clutch and tangle in the fancy tassel of a silk cushion. Stede remembers what those fingers feel like against his cheek, his jaw. He wonders what they feel like everywhere else.
Ed is dreaming and Stede is too, lying on his side only six feet away, staring, observing, learning him (in case he loses him again).
Sometimes one just has to have a breakdown. It’s not seemly, it’s not something one wants anyone else to see. There are, however, only so many places on a pirate ship that are comfortable for sitting in the fresh air, staring out at the ocean, for long periods. And none of them are particularly hidden. Therefore, Stede chooses to have his breakdown in the middle of the next Tuesday night at the bow of The Revenge, dangling his legs over the side.
There is a welcome chill in the air, the changing of winds. His hair shifts and sways in the breeze. Second Mate Buttons is at the wheel, a relief as Izzy Hands has been working night watch as much as possible, most likely to keep away from Stede. He couldn’t do this with him there. But Buttons is a way away, and a discreet sort of fellow, so Stede is as alone as he can be. Until he hears the familiar thumps of Edward approaching.
The other captain can be graceful if he so desires, can be silent and deadly. He’s making his presence known, alerting Stede to his approach. He slings himself down beside him. Not too close, but close enough.
“Is this plotting or sulking?” He asks, following Stede’s gaze out at the dark nothingness beyond.
“I’m having a minor breakdown and I thought it would be best done here.”
“Gonna throw yourself overboard?”
“I do hope not. I was hoping I’d sort myself out and head for bed.”
Ed nods. Pops out his bottom lip in understanding. “Want me to leave you to it? Or do you need to talk it through? As a crew… of two. Does that even work?”
Stede thinks that over. “Not sure really. I’m not certain you’re the right person to be talking to about it all, not after… you know, everything. I wouldn’t want to put that on you. You have your own mental wellbeing to look after and I’m not particularly great for that, am I.” It’s not a question. “I do want to thank you, though, for the second chance. Letting me… well letting me live, I suppose. And then co-captain and–”
“Come now, we both know that’s not how pirates work.”
The smile they exchange is more of a grimace on both their parts.
Stede sighs. “I’d just like, for once, to be right for something. To be enough .”
“Oh right, so we’re doing this then.” But he watches and waits for the rest, kicks his boots against the side of the ship.
“I’ve never been enough. Wasn’t for my father, ever, and he made sure I knew it. The boys at school saw how much I was lacking. My wife, yes well, we all know I was never enough for her. My children. Society. I’ve covered it up and painted over it and tried so so hard to be what everyone wants. To be too much , even. I thought I had it cracked, too much was the way to do it. But really, Stede Bonnet is just never going to be enough for anyone.”
Ed just stares.
“They were all right. If you take away the fabulous clothes, the money, the fancy life, what am I, really?” Stede is aware he’s talking too much. A lot too much. Wow. He should stop. “Nothing, that’s what I am. And look, I did it, I left it all: the earthly belongings, the silks and velvets, the ship and even the shoes this time, and came back and surprise surprise.” Stede laughs bitterly. “I did such awful things to my family, to you, because I’m not. Enough.”
“It’s okay. You just maybe have to let me wallow for a little while, talk it through with myself. I’ll be alright again tomorrow.”
“Fucking hell, mate.”
It’s not until he’s wrapped in solid arms and pulled in against that hard chest (that feels so damn good to rest one’s head against) that Stede realises he’s crying. Quite a lot. The snot and hiccough sort.
“Sorry.” He sniffles, once he manages to speak again.
“Well, that was embarrassing.” Stede broaches the next morning as they sit down to breakfast. He doesn’t have to define what.
“Eh, happens to the best of us,” Ed shrugs, but his eyes are careful. “Don’t worry, I barely even remember anything you said.”
Stede smiles gratefully at the lie and slices his grapefruit in half. “Buttons tells me the English vessel should be here by noon.”
“Aye, yeah. We’ll get on with that. If you’ve… Have you finished your wallowing?”
“I rather think I have, yes,” Stede nods. “Now on to the pillaging.”
At their first meeting, or second, or third, depending how you count them, Stede had assumed the leg thing was aesthetic. Of course he’d noticed it; Stede is all about the clothes, the fabrics, the feel and fit of what you wear and how the way you wear it makes you feel. Accessories can make an outfit. (He’s a little more flexible now, a little more practical, a little). Anyway, he’d assumed right up until they were swapping outfits and he’d shoved a leg through the contraption himself, ratcheted those straps and buckles tight around his own muscles and felt the support and strength it gave his knee. It carried his weight from calf to thigh, braced his knee joint steadily in the middle.
“Do you, ahem, do you need to wear this leg…brace? Is it a brace? My apologies if I’m not up to snuff on the terminology. But anyway, do you need this, Ed? Are you alright without it?”
There had been a moment of silence, he knows now it was Ed deciding how much vulnerability to show. Back then he was just concerned he’d said something awful. “Nah, doesn’t go with this get-up, now does it?”
And then Blackbeard had swept back the curtain between them and flapped his frilly cuffed arms in a ridiculous bow.
Stede had found it difficult to breathe for a moment, and it had been nothing to do with the hole in his midriff or the bruising to his throat, and everything to do with the light behind Blackbeard highlighting his broad shoulders and solid torso through the flimsy white shirt, the halo of hair released from its ties flowing down to frame the open neckline, the black scarf. Ed’s stockinged feet were silent on the floor as he padded over, reaching up to adjust his own collar around Stede’s neck.
The limp hadn’t been noticeable then, but Stede knows now, knows to watch for it, knows how often it is hidden and how hard it is to keep it that way. Men like Blackbeard show no weakness. They can’t.
It’s worse on land, it often barely exists at sea. But then land legs and sea legs are a thing and a thing they both know and possess. There is always a moment of dizziness when you hit solid ground, the first climb of stairs in a dock is nauseating when your body is still swaying and the floor is stubbornly not.
Ed prefers landing on a beach, Stede knows, rowing across and sinking his feet into the sand. Sand is an uncomfortable inconvenience to Stede, what with it getting everywhere, roughening his velvets and filling the embroidered details of his brocades. He puts up with it though.
This is the first time he’s seen Ed drunk, on land, and tired - and the limp has become unavoidable and obnoxiously obvious. They’ve had a long and exhausting few days, come ashore to trade some battle-winnings for fresh food and replenish their munitions. Now, after several hours in an inn without any of his (their?) crew and with what was probably several bottles of something or other (Stede hopes it wasn’t more of that varnish-stripping strength rum Ed likes, because goodness only knows what his insides are like, full of holes probably - Stede does worry), Ed staggers sideways as Stede leads the pair of them out onto the sandy road outside, the change in surface not agreeing with his booted feet. He doesn’t seem to have his usual body control, and he certainly can’t conceal the stutter and jolt of his gait.
It’s only the two of them though, so it doesn’t matter, and Stede doesn’t hesitate to lean into his leather-clad side and silently offer some support. Ed flings a careless (or maybe not) arm around Stede’s shoulders in a friendly drunken sort of way and doesn’t protest. In his inebriation, though, he angles the next step wrong and leaves the brace unable to do its usual work, and Stede witnesses for the first time Ed’s left knee completely buckle . It bends the wrong way, inside out almost, before he corrects it with a grunt, but even that is wonky and it twists sideways and then they’re both toppling and Stede is crushed between a solid wall and a solid Ed.
It’s the closest they’ve been, their faces have been, since that beach. Since that time Stede tries not to think about too much but often thinks about too much. Since he felt Ed’s skin against his, the warmth of breath on his cheek, the cradle of a large hand at his jaw. There’s beard now, not long, not glorious like it used to be (before Stede ruined that too), but bristley, perhaps an inch of length. Stede is measuring their time reunited by the length of that beard. He hopes by the time it reaches Ed’s throat, he might have forgiven him.
The silken bristles of that beard are scratching delightfully against Stede’s own throat now. Ed gets his palms on the wall, but doesn’t shove himself back upright, not until he’s taken one long breath in, the cool movement of air tickling against skin. And then he shoves, a little too hard, overbalances and has to be caught by the straps of his jacket.
They both laugh at how ridiculously long it takes them to rebalance, and they stay laughing all the way back. Giggling like children about nothing much at all actually.
“Agh whaaat ?” Ed is betrayed, waving an accusatory arm at the dinghy waiting for them. “Imma hafta row all a way out there?”
“One would have thought you’d have remembered that before you achieved quite this state.”
“Can I borrow your jacket? Imma jst sleep ‘ere.”
Stede bats Ed’s hands away where he’s already tugging at it. “This is my new English embroidered silk jacket, it’s not a tatty beach blanket. Get your hands off, off I say! UNHAND ME!” He is shrieking by the end.
Ed’s snorting with laughter, stepping back and nearly tipping over again. “Don’t be so fuckin’ mean, you’d leave me here, all cold ‘n shivery ‘n pathetic.”
“I wouldn’t even dream of it.” Stede offers him a hand like a gentleman would a lady alighting from a carriage. “Pop yourself into this fine vessel and I’ll row you home myself.”
They’re holding hands now. They don’t let go, even as Ed sits down rather heavily in the boat. They don’t let go until Stede realises nobody is getting anywhere like this, clears his throat and reluctantly tugs free. Ed’s high grunt of protest is audible even over the waves, and it’s that which fuels Stede’s arms to shove the dinghy out into the water and row for the entire journey back to the ship.
It takes Stede a moment, the next morning, to place himself. The ceiling is familiar, but not the position he’s in, jammed up against the windows, or the almost unbearable heat along his right hand side. He sits up immediately to check for a fire.
What there is, though, is an Ed. Slumped on his front, possibly half-suffocating in the heavy feather pillow and his own beard. Stede’s abrupt movement has stirred him, puffing a cold draught along his bare back with the lifting of the quilt.
“Wa d’fuck,” is aggressively growled in Stede’s direction.
“Ah, good morning, Captain.” He chirps. Better to face this head on, he feels, as though it’s not bothering him at all. Which it unfortunately is, and in an entirely bothersome way. He looks down to check the bother isn’t visible from under the sheets in his lap. “Don’t be alarmed, but… you appear to have made your way into my bed in the night.”
“Alas, it is so.” Gosh he has some gorgeous tattoos. And muscles. And skin, so much warm, brown skin. Stede would like it beneath his fingertips, his palms, his lips–
“S’my bed. I commandeered it.” Ed cracks open the eye visible through his hair. “If you want to get out, you’re gonna have to climb. M’not moving.”
Well, that’s a fairly delightful idea, and Stede struggles not to imagine it too thoroughly. Ed snuggles himself down into the mattress a little further and then freezes. Then there is that look Stede knows well, that baffled bow of his brows. “Who took my trews off?”
“Me, I’m afraid.” Stede’s not going to lie about it. “You were in no condition to yourself and sleeping in leather like that must be bad for you. Sweating in all that, you’d rip half your skin off turning over.”
“Really not the first time I’d have done it, mate.” He blinks slowly, his lashes so long they touch his cheeks. Beautiful.
“Well, there was no need to this time, was there? Not when I was here to assist.”
“You just whipped me clothes off while I was… while I was what? Completely trollied? Passed out? Pissed as a prune in a plant pot? What the fuck? You bloody pervert.” He’s still lazily drawling and quirking one humoured eyebrow.
Stede throws the most offended face he can out there. It’s probably a bit overkill, from the grin he sees hiding in Blackbeard’s facial hair. “I’ll have you know–”
“Probably already do.”
Stede sniffs haughtily. “Last time I help you out of…” he’s going to say ‘out of a bind’ but that feels a bit too serious.
“My trousers?” Ed finishes.
They both look at each other then. It’s awkward. Stede would like nothing more than to be helping him out of his trousers on a regular basis. Unfortunately he has apparently lost the chance of that ever being reality.
He does get to watch Ed’s eyes slowly slip closed now though, as his breathing deepens and slows again. And to appreciate and dwell on the casual intimacy of someone feeling that safe with him, beside him.
Stede had been super careful last night, not to touch, to maintain a businesslike efficiency peeling the leather down Ed’s legs in the darkness. Yanking off his boots and unbuckling the straps of his brace, unbuttoning and untying the long breeches at the waist, finding out that Blackbeard does, in fact, wear underwear (a very small pair of linen shorts that, thankfully, separate his junk from the fabric). Stede had left him, half conscious on the chaise, mumbling about stars and broken glass, in a stretched-out black undershirt and his drawers. He had whipped a blanket over him and retreated to the bed nook.
All perfectly innocent (or as innocent as pirates stripping each other can be). But this morning Stede is dwelling on the curve of Ed’s calves and wondering if masturbating in the washroom right now would take the shine off his innocent actions last night. But he’d have to clamber over him, straddle his backside to reach a foot down to the floor. And let’s be clear, that is not happening.
Ed snorts himself awake again. “Ah shit, now I need to piss.”
“There should be a pot under–”
“Pot hasn’t been under there since you fucked off.” Well now he’s angry.
Oh. Right. Stede supposes that makes sense, if everything else was smashed and discarded into the ocean. He hadn’t realised, because while he may be becoming more at ease with a piratic lifestyle, urinating in a shared bedroom when he has the choice not to, that’s not his style.
Ed swears and rolls over, which in such a small space, with such long limbs, is a bit of an inelegant heave and shuffle. And then he sits up to gather his wits, or quiet his hangover, more likely. Pats his hair down and tugs his beard straighter. Then he shoves himself forward, stands, says “ nope ” in a clear and final sort of way, and sits back down again.
Stede looks at his bare back, and wonders where the undershirt went. And when. He studies the bumps of spine, round and vulnerable, slashed and lashed together with whip scars and old, burned sun freckles.
Stede comes to a slow and sad realisation. “Your knee?” At the answering grunt he expands, “You did do a bit of a number on it last night. Would it help if I–”
Before he sees it happen, Stede is underneath Blackbeard, who is solid and heavy, pinning him down into the mattress.
“I don’t need your help ,” he snarls. He’s on his bad knee now, straddling Stede’s hips, one large, inked hand holding him down by the chest.
“Oh, I,” but there is nothing coming from Stede’s brain to his mouth so he just sort of makes some odd stuttering vowel sounds. He’s in a position he’s really rather wanted to be in for a long time now, and it’s painfully nice. His penis seems to agree. There is fire in those dark eyes glaring down at him, fire and fury and Stede really can’t quite breathe and it might be the gaze or it might be the weight pressing on his lungs, and he really doesn’t care. “...please.”
The crash of lips against his should have been painful, but it is a kind of euphoria that makes his belly jolt and drop inside. He grabs at Ed’s thighs in a most ungentlemanly way, digging his fingers into the hard flesh and scratching at him. Their first kiss had been a little bit awkward, gentle and chaste, but brilliant. There is no awkwardness here, or gentleness, and certainly no chasteness.
“Fuck, shit, yes,” Ed grinds the words into Stede’s mouth and grinds his hips down and it’s chaos and harsh and perfect. Stede has to pull away, break their mouths apart so he can tip his head back on a long moan at the friction between their bodies.
Ed doesn’t chase his mouth, but rather just bites bluntly at his exposed throat and rides him down into the bed. Stede moves a hand, glides it up Ed’s belly, the fuzz of his chest. He doesn’t push him away, but he follows him as he sits up, ends up squeezing at his tit. Do they call them tits on a man? This is definitely a tit - a full handful of muscle with a pebbled nipple digging into the palm of his hand.
Ed growls, rocking his hips, fucking him through their clothes. He rises above him like some kind of oil-painted artwork, drama and sunlit shadows, gets a hand down and steers his dick down to rub alongside the shape of Stede’s.
“Can I–” But he cuts off as Stede grabs as much of his beard as he can and tugs him back down with it. “Fuck, fuck.”
His hands scrabble as they kiss, blunt fingertips almost bruising as he grabs at Stede’s modest nightgown, rucking it up, yanking it out from between them so he can reach skin. Then he’s touching, roving all over, his callouses tickling, the sweat on his palms dragging. He paws at Stede’s thigh, lifts and pulls it tight around him as he bucks his linen-clad cock down against Stede’s now bare erection.
Stede is, surprisingly, the first one to venture his tongue out, lick along the plump slackness of Ed’s lower lip. As if he’d been waiting for the signal, waiting to see if such was acceptable, and now has received the go-ahead, Ed has his tongue into proceedings in less than a second. Licking at Stede’s teeth, the inside of his lips, thrusting furiously to dominate inside Stede’s mouth.
Stede isn’t going to last long. It’s not been a problem he’s had before, he has to admit. It’s always been a bit of a battle actually… doing his duty, so to speak. At least, with another person on board. Alone with only his brain and his hands and his… well yes, he can wank himself to eruption in a couple of minutes if he so desires. But partners can be off-putting, he finds.
He doesn’t find that anymore.
Ed is glorious; frantic and rough and exactly what Stede needs in exactly the places he needs it. Stede wriggles around, wrestles his nightshirt up and over his head with Ed’s assistance, cries out a little at the bites he receives in reward - sharp teeth at his collarbone, his shoulder, spiky beard scratching the curve of his bicep as he wraps his arms around Ed’s back.
It’s building up in his pelvis, all the heat and static and the itch of more. “Wait, wait, I…”
Ed doesn’t wait though, he shoves his own underwear down, doesn’t even bother unlacing. Seams rip with a beautiful sound, and then their cocks are touching and Ed’s is hot and damp and Stede can’t see it, but he can feel it, squeezed against his, wrapped in a rough hand. He pants into the heavy cloud of hair by his face, aware he’s releasing a little squeak right beside Ed’s ear with every thrust, but not really caring.
“Say it.” Ed huffs against Stede’s neck desperately. “Call me my name.”
Which one, Stede wants to ask. But then the pressure in his belly peaks and overflows and he’s coming and gasping and moaning, “Ed, oh fuck, Ed.”
And then Ed is curling all over him and shuddering, the hot puddle spreading between them and Stede’s choked words turn to praise, “Yes, so gorgeous, my love.”
There’s a moment of quiet then, just heaving breaths and gently shuddering bodies. Ed kisses clumsily at Stede’s shoulders as he collapses down on top of him.
“Ok, now I really need to piss.”
Lucius and Frenchie had told Stede, not long ago, about Ed in Stede’s things, using his soaps and lotions, wearing his robes, his rings, the scarf that has rarely left his neck, the blanket fort. He’d wished he’d got to see it.
He sees it now: Ed in only Stede’s rich red floral dressing gown, hanging open, his unashamed penis soft under his scarred abdomen, his feet bare and his gait uneven as he crosses the room to the chaise where his clothes are folded neatly. Stede is struck again by the beauty of him, the presence he has, mostly naked and bed-rumpled.
Even his long toes, the smattering of black hair on the top of his feet; beautiful. He has oddly delicate ankles, and the chunky calves of someone who spends most of their life standing up and countering the swell and bob of the waves. His thighs are perfection itself, even with a handful of healed stab wounds and a shiny starburst scar around the dent of a musket ball. Stede wants to learn them all - the scars, the freckles, the lines and curves of his muscles.
Stede has always been more of a talking about things advocate than his co-captain. Apparently not this time. They both manage to avoid the entire subject for an entire day, nearly two in fact. The Revenge is heading North again, hoping to catch the tail end of a Spanish Fleet of Privateers that they’ve heard will be there. There’s not much for the Captains to do when they’re at sea like this. Except, it seems, watch each other across the entire deck, while trying not to be seen watching each other.
It’s not until Stede has readied himself for bed, washed and undressed and is about to slip into a nightgown, that Ed finally crosses the boundary of a ten foot radius of him. He swings open the washroom door and strides in, as though he has every right to be in there, a lot closer than ten feet, when Stede is practically starkers and now screeching like a very vocal owl in surprise.
The damp bath sheet is wrapped around Stede’s body, and he tucks it tighter under his armpits, leaving only his shoulders and arms bare. “Excuse me!”
“So er, yeah, mate, we need to talk, I know.”
Ed ignores that and continues, “I feel a bit bad about the whole er…” Ed takes a deep breath and sits gently on the side of the bath. His leather breeches creak on the copper and they both wince. “The whole attacking you and humping you and spunking all over you thing.”
“Oh well, I appreciate the apology, if it is, in fact, an apology. Thank you. Yes. This is um, great progress in the field of communication between us as co-captains. Could it, however, perhaps wait until I’m less naked and more mentally present?”
Apparently not. “So, I was thinking, we’re supposed to be raiding these Spaniards and then making land to fence the gold before… man, you’re dropping your sheet, it’s slipping, let me– oh fuck. Fuck me, you’re stunning, just…”
Ed has reached out to help and ended up not helping at all, except to actually now be the only thing holding the sheet up and tangling Stede up in it further, and now his hands are half on the bare skin of Stede’s waist and, Lord, he’s stepping closer.
“I’m really sorry,” Stede murmurs, “But I’m going to have to kiss you again. Possibly quite a lot.”
“Sounds pretty fuckin good to me.”
“I did good talking, right?” Ed’s laughing. Naked and sweaty, leaning against the empty bathtub with Stede practically in his lap. “Been thinking all day what to say, I rehearsed that and everything.”
“Yes. Good. Great. I’d go so far as to say you were perfect, Ed.”
“Yeah? You know what you are?” Ed puts one hand on Stede’s jaw, the other on the back of his head. He thrusts their faces together, their foreheads mashed like he can push thoughts from one to the other, through their stupid thick skulls. “You’re enough. You’re fucking enough . You’re more than, you’re everything, ok?”
“Ok.” Stede can feel his lip trembling, his chin doing that ugly thing. “I love you too.”
“Now let’s go rob some fucking Spaniards, you maniac.”