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Selkie by the Sea

Chapter Text

It was a beautiful if muggy day in Nassau. Frenchie was counting this as his first real day here and planned to spend it doing nothing at all. Sure, he’d been here for almost a week now, but that had been spent moving in and getting to know some of the other people he was sharing a house with. After all the introductions and furniture hauling and document updating, Frenchie decided he was going to go wander for a bit. Stede, the owner of the house, had told him about the quieter beaches away from the more touristy spots.

He liked the sound of that, of not having to deal with rich tourists on crowded beaches. Maybe he could think up a song or two while trawling the sand.
Frenchie hummed as he stepped out the door, practically skipping as his maps app directed him. All told, it wasn’t a far walk. Maybe only fifteen minutes. Which was nice, since he started feeling uncomfortably sweaty around ten minutes in. London summers could get hot, for sure, but the humid sea air here made Frenchie feel like he was swimming on dry land. This would take some getting used to.

He would have to remind himself when he got back to the house to adjust the care of his lute and make sure it hadn’t warped badly already with the change in climate.

“Whoa…” Frenchie let out an impressed whistle when he got to the beach. It was beautiful out here. The sea was impossibly blue and the only sound was the water lapping at the sand and the distant cry of a seagull or two. Happily, Frenchie settled himself right near the water’s edge, kicking off his shoes and socks so he could splash his feet in the water. It felt so nice. A bit tickly when the sand moved between his toes with the tide.

“Gonna get me a job so I won’t be a slob~” Frenchie sang, little snatches of nonsense coming to mind. “If I sing all night then that’s alright~ Get my lute tuned nice so I can eat more than just rice~” He went on like this for a bit, though as it got on toward noon, he began to think getting more than just his feet wet might be a good idea.

He got to his feet, a little unsteady from the eddies in the sand now. Frenchie brushed the sand off his pants before he started fiddling with the button at the front of them when he heard something like a forceful exhale, but sort of wet.

Frenchie jerked his head up to see what the noise was. And there, only a few feet out in the water was a seal. It had a brown and tawny spotted coat and a strangely long face, a bit hook-nosed in the snout. It wasn’t quite as fat as the seals Frenchie had seen at the zoo when he was little, but that was probably because this one didn’t get fed like clockwork or get ill-advised handouts from well-meaning kids. It opened its nostrils and exhaled again.

“Oh. Well, hello there. You’re a pretty thing, aren’t you? Come here often?” So, maybe the sun was getting to him a bit. He was chatting up a seal. The seal just. Kept staring at him. Then it made a sort of grunting, wailing sound like a strangled baby. Its eyes went narrow, and it almost looked like it was glaring at him? It had a strangely intelligent look about it that made Frenchie a little bit wary.

“You’re not some sort of shape-shifting witch, are you? I know most witches prefer like, cats or crows or something, but you can never be too careful.” Frenchie squatted down so that he was relatively eye level with the seal bobbing in the water. “They steal babies’ breath and put spells on people to make them do their evil bidding, you know. Witches, I mean.”

The seal made the strangled baby sound again, but louder, and then snarled. Frenchie didn’t even know most seals had teeth, but those ones looked pretty pointy. So either it was just an angry seal, or it didn’t like being called a witch. “Alright, alright, not a witch then!” he decided.

He laughed a bit and started back at the seal. It looked a bit like it was sizing him up. “You are pretty, though. Don’t think I’ve ever seen one like you. Most of the seals I’ve seen were just plain brown and sort of stubby looking. The ones in the zoos and all over the shipyards, yeah?”

The seal snorted at him and—did it just roll its eyes? Frenchie didn’t have long to ponder that, because the seal decided to choose that moment to be a total dick.
It shot forward in the water—holy shit did it move fast—and snagged the loose front of Frenchie’s shirt with its teeth to yank him into the water. Frenchie went flailing into the sea. Face first. Got a nice mouthful of salt water for his trouble.

He spluttered and coughed, pushing his wet hair out of his face. “What the fuck was that for!?” Frenchie yelled at it when he could breathe right again. The seal barked, almost like it was laughing. And then, with its flippers and belly resting on the sand, lifted its head and tail up. “Are you—are you fucking banana posing over this!? Seriously?”

It let out another barking laugh before it sort of scooted back into deeper water. As one last bit of ‘fuck you’ icing on the ‘fuck you’ cake, it slapped its tail flippers down on the water right as it was moving past Frenchie and sprayed him with water hard enough to sting.

Frenchie jerked back, falling into the water again when he tried to shield his eyes from the spray. “I take it back!” He yelled after the seal’s retreating form. “You’re not pretty at all! You’re an ugly, rotten, sea-pig son of a whore!”

He got back up and kicked at the water. “Fuck!”

Well, there was no use staying on the beach after that. He was completely soaked, and by the time he stumbled out of the water and grabbed his shoes, he had wet sand clinging to him up to his knees.

Forcing his shoes back on, Frenchie squelched and squeaked and cursed his way home, leaving a trail of sand and seawater in his wake.

Stede was waiting for him when he got back, all ready to ask him about his trip down to the beach, no doubt. The sunny smile dropped off the man’s face when he took in Frenchie’s miserable drowned rat appearance. He hurried off and came back with a towel.

“Oh, Frenchie, what happened?” Stede asked after Frenchie had wrapped himself up.

“Fuckin’ seals, mate,” was all he said as he trudged up stairs for a shower and a change of clothes. “Oh dear…” Stede murmured quietly from where he lingered in the front hallway.

***

Two days later and Frenchie had mostly gotten over the Seal Incident. Wee John, his new roommate, told him that seals were little shits in general at the best of times, so he shouldn’t feel too bad that one had been a little shit to him, specifically.

Besides, Roach was taking him to go for a sort of casual interview today, and Frenchie was too excited at the opportunity to be grumpy.

Stede had brought the place up to him the other night when he had mentioned job hunting. Apparently, his fiancé owned a popular restaurant that liked to hire live musicians fairly regularly, and Roach happened to work there as a cook. Well, who was Frenchie to pass up a chance to perform? And for pay!

So, that afternoon, Frenchie slung his lute, freshly tuned and polished, over his shoulder and followed Roach out the door.

The restaurant was in a more touristy part of town, and it was a decent sized building. On the front sign there was a picture of a pirate ship one side and a seal with a fish in its mouth on the other. Smooshed between the two pictures was… A lot of words. Like. A lot. Frenchie wasn’t exactly the strongest reader, and that many words, all cramped together, were just so jumbled he couldn’t quite make them all out.

“Uhhh…” He said, glancing to Roach.

“Blackbeard’s Bar and Grill and Other Delicacies and Delights and Fishing Equipment.” Roach told him with a sharp grin. “But all the locals just call it Blackbeard’s.”
“That’s… a lot. Fishing equipment? In a restaurant?” Frenchie asked as he opened the door. A little bell tinkled overhead.

“Yeah,” Roach said as he followed Frenchie inside, “there’s a giftshop ‘round the side, too. It’s always a hit with the tourists, though, so, eh.”

While Roach clocked in, Frenchie took a chance to look around. It looked like the inside of a pirate ship. Or at least, what he thought the inside of a pirate ship might look like. All the walls, the floor, and the ceiling were made with wooden boards. The Ol’ Rodger flag hung proudly on the back wall. Everywhere else there were old swords and one-shot pistols mounted around. The tables and chairs, and even the bar counter all looked like they were made of rough-cut wood. On the table closest to him, Frenchie could see that the top was coated in thick resin with seals and mermaids and all kinds of fish painted on it.

Right. Nassau. Former pirate cove where the famous Blackbeard liked to dock. Perfect tourist crawl.

Roach pulled him out of his thoughts when he tapped him on the shoulder. “The owner and the manager are in the back. It’s the door under the flag, says ‘crew mates only’ on the sign. See it?”

Frenchie nodded and went on his way.

He paused at the door, wondering if he should knock first. He dithered a little longer before knocking twice. No answer.

So, he shrugged and pushed the door open. It creaked on its hinges, revealing a long hallway with a couple different doors. Alright. Well, the owner and manager had to be behind one of those doors, right? The door he’d opened kept swinging and knocked against something soft that fell to the ground. Oh, must have been a coat hanger. And he’d knocked a coat down.

It was a nice-looking coat. He should probably put that back on the rack so it wouldn’t get dirty.

Frenchie picked it up and paused. It was long and heavy as fuck, but so soft. On closer inspection, it looked like fur. Who wore fur coats in the Caribbean? It was brown and tawny spotted. It looked almost… familiar.

He was so busy staring at the coat that he didn’t notice the two men coming out of the door at the far end until he heard a raspy voice yell, “What the fuck are you doing!?”

Frenchie startled so badly he nearly dropped the coat, whipping around to see a very short, very angry man charging down the hall at him with murderous intent.
When the short, angry man was only a few strides away, Frenchie finally found his voice. “Sorry! I’m sorry!” He held the coat out to the man. “This is yours, right? I just—I didn’t mean to! It fell off the coat rack when I came in and, well—here!”

The man stopped short. His face went from angry to scared, to finally settling on blank. “What…?”

The man behind the angry man, taller and broader with a rather luxurious beard, was watching the exchange with wide eyes. He looked almost as shellshocked.
Gingerly, Frenchie held the coat out to the man. Slowly, like he was expecting it to be snatched away or something, the short man took the coat and cradled it to his chest. He stared up at Frenchie, eyes blank. And then there seemed to be some spark of recognition. Which was odd, because Frenchie had never seen this guy before. The short guy snapped back into anger, baring his teeth in a wicked snarl before he turned on his heel and fled back down the hall.

“Well,” the taller man said to nobody in particular, “wasn’t expecting that.” Then he turned a piercing gaze on Frenchie. “Who are you again?”

Frenchie gulped.

Chapter Text

“Stede thinks you should come over for dinner tonight,” Edward says to him without so much as a by your leave. Izzy sighed heavily and dropped down into the creaky chair across from Edward. He tossed the sheaf of papers he’d brought down on the desk. “And why the fuck would I do that?” That sounded like the last thing Izzy wanted to do, and he hoped, for once, his tone would convey that.

It doesn’t.

“Mmmbecause he’s frying up mackerel tonight? C’mon, Iz, it’s your favorite.” Edward tried to wheedle him, leaning over the desk with his head propped up in his hands. He was trying to pull a pleading look, like Izzy was weak to that sort of thing.

Sure, mackerel was Izzy’s favorite, but he could get his own damn fish. Like hell he was going to put up with stupid fucking Stede Bonnet just for a meal. “Did he even catch them himself? Or did you have to do it for him? Again.” Izzy asked blandly, keeping his face as neutral as possible.

Edward groaned and threw himself back into his chair. “Fuck, not this again, Iz. We’ve been over this!”

“We have. And I still stand by what I said. Bonnet has no fucking survival skills to speak of. He doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing at any given time, he couldn’t court you properly, and he doesn’t even have a fucking job.” Izzy listed off his points for what must have been the millionth time, counting them off on his fingers. He could see Edward mouthing along with a sullen eyeroll.

Edward huffed, arms now crossed over his chest. “He does so have a job.”

“Oh, really.”

“He’s a landlord.”

If only he could look more unimpressed than he already did. “That’s not a job, Edward. You know it isn’t.” Edward just groaned again and tossed his head back. They never got anywhere with this argument. It was just them talking in circles. Still, they had come a long way from the times when Izzy had literally tried to kill Stede. But that didn’t mean Izzy liked the fucking fool. He only tolerated him for Edward’s sake.

“Look. How about this,” Izzy started, immediately perking his friend up. “If—and that is a big fucking if—Bonnet ever catches his own fucking fish all by himself, I will come over for dinner. And I might even consider acting civil.”

Edward grinned, leaning in and practically wiggling in his seat. “Really!? You’re for real?”

Izzy shrugged. “Sure.” And then he grinned back, mean and sharp. “But that’ll never happen, realistically speaking.”

Ed let his head drop to the desk with a dull thunk. “Aaaaaagh, Iz, c’mon! That’s fucking mean!” He scoffed and pushed at his friend’s head. “Yeah, well I’m fucking mean.” He pushed at Edward’s head again to try to get him to sit up. “Now get up. I didn’t come here just to chat. We need to go over the budget for this quarter.” He took up the papers he’d brought in and smacked Edward over the head with them. Ed practically wailed. He hated budgeting and Izzy knew it.

***

It took nearly two and a half hours to get through what would have taken Izzy maybe forty-five minutes to do on his own. Ever since Jack fucking Rackham—with Ed’s drunken permission—had made off with nearly four hundred dollars in booze, though, Izzy had been insistent that Ed at least see the day-to-day costs of running the place. Even successful restaurants were only a disaster away from going under, and Jack absolutely qualified as a disaster.

But they had finally gotten through it. Ed was grumbling as he opened the door, something about needing a drink. He’d gotten better about the day drinking since Stede had officially proposed, which Izzy was grudgingly thankful for, but…

“Edward, it’s not even eleven yet.”

“Five o’clock somewhere, mate.”

Izzy sighed and rolled his eyes. Edward was going to drive him to an early grave one of these days, he swore, and what would he do then?

“At least wait ‘til noon, won’t you? The boys don’t like turning the tap on early, even if you are the boss.” Fang and Ivan, as intimidating as they looked, were decent men, and they tried to look after Ed in their own ways as much as Izzy did.

Something caught his attention then. There was a man at the end of the hall with his back mostly to them, but he was holding something up to the light.

His coat.

That fucker had his coat!

“What the fuck are you doing!?” Izzy shouted, already running down the hall. He couldn’t even take a bit of joy in seeing this bastard jump. He was going to kill this guy.

Izzy wasn’t even really looking at the guy. He kept his eyes firmly on his coat, ready to bite a few of this stranger’s fingers off to get it back.

What he didn’t expect was for the man to thrust the coat out almost like a shield as Izzy closed in. “Sorry! I’m sorry!” the man cried. “This is yours, right? I just—I didn’t mean to! It fell off the coat rack when I came in and, well—here!” Izzy froze.

He was… returning it? Freely?

“What…?” Izzy said dumbly. He blinked down at his coat, held out to him like an offering.

Izzy reached out, afraid that he would be tricked, that this man would change his mind and rip his coat out of his arms. But he didn’t. Izzy took a shaking breath and hugged his coat to his chest. By then, Edward had caught up, his uneven gait stopping just behind Izzy’s left side.

Was it and offering? This man had taken his coat, could have run off with it and forced Izzy into one of those horrible shams of a marriage his father had always warned him about. But instead, he was returning what he took. Did he know what that meant? He must have. People didn’t try to take a selkie’s coat without reason. But to return it, to invoke a true and equal courtship…

Izzy chanced a look up at his would-be suitor and nearly choked.

It was the man from the beach! The one he’d pulled into the sea! Oh, this couldn’t be happening.

He didn’t know how to handle this, so he fell back on instinct, baring his teeth and putting on his fiercest glare before he turned tail and ran back toward the safety of the office. Once he’d slammed the door behind him, he turned the lock so quickly he spared a moment to worry about breaking it. That done, he could fall into a proper panic.

“Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck…” he wheezed out, scrambling to squeeze himself into the space under the desk. Izzy hated how badly his hands shook as he pulled his coat on, doing his best to wrap himself up as tightly as possible, yanking the hood up over his head.

The familiar weight of his coat soothed him, even has he gasped and struggled to breath, even with his vision blurred with panicked tears and that strange, fuzzy greyness that he got when this happened.

He was cold. He was sweating. He was shaking. He was falling apart.

Izzy wasn’t sure how long he stayed curled up under the desk feeling like he was dying, but eventually he managed to wrangle some semblance of control over himself.

Courtship. Fuck, he hadn’t thought tossing some guy in the drink would lead to this. Was his suitor some kind of fucked in the head, going in for that kind of thing?

Izzy laughed a bit hysterically. Fuck. Fuck, he had a suitor now. He didn’t technically have to go through with anything, but it was bad form not to respond, to make the attempt. Besides, this man would be expecting an answer, wouldn’t he?

He probably would have started spiraling again if Edward hadn’t flung the door open. Izzy knew it was Ed, because no one else had an office key and no one else busted doors open like that, no matter how many times Izzy complained about the dents in the walls.

“Iz?” Edward called out to him, stepping fully into the office. “You still in here, mate?” Izzy heard the door swing shut again. “Here,” Izzy mumbled back. If he didn’t Ed would probably tear the whole place apart looking for him. He’d done it before.

He heard the uneven but steady footfalls as Edward came around, and then there was a heavy sigh. “You gonna make me get down there on the floor, Iz?

“You don’t have to,” Izzy said a bit petulantly.

“I mean, I want to be able to see you, Iz. Can’t really do that while you’re down in your little hidey-hole or whatever.” Edward sighed again, heavily, and Izzy sighed back. Whatever. It probably wasn’t good for his back or his hips to stay crammed under the desk. So, reluctantly, Izzy crawls out from under the desk. It’s horrifically embarrassing when his joints pop as he straightens up. He’s too fucking old for this.

“So…” Ed says after a moment of silence. “So what?” Izzy pressed when Ed let the word hang too long. “Found out a bit about the guy from the hallway. If you’re interested?” Izzy was sure Ed though he was being subtle, delicate, about bringing up the man who had put his grubby little hands on Izzy’s coat. Well. They weren’t grubby or little actually. From what Izzy had been able to see when those hands had held his coat out to him, those hands were clean and big. Long fingered.

Izzy gave himself a mental shake. “Get on with it then,” he groused.

“Okay. So, his name is Frenchie. Not the weirdest name ever, but still. Anyway, he’s going to be one of our new live musicians and he’s got a lute. I didn’t even know people still played lutes or whatever. Thought those were just from Medieval times or some shit. Also he’s good at sewing and stuff, so I figured we could put him to work on ‘locally crafted’ gift shop stuff.” Izzy had to blink and force himself to focus with how fast Ed was talking. Was he going to breathe somewhere in there, or was Izzy going to have to watch him pass out from this?

Ed kept going. “Anyway, I think he might be illiterate? He said he was super fucking dyslexic or something and said he couldn’t really read. But he seems like an okay kind of guy. Bit of a joker, but he did ask after you, if you were alright and said he wanted to talk to you later if he could.”

It went quiet again for a bit after that while Izzy tried to process everything Ed said while Edward stared at him, likely waiting for some kind of verdict. “Right,” Izzy said finally, “We’ll see how well he works out with the rest of the crew, first. I won’t even consider him if he causes problems around here.”

“Aw, Iz, that’s so sweet!” Edward dragged him into an affectionate headlock, to which Izzy immediately protested. “Edward, let go! I will bite you, I swear to fucking god!” It wasn’t sweet! It would just be a hassle to deal with if this Frenchie fellow couldn’t get on with the other employees. He huffed when he finally wiggled his way out of Edward’s grasp, running a hand through his mussed hair to try to set it right again.

He would wait and watch for a bit and see what to make of Frenchie. And maybe make him sweat a bit. He didn’t have to offer a response just yet, after all, and he didn’t intend to. Make him wait, see what he does. Then he would consider his next move.

But Izzy would be damned if he didn’t put up some kind of fight. Just because this fool was content to rush into a courtship after two rather disastrous meetings, didn’t mean Izzy had to follow the trend.

“What the fuck am I getting myself into?” He ran a hand down his face and heaved a sigh.

He thinks, not for the first time, he would have been better off living out his life as a seal.

Chapter Text

Frenchie was having a pretty good time, all things considered. He got to sing three nights a week and he got to practice his sewing and embroidery to sell in the gift shop. His pirate flag handkerchiefs seemed to be especially popular according to Ed. The best part—besides getting to have friends at work, like Roach, and later Fang and Ivan—was the free meal and drink he got for every day he performed. And it was good quality stuff, too.

It beat his old job as a house cleaner by about a million times, even if he saw the occasional rich white tourist causing problems. He thought it was hilarious, the two signs at the back of the kitchen, out of sight for most of the customers, but Fang had showed them off with a knowing grin.

One sign said 2 Days Since Last Incident, though the number had layers and layers of chalk dust under it, like it had been erased and replaced dozens of times. The other was an ongoing tally board divided into Karen and Izzy with the month written just above the columns. Izzy had nearly four times the number of tally marks under his name. Ivan liked to joke that they had once made it a legendary four days without someone asking for the manager.

Fang had an extra tip jar on the bar counter for the locals, labeled Izzy Bucks. Since apparently watching Izzy lay into rude tourists was almost as good as watching sports on TV to these people.

Frenchie had yet to see anything like the wild stories some of the locals told him, just Izzy getting a bit snappy when tourists got a bit too mouthy with the waitstaff. But then, he’d only been working for about a month. And speaking of the little guy, Frenchie had caught him staring on more than one occasion. Sometimes he would look away and retreat back to the office hall, other times he would keep staring until something else drew his attention.

They hadn’t really spoken since the Hallway Incident, as Frenchie had taken to calling it in his mind. But he kind of hoped he would get the chance to eventually. He wanted to apologize for messing with his coat, and maybe, if he played his cards right, he could… get to know him better. Izzy was such a small little guy. He didn’t even come up to Frenchie’s shoulder, and Frenchie sort of had a thing for that. But there never seemed to be a good enough reason to try to go talk to Izzy, was the thing. There was always something else going on.

But then, finally, exactly a month since his start date, Izzy came up to him at the end of the night, already bundled up in his coat, tips in hand. Izzy didn’t normally hand out tips personally, he just left them in little envelopes pinned to the hallway wall with everyone’s names written on them. So, Frenchie was pretty excited. Maybe this was his chance.

“You’ve lasted the month, good for you,” Izzy said, holding out the folded bills to Frenchie. “You’re not completely terrible, so I suppose we’re keeping you around, unless you decide to quit.” Even though Izzy’s voice was flat, almost bored, there was a keenness in his eyes that caught Frenchie’s attention.

That was a bit of an odd thing to say, but Frenchie couldn’t quite place why. “Uh, well, guess you’re stuck with me then,” he smiled down at Izzy, taking the tips and stuffing them into his pocket. “I don’t plan on going anywhere, and I actually really like it here.”

Izzy stared at him long and hard before he gave a soft little “hmm,” and nodded sharply. Then he turned on his heel and went on his way. It left Frenchie feeling like he had passed some kind of test, and he didn’t know why.

***

Stede had insisted they all celebrate Frenchie’s continued employment down by the beach, and nobody really argued against it. So, they all set about stuffing some picnic baskets—actual honest to god wicker baskets with gingham lining and everything—full of food and beer. Stede had pulled out a massive, checkered blanket from… somewhere, to spread out on the beach. Even though Frenchie was pretty sure it would end up covered in sand in a blink. What he was really excited about was the bag full of bang-snaps that Wee John had flashed him on the way out the door.

“Ah, what a wonderful day!” Stede exclaimed when they all got to the beach, already shaking out the blanket. Only to shriek when Wee John threw the first bang-snap against the tree Stede was standing closest to. “Snap fight!” Wee John yelled, throwing handfuls of the tiny firecrackers over the beach. Everyone went scrambling for them. There were no teams in a snap fight. It was every man—or, well, everyone, on account of Jim—for themselves.

Friendships crumbled, romance faltered, and only enemies remained. Everyone was fair game.

Jim was, by far, the scariest person to wield a bang-snap. They had a way of whipping them around, hard enough to snap if they hit you with one. And they weren’t afraid to toss a few at Stede, who had attempted to take cover behind a rather scrawny looking palm.

But Frenchie was proud to say he could hold his own. He liked aiming for his friends’ feet, so they had to leap and dance out of the way when a bang-snap went off. Plus, he and Wee John were perfectly happy to revel in the multitude of mini explosions. He had the most fun targeting Pete and the Swede. They both had ridiculously high-pitched screams, and he just couldn’t help himself.

Eventually, though, they ran out of bang-snaps and energy. The lot of them were panting, covered in powder streaks and sand as they finally all called a true in the name of food. And what a feast it was.

"You’ve really outdone yourself, Roach.” Oluwande said, opening the basket nearest him to start distributing containers as Stede finally inched out from his terrible hiding spot.

Roach grinned and gave an exaggerated bow, snagging a beer as he straightened back up. “Thank you, thank you! If I see any leftovers by the end of the day, I’ll beat you all bloody and throw you to the sharks!” He was joking. Probably.

“Sooo,” Lucius drawled as Frenchie pulled a piece of chicken out of the basket closest to him, “you’ve been here for a while now.” Frenchie blinked at him as he took a bite and followed it with a swig of beer. “Yeah,” Frenchie agreed, “over a month.”

Lucius nodded. “Find any good tourists for a fling? Or maybe a local has caught your eye?” God, was he wiggling his eyebrows at him? He knew Lucius was a gossip and a bit of a slut, and he meant that with the utmost affection, but did he have to do the eyebrow thing?

“Mm, yeah, was kind of hoping to spend a little more time with Izzy, actually,” Frenchie said breezily. He looked over when Stede choked on his drink. “You alright over there, mate?” Stede waved him off, coughing into a handkerchief. Frenchie shrugged and went back to his chicken. It took him a second to notice the disbelieving look Lucius was giving him.

“Izzy Hands?” Lucius asked, voice pitching up as he spoke. “You want Izzy Hands? As in the rabid, five-foot nothing manager at Blackbeard’s. That Izzy Hands?” Frenchie just shrugged. What did Lucius want him to say? Izzy was kind of hot, for a white guy. He had nice hair and pretty eyes, and all that. Besides, being ‘rabid’ and ‘five-foot nothing’ was why Frenchie thought he was cute. “I mean, sure,” Lucius went on, “he’s fun to mess with, gets super riled up at the drop of a hat, but that man is intense. Way more trouble than he’s worth if you ask me.”

“Well, yeah, but maybe if he’s into it, flirting with him might be kind of nice,” Frenchie told him. Maybe he was just shy and didn’t know how to ask for a date? Izzy had been staring at him an awful lot, and it had taken him a whole month to come talk to Frenchie on his own.

Here, Lucius held up his hand, the one with the prosthetic finger. “I tried to flirt with him once, and he bit my finger clean off.” He wiggled his fingers in Frenchie’s face. Frenchie thought that if Lucius had done that to Izzy, he would understand if the man had bitten off a finger.

But then Jim came up beside them, batting at Lucius’ hand. “I thought it was because you fingered some guy who had chlamydia and it got infected so bad it fell off.”

“No way!” Roach called out, “You said it was because a sea witch tried to curse you!” From the other side of the beach, Pete chimed in as well. “Babe! You always told me you lost your finger in a tragic boating accident! Were you lying to me?”

From there, everyone started yelling over each other about what had really happened to Lucius’ finger, and the topic of Izzy Hands fell by the wayside. Frenchie laughed, trying not to choke on the last, greasy bite of chicken as the squabbling turned into tussling. He got up to go wash his hands in the surf when he was done, stepping over the wrestling match between Pete and Wee John. He kept an eye on them all over his shoulder as he dipped his hands into the water.

Frenchie was still laughing when he turned his head back so he could finish rinsing off his hands. Only to go nearly cross-eyed when he found himself nose to nose with a seal. And not just any seal, oh no, it was the same bastard blubber ball that had tossed him into the water last month.

He yelped and reared back, only to lose balance and end up on his ass in the water. Again. “It’s you!” he shouted at it while he tried to scoot back toward the shore so that maybe the bastard seal wouldn’t get anymore ideas, but it just followed him. So, he squeezed his eyes shut, preparing himself to be dragged around again.

Instead, something fell into his lap. He blinked his eyes open and looked down to see what it was. It was… a dead fish. There was a dead fish in his lap, about the length of his forearm.

“Um…” Frenchie said, staring down at the fish’s flat, glassy eyeball. What… exactly was he supposed to do with this? He glanced back up at the seal, like it would be able to give an explanation or something.

The seal stared at him for a long time and seemed to realize Frenchie’s confusion. It bobbed its head, nose first toward the fish until it was nearly touching it, then raised its head almost to Frenchie’s face. It did this twice more before Frenchie thought he understood. “Is this for me?”

The seal grumbled at him but didn’t repeat the exaggerated pointing again. “Okay,” Frenchie said, still uncertain. “Uh, thank you?”

Frenchie immediately flinched back when the seal exhaled right in his face, spraying sea water and probably seal snot all over him. Gross. So gross. It gave him one last whiny wail before it scooted back out toward the sea and disappeared beneath the waves. Didn’t even splash him this time.

He sat there for a few more seconds, staring at the water, before he realized he should probably get up. Frenchie grabbed the fish at the base of its tail and hoisted himself back to his feet. He turned around and was immediately met with the bewildered stares of his friends. Stede, particularly, looked like he’d seen a ghost.

“What?” He asked as he waded out of the water.

“That’s uh,” Stede started, clearing his throat before he tried again. “That’s mackerel, isn’t it?”

Frenchie looked down at the fish. It had a silver belly and a blue striped back. He shrugged. “Dunno. Could be, I guess.” Did it matter what kind of fish it was? Frenchie thought the fact that a seal had presented it to him was a bit more noteworthy, after all. Especially since that seal had, previously, been a bit of a dick to him.

Huh. Maybe the seal was trying to apologize or something.

That seemed to be the sign to start packing up, though. Everyone was brushing the sand off as best they could and putting containers away. “I can help you cook that,” Roach said as he passed with an armful of beer cans.

“Yeah, sure!” He would love the help, because he had no clue how to prepare or cook a fish. He nearly screamed when a chilly hand came down on the back of his neck. Frenchie must have leapt about four feet in the air. He whipped around to see who had done that, and who had such cold fucking hands in the middle of a hot day like today.

It was a man. He was balding and bearded, dressed in salt crusted, ratty looking clothes. Well, not that Frenchie had much room to judge another man on the state of his clothes. The man’s eyes were strange, though. Wide and pale and not looking at anything in particular, though it felt a bit like he could see everything. And Frenchie was pretty sure he hadn’t been standing there earlier.

“Oh, hello there, Mr. Buttons!” Stede called out to him from where he was trying to shake the sand from the picnic blanket. Buttons? This guy’s name was Buttons? And was that a seagull that just landed on his head? Frenchie frowned and tilted his head. Buttons stared… not at him. More like through him. Somewhere off into the distance, unfocused.

“I see you’ve caught the eye of a selkie, lad.” Buttons said to him. At least, Frenchie thought he was talking to him. Bit hard to tell with the, the eyes and all. “A what?”

“A selkie. Strange and mysterious creatures, them, said to don magic skins that let them move between land and sea as human or seal.” Buttons blinked at him, disturbingly slowly. “And it seems you’ve earned the favor of one such beauty.”

“What, you mean that seal just now? Pretty sure that was just a seal, mate.” Frenchie told him, glancing between the fish, the direction the seal had gone, and Buttons.

Buttons just. Kept staring. “Oooookay,” Frenchie said under his breath, backing away slowly.

“Best keep an eye out, boy, and do your best to look sharp.” The seagull squawked from on top of Buttons’ head, almost like it was in agreement.

Frenchie laughed nervously and sidled closer to Wee John for safety. He was ready to go home now, and he was glad when they were finally all packed up. Stede waved goodbye to Buttons and the seagull, apparently named Karl, and then he was herding them all back up the hill, away from the beach. When they got to the top of the slope, Frenchie looked back over his shoulder to see if Buttons was still watching them, but the guy was just… gone. Like he had never been there at all. Frenchie felt a shiver go down his spine despite the warmth of the air.

What a strange way to end a picnic…

Chapter Text

Izzy tried his best to stifle a yawn into his gloved fist as he swung the keys to the company van around on the index finger of his other hand. It was just now five in the morning on Tuesday, and the sky was a clear pre-dawn grey. He was anticipating an average day at the open market. Just him, the fishmongers, and the fish.

Of course, that was a mistake on his part, expecting an average day. There was no such thing as average for him these days.

Because just as he was turning out into the drive after locking garage behind him, he nearly ran someone over.

Quick as a shot, Izzy slammed his foot down on the break, wincing and cursing at the shriek of tires on the pavement. “Shit! Fuck!” He hissed through his teeth, keeping a death grip on the steering wheel for a moment longer than he probably had to. Izzy’s heart was still juddering against his ribs when he opened the door and slid out of his seat to go rip a new one to the stupid idiot that had walked in front to the van.

Only, it wasn’t just some rando out for an ill-advised stroll. It was Frenchie. The man had fallen over, stupidly long legs splayed akimbo. He looked a bit dazed, staring at the grill with a hand stretched out, like that would have done anything to protect him if Izzy had hit the gas instead of the breaks.

“What the fuck?” Izzy said. And given the circumstances, he decided his self-restraint in not immediately flying off the handle was rather impressive. “Frenchie, what the fuck are you doing?” Hearing his name seemed to snap Frenchie out of his daze. He watched as Frenchie jumped a bit and looked up at him.

“Oh. Um. Well, I was going for a walk,” he told Izzy as he struggled to get to his feet. Instead of standing up, though, he hooked the toe of one foot against the heel of the other and fell flat on his face at Izzy’s feet. Izzy couldn’t hold back a longsuffering sigh as he watched Frenchie try again to get up. At least this time he didn’t fall all the way over. He just tipped heavily against the front of the van and then struck a stupid pose, like he was trying to pass his clumsiness off as intentional or some tripe.

“And just why the hell,” Izzy ground out, “are you going for a fucking walk at five in the fucking morning?” He at least wanted a good reason for nearly having a heart attack this early in the day.

Frenchie grinned at him, and it made Izzy want to punch him in his stupid fucking face. “Couldn’t sleep, so I thought a little stroll around town would do me good.” That was it? That was the reason? God, couldn’t Frenchie have just stayed in bed and stared at the wall or the ceiling and been miserable about it like a normal person?

“What about you, though? You’re up early, too, aren’t you?” Frenchie said with that little grin still in place, like he was so clever. Izzy rolled his eyes. “It’s market day. I’ve got to go pick up the fish or the restaurant will be fucked ‘til Friday.” He stepped back toward the van door. “Now move, or I really will run you over.”

Frenchie finally peeled himself off the front of the van and held up his hands. “Alright, alright, I’m moving.” He watched as Frenchie started moving out of the drive, only to stop and light up. What now?

“Can I come with you?” He asked, looking… eager?

“What?” He couldn’t have heard right.

“I want to come with you. Can I?” Frenchie started rocking back and forth, heel to toe. Why, Izzy wondered, would anyone want to do more work if they didn’t have to?
“Why?” He narrowed his eyes.

“Well, You’re here, I’m here,” Frenchie shrugged, “Why not?”

When was the last time anyone had offered to go to the market with him? Sure, Fang and Ivan were good for it, but he usually had to pester them about it first. And he didn’t think Ed had set foot near the fish stalls since opening night. And that was. Fuck, that was years ago.

He let himself have a little crisis over that for a second before he sighed heavily, letting it taper off into a groan and relented. “Fine, get in.” Izzy jerked his head toward the passenger door. He absolutely did not almost smile when Frenchie lit up and started fucking skipping around the side to the door. Absolutely not.
All told, it was a short drive. Frenchie was practically bouncing in his seat though as Izzy pulled around to park.

“It’s just the fish market,” Izzy told him as he unbuckled and slid out of his seat. “It’s nothing to get worked up over.”

But Frenchie was still smiling, even as he tripped his way out of the van. “Well, sure, but I’ve never been to one of these before.” And that made Izzy pause.

“Never?”

“Nope. Never had a reason to, really.”

Right. Well that just wouldn’t do. No suitor of his was going to stay oblivious to fish merchantry. Izzy squared his shoulders and took Frenchie by the front of his shirt, marching him toward the market building. “Now then,” Izzy pulled out the shopping list from his pocket and unfolded it, “we’ve got a lot to get through, and you’ve got a lot to fucking learn, so let’s get fucking started, shall we.”

“What do you mean, a lot to learn?” Frenchie asked, trailing after him. Izzy stopped and turned to face Frenchie again. “If you’re with me, you’re going to learn your goddamn seafood.” He pointed a finger at Frenchie for emphasis. Frenchie went a bit cross-eyed following his finger, but quickly shook his head and straightened up, giving a silly little mock salute and a firm nod.

Izzy rolled his eyes but figured that was the best he was going to get. “Come on, then.”

The first place Izzy went was the shrimp stall midway down the line. The vendor started filling the order almost as soon as he saw Izzy, and Izzy gave her a nod. “How come you’re getting the ones with the heads and the tails still on?” Frenchie asked as he watched handfuls of shrimp go into a plastic lined container. “Wouldn’t it be easier to get those ones?” Those ones, as Frenchie pointed to, were the detailed, deveined shrimp.

“Nah, it’s cheaper to buy them still in the shell. Besides,” Izzy said, taking one of the whole shrimp and gently turning it over in his hand, “you can tell a lot about the quality of the shrimp like this. If it’s mushy or if the shell is falling apart, it’s gone bad. And if the head’s got black spots, it’s not as fresh as it could be. Sort of like how apples get brown if you leave them out.”

He held it up for Frenchie to see. “You see how these ones are still firm and intact?” Frenchie nodded. “That’s what we want to see.”

“For most seafood, the less processed you buy it, the cheaper it is. Shrimp in the shell is cheaper than detailed, whole fish is cheaper than premade fillets, and so on. Understand?” Frenchie looked fascinated as he took this all in, and Izzy was pleased when he asked questions.

“But doesn’t it take more time to make it if you have to do all the work to cut up the fish and take all the shells of and stuff?”

“That’s one of the things you do have to take into account, yes, if it’s more cost effective to buy the ready-made shit or pay for prep cooks. If you’re just buying for yourself, it doesn’t matter so much,” Izzy told him as they stopped by a display of mahi-mahi and pollock. “But at least for Blackbeard’s, it’s better to buy it whole. It’s harder for us, as a business, to absorb the extra cost of convenience.”

He stooped over and looked over the fish, brushing a finger along the cut down the belly and lifting it open a bit and leaned in to smell it. Still good. Izzy waved Frenchie over to look at the fish. “You see how the meat is still firm, not mushy or slimy looking? That’s a good fish.” Izzy turned to the vendor and asked for thirty of the fish.

Izzy put the fish back down and looked at Frenchie as the man watched the vendor fill the order. “Another good way to tell is how strong the fish smells.” Frenchie tiled his head and frowned. “But. They’re all kind of smelly. How would you know if a fish is good by the smell?”

“The smell gets stronger the closer fish get to going off. And they can go off really fucking fast,” Izzy said as they started on their way again. “Usually only takes a day or two before it’s noticeable. When that happens, if you’ve got a damn good chef like Mr. Roach, you can batter and fry your fish, or cut it up and throw it into a well-seasoned broth. It’s not gone off, it’s just not at its best anymore. But it won’t be good much after that and you have to throw it out.”

Frenchie hummed and nodded, and then a moment later, it looked like a lightbulb had gone off over his head. “Wait, is that why Mondays are stew nights?” Izzy couldn’t help the sharp little grin that caught the corners of his mouth. Frenchie was catching on. “And why Thursdays are fish fry nights,” Izzy agreed.

“Huh, no kidding…” Frenchie murmured as they browsed. They put in a few more orders for the staples, like the mussels. “Always make sure they’re closed when you buy them,” Izzy told Frenchie as they sifted through buckets full of the mollusks. “If a lot of them are open, it means they’re dead and they’re already bad. Waste of money if you buy them like that. But, if they stay closed while they cook, discard them. There’s no guarantee they’re cooked like that.”

Izzy grumbled over the rising price of salmon, and Ed’s insistence on keeping it a part of the regular menu. Especially when he wanted it wild caught. Izzy could agree that wild caught salmon was always better—“Farm raised tastes like wet, oily napkins.” Izzy said with a sneer. Definitely a case of getting what you paid for, even if Izzy thought they were paying too much.

Then it was on to their two specials, scallops and lobster. Even in a costal town, they could get ridiculously expensive, so they didn’t buy them often.
He let Frenchie look over the scallops and asked him to look at the direction of the muscle fibers. “Um, they’re going up and down. Kind of like really stumpy looking string cheese.”

Lord help him, did Frenchie really just compare scallops to fucking string cheese? “…Right.” Izzy mentally shook himself and went on. “If you look at it and the fibers are horizontal, don’t buy it. It’s fake.”

“There’s fake scallops?”

“Yeah. Some sketchy shitheads will take a cookie cutter or something to a ray’s fins and try to pass the pieces off as scallops for a quick buck.” At that, Frenchie looked suitable horrified and put the scallop back. They ordered ten pounds of scallops, though Izzy wasn’t sure that would be enough. Scallops were usually pretty popular when they could afford to put them on the menu, but Izzy was trying damn hard to keep to a budget.

Last, and certainly not least, because it was so fucking expensive, was the spiny lobster. Izzy sighed as they came to the crates. His mood plummeted further when he saw just who was managing the stall. Well, these lobsters were probably fucking garbage then, but it would at least be a good teaching experience. Ed wouldn’t be happy to lose a special, though.

He grabbed one of the lobsters from the bin and grimaced. It was limp and he could smell it from here. Disgusting. He held it up to Frenchie. “Here, smell this.”
Frenchie made a face. “Um. It looks gross, and it probably smells worse, so I think I’m good.”

Izzy stepped up to him and shoved the unfortunate lobster under Frenchie’s nose. “Smell the fucking lobster, Frenchie!”

“Eugh! It smells like piss! Did… did somebody piss on that lobster? Should you be touching that?” Frenchie shuffled back and put his hand over his nose.
It might have actually been safer if someone had pissed on the lobster, instead of what was actually wrong with it. “No, somebody did not piss on the lobster. It’s rotten. Lobsters, and shrimp too, actually, produce ammonia when they rot. So. Piss smell.” He held up the lobster, shaking it a bit. It flopped in his grip rather grotesquely.

“You serve this to a customer, you could fucking kill them.” He tossed it back into the crate and snarled. “And that is exactly why we don’t buy from Geraldo or any of Jackie’s lot.” Izzy spat, looking right at Geraldo.

Geraldo had the gall to look offended. “Hey, fuck you, Hands! You want it still kicking or something? That costs extra!” Because of fucking course it did, fucking swindler.

Izzy was damn near ready to fling himself over the counter and ring Geraldo’s scrawny neck, but his froze when he felt a light touch to his shoulder.
“Easy, babe, c’mon. We can just leave.” Babe. Frenchie… Frenchie called him babe. It felt like his breath was suddenly caught in his throat and the fight fizzled out of him. He let himself be eased back away from the counter, though he did flip Geraldo off for his trouble.

Fucking. Whatever. It didn’t matter.

Now they just had to load everything up and take it back to the restaurant to put away. Which, thankfully, was a simple if tedious task. No matter how much Frenchie whined about it, Izzy refused to let him carry any of the boxes or buckets inside, because “Look, you can sing and you can sew, but you have absolute shit coordination, and I’m not letting you spill all this on the ground and waste an ungodly amount of money.”

So, Frenchie had to content himself with holding the door open. Which was still one less thing Izzy had to try to do, so it was a bit helpful.
By the time everything was put away and the restaurant locked back up, it was nearing eight, just when most everyone else was starting to at least think about waking up. He was expecting Frenchie to go on his merry way, now that the work was done, but the man surprised him again.

“You’re free for a bit now, right?” Frenchie asked, looking nervous as he scuffed the toe of his shoe against the pavement. “Don’t have to go back in ‘til four this afternoon. Why?”

“Well, I was wondering, if you want, since the work is done and you’ve maybe got some time, and you can totally say no if you don’t want to—”

“Frenchie just spit it out, fucks sake!” Izzy yelled when Frenchie kept stumbling over his words. It made Frenchie jump to attention, and apparently gave him the kick to finally say whatever it was he was going to say.

“Do you wanna go get drinks!?”

Chapter Text

Izzy stared at Frenchie so long he was beginning to feel like he’d made a mistake. Maybe… maybe Izzy wasn’t interested in that sort of thing. Frenchie had just opened his mouth again to apologize, or play it off as a joke or something, when Izzy finally said something.

“…Drinks? Right, first off, it is eight in the goddamn morning and most of the alcoholics I know aren’t even awake yet let alone drinking that fucking early. Second, I don’t drink, if I can help it.” At that last part, Izzy ducked his head and grimaced, like he was expecting to be ridiculed for wanting to stay sober. But boy did Frenchie want to smack himself in the face for wording that wrong.

“No, no! Sorry! I meant like, coffee or something? ‘Cause um, coffee is a drink, right?” He waved a hand behind him toward the neat row of shops and kitschy little cafes and bistros that made up this part of town. And with the look Izzy was giving him, Frenchie figured he was about to be turned down flat, but… “Yeah, alright. Whatever.”

Frenchie lit up and bounced to Izzy’s side, linking their arms so they could walk together. It would be ashamed to lose Izzy on the walk, what with his short little legs. Only, Izzy sort flinched when Frenchie touched him. Ah, he probably should have asked if that was alright.

So he murmured a quiet apology and moved to take his arm back. Except then Izzy clamped his hand down on Frenchie’s arm and hissed out a pissy little, “Fucking commit to it.” Bit of a mixed signal there, with the way Izzy’s shoulders were tense and how he stubbornly refused to look anywhere but the ground. But he wouldn’t let Frenchie’s arm go. It made him wonder if Izzy was telling himself as much as he was Frenchie to commit.

Well. Alright then. Frenchie wouldn’t complain, even though he was pretty sure he was going to have little finger marks on his arm before the morning was over.

He let Izzy choose where to go. Frenchie wasn’t very familiar with all the shops over here anyway, so he figured it was safer letting Izzy take them to a decent place.

They stopped at a more out of the way building. It was small and not nearly as flashy as the more touristy looking shops at the front of the street. This looked like more of a haven for locals. He wondered if Izzy was a regular here as he was tugged through the door.

A little bell tinkled above the door, and one of the baristas behind the counter nodded to them. There weren’t many people yet, so they were able to go right up to the counter.

Frenchie was a bit disgusted when Izzy ordered a plain black coffee with eight shots of espresso. Was this man trying to give himself an ulcer and a heart attack at the same time? But Izzy looked just as disgusted and judgmental when Frenchie asked for a mocha with extra chocolate syrup and whipped cream with some caramel sauce for an extra little kick.

They paid—and what a novelty it was for Frenchie, to have enough money now that he didn’t feel the need to worry over little luxuries like coffee—and took their drinks when they were ready.

Izzy found them a nice little booth near the back with a window view. He noticed that Izzy took the booth seat against the wall, so he could see the whole café and the door if he wanted. He figured he shouldn’t say anything about that and slid into his own seat across from Izzy.

“So, I was wondering, is Izzy your nickname or your full name?” Frenchie asked after taking a gulp of his sweet, sweet mocha. He had to admit, he was a bit curious. For a guy who gave the impression that he wanted to be taken seriously, the name Izzy seemed a bit… not juvenile, but more casual, certainly.

“What.”

“I mean, like. It sounds like it could be a nickname, right. For like, Isabella or Isolde or something.” Frenchie suggested.

“Why the fuck did you only use women’s names as examples?” Izzy looked like he wasn’t sure if he should be insulted or not, so Frenchie wracked his brain for more masculine names.

“Uh, Isaac? Izekiel? Izekiel sounds pretty close to Izzy, doesn’t it?”

“No,” Izzy said flatly against the rim of his cup.

“No, those aren’t your names, or no, Izzy isn’t a nickname?” Frenchie had to ask, because well, Izzy wasn’t exactly being very straightforward about this, was he? And he could have sworn he saw a little smirk before Izzy covered it up by taking a drink.

“No, none of those are my name, yes, Izzy is a nickname.” Izzy finally said when he put his cup back down.

“So… are you going to tell me your full name?”

“No,” Izzy said again. Izzy did smirk this time, sharp and mean, eyes glittering with a dark kind of mischief. Frenchie groaned and tilted his head back. “Oh, come on, that’s not fair! You know my full name!”

“I would have known it anyway; your whole name is in your hiring paperwork.” Izzy shot back, easy as anything. What a brat.

“Fine, I’ll just have to find out on my own then.”

“You can certainly try.”

What. A. Brat. Frenchie groaned again and sucked down more of his coffee. Not to make himself feel better or anything. He was just really thirsty suddenly. That’s all.
But he recovered quickly enough and started a whole volley of questions, all mostly surface level for now. He didn’t want to scare Izzy off asking anything too personal. So he learned that Izzy liked the color green, liked to swim, and that he’d been in the restaurant biz for nearly twenty years. A lifer, Izzy had called himself. Would probably only quit when he died.

Twenty years of waking up before the sun at least twice a week to go fill stock orders, twenty years of keeping a business running with ungodly amounts of paperwork.

“But it’s Mr. Teach’s restaurant, right? Doesn’t he do any of this?” Frenchie asked, hoping he didn’t come off sounding like he was being critical or anything. Izzy laughed. “Edward is the one with all the grand ideas. The big picture stuff. I handle all the boring little details. I couldn’t come up with half the shit he does, but half his ideas would never get off the ground if he was left to his own devices.” That, and apparently Edward wouldn’t get up before ten most days and could sleep through a nuclear apocalypse.

Yeah, he could see why Izzy seemed so high-strung all the time.

Frenchie didn’t think he wanted to remind Izzy about how stressful his job was, so they drifted into a conversation about conches after that. Frenchie had seen a few at the market and been curious about why they had been skipped over. They had looked so cool, and they were huge, like the pictures of shells in beach travel magazines.

“Two things,” Izzy told him, draining the last of his bitter espresso nightmare. Frenchie still didn’t know how Izzy could stand to drink it. “One, Queen Conch is endangered. Got overharvested for years, for the shell and the pearls, so they can be hard to get ahold of legally and it’s not always worth it to try to parse through the tags and paperwork to make sure they’re not black market. You need a special permit.” Frenchie nodded. He didn’t know conches could have pearls. He thought that was just for oysters.

“The other, they’re fucking expensive. They might be a huge fucking symbol of Caribbean culture and history, but they’re damn near fifteen dollars a pound at market and buying a permit to go catch your own will clean out your wallet just like that.” Izzy snapped his fingers to emphasize.

Frenchie watched Izzy sigh and frown and pick at the rim of his cup. “It’s just not really worth it, even if you just buy for yourself.” It sounded like Izzy had never let himself have one, and he really wanted one, even with the perfectly valid reasoning of expenses. He just sounded so wistful.

Had he ever seen someone yearn like that over seafood? Frenchie didn’t think so, but it was kind of cute. Frenchie smiled a little, resting his chin in his hand as he watched Izzy once again lament the problems and expenses of the seafood industry, picking apart his empty cup to keep his hands busy.

Frenchie was sure he could have happily spent the rest of his morning watching the man, but unfortunately, it just wasn’t to be.

He heard Izzy curse when his phone pinged. He gave Frenchie a muttered apology as he fumbled with it to see the text. Whatever it was send Izzy on a rather vivid face journey. Frenchie watched as Izzy went from confused to angry to... close to tears? And then just fully blank, like he was in some kind of shock.

The phone pinged again. Izzy blinked.

“Um. Izzy? You alright there?” Frenchie gently prodded after Izzy just stared at his phone for nearly a full minute. Finally, Izzy moved. He put his phone face down on the table and put his head down in the crook of his elbow. He growled something that sounded a lot like, “Stede fucking Bonnet,” much to Frenchie’s growing concern and curiosity.

“It’s so fucking stupid,” Izzy muttered when he sat back up again. He unlocked his phone and spun it to show Frenchie what had distressed him so. There, on the screen, was a sort of blurry photo of Stede in a ridiculous floppy hat and tan vest decorated with flashy fishing lures, holding up a line and hook with a tiny little silver fish on the end of it. He looked awfully proud of himself. Smug, almost.

Below the photo was a text from Edward that read “C u @ dinner 2morrow!!!1!” and an emoji with its tongue struck out and grinning.

“Um?” Frenchie said, glancing back to Izzy, who was now pinching the bridge of his nose and heaving a great, put-upon sigh. “I told Edward if Bonnet ever caught his own fish, I would sit through dinner with both of them. Should have specified an actual fish and not just whatever that poor excuse of a fingerling is.”

Another text came through, and Frenchie handed the phone back. Izzy glanced at it and sighed again. His eyed were squinched shut when he said, “Edward and Stede are inviting you to come along, if you want.”

“Why’s that?” Frenchie asked, tilting his head to try to see Izzy’s face a little better. Wasn’t that kind of odd that his boss, who he barely interacted with, and his landlord were asking him to come to dinner over some kind of agreement that they had with Izzy?

“The fuck should I know? See how I behave, maybe, or how you do?” Izzy slumped in his seat, arms crossed, staring resolutely out the window. He looked pretty miserable to Frenchie. He was a little upset about that, since he thought they’d been having a pretty nice time until now.

Frenchie frowned and hummed to himself. “Well, I wouldn’t mind going along, I guess, but… do you want me to go with you?” He reached out and touched his fingertips to Izzy’s wrist where there was a little gap of skin between the glove and the hem of his sleeve, still a little uncertain if Izzy was actually okay with the contact or not. “It’s okay if you don’t.”

Izzy didn’t pull his hand away, but his did stare down hard at where Frenchie was touching him. “They’ll be unbearable if you don’t come by. Once Bonnet wants something, it’s not a matter of if. Just when.”

Frenchie pressed his luck a bit and moved his hand so that it was covering Izzy’s and squeezed lightly. The leather felt buttery soft and well-worn against his palm. “Okay, but that’s not what I asked.” He tried to fix Izzy with what he hoped was an earnest look. “I want to know what you want, not Stede or anybody else.”
When Izzy looked up at him, he looked a bit shaken, like he wasn’t used to anyone asking what he wanted and wasn’t sure what to do with himself. Frenchie was familiar enough with that feeling, himself, but he didn’t like that look on Izzy.

“You’re not working tomorrow night?” Izzy asked hesitantly, like he wasn’t the one writing up the weekly schedules and knew perfectly well Frenchie was free. But Frenchie answered him anyway. “That’s right. I’m free if you want me to tag along.”

In his free hand, Izzy twisted the decimated remains of his cup, deliberating.

“Yeah,” he said finally, quiet enough that Frenchie had to lean in a bit to hear him. “Yeah?” Frenchie repeated back, just to be sure. Izzy nodded.

“Should I bring anything? A gift or a side dish or anything like that?” It didn’t hurt to be polite to the people who essentially controlled your finances and your housing, right? “You can if you want,” Izzy said with a shrug, “but you don’t have to.”

Maybe he could bring a pasta salad. Everybody liked pasta salad, right? Izzy started to stand and make his excuses about going home to get ready for work. He was pretty sure Izzy told him he didn’t have to go in until four, but Frenchie wouldn’t fight him on that. If Izzy wanted to go home, then that was okay.

Frenchie smiled and gave Izzy’s hand an encouraging little pat as he let go. “Alright. Get home safe. Should we meet at the little park near Blackbeard’s and go over together?”

“Yeah, can do that,” Izzy said, sweeping the bits of cup and napkin up to throw away. “Be there by six,” he told Frenchie before he made his escape. Frenchie sighed, watching him go.

It wasn’t quite a second date, but maybe tomorrow night wouldn’t be so bad. Izzy wanted him there, and maybe he could help keep the peace?

Frenchie got up to throw away his own cup and then looked down at himself with a sudden thought.

“Well, shit. What am I supposed to wear to this thing…?”

Chapter Text

Three hours before Izzy was supposed to go meet Frenchie in the park to walk to Bonnet’s stupid little fish dinner, Izzy realized he might have a problem.

He stared balefully into his closet at the short row of black shirts and vests. Black. All of it was black. He didn’t own a stitch of color besides his fur coat. And while normally that didn’t bother him, he… well. He wanted to look a little better, didn’t he. For Frenchie.

With a heavy sigh, Izzy sat back against his bed, still staring into his closet. He didn’t know what to make of this feeling. He’d been wearing the same color most of his damn life, and now all of a sudden, he wanted to wear something different. But he didn’t know where to even start. Fuck. He was going to have to ask for help.

Izzy hated the slight tremor in his hands as he picked up his phone from where he’d tossed it earlier. He clenched his teeth and stared at his screen. Before he could lose his nerve, he pulled up Ivan and Fang’s numbers and shot off a text reading, ‘I need help.’

Then, he flopped back onto his bed and waited, fighting with the twisting anxiety curling in his belly. Not a moment later, his phone started ringing. Ivan was calling. Izzy frowned but picked up.

“Boss, what’s wrong? Are you alright?” Ivan’s voice was tinny through the phone, but he sounded worried. From the background, he could hear Fang calling, “Is he okay?”

“What? I’m fine, I just. I need help with something. Didn’t know who else I could ask.” Besides Edward, Fang and Ivan were the closest thing he had to friends, and he sure as hell couldn’t ask Edward for help on this.

Fang, sounding closer than before, asked, “Do you need us to get the shovels? Or some heavy-duty weights? I’ve got some spare tarp handy, too.”
Izzy blinked. “No. Just. Can you just come over?”

“Yeah, we’ll be over right quick,” Ivan told him. “You want us to stay on the phone with you?” Izzy could hear the clink of keys and footsteps and a door shutting.
“No, I’m fine.”

“Alright then. Just sit tight, boss. See you in a few.” The line went dead after Izzy mumbled a quiet, “Yeah, okay.” Izzy groaned, dropped his phone onto his chest, and covered his face with his hands. Fuck. Why did this feel harder than it should be? It was just clothes.

He just laid there, regretting all of the life choices that had somehow led him to this point, until there was a hurried, insistent knock at his front door. He rolled off his bed and onto his feet, then shuffled over to open the door. He stared.

Ivan had a heavy coil of rope slung over one shoulder and a gallon of bleach in hand. Fang stood a bit behind him with a few folded tarps and a case of weights. There was a cluster of shovels leaning against the doorway. “We know you said not to bring anything, but it’s always better to have extra, just in case, you know,” Fang told him kindly.

“Where’s the body, boss? The sooner we get started, the better.” Ivan said, hefting the rope back up his shoulder when it started to slip.

What. “What.”

Ivan frowned and set down the bleach so he could reach out a hand to Izzy’s shoulder. “You sure you’re alright? You know how this goes, boss. C’mon.” Oh. Oh, fuck, they though Izzy needed help with getting rid of a body again.

“Oh my fucking god. Ivan, no. I need help with clothes, not—oh my god.” Izzy pinched the bridge of his nose. He wasn’t sure if he was going to laugh or cry. Maybe both. “Wh—you could have led with that, you know! Jesus Christ, boss!” Ivan moved past Izzy to drop the bleach and the rope in his doorway.

Fang followed close behind and set the case and the tarp and then the shovels just inside as well. “Aw, give him a break Ivan, just look at him. He’s all wound up.” Fang gave Izzy a gentle pat on his shoulder, leaving his hand when Izzy didn’t snap at him for it. “Now, what’s going on? We’ll help however we can.”

Izzy, in a moment of weakness, let his head fall forward against Fang’s chest. “I don’t know what the fuck to wear,” he mumbled, wincing as soon as the words came out of his mouth. It sounded so fucking pathetic. Ivan stepped up beside them and touched Izzy’s other shoulder. They were both waiting for him to go on, because of course they figured there was more to this.

“I have to go have dinner with Edward and fucking Bonnet tonight, and all of my clothes are shit.”

Fang gave his shoulder a light squeeze. “Now that’s not true; you’ve got some nice outfits.” At the same time, Ivan said, “You’ve never cared about dressing nice for Stede before, boss.”

“I still don’t. It’s not for Bonnet. It’s just that, Frenchie… he’s going to be there, too. And I want. I want a bit of color for this, is all.” He couldn’t see it, but he knew Fang and Ivan were giving each other a look over his head. He could feel it. They both made a quiet, understanding sound.

“I think I know the perfect place,” Fang told him, and Izzy finally raised his head. “Yeah? Alright, but if it’s one of those frilly places that Spriggs keeps dragging you too, I’ll kill you.” Fang just smiled at him and started easing him toward the door.

What followed was a rather interesting experience. Izzy stayed sandwiched between Fang and Ivan as they walked him around to a few different clothing boutiques. Fang had, at one point, held a bright blue button down with weenie dogs printed all over it against Izzy’s chest. Izzy, sneering and hissing through his teeth, had threatened to light the damn thing on fire. Fang gave him the saddest, most affronted look Izzy had ever seen on the man, holding the monstrosity of a shirt protectively in his arms.

Fang ended up getting the shirt a few sizes up for himself.

While Fang and Ivan started bickering about whether Izzy would look better in Navy blue or Prussian blue, Izzy wandered off toward another row of clothing racks. Amidst all the pastels and bright colors, something caught his eye. Izzy reached out with his ungloved hand and lifted the sleeve of a dark green shirt.

He took it off the rack and held it up. It was a collared shirt, about tunic length, but instead of a plain straight arm, it had bishop sleeves. Izzy rubbed the soft cotton between his bare fingers and checked the tag. In bold letters, it proclaimed the shirt to be hunter green, along with the name of the brand and the price.

It was dark enough that Izzy would still feel comfortable wearing it, but not so dark that it could be mistaken for black. He nodded to himself and folded the shirt over his arm. This was the one.

Fang and Ivan were exactly where he’d left them, still snipping at each other as they thumbed through the various articles of clothing on the racks. Izzy cleared his throat to get their attention. They both raised their heads, quickly homing in on the shirt draped over his arm. “What have you got their boss? Find something you like?” Ivan asked, stepping closer for a better look as Izzy held the shirt up for their inspection.

“Ooh, that’s a nice one!” Fang gushed, taking up the bottom hem of the shirt between his fingers. “This will look great on you!” Izzy wanted to snap that he didn’t need Fang to tell him that. A year or two ago, he might have. But he bit the words back and just nodded. Fang was being kind; he was being his friend. Izzy didn’t need to try to protect himself from Fang.

Fang and Ivan took up their places on either side of him again and walked him to the checkout, and then back home. “You don’t need to stay,” Izzy said when they got to his door.

“We don’t, but we’d be happy to, if you’d let us.” Ivan said. Always keen, that one. So, Izzy held the door open for them before following them in. He snipped off the tags and tossed his new shirt in the washer and set it to a quick cycle. No way was he wearing it straight off the rack.

While he waited for the shirt, Izzy went and sifted through the back corner of his closet. The box was dusty when he pulled it into the light. He’d bought these years ago on a whim, but never actually got around to wearing them.

Fang and Ivan peered over his shoulder as he lifted the boots out of the box. The little silver studs and buckles shone merrily in the light. Technically, they were women’s boots, but they fit his feet, and Izzy had liked them enough at the time to buy them.

He gave them a quick rub down to make sure all the dust was off them and set them aside. Izzy turned and made to stand up, only to find Fang and Ivan coming at him with a tube of mascara that they had pulled from… somewhere. Did they just carry random bits of makeup with them?

Izzy didn’t have time to put up a fight. And. Maybe he didn’t really want to. He still grumbled as Ivan held his chin and brushed a thin layer of the mascara over his eyelashes. He still fussed when Fang smoothed his hair down with a bit of pomade. But he still let them do as they wanted. Really, it wasn’t so bad.

Izzy pulled his new shirt on over his head when it was ready to wear, careful not to muss his hair or smear the mascara on his lashes. He put a vest on over top of it and pulled on the boots, then chanced a look at himself in the mirror. He looked… He still looked like himself. But just different enough with the bit of color. And the way the mascara emphasized his eyes was… Well.

He shook himself and stepped out for Fang and Ivan to see. Ivan grinned at him, clapping a hand to his back. “Well, don’t you look spiffy. What time do you need to be going?”

“Told Frenchie I would meet him at six to head over to Bonnet’s.”

Ivan glanced down at his watch. “Well, you might want to hurry then, boss. It’s five ‘til.”

Izzy took a second to process what Ivan just said and then cursed. Fuck, he was going to be late. As he bolted toward the door, he could hear Fang sniffle and say, “They grow up so fast.” Izzy hollered out a “Fuck you!” as he raced out the door. The two of them would be fine closing up his place without him.

***

Frenchie was waiting for him in the park holding a Tupperware container in one arm, dressed up in a pair of khaki slacks and a pressed white shirt, with his ever-present green scarf draped about his shoulders. When he saw Izzy jogging over, his whole face seemed to light up.

“Hey, babe! Was starting to think you’d gotten lost or something,” Frenchie teased when Izzy finally came up to his side. Izzy might have already been a bit out of breath from running to the park, but he lost whatever breath was left to him when Frenchie called him babe again. That was starting to be a bit of a problem for his health. One of these days, Frenchie was just going to make him keel over dead.

When he finally recovered, Frenchie was holding his elbow out, offering it for Izzy to take. Slowly, Izzy reached out and slid his hand into the bend in Frenchie’s elbow. Like this, their upper arms were pressed together, and Izzy had to fight off a little shiver at the closeness. “Let’s go and get this over with, shall we?”

Frenchie smiled down at him and, like the last time they had been arm in arm, let Izzy lead the way. “You look really nice, by the way. You probably already know that, but I just thought I should mention it,” Frenchie said softly, leaning down just a bit, like he was sharing some precious secret.

Izzy ducked his head. “You’re not too bad, either,” he mumbled out. Fuck. Couldn’t he have come up with something better to say? He grimaced a bit and tilted his head toward the contained in Frenchie’s other arm. “What have you got there?”

“Oh, this?” Frenchie lifted the container up a bit. “It’s pasta salad. Figured it would be nice if I brought something along. I’m not the best at cooking, but this was easy enough.”

“I’m sure it’ll be good.”

“You think so?”

“Just said so, didn’t I?”

Frenchie, to Izzy’s mild amazement, spent the rest of the walk grinning. All because he said Frenchie’s silly little container of pasta salad would be good.
Unfortunately, their walk came to an end, and they wound up at Bonnet’s door. It wasn’t like the house was hard to spot, ostentatious as it was. Reluctantly, Izzy pulled his hand away from Frenchie’s arm and rang the doorbell.

Stede came to the door with his ‘polite rich person’ smile plastered to his face. He was ridiculously over dressed in some teal number, oh so graciously waving them through the door. “You’re just in time, yes, this way, this way,” he chirped, voice singsong and just a touch smug. As if he had the right to be. Bonnet paused when he saw Frenchie’s container. “And ah, what’s this?”

Frenchie held it up for Stede to see. “I brought some pasta salad!”

“Right, well…” Bonnet hedged. “I’ll just take that, and put it in the kitchen, shall I?” Bonnet was already reaching for the container when Izzy slapped his hands away from it. “Or,” Izzy said, infusing his voice with as much venom as he could muster, “you can let him take it to the table.”

He just knew Frenchie’s pasta salad would end up in the trash if he let Stede fucking Bonnet take it. Bonnet got that look on his face, the one that was mildly disdainful and disgusted, the ‘gentlemanly’ version of a sneer. Izzy was perfectly ready to start and finish this brewing fight, but Edward appeared around the corner from the dining room. “Iz! Frenchie! Glad you two could make it!”

Edward was dressed up as well, wearing the vest and slacks of a bright, aubergine suit and his hair was pulled up. He looked so excited, and Izzy, loath to ruin Edward’s fun so early into the evening, choked back whatever vitriol he’d been about to let loose.

Izzy could play nice. For a while. Edward tugged at Stede’s arm and the two started making their way back to the dining room, though not before Stede tossed another vaguely condescending glare over his shoulder. This was going to be an absolute nightmare.

He and Frenchie followed after them and took their seats across from Edward and Bonnet at the overly long table. What was it with rich people and long tables? Frenchie set his container down as close to the center as he could reach, trying not to tip the many crystal glasses over with his elbows. Izzy kind of hoped one of them would get knocked over, and maybe broken, just to see the strained look on Bonnet’s face. Maybe Izzy would knock one off the table, intentionally. Not like Bonnet couldn’t afford to replace it.

“So,” Edward started when they were all settled, looking between Frenchie and Izzy with a grin, “when’s the ceremony?”

“The what?” Frenchie stared at Edward like he’d gone mad. Izzy didn’t blame him. They’d only just begun courting and Edward was already asking about marriage. And even if Edward would probably be the one to stand for Izzy when the day came, it was personal, wasn’t it, and rude to ask so blatantly.

“Oh, fuck off Edward.” He had intended to sound aggressive, but to his own ears, he just sounded tired. “You have no right to ask that when you’ve been taking your sweet time with your own.” Edward had been engaged to Bonnet for what, a year now? Or was it two?

“Aw, Iz, I didn’t think you were so eager to see me and Stede married.” Edward was giving him that teasing affectionate, squinty eyed look, smiling with his eyes. Izzy scoffed. “I’m not.”

Edward lightly kicked Izzy’s leg under the table, still determined to get some kind of answer, apparently. “Come on, you’ve at least thought about it though, right? Things are going well so far, right? And it’s not like you would put up with someone you hated. You’ve always made up your mind about people pretty quickly, yeah?” With every question, Edward gave his shin another little kick. He stopped and pouted when Izzy kicked back, harder than Edward had.

To his right, Frenchie mumbled a strangled, “What is happening?”

Then Bonnet cleared his throat to add his two cents, because of course. “If I may, I don’t think anyone should be rushing into anything.” The fool crossed his arms and nodded sagely, like he was imparting wisdom instead of bullshit. “Besides, we all know Izzy is a deeply unpleasant individual, and keeping people around isn’t exactly his specialty, shall we say.”

Izzy’s cheek twitched. Edward mumbled a quiet, “Stede, c’mon,” but otherwise did nothing to shut the twat up. So Bonnet did what he did best and kept fucking talking.

“In my personal opinion, I think it would be in Frenchie’s best interest to—” Bonnet didn’t get to finish sharing his personal opinion, because Frenchie had finally found his voice. “Well nobody asked you did they?” Frenchie spat back. “And I don’t need you to tell me what’s best for me, either.”

Stede looked taken aback, like he hadn’t thought Frenchie would speak up, or speak so sharply. And certainly not to him. Bonnet shifted in his seat. “Well…” The room when awkwardly quiet for a few minutes, until a fancy little clock at the end of the table chimed, and Bonnet seemed to bounce back.

“Well, I hope you brought your appetites!” Stede said cheerily, if a bit strained, clapping his hands together, and a line of servers came into the dining room bearing plates. Of fucking course Bonnet was too good to serve the food himself. Another server came out with a bottle of probably overpriced white wine and started pouring for everyone. Including Izzy. Fuck now he really wanted to knock the glass off the table.

Izzy watched as plates piled high with thick slabs of salmon and asparagus and quinoa were set in front of Stede, then Edward, then Frenchie. Bonnet looked particularly smug as the last server came around beside Izzy, looking nervous and jumpy. Izzy could see why, when his plate was put down in front of him.

There, in the center of the otherwise empty plate, was that stupid fucking fingerling, burnt to a fucking crisp.

Izzy stared down at the fish blankly, then back up at Bonnet, who, if possible, was looking increasingly smug. Edward, at least, had the good sense to look at least a little uncomfortable. He was shifting in his seat, eyes flickering from Izzy to Stede, letting out a nervous laugh under his breath.

Out of his periphery, he could see Frenchie eyeing his own plate and Izzy’s.

Bonnet tilted his head so that he was looking down his nose at Izzy, one brow arched imperiously. “Well, go on,” Stede prompted with that snooty fucking voice of his. Izzy felt like he was two seconds away from unrestrained violence. And then Stede went a step further, like he just couldn’t fucking help himself.

“Eat up, Iggy.”

Right. Fuck this.

Izzy took the edge of the plate in his hand and flung it across the room like a frisbee. It took several of the crystal glasses with it on its way to the floor. It all shattered against the floor and made a satisfying mess of Bonnet’s pristine tablecloth and carpet.

“Izzy!” Edward was on his feet in a flash, bellowing over Bonnet’s pathetic shrieking. On instinct, Izzy curled his hand around one of the knives at his place setting. He was up, too, before he knew it, chair toppling behind him.

“This,” Izzy snarled, “is exactly why I never come to dinner, Edward.”

Slowly, like he was sat next to a wounded wild animal, Frenchie eased himself out of his seat and took his pasta salad back. To Izzy, he murmured, “Do you, uh, do you want to leave?”

Yes. Yes, Izzy wanted to leave. This whole thing was a mistake. Carefully, gently, Frenchie touched his hand to the small of Izzy’s back. “Okay,” Frenchie said, “okay.”
Frenchie pushed his chair in and stepped close to Izzy. He slipped his hand from Izzy’s back to around his arm, and Izzy let himself be taken out of the room. Like it was that simple to just. Leave a situation like that. Frenchie pressed the container into Izzy’s hands, exchanging it for the knife that had still been clenched in Izzy’s fist.

“I’ll just go put this back.” And then Frenchie was going back into the dining room. He was gone for longer than it would take just to put a knife back on the table. But he did come back, looking a little worked up now himself.

Frenchie put his arm back around Izzy and walked them out the door. They walked for a long time, and didn’t seem to be going anywhere in particular, until they ended up on a beach. The beach. The one where they kept meeting.

He let Frenchie tug him down onto the sand, where they ended up sitting shoulder to shoulder, facing the water. Izzy wished he’d brought his coat, so he could slip it on and disappear into the sea for a bit.

“This was a fucking disaster,” Izzy complained, more tired than he remembered being in a long time. “I… I’m sorry.”

“What? For what?”

“For, I don’t know, losing my fucking temper? Throwing shit?” He’d only proved Bonnet right. He was unpleasant, and he did have trouble keeping people around. Frenchie bumped their shoulders together, pulling him out of his own head. “I mean. Yeah, that was kind of wild. But, I’m sorry Stede was such a dick to you.”
Izzy choked on a laugh. “Bonnet and I have never gotten on, since the day we fucking met. We just seem to bring out the worst in each other. Don’t know why I thought tonight would go any different.”

“Well, we can still try to salvage the night, can’t we? We’ve still got the pasta salad.” Frenchie tapped on the lid of the tupperware and smiled. “We haven’t got any forks,” Izzy grumbled. He should have stolen some from Bonnet’s table. “Psh, who needs forks?” Frenchie pulled the lid off the container and just. Scooped up a handful. With his bare fucking hand.

Izzy watched, bemused, and Frenchie made a mess of himself trying to get the food into his mouth. The combination of pasta and tomatoes and dressing made the whole thing rather slippery, and Frenchie dropped more than one twist of noodle into his lap.

But it pulled a genuine laugh out of Izzy, and he decided to say the hell with it and grabbed his own handful. The noodles were undercooked, and the tomatoes were cut into uneven and sort of mushy chunks, half crushed, and there was more pepper than a pasta salad had any right to. Frenchie must have accidentally spilled half a box of pepper into the mix. It was, objectively, awful, but it was the best damn pasta salad Izzy had eaten.

 

A good chunk of their food ended up across their laps or in the sand—an offering for Mr. Buttons and his gulls, Izzy thought—but it wasn’t a terrible way to end the night.

He and Frenchie sat together on the beach, sharing handfuls of pasta salad until the sun was fully set and the moon began to rise.

Chapter Text

Frenchie hummed as he wound his way around the tables and benches toward the back corner, raising his plate and cup a bit so he was less likely to bump into anyone. Most of the other employees liked to take their shift meals to the break room next to the offices or in the back of the kitchen, but Frenchie liked to be able to listen to the other performers after he was done with his own sets.

Even with what he’d learned about fish fry nights, Frenchie still rather liked the fish n’ chips. Partly, it was because they were called fish n’ ships, because they were served in cute little baskets shaped like a ship with a little paper flag toothpick stuck on top. Frenchie wasn’t exactly immune to marketing. Besides that, it was an easy meal for the kitchen staff to make, so Frenchie didn’t feel bad about ordering it. He paused and bounced the case strap to try to readjust the lute case over his back, since his hands were full.

It had been a good night so far. Usually, Ed liked him to play sea shanties and the like, but Frenchie had changed it up a bit tonight. He’d found a few whaling songs to play, and a few ballads. One, particularly, had struck him as rather romantic, about a seal lord falling in love with a fisherman’s daughter.

He’d had the luck to catch Izzy’s eye during that song. The man had flushed rather prettily and looked away quickly and put on a scowl. But it wouldn’t change the fact that Frenchie had seen it, seen how Izzy had almost looked relaxed, entranced. Izzy was just so cute. It had put a little smile on Frenchie’s face for the rest of his set.

A few paces from his favored spot, though, he heard someone clear their throat and snap their fingers rather impatiently. Frenchie didn’t see any of the servers nearby, so he thought nothing of it. Another step though, and the snapping came again, more insistent, and a shrill voice calling out, “Um, excuse me! Hey, you, with the frizzy hair!”

Frenchie frowned at the comment and turned around. At a two-seater table just to his right, there was a couple, both looking at him and apparently annoyed. The two of them, skinny white girl with a doll-like face and overly tanned muscle jock, had an air about them that screamed ‘influencer’ to Frenchie.

“Are you… talking to me?” Frenchie asked, just to be sure.

“Are you stupid or something? Yeah, I’m talking to you,” the lady said, scooting to the edge of her seat and fixing Frenchie with a nasty glare. “We have been waiting here forever, and you nearly walked past our table.”

Frenchie blinked, unsure of what he was supposed to do in a situation like this.

The guy spoke up next when Frenchie didn’t immediately do anything. “Come on, man, just give us the food already.”

Frenchie leaned back and clutched his plate and cup a little more tightly in his hands. “Um, no, sorry, mate. I’m not a server, and this is my food.” This interaction was beginning to feel uncomfortably like the ones he’d had to suffer through in house service.

The lady started lifting herself out of her seat. “What did you just say to me? Do you know who I am?” She started raising her voice and the people at the nearby tables started staring. Frenchie hunched his shoulders in a bid to make himself smaller, draw less attention. “I could ruin this place if I wanted to. So be a good little boy and put our food on the fucking table.”

She reached out and tried to yank the plate out of his hand. And, well, Frenchie could admit he didn’t have the best sense of balance. He wasn’t expecting this lady to pull so hard. Frenchie, starting to panic with the increasing number of eyes on him, let go of the plate. He stumbled back, spilling his drink when his cup slipped out of his hand, while the lady screamed and fell back against the table.

The whole restaurant went quiet, heads turned to see the commotion. The lady started crying, practically wailing she was so loud.

Frenchie ducked his head and folded his arms in, clutching at the case strap across his chest. God, he just wanted to disappear.

He was vaguely aware of the guy and the lady both getting up and looming over him and he spared a thought to worry one or both of them might hit him.
And then a leather clad hand was pulling him back, pulling him behind like he was being shielded. Frenchie glanced up and caught the shine of Izzy’s silvering hair in front of him. Frenchie though, a little hysterically, that it was kind of funny to see Izzy guarding him like that, given their height difference. He managed to focus himself just in time to hear Izzy let loose one hell of a threat.

“—take one more step and I will dig your heart out with a fucking grapefruit spoon and eat it raw in front of your wailing mother, you festering cunt,” Izzy snarled at them, shoulders tense, feet apart and knees slightly bent like he was ready to lunge at the couple.

“Hey! You can’t talk to my girlfriend like that!” the guy said, outraged and offended, curling an arm around his girl’s waist.

“I will talk to your fucking cockwart of a girlfriend however the fuck I want when she decides to treat my staff like shit.” Frenchie was beginning to wonder if he was about to witness a double homicide when the lady spoke up. “I-I want to speak to your manager!” She was still hiccuping and sobbing and had tracks of mascara running down her face. She pressed herself against her boyfriend until her face was partially obscured.

Frenchie couldn’t see Izzy’s face like this, but he could hear the cruel glee in his voice when he said, “Lady. I am the manager.”

But that didn’t seem to deter the woman just yet. She flung out a hand and pointed at Frenchie with a manicured finger. “He—he was assaulting me! I want him fired right now!”

Izzy paused a moment, considering. “Make a habit of this, do you?” he asked in a voice smooth as silk and positively dripping with menace. “Cause a little scene, get your meal comped and get a gift certificate for the trouble, maybe even get some poor bastard fired for the hell of it. Just because you can. Just because you’ve been allowed to get away with it before.” Frenchie put a hand over his mouth to hide the wavering grin that was starting to tug at the corners of his mouth. So this was the kind of dressing down Fang and Ivan had told him about.

“What? What are you talking about? Didn’t you see him attack me?”

“Oh, yeah. I saw everything. And so did the CCTV.” Izzy nodded across the way to where one of the security cameras was mounted to the wall near the ceiling. Frenchie got the mild satisfaction of watching the lady’s face go slack. “Now, you can either walk yourselves out, or I’ll have you thrown out.” Izzy sounded like he was hoping for the latter option.

The guy at least had the sense to start moving when he realized they wouldn’t win this little standoff. His girl twisted her head around to shout, “You just lost valuable customers for this! I have thousands of followers! I’ll make sure they all know what a shithole this place is!”

Izzy snorted and put his hands up. “Oh no, how terrible,” he said flatly. Then he turned his hands and curled his fingers to flip the lady off with both hands. “I think we’ll manage.”

Then Izzy turned around and started pushing at Frenchie, herding him toward the employee door, past the wide, wondering eyes of the other patrons and staff.
“You alright?” Aw, Izzy was worried about him? That was so sweet. Frenchie shrugged as they pushed past the door. “Um, yeah, I think so.” The encounter had certainly left him shaky, and he felt exhausted now that the adrenaline was starting to fade.

Izzy looked up at him and gave him a look that said, ‘Oh, really?’

Frenchie tried to give him a smile in return, but if felt more like a grimace. Izzy sighed and told him to stay put in the hallway. At the door, he looked over his shoulder and muttered a quick, “Be right back.”

Once Frenchie was alone, he let his head drop and pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. Fuck, it was just one thing after another, wasn’t it. He hadn’t been subjected to that kind of treatment since he left London, and he’d almost let himself forget how shitty it felt.
It was impossible to escape.

A light kick to the toe of his shoe made him look up again. Izzy had come back, now with a to-go cup and a matching box. “Here. Since the other one ended up on the floor.”

Oh. It was his drink and his shift meal, remade and all packed up. Frenchie took the cup and the box with a quiet thanks. Izzy glanced at his watch and said, “You’re done for the night, aren’t you?” Frenchie nodded and gave Izzy a curious look. Izzy tilted his head toward the door. “Come on then, let me take you home.”

Frenchie couldn’t resist. He might be feeling like shit, and yeah, it might be deflecting with humor or whatever the fuck Lucius called it, but he just couldn’t resist. “Mr. Hands! How very forward of you!” If his hands weren’t full, Frenchie would have pressed them over his heart. “We haven’t even kissed yet and you’re propositioning me?” It still fell a bit flat, but it was enough to get a reaction.

Izzy let his head drop with a groan. “Oh, shut the fuck up, Frenchie!”

But he still bustled Frenchie out of the restaurant and onto the street. They hadn’t gone far when a thought came to him. “Wait, how do you know where I live?” He was pretty sure he’d never told Izzy his address.

“It was in your hiring paperwork,” Izzy said. Right. Obviously. Frenchie looked down at his shoes and shifted his to-go box and cup into one arm. They were quiet for nearly a block before Izzy spoke again. “You sang really well tonight.” He sounded a little awkward when he said it, like he wasn’t quite sure of himself.

“Really?” Frenchie glanced over at him, perking up a bit.

“Yeah. You’ve got a nice voice.” Was. Was Izzy trying to make him feel better? Frenchie was about to thank him when he caught Izzy looking at him with a glint in his eye. “Even if your song choice was a bit shit this time.”

Frenchie let out a startled laugh. “What? What do you mean it was a bit shit? I picked great songs!”

“The one about the fucking selkie or whatever!” Izzy shot back. “It was shit! Completely inaccurate. I mean, what good is a human body if you just die in it after a single night?”

Frenchie bumped his elbow against Izzy’s arm, a genuine smile creeping onto his face now. “It’s supposed to be a tragic romance! Or, maybe a romantic tragedy? One of those, you know.”

“It’s ridiculous, is what it is,” Izzy scoffed. “And for another thing,” oh boy, Izzy was really gearing himself up, wasn’t he? “You can’t just go around wearing someone else’s coat like that. That’s not how it works. That would be like if I skinned Bonnet and wore him around and tried to pass myself off as him.”

Well, that… sure was something. “Uh. Right. So, speaking of Stede,” Frenchie started carefully. He was a bit curious after what Izzy said on the beach after the dinner party, and if nothing else, it was a distraction form his own hurt feelings from earlier tonight. “You told me you two had never gotten along, right? What, uh, happened. Exactly? To make things so awful.”

Izzy sighed and ran his bare hand through his hair. “The first time I met him, after hearing Edward go on and on about his darling gentleman, Bonnet told me to go suck eggs in hell. So, I took a fillet knife and I stabbed him. Did my best to run him all the way through. Might have stirred his liver around a bit.”

Well, mark Frenchie down as scared and horny. “Oh wow that’s…”

“Illegal?’

“Terrifying,” Frenchie said, awed. “I was going to say terrifying, but yeah that also sounds pretty illegal.” But also, a bit hot? He did like a man who knew his way around a knife. Frenchie was worried he might have to waddle the rest of the way home.

“Edward called it an overreaction, as if he’s never stabbed anyone for insulting him before,” Izzy complained, but there was no heat behind it. “But I haven’t really done anything like that since. Not exactly good for business, is it, having a recent record of attempted murder.”

“Right, but threats of death by spoon, and cannibalism, and traumatizing somebody’s mother is all well and good,” Frenchie teased, nudging Izzy’s arm again. Izzy looked up at him, looking more serious all of a sudden. “I don’t tolerate that kind of bullshit behavior from customers towards the crew. My crew. And especially not towards you.”

He watched as Izzy shifted his hand and linked their pinkies together. “You’re important… to me, I mean,” he mumbled. Frenchie felt his belly do a wild flip and his heart tap double-time against his ribs. Frenchie gently swung their hands, pinkie tightly curled around Izzy’s, as they walked the last block toward Frenchie’s neighborhood.

When they got to the door, Frenchie paused. He swallowed hard and looked down at his shoes, at the pavement step in front of the door, at Izzy’s shoes. Anywhere but Izzy’s face. They had been on at least two dates, and Frenchie was pretty sure they were like, really dating, and not just talking, but this still felt like a big ask. “So um. I know I was sort of joking earlier, about the kissing and all, but,” Frenchie took a breath and forced his voice not to shake, “would it be alright?”

“Would what be alright?” Izzy asked after a beat, quiet but coaxing, like he knew what Frenchie was asking but wanted to hear him say it outright.

“Would it be alright if I kissed you?” Frenchie asked, voice barely above a whisper.

“Yeah,” Izzy murmured, “that would be alright.”

Slowly, gently, Frenchie untangled his pinkie and lifted his hand to Izzy’s face, running his thumb along his cheek and over the little ‘x’ tattoo. Then he leaned down and pressed their lips together and let his eyes flutter shut.

It wasn’t anything special. No fireworks or orchestras in the background or anything like that. It was just nice. Simple and brief.

Frenchie straightened back up and opened his eyes, though he hesitated to drop his hand just yet. Izzy’s eyes slid open and. God, Izzy was looking up at him so sweetly, leaning into Frenchie’s hand just enough to be noticeable.

But then, Izzy blinked, and a flash of terror lit across his face before his expression shuttered to something neutral. He jerked his face away from Frenchie’s hand and stepped back. He was gripping tightly now at the ring tied to his neck.

“Goodnight, Frenchie,” Izzy said, and turned to leave before Frenchie could say anything.

Chapter Text

Israel Hands was a fool and a coward.

He was huddled up in the surf, knees drawn to his chest even though he knew his back and hips would hate him for it. His coat was drawn tightly about him, the hood shadowing his eyes from the light of the full moon.

He could just run, wade into the water and just keep swimming. It wasn’t the first time he’d thought about it these last few days, wasn’t the first time he’d thought about it for most of his life. There was always a nagging little tug at the back of his mind to return to the sea, to slip out of his grief as easily as he slipped into his coat.

Oh, it was never that simple, Izzy knew from experience, but it was still less complicated than sticking around for… all this.
The short of it was, Israel Hands was scared shitless.

He’d been avoiding Frenchie for nigh on two weeks now, after Frenchie had kissed him. After Izzy had let Frenchie kiss him. A tired laugh escaped his throat as Izzy closed his gloved hand around the ring at his throat. All the joints and tendons and little bones in his hand ached.

This wasn’t what he wanted. Izzy had thought Frenchie would be a safe option, someone he could stand to have around, who wouldn’t literally hold him captive. Someone he could be around without getting his heart wound up in a tangled mess. Izzy hadn’t meant to catch fucking feelings for the man. Damn his sentimental heart. Damn his inherited predisposition for such lovesick devotion.

Izzy clenched his hand around the ring as hard as he could, until he couldn’t tell if the creaking was from his glove or his bones. Until he almost felt the impression of the silver band against his ruined hand beneath the leather.

He almost wished Frenchie hadn’t been good to him. It would have made his life much simpler if that was the case. Izzy knows how easy he is for a few scraps of genuine affection and care. And Frenchie has been offering him far more than just scraps.

There was a sudden presence beside him. Izzy didn’t need to look up to know who it was. Besides that, he didn’t really feel like catching an eyeful tonight. “Mr. Buttons,” he grumbled, acknowledging the man’s presence. There was a ruffle of feathers and Izzy sighed out, “and Karl,” in his greeting.

“Mr. Hands,” Buttons said, returning the greeting, along with a piping cry from Karl. “Nice night for moon bathing,” Buttons told him lightly, “of course, it would be nicer without the strong negative energies coming from this portion of the beach.”

Izzy scoffed and ducked his head. “Well, fucking excuse me, then, for ruining your fucking night.”

“Ah, I wouldn’t say it’s ruined. Perhaps you might like to offer up your woes to the blessed Moon, let Her cleanse the restless turmoil of your weary spirit,” the witch suggested. Izzy didn’t detect any judgement in the witch’s voice, but he hedged anyway. “The moon is more your domain, I think. Not mine.”

Buttons hummed, and out of the corner of his eye, Izzy saw the witch wade a little further into the water. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that. You are of the seal folk, after all, a man of the sea. The Moon and the sea are bound. By the rising of the beauteous Moon, the sea reaches out to Her with each pull of the tide.”

That made some sense, Izzy supposed. But that still didn’t mean he fell under the purview of any celestial bodies, lunar or otherwise. The silence that fell between them felt heavy, with only the roll of the waves to stir it.

Izzy sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. He’d come here to wallow in his misery in peace, but apparently, he couldn’t even have that. “Fine. I’m afraid of Fading. Happy now?”

The air shifted, and Izzy was aware of Buttons pinning him with a heavy stare. Another ruffle of feathers and Karl came into view, stretching his neck to nibble at Izzy’s bare fingers. “Fading?” Buttons asked, slow and careful. “Has something happened to your young man? By the read I got of him, he was likely to live a long and fulfilling life, twined with an abiding love. Has he left you for another?”

“No. No, it’s not that. He’s… I think I’m... I don’t know how to say it.” Izzy gave his ring another squeeze, despite the protest of his twinging knuckles, trying to force his hand to stop trembling. “He just. He makes it so fucking easy to be… happy. And that terrifies me, because when it’s over—and it will end, just like everything else—it will ruin me.”

He felt the long, searching stare directed at him. “Ah, I think I see now. We, none of us, can know the future. Not in full. Even I am shown only possibilities. But you, Mr. Hands, you are trapped in a past torment not all your own.”

Izzy dared to lift his eyes, watching Buttons raise his arms to reach for the moon. “You so fear repeating another’s tragedy that you’ve become stuck in place. Perhaps you’re right, that it will be over one day. But as things stand, that day will be sooner rather than later, and you surely will Fade, under the weight of all the possible futures you spurned, left mired in time gone by as the world and your man move on without you.”

A violent shudder went through him at the severe portent laid out before him. A bleak future, more possible than all the others if he kept hiding himself away. “I don’t mean to distress you so, Mr. Hands,” Buttons told him, more gently now. “You are the one ultimately responsible for your own fate, but it’s alright to let others walk the path beside you.”

“Right,” Izzy mumbled, lifting his bare hand out of Karl’s reach so he wouldn’t be subjected to anymore nibbling. Karl tilted his head to blink at Izzy with his beady little bird eyes before he moved away and alighted to Buttons’ head.

Buttons stared at Izzy again and said again, “It is a nice night for moon bathing. So, I suppose I’ll be off to find some quiet, and let you two sort yourselves out.”
Before Izzy could respond with a startled, “You what?” Buttons was gone, nary a trace of him left behind.

From up the beach, Frenchie called out to him, quiet and uncertain, “Izzy?”

Chapter Text

There was moonlight filtering in through the window, cutting across Frenchie’s face. He couldn’t sleep. “Do you think Izzy was cursed?” he asked, only partly to himself. Wee John, who had been dozing in his own bed at the other side of the room, snorted awake.

“What, that little angry fecker?” Frenchie knew Wee John was only half awake, otherwise he wouldn’t be entertaining the conversation. Wee John had gotten sick of listening to Frenchie talk about Izzy a long time ago.

“Yeah. Do you think he might have been?” Frenchie pressed.

“Been what?”

“Been cursed?”

Wee John sighed and rolled over so he was properly facing Frenchie now. “Why would he have been cursed?”

“Well it’s just,” Frenchie huffed, pressing his hands over his eyes, “things were going really well, you know. Or at least I thought they were. And then I kissed him and now he won’t even look at me.” He wasn’t going to cry over Izzy. He wasn’t.

Wee John jolted and raised himself up on one arm to stare at Frenchie, bewildered. “You kissed him? And he didn’t bite your face off?”

“That’s not the point!” Frenchie tossed his hands up and then let them flop down to his sides. “I kissed him and he ran away. So maybe he was cursed before. Since kisses are supposed to break curses, and all. What if he was bespelled to like me and when I kissed him, he was released from his magical bindings?”

“I thought that was true love’s kiss that broke spells and made people more in love. Like in the movies and stuff,” Wee John grumbled as dropped back down to lay on his side. “Sounds less like a curse and more like commitment issues to me.”

Frenchie laid there for a while, staring through the moonbeam to the ceiling above. “Okay but what if—” his attempt at further musings was cut off by a snore. Wee John had fallen back to sleep. With a quiet groan, Frenchie rolled out of bed and got to his feet.

He threw on whatever clothes he grabbed first out of his drawer and slid on a pair of sandals. When he tiptoed downstairs and slipped into the front hallway, he nearly had a heart attack when a whispered, “Going somewhere, mano?” came from over his shoulder.

Frenchie jumped around to see Jim’s silhouette. He pressed a hand to his chest to try to calm his heart. “Just, uh. Just going for a walk.”

Jim tilted their head at him, and Frenchie could practically feel the considering look they were probably pinning him with, even if he couldn’t see it. “At one in the morning?”

“Yeah, I couldn’t sleep, you know. Figured going for a walk down to the beach might clear my head a bit.” Frenchie shrugged a bit, scuffing the toe of his shoe against the floor. He wasn’t expecting the awkward pat to his shoulder or the stilted, “There, there, chiquito.” Jim’s silhouette retreated into the shadows as they told him, “You better be back by the time I’m up tomorrow. I don’t want to have to avenge you if some random mugger jumps you just because you went wandering around in the dark.”

“Thanks Jim,” Frenchie murmured before he went on his way.

***

Frenchie wandered his way down to the beach—his beach, as he was beginning to think of it. He sighed, kicking a pebble along the path. He didn’t even feel like humming as he walked. It felt a bit like all the music had just left him.

He just wished he knew what had happened, if he’d done something wrong. It was fine if Izzy decided that maybe he didn’t want to date Frenchie after all, but it was the not knowing that made everything feel worse. Well. It still hurt but having some closure might make it easier to get over the man.

As Frenchie was starting to pick his way down to the sand, he stopped. There were already people on the beach, talking. He ducked behind one of the palm trees, hoping he hadn’t been noticed. The voices caught his attention. One in particular. Izzy was there, on the beach.

The other voice—oh shit, it was that bird guy, Mr. Buttons—said something about… moon bathing? But then it was quiet. He peeked around the tree to see that Buttons had left somehow, and Izzy was left sitting alone in the shallow water. Frenchie drew a breath. This might be his only chance to talk to Izzy and get some answers out of him.

He stepped out from behind the palm and took another step into the sand. “Izzy?” he called out, uncertain. Izzy turned his head when he was called, looking out from under the hood of his coat. That same bulky fur coat. Frenchie spared a thought to wonder why Izzy was wearing such an expensive piece of clothing while sitting in the ocean. Was that just one more precious thing he didn’t seem to care about?

The man didn’t get up, didn’t look like he was going to bolt, so Frenchie made his way over and sat down near him. He kept to the drier part of the sand where the tide didn’t reach though, rather than sitting right next to Izzy in the surf.

Frenchie steeled himself for whatever came next. “So,” he started, watching as Izzy’s shoulders tensed, “are you going to tell me what’s going on?” He wanted to be able to know if they could work this out. Or if he should cut his losses. It was sad, but emotion alone wasn’t enough to sustain a relationship. Especially if it was one-sided.

In a small, rough voice, Izzy said, “I got scared. That something might happen, or that you might leave.”

“That I might leave?” Frenchie let out a bitter, disbelieving laugh. Because really? “Izzy, baby, full offense, but you left first. You think I was just okay with that? Or that it didn’t hurt me?” He was really doing this over ‘mights’ or ‘maybes’? And instead of coming and talking to Frenchie about it, he had just fucking ghosted him.

Izzy kept curling in on himself, and a little meanly, Frenchie thought if Izzy made himself any smaller, he would just blink out of existence. “What can I—I don’t know what to do.”

“Well maybe start with explaining why you’re so afraid. So I understand what’s going through that pretty head of yours.”

Izzy was quiet for so long that Frenchie thought he was being ignored. He watched with growing trepidation as Izzy lifted his head and kept his eyes steadfast on the moon. Frenchie was just beginning to consider that this wasn’t going to work, that Izzy wasn’t going to talk and maybe Frenchie should just go, when Izzy finally spoke up.

“Right. Well, my parents were in love. Like, the kind of in love you get in fucking Disney movies or whatever.” Izzy started, and Frenchie narrowed his eyes. What, was this going to be some kind of sob story about how Izzy would never have a perfect love like his parents or whatever, so why bother? He kept quiet though, if only to eventually get some answers.

“They had a proper courtship and got married by the sea, and my da was just so fucking devoted. Our type, it’s almost always all or nothing when we go willingly, and she was it for him.” Our type? Frenchie wondered at that, at what Izzy meant by that, but he didn’t have the time to ponder it to closely when Izzy kept talking. “But see, he was devoted to his home, too. He loved the sea, and he loved his home, so he and my ma, they stayed in Belfast together,” Izzy said wistfully. Frenchie could see him move his hand up to his throat. To where he remembered Izzy kept a little silver ring.

Izzy laughed under his breath. “My da’s name was Braonán. Means ‘sorrow’ in the Old Tongue, did you know?” He didn’t wait for Frenchie to respond, just shook his head and pushed on.

“So.” Izzy stopped, swallowed, and started again. “So. My sister and I, we were born and raised in the midst of The Troubles. Even with all the abuse from the Protestants and the British and the bombings and shit, even when my ma begged him to move us all somewhere else, he didn’t want to leave. Belfast was his home, he said; always would be. So we stayed. And it ruined him in the end. Ruined all of us.”

Frenchie hadn’t ever really heard of the Troubles before. Maybe only in passing during year ten in school but never in detail and not enough that it struck any recollection, but at the mention of bombings, he held his breath.

“My ma, she was taking me and my sister somewhere, into a shop or something. I don’t remember exactly. But I remember I didn’t want to go in, refused to, so my ma let me wait outside.” Izzy hugged himself and bowed his head. “Sometimes,” Izzy said in a strained voice, “I wish I had just gone in with them.”
Was Izzy saying what Frenchie thought he was? He hadn’t taken Izzy for suicidal, but that… He reached a hand out to, what? Comfort Izzy? It seemed like such a paltry gesture right now.

Frenchie let his hand drop as Izzy sucked in a shaking breath.

“The whole fucking building went up. It was there one minute, and the next it was all just smoke and fire and noise. Woke up in a hospital with a fucked up arm and a busted head.” Here, Izzy let go of the ring and lifted his gloved hand for emphasis. “Doctors told me I’d been thrown clear across the street from the blast, that I was lucky to be alive. Didn’t feel very lucky, did I. My ma and my sister were gone, and they may as well have taken my da along with them. It was almost worse, when I finally got to go home.”

Izzy was clutching hard at his ring now, doubled over. “When he wasn’t sleeping or crying, he was drinking. Kept a bottle of good ol’ Jameson for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” And well, didn’t that explain Izzy’s reluctance around alcohol.

“We didn’t sing anymore. We didn’t go to the sea anymore. He packed up his coat and locked it away and he never left the house again,” he said, trailing his bare hand through the water. Izzy’s voice was starting to go flat, hollow, like he had to force himself not to think while he spoke, or he might break. Frenchie was starting to regret pushing Izzy to talk. “He just Faded, wasted away for years. He wasn’t my da anymore, Frenchie. I was stuck in that house with a ghost until he finally drank himself to death. I was fifteen when he finally did himself in.”

So young. Izzy had been so young. Frenchie thought to himself about his own father, what it felt like to lose him as a teenager. It had been hard to lose one family member. He couldn’t imagine losing three, and for his father’s death to be so drawn out…“The only thing I took with me when I ran away was the only thing he could stand to keep. His wedding ring. I went to the sea after that and stayed there for a good long while until I met Edward about a year later.”

Izzy fell quiet, and Frenchie almost thought he was done. Izzy was all drawn up on himself again, and it was painfully easy for Frenchie to see him as a child, balled up the same way.

“I can’t remember what my family looks like anymore,” Izzy started again dully, voice hoarse and wavering. “I can’t remember their faces or their voices or what it felt like when they held me. I just remember what losing them did to him. To me. So I kept the ring, his ring. I kept it because I needed it, to remind myself to never end up like him, to never fall in love with anyone as fully and completely as he did. Only, now I’ve gone and done it anyway, and it fucking terrifies me, Frenchie.”

And, well, Izzy just looked so miserable, sitting there curled into himself in the sand and surf after reliving the horrors of his childhood. Frenchie couldn’t even be happy that Izzy had essentially confessed his feelings. His love, apparently. Frenchie reached out again, and this time brushed a hand along Izzy’s shoulder to draw his attention, opening his arms when the man raised his head. It was probably a testament to Izzy’s distress that he barely even hesitated before crawling into Frenchie’s lap.

Izzy settled himself sideways so that his legs were slung over one of Frenchie’s thighs, his head tucked under Frenchie’s chin. Frenchie closed his arms around the man, feeling the tickle of fur against his skin. He was trembling in Frenchie’s hold, reaching up to twist the fingers of his bare hand in the green knit scarf.
For a few long, quiet minutes, Frenchie just held Izzy, gently rocking him. He had to swallow his own tears, because what he’d just heard was… awful. Izzy must have been so unbearably lonely, for all these years.

“You’ve never talked to anyone else about this before, have you?” Frenchie asked quietly. He felt Izzy shake his head. By now, Izzy’s wet clothes were soaking into Frenchie’s, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. That wasn’t important right now.

Frenchie tilted his head to kiss the top of Izzy’s head. “Thank you,” Frenchie murmured into Izzy’s hair, “for telling me all of this. Even when I can see how painful it is for you.” The suggestion that Izzy should maybe see a professional about this was on the tip of his tongue. Because while Frenchie was telling the truth, that he was glad Izzy told him, he knew for a fact he was not equipped to parse through all that long held trauma. It wouldn’t be fair to him or to Izzy if Frenchie was his only emotional support.

But it really wasn’t the right time to bring that up. Frenchie didn’t want to sound like he was trying to shove all of Izzy’s raw emotions back under the rug right after the man had bared his soul.

Slowly, Frenchie reached down to cradle Izzy’s gloved hand. He lifted it up to his lips and pressed a kiss to the curve of Izzy’s palm just below his thumb. Izzy sucked in a sharp breath. Against the soft leather, Frenchie murmured, “Do you still want to try to do this, make this work?” It really would be alright if Izzy couldn’t bear to have that kind of relationship. Frenchie was amazed Izzy was even still here.

When Izzy nodded again, Frenchie turned his hand over to kiss his knuckles. Maybe that finally knocked something loose in Izzy. The man choked on a sob and turned his face more fully into Frenchie’s chest.

He cried for a long time, worryingly quiet, like he was still trying to force something down. Frenchie couldn’t do much more than hold Izzy, rock him to the sound of the waves coming in from the sea. There was nothing he could say right now to make this better.

Izzy cried himself to sleep in Frenchie’s arms, but even then, he still didn’t relax. His shoulders stayed hunched, and his hand was still clutching at Frenchie’s clothes. Frenchie sighed heavily and ducked his head to rest his forehead against the top of Izzy’s head. There was no way he could get up and just leave after all that.

Slowly, gently as he could, Frenchie maneuvered them both so they could lay down and maybe be a little more comfortable. He wasn’t sure if he could sleep after that conversation, but he could at least do Izzy the courtesy of laying him down.

Frenchie took Izzy’s gloved hand again and left one last lingering kiss to his fingers. It was the last thing he remembered doing before his own eyes closed and sleep did find him.

***

Frenchie woke slowly with a great big yawn and a stretch to match. He must have moved during the night, since he couldn’t feel Izzy in his arms anymore. Eyes still closed, he rolled over into the warm body at his back and hummed. Izzy had stayed then. Last night felt so far away, and yet so horrifically close, still.

He reached to drape and arm over the man and pressed his face into the tickle of fur.

Only… Izzy wasn’t quite that round. Izzy wasn’t nearly that squishy.

His eyes shot open, and Frenchie found himself once again, right up close and personal with That Seal. He scrambled back with a yell—not a high-pitched shriek absolutely not—sending sand everywhere. The seal made a sound of protest, head tilting back to avoid the sand spray.

It took a moment for Frenchie’s heart to settle and to really take in what he was seeing. The seal was laying on its side, head just barely raised off the ground to stare at Frenchie. But it wasn’t trying to be a bastard. And Izzy was nowhere in sight.

“You nearly gave me a heart attack,” he scolded the seal, pointing a finger at it and trying to affect the sort of stern attitude he’d seen Izzy take when he went waving his finger about. “What is it with you and getting all up in my space like that when I’m not expecting it, anyway?” Frenchie continued. Not like the seal could answer him, but there wasn’t anyone around to see him lecturing a seal.

The seal grumbled at him, rolled onto its belly and scooted toward Frenchie. Frenchie leaned back, ready to jump up and run just in case, but the seal stopped about a foot away and dropped its head onto Frenchie’s thigh. It grumbled again and then stared up at him with big, sad-looking eyes.

He was a bit mesmerized at the display. “Alright, alright. You’re too pretty to stay mad at for long,” he said with a little grin. The seal lifted its head and gave Frenchie a few slow, squinty-eyed blinks. He supposed he could take that to mean the seal was pleased.

The seal wiggled a bit closer and stretched up to press its wet snout to Frenchie’s mouth. It lingered there for a second before it turned away, leaving the tickle of whiskers and the taste of salt behind.

It bounced down the beach, pausing when it splashed into the surf to look back over its shoulder. The seal did the banana pose again and barked at Frenchie before it dove into the water.

Frenchie stared after it and raised a hand to his mouth. It was then that he noticed the bracelet tied around his wrist. Momentarily distracted from thinking about seal kisses, he held his arm up to the light and let out an awed breath.

On a thin braided string, colorful bits of sea glass threw out a rainbow under the rays of the sun. Every color of glass imaginable was stacked in a pleasing gradient, each piece worn smooth and fashioned into disks of almost equal proportion. It must have taken forever to find all the pieces and fashion them into such an attractive trinket.

This definitely hadn’t been there the night before, and unless seals suddenly had the ability to tie knots, then there was only one true culprit. Sure, they had a lot of work ahead of them, but this was a nice start. It made him think that maybe things could be okay. Frenchie smiled as he admired the bracelet, turning his wrist this way and that to watch the sea glass twinkle under the sun.

The sun. Oh shit, Jim!

Frenchie scrambled to his feet and broke into a run. If he didn’t want Jim to go out and avenge him, then he had to get home.

The only remainder of the night before was the vague impression of two bodies in the sand, which eventually, even the tide came to take.