Actions

Work Header

forgive me, are you trying to forgive me?

Work Text:

“All right,” Oluwande says quietly, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. “Crew meeting called to order. I think it’s time for us to discuss the elephant in the room.”

The Swede swivels his head, alarmed. “There is an elephant in this room?”

At Oluwande’s insistence, the majority of the original crew is in the rec room, gathered loosely in a circle. Lucius is absent, but considering his near-drowning last week, Oluwande is going to give him a pass on illicit crew meetings for the time being. They certainly have a quorum without him. Buttons is also missing, steering the ship, but Oluwande isn’t convinced that his presence would be productive in this instance anyway. 

“I think he’s referring to the obvious problem on the ship right now,” Frenchie says, glancing at Oluwande for confirmation. Oluwande gives him a nod of encouragement. “We shouldn’t be expected to endure this madness for much longer. I’m glad someone is finally saying something about it.”

“It’s a fucking disaster is what it is,” Wee John chimes in. “We’ve been talking about bringing it up for a few days now.” 

“Thank you,” Oluwande says, repressing a sigh of relief. “Frankly, I was afraid none of you would want to say anything about it. Would one of you like to explain to the Swede exactly what the problem is?”

“Of course,” Frenchie says, lowering his voice and adopting an air of seriousness. “We’re here to address something serious today, folks. Something that has gone unspoken for too long.” He clears his throat and meets everyone’s eyes in turn before speaking. “Blackbeard…is dead.”

This time, Oluwande lets the sigh escape. It’s going to be a long day. 

There’s a long moment of baffled looks exchanged before Black Pete clears his throat. “Blackbeard isn’t fucking dead. I saw him ten minutes ago.”

“Not that Blackbeard,” Frenchie says dismissively. “I’m talking about the goat. The one that lives on the ship. Lived. He died while you lot were stuck on that island.”

Christ. Oluwande does remember that they named the goat that Stede had brought on board after Blackbeard. It had been a light joke at the time, when they were fresh at sea, new to adventure, and it seemed unlikely that they’d ever encounter the animal’s eponym. It’s a bit less funny now considering all they’ve been through.

“Yeah,” Oluwande says. “That’s, uh, not what we’re here for, mate. I was referring more to the fact that we’ve been back on board this ship for a week and neither of our captains have spoken a word to each other since.”

“I’m sorry—there has been a goat on this ship?” Roach demands, waving his cleaver for attention. Oluwande doesn’t want to know why he felt the need to bring a kitchen knife to a crew meeting. “For real?”

Oluwande covers his face. “Yes.”

“The entire time?”

Yes. 

“And we haven’t eaten it yet why?

“Can we focus?” Jim demands from Oluwande’s left. They’re also armed with a knife, but Oluwande knows that’s not unusual for them. “Are we going to mutiny, or what? Huh?” 

“Blackbeard—” Frenchie starts.

“If the rest of that sentence is about the goat, I’m going to cut out your tongue before you can finish it.”

Wisely, Frenchie clams up. Jim gives him a long look, fingers wrapped tightly around their dagger. 

“Okay,” Oluwande says, attempting to regain control of the meeting. “We’ve established, I think, that this…squabble between Captain and Blackbeard—human Blackbeard—can’t go on. We’ve just got to figure out how to say something to them about it without making it worse.”

“Making it worse is probably exactly what we’re going to do,” Black Pete mutters.  

“Can’t we just tell them to do what Captain’s always saying?” Frenchie suggests. “All that ‘talk it through as a crew’ he’s always going on about?”

Oluwande sighs. If only it were that easy. “I don’t think that’s going to work this time. We need a different plan.“

“Where’s Lucius for this meeting, anyway?” Wee John asks. “Shouldn’t he be taking notes? Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when you have a secret evil plan? Write it down?”

“How is our plan evil?” Black Pete demands. “We don’t even have a plan! And Lucius is up on the deck. Captain’s been having him write down all the stuff he wants to tell Blackbeard when they’re talking again.” 

“Anything juicy?” Frenchie wiggles his eyebrows. 

“I wish. Yesterday it was that he saw a cool bug.”

“So Captain wants to be on good terms with Blackbeard again,” Oluwande interrupts. “That’s good news, right? We just have to figure out how to get Blackbeard to…talk.”

“He needs therapy,” Lucius declares from the doorway, rolling his eyes. “Desperately.”

Roach raises his cleaver halfway. “What is therapy?”

Lucius raises a brow at the weapon in his hand. “Something you need as well.” 

Jim growls in frustration, slamming their hand against the crate they’re sitting on. “Have we decided what we’re going to do yet?”

“I think we should get a new goat,” the Swede declares. “I like having animals on the ship. And we have none now that we’ve lost Karl.” 

A long, loud wail echoes from directly above them.

“Shhh,” Lucius hisses. “You’re not supposed to say that name. You know he hears like a bat.”

“Can we get back to the meeting?” Wee John requests. “I’d like to know what we’re going to do about Blackbeard. I’m kind of with Oluwande on this one; their fighting is getting really fucking annoying.” 

“And while we’re at it, can we figure out what to do about Izzy?” Frenchie complains. “He’s been especially annoying ever since Captain and Blackbeard started fighting. I don’t like seeing him smile. It’s weird.” 

“Oh, right.” Lucius grimaces. “I forgot. Izzy told me that Blackbeard wants everyone on deck. We’re crossing paths with a ship in an hour, and we’re going to…you know.” He halfheartedly pantomimes slashing a sword. “Rob it and whatnot.” 

Oluwande sighs as everyone gets to their feet. He can’t say this meeting didn’t go just about how he suspected it would. “Guess we’ll figure out what to do about Captain later.”

“Wait a minute,” Frenchie says as everyone files into the hall. “Guys! What about the goat?”

He has just enough time to duck as the blade of Jim’s knife sails past his head.

Stede is having a considerable amount of trouble sleeping at night.

His room is his own again, but it doesn’t feel quite the same. All of his things are missing, his books and trinkets somewhere on the seafloor. Most of his clothes, too, although everything in his secret closet remains intact. He thinks that Ed might have just forgotten it existed.

And his lighthouse painting. It holds significantly more fondness for him now that things are settled with Mary. He’s surprised that Ed didn’t throw it out along with the rest of his things. 

They had overtaken a merchant ship yesterday. He had thrown his all into the fight and managed to wound a few men. One had crept up behind Blackbeard as if he didn’t recognize him. Stede had quickly stunned the man with a blow to the back of the head, but hadn’t received so much as a whisper of acknowledgement from his friend.

Perhaps the merchant didn’t recognize Blackbeard, Stede reflects. After all, he looks extraordinarily different without the beard.

Stede remembers the shock of it well. Not an unpleasant one. It was as if something fundamental had changed about the man he’d grown to care for, but not in the sense that something had been lost.

He can pinpoint the source of his restlessness directly to this new Blackbeard, heavy black paint smudged across his face. This new Blackbeard had acknowledged his return coldly and without feeling, had stepped aside silently to let him govern his ship and reinstate his crew. Stede had tried to address him on multiple occasions, but had been rebuffed time and again.

The strange part was that Ed stayed. He could have left by now—Stede had overheard Izzy pleading with him to just yesterday—but he refused. A single, gruff no was all that he’d heard from Ed in a week. 

No. Not now. 

Stede probably shouldn’t take that as any sort of hope that things could return to the way they had been. He wonders how long this frigid silence can continue. He’d take anything over this.

He’d finally admitted it to himself, to Mary—he’s in love with Ed. They had kissed. Made grand, unrealistic plans to run away together. Maybe he just should have gone. 

But the loose ends…

Was tying them up worth losing Ed forever? Has he lost Ed forever?

“Captain?”

Stede realizes belatedly as Oluwande pokes his head through the door that it’s probably morning now. He’s not even sure if he slept. He might have gotten a few non-consecutive minutes between the tossing and turning. 

“Yes.” He tugs his curtain aside. Sure enough, the sun has broken fully over the water. He’s exhausted to his bones, but he knows he needs to get up and command his ship. He clears his throat and summons his most authoritative, I’ve-got-my-shit-together voice. “Good morning, Olu. How are you today?”

“I’m all right,” Oluwande says cautiously. “Listen, Captain, a few us wanted to talk to you about something important. Could you maybe meet us in the rec centre?”

“Of course!” Stede throws off his covers. “I’ll be there imminently.”

“Right.” Oluwande flashes him a thumbs-up. “You may want to, er, get dressed first.” 

“Right. Yes. Of course.”

Stede slumps against his bed as Oluwande leaves. He’s sure this is an intervention. He guesses that he should be glad they’re not mutinying. That they care enough about him to have a conversation before they chuck him overboard. Maybe this was Lucius’s idea. He’s probably a bit sensitive about being thrown overboard. 

Stede still can’t understand why Ed would have abandoned them all like that. They’re people. His people. Not just employees, but family. A crew. And so he washes up, and he dresses, and he goes out to meet his crew with the firm conviction that he’ll listen to whatever they have to say. 

They’re all gathered in the rec centre, uncharacteristically silent. Izzy is missing, along with Fang and Ivan, and he knows Buttons is steering the ship, but the rest of the crew is accounted for, all perched on crates, boxes, anything that can pass for a seat. Most of them are wearing serious expressions, though Lucius appears to be sketching blithely in a notebook, paying little attention to his surroundings.

“Captain,” Wee John says. “We wanted to discuss something with you.”

“It’s about Blackbeard,” Frenchie adds quickly.

Stede gasps. “The goat?” 

“Yes!” Frenchie declares, just as Oluwande says, “The person!” 

Roach points a cleaver at Stede accusingly. “You knew we had a goat?”

“Obviously he knew we had a goat. Maldito idiota.” Jim fixes Stede with a glare. “We didn’t bring you in here to talk about the goat. We’re tired of whatever the fuck you and Blackbeard have going on.” 

“Jim,” Oluwande hisses. “Remember how we discussed subtlety?

“Yeah. And I don’t care.”

Stede sighs. “Do all of you feel this way?”

“No,” Lucius says sardonically, eyes still fixed on his sketchbook. “We really enjoy feeling like the children of divorced parents who for some reason have decided to continue living in the same house. It’s a rewarding experience, really.”

Right. Stede isn’t sure what he expected the answer to be, but it probably should have been that. “I see. You all want an explanation.” 

“We really don’t,” Wee John offers. “Just fix your shit. That’s all we’re asking.” 

“And if we don’t…” Stede shudders a little. “You’ll mutiny?”

The crew exchanges blank looks. “Um, sure,” the Swede offers. “Yeah. We’ll mutiny.” 

Oluwande smacks his arm lightly. “No, we won’t.” 

“We might,” Black Pete mumbles.

Right. Whatever Blackbeard is thinking, Stede decides, letting him sulk is not worth the unhappiness of the crew. He’s determined to put an end to this. Today.

“You may have been right,” Edward says. He’s standing at the railing of the ship, staring off into the ocean, his hair long and loose around his face. It obscures his eyes entirely, allowing Izzy to watch him surreptitiously while pretending not to. It’s rare that he gets to really look at his boss, to study him, vainly attempt to figure out how he ticks.

He’s been trying to figure it out for years, really; the entire time he’s been sailing with Edward. There’s something so deeply unsettling about the way Ed has been acting lately. Entirely because of Stede. Tracking his ship, rescuing him, following him around like a dog after a rawhide.

It makes Izzy nauseated, really. To think that his captain could fall for this…terminally useless idiot of a man. Stede Bonnet, masquerading as a criminal with the entirely wrong idea of an acceptable way to behave. He’s seen it everywhere on the ship, these ridiculous, emotional displays. It’s foul. Abhorrent. On any of Izzy’s old ships, vulnerability like that would get you mocked. At best. Often, you’d be so beaten and humiliated that you’d never show an ounce of emotion in front of your crew again. And that’s just the way he likes it. They’re pirates. 

Pirates aren’t supposed to fall in love. They’re supposed to kill. And then they’re supposed to die. 

He’s never looked forward to Edward’s death. When Blackbeard falls, he knows that the age of piracy will begin a natural and swift decline. But something dark in Izzy thinks that that might be better than this. He’s ready to burn down his whole world to keep Edward from losing himself.

Izzy almost doesn’t respond. He knew that Ed would come around eventually. But his curiosity gets the better of him. “Right about what?” 

Ed takes a long inhale from his pipe. He’s not wearing his gloves today, Izzy notices, and his fingers are tense around the stem. “Leaving,” he finally says, smoke leaking from his mouth. “What the fuck am I doing here?”

Izzy lets the question hang in the air. He knows exactly what Ed is doing. And it’s unbelievably stupid. He’s hanging around, hoping things will magically return to the way they were before Izzy sold them out to the English. 

He hates the way things were. He doesn’t regret selling them out one bit. Sure, it almost got him chucked overboard, and the pain in his foot keeps him up at night, but it worked. It snapped Blackbeard back to his old self. He needed the wake-up call, and Izzy was happy to provide it. 

He did this for Blackbeard. The person and the image. He knows that Edward will realize that someday.

“Would you like me to pack up your stuff?” he offers. “Fang and Ivan can have the dinghy ready in an hour.”

Ed doesn’t look up, puffing on his pipe again. Izzy squints into the horizon, trying to figure out what he’s looking at. Maybe he’s examining the shape of the clouds again. Maybe he sees a weird-looking fish that somehow signifies an impending apocalypse or the current moon phase. Izzy has entirely given up on trying to figure out how his captain’s mind works.

He doesn’t need to know. He just needs to follow orders. And to keep him on the right track. Away from Stede.

Stede fucking Bonnet.

He’s there, now, standing at the top of the steps leading to the bow, with that mooning look in his eyes. Like he’s expecting Edward to turn around and fall into his arms. Izzy thinks he might gag if he has to see that expression one more time.

It makes him furiously angry that Blackbeard is just standing here. Allowing it. If anyone besides Stede looked at him like that, they’d be minus a few extremities. It’s so fucking irritating.

Not that Izzy wants to look at Edward that way. He studies him purely out of curiosity.

He had a dream once, just after they joined Stede’s ship. He and Edward had stood in a forest clearing. Not one he recognized. It wasn’t a very clear image. He just knew that it was somewhere far from the ocean, somewhere removed from their life as pirates. And Edward had kissed him fiercely enough to jolt Izzy from the dream, sweating and shivering and terrified that someone else had somehow seen it. It was enough to keep him awake for a week.

He seethes about it now, knowing it was Stede who brought that on. Stede, who walks around acting as though he can broadcast his feelings at will. As if it won’t get him killed. As if Izzy wouldn’t kill the man himself, given the slightest opportunity. He’s already tried once.

Say the word. Say the word, and I’ll kill everyone on this ship, and we’ll go.

“No,” Edward finally says, and Izzy’s rage boils for a fraction of a second before he continues, “I’ll do it myself.”

Izzy manages to contain his delight. Finally. Finally, they’re getting off this cursed clown show of a pirate ship. Finally, they can put Stede fucking Bonnet and this entire fucking nightmare behind him, and Edward can grow out his beard again, and they’ll be back to wrecking shop on every ship in their path like they used to.

He looks up and catches the eye of the Spriggs boy, who gives him a smirk and a flirty little wave. Izzy shudders and returns his gaze to the ocean. Safer that way. He’ll be off this ship soon enough. 

Good fucking riddance. 

“Do we think they’ll get back together?” Lucius asks, idly sketching in his book.

The crew is, once again, sprawled in the rec room, Oluwande doing his best to run a productive meeting. As usual, they’ve accomplished a sum total of absolutely nothing. “Who?” Oluwande asks.

Lucius frowns at him. “Um…Captain and Blackbeard.”

Frenchie peers over Lucius’s shoulder. “What exactly are you drawing?”

“Blackbeard.” At Frenchie’s puzzled look, he rolls his eyes. “The goat. I’m not finished yet, obviously.” 

Wee John points at the paper. “That bit there looks kinda like a sheep, doesn’t it?” 

“What the hell’s the difference?” Lucius demands.

“One of them has horns, I think,” Frenchie chimes in. “The other one doesn’t.”

“Which one has horns?” Roach asks.

“I don’t know. Sheep?”

“No,” Wee John argues. “Obviously, it’s goats.”

Jim, across the room, lets out a frustrated noise. “Por el amor de Dios. Sheep and goats both have horns.”

“Then what is the difference?” the Swede asks, swivelling his head between Jim and Frenchie. 

Lucius shrugs and resumes sketching. “I don’t know. Doesn’t matter. Blackbeard didn’t have horns.” 

“The person?” Frenchie asks. 

“The goat. 

“Can we backtrack?” Oluwande interrupts. “When were Captain and Blackbeard together, exactly?” 

“Literally the entire fucking time before the English showed up," Lucius says. "How did none of you see it?"

“I think we would have noticed,” Roach says doubtfully.

Black Pete shakes his head. “We definitely would have noticed.”

“Fine.” Lucius snaps his book shut. “Don’t believe me. But everyone owes me five bucks when I get proof.” 

“I’m not giving you five bucks,” Wee John says. “But I still want to see the proof.” 

Stashing a few things in Stede’s secret closet seemed a good idea at the time, but Ed runs the risk of having to interact with Stede to retrieve them. A sub-optimal situation. He debates leaving them behind, but decides it’s too much of a chicken shit move. 

He’s Blackbeard, for fuck’s sake. He’s not avoiding Stede because he’s scared of him. He’s just mad. And he feels like a bit of an idiot. 

He knows Izzy has been racking his brains trying to figure out precisely why they’ve stayed aboard this ship when it seems that everything between him and Stede is over. For the past week, Ed hasn’t been entirely certain himself why he keeps insisting that they stay. Why it seems utterly unbearable to abandon the possibility of life aboard the Revenge forever.

No. He knows why. He can lie to Izzy, but he can’t lie to himself.

He can’t so easily forget the day he heard that Stede Bonnet was dead. 

It had been about two weeks ago. Having abandoned almost the entire crew, he’d instructed those who remained that they were to make a stop wherever was closest in hopes of finding some new recruits. Barbados happened to be nearby, and Ed had felt a twinge in his chest at the prospect. He’d wondered—just briefly, before he quashed the thought—about the possibility of running into Stede.

And then what? he’d wondered to himself. And then we have a dramatic reunion and run into each other’s arms? And then he sweeps me off my feet and kisses me? He left me. He’s gone. 

When they landed in Barbados, Edward had been in a foul mood from the moment the anchor dropped, and it had gotten steadily worse every moment they stayed. He had no proof that Stede had returned to Barbados, yet he expected to see him around every corner. Every time Ed’s gaze landed on a flash of golden hair in the sun, his heart would contract painfully in his chest, and he’d have to pause for a moment to regain his breath. And it was always, always accompanied by that swooping feeling of disappointment. Not him. Not Stede. Never Stede. 

Not that he was looking for Stede. 

(In retrospect, he had never stopped looking for Stede.) (And look at him now, trying to be anywhere that Stede isn’t.) 

It had all been really fucking awful. He tried his best to keep his focus, to not let Izzy see what was on his mind. All it ever really took to shake Izzy’s suspicion was a few growled words here and there, a bit of paint smeared around his eyes and a murderous expression. It was easy to fake. Any outward display of aggression, and he could be left alone with his thoughts for a while. Most of them about Stede. 

When he heard the name spoken out loud, his first thought was that somehow, someone had read his mind. He had started, almost guiltily, and whirled in the direction of the voice. 

“Oh, yes, Mary is just devastated,” the woman was saying. She wore a large black ornamental eyepatch, her hair in blond ringlets arranged impeccably around it, and she was smoking languidly. “Stede shows up for one week, causes a fuss at her art show, tries to apologize, and then dies. Can you blame the woman? Though I’d have killed him myself if I were her.” 

“He died?” the other woman replied in hushed tones. “Of what?”

The eyepatch woman waved her cigarette importantly. “You haven’t heard the story? Stede Bonnet was in a fight with a leopard—”

“He was eaten by a leopard?

Izzy was staring hard at Ed, then, but he couldn’t tear his attention away. He knew that Fang and Ivan had noticed as well, but he forgot for a moment that Stede was supposed to be dead to him anyway, that he’d thrown him and any reminder of him away. 

The world was crumbling under his feet. He became aware of his breathing. Too shallow. Not enough air. There wasn’t enough air in the world. Somehow, the taste of marmalade sat heavy on his tongue.

“No, he survived that,” the eyepatch woman said. “Only to be immediately run over by a carriage.”

That time, Izzy was paying attention too. “Run over by a carriage?” Ed heard him scoff quietly. “Fitting.”

“And then squashed by a piano!” she added. “Fell right out of the air and landed on his body. No chance of living through that, really. My son burned the corpse himself.” 

Fang inhaled sharply. Ivan winced, glancing over at Ed. He knew what they were expecting—for him to snap. Kill the eyepatch woman, and maybe her friend, too. Throw a fit of rage. 

He felt the urge to, his fingers twitching toward his knife. He could wipe out everyone around him in less time than it would take for them to scream. He was going to do it.

Inexplicably, an image of Stede’s face swam to the forefront of his mind. His elated smile as Ed had dragged himself from the sea and onto the Revenge. The touch of his shoe against Ed’s boot as they lay facedown on the deck, the sun burning high overhead, their lives as they knew them over. Ed couldn’t find it in himself to care. Nothing mattered to him, really, but the safety of the man next to him. It took only a heartbeat to sign his future away.

It seemed unthinkable, a world without Stede. Like the sun setting for the last time. The idea that he was just gone was inconceivable. A weight dropped into Ed’s stomach. He lowered his hand from the knife.

When they boarded the ship again, Ed took the wheel personally and steered them directly back to the island. He wasn’t sure why. Something in him wanted to memorialize Stede, he guesses now, if with no other honour than not killing his entire crew.

But when he got there, they had vanished. There was no trace that any of them had ever been there in the first place. 

Then just a week ago, while they drifted, a small dinghy had rowed up to them and the entire crew had unceremoniously climbed aboard. Lucius was first, giving Ed the dirtiest look he could muster. Edward still isn’t sure how the scribe managed to survive, and he’s not sure he cares enough to ask. The rest of the crew followed quickly thereafter—Oluwande, frantic to reunite with Jim; Wee John, searching the faces around him for Frenchie; Buttons, scanning the skies for Olivia the seagull.

Ed had exhaled, feeling the horrible weight in his chest, compacting his lungs into cement. “Stede…” he’d said, dreading the sorrow of the crew. Dealing with his own pain was enough of a toil. “He…um…”

“Oh, he’s right behind me,” Roach said, gesturing over the side. “He’ll be up in a minute.” 

Ed’s throat had closed abruptly. It can't be. 

And then Stede appeared, like a manifestation of everything he had ever wanted. Hair slicked back, wearing the most commonplace cotton shirt that Ed had ever seen him in. A bit sunburned, the lines on his face etched more deeply than usual. He didn’t even look like Stede, not really. Edward had wondered if he was seeing a ghost. He would have almost believed it, if not for the look of contempt on Izzy’s face. Only one person in the world could elicit that much hatred from his first mate. 

Stede had stepped toward Ed, something bright like hope on his face. And after grieving him for a week, Ed had nothing left. 

He had turned away. Relinquished the ship. Ordered his crew to follow Stede’s command. Sequestered himself in his cabin. 

He’d been miserable ever since.

He pushes open the door to Stede’s room, glad that it appears to be empty. Maybe he is a bit of a coward, planning to sneak off the ship before Stede can find him and confront him for leaving without saying goodbye. Or even hello, for that matter. But Stede didn’t say goodbye either, so he feels like he’s earned this. Why do we keep leaving each other?

He doesn’t have time to think about it. He’s busy breaking into Stede’s secret closet. Izzy’s probably gleefully gathering Ivan and Fang, stocking the dinghy with enough rations to get them out of here. Somewhere far away from Stede Bonnet. 

Stede Bonnet, he’s thinking, just as he pulls the lever to the door and comes face-to-face with the man who never leaves his mind. 

Damn. So much for sneaking around. 

Stede doesn’t seem to have been expecting to see him, either. There’s a long moment where they both stare at each other, their eyes meeting for the first time since their kiss on the beach, and the memory comes crashing down on Ed, crumbling all his defenses into dust.

He’s not sure if he still wants to leave. If he still can.

“I wanted to tell you something,” Stede says finally. A little hesitantly. “I don’t know if you heard, but I, ah, faked my death.”

He looks proud of himself, Ed thinks. To be honest, he is a little impressed. “I did hear,” he says gruffly. “I was fooled.” 

Stede looks stricken. “I never meant for you to think that, Ed. I only did it to leave Mary with her life intact. That way, she could have everything—all my land, my wealth, Doug—”

“Who the fuck is Doug?” Ed interrupts.

Stede smiles wryly. “Her new boyfriend. It appears that I’m easily replaced.” 

“You’re not,” Ed says immediately. 

It’s true, but he hadn’t meant to say it. He’s still furious. He needs Stede to know that. He needs Stede to know that he can’t just come wandering back aboard like nothing ever happened. Like Ed didn’t spend a week hating him, and then a week thinking he was dead, and then a week wishing none of it had ever happened. 

“Well,” Stede says lightly, and it’s really hard for Ed to stay angry when he has that look on his face. That small smile. “Thank you for saying that.”

They stand in silence for another moment before Ed clears his throat, sliding past Stede to locate his box. “I’m just grabbing some stuff I left in here.”

“Right.” Stede watches him root around for a moment. “Are you…leaving, then?”

“Yup,” Ed says tonelessly, sticking his head in a box. Damn. Not his. He’s terrible at remembering where he left things. He’s sure there’s a word for his brand of disorganization, but maybe it just hasn’t been invented yet. 

The silence stretches and grows until Ed thinks it might just engulf them both. He doesn’t stop searching, but he can feel Stede’s eyes on his back. It makes him insane. He never wants it to end. He wants Stede to look at him that way forever—that quiet uncertainty, the way he seems to be waiting for Ed to turn around and come back to him without wanting to ask for it. 

But Ed isn’t going to make this easy for him. Not this time. He’s going to have to ask for it. And he does, with a soft, “Don’t.” 

Ed finally locates his box, but he sets it down and rises from his crouch on the floor. “Why not?”

“Because I love you,” Stede says. Plainly. Simply. With that utter, magnetizing brutal honesty and vulnerability that drew Ed to him in the first place.

He is so fucked. He might as well just toss the box overboard. He’s never leaving.

But he’s still mad.  “You never said a word!” he says angrily, turning to look Stede directly in the eyes. “You just vanished, Stede! Left me on that dock with a stolen dinghy, thinking we were going to run off together! What was I supposed to think?”

Stede winces. “I sort of have a habit of that, don’t I? I probably could have handled that better.”

“D’you think?”

“Yes,” he says. Again, what twists in Ed’s chest is the raw sincerity in his voice. “I’m sorry, Ed. I’m so very sorry. I misjudged the right course of action tremendously…and I hurt you. I never wanted to hurt you. I faked my death to come back to you.” 

"Stede," he says, "you—"

"Please don't leave," Stede says urgently, and he reaches for Ed's hand, gripping it like a lifeline. "Stay here. Please." 

Like water on a fire, all his rage goes up in mist. 

He remembers when he used to burn rope under his hat as a scare tactic. It was hot, and it itched, and sometimes it felt like pieces of him were going up in smoke. Like he lost a little of himself every time someone looked at him, their face a mask of fear, and he saw the horror of what he was reflected in their eyes.

This is the opposite, he thinks. Looking at Stede and seeing a reflection of someone worth apologizing to. Worth being loved. His anger dissipates in the wind blowing in off the sea. 

He doesn’t know what to say now. Because he’s never had anyone to give a second chance to. And he wants this, so desperately it’s almost tangible. He wants a chance with Stede. He wants the possibility of someday running away with him. After everything, he’d still do anything for that hope.

Not yet, though. They should probably try being co-captains first. 

Stede’s eyes widen suddenly, pulling out a familiar scrap of red silk. “I forgot,” he says. “I, um, found this floating by while I was rowing, and I wondered if by chance you…lost yours.”

Ed swallows. “I did.”

Slowly, Stede unfolds it and brings it to Ed’s face, very carefully wiping away the dark paint around his eyes. He’s tense, unused to being touched like this—gently, delicately, as if he’s a thing to be handled with care. 

It’s not as hard as he thought it would be. He suspects it’ll only get easier with time.

When Stede finally steps back, he’s wearing that smile again, the one that lights up his eyes and makes Ed remember why he signed his life away for him. “There,” he says decisively. “There you are.”

They’re sitting in the rec room, Jim expertly dealing a round of cards, when Lucius walks in, looking equal parts abashed and triumphant. “Pay up,” he announces. 

Wee John looks suspicious. “Why should we believe you?”

Lucius shrugs. “You can go see for yourself, if you like. They’re out on the stern.” 

Everyone scrambles to their feet, following Lucius outside. He shushes them as they parade down the hall and up to the deck, intent on seeing this reunion for themselves. 

And it certainly is a reunion—their two captains, silhouetted by the sunset, lips unmistakably locked, the fierce and terrifying Blackbeard unrestrainedly kissing the Gentleman Pirate with such ferocity that Lucius wonders if they’re permanently fused together now. He knows they’ve waited a long time for this, but really.

“Fucking finally,” Black Pete remarks. 

Lucius elbows him. “You said you didn’t believe it!” 

“I believed it in my head.

“Hey!” They all swivel as Izzy emerges onto the deck, carrying a bag clearly intended for travelling. “Has anyone seen Blackbeard?”

Wee John snickers and points. Izzy’s mouth drops open slightly, his face mottling to a shade of red that reminds Lucius of a particularly ripe crop of tomatoes he noticed while they were treasure-hunting in St. Augustine. He looks absolutely livid. Lucius is maybe enjoying this more than he should be.

Behind him, Roach chortles. “Should I make him another sandwich?”

Izzy finally tears his eyes away from Stede and Blackbeard, who, astonishingly, have not turned their attention away from each other for a second. “What the fuck are you looking at?” he bellows. “Get back to fucking work!”

Swearing under his breath, he stomps belowdecks. The crew watches him go, everyone doing their best to hide a grin. 

“Shouldn’t you be documenting this?” Oluwande asks, gesturing to Stede and Blackbeard. “For history, and all that?”

Lucius considers. “Nah,” he finally says, tapping his quill against his chin. The sun hits the perfect angle in the evening sky, turning the air and sea around them to coppery gold. “I think it would be funnier to let people think they were just friends.”