The lantern swings with the gentle rise and fall of the waves beneath The Revenge, causing the light to bounce strangely off the angles of Stede’s face. It’s a miracle, Ed thinks, that Stede manages to make out the words through the dark at all, but Stede keeps his head bent over the book on his lap and reads on:
“’I’m afraid I must go,’ the young soldier said, ‘for the war is calling me.’ His young bride looked at him with tears in her eyes, but she was brave, for she knew in her heart that she would see him again.”
Someone sniffles from their sleeping spot, but the night is moonless and Ed can’t make out who it is. He doesn’t personally think it’s a story worth sniffling over, but then again, he hasn’t really been paying all that much attention to the plot. This tradition, of Stede reading to the crew most nights, was easy for Ed to dismiss as lunacy at first. Now, he can’t deny its appeal. The gentle rise and fall of Stede’s voice, the way his brow furrows during serious parts, the way he falls in and out of posh accents as the character voices require, the way his nose scrunches just so when he’s voicing a bad guy.
He can’t begrudge the crew their joy in hearing Stede’s voice as they fall asleep. Ed is just as guilty of feeling it. Three weeks ago, he and Stede managed to repair things between them, and three weeks ago, they began sharing the soft bed in the captains’ quarters. Already Ed has become accustomed to falling asleep to Stede’s voice.
Stede continues, “As you go,’ the young bride says, ‘I offer you these three gifts.’ The young bride handed the soldier an emerald comb, a small red ribbon, and a lock of her golden hair. ‘Carry these gifts with you always, and you shall-‘”
“Well those are terrible gifts, aren’t they?” Frenchie interrupts, his voice cutting through the dark.
“Yeah,” Roach says from the other side of the dark. “How are a comb, a ribbon, and some hair going to help him survive a war? Who is he going to kill with a comb?”
“She should’ve given him a gun,” John suggests.
“Don’t be stupid,” Pete says, scoffing. “Women don’t carry guns. Where would she get a gun?”
“My mum had a gun,” John replies.
“Yes, so did mine,” the Swede says.
“Like every woman on the Republic of Pirates has a gun,” Lucius says. “Some of them threatened you with guns last week, Pete, remember?”
“Gentlemen,” Stede interrupts. “It’s not- she’s not giving him gifts for him to protect himself.” Stede stops abruptly. “Well, actually, she may be, as we’ll find out later in the story, but that’s neither here nor there. She’s giving him the gifts as an act of love, don’t you see?”
A brief silence falls over the deck. Then, from the dark, someone says, “No.” There are some echoing murmurs of “not really” and “not at all.”
Stede sighs. “Well, when two people love each other, they often give each other gifts. It’s just something you do when you care about someone, sometimes. Haven’t any of you received anything from a loved one?”
The crew goes quiet as they think on it. Ed, sitting beside Stede, feels his own muscles go tense. He sets his teeth around his pipe with a click against the wood.
“A girl I dated once gave me a handkerchief,” Roach says.
“Right, well, there you are!” Stede cries. “An excellent example, Roach.”
“My pa gave me a dagger before I went to sea the first time,” Pete adds, almost phrasing it as a question. But Stede responds with a triumphant, “Perfect!”
“My favorite lass on the Republic of Pirates gave me crabs once,” Buttons calls from the back.
Stede goes still. “Oh. Well. That’s not really… something I needed to hear. Or something anyone needed to hear, I think, but thank you for your contribution, Buttons.”
Stede’s hand runs down the edge of the page. “So you see,” he says, “it’s not all that uncommon at all, is it?”
“How about you, captain?” Roach asks. “What sorts of gifts have you gotten, eh?”
“Oh,” Stede says, his voice taking on that soft lilt he always gets when he speaks about the past he’s left behind. “There were birthdays of course, and holidays. Mary would get me something for each anniversary…” He trails off. He doesn’t look at Ed, and Ed can’t make out his expression from where he’s sitting. “But that’s a story for another time,” Stede says, seeming to shake himself out of a reverie. “Now, let’s get back to this story, shall we?”
He adjusts the book in his lap and resumes the tale, but Ed doesn’t hear a word of it. He’s realizing, with a sinking sort of feeling in his gut, that he may have fucked up.
People in love – at least, people from Stede’s world who are in love – get each other gifts. This is a newly learned fact for Ed, but it is a fact nonetheless. Mary got Stede gifts. Mary got Stede many gifts. The lighthouse painting still hanging in their shared captains’ quarters, that was a gift from Mary. Stede has half of a petrified orange beside their bed, a gift from his daughter. Many of the books in Stede’s library, before they were thrown into the ocean, had a short note written on the inside cover, a tag addressed to Stede from people that Ed will never meet.
Stede owns nothing of Ed’s. Ed has given Stede nothing.
This may, he realizes with dread, have been an oversight.
Why didn’t anyone tell him that he was fucking this up? Should he have been getting Stede gifts this whole time? Which anniversaries require gifts? Where are these gifts obtained, and how often?
He’s still thinking on it when Stede finishes the story. Ed stands to follow Stede down to the captains’ quarters, but his mind is far away. If Stede is accustomed to receiving gifts, surely it is now Ed’s responsibility to deliver those gifts. Ed is a great gift giver. He’s never done it before, but he’s sure he’s very good at it. If Mary gave Stede gifts, Ed will just have to give Stede more gifts. Better gifts.
They don’t get far down into the lower deck before they hear footsteps behind them. It’s Jim, rushing to intercept them just before they enter the captains’ quarters.
“Captain,” Jim says quietly, an intensity to their voice. “I have… I have a question.”
“Hello, Jim,” Stede says. “Would you like to come in?”
“No,” Jim says. “I just…” They run a hand through their hair and let out a gust of air. “You said that people who, you know, love each other, or whatever. They give each other gifts, right?”
“Sure,” Stede says slowly.
“Right,” Jim says, “so like. Does everyone do that?”
“Well,” Stede says, “I don’t think it’s a requirement, but it is customary for special occasions. Or not. Sometimes it’s nice to just give a gift for no reason, don’t you think?”
“Yeah totally, totally,” Jim says, sounding like they’re not listening at all, “but like. Is it… normal? It’s what normal people do? And what kinds of gifts?”
“Yeah,” Ed says, pointing at Jim, “that’s a good question. And how often?”
“Oh,” Stede says, a little taken aback. “Well, I suppose it depends on the person. And on the relationship. There’s no correct answer.” He places a hand on Jim’s shoulder. Jim looks at it like it repulses them, but they don’t shake it off. “You have nothing to worry about, Jim. It’s not the gifts that matter in a relationship, not at all.”
Jim looks unconvinced. Ed feels unconvinced.
Stede, in the running commentary he keeps up while they get changed for bed, doesn’t mention the gift thing again. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t thinking it. What if he’s secretly been wondering this whole time about where the gifts from Ed have been? Ed eyes him as Stede affixes his sleeping cap onto his head. He’s probably thinking right now that Ed is inadequate as a partner because the gift game has been so lacking.
Ed’s mind doesn’t settle, but when Stede wraps an arm around Ed’s chest in bed and tucks his nose to Ed’s skin, Ed thinks, I need to fucking fix this.
“No,” Izzy says.
“Oh, come on, man,” Ed says, helping to pull the sail into position, “you owe me.” He’s not sure how exactly Izzy owes him, but Ed feels pretty confident that he’s right. Probably. Izzy always owes him something.
Izzy is squinting hard at the sail, clearly avoiding looking at Ed. “Even if I did want to help you,” he says, “which I don’t, I wouldn’t know where to start. I don’t know what that little fucker likes.”
“Well,” Ed says, gripping the rope above him and letting it take some of his weight, “have you given anyone gifts before?”
“I know this may be hard for you to remember right now,” Izzy says, “given your current myriad mental illnesses, but we are pirates. We don’t go around giving each other fancy tea sets.”
“Nah, he doesn’t need a tea set,” Ed says. “He just bought one a few weeks ago. Good suggestion, though.”
The muscle in Izzy’s jaw twitches.
Ed leaves Izzy to it, having determined that Izzy is useless. What a square. No imagination on that guy. As he’s passing the galley, he notices Jim sitting alone at the table, scrubbing some of the ship’s dinner plates. Ed stops in his tracks, remembering the unconvinced look on Jim’s face the night before.
Well, he does need an ally.
Ed leans an arm against a wooden beam beside the table and inspects his nails. “Scrubbing dishes there, huh?”
Jim’s eyes flicker up to him. Their gaze gives nothing away. “Yes.”
“Cool,” Ed says. “Very cool.”
“Uh huh,” Jim says.
“So, uh.” Ed scratches at his short beard. “Have you, you know… figured out any gifts ideas or anything lately?”
Jim drops the plate they’re holding on the table. “Dude!” they whisper, leaning low over the table. “That was crazy, right?”
“Yes!” Ed says quickly, lowering his voice to match the insistent hush of Jim’s. Ed slides onto the bench across from them. “Yes, absolutely, have we been supposed to be giving gifts this whole time?”
“I have no idea,” Jim hisses. “This is the first I’ve heard of it, man!”
Relief spreads through Ed like cool water. Finally, someone who get sit. “I’ve been on a boat with crazy killers for the last few decades, man, I didn’t know gifts were a thing. I don’t exactly go around hanging out with rich people.” Unless he’s maiming them a little bit. Historically.
“I know what you mean,” Jim says. Their eyes are more alight than Ed has ever seen them. “I was raised by a nun who taught me to kill,” Jim says. “She never had any advice about,” they wave a hand helplessly, “relationships.”
“Yeah-- hang on.” Ed stops, momentarily side-tracked. He takes Jim in. “A nun?”
“It’s not important right now, man.” They slam both palms flat against the table. “Dude. We are in so much trouble if we don’t start giving gifts.”
Fuck. Ed doesn’t know exactly what Jim means by “trouble,” but they sound like they know what they’re talking about. “Wait,” he says, leaning forward, “are you dating someone?”
The light in Jim’s eyes shifts – away from confused desperation, more a glint of murderous rage. “Yes,” they say.
“Who do you think?” they ask, voice flat.
Ed casts his mind back, trying to remember who he’s seen Jim interacting with. He has a lot of memories from his time aboard The Revenge, but, he realizes with a keen stab of embarrassment, they all seem to have Stede glowing with crystal clarity, front-and-center, while the rest of the crew are just kind of fuzzy blobs in the background. Damn. Is that normal?
He’s never telling anyone about this.
“Buttons?” Ed tries. He knows he’s wrong, but it’s worth it to watch Jim’s eye twitch.
“Oluwande,” they hiss.
“Oh,” Ed says, leaning back in his seat and dragging out the consonant. “That guy. Yeah, that makes sense.” At Jim’s glare, Ed holds up his hands. “Hey, I don’t know your life, man.”
“Well, you know enough, seeing as how we have the same problem.” Jim looks away, jaw clenching.
A kindred spirit, then. Jim seems just as out of their depth as Ed feels.
“What do we do?” Ed asks.
Jim’s eyes go wide. “I don’t know! Why are you asking me? I don’t know what to do.”
The floorboards in the hall creak – someone is walking by. They both hush, leaning closer together over the table.
“We need to find someone who does know,” Ed suggests in a whisper. “And it can’t be Izzy. I already tried him.”
Jim’s gaze is flat. “I wasn’t going to try him, but thanks for the warning.” They shake their head. “It’s fine. I think I know who we can ask.”
Lucius doesn’t stir.
He tries again. “Psst. Oy. Lucius!”
Still nothing. Jim slides off their own boot and throws it. It lands with a thump against Lucius’s head.
Lucius cries out and clumsily sits up, grasping his head. “Ow!”
“Get over here, man!” Ed whispers at him. Jim frantically waves him over.
Lucius, squinting and still holding his head, joins them in crouching behind the barrels. “Why are we hiding?” he asks. “Are we under attack?”
“We need to ask you something,” Ed says, while Jim nods quickly. “What kinds of gifts are you supposed to get someone when you’re in a relationship with them?”
Lucius stares. He looks at Jim, then back at Ed, then back at Jim. “Um,” he says.
Jim takes him by the shoulder and shakes him. “Dude, come on!”
“Stop!” Lucius whines. “Don’t shake me, I think I have a concussion. Give me a second.” Jim releases him, and Lucius fixes his shirt self-consciously. “So, you need… gift ideas?”
“Yes,” Ed says, while Jim says, “Sí.”
Lucius tilts his head, his mouth forming a soft moue. “Oh my god, that’s so sweet.”
Jim grabs him by the ear and rattles off some Spanish so rapidly that Ed only catches the curses in it.
Lucius flails until he is released. “Okay, okay, calm down! I’ll help, I’ll help!” He rubs his ear. “God, what’s your hurry?”
“None of your business,” Jim says.
“All right, whatever,” Lucius says. “Okay, I mean. I don’t usually give the gifts, if you feel me. Usually people just give me things.”
“What kinds of things?” Ed asks.
Lucius frowns, thinking on it. “I don’t know. Booze? Food? A guy wrote me a song once, that was weird. I wouldn’t,” he says, slanting a look at Ed, “suggest that.”
“Booze and food?” Jim repeats. “That’s it?”
“Well, no,” Lucius says. “I don’t know. I haven’t actually been in that many long-term, committed relationships, you know. Who has the time?”
What a useless crew. Ed never realized before what an inexperienced group of losers they’ve got here. He really should have vetted them better before hiring them. Or Stede should have. Either way.
Ed feels his shoulders slumping. If Lucius can’t help them, who else can they ask?
Lucius narrows his eyes as his gaze bounces between Ed and Jim. His eyebrows take on a tilt that looks, to Ed’s annoyance, rather pitying. “Well,” Lucius says, “we could start with some lists?”
Lucius sits carefully on the boards of the nest and lays his journal out in front of him. He has to fight the wind continuously to keep the pages open.
“All right, then,” he says. “Let’s start with Olu. What sorts of things does he like?”
Jim shifts their weight where they’re sitting against the mast. “I don’t know, man. Why are you asking me?”
“You realize,” Lucius says, “when you’re dating someone, you’re supposed to know what they like, right?”
“I know what he likes!” Jim snaps. “I just don’t think it’s any of your business.”
“Right, okay, this is going well,” Lucius says dryly. He looks to Ed. “Let’s start with Stede, I guess. What does he like?”
What does Stede like? Plenty of things. “Fine fabrics, for one,” Ed says. Lucius bends to jot it down. “Books. Um. Fashion. Frequent outfit changes, you know. He likes pirating. Writing letters. Collecting small models of bigger things. Drinking tea first thing in the morning. Marmalade. Taking midafternoon naps.” What else? “Oh, he likes when I remember to take my boots off before lying in bed. And when I wear my purple shirt. Is that anything?”
Lucius finishes writing and looks up. “I can’t decide if you two are really cute or really disgusting.”
Ed tucks his chin to his chest. “What’s that supposed to mean, eh?”
“Nothing,” Lucius says quickly. “I just made up my mind; it’s really cute.” He looks to Jim. “Now, how about Olu?”
Jim tugs at their own sleeve, fidgeting. They say, finally, “Orange. His favorite color is orange.” They speak like the words are tugged from them, and they keep their eyes on the horizon. “He likes homemade biscuits. They’re his favorite food. His mom used to make them. And he likes to tell stories – doesn’t matter if they’re real or fake. He thinks he’s bad at it, but he isn’t. He’s really good. Tells the best stories. He wants to learn how to read so that he could maybe write them down.” Their cheeks are going slightly red. They turn their gaze sharply on Lucius and Ed. “If you tell anyone I told you that, I will kill you.”
“My lips are sealed,” Lucius says. Ed nods and pretends he wasn’t just imagining telling Stede about it.
Lucius sits up, pulling his journal into his lap. “All right, now that we know what they like, giving them gifts should be easy, don’t you think? Just get them the things on these lists.”
Jim glares. “How am I supposed to get Olu the color orange, huh? Just get him the concept of the color orange? Cabrón.”
“Why are you so angry all the time?” Lucius asks, voice pitching high. “I’m trying to help! Get him something that is orange!”
“Like what?” Jim snaps.
“I don’t know,” Lucius says waspishly. “An orange?”
Jim reaches for him, causing Lucius to scuttle backwards. He holds his journal up like a shield. “Oh my god, calm down! You’ve lost your mind!” When Jim settles back with a curled lip, Lucius sits back up and straightens his shirt. “I do get it, you know,” he says, more gently. “But, for the record, I don’t think Olu and Stede are going to leave you if you don’t give them gifts.”
“You don’t know that,” Jim points out.
“That’s true,” Ed says, “you don’t know that. How do you know they haven’t secretly been thinking this whole time, ‘Oh, look at these two idiots, they think they’re so great at relationships but really they’re terrible?’”
Jim nods frantically. They hit Ed on the shoulder. “That’s what I’ve been saying!”
Lucius drags both of his hands down his own face. “Okay,” he says, almost to himself. “Let’s just. Let’s go shopping, shall we? I’m sure if we look around, we’ll manage to find something.”
“We just resupplied four days ago,” he says slowly.
“Yes, that’s true,” Ed says, Jim close at his shoulder, “but we… forgot some things.”
Stede looks back and forth between them. “Did we?”
“Yes. Important things.”
“Well, I’ll need to have a word with Lucius. He’s in charge of the list of supplies. What did we forget?”
“Um,” Ed says. He looks at Jim. Jim looks back at him.
“Supplies,” Jim says.
Stede angles his head. “No, I… I understand that it was supplies, yes, but which ones?”
Ed looks around, but no answer seems to come to him.
Jim dips their head and raises their eyebrows. “You know,” they say. “Supplies.”
“No,” Stede says, “I really don’t know, I’m afraid.”
“Uh,” Ed says.
“I need underwear,” Jim blurts.
Ed snaps his fingers. “Yup. That’s it. Jim needs underwear.”
Stede’s head jerks back. He frowns. “That’s… strange. What happened to your...? Never mind. All right, well.” He looks to Ed. “If you want to stop, we can stop. It’s no trouble.”
No trouble at all. As they pull into the docks of Havana, Ed stands at the railing and watches the dockworkers tying the ship down. Stede appears at his shoulder.
“I was thinking,” Stede says, “that we might stop for a coffee. It’s been so long since I’ve sat down to enjoy a coffee. What do you say? Is that something you might be into?”
“Huh?” Ed says. He’s been trying to make a mental list of the shops he might visit, and in what order.
“Coffee,” Stede says. His eyebrows go low. “Are you… feeling quite all right, Ed? You’ve been acting a bit strangely.”
“No I haven’t,” Ed says. He hears the grind of the wheel turning as the anchor is lowered. “I have to go. I have to help Jim. With the. Underwear.”
Emotions flicker fast over Stede’s face, too fast for Ed to identify them all. “That’s. Well. If you insist. Maybe we could get the coffee afterwards?”
“Maybe,” Ed says. He sees Jim speaking to Oluwande near the plank for disembarking. “Yeah, totally, man. Yeah. I’ll see you soon.”
As he walks away, he hears Stede say, quietly, “All right.”
As Ed approaches the plank, Oluwande is saying, “I thought you liked steak.”
“I do,” Jim says, “but I told you, I have plans.”
“Hello,” Ed says.
Lucius appears at Jim’s side, clutching his journal to his chest. He gives a small wave with his fingers. “Hello.”
Oluwande looks between them. “You all are going out together?”
“Yes,” Jim says.
“Well,” Oluwande says carefully, “can I… can I come too, or…?”
“No,” Jim says quickly, at the same time that Lucius says, “It’s a secret.”
“We need to help Jim,” Ed explains. “They need help getting underwear.”
Oluwande seems frozen. “I… I mean, I can… I could help with that, I mean, I’ve seen your-“
“No,” Jim says. They gesture at Ed and Lucius. “Let’s go.”
Havana is about the same as every other trade port that Ed has visited. They all change so rapidly that they’re almost unrecognizable each time Ed visits; shops pop up like barnacles, populations shifting so quickly that one moment the towns are rowdy, grungy places and the next they are places full of families and children. They visit a tailor, a butcher, a carpenter, and a tanner, but they leave empty-handed from each. The fabric at the tailor is all too rough, too ugly. The carpenter’s work is simple and plain. The tanner just has a bunch of boring leather. Nothing is good enough for Stede, who had such fine things before Ed threw them all into the ocean.
Jim seems to be equally disappointed, but they keep their frustration tethered. Ed, meanwhile, has no such luck.
“A fucking waste of time,” he spits for the third time as they make their way back to the ship. He swats at another mosquito. He fucking hates land. “How do those places even call themselves shops, huh? Should burn them down, the absolute useless fucking assholes. They can rebuild when they have actual inventory.”
He’s still ranting as they lope up the plank back onto The Revenge. The ship is mostly empty, as many of the crew have found entertainments in the town, but Frenchie, Roach, and Fang are playing cards on the deck as they approach. They look up as Ed kicks a bucket that has the gall to be in his way.
“You okay, boss?” Fang asks.
No, Ed is not okay. His blood is running hot, his legs still feel strange from their jaunt on land, and he’s frustrated and worried and pissed off.
“No,” he snaps. “I’m in a relationship with a gentleman who for some godforsaken reason wants to spend time with me, and who probably has certain expectations of what being in a relationship is like, right?” Ed kicks the bucket again, since it’s stupidly rolled somewhat close to him again. “It’s fucking stupid, man! What the fuck am I supposed to do? None of that shit back there was good enough! Fuck!” He takes a breath, straightening his spine, looking for some semblance of calm. Then he nods, convinced. “I’m gonna go burn the shops down.”
“No!” Jim and Lucius chorus.
“I only caught like fifty percent of that,” Frenchie says, eyes wide and darting.
Jim sighs. “We’re looking for gifts. For Olu and Stede. But the town didn’t exactly have the best selection.” They sit on a barrel, looking disappointed.
“Oh, that’s a nice thought, though,” Fang says.
“Why don’t you just make them gifts?” Roach asks. When Jim and Ed look at him, he shrugs. “That’s what I do. When I like someone, I just cook for them. Actually, I do that when I don’t like someone too. Or when I feel indifferently toward them. Since it’s my job. But when I like someone,” he says, leaning forward, “I cook with the heart, you know?”
“I don’t know how to cook,” Jim says.
“Yeah,” Frenchie says, “but you can sew all right, can’t you? Like Stede taught us.”
Jim goes quiet, thoughtful.
Ed snaps his fingers at Lucius. “Boy. Let me see that list.” Ed can’t make Stede a book, or new clothing, or a midafternoon nap. But his mind snags on one item on the list: small models of bigger things. Hm.
He snaps the journal closed and looks to Jim. “We’ll make them gifts. We can do that.”
Jim’s mouth twitches downward. “Olu wants a new hat. Do you think I could make him a hat?”
“I’ll help you,” Frenchie says. “I’ve gotten quite good with the old needle and thread.”
Ed’s temper is clearing, storm clouds drifting away to reveal a clear sky. He can do this. He’s never made a model before, but how hard can it be? He can do anything. He already knows what he wants to make. “You can help me, too,” he tells Frenchie. “And I need someone who knows how to whittle.”
“That’ll be Pete,” Lucius says. He holds up his wooden finger in demonstration. “He’s quite talented, actually.”
“Fang,” Ed says, “if we give you a list of supplies, you’ll go get them for us, yeah?”
Fang jumps to a standing position, back ramrod straight. His eyes look watery. “I’ll do anything for love, Captain!”
A bit more of a reaction than he needed, but Ed will take it. He claps Fang on the shoulder. “Excellent.” He looks to his crew. “Let’s make some gifts.”
“I literally cannot wait to see this,” Lucius says.
“But it’s my room,” Oluwande says for the third time.
“Yeah, and we’re using it right now,” Jim says.
“Who’s in there?” he asks, trying again to look.
Jim stands on their tiptoes to block his eyeline. “Just some people.”
Ed is sitting on the floor with Pete, Fang, and Frenchie. He calls, “Don’t worry about it, man. Your captain has commandeered this room for ship business.”
“Okay,” Oluwande says, voice shakey with disbelief, “but-“
Roach’s voice calls from behind Oluwande, “I got the scissors, guys!” Jim shoves Oluwande back, making room for Roach to slip into the room. Ed catches a glimpse of Oluwande’s shocked eyes, huge in his face, before Jim blocks him from view again.
Eventually, Oluwande gives up, but a few minutes later there’s another knock at the door. “Um, hello?” Stede calls through the wood.
“Oh man, I can’t believe Olu tattled on us,” Roach groans.
Jim looks at Ed. “This one’s yours, man,” and Ed stands.
Instead of opening the door a sliver, Ed just pushes Stede back and joins him in the hall, closing the door behind him. Ed hasn’t spoken to Stede almost all day, and he realizes with a jolt that this has become a very unusual occurrence in the last few weeks. He’s not used to missing someone he sees so often.
“Hello,” Ed says.
“Hi,” Stede says. “So, um, what’s all this about Olu losing his room?”
Ed shrugs. “Just doing some ship business.”
Stede’s eyebrows scrunch. “Well, this is my ship…”
“Not this part though,” Ed says quickly. “This is not in your…” he squints, “jurisdiction.”
“I didn’t know we had jurisdictions,” Stede says slowly.
“Sure, all co-captains do.” Ed remembers that he and Stede are the first co-captains he’s ever heard of. “I’ve just decided. I’ve just declared that now. It’s a new rule.”
Stede swallows. He seems troubled, but Ed can’t place what he’s feeling exactly. “Look,” Ed says, feeling the need to smooth this over despite not knowing exactly what’s wrong, “it’ll only be for a few days, all right? And then Oluwande will get his room back. No harm done.” It’s for your own good, Stede, he thinks. I’m saving us.
Stede swallows again. He nods. “Well.” He angles his head, gesturing down the hall. “Are you… coming to… to bed, or…”
“Sure,” Ed says. But they have a lot of work to do. He’s barely started on his model, and progress has been slow. “I mean, yeah, probably. Soon. Well, not soon. It’s probably better if you don’t wait up.”
“Ah,” Stede says.
Ed can’t just go to sleep when his model is sitting in such disarray. He needs it done as soon as possible. It’s already been too long, weeks since he and Stede have started their relationship, and he hasn’t given Stede a single gift. He can’t make Stede wait too much longer.
“I’ll see you soon, yeah?” Ed says. He claps Stede on the shoulder before remembering – oh yeah – he can kiss him whenever he wants now. So he does, a light brush of lips before he slips back into the workroom.
“How’s this look?” Roach asks, holding up a bit of fabric he’s cut.
“Not bad,” Ed tells him. “But trim it a bit more, like this.”
Ed gets to know this small group of crew members better than he ever imagined he would. Frenchie plays music for them often. Pete is an incorrigible suck-up, Ed realizes quickly, but it makes him work hard, and his whittling really isn’t bad. Izzy tries to visit a few times, but Fang helps to keep him distracted, leading him away.
Ed doesn’t see much of Stede, but it can’t be helped. He can survive a few days without Stede if it means securing their future together.
Over the three days, Ed’s model begins to take shape, and by the third evening, it resembles his initial vision enough to be deemed finished. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn impressive, if Ed says so himself.
Likewise, Jim declares Oluwande’s new hat to be finished as well. Unlike Ed, they seem unable to accept it as good enough, but Frenchie and the others assure them that it’s quite lovely and that Oluwande will love it.
Ed wraps his model in fabric and tucks it under his arm. As he stands, he takes in the crew around him.
“Well,” he says, “we did it.”
“I’m so proud of us,” Fang says, his voice tight.
“Captain’s going to love it, sir,” Roach says.
“Yes,” Ed says, “I think he will.” He pauses. The crew are looking at him expectantly. He supposes he owes them thanks for their help. He’s not used to thanking people. “So,” he says. “You know.” And then he leaves.
He pauses in the hallway, adjusting the model and making sure it’s situated safely in his hold. The door behind him opens; Jim appears, holding the folded hat in their hands.
“So,” Jim says. “Well. Good luck, I guess.”
“You too,” Ed says, nodding. He looks down at the bit of orange fabric in Jim’s hands, the hat that they worked so dutifully over for days and late nights. “We did the right thing,” Ed says, never more sure of it. In the past three days, Ed has learned a lot about the crew in that room, but Jim has always been taciturn and reluctant to talk. But Ed has seen how they look bent over the fabric, focused on the sewing. He isn’t a romantic, but even Ed could see it in the angle of Jim’s head, the intensity in their eyes, the gentle motion of their fingers in every stitch.
“I hope so,” Jim says. They look at the hat in their hands, running their calloused thumbs over the fabric. “I like him, you know,” they say. “I don’t want to lose him. I’m not used to feeling like that.”
Ed swallows. “I know what you mean.”
Jim looks at him then, in understanding, one edge of their lips quirked upward. They nod and then, without another word, head for the deck of the ship.
Ed turns and moves in the opposite direction, toward the captains’ quarters.
It’s not too late in the evening yet, and Stede is still dressed, the remnants of his dinner not yet cleared away. He’s sitting on the couch reading one of the books he’s pilfered to begin rebuilding his library. He looks up in surprise when Ed comes in.
Ed sets the model down, still covered in fabric, onto the table beside Stede’s dinner plate. He gestures at Stede excitedly. “Well? Get over here.”
Stede stands slowly, setting his book aside. “What’s this?”
Ed straightens his back. “This,” he says, taking a deep breath, “is a gift.”
Stede looks at the model. Or rather, he looks at the fabric-covered lump on his table. “Thank you?”
Stede doesn’t seem as excited as Ed imagined he would be. Maybe he’s confused because it’s covered in fabric? “No, see, it’s under the sheet,” Ed explains. “You have to uncover it.”
But Stede isn’t moving to uncover it. “Why did you… do this?” he asks.
Ed’s stomach drops somewhere into the vicinity of his feet. He doesn’t understand. “Well,” he says, suddenly uncertain, starting to feel defensive, “you said that people in relationships get each other gifts, didn’t you?”
“What?” Stede asks. “When did I say that?”
“Like a week ago, man!” Ed exclaims. Something isn’t right here. “It was in the story, and then you said…” He trails off, opting instead to take a few long strides to Mary’s painting on the wall. “This was a gift from Mary!”
“Yes?” Stede says.
Ed moves to grab the petrified orange half from the bedside table. “And this! This was a gift!”
“Yes,” Stede repeats slowly.
“So!” Ed says. He spreads his arms, then gestures to the model. “I got you a gift!”
Stede looks at the model. “Oh,” he says quietly.
It’s still not the reaction he was expecting, but it’s better than the confusion Stede had been showing.
Stede moves to the model and reaches a hand out, hesitant. “May I?” he asks.
Ed gestures a hand at it. “Knock yourself out,” he says, tamping down on a swell of nervousness that seems to come out of nowhere.
Stede removes the fabric with a small flourish, and there it is: the model that Ed worked on for over three days. With some help. But mostly, it was Ed.
“It’s this room,” Ed explains. He supposes that that’s self-explanatory, but the silence from Stede is making him anxious. “Well, it’s this room, how it used to be.” He steps forward to point. “See, we even made all these little books for the shelves. And there’s the closet. Roach cut out all these little fabric pieces, those are the clothes, you know. And the curtains there.”
Everything is all there, as well as Ed and the others could remember, from before Ed had thrown everything out. “I thought you might,” Ed says, “you know. I thought you might miss all the things I threw out. And I can’t replace all of them – I mean, I can eventually, maybe, if you give me enough time – but I thought you could have this in the meantime, you know, to remember all the stuff you used to have.”
Stede reaches down and plucks up the small wooden figure dressed in a bright green coat: a small figurine of Stede himself.
“You made this,” Stede says, almost a question.
“Yeah,” Ed says. Stede doesn’t need to know about the rest of the crew who helped. They aren’t important.
“This is what you’ve been doing for the past three days?” Stede asks.
“Well, yeah,” Ed says.
Stede sets the figure down and rests both hands on the table, letting his head hang between his shoulders. He starts laughing.
“Okay,” Ed says, “I mean, it’s not worth laughing at.”
“I thought you were angry with me,” Stede says. “I thought you were avoiding me.”
“Well, yeah,” Ed says. “I was making the model. I couldn’t have you walking in and ruining the gift, could I?”
Stede picks up the Stede figurine again. Then, he picks up its companion: the Ed figurine in a little painted purple shirt. “Ed,” he says, eyes wet, “this is the best gift I’ve ever received.”
Ed puffs up at that. He fucking knew it. He knew he would be the best at gifts! He punches the air, victorious. “Fuck yeah, man!”
“But you didn’t have to do this,” Stede continues. “You don’t need to give me anything. I just want to spend time with you. That’s all I need. If you… if you don’t mind.”
Ed takes a deep breath. He sees what Stede is getting at. He’s still upset that Ed avoided him for three days. Maybe, Ed realizes, he wasn’t the only one who kind of missed his co-captain.
Ed says, looking away, “I get you. I am trying but I’m… I’m not very good at this… relationship thing.”
Stede’s face breaks into a smile. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Ed, but I’m not very good at it either.”
Ed blows a raspberry. “Nah, you’re the best.”
Stede holds up the figurines. “I think you’ve quite thoroughly got me beat.”
Ed doesn’t bother arguing. He fucking did it. He gave a gift, and he did it well.
Stede places the figurines down on the table and steps toward Ed, taking his face in his hands gently. “You don’t have to get me anything,” he says. “I love you. The best gift is just you, Ed.”
Ed leans forward then to kiss him thoroughly for the first time in three days. When they break apart, Stede says, quickly and a bit breathlessly, “That was a lie, Ed, I really like things and if you don’t mind, please keep getting me gifts, I like them a lot.”
Ed grins. “I know,” he says, pressing his smile to Stede’s. “Don’t worry, I got you. I’m the best at gifts.”
“It sure took us a long time to finish that story,” Pete says.
“John’s crying,” Frenchie calls.
“Shut up, no I’m not,” John says, clearing crying.
But Oluwande, a new orange cap on his head – this one a little uneven and a little too large – smiles and says, “Best one yet, Captain.”
“I agree,” Ed says, blowing a smoke ring into the starry sky. “Best story yet.” Ed throws a wink to Jim, who’s sitting on the floor by Oluwande’s foot, leaning against his leg. Jim simply rolls their eyes in response, looking away quickly to hide their pleased smile.
“Best so far,” Stede corrects, angling a smile at Ed. “I’m sure there will be even better in the future.”