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captain's quarters

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“Yes, well,” Ed says. “I suppose if you found the absolutely two perfect people…then they could potentially…”

“Co-captain?” Stede chimes in, so they chorus together. He laughs, and Ed laughs with him. “We said the same thing! Cheers!”

“Cheers,” Ed says, and toasts him. He drinks deep, the brandy thick in his throat. He listens to Stede chatter on about oranges and which trees might be the best for treasure-burying, a strange sensation tugging at his heart.

That bizarre little man over there likes you very much. 

How perceptive is that boy, really? Could it be—that is, fuck, he’d thought maybe, but not really, who could ever—but if there was a chance—

And you like him.

Heat rises on Ed’s cheeks and he’s grateful, as always, for his beard covering it up. Stede’s pink too, though that’s just sun and drink. Ed knows that it’s just sun and drink, because he’s seen Stede go pink with them before. He’s beginning to know all of Stede’s looks, his moods, the way he fusses with the lace on his sleeves when he’s anxious.

Co-captains. Shit. He’s really fucking in it now, isn’t he.

Ed downs his brandy. Takes it quick enough to not really taste.

“Well, I’m off,” he says, pushing to his feet. Stede shifts in his seat.

“You know, I meant to ask,” Stede says, his tone edged in slightly false casualness. “Where, ah—where have you been sleeping?”

Ed freezes, then slumps back next to him, brow raised. Picks up his glass again and Stede refills it. 

“You’ve had pirates on your ship and you never thought to ask?” 

“Seemed impolite somehow!” Stede says earnestly. “Figured it’d sorted itself out!”

Ed chuckles, sipping. This ridiculous man.

“Fang and Ivan kip with the rest of your crew,” he explains. “Me and Izzy, Izzy finds us a different spot every night. Keep an eye on them, keep the mystery up. Don’t want anyone stumbling in on Blackbeard vulnerable, y’know.”

“Ah,” Stede says. “Right!” He stops talking, but Ed can tell he’s not done with his thought. He can almost see Stede holding himself back, earnestness shining in his eyes. The warmth on Ed’s cheeks stretches down to his chest.  

“Why d’you ask?” he indulges. 

“Er…well.” Stede clears his throat, fussing with his sleeve. Hmm. “That seems like a perfectly reasonable arrangement, wouldn’t want to get in the way of it…”

“Spit it out, man.” Ed takes a pull from his glass. It really is very fine brandy. Sweet and deceptively light, with richer, more complex notes below. Nutty and warm. Lingers, on the tongue. Sticks in his throat, not unpleasantly. 

“Well, I just thought. Co-captains, right?”

“Right.” Ed raises his glass.

“In that case, I mean, technically .” Stede stares up at him through that halo of curls. One’s fallen in his face again, as it does. Ed’s fingers twitch from the effort of not brushing it back. As they do. “You’d be welcome to share the captain’s quarters.” 

Ed freezes. His knuckles go white on the glass. Shit, better watch himself. Fragile thing. Easy to shatter.

“Would I be?”

“Well, certainly!” Stede says, effusive now that he knows it’s not a no. “I mean, there’s not an enormous amount of room, but the couch is pretty comfy, according to Olu—”

The couch. Right. Even that is untold luxury. Ed has never lived like this. It’s not just the plush cushions, the fabric soft enough to make a man feel like he’s in a cloud itself. It’s that Stede’s not constantly seeking danger, the next thrill. It should be boring, by rights. It’s not. Here in the hearth of this ridiculous, ornate, magnificent ship, for the first time in his life, Ed feels…safe.

“Hm.” Ed looks at the couch, pounds his fist against it. 

“And then of course, if you still find it not—not to your liking, well—it would be remiss of me not to offer—”

Stede gestures at the bed.

His bed.

“It’d be a tight fit,” Stede says, and Ed’s brain fills with a sort of high-pitched buzzing, “but I think we could make it work! Quite comfortably, even, we’ve got a good amount of blankets, if you wouldn’t mind sort of squishing, that is—”

“You wouldn’t mind?” Ed peers at him. “Squishing?”

“No,” Stede says, and fuck, that…might not just be sun and drink on his cheeks anymore. “No, I—I don’t think I would.” 

Ed stares at him. The enormity of what he’s offering between them. The absurdity of introducing Blackbeard—scarred, sweaty, etched with bloodstains he’ll never get out—into his soft, clean, gentle space. Is it just out of a sense of obligation, or… fuck…

Stede stares back. Earnest. Waiting. 

He’s put together this whole outing for you. 

“I suppose it’s part of the deal, isn’t it,” Ed says gruffly. “Co-captains, yeah? Wouldn’t, ah. Wouldn’t make sense if we had two captains and one wasn’t in the captain’s quarters. Wouldn’t be right.”

And, oh, godforsaken fucking hell. There it is. That bloody smile. Spreading across that sweet face like daybreak, twinkling in his eyes. No one ever smiles at Ed like that, like they’re… delighted by indulging him. No one ever has.

“Excellent!” Stede says, somewhat breathlessly. He claps, hurrying to open a closet door Ed swears he hasn’t noticed before. “All right, I’ll find you something to sleep in, yes? Something comfortable—breathable—not too many frills round the collar or I’ll wake up with it in my mouth—”

Ed watches him, there in the hearthlight. Absently, he toys with the cravat he’s still wearing. 

He hasn’t felt this out of his depth in a long, long time.

And he can’t remember ever feeling this happy.