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Faded Ink and Frayed Pages Make a Man Weary, Dreary and Weak

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Stede didn’t know what to do with bones. He had a bag of them now in his bedroom, soggy algae covered bones with a shattered collarbone and a damp flag. Or he did. Of course, they were dry now. He stared down at the bag he was holding by the tips of his fingers, peering through the flap into the pile. They were emitting a rotten sort of smell now, and it was clogging up the closet he’d tucked them in, so today he’d pulled them down to inspect. It made sense, of course. Algae was plant life, and currently it was dying plant life. He gingerly tied the top and clipped it to a coat hanger. Well, he had a library. There had to be a book in here about preserving bones. It wasn’t like he could display them, or he’d get questions and that would possibly scare some children.

He wiped his hands off on a rag from the kitchenette, and trekked up to the second floor where he kept all the instructional books. Stede traced his fingers along the spines, muttering the titles to himself as he moved down the row. There were books on cleaning and baking and everything you could think of. But nothing on bones. Stede sighed. Of course. The one time he needs a book, it’s one he doesn’t have. In retrospect, why would he have one? He bought books only if they were useful or if he had some sort of interest in them. Stede did have a vast array of interests to be fair, but he’d never been interested in bones.

“Are ye lookin to cleanse his bones?”

Stede jumped and spun around. “Mister Buttons! You nearly gave me a heart attack!” He clutched his breast as if to steady his rapidly beating heart. The man stood behind him, arms stuck to his sides and Karl perched on his shoulder, staring at him with an unblinking eye. “Yes. I am.” He paused. “But not like that! I want to physically clean them.” Buttons had been the one to try and get rid of Ed, he had to remind himself. No doubt the kind of cleansing he meant.

“I figured.” The faintest impression of a frown pulled at Buttons expression, but was quickly smoothed over. “Yew’ll be wantin to get something gentle. Tha’rs some old marrow.” Buttons crossed his arms. “And don’t use nothin bristly to scratch any o’ it off. Just a wash cloth’ll do.”

“…Mister Buttons, how do you know all this?”

“Me pa was a mortician. Dealt with anythin from full bodies to bones.” He stared off solemnly. “He were haunted by those he prepped, ya see? Everythin had to be just right or they’d never depart.”

“Oh…” Stede cleared his throat. He pondered for a second. He’d never done much to properly get to know Buttons, after he’d tried to protect him. It wasn’t needed, but his intentions were good. Stede was on such good terms with Lucius, Pete, Jim and Olu, and while he’d just let John come on he’d known him for some time. Buttons had been here the third longest. And he’d made no attempt. “…would you like to come to town with me? So I don’t pick out something that’ll damage him.”

Buttons looked up. “Are ye keen to it?”

“Yes.”

He nodded once, then followed Stede down the steps again. There was a faintly warm tone to him now.

Stede stopped to inform Olu where they were headed and the two piled into his car, riding quietly into town. As they passed by the book store, Buttons spoke again. “Do ye know why I came to protect ya?”

“I never really thought about it, no.” He’d thought about it constantly. Ever since Buttons confirmed he knew about Ed and he was actively trying to get rid of him.

Buttons stroked Karl’s neck thoughtfully. “I were told I would find something there. Don’t know what.”

Stede turned them round a corner. He was confident if he asked who told him, he’d say Karl, so he skipped onto the more pressing inquiry. “Is that why you tried to get rid of Ed?”

“Aye. Couldn’t tell what made the funk round the place. Assumed wrong.”

“How do you know all this?” Stede’s eyes flicked up to the mirror, where he could catch Buttons scratching the top of his crow’s head. The idea of something beyond his understanding wasn’t that crazy anymore. He’d been through some weird mental flashback that Ed still refrained from talking about, and there was an entire ghost in his library. “And… do you really understand Karl?”

Buttons flashed the first trace of a grin he’d seen on him. “Course I do, he’s a real talker this one ‘ere.” He ruffled the top of Karl’s head. “Been around a lot o things, Cap’in. Know a lot o’ things. You learn to pick up on it after a while.”

Stede knit his brow together. That wasn’t much of an answer. He sighed. “I see.” He tapped his fingers on the wheel, rolling the info about in his brain for a time. They pulled up to the store, and he rolled them into a parking space. “You said Karl told you to come…” Stede wasn’t sure what question he was trying to ask. Maybe why he came, maybe why a bird would want him to come, maybe if he thought there was some reason behind the whole thing.

“…I think he knew I were lonely. And you had room.” Buttons pushed the door open and stepped out without further elaboration.

Stede watched him go, then slid out. He followed Buttons up to the grocery, and they made a b line for the cleaning products. He stood back as the bird man walked down the isle and then back up, lips pursed as he perused the selection. Without any indication as to what system he was going by, Buttons reached out and snagged one. “This’ll do ya good.”

The box was some brand he’d never heard of before, with the standard pictures of bubbles and bold font decorating the packaging. It was some sort of dish washing powder, and the badge printed on the front said ‘extra strength’.

“I thought you said something gentle.”

“Tis. Just add a li’l bit to some water and let it soak.”

Stede paused. “But he just got dry-“

“Another day won’t kill ‘im.” Karl seemed to squawk in agreement, and Stede sighed.

“I supposed.” He tapped his finger on the cardboard. “Thank you, Mister Buttons.” Stede scanned the selection, and figured he should grab one of those extra soft washcloths too. He pulled one from the shelves. “Is this all I need?”

Buttons nodded. “Figure you got some sort’a container yew can use.” He turned. “And ye don’t have’t keep callin me ‘mister’.”

He meandered up to the checkout counter. “Right. Sorry.” Stede let the man at the counter handle his purchases and he counted out the money, moving them quickly out of the store. He slipped the bag into the back of the car. “It’s been rather a while since I’ve simply taken a nice stroll through town. Would you indulge me?”

Buttons shrugged a little, then tilted his head up as Karl took flight, following the two from the heights of the clouds. Stede began to lead them on a small jaunt around the area, stopping in a park area where a couple dogs sprinted up to greet them. They walked in a circle, settled in a comfortable silence, before Stede stopped in front of the store they’d passed while driving in. It was the bookstore. He’d never stepped foot in there, although now he was curious. Through the window, he could see some of the men who had come to the art showing, one that Lucius had sketched and the other who’d been admiring some of Mary’s more rural themed paintings. Stede scanned over the interior, noting the slight lack of books stocking the shelves, but then a particular book grabbed his attention. It was a lightly used book on the history of pirates in the area. 

And being who he was, Stede needed to get it. Not because he didn’t know the history, but because it wasn’t one he’d seen before. He pulled the door open and tried to stroll casually through, like he wasn’t going directly for another book on pirates to add to his already huge collection. The two at the counter raised their heads at the small ding of the shop bell dangling above the door, eyes boring into him as Stede nervously peered over his shoulder to wave. He hated being the only person pursuing a shop; it made him feel like he was infringing on the workers time. He waved nervously.

The man with a thin strip of fabric around his brow lifted his head. “Oh! Librarian guy,” his disposition flipped from cold and distant to sunny in an instant, “hello. What’d you need? You got a whole library, don’t you?” The other man to his left also shifted from tense to relaxed. Confusing. He hadn’t been aware they were on good terms, not that he’d complain.

“Oh, uh,” Stede’s eyes skirted to Buttons who had decided to stay outside since Karl was still flying overhead, “I don’t have every book, so…” he cleared his throat and nabbed the wrinkled paper from the shelf.

“Ooooh.” The man nodded. “Lucius said you had a thing for pirates.”

Stede clutched the book in his hands, eyes moving from man to man. “Maybe, a bit of one.” Of course, his crew would have friends outside of the ones who worked there, but maybe he was a bit… surprised? Maybe it was the link with books.

The door behind the counter slammed open, causing all three of them to flinch, but only Stede craned his neck to see the new arrival. 

“Is that Fucking Bonnet in my establishment?” A thin agitated voice scratched behind the two at the counter, who went rigid and shifted their gaze away almost guiltily. He’d only heard the voice once before, but the uniqueness was identifiable.

Stede stepped back hurriedly. Well, he hadn’t thought about the man who apparently was planning to hurt him for a day or so, of course the universe would push them back into the same room. The wound spring of a man strode forward from behind the counter. Izzy snatched the book out of his hands. “Get out of my store.”

“I don’t-“

“Out.”

He considered this action rather rude. Although, with everything he now knew, perhaps it made sense. Stede frowned. “I just want to buy a book. Is that not what this business is for?”

“You’ve a whole bloody library, what do you need with…” Izzy peered down at the book and scoffed, although he could see his eye twinge.  “ Another pirate book?” He growled the words almost, stuffing the book back down onto the shelf and stalking forward, causing Stede to start to back up through the shelves. Over his head, he could see the two men at the counter doing anything but watching what was happening. He realized, very suddenly, he’d just walked into the place of business where everyone could kill him. Izzy glowered up at him with the sharpened eyes of a wildcat ready to pounce. “Don’t you have enough to keep yourself occupied ?”

Stede felt his back press into the metal of one of the shelves. He knew, by the bubbling rage tossed and flickered behind his eyes, that he was referring almost exclusively to Edward. And if he looked closer, he swore he saw something akin to jealousy. Stede’s eyes trailed back up to the door. “Maybe.” A spur of spite dug down into his chest. He hadn’t done anything wrong. He’d just bought a building. Maybe if this man was so concerned about losing said building, he shouldn’t have put it on the market. “But it’s not like you would know, Iggy .”

The men behind the counter stopped, and looked up. Maybe he should have just been nice and excused himself. It would have made things so much easier. But when had a member of the Bonnet family ever gone the easy way? The short man squared his shoulders up and took another step forward. “Oh, I know a lot of things, Mister Bonnet. I know a lot about you, and your lovely little ex wife, your kids. And I know all about that little place you call home. And I know… everything about that man you’ve decided is yours.” His voice was low, rumbling like the rolling warning of thunder over the ocean.

Stede was never one to heed those warnings, and he certainly wasn’t about to start now.  “Maybe you didn’t know him as well as you thought.” At the art show, there had been plenty of people compressing them in, too many eyes for him to reasonably be hurt. But this was different. The only witnesses were these two men who were staring at him like he’d put his bare leg into a hole full of snakes. Buttons was… where was he? He’d been at the window mere moments before. “Now, if you’ll excuse me-“

“I’ve known him for years. If you think you can swoop in, make a mess of things, and leave; you’re wrong.” Izzy bore down, the shelf starting to bite into his spine as he leaned back. 

Stede met his eyes, but there was nothing. He huffed. “I’m not making a mess of things.” He grit his teeth.

“If you don’t leave town, I’ll find your little tykes, and their innards’ll be strung up in the town square for all to see.” Izzy had fully crowded Stede’s space now, and a cold chill passed up his spine. There was some terror there. Maybe he wasn’t the best father, but his kids…

They were disturbed by the bell to the shop dinging gently. Izzy took a large step back, turning on his heels towards the counter. Buttons stood there, looking… well, not incredibly different than normal, but there was a sinister air to him. He didn’t move as Izzy tried to walk past him.

“…out of the fuckin way.”

Buttons replied in a language Stede had never heard before, in a low hiss that he could barely hear. Then he stepped around the small man. “Ready to go, cap’in?”

Stede cleared his throat and nodded. The two men behind the counter had gone back to minding their own business, and Izzy had disappeared into the back room.

They didn’t exactly hightail it out of there, but they left in quite a hurry.