“Whoever’s doing that whispering, do you mind shutting it?” Buttons said loudly.
There was some grumbling from the crew, some shifting in their hammocks, and Frenchie caught Stede’s eye and made a face at him like he knew he was the guilty party but wasn’t going to snitch on the captain.
Stede turned his attention back to Ed and whispered, “I suppose we can take this conversation down to my quarters.”
Ed nodded and giggled in response, and both of them shushed each other as they tried to quietly make their way through the sleeping crewmates.
It was becoming a habit, really.
Ed had been on the Revenge going on two weeks now, and each night he would join the crew on the main deck while Stede read them stories. Reading stories always dissolved into telling ghost stories, which dissolved into individual conversations breaking off until everyone, one by one, fell asleep.
Stede and Ed were always, always the last ones still awake, still talking.
Down in the captain’s quarters, Ed draped himself across Stede’s couch and waited for Stede to bring him a glass of brandy.
“You could punish your crew, you know, for telling you to shut it,” Ed said matter-of-factly. “You run this ship.”
“Oh, that’s not fair, though, is it?” Stede asked, two glasses of brandy in his hands as he came to sit in a chair right by the couch. “They don’t know it’s us talking.”
Ed looked at him like he was an idiot. “Of course they know it’s us, mate.”
“Well, I suppose we could come down here earlier in the evening so we don’t disturb them.”
A smile pulled at Ed’s lips. He looked down at his brandy as he said, “Yeah, mate, I reckon we could do that.”
“Anyway, where were we?”
“You were telling me about flowers.” Another smile. “Your favorite kinds when you were a boy.”
Stede smiled back and tried his best to describe what morning glory smells like.
Ed began to fall asleep first, after just one glass of brandy, and Stede kept right on telling him about flowers even as Ed’s head lolled, his eyelids grew heavy. Stede lowered his voice to a soothing lilt, the way he did during storytime when he could tell his crew was getting drowsy.
Once Ed was fully asleep, his head slightly angled toward Stede and his chin buried in his beard, Stede carefully removed the empty glass from his hand and set it aside. He grabbed a blanket and set it over top of Ed, and Ed snuffled and burrowed, shifting to his side as he pulled the blanket up to his beard, still asleep.
“Nigh night, Ed,” Stede said and brushed a lock of hair out of his friend’s face before going over to his own bed.
In the morning, Ed was gone. The blanket was messily strewn across the couch. Stede ignored his disappointment.
The next three nights followed the same pattern. By the fourth morning, Ed left the blanket neatly folded in the middle of the couch.
The fourth night, Stede was sitting up against the mast with his legs straight out in front of him and crossed at the ankle, and Ed was on his stomach facing him, propped up on his elbows with his legs bent up behind him, also crossed at the ankles. Both of them were swinging their feet side to side, talking and laughing. Eventually Wee John yelled at everyone to shut up, and Ed and Stede just looked at each other.
A silent conversation passed between them. They were comfortable where they were and didn’t want to move, but if they went down to the captain’s quarters then they could keep talking. Through a long, drawn-out look, they decided to stay where they were and simply sit in silence for a little bit.
The decision made, Ed shifted. He put one arm up on Stede’s thigh and rested the side of his head in the crook of his elbow. On impulse, Stede put a hand in Ed’s hair and stroked his fingers through it.
Ed sighed approvingly and closed his eyes. He moved his arm again, hooking it over both of Stede’s thighs and putting his cheek directly onto Stede as he squeezed his legs. Stede’s heart made a strange lurch. Stroking Ed’s hair helped to calm him.
In the morning, Stede woke with his entire body aching from sleeping on the hard wood of the main deck. He was mostly on his stomach, with one arm draped over Ed’s back, and his face smashed between his shoulder blades, a pile of hair his pillow. Ed was sound asleep, still on his stomach with his arms crossed under his face.
“Oh dear,” Stede said worriedly as he extricated himself from Ed.
“Yeah, that’s what I was going to say,” Lucius said regrettably, hands on his hips as he looked down at Ed and Stede. “I don’t mean to pry, but don’t you have a bed, Cap’n?”
“Yes, I do, and thank you for the reminder,” Stede said sincerely. He hit Ed in the side. “Edward, wake up.”
Ed jumped and made a surprised sound as he reached for his gun, then he groaned and went lax against the deck. “Ow.”
Stede hit him again, gentler this time. “You slept on your bad knee, Edward, you need to get up. Stretch it out.”
“OK, OK, fine. Ow,” Ed grumbled as he laboriously got to his feet, popping his knee in the process. He ruffled Stede’s hair and then walked away without another word.
Stede turned his attention to Lucius, who was looking at him like he had just grown a second head. “What is it, Lucius?”
“Nothing.” Lucius blinked several times and shook his head. “Just—it’s nothing.”
They stayed up late again the next night, but they made it down to the captain’s quarters this time. The second time Ed yawned, he excused himself and said he was going to go find a hammock.
“What? Why?” Stede asked, panicked.
“I’m old, man,” Ed replied reasonably. “I can’t keep sleeping on a couch, it’s killing my back.”
“Yeah, but—” Stede cut himself off because he didn’t know what came after but. But I want you here with me? But I have a bed you could sleep on?
Ed smiled tiredly and patted Stede’s shoulder twice. “Nigh night, Stede.”
Stede let him leave.
The next night, Ed slept on the couch.
The night after that, Ed slept on the couch again.
Stede woke in the middle of the night to the sound of grunting and grumbling. He sat up in bed and squinted in the darkness until he could see the shadow of Ed trying desperately to get comfortable on the couch.
“Edward,” Stede whisper-shouted.
“Hmm?” Ed grunted, stopping his hurried movements.
Stede got up, crossed the room and put a hand on Ed’s shoulder. He whispered, “Just switch with me. The bed won’t be so hard on your back.”
Ed blinked up at him, his eyelids fluttering. He worried his lip between his teeth and then nodded shyly before doing the strangest thing. He got up from the couch, grabbed Stede’s hand and led him over to the bed.
Stede stood by the bed, not daring to intimate what would happen next.
“Come on, then,” Ed said softly, putting a hand to the small of Stede’s back and patting it a couple of times to urge him to get in bed.
Stede, still confused, crawled under the covers and lay on his back like he always did.
Ed stood there for just a few seconds before sliding in next to Stede and going onto his stomach, most of his body draped over top of Stede, his cheek resting on his chest. Stede stared wide-eyed up at the ceiling and kept his arms by his sides, not brave enough to touch. He could feel Ed’s hair everywhere on his chest and neck, like a blanket wrapped around him.
And then it clicked. Ed had only heard the second thing Stede had said, not the first. He had missed the crucial Just switch with me and had only heard the invitation, The bed won’t be so hard on your back.
Stede continued to stare at the ceiling until sunrise.
He debated what to do, whether he should say something to Ed or just try to slip out of bed without waking him, but there wasn’t quite enough space to successfully extricate himself from Ed’s hold. It didn’t matter though, because the decision was made for him.
Ed stirred awake like a baby, nuzzling his hairy face against Stede’s chest and opening his eyes with a sleepy smile.
“You were right,” he whispered.
“Hmm?” Stede replied.
“The bed’s much easier on my back.”
“Oh. Right. Yes.” Stede cleared his throat.
Ed lifted his head off his chest then and looked at Stede with a shy smile.
Stede couldn’t help it, he smiled back. “What’s on your mind, Ed?”
Ed blinked, his smile faltering just a bit as he opened his mouth to answer. He seemed to change his mind, and instead of saying anything, he started to get up from the bed. As he got up, though, he leaned forward and pressed a kiss to Stede’s forehead, smashing his entire beard into Stede’s face.
Stede lay there, stunned, as Ed walked out of the captain’s quarters.
Ed acted shy and perhaps a little embarrassed for the entire day.
Stede wasn’t sure what was going on with his friend, but he did his best to cheer him up and spend time with him so that Ed knew everything was fine. By sundown, Ed was mostly back to being himself but he acted a little surprised when Stede invited him down to his quarters.
They sat on the couch together, facing each other, each wearing robes out of Stede’s closet and slowly sipping their brandy. Ed was shirtless under his robe so Stede asked him about his tattoos, and Ed spent the better part of an hour pointing to each one on his chest and telling insane stories about them. Stede was captivated, his eyes glued to the black ink and the expanse of brown skin, and when Ed was finished talking he put a finger to Stede’s chin and chucked it up.
“Stede,” Ed said softly. “What’s on your mind?”
Stede shook his head, looked down at Ed’s chest one more time, then back up at his big brown eyes. “Nothing. Just you.” He angled his body more toward Ed and put his hand on Ed’s shoulder and tugged at the sleeve of the robe. “Show me these ones.”
Ed’s eyelids fluttered. He looked at Stede as he pulled down the sleeve of the robe, revealing the full length of his tattooed arm. He cleared his throat and pointed to the mermaid and began another story.
Stede nodded off before Ed got past his elbow.
“Hey,” Ed whispered. “Come on, just a short walk over to the bed, mate.”
Stede struggled to his feet, but Ed offered him a hand and so Stede leaned half his weight against him and expected Ed to half-carry him to the bed. Ed did, laughing lightly the whole way there.
They tried to position side-by-side in the bed, but there just wasn’t enough room. No matter how much they fussed and shifted, one of them was always in danger of slipping off the side of the bed, and so Ed went to his back and hauled Stede on top of him.
“There,” Ed said breathlessly as he wrapped his arms around Stede’s back. “Nigh night.”
Stede was too tired to feel weird about it. He fell sound asleep with his face pressed against a tattoo.
The next night, they went straight to the bed.
They had been on a raid during the day, and Ed had sustained a couple of minor injuries that needed tending to. He and Stede sat next to each other on the edge of the bed while Stede pressed a wet cloth to the cuts on Ed’s forehead and the bridge of his nose.
“You poor dear,” Stede said.
Ed shrugged. “Part of the job. Not trying to win any beauty contests.”
Stede frowned and moved the cloth away from Ed’s face so he could fully focus on talking to him. “Edward, do you think you’re—do you not think you’re good-looking?”
“Why do you think I have the beard, man? To hide this ugly mug.”
Maybe if Stede didn’t suddenly feel the most offended he’s ever felt in his life, then he could have stopped himself from saying, “How dare you. You are the most beautiful person I’ve ever met.”
Ed’s mouth opened; he blinked owlishly. Then a smile spread across his face, and he leaned forward and angled his head to press a kiss to the spot between Stede’s collarbone and neck.
“Ed—Edward, what are you…”
Stede’s eyes slipped shut. He couldn’t form words anymore. Ed’s mouth was moving delicately up the side of his neck and making its way to his face, his beard tickling Stede’s chest as he went.
It turns out Stede had never been kissed in his life. As Ed gripped the side of his face and sealed their mouths together in a desperate, hungry manner, the only thought in Stede’s head was, Ah, this is what it’s meant to feel like.
Stede put one hand in the tangle of Ed’s hair and the other on his bare hip, squeezing into the soft skin. Ed’s hands were everywhere, gripping and squeezing Stede in all the places he had never been lovingly touched before, and they kissed and kept kissing until Stede’s face was chafed from Ed’s beard, and then they kept kissing.
After several minutes or hours had passed, Ed pulled away just enough to mumble, “Is this alright?”
Stede laughed and kissed him. “I think so.”
Ed grabbed the lapels of Stede’s robe and tugged him forward while tipping himself back against the sheets. Stede nearly lost his balance as he fell on top of Ed, and there was a bit of clumsy maneuvering for him to slot his body on top of Ed’s in the tiny bed. Their mouths met once again, and Ed put his hands on Stede’s hips and then slowly moved them to his ass and pushed down.
“Oh, hello,” Ed said in a silly voice when Stede’s erection pressed down against his inner thigh.
Stede laughed and put his face in Ed’s beard as he mumbled, “Shut up.”
Ed shifted and pressed his own erection back up against Stede, and Stede rolled his hips down and kissed him hard, pushing his tongue all around Ed’s mouth with a newfound confidence. They became more hurried and began awkwardly removing each other’s robes, twisting and turning until—
“Ow,” Stede said, after falling off the bed.
“You alright, mate?” Ed asked through barely contained laughter as he peered over the side of the bed at Stede.
“You’re bleeding,” Stede said bitchily.
Ed reached up to the bridge of his nose and pulled away a dot of blood. He looked at his finger and put it in his mouth, licking the blood away. He said, “So am I coming down to you or you coming back up to me?”
Stede lifted his arm straight up. “Give me a hand, please.”
Ed grinned mischievously down at him and grabbed his forearm, yanking him up with a surprising strength. Stede made a yelping noise and plopped down on top of Ed again, and before he could even complain about the circumstances of their small bed, Ed was kissing him again and wrapping his legs around Stede’s waist to hold him in place.
They didn’t make it past kissing.
It was too overwhelming and too good, and Stede fell asleep right on top of Ed because there was nowhere else to go.
In the morning, Stede woke before Ed and found himself a sweaty mess. He lifted his head and had beard hair stuck to his face, so he delicately pushed it away with his fingers. He scooted up Ed’s body and pressed a kiss behind his ear, breathing him in. Ed smelled like lavender and coconut, tobacco, salt and the ocean breeze itself. Stede inhaled deeply.
“Babe,” Ed said blearily, scratching a hand against Stede’s back. “What are you doing?”
“Memorizing the scent of this wonderful new flower I just found.”
Ed smiled. “Oh yeah? Describe it to me then.”
Stede kissed his cheek, above the line of his beard. “It smells like my new favorite.”
The next night, they made it a little bit farther than kissing. Ed was the one who fell out of bed this time.
Around midday two days later, Stede stumbled out of his auxiliary wardrobe with his arms wrapped modestly around his closed robe. Lucius stood on the opposite end of the room with a pained expression on his face.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, Cap’n, but the other crewmates think you’ve abandoned your duties,” Lucius announced.
“What? Nonsense, you’re not interrupting anything,” Stede replied.
From inside the wall, Ed’s voice called, “Yes, you are, boy.”
Stede and Lucius stared at each other. Stede lost.
“OK, fine,” he said. “We’ll be up momentarily. Five minutes.”
“Twenty!” the wall yelled.
Lucius grimaced and then excused himself.
The hidden door was barely halfway open before Ed was grabbing Stede and yanking him back inside.
Ed shoved him against a wall and slotted his bad knee between Stede’s legs as he kissed him.
“What do we tell the crew?” Stede asked between kisses.
Ed moved his mouth to Stede’s neck and pulled their hips closer together. “The truth.”
“And what’s that?”
“That you’re the love of my life.”
It was so quick, so matter-of-fact, that Stede wasn’t sure he had heard Ed right. They had only known each other for a few weeks, so surely Ed couldn’t be serious.
“Oh no,” Ed said. He pulled slightly away from Stede and looked at him with innocent puppy-dog eyes. “I went a touch too far, didn’t I?”
Stede shook his head and tugged on a lock of Ed’s beard and gently kissed him. “No, I don’t think you have.”
“I apologize that I’ve been negligent of my duties these past few days, and I vow to do a better job of being present and available for my crew,” Stede announced, 25 minutes later, after gathering the crew together on the main deck.
“Why’re you being negligent, Cap’n?” Oluwande knowingly asked. “Something personal going on in your life?”
Several people snickered. Ed leaned back against the railing and crossed his arms over his chest, distancing himself from Stede. Stede looked at him, annoyed, but Ed just gave him a look back that said, You’re the captain, it’s up to you.
Stede cleared his throat. “As you all know, Edward and I are—”
Everyone simultaneously made different lewd gestures.
“Hey,” Blackbeard said in a commanding tone that made everyone immediately stop. “Your captain is speaking. Straighten up.”
Stede looked over at him again, and Ed, still looking stern, winked at him.
“Edward and I are sharing the captain’s quarters and will be co-captains of this ship,” Stede continued. Stupidly, he tacked on, “Are there any questions?”
Everyone raised their hands.
Frenchie ignored the raised hands and asked, “How long have you been together? The crew’s been having a debate about it since Blackbeard got here.”
Stede said, “Four days,” at the same time Ed said, “Six days.”
They glared at each other.
The crew laughed and ooh’d.
Before they could sort out the discrepancy, Frenchie continued, “Well, who made the first move?”
Stede said, “Edward,” at the same time Ed said, “Stede.”
Immediately, they both walked toward each other and turned away from the crew. Ed put his hand between Stede’s shoulder blades and rested it there.
“You kissed me that day of the last raid,” Stede reasoned.
“Yeah, two days after you invited me to bed,” Ed argued. “You were doing a very slow seduction, it was very sexy.”
“What on earth are you on about?”
Ed removed his hand from Stede’s back and counted out on his fingers as he said, “You tell me about flowers, you give me nice compliments, you invite me to sleep in your room, you pulled my robe down while I was telling you about my tattoos, you called me…beautiful.”
Stede turned fully toward Ed and put his hands on his shoulders, shaking him. “Edward, you thought I was seducing you? I was just—I was being your friend.”
Ed frowned. “So. You just want to be my friend?”
“No, of course not! Don’t be absurd.”
“So you were seducing me.”
Stede put a thumb and forefinger to his eyes. “Sure, Edward. Yes. I was seducing you.”
Ed grinned and wrapped an arm low around Stede’s waist. “Good. It worked.”
Six months later, after a near-death experience, the loss of Ed’s beard, and a tumultuous breakup and makeup, Stede was lying half-on top of Ed, held on the tight confines of the bed by Ed’s arm low around his waist and propped up with his elbow on Ed’s chest.
“Why are you staring at me, babe?” Ed asked, after Stede had been staring at him for at least two minutes.
Stede put his index finger to the line of Ed’s jaw and traced it up to his ear. “I can’t believe you thought this face was ugly.”
“Oh, shut up,” Ed said affectionately. He turned his head to press a kiss to Stede’s finger. “Do you miss the beard?”
“No, I quite like you whichever way you are,” Stede said simply, still tracing Ed’s face. “Although I think I would miss the hair if you cut it. It smells rather nice.”
A smile grew on Ed’s face. “I love you.”
Stede kissed him, slow and sure. Ed deepened the kiss, pushing up against Stede and holding his cheek in his hand, then he rolled them both to the side and—
They both fell out of bed.