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Let’s talk about pet names, baby

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“Just try it, love,” Ed encouraged him. “You might like it.”

Stede was flushed a delicious shade of pink that travelled from his cheeks down his neck, in delightfully stark contrast to the brilliant white bubbles of the bath.

“I can’t,” he whined, very pointedly not looking at Ed and shrinking himself further into the water.

“It’s not hard,” said Ed. He leaned forward in the tub. Bubbles caught and popped in his beard.

Stede muttered something intelligible.

“What was that?” Ed teased. “Didn’t quite catch it.”

“It’s embarrassing,” Stede repeated, barely a whisper.

“It’s just us, sweetheart. No one’s here to make fun of you.”

You’re here.”

“That’s sort of the point, ain’t it?”

“I don’t know how. What if it sounds weird?”

“It’s easy,” Ed pressed. “They’re just words. Try a few, until you find some you like. Get creative.”

“It’s too much pressure,” Stede croaked.

“Doesn’t have to be right now,” Ed relented. “Just when it feels natural.”

“How do I know?”

“Know what?”

“When - when it’s natural?”

Ed flicked some bubbles at him; they landed on Stede’s nose. He tangled his legs in Stede’s, pulling himself in to rest his chin on Stede’s knee, and gently blew the bubbles away as water sloshed out the sides of the tub.

“Just next time you say my name, use somethin’ else,” he said.

“Like what?” Stede wrinkled his nose where the bubbles had been.

“Whatever feels right,” Ed stressed. He had not expected this to be a difficult conversation.

“Hey babe,” said Lucius, planting a kiss on Black Pete cheek. “Can you check the reefing for me? Gotta ask Jim to trim the sails.”

“Gonna be a bit of a climb for you,” said Black Pete, looking up. “They’re already in the nest.”

“Oh,” said Lucius, following his gaze up the main mast. “You know what, I think the sails are fine actually.”

Ed made an open-hands gesture at them as he and Stede walked past, raising his eyebrows at Stede to say, ‘see? It’s easy’.

“Should probably check the sails,” said Stede quickly. “Wind’s picking up. See you in a jiffy!”

“You hate climbing the mast,” Ed complained, but Stede was already halfway across the deck.

“Morning, sunshine.”

Stede blinked his eyes open, looking up at Ed with an expression of pure confusion. “What time is it?” he asked.

Ed cocked his head to the window and shrugged. “Sun’s up - almost. Well, it’s getting there, anyway.”

“Why are we awake? Why are you dressed?”

“Made you breakfast,” said Ed proudly, setting a tray on the duvet next to Stede. Dawn was creeping into the room, casting it in a blue-grey haze. “We have muffins, the breakfast kind - bit burned, but good with the honey. And tea!”

Stede pulled himself up in the bed, getting comfortable in the pillows. “What’s the occasion?” he asked, rubbing his eyes. “Have I missed something - is it… an anniversary?”

“No occasion,” said Ed, sitting down on the bed next to the platter. “You’re always doting on me, wanted to return the favour.”

“That’s… nice,” said Stede, still looking thoroughly confused. “You made these?”

“Stoked the hearth myself,” said Ed grinning. “Roach isn’t even up yet.”

“Why are you up?”

“To make you breakfast,” said Ed as Stede yawned. “Look, I made enough for both of us - and I even brought the tablecloth so we wouldn’t get crumbs on the bed.”

Stede looked down at the cloth Ed had spread over him and the bedsheets while he was still asleep, then at the tray stacked with muffins and the little blue and white china tea set. “This is… very sweet, actually,” he said, looking up with a warm, crinkling smile. “Thank you, Ed.”

“I need your help,” said Ed, trailing Lucius towards the ladder that went down to the gun deck.

My help?” said Lucius, eyebrows shooting up as he lifted the wooden hatch. “I’m curious - keep talking.” He shimmied down onto the ladder. “And walking - places to be, people to see.”

Ed held the hatch up for him and watched as he made the climb down. “Where are we going?” he asked.

“Your boyfriend wants some brandy brought up,” Lucius called from the darkness. “Planning on stealing a bottle for a picnic with Pete - I know - we are disgustingly cute, you don’t have to say it.”

“You can’t do that,” said Ed, waiting for Lucius to move and then jumping straight down, forgoing the ladder entirely and landing a little less lightly than he expected. “Can you?”

Lucius gave him a look from the shadows. He skipped a lantern - enough light seeped in around the canon windows and the slatted deck above to see by. “It’s not like we don’t have fifty seven bottles,” he said.

“Fifty seven!”

“We drink a lot of brandy. And steal a lot too, apparently,” he added cheerfully. “Besides, pretty sure I’m one of the few of us who can actually count to fifty six, so we’ll be fine.”

“Didnt you say fifty seven? You know I’m a captain too, right?” Ed reminded him with amusement.

Lucius made a sound somewhere between a sniff and a laugh. “In raids and navigation? Sure, I guess. But when it comes to stock management, hazards and maintenance,” he said, ticking them off on his fingers, “rations, and pest control? The captain is definitely Stede.”

“Huh,” said Ed, surprised. “He does all that?”

“Have you ever been to the hold? Did you even know we had one?”

“No need to be mean about it,” said Ed, hurt.

They passed through the gun deck and entered a small, low-ceiling room strung with hammocks, littered with sacks and scattered clothes. Boxes of ammunition lined the far wall and lanterns were hung up on posts, setting a soft glow to the darkness. But it wasn’t all devoid of the touch Stede had over the rest of the ship; soft rugs lined the floors, and an ornate bookcase-turned-bizarre-treasure-display sat in the corner. It was full of trinkets - shrunken skulls, sea shells, bottles of sand. A crudely carved wooden cat sat atop the single book.

“Never seen you down here before, Captain,” came Frenchie’s surprised voice.

Ed jumped. Frenchie was perched on a wooden chair with his lute in his lap, a half eaten orange in his hand, cast in the shadow of the bookcase.

“Er,” said Ed awkwardly. “Just goin’ to get some brandy.”

“Might wanna take a look at the leak while you’re down there,” said Frenchie. “Pete patched it up pretty good but, you know.” He shrugged. “Stede always likes to like double-check.”

“Huh,” was all Ed said. He hadn’t even known there had been a leak; was he a bad captain?

He mulled on that as Lucius took a horned lantern from the presumed crew’s bedroom and guided Ed to another ladder. This one was narrower, leading down past the bilge and towards the stock rooms. It was musty down here; damp and cold. Ed sneezed loudly.

“Can’t always keep the wet out this far down,” said Lucius sympathetically. “We’re practically underwater now.”

“Ships bigger than she looks,” Ed muttered. He could hear the waves against the hull.

“Oh, it’s really, really not,” said Lucius, ducking his head under every beam. “It’s like these ceilings were built for Izzy. Well, here we are. Welcome to the hold.”

The hold was a small room both of them had to duck into. It was a lot narrower than the hold on the Concord (Ed’s old ship), but significantly cleaner, with rags and a broom hung up on the wall, and wooden shelving for optimal use of space. Still, it was the dustiest, dampest room of the lot. Ed sneezed again.

“Bless you,” said Lucius and he ducked down to push aside some boxes. “Really, bless you - for being here to carry these,” he said, hauling up a crate and dropping into Ed’s arms.

“What-“ Ed started, but somehow he had already taken it. It was heavier than it looked, the bottles inside chinking softly as he adjusted his grip.

“What do you want help with anyway?” Lucius asked, brushing cobwebs off his sleeve.

“Need some advice.”

Lucius made a face. “Is it a sex thing? Because if it is, I really don’t want to know - usually I’m a sucker for TMI - the juicer, the better. But you’re like our dads.”

“It’s not a sex thing,” said Ed, hoping the last part was more a ‘you take good care of us’ comment than a ‘you’re old as fuck’ one. “It’s more of a - a romance thing, if anything.”

“Oh god,” said Lucius, but he leaned forward eagerly. “What’s the tea, then?”

“I want Stede to give me a pet name.”

“A pet name? You followed me to the bottom of the ship to ask me about pet names?”

Ed nodded.

“Isn’t Ed a pet name already, I mean technically?” Lucius picked up the lantern then nodded his chin at the doorway. “Out of the storeroom first, it’s a travesty what this place does to my back, and the moisture does devastating things to a man’s hair.”

“That’s what Stede said,” said Ed, following him and subconsciously patting down his own hair. “‘bout calling me Ed, not about your back. Sucks about your hair, should really be sending Pete down here instead.”

“Ha,” said Lucius drily. “So, what’s wrong with Ed, then?”

“Half the fucking crew call me Ed, it’s not -“ Ed searched for a word that wasn’t too embarrassing, “- special.”

They stopped abruptly, Ed almost walking right into Lucius. Lucius held out an open palm at the wall. “The fixed leak,” he presented.

“Er,” said Ed, squinting a the wall. A block of timber and had been nailed to the wall. “Looks good?” he offered.

“Pete is actually really good at his job,” said Lucius with a small smile. “Not enough credit, honestly.”

“What's his job again?”


Ed shrugged.

“He’s a carpenter,” said Lucius. “You know we all have jobs, right?”

“What’s yours?”

“Ships boy - we couldn’t think of anything else. I’m god-awful at manual labour.”

“Aren’t they usually, like, twelve?”

“Yeah well, Stede has a thing about child labour,” said Lucius with a shrug. “So, he isn’t a pet name kinda guy, huh?”

Ed readjusted his grip on the brandy again as they took the last few steps to the ladder that lead up to the crew’s quarters.

“Tried dropping hints,” he said. “I tried like, smothering him with names. Babe this, sweetheart that, but he didn’t get it. So I just asked him, straight up, man to man. Never seen anyone so fucking terrified. And I’m fucking Blackbeard, I’ve seen people drown themselves at the sight of me.”

Nice humble brag there,” Lucius commented. “Honestly, I thought he would absolutely be into pet names. Figured he called you honey-bun or cutie-pie, or something disgustingly flowery when you’re alone. Seems like a sugar-puff kinda guy, right? Not that I think about that often - I try very, very hard not to. But it’s on-brand for him, you know?”

“It is,” Ed emphasised in agreement. “Anything else, and he’s, well. The sex, flirting, romance - he’s great. I just don’t see why this is so hard.”

“That’s tough,” said Lucius, leaning back against the ladder. “Like I totally understand, you know? When I first called Pete babe, he lit up. Like, there’s an intimacy to it, calling someone something no one else is allowed to call them.”

“Right?” Ed set the box down gently and sat on it. “You get it.”

But,” said Lucius, raising a hand to show he wasn’t done, “I also get it from his point of view. It’s weird to suddenly start calling someone something else. Imagine if I asked everyone to start calling me Dave.”

“But we would,” said Ed, then considered it. “Probably.”

“And you - you’re used to attention. Your whole life you’ve probably had plenty of people to whisper sweet names to. Stede? He had a lonely marriage with a wife who kinda hated him. He hasn’t exactly had practice. Or, maybe he did - maybe he called his wife love, or sweetie, or sugar-plum, and now he associates it with emotional distancing.”

“So,” said Ed, trying not to think about Stede calling anyone else love. “What’s the solution?”

“Hell if I know,” Lucius said, shrugging a shoulder and turning to the ladder. “But I would love to know what he picks, when he does.”

“What do you call Olu, when you’re alone?”

“The fuck?” Jim gave Ed a look of absolute disgust. They were sitting on the quarterdeck steps, carving a handle for one of their knives with another one of their knives.

Ed, realising that had probably not been the best way to start a conversation with someone holding multiple knives, backtracked. “Not when you’re alone alone,” he said. “I mean, do you call each other babe? Is that a normal thing or am I fucking crazy?”

“The fuck you talking about?”

“Actually, never mind,” said Ed quickly. “Knife’s looking great, by the way.”

“Where’s Stede?”

Olu gave Ed a knowing look that made Ed thoroughly uncomfortable, and nodded to the quarterdeck stairs.

“He’s been giving orders from there all day, won’t move at all,” he said. “It rained a bit before, and he just got Lucius to fetch an old sail and huddled under that.”

Stede was sitting on a little velvet cushion at the top of the steps, surrounded by small, tidy piles of books. He was holding a book a few inches from nose, not even looking up as he gave some very vague instructions to Buttons. The now-abandoned sail was hung over the railing to dry.

“Wind keeps turning the pages for him,” said Jim, coming up behind Olu. “Only takes one big wave to ruin them forever.”

“Doesn’t look practical,” Olu agreed.

Jim smirked at Ed. “Must be a damn good story, eh Cap?”

“I should probably take over,” said Ed, keen to escape whatever intervention this was. “Let the poor bloke back inside.”

“Whatchu reading?”

“Hmm?” Stede looked up from his book. It was late afternoon and he was curled up on the love-seat under the window, in a simple laced shirt and soft leather breeches, his reading glasses perched on the bridge of his nose. “Ah, Shakespeare again,” he said with an almost shy, guilty smile. “I can read it out loud, if you’d like?”

“Nah,” said Ed with a flap of his hand. “Can’t understand a thing that guy says. You’re good though, I got maps to read.” He had just come in from explaining to Buttons, for the sixth time, that no, their compasses weren’t eight degrees off. And no, they didn’t need to make an eight degree course adjustment just because a bird had told him to.

He sat down at the map table and traced a finger down the route he had planned out. They were a little behind schedule, if they wanted to rendezvous with Izzy and the Concord in Nassau by the week’s end. But Izzy would wait - hell, maybe Izzy was a few days behind himself.

He tugged open the drawer and found the little red map pins Stede had given him. From Nassau it was on to Port Royal to settle some under-the-table business with the local governors. Then where? He tapped the map absently with a finger. Georgetown, maybe?

He heard Stede come up behind him before he felt Stede’s hands in his hair, gently pulling loose strands that had gotten caught in his collar. There was something about Stede’s fingers brushing the nape of his neck that made his breath hitch, every time.

Surely, we can think of something more fun to do than planning out six more weeks of nautical miles, o dainty duck,” Stede whispered into that little spot between Ed’s ear and jaw. He trailed his hand over Ed’s shoulder, down his collarbone to tug gently at the neck of Ed’s shirt.

“Mhmm, this is nice,” Ed said as Stede kissed the back of his neck. “Wait - did you just call me a duck?” He felt Stede’s kiss turn into a smile.

“O deare,” Stede finished through a laugh. “It’s Shaekspeare.”

“It’s terrible,” said Ed, turning in the chair to grin. “Got any more?”

“Come to bed, chuck,” Stede said, leaning over and kissing Ed on the lips.

“Who the fuck is Chuck?” Ed laughed, then kissed him back.

“It means, my love.”

“Dear god. I think I have a cousin in law called Chuck.”

“Tender lambkin,” Stede cooed, tugging at Ed’s hands. Ed let Stede pull him out of the chair and into his arms.

“Sounds edible.”

“You are a snack,” said Stede with a wink. “Lucius liked that one.”

“You’ve been talking to Lucius?”

“He was shockingly unsurprised,” said Stede with a wicked smile. “Almost as though someone else asked first. At least I didn’t ask Jim.”

“Is nothing sacred on this ship? I hate this, and love it, keep going.”

“My Bawcock,” Stede whispered, pulling him towards the bed and batting his eyelashes.

“That just sounds dirty. What’s it mean?”

“Fine fellow,” said Stede, dropping himself onto the bed and looking up Ed. “And you are fine.”

“Mhmm,” said Ed, leaning over him and tugging at the strings on his shirt. “You can call me a fine fellow again any time. But in English - don’t think Shakespeare loved a man in his life.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t be surprised, mon petit chou-fleur.”

“I like that one,” said Ed, considering.

“French, not Shakespeare,” Stede admitted, pulling Ed closer. “My little cauliflower.”

“Fuck off,” said Ed, dropping his head to Stede’s chest to muffle his laughter.

“Mon trésor,” said Stede gently, wrapping his arms around Ed’s back and pulling him tight, letting him nestle into his embrace. “I’ll start with something easy,” he said, almost quietly, as he traced his fingers down Ed’s back. “And it might take me a while to get used to it. Maybe not in front of the crew, not yet.”

Ed pushed himself up slightly, just enough so that he was looking down at Stede, and reached down to brush a golden curl from Stede’s face.

Stede’s ears were pink, eyes soft and warm. It was a careful look he gave Ed then, that somehow expressed to Ed just how seriously he had been thinking about Ed’s request.

“I’ve never been in love before,” said Stede. “So this is new, and honestly terrifying. Absolutely nerve-wracking. But it means a lot to you, so it means a lot to me. I love your name, Ed. I love saying it, but ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’.

“I love you,” he said softly into Ed’s lips as Ed kissed him. “My darling, my duck. My little cauliflower.”