Actions

Work Header

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

Chapter Text

Stede pushed open the door with a grunt of effort and a squeal of hinges. A long cobweb fought the losing battle to stay together and fluttered down against his ear, drawing a yelp from him as he batted it away. The light shone across the dust coated floors, all the way up the authentic oak shelves obscured with even more dust, and to the half collapsed chandelier in the center of the room. So. It was a bit of a fixer upper. 

It was perfect

 

Stede had been divorced for about a year when he’d first gotten the idea to purchase a library. More specifically, his ex wife Mary had suggested it, and he’d practically hit himself with how obvious it was. He basically already owned one, it just wasn’t public. But Stede Bonnet couldn’t go about purchasing a normal old library, no. He wanted something big. Fanciful. With history. And near the ocean. 

He strode proudly into his new purchase, assessing just what had made it so cheap. Broken boards marred the beautifully lacquered floor, half the shelves were collapsed or splitting at the seams, and the furniture- broken or otherwise- was all stacked at one end of the room. Cobwebs and dead bugs speckled everything he could see. Stede nodded solemnly to himself. “Well, Bonnet. You picked a good one.” He needed to list out what to do. Everything was so much easier when he had a plan. He smacked his hands together to get the collecting dust off, and turned back to the ornate double doors he’d left open to get some light. 

He nabbed a piece of paper from his car. Best to mark everything down first and then make a route through it. A crisp autumn wind curled around his neck as he stepped back towards the doors, and they started to swing before slamming hard. Stede jumped. He’d seen it happen, but still flinched. Such a reaction was only natural, yes? Loud sounds and the sort. He walked back up the steps and tried the handle, grunting when it stuck. “What?” Was it locked? Maybe the door was busted; it had been a rather hard slam. Stede tried again before gruffing, and on some bizarre instinct, knocked. “Hello? Can I come back in please?” He tapped his foot angrily. He wasn’t sure who he was talking to, maybe the lock that had possibly engaged. The handle opened on another try. Perhaps there was someone in here after all. Or maybe he was just a bit odd. He was the kind of man to apologize to mannequins and thanked machines for working. Who could say? 

Stede checked the dust for footprints, but only his tracked through it. Must just be the door acting odd. He twirled the pencil between his fingers as he stepped through towards the broken bits. The ground level needed the floor patched up, shelf repair, new furniture, a good dusting and overall clean. A couple window panes needed replacing, along with the chandeliers in dire need of repair, but nothing he couldn’t handle. He listed these off, then paused at the wall. A large painting hung over the ash filled fireplace. The figure brushed into the frame was imposing, arms stretched wide with a sword in one hand and the other reaching for a gun, and a large mop of hair obscuring the man’s face. Right. The entire reason he bought this particular library. Supposedly, Blackbeard- the dread pirate Blackbeard had holed up here while on the run. He’d drowned off this very coast, in fact! It hadn’t been a library then, but after his death it had been dedicated to him. This painting was extremely well preserved, all things considered. The paint was cracking, and a hole was worn through the canvas near the side, but nothing an expert restorationist couldn’t fix! Stede wrote that on a different portion of the paper, as more of a personal project.

The second floor looked better off than the ground, but it was still under disrepair. Similarly cracked window panes, dust and cobwebs, and broken shelves could all be done at the same time as the first floor. A couple smaller paintings needed restoring, but that was just another part of the personal project. The third floor needed roof repairs, and the expansive window overlooking the ocean was broken. The ghost of puddles darkened the wood under holes in the ceiling, and Stede hoped that was the extent of the damage it caused. He wasn’t renovating or anything, but water damage would really put a damper on his mood.

Stede tapped his pencil to the paper as he stood by the window, watching the rolling waves lap at the shore. Deep moody clouds hung heavy over the town, making the calm sea look poised and threatening. As if Poseidon would call down the heavens at any moment. He breathed out. “Storms coming.” He murmured. “Better block up the holes.”

-

The storm did indeed come. All he’d managed to do was toss a tarp over the broken window and hope the ceiling could keep out most of the water, if the damage to the floor was anything to go by. Stede found a small collection of rooms to the side that he could use as staff rooms, and currently hunched down in what he’d make a personal office (or maybe a bedroom). Someone had broken glass in here, but besides that and the dust, it was probably the room most put together. Rain and wind lashed the window something fierce as he pulled his coat tight over his shoulders; a crackle of thunder made him yelp. Stede never had been good with storms. Even as a child, when the first flash of lightning filled the windows, he would run and huddle under his blanket. His father never liked that. Said it was coward’s behavior. He wished he had a blanket to hide under now. The ocean’s fury could be heard through the walls, throwing sand and surf up against the hill. 

Another clap of thunder sent goosebumps rushing over his arms, and he pulled his coat tighter against his shivering body. The swaying and creaking of the library didn’t help matters much either. Every rolling boom sent a tinkling of the glass chandeliers through the halls, and bowing wood groaned in protest against harsh winds. Stede figured he’d have to get used to this; storms happened near the ocean, pretty often. Light probably would help such an occurrence. Once he got this place fixed up, storms would be little trouble. He’d have books to keep him company, and plenty of light and tea.

A series of clunks brought his attention to the propped open door. Something probably fell over. Or was rolling. That couldn’t be footsteps. Stede’s heart pittered faster against his chest as the sound approached his room, and he shrunk back. A shadow stretched into the room, and a figure filled the gap in the doorframe, heavy breathing shaking their shoulders.

“H-hello??” Stede pushed back across the floor. He probably looked pathetic. “I don’t have anything on me to steal! So don’t bother!” The door pushed open by a sopping arm, leaving a trail of drops on the wood.

Lightning illuminated the man through the window. All Stede caught was a mass of hair on his head and face, and deep brooding eyes boring into him. And leather, lots and lots of leather. The man took a step in. “Calm down, mate. I ain’t here to rob you.” Rough verbose notes rumbled through the room. “Just got caught in the storm.”

Stede ran his eyes from the figure to the trail of water. Oh bugger, he was right. How foolish he must seem! “Oh! Oh, my apologies.” He rushed to stand, smoothing his fancy coat out and walking over. “Nasty thing, that storm,” it almost sounded like he was scolding said storm, “I’m afraid I can’t offer much in the way of warmth. If I tried to light a fire, I’m worried I’d burn the house down with the soot caught in the chimney.” He laughed nervously, pulling the man in. “Goodness, you’re freezing!”

Indeed he was, his skin was positively frigid. The man blinked, then shrugged. “Oh, eh. Didn’t really notice.” He pulled some clinging strands of hair from his face as he made his way over to the window. “Honest? I didn’t even think anyone else was here. You just come? Never seen you before.”

“Yes! I know the place isn’t the cleanest, I do apologize, but I’ll fix it up in no time!” Stede knew first impressions were everything, and he’d already squandered it by being afraid. He needed to present well now. “Do you live in town?”

The man had been examining the window curiously. “Something like that. What would you fixin’ this place look like?” 

Ahah! Interest! He just had to not over do it. “Just standard stuff, really. Replace the broken windows, patch up the roof and floor, sort through the broken furniture. I’m hoping to keep as much original material as possible! I’m pretty sure the chandeliers could be saved, along with a lot of the shelves.” Stede motioned around. “Everything needs a good clean, as you can tell. After I get everything functional, I’m thinking of a nautical theme? Oh, maybe that’s cheesy, but I have all these trinkets I can decorate the place with. I have something of an interest in pirates, which is why I was partial to buying this place. What with the history. You live here, you probably know it, but this place once housed Blackbeard!” He paused when he saw a scowl cross his guests face. “...I’m rambling. I apologize.”

The man looked surprised by him stopping. “Hm? Oh, no. Nah, it’s not you.” He shrugged. “Just, pirates ain’t my thing. But hey, it sounds good. Like you know what you’re doing.”

“I haven’t a clue, actually.” Stede moved closer to the window to watch the ocean with him. “I just had a bunch of books, and figured having a place to put them would be nice. I don’t use all of them all the time. Why not let others? I really didn’t expect it to be such a project.” He chuckled. “I don’t mind, though.” Silence settled over them, only disturbed by a crack of thunder. Stede wondered if he’d said something wrong again, but the man turned.

“I’m Ed, by the way.” The man was clearer now through the pane. He was pale, and the area around his eyes was a bit sunken. But he was beautiful. A mostly grey beard framed high cheekbones, and wavy black and grey hair cascaded down his back. A scar ran the length of his face, dark against his already deeply tanned skin. Ed also looked absolutely soaked as well. His clothes clung to his limbs and his hair hung limp and heavy with a slight shine. But he wasn’t shivering.

Stede was so caught up in staring that he almost missed his manners. “S- Stede.” He cleared his throat. “Stede Bonnet.” He offered his hand, but then lowered it quickly at the look he got. “You know, I’m not too familiar with the area. Do you think you could…?”

“Maybe.” Ed looked back to the window sharply. “Dunno. Can’t make any promises.”

His heart sank a little. He’d overdone it. Again. Stede nodded slowly and stepped back. “I’ll uh. Yeah.” They stayed in the room for what felt like forever, but eventually Ed stepped back. He still looked wet, which was weird, but maybe he just retained water.

“Storms clearin. I better-” He jerked his thumb to the side, moving to the door without waiting for a response. Stede had settled down on the floor by this point, and he looked up.

“Wait, Edward-” Stede hurried to the door where the man had turned, but when he looked around…

He was gone. Only the faint sound of water dripping remained in his wake. He gaped. Goodness. Ed must be fast. 

*

A couple weeks passed. Stede had managed to hire a couple people to repair the roof and windows- he needed to make sure the house wouldn’t flood first- and got to work on removing the furniture that was beyond repair. Mary called to check on his progress. They were lucky in that they weren’t bitter about the divorce. Both of them hated being married, but they made decent friends, Mary tethering Stede to the ground when he started having flights of fancy. He also didn’t mind Doug all that much. 

He’d also gotten himself somewhat familiarized with the town. The only other place with books was a small bookstore called Queen Anne’s Used and New Books , but the selection was sparse. Not that he was happy about that, but it meant he wasn’t just giving them something they already had. A couple people asked after the library, but after informing them where it was most excused themselves. Was the location that bad? Stede managed to snag the attention of a young man who seemed bored to death working in one of the two grocery stores located on opposite ends of town. His nametag said Lucius and he seemed completely flippant at first.

“No one’s going to want to go up there, you know?” He said as he bagged up his purchase of eggs.

“Pardon?”

“That library. People are scared of the place.” Lucius flicked open another bag. “This lots real superstitious.”

Stede hadn’t been expecting conversation, nor for him to know about the library. Although, maybe news spread fast. The funnily dressed guy at the library on the hill. “...Are you?” He wasn’t sure he wanted to know what the superstitions were, but it seemed like he’d be told regardless. Maybe not Lucius, but someone would.

The boy stared at him for a moment before huffing just slightly. “No. ‘M not. Just don’t like libraries.” The way his eyes started to wander suggested otherwise.

“Well, maybe you’ll like mine.” Stede grabbed a couple of his bags. He’d done this dance with his kids a few times. “I’m still working on the inside, but I do know I’ll need a few people to help run such a big space. You look at wits end down here, and I think you’ll enjoy the pay.” He smiled slyly. “Unless you’re scared too?”

“I see what you’re trying to do.” Lucius scoffed. “...But maybe I will. Just to make you regret inviting me.” He pushed the final bag of groceries over toward him while making some intense eye contact.

He just laughed. “Well, hope I see you there.” Stede loaded the cart and walked out. He’d been almost everywhere by now, and he had yet to run into that mysterious Ed again. Maybe he lived just outside of town; he did say ‘something like that’ when asked if he lived here. That wasn’t a resounding yes. He hoped he would run into him again, even if just to apologize for how he acted upon their meeting. If he felt brave, maybe he’d invite him to check out the library, no matter the state of it. There were huge improvements already, and he was itching to show them off. Stede loaded up his car and drove back to the library.

-

The people working on the roof had also offered to help with the floors, which he’d gladly accepted. They’d gotten the electricity running, and Stede had set up his living space by this point. The workers were used to him popping in and out by now, and he’d even managed to get on speaking terms with a few. 

A large man the others called ‘Wee’ John was hauling the broken boards out as he drove up. He tossed them into the pile they were collecting. He looked up. “Almost done with the broken ones, boss.” He motioned towards the heap. “Should be able to put down new ones this week.” 

“Perfect! Thank you, John!”

John hesitated before sighing. “You know, they say this place is haunted.” He turned back to Stede. “It’s why there’s only a couple of us here willin to work on the old thing. And why it’s takin so long.”

“Oh.” There it is. He figured it was something of the sort, a ghost or a monster lurking around the building. Stede almost scoffed, but that would be rude. “Well. I don’t mind. I’ll pay you for any overtime. You and your men just make sure it’s done proper.” Wee John nodded, but he was still hesitating. It seemed everyone was scared of the house, whether they said it or not. He could work with it though. “Hey, if I were a ghost. I wouldn’t want to live in a house that’s falling apart. So I like to think if there is someone… haunting the place, they’d be alright with us doing some upkeep.”

This gave the man some pause. He scanned over Stede for a moment before a smile tried to quirk at his lips. “...I s’pose.” He pulled out a small notepad and jotted down some numbers. “We should be done innnn… ‘bout a week? Give or take.” John nodded his head at the car. “Need help with those?”

“Oh? I wouldn’t want to trouble you with it.” Stede smiled as he popped the trunk. Maybe they were indeed a superstitious lot, but they were friendly.

John crinkled his nose. “You ain’t gotta worry about me charging you, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s just bein nice.” 

Stede flushed. “Oh, no ah-” He had somewhat been thinking about it. To save himself from sticking his foot even further down his throat, he just gestured him over. As he grabbed the bags, he lifted his head back to the house. Through the large window on the third floor, a form stood, arms folded behind its back and obscured by the shadows traipsing the property. When their eyes (he assumed) met, it raised an arm to wave at him. Stede blinked, flicking his wrist to wave back. Someone clattered some boards, causing him to jump and snap his head over.

When he looked back, they were gone.

Chapter Text

The floor took more than a week. They’d just started to clean up when one of the more broken shelves came crashing down on some poor worker’s head. Stede paid the hospital bills readily, and the crew working became very skittish about coming after that. Only Wee John and another person named Jim showed up to gather the remaining material. He apologized profusely for the trouble, as much as John said he didn’t need to. Jim was a quiet person, only tossing a few words at Stede throughout the entire interaction, and they worked fairly quickly. They also brought some decadent marmalade, which they said their nana made when he managed to guilt them into some conversation.

The shelves were next on his to do list, seeing they were a hazard to anyone who walked near them. Stede wasn’t entirely sure how to go about moving them, or repairing them, but after a call or two he got some people working. He set about his own work of picking out furniture and cleaning out the smaller areas that he could get to. The place was really starting to come together. The first room on the right he’d decided to make into a staff break room of sorts, with a small pseudo kitchen area for people to heat food, and store lunches. It also acted as his own kitchen in that regard.

Now, the library was empty save for him. The expansive rooms felt lifeless without people bustling to and fro with tools and wood. Stede grabbed the broom he’d bought yesterday and started sweeping through the main room, stopping in the middle to stare up at the imposing painting of Blackbeard. Maybe it was the beard, but his mind wandered back to Ed. He hadn’t seen him since that storm, and he was starting to wonder if perhaps he’d just imagined it all. Not that he’d been under any sort of duress during that time. It was just a thought. Stede turned back to his sweeping, moving through the shelves. Around everything, there were these… little water puddles. He’d been finding them every now and again, but this was getting ridiculous. It couldn’t be the roof, they’d just patched that, so what was going on?

Stede would worry about it later. He finished sweeping the rest of the room with a crick in his brow, and just got the dust in the pan when he heard a small rumble. Another storm, almost a month after the first. This time it would be different though. He had lights, he had blankets and tea. It would be fine. 

-

It wasn’t fine. The power cut out during the first hour, and he’d not even made his tea yet. Stede did however have a blanket, and a room of his own trinkets to calm down in. So it was better. Not great. But better. He threw the covers over his head when there were bad claps of thunder, though.

He got through three novels by candlelight when the creeping footsteps and the wave of deja vu reached him. And then it passed by. The footsteps, that is, not the deja vu. Stede lifted his head and pulled off his reading glasses. “Hello?” Had someone else gotten caught in the storm? Stede opened the door just in time to spot a wild head of hair turning down the hall. “Hey!” Dressed in nothing but loose linens and a thick cashmere robe, he hurried after the mysterious figure. Water droplets carved a path through the opening hall, and towards the mantle of the fireplace, which Stede readily followed.

The mop of hair turned around the edge of the staircase leading to the second floor as he ran. “Excuse me! Do you need hel-” His heel caught a particularly large blotch of water, and he flew back, cracking his head against the floor loudly. Pain splintered his vision and webbed through his skull. Stars danced in his eyes as he laid there, groaning and feeling the water soaking through his favorite robe. The portrait of Blackbeard glared down as his consciousness flickered. 

Then someone else with a beard was over him, talking, but it just sounded like noise buzzing about his brain. “...Ed…?” He managed to form the word through the cacophony of aching bones and frayed synapsis. The man over him nodded, and hands pulled him to his feet. Water seeped into his left side where Ed supported him, and began walking him back to the bedroom he’d just ran from. Pieces weren’t fitting together properly, and the blink of unconsciousness was trying to pull him back. Stede lulled his head into the smell of the ocean and tobacco wafting from Ed’s leather. “Someone’s… n library…”

“I know, mate.”

He blinked, and found himself reclined in his bed with a couple fresh candles burning on the table beside him. Stede’s vision came into focus with a wave of nausea. His head was positively pounding. “...Ed?-” He tried to lift himself up only to be met with another wave.

“M right here, mate, don’t hurt yourself again.” A cold hand pressed to his chest, lowering him back down. “Took quite a tumble there, you did.” Ed hovered over him with a slight frown. “Lucky you didn’t crack your skull open like an egg.” 

Stede shuddered at the description. “Well, I’ve taken a fall or two in my time.” He could see Ed better in this light. He was still… soaked. Completely water logged. “...Did you get caught in the storm again?”

“Mm? Oh, yeah. Bit of a bitch ain’t it? They just sneak up on you like that.” Edward shook his head, throwing a couple water droplets onto the duvet.

“O…kay.” He could take a guess that it didn’t really work like that. There had been maybe an hour between the first rumble and the first drop. Stede felt around the area of his head that throbbed the worst for any blood, but came up empty. “So, is this how this is going to go? You’re only going to show up when it storms?”

Ed stared over him for a moment. “...no?” He leaned away from him, getting that same tone when he’d left before. “I just- you know. Libraries. And uh. Haunted building.” 

Stede knew shaky ground when it spoke to him, and nodded. “Alright. I’d love to see more of you, if that’s at all possible?” He knew he should have worded it better as the color danced over his cheeks, but he’d ignore it for now.

“We’ll see, mate.” The damp man didn’t question his wording, only moving towards the door. “Don’t like to-“

“Oh, do please stay.” He whined like a petulant child, but he figured the head injury gave him some wiggle room to be alright with doing it. Stede’s vision tried swimming away with him, but he forced himself to focus on Ed, who hesitated where he stood.

They stayed like that for a moment, Edward halfway to the door with a growing puddle under him, and Stede half raised on his elbows staring up. Ed sighed softly, his shoulders hunching forward with a resigned nod. “Alright, alright. But I’m gonna get your fancy shit all wet.”

“I don’t mind, truly.” Stede nearly vomited trying to sit up, but managed to move a pillow under the small of his back. “It’s just a bit of water, it’ll dry.”

Ed murmured something under his breath, and found a chair to collapse into. He scanned around the room, eyes landing on each little trinket and bauble, and sunk down into the cushion. “You have a lot of things.” He picked up a golden whale paper weight, and flipped it about.

“Yeah. I was a bit of a hoarder when I was married. Mary hated it, since there were never any clean surfaces.” Stede chuckled. “I was the worst with books and clothes. Part of why I bought the library. There’s enough space for all my odds and ends here.” He relaxed down into the pillow as another stomach flipping pound of pain against his skull.

“I like them.” Edward put the paper weight back down. “All your fuckin, doohickeys. And your little basement room.” His shoulders tensed. “Not that I’ve seen it-”

If he hadn’t said anything, Stede really wouldn’t have noticed the slip up. He arched his brow as he scanned Ed from head to toe. “So you’ve seen it? When did you come back?”

“I uh- Just, a time when you were out. Week ago or something.”

This wouldn’t get him anywhere. He was a closed book, and no matter how much Stede pried, the cover remained shut. He let out an indignant huff.“You’re just a constant mystery, aren’t you?”

Ed’s beard twitched with a hidden grin, and he tilted his head back. “Keeps people guessing. Makes people curious but keeps em away.” He crossed his legs, and folded his hands against his chest, midnight eyes peering at him from the darkness. “Do you like a good mystery, librarian?”

The way the words played through his tone made Stede’s heart turn in somersaults, the endearing term thrown in at the end almost stifling the pain in his noggin. He stared over the half hidden form in front of him with appraising eyes. “I enjoy mysteries, as long as there’s a good payoff to the reveal.” His throat felt suddenly very dry. “Is your mystery well written?” Stede could feel exhaustion biting against his muscles, trying to weigh down on his chest.

“I’d like to think so.” Edward leaned forward in the chair. “Guess you’ll just have to find out.”

Stede’s eyes wouldn’t leave him, even as slumber tried to take him. A mystery it was, then, and he’d have to be careful. He didn’t want to scare him off like he had the last time, and almost did just now. A sensitive mystery then. He smiled. “Then you’re gonna have to come back, even when it isn’t raining.” He smiled as the darkness finally overcame him.

Through the thick fog, he heard “Alright, mate.”

-

Rude. That’s what Stede would call this.

Someone was pounding down his door at the wee hours of the morning, and he still felt like his head was going to explode. A small lump had formed on his skull where he’d slammed into the floor. He unlocked one of the doors and pulled it open. “ What. ” There was no time to throw on the mask of politeness as was standard, and he’d barely managed to yank on a robe to cover the drenched one. Turns out he had a bit of a sweat last night.

“See? Told you you’d regret inviting me.”

Stede had to adjust to the sudden outpouring of light into his face. “Oh- Lucius, hi!” He straightened his back, and tried to gain some composure over the throbbing pain. The boy from the grocery store stood on his doorstep with his hands casually placed in his pockets. Instead of the work apron, he wore an unbuttoned sweater jacket over a simple shirt and a neckerchief. Hadn’t seen one of those in a while, it was quite eccentric. “Apologies, I didn’t expect anyone at this hour. You are quite early.” He arched his eyebrow at the shifty little man, before noticing a second just a few feet away in the new car sitting in his driveway. Right. Well, if he was going to host, he was going to do it properly. “Why don’t you two come in while I get ready?”

“Right, uh, Petey isn’t exactly-” Lucius slid his tongue over his teeth, eyes moving back and forth. “Not the most comfortable. Here.” 

“I can’t rightly leave someone outside; tell him to come in.” He put a hand on his hip.

With a small groan, the boy turned. “Fiiiine.”

He left the door open as he scurried back to his bedroom. There was no time for a full get up, even if he wanted to so badly for his guests, so he threw on a brightly colored vest with matching pants and a pocket watch to accent. Completely distracted by the unwanted awakening, Stede had missed the lack of Edward in the room. It made sense, of course, staying in a strangers haunted library overnight would probably be awkward for a lot of people. But it still made him slightly upset. The chair Ed had been sitting in had a damp spot across the cushion, and left a puddle on the floor. This, for once, gave him pause. Something was trying to click here, but he couldn’t quite get it to fit together. Stede shook his head and hurried back out to where Lucius and ‘Petey’ were.

“Terribly sorry about that. What can I do for you?”

Pete spoke with a slight lisp. He was wearing a plain shirt and vest, without much in the way of accessories. “Lucius wanted to come up. But he kept talking himself out of it, so I figured I’d take him up.”

“Babe-” The color rising on his cheeks sped up when the term of endearment slipped out. Lucius looked ready to either faint or run away. He looked up to Stede nervously, fingering the fabric of his jacket.

“Well, I’m glad you did. I’m sure you can tell, but I’m nowhere close to opening for business.” Stede could see the nerves radiating between the two, whether it was from the building or the information just shared he couldn’t tell. “Would you like a tour of the place?”

The pair looked between each other, before Lucius nodded. Stede hoped a tour would help quell the nerves, and make them realize it was just a large old building. Not haunted, except maybe by the corpses of spiders. He led them about the floors, pointing out small oddities he’d noticed during his time here. Slowly, the atmosphere began to change. The tense shoulders and jumpy looks were replaced with snippy comments and menial understanding. Stede was rather glad. It felt easy, and it filled the stiff silence of the house from days past. By the time they finished with the third floor, Lucius had his hand resting in Pete’s, and was lightly goading Stede about his passion for the sea. “Honestly, you should have just been a sailor if you like it that much.”

“Oh lord, no. I could never. They’d eat me alive out there.” Stede waved his hand dismissively, turning back to the steps. “I think being near it is enough for me.”

Pete peered down, and pointed to a door they’d skipped. “What’s down there?”

That room was special, one he’d set up just a week ago. “That’s my hobby hole.” Stede hesitated to actually lead them down there, but he would certainly tell them about it. He’d gotten into restoring paintings around the same time his ex wife Mary got into making new ones. One of the oil canvas paintings from the second floor was laid out down there, frame lovingly removed and propped up on a separate area for cleaning. “This library had a couple really lovely paintings, but they were rather damaged.” Stede spoke as they walked.  It was a delicate process for sure, and it took a lot of time and effort but seeing something once beautiful shine again was worth it. “I’m in the process of patching some smaller ones.”

The two looked almost impressed, and a flare of pride swelled in his chest. Lucius checked a clock set up by the wall. “Ugh, my boss is gonna tear me a new one if I’m late again.” He led Pete to the door before peering over his shoulder. “Just so you know, I’m going to keep showing up to annoy you.”

“Wonderful.” He grinned as the door swung shut. 

Maybe he’d convince some people yet.

Chapter Text

A couple months passed still, as the shelves and the chandeliers were fixed, and Stede worked tirelessly to figure out ways to get people interested. His experience with Lucius and Pete convinced him if people just saw it was just a building, they’d be less scared of it. Those strange little puddles kept appearing; after some prodding and a taste test, he’d discovered it was salt water which had no business being up here. Stede couldn’t fix a problem that seemed to not have a source, so he just designated himself to clean up the blots when he saw them. 

It was coming along really well now. The library had been thoroughly cleaned and the basic furniture moved in. Large tables were laid out with three lamps going down the length of them, large decorative rugs of swirling diamond patterns covered the main floor, adorned with plush armchairs and a couch or two. The reception desk had also been set up, decorated with some ships in a bottle and small artifacts he’d collected in his time. Bits of ships, a couple rusted tools, carefully preserved journals, that sort of thing. The fireplace had also been cleaned, and the paintings were all moved to his hobby hole while new ones accented the upper floors. Mary had brought a couple that he would proudly display along with a small collection of business cards. Stede had shown off the entire thing to her when she’d come down. The one thing he had yet to do was catalog his books. It would take the most time, and he’d need help. 

Luckily, he’d found some. That charming couple had agreed to work once he had jobs for them. Apparently Pete floated between jobs, unable to hold down one for more than a couple weeks, while Lucius was about to pull his hair out being a cashier. They’d started taking inventory of the vast collection Stede had, although they took their sweet time with it. Not that it was a problem, he was happy to entertain them. The company made it all worth it.

Ed also kept his promise to show up, but only appeared twice during those two months. He was always drenched. Stede was pretty convinced he literally lived in the ocean, but whenever he tried to ask, he got that tone like he was going to scurry off again, so it remained a mystery. Over those two meetings, he learned a couple things. Ed hesitated to touch anything he considered of value- he had to be convinced to take the ornate china teacup Stede offered to him once- and he didn’t know shit about technology. He didn’t even know what electricity was. Their first meeting had been over tea, as Stede had been preparing it when he’d been disturbed.

“Where’d you get all this shit, mate?”

Stede yelped and clattered his cup against the table he was perched over. He looked behind him to see Ed peering down at a particular scrap of wood. He breathed out. “Ed, you scared me half to death!”

Humor played across the man’s eyes. “I must be getting rusty then, if it was only half.” Edward turned to the chunk of figurehead. “This is from the Ranger , yeah?”

“Yes! Authentic too.” He paused. “I thought you said you didn’t like pirates?”

Ed paused, staring down as his fingers hovered over the wood. “...I know a couple things about ‘em.” He turned back to him, shifting around the table and coming over. Stede finished preparing his tea.

“Well, considering you look like a pirate, I’m not surprised. Would you like a cup?” He picked up the pot. “I made enough for two, if you tell me how you take it.” Stede was met with a blank stare, and he realized that comment might sound insensitive. “I apologize. I just mean you’re… very damp, and you have a lot of tattoos. Why are you so soaked?”

He shuffled back as he eyed the tea set. “Don’t worry about it.” He edged towards the door, face twisted into a grimace as he stared like a cornered animal. “Just am.”

Stede sensed the boundary. He nodded. “Then how do you take your tea? Sugar, milk?”

“Dunno. Both. Look I don’t drink tea-” He still stood like he was about to sprint. Such a flighty man. So Stede started dropping sugars as a way to tell him he was getting tea, eying Ed until he made a small motion. Maybe he had a sweet tooth, or maybe he didn’t know what the appropriate amount was, but he took it with an astonishing seven sugars and a large dollop of milk. He made a pleased sound into the sip. “That’s fuckin great. God damn.” Edward’s shoulders released their tension after another sip.

“A good cup of tea can solve almost anything, I’ve found.” Stede sat down on one of the fluffed cushions. “Helps me wake up, or go to sleep. Calms me down. It’s all in the blend. Or maybe it’s just cause the packaging tells me that’s what it does.” He motioned Ed over. But he was hesitating again. “Goodness, Edward, do I have to force you to sit down?”

The man’s eyes flashed for a moment before he grumbled and slumped down into a seat across from him. “You’re very pushy, y’know.” Ed crossed his arms in front of him. Stede only chuckled as he took a sip from his own cup, letting the blend of herbs and citrus wash over his pallet.

“Being pushy got me to see you again.” He shrugged, and cradled the cup in his hands as he reclined. “You’re rather stubborn yourself in that regard.” They shared a reserved laugh, and Stede drew another sip from his cup. “Where do you go when you aren’t here?”

“Here and there.”

“You know that’s not an answer.”

“It’s all you’re gettin.” He didn’t say it harshly, instead there was a mischievous glint in his eyes. Ed downed the rest of the tea in one go, like he’d never had anything so good in all his life. “For now.”

“For now?” Stede traced his finger around the rim of the porcelain, and looked through his eyes for some sort of meaning. “Well, colour me intrigued.”

They chatted softly after that, nothing that got them close to the discomfort of personal talk. Stede quietly noted that he never did get dry in that time, and he was starting to suspect that was why he only came during storms. He disappeared after Lucius came in and asked who he was talking to.

-

About a month after Ed’s visit, a strange man visited the library. He came in as Lucius was working his way through the collection of cryptid magazines. A strange lad too, balding with stringy blond hair around the dome of his head. A crow was perched on his shoulder, and he stood with his back straight, faded blue eyes scanning around the interior. He made a b line for Stede the moment he saw him, and thrust his hand forward. “Aye, ye be lookin for people to work.” The man’s tone didn’t indicate a question.

Stede blinked up at him, scanning over his loosely fitting garments and the bird on his shoulder. “I… am, yes? Who might you be?”

“Yew can call me Buttons. Karl said we should come here.”

“Oh! And who’s Karl?”

Buttons pointed to the crow on his shoulder. “This here’s Karl.”

“…ah.” Stede knew he wasn’t in a position to be picky with his hirees, but something about this man raised red flags. Good thing red was a lovely color. “What sort of things would you like to do, Mr Buttons?” From somewhere beyond the tables, he heard Lucius gag, or some approximation of the sound.

The man seemed to consider for a time, taking in the decor, before he looked back. “I know a thing or two about protection. And upkeep.”

Protection? From what? Would he need such a thing here? And would this man even be able to provide that? But he didn’t ask those questions, he just smiled and extended his hand. “Then welcome aboard, Mr Buttons.”

The man and his bird nodded, then blew out the door as quickly as they’d come in. Lucius popped his head out from behind a mountain of books. “Are you sure about that, captain?” The nickname had been lovingly gifted to him once the two had seen just how large his pile of pirate books were.

“Now Lucius,” he chided, turning back to the list he was organizing, “you mustn’t judge someone before you get to know them. He just needs work. Who am I to turn him away?”

“He’s got a creepy bird. I don’t think those are standard in a library.” Pete appeared behind Lucius. “What kinda protection anyway? Shouting curses?”

Stede rolled his eyes. “Now now. That’s enough of that.” He marked down the next stack of books they’d gotten through. “Maybe I’ll put him on cataloguing duty, hm?”

“Oh god .” Lucius groaned and tilted his head back. “You wouldn’t.”

Stede tapped his pencil against the paper, a knowing smile on his face. “Then get back to work, or I’d just be paying you for gossip.” He turned away from the desk as Lucius mumbled something, and moved to the book cart to put up the assortment.

-

The next month was spent preparing the books and tidying up, final preparations and the sort. Those water puddles kept appearing, although Stede was starting to not mind. He’d be a fool to not see the connection. He also got decently through restoring some of the smaller paintings, leaving the biggest one for last. That would take him months no doubt.

A library opening wasn’t a big fuss, there were no lines wrapped around the building or people staying overnight camped outside for such an event. And Stede knew this perfectly well. With all the superstition around the place, he didn’t expect anyone to be there at all quite frankly. But when Stede opened the door, he found a large man dressed in a red vest and a faded beanie. He nervously fumbled with his hands when the doors were pushed open. 

Stede smiled slightly. “Hello, good sir. Come in, come in.” He had made sure to wear his flashiest suit, a striking teal vest with deeper colored tails and matching pants. A golden bow tie pulled the ensemble together. The man on his doorstep seemed a bit surprised at the sudden appearance, but dipped his head into the building. “What sort of thing were you looking for today, sir?”

“Uh- just, checking the place out. Jim said…” He started, before starting to look around the opening room. “Whoa.” He balked for a moment.

“Ah, are you a friend of Jim’s?” Stede had seen them around town, but they didn’t bother speaking to him.

The man’s face screwed up for a second at the question before he nodded. “Yeah, yeah. Friend, uh. They said there was a new library?” He scratched at the collection of stubble under his chin. “Was wondering if you needed any help?” 

Stede scanned over him for a moment. No matter what he did, this place just seemed to have an air about it that made people nervous. The way this newcomer refused to stand still, always fiddling with his hem or shifting his weight on his feet, told him more than enough. “And what might your name be?” 

“Oluwande. Uh, Boodhari. Just call me Olu” The newcomer mumbled. “I kinda need a job, after my old one…” he only shuddered.

“Well, you are welcome, as long as you’re good with customer service. We don’t yet have someone for that.” Stede was in desperate need of someone that could talk to people. He knew he could be a bit much at times, and it wouldn’t do any good to scare people off with his enthusiasm, Lucius would probably tell a patron off and they could get sued for that, Pete couldn’t reliably remember where things were in the library, and Buttons… probably shouldn’t be doing customer interfacing.

Olu stopped his fidgeting. “That’s it? Yeah, yeah I can do that no problem.”

“When can you start?”

“J- just like that?” His eyes widened slightly. “No questions- I mean today but-“

“Great! I’m not exactly in a position to be picky, Olu, and it doesn’t take a lot to figure out the space. I organized it by topic.” Stede pulled him over to the front desk and motioned to a hand drawn little map he’d made of the area. “This should help you, even if it isn’t exact.” He stepped back from the bewildered man and retrieved a small book from the shelf behind them. “I don’t expect a lot of people as of now, so you shouldn’t worry about memorizing the place any time soon. The policy for returns is two weeks, and every day over is a fine of 25 cents. Just make sure to write down the title, the day it was taken out and by who.”

Bless the man, he seemed to keep up with the sudden dump of information, and nodded accordingly. Olu took the book. “And when they renew it?”

“Update the entry with a new return date.” Stede motioned to the small black phone stationed beside them. “Make sure to get a phone number too.” 

Olu situated himself and nodded. “I can do that.” As Stede moved across to go through the shelves and make sure everything was in place, he cleared his throat. “And… thank you.”

-

The first day open for business was really uneventful besides that. Maybe two people stopped in, and one book was checked out, but other than that, it was nothing to write home about. And since this was his home then there would be no writing at all. Stede pulled off the vest and sunk down into his bed, resting his head forward with his eyes closed. It would be a fight to get people here. One he would gladly throw himself into, but a fight nonetheless. He cracked open the book he kept in the room. It was a personal favorite, a History of Pyrates , and the pages were well worn from several viewings, and he hoped it would ease the growing stress in his shoulders. 

“So. How was your first day?”

Stede let out a rather high pitched yelp and the book flew from his hands. He looked up. “ Edward !” He breathed. “You’re just going to keep doing that aren’t you?”

The shadow of the man obscured the light from the door. The rest of the crew had long since departed, which was probably why he showed up now. He laughed smoothly, and slid into the room. “Obviously.” And he was still dripping wet. Ed crossed his arms. “Now how was it?”

“Not many people. But I got a new man at the front desk, and a mother and her child got a book. At the very least people showed.”

“That’s good!” Edward leaned back against the table. A long sleeve of tattoos shone against the light, curling up his arm and around his muscles. “I think, better than zero people.”

“How do you keep getting in here?” 

He paused, and eyed over at him. “Mm. Got my ways.”

Stede raised a brow at him, reclining into the mattress and propping the book up on his leg. “And if I changed the locks, would that deter you from showing up in the middle of the night and catching me unawares?”

“Absolutely fucking not.” Ed scoffed. “I’ll break all your locks. Till you stop trying to keep me out.”

“Well if they break, then I’ll have to have them repaired, and that would mean changing them.” Stede flipped through the first pages of the book. “And we’d be stuck in a loop.”

“Then just go without locks, mate.”

“That’s very unsafe, Edward.” He stopped on one of his favorite pages and glanced over the slightly faded ink. A drawing of the mad pyrate glared back at him from the pulp of the page, lifeless eyes brushed between a thick beard boring down into him. The information to the right was known by heart, as many times as he’d read this. Apparently he hadn’t thought about it in a while though, as his eyes skirted over the writing they widened. “…hey, Ed. What did you say your last name was again?” It was a positively silly thought. But it didn’t seem too far out of reach. 

“I didn’t.”

“What is it?”

“Teach.”

Stede’s eyes bugged out from where he sat on the bed. His mouth opened uselessly, as words dried up the moment Ed uttered the name. All he managed was a weak “You’re…”

A twinkle entered his eyes, and he leaned over the foot of the bed, looming over Stede’s legs as the water dripped from his beard onto the duvet. “Also known as Blackbeard.”

Chapter Text

Edward wouldn’t consider himself lonely. He was, desperately, but he would never, ever, ever admit it out loud. To anyone. Being dead really fucking sucked though, he’d freely say that. There was no one to talk to, and most people would cry ghost and split before he even opened his mouth. Save for one. But Ed didn’t like thinking about him. He never thought he’d miss the putrid stench of bile and rum that came with his crew, and the drunken brawls that inevitably broke out. But that was so much more preferable to this empty nothingness. Maybe that’s why he’d finally given up scaring off new people.

The strange librarian had been there for a couple months now. When he’d first pulled up in his strange little metal thing that he later found out was called a ‘car’, Edward had planned to do what was standard when someone bought the old place. Terrorize and chase away so he could be alone again. Didn’t need anyone mucking about his place. Not that it was his place specifically or anything. After he’d ended up rather dead and without a proper boat to haunt, he’d found recourse in the building he’d hidden in while the British scoured the coast for him. It had been a bit stupid for him to try and skirt a blockade so soon after they’d closed in on him, but surely that could be forgiven. He had no idea they were hanging just around the cape, and how was he to know his first mate had sold him out for immunity from the British hand of justice? He was under a lot of stress at the time.

But this strange little man had captured his attention something fierce. He knocked on the door when he’d locked it, and asked to be let in. Who did that? This guy apparently. That night there had been a storm, the perfect opportunity to learn more about his new occupant. Being dead kind of sucked, he was constantly wet since drowning in that god forsaken ocean, but the storm gave him an excuse to be. The meeting wasn’t ideal. Apparently, the poor man thought he was here to rob him. Been a while since someone had thought that.

Stede, he’d learned his name that night, was frighteningly nice. And he talked a lot. That wasn’t a bad thing, it filled the air when Edward couldn’t think of anything to say, but it was something to note. And apparently, he had no fucking idea who he was. Suppose it shouldn’t be that bad of a shock, but normally the only people coming here were rich out of towners who thought they could bulldoze the place and make it some modern something or other, were bastard kids trying to make a mess of the place, or were bullshit ghost hunters (those last two he really didn’t mind chasing away). Or him …. Even stranger, Stede knew the history of the place, the history of him, and said he enjoyed pirates. How didn’t he realize..?

Ah, but all the drawings of him were disgustingly inaccurate. No one had that many guns on them, no matter the pirate. He must have made a face at the mention of his pseudonym, since it got real awkward after that. Edward was thankful for the reprieve at least. Someone not scared or trying to get a reaction from him was nice. Of course, Stede had his suspicions. The questions in their subsequent meetings had  made it obvious. But he never pushed further. Maybe it wasn’t so bad to have him around after all. To just exist with him. And when he spoke about fixing up the library, Edward really wanted to see it. So he’d let him, for a while. See how it looked. 

He couldn’t have been happier with this decision. Every gizmo and gadget was something to be examined thoroughly and admired. Maybe he knocked over a shelf onto someone during the process, but it had been on accident. Edward hadn’t seen the building looking this in shape since he’d died. Everything was clean, and intact. And Stede had set up a funny little room downstairs with a bunch of tools that he hunched over for hours at a time working with the paintings from the second and third floors. 

Ed had also taken to studying the librarian. He had these odd little quirks, and not to mention he was handsome as all get out. Stede spoke aloud constantly, announcing his intentions and actions to the air as if he was holding a conversation. He spoke to inanimate objects as if they were people, and treated everything with an air of delicacy. Edward knew it was creepy to watch like this, without the man’s knowledge, but he really couldn’t help himself. Decades without proper human interaction really rotted one’s social skills. Not enough to forget something was wrong, but enough to not really care if it was. Now, he never checked in on him doing those things, no no. Privacy still existed, he wasn’t a monster. Ed made sure to only view him fully clothed. Which was a treat in itself.

Stede was almost criminally beautiful. Golden curls draped down his scalp and framed his handsomely aged face. Small creases were pulled down under his eyes and curved around his mouth in delicate smile lines. And those eyes, they could melt statues. Brilliant sage green eyes with golden streaks that could swallow you whole if you stared too long into their warm embrace. He always wore these ridiculous suits with frilled shirts and bizarre colors. Ed’s favorite was probably the peach vest with the pair of muted lavender pants. Really showed off his thighs. Edward also really enjoyed staring at his ass when he bent to grab something. It was a secret. Just for him. He was something to be seriously admired, much more than any painting, and he really hoped he’d work up the courage to say that at some point. By the time the second storm hit, he’d barely managed to work up said courage to try and talk to him again.

Hadn’t gone to plan again , because of course nothing he did ever went to plan. Ed had gotten to the door when a fresh wave of anxiety stabbed into him, and he quickly turned tail and ran. He could hear Stede calling from him as he sprinted up the steps, trying to find a safe spot to turn invisible. Then he’d heard him slip, and hit the floor hard. And well, Ed couldn’t just leave him there, could he. He helped him back to his bed, and then made a stupid promise. That’s where it always went wrong, if his past was anything to go by. Making promises. Promises got him killed, promises got him stuck here in the library, unable to go anywhere. He hated the word. And yet Stede pulled a promise out of him.

-

Edward had never seen so many books in his life. Or death. Before Stede brought them in, a strange pair had visited the library and been given a tour. He seemed rather friendly with them, and they stayed for a few hours. They came back when that avalanche of books was brought in. Of course he’d make fast friends with the town. Stede was such a fascinating man brimming with enthusiasm, there was no way people wouldn’t find him absolutely charming. It eased Edward back out of his hiding place, bringing him down into the main lobby when there hadn’t been a storm. He’d promised after all. And again, he only asked once about the water before gently goading him into sitting down and enjoying a cup of tea with him. Ed found things in the library he hadn’t seen in ages. Pieces of old ships he’d sailed on, journals from people he’d dueled with, and a model of his very own ship placed in a bottle.

It was excessively interesting. Who had all these little bits and bobs? The people back on his ship never had anything like this, unless you counted trophies from raids. Edward didn’t. This was better than any collection of body parts and gold teeth. He’d been lovingly forced into taking some tea and told to sit. Ed really liked this guy. He made sure to watch closely after that, trailing around near him at most times. The new hires weren’t an awful addition. That boy (Lucus?) had a quick wit and a good base of social knowledge that made him sharp as a tack. And Pete, the man’s friend, was also good. Entertaining at the least.

When that strange man and his bird showed up, Ed got the strangest feeling in his gut. Like the phantom pains from his various run throughs on his left side. But it went over his whole body, like a poison slowly dripping into his veins and spreading through his limbs and chest. And the bird seemed to stare into his soul. It was all so distracting he almost missed when ‘Buttons’ said his bird had told him to come here. He was thankful when they left, even if Stede’s decision to let him work made him uncomfortable. All of this Edward couldn’t relay to him though, without revealing what he was. Why he was here. How he knew all this. Who he was. He’d slipped up once before when he mentioned the lovely little room downstairs with the painting supplies. Also got caught out on that one, he did. He’d learned to be more careful after that.

-

The first day had also been observed by Ed. A fourth new guy had come, and thankfully this one wasn’t as scary. Buttons had been doing things around the library that seemed to cause him pain, and he really wanted to throw that man through the third floor window. Edward knew the locals were well aware of his presence, even if it was through minimal interactions, and mostly to scare them away.

Besides the new guy, only two other people showed up. That was a wild disappointment. Ed really had started to miss the loud parties of sloppily drunk fools on the Queen Anne , and while a library wouldn’t be loud it would be some talking. There would be life again. He was so fucking tired of being along, and maybe that’s why he’d chosen to show up that night. Edward thought it would be a special occasion; Stede had prepared a special tea blend before crawling into bed. He’d let him change first, staying outside the door before hearing him settle down and popping in. 

Edward really should have checked the book Stede had in there. He knew as soon as he heard him ask for his last name. It was too late. But maybe it didn’t matter now.

-

He leaned over, grinning wide under the beard as Stede slunk down under the covers. “Also known as Blackbeard.” Edward didn’t know what emotion he was feeling right now. Mostly just a bundle of nerves going off, ready for the same old reaction of fear and speeding out of there as fast as he could. It happened every time. Stede’s mouth opened, most likely to cry out. Oh, but he didn’t want to hear him scream. Yet. “Shhh.”

Stede swallowed back roughly. “But- Blackbeard’s…” the word was right on the tip of his tongue, but the sentence petered out with a small whimper. He fumbled with the book in his hands, and Ed caught the word ‘ pyrate ’ embossed on the front in looping gold lettering. That was one of the words he’d memorized the shape of.

“He’s what?” He prompted, fingers curled around the footboard as he leaned closer. Stede cleared his throat, softly closing the book.

“H-he’s… dead.” The word was whispered, hushed like it was some taboo piece of information. Like Ed didn’t know. Stede breathed out as he pushed his legs out, back pressing into the headboard now as he tried to get out from under the pinning gaze of the dread pirate. “And you’re…?”

“Mhm.” Edward leaned back so his shadow didn’t completely overtake the man. “You ‘member how I died?” He motioned to the book.

Stede looked back, and then scanned over Ed. “You… you went down with your ship. After being chased down, by the British.” His eyes widened. “Oh!-“

He chuckled and crossed his arms. “Mhm. That’s why I’m always so fuckin soggy. No fucking idea why I can’t do shit about it, but that’s just how it is.” Edward walked around and plunked down on the other side of the bed, as Stede shuffled to the side a little. “You still don’t mind the water, yeah?”

“Uh, y-yeah, no. I don’t.” Stede’s eyes shot down to the intoxicatingly soft fabric, and he spied a small twinge to his left eye. “It’s perfectly fine.”

Edward nodded, but his hands were working down at the sheets and pillow cases. He’d never felt such a fine thing in all his days walking this grimy planet. It sent tingles up his skin, and made him think of bygone days. Without thinking, he picked up the edge of the top sheet and brushed it against his cheek. “What kind of fabric is this…?” He murmured. “Silk?”

“No, no. It’s cashmere. All of my sheets are. I can’t sleep on anything else or I toss and turn all night.” Stede murmured. “There are certain fabrics I simply cannot handle even touching. People think I’m ridiculous when I mention it, but it’s how I feel. They think it’s just an excuse to buy expensive fabrics, as if I’d need one.”

Ed stared for a second, then down to the cloth. The fear had receded from Stede’s expression, and he was simply talking normally. “…Stede…?”

“Yes, Edward?”

“You’re not… scared of me..?” 

Stede looked surprised for a moment, before blinking and seeming to realize what he was doing. “Oh! Well, I mean. I don’t think you’ll hurt me. You would have done so by now if that was your goal, yes?”

“S’pose.”

“And I’m more than worn out from today.” He laughed. “I guarantee you when I wake up tomorrow, this will hit me like a freight train going 60.”

Ed blinked slightly, trying to remember the small bits of information he had on the outside world. Trains had been described to him as large metal boxes with wheels on tracks. Course, he knew what a train was, he’d just never seen one since apparently they held people. What he wouldn’t give to ride a ‘passenger’ train. “Mh. Well. Then. Guess you should sleep then? Since you’re tired.” 

“Oh, no no I wouldn’t want to leave a guest unattended.”

Edward laughed. “Mate, I live here. I… die here. I ain’t that much of a ‘guest’.” He saw an embarrassed heat creep over Stede’s neck.

“…yes. Of course.” Stede paused, and his eyes widened. “Wait, I bought a haunted library??”

He couldn’t help it. This man was so bizarre, and a bit of a maniac. He was great. Edward just started laughing out of pure joy. “Course you did, mate! I’m a ghost!”

Stede stared at him, that red creep going over his cheeks, but he was also grinning now. “Brilliant!” 

Chapter Text

It felt much easier to breathe with everything out in the open. Stede didn’t know everything, he was aware of that much, but Edward indulged him rather thoroughly. Questions like how long he’d been here (since he died), how long he’d been watching him (he really skirted that question), and if he’d locked him out of the library (yes). The stress of the day eased off his shoulders, and they had one of the first actual talks since they met.

He laughed softly. “So that’s why you knew about the things in my collection!” Stede shook his head. “I must have looked like such a fool, rambling about those objects when you already knew.”

“Nah, nah.” Edward had fully reclined into the bed, one leg propped up on the bed as he leaned his head into the backboard. “M surprised someone who didn’t live it knew that much. Some of your info is grossly wrong, but that ain’t your fault.” He’d spoken briefly about his experiences pirating, and how a lot of the written accounts were pretty inaccurate.

“Well, that’s to be expected. History was written by people, who are rather subjective.” Stede motioned to the book on his right. “I have plenty of books to know that much. Plus, I made a study of history for school, so everything has to be looked at with a particular grain of salt.” He chuckled. “I was tempted to drop out, so I could focus on it more.”

In return for the tales of pirates, Stede explained how things functioned in the modern day. Edward furrowed his brow. “Why didn’t you?” According to him, rich people hadn’t changed much over the years; they still had just as many ridiculous rules and expectations that harmed everyone who followed after.

“My father would have been furious. I would have been labeled a social pariah, and possibly disowned.” Stede murmured. “Suppose I ended up there anyway, eh? Divorcing my wife and running away.” 

Edward raised a brow. “You actually got one of those?” He murmured. “I thought people hated those.”

“It was mutual, between my wife and I. It was essentially an arranged marriage, if you could call it that. Neither of us were happy in it.” Stede stared off.

“Essentially?” Ed thought for a moment, then leaned his head back, looking away. “…what was she like?”

-

A much younger Bonnet gripped the lacquered frame that led to the parlor. Large men in business suits huddled around a table, the air thick with cigar smoke and words that Stede didn’t understand. He ducked down as a servant came around with a tray of alcohol, but his eyes remained locked on the discussion. This was Stede’s future, discussing business with rich men on how to get more rich. His father did it with such an ease, commanding the attention of the room with his plans and gestures.

No one noticed him by the door. Save for the girl standing behind him. She wore a multi layered dress cinched at the sides with a muted green ribbon tied around to the back. A prim little hat was placed over tightly pulled up hair, and black heeled boots tapping on the hardwood floor. “What’re you doing?” 

Stede squeaked ungentlemanly and spun around. Sharply intelligent eyes pinned him down on the spot, and a quirked frown made his gut churn. She was rather pretty, with full cheeks dusted with the faintest bits of makeup. No doubt a reflection of what her mother would look like. He’d seen her around before, at gatherings thrown by his mother, but he’d never spoken to her. “Just… watching.” Stede murmured with an embarrassed heat on his cheeks.

The girl crossed her gloved hands in front of her, squinting over his face. “Is this what you do for fun?”

“No!-“ He shot a nervous glance over his shoulder, but the group continued with little regard to the children standing outside. “No. I just…”

“Doesn’t look very fun anyway.” She stepped forward and offered her hand. “I’m Mary. Mary Allamby.”

Allamby. It was a name he knew well. They were old friends of the Bonnet family, creating a steel industry together that was currently in the biggest boom of the company’s history. No wonder he’d seen her everywhere. “Oh. Uh. Stede, Bonnet.” He shook it, and was surprised by the firmness of the grasp. 

“I knew that.” She sighed, scanning over their hands, then led him away from the door. They wove through the manor, then popped out in the garden where a few workers were quietly tending the impressive rose gardens. Stede couldn’t do anything but stumble after, nary a protest to his name. “Okay, let me have a look at you.”

“W-what are you doing?”

“Mum said I’m to marry you. I want to know what I’ll be dealing with.”

The wording stung. Stede knew this would happen one of these days, marriage was nothing but a business deal between families, and the Bonnet name was a valuable one among the upper echelons. With only one son, they had to pick the right family to take into theirs. Of course it would be the Allamby one. His expression must have been a dreary one, as Mary’s face shifted from relaxed exhaustion to pinched awkwardness. “I mean- not dealing with. But I would like to know the man who I’ll be paired with.” 

Stede messed with the cuffs of his simple jacket. “But aren’t we forbidden from this sort of meeting? Women and men talking have all these rules, aren’t we ought to follow them?” He could hear his father scolding him already, blazoning a handprint across his cheek and telling him he had no right to his fortune. Such a simple thing and he couldn’t do it. 

Mary, to his surprise, laughed. “We could. But that can wait till after the ceremony.” Her posture relaxed. “It’s my life they’re signing a way; I have a right to know the man it’s going to.”

“I suppose so. Truth be told, there isn’t much to me.” He looked around the garden, before motioning to one of the decorative iron benches with several metal flowers. Hand in hand, they wandered over and sat. Mary was still watching him curiously. 

“Says you.” She smoothed her petticoat out and pulled folds from her gloves. “But most of the adults have less personality than an oak tree. They all like or dislike the same thing because it’s ‘trendy’ or ‘popular’.”

Stede stared at her as if she were the last unicorn standing proud amongst a smoldering forest. He’d heard a lot of harsh talk; businessmen and their arguments could get pretty heated, but he’d never heard someone so easily dismiss the rules of the world they lived in. He gaped for a moment, trying to grasp something to talk about before only managing “Oak trees have a lot of personality.” That rasp of his fathers voice hissed around his ear. Way to go, Bonnet. Who says things like that?

But Mary smiled, politely. Her eyes crinkled slightly around the edges as she hid her mouth behind her hand. It was pretty. “I’m sure they do.” She scanned around the garden now, sighing tiredly. “Our families won’t announce it until you’re of age to take over the business. That’s what mum said.”

“I don’t think father will be happy about giving it to me.”

“Why’s that?”

The truth would be easy to whisper, to divulge into someone who could understand the woes of his life. But it was a risky thing. The other kids would torment him worse if it ever got out. So he would test the waters first. “He does not think I deserve my fortune, nor my family's name. He says I’m not a real man.”

“Well of course you aren’t.” Mary shook her head. “As I’m not a real woman. We’re just kids. Bound by a bunch of rules.” She toed the mulch sitting under the bench, and wrinkled her brow in a peculiar way. “Would you prefer to be a man your father is proud of?”

Stede wouldn’t have an answer to that question, not for many years. In the moment, he would say yes, but it was an uncertain one. 

They sat there in silence for a time, Mary playing with her gloves and Stede focused on a certain patch of flowers. He remembered a particular bit of advice passed around their circles that women liked flowers. They were to be wed, so it would be the gentlemanly thing to get her some. And every household down the block had a book on the language flowers spoke. Stede’s father only got it since the other families did, but he’d never truly read it. Stede had, with the utmost enthusiasm. He had the garden mapped out in his head, and quietly excused himself to bustle about the bushes.

Mary was still sitting there when he came back, a small bouquet clutched in his small fist. She raised a questioning brow at him, a look he would grow accustomed to in the years following, but both eyebrows raised when he held out the clutch of bluebells. “Oh. Flowers.” She hesitantly took them, and examined the petals. “Thank you.”

“Bluebells mean kindness.” Stede hopped onto the other side of the bench. “I don’t know you quite well yet, but you seem nice.” He smiled lopsidedly. “I could spend all day in the garden if I could. It’s my favorite place in the house.” The look she shot him brought him to try and end the topic quickly. He’d said too much again. “Sorry. You probably don’t…”

“You think I’m nice?”

“…well, you aren’t rude. It’s different.” He hunched his shoulders, trying to pull into himself like a turtle. “I know what rude feels like. You’re just honest, I think.”

Mary held the flowers a bit more tenderly, a shy smile hidden behind her hand again. “You aren’t awful yourself, Bonnet.” She began to pull out individual flowers, twisting the stalks around each other and linking them in a chain.

“Please, call me Stede. Bonnet is my father’s name.”

She nodded from where she was working “Stede, then. I like your flowers. What were you going to say about your garden?”

“It isn’t mine, specifically.” The breath returned to his lungs, and he found himself explaining the design of the garden and the language of each flower grown. They laughed over the story of his mother buying a bush of yellow carnations after his father’s friends got too rowdy in the house and practically ransacked the rooms. She was probably the first real friend Stede ever had.

-

“Mary was great. Honest, to a fault. Unorthodox.” He ran his fingers over the sheets. “She’s not a bad person to be friends with.”

“Then why’d you divorce her?”

“We weren’t happy together. There was no love in the marriage, and it got to both of us. It had been long enough now for us to see that, so we broke it off. I gave her the house for the kids, and she got half the fortune. My father and his royalties keep me afloat while Mary makes her money selling paintings.” He looked back to Edward. “I still call her up for advice on things. She’s the one who suggested I buy a library.”

Ed nodded thoughtfully, arms folded over his chest as he contemplated. “S’pose that makes sense. Better than a lot of other crockety old couples. Most end up bitter and hating each other.”

“There were arguments.” He laughed. “Too many to count. But she’s happy. And I’m happy now.” Stede yawned into his hand, blinking rapidly at the tiredness waving through his eyes now. “Oh dear, what time is it?”

As if on cue, the large clock in the main lobby began to chime. Midnight. Stede made a noise when Ed stood, leaving behind a soaking silhouette on the sheets and pillow. “I kept you up longer than I shoulda. Sorry bout that.”

“No no, you’re fine.” He shook his head as another yawn pulled from his body. “So long as you don’t disappear for another month. You can’t now, since I know the truth.”

“Some of it.” Ed’s eyes sparkled from the shadow over the door. He turned to walk out, but paused. “Was my mystery worth the pay off, librarian?”

Stede lifted his head. “Of course it was. Very good writing, I must say. You tell your story well.” He snuggled down into his sheets. A low chuckle came from the door, and it was pulled open for a second.

“Goodnight, Stede.”

“Goodnight, Edward.”

-

The next morning was much the same, hell, the next week was. The amount of people coming that weren’t his workers could be counted on one hand. And good lord was it getting to him. His workers were good people though, he knew enough about Lucius and Pete to talk casually with them, and they continued to go through new books for the shelves. Buttons hung about with his bird, putting small things in the corners of the room and drawing symbols on paper and tacking them to the wall. He was weird. Very, very weird. But he was quiet, and didn’t cause a lot of trouble. Oluwande was a polite man, always leaving the handful of customers with a smile. Although he seemed to be getting increasingly nervous as the days went on. Stede wasn’t sure if they were at a point for him to ask about that yet. 

Lucius leaned over the counter with a small groan. “What you need to do is hold an event.” He had dutifully listened to Stede complaining of low footfall in the library, like he had for the past few days.

“Yes, but what kind of event?” He mumbled into his papers. “We don’t exactly have the funds to get something big.” It needed to be right to draw people in. 

“You come from money, don’t you, captain?” Olu had picked up on the title, and seemed to prefer it much more to ‘boss’. “You probably know some people.”

Stede snorted, shaking his head. “No, I burned most of those bridges with my divorce. Plus, I don’t like any of them enough to want to bring them here.” He looked between the two, tapping his pencil on the paper for a moment.

“Come on, can’t you think of one?” Pete popped his head out of the break room area. “There’s gotta be at least one person who’ll show up, and you don’t hate.” 

“You know. There is one.” He looked to the side for a moment. Would she do it? Well, the only way to know would be to ask. As he was reaching for the phone, something slammed into the door, causing everyone to jump, before it was yanked open.

Oluwande was the first to stand, rushing to the bedraggled figure in a large overcoat and wide brimmed hat. “Jim! I was starting to get worried-“ He supported their arms, and scanned over their body.

“Eeh, estoy bien, I’m fine.” Jim waved his hands away, looking up to the group gathered at the desk, and huffed. “What’re you staring at.”

“Nothing.” “Goodbye-“ “Hello, again.”

Jim narrowed their gaze for a moment before they huffed. “Let’s go.” They pulled Olu to the door.

“Jim, wait.” He dug his heels in, keeping a tight grip onto their arm. “I think… staying here would be a good idea.” He lowered his voice, to the point where Stede couldn’t hear it. They were also talking in Spanish, which wasn’t one of his languages. 

Eventually, the pair turned to the desk, and Jim spoke. “Aye, bibliotecario. Got any spare room?”

Stede peered up from his work. He thought for a moment, once again wondering if he should ask questions. Although, this situation seemed a bit more dire than the one with Buttons. He took a slow deep breath. He should really stop doing this, but he’d talked to Jim before, and they were a decent person. “My door is always open, Jim.”

Their eyebrows went into their hat as they stared. “Holy shit, you weren’t kidding.” Jim tossed a glance to Olu before walking more in.

He held a finger up. “But. If you’re going to stay, I ask you work.” 

“No shit, course I was going to.”

“Then, welcome aboard, Jim.”

Chapter Text

Mary came down a few days later. She had to finish closing a pretty big deal before she could even attempt to think about setting up something in the library. The puttering little model T bounced down the dirt path up to the towering building. It was such an impractical spot for a library, but that just seemed to fit the bizarre little man that bought it. She gripped onto the seat as Doug pushed the break down, and brought the car to a clunky halt. Mary opened the door and stepped out, shielding her eyes against the glare of the sun as she scanned over the building. “You don’t have to wait out here, love. You can look around town, just don’t go far.”

Doug nodded. “How long do you think you’ll be?”

“Stede’s a talker. Maybe half an hour, at the minimum.” She waved him off, then walked in through the open double doors. The library already looked a lot better than the last time she’d been here, like an actual proper space to read instead of something that would fall over with the slightest blow. And there were people. Behind the desk was a larger man with a beanie and a beige shirt. He lifted his head. “Oh, hello. Can I help you?”

Mary smiled politely. “Yes, I’m looking for Stede Bonnet?” She turned her head when something rolled across the floor and stopped. A guy was hanging off one of those rolling ladders, and watching her. He wore a red vest and a neckerchief.

“Are you Mary?” He climbed down and came over when she nodded. “ I’m Lucius. Stede’s busy in his little basement room, if you want I can go get him.” 

She thought for a moment before shaking her head. “No, not right now. Let him finish first.” Mary scanned about the space again. “So, how’s business? If I ask him, he’s just going to say wonderful, and not elaborate.”

Lucius laughed. “Not great. That's why he wants you to host an event here.” He leaned back against the desk where the other man was quietly perusing a book on electronics for the modern age. “Olu, how many books have we lent?”

The man, Olu, peered up then slid over a smaller notebook so he could scan it. “…five.” He hummed. “But two of those have been checked out by the same guy.” 

“I told him people wouldn’t come up here.” Lucius groaned softly as he stretched. “Did he tell you this place is supposedly haunted?”

Mary chuckled. “No, he didn’t, but he said people were suspicious of the place.” She saw another man walking through the shelves with a bird perched on his shoulder. “Uhm.”

“He also hires pretty much anyone who asks.” He grimaced. “Not exactly the kind to turn people away, is he?”

“Stede always liked strays. People and animals who didn’t have a home. I swear at one point he had five different dogs coming by the house for food.” She rolled her eyes, but there was no malice there. It had strained their relationship while they were together, but now it was more of an endearing character flaw. So maybe he let dogs and cats follow him home; it wasn’t her problem anymore. And he seemed happy. “How long have you been working for him?”

“Couple months, I think.” Lucius shrugged. “Maybe one. Maybe three. Time’s all a jumble to me.” He waved his hand. “Might do better to ask my… mate. He’s better with keeping time without writing it down.”

The tone gave away more than he probably thought. Being around many in the art world, she knew men who spoke about their ‘mates’ in such a way. Mary simply nodded and looked around, spotting a bald man shuffling about in a room behind the desk. There didn’t seem to be anyone else in the library, but she couldn’t see the upper floors so who knows. “How many people has he managed to get working here?”

Olu leafed through the book. “Four.” He earned a look from the young man leaned into the counter, but he didn’t challenge him. “Look, he might be a while, so if you aren’t keen on disturbing him, then you should probably tell us what the plan is so we can help.”

“An art showing. We spoke over the phone about it briefly. It should get a couple sales for the lots that show.” Mary motioned. “The space is pretty open, so it’ll be good for a set up. We could put a section here for larger paintings, and we’d have plenty of room over here to line up smaller ones. Of course, I’d need Doug to help me with the specifics, the theme, and the co-artists, but that’s what I’m thinking.” She turned to the steps. “What about the upper floors? Are they any good for a showing?”

Lucius gestured her along to the steps, trodding up. “I’m not sure about the whole art business and what goes where. But I think the third floor would be rather pretty for that sort of thing. It’s got a big window.”

She spotted the paintings she’d given on the second and third floor, and smiled to herself at that. “Thank you, Lucius.”

The man nodded and turned. “I’ll be down if you need anyone.” And he disappeared down the steps, leaving Mary to explore the room on her own. It was indeed expansive, with a lovely window. It would accent her paintings perfectly. Mary turned about the room and picked out the areas most appropriate for the showing, noting a small puddle of water going across toward the large window. It felt like a pair of eyes was watching her beyond the walls, tracking her movements. Maybe it was because she’d been told the place was haunted, but the pins and needles pricking at her spine wasn’t something she could ignore. She turned about the open space for a moment, before huffing softly. “Whoever’s there, you’re not doing a terribly good job hiding.”

Someone groaned, and walked out from behind the shelves. He had a wild whorl of hair and deep eyes, and yards and yards of leather. “God damn it, how the hell’d you know?”

“Just a skill I picked up.” She scanned him from head to dribbling toe. “I take it you don’t work here.”

“Nah, just live ‘round the place.” The man grinned. He had a cold presence about him, literally.

Mary squinted over the rippling tattoos and the black clothing. “Mh, quite the eclectic taste you have.” She crossed her arms. “Stitching styles of the 18th century, and tattoos of a sailor. Who are you?”

The stranger gawped for a second, audibly stumbling. “Eh- just. Call me Ed. How’d you know all that?”

“As a lady, I was put into a few classes on stitching. Never took to them besides mending and hemming, but some of the history I picked up on, and Stede was more than happy to purchase me books on the subject. And all your tattoos are water themed. Either you really like the ocean, as my husband does, or you were out on it. You look well enough like a sailor to make a good guess.” Mary shrugged. “Musta been a good one.”

Edward stared down at her for a moment, then turned to the window. “Well shit, you’ve got me made, eh?” He tapped his foot. “I don’t exactly know if an art show in a town like this’ll turn people’s heads, you know. Not enough to go into the spooky mansion on the top of the hill.” The bedraggled man looked down to the ocean.

“Never hurts to try. Are you that into art Mr. Ed?” The term made Ed shift on his feet, hunching his shoulders up.

“Nah, not really. Don’t know much about it, ‘cept when it don’t look good to the eyes. Art people are all the same, really.” He paused, and glanced back. “You’re probably alright- I just mean-“

Mary couldn’t help but laugh, shaking her head. “No, I know what you mean. Everything’s all about realism or the right brushstrokes or subjects. It’s why I do my own thing, and it sells to people who are looking for something different.” She motioned her head back to one of the paintings on the wall. “Most of these are mine, my signatures there at the bottom corner.”

He nodded a little, but then turned as he heard someone busting up the steps. “So sorry to keep you waiting, Mary!” Stede popped up onto the floor, trotting over. “I do wish they’d told me you come in, I would have been here in a jiffy.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it, Stede. Edward was keeping me compan-“ but when Mary turned to where the man had been, he was gone. Nothing but a puddle of water. “…what the devil..?”

Stede tried to hide a grin. “So you’ve met him. Not to worry, he pops in and out like that. Have you met the rest of the crew?”

“Crew?” She echoed, but figured it was just Stede’s immovable love of pirates and the ocean. “I’ve met two of them. And saw the one with the bird.” Mary moved to the steps. “Now, let’s talk business.”

*

Edward watched the pair talk and descend the steps. Mary was much like Stede had said, harshly honest but not in a bad way. She really had an eye for fashion too. He let them depart, and looked back out over the ocean. An art show. Maybe he could take a couple peeps when people were distracted. The paintings she’d provided were pretty nice, so he was glad they were apparently selling like hotcakes. Good for her.

He appeared back down on the ground floor and starting messing around with some of the baubles Stede had. He liked playing with the boats, and making little scenes. Stede had a lot of carvings and statues to mess with, re-enacting battles and creating new ones with more explosions and yelling. If Ed could have an entire room of these little things to tink around with, he’d never leave it.

Seems he’d have to though, as it sounded like someone was trying to pick the lock outside. Edward could hear it through the quiet, and the person cussing at the door made it more than obvious. And he knew that voice. He grit his teeth, and walked around, phasing through the door to see a short grey haired man with a black vest and baggy sleeved murky green shirt under it. He had two bits of metal jammed into the lock.

“You suck at picking locks, Izzy.”

Israel yelped and spun around, the metal clanking to the pavement. “Edward!” He threw the name like it was a curse word, the fear quickly smoothing to well worn annoyance. “I shouldn’t have to pick the fucking lock. What the hell is going on?”

“Nothin much. They’re gonna be putting on an art show.” He shrugged.

“An art- Ed, why are these people still here??” Izzy squinted. “Are you planning something? It’s been months.”

“Maybe I like that it’s clean.” Edward was well and truly not in the mood for this man’s buffoonery. “And maybe the people being there isn’t a bad thing.” He crossed his arms. “Come off it, Iz. It’s a nice change of pace.”

Izzy looked ready to pop. The angry red creeping over his face made him look like a tomato. He grit his teeth. “Edward, you and I had a deal. This ‘change of pace’ is bad for business. Or it will be, if you let it continue.” 

“Izzy, I honestly don’t give a shit about your business. I don’t get anything from it. You’re the one that gets all the spoils.” Ed shrugged, and tucked his hands in his pockets. 

The small petulant man glowered up at him, hands wringing at his sides. “I think you should care a bit more. Considering what I can do to you.”

Ed paled slightly. He took a slow deliberate breath. He wasn’t exactly captain anymore, he couldn’t just order people around like he used to, as much as he wanted to. “Look, what do you want me to do about it? St- the new owner don’t scare easily.”

“Figure something out. You’re fucking Blackbeard.” Izzy threw his hand up. “And I’ve seen that fairy get spooked by a couple of geese. Fucking idiot.” He shook his head. “Just get it done.”

He hunched his shoulders. He should speak up. Say something in defense of the only man who bothered to be nice to him as of late. But god forbid Izzy think he needed to take this into his own hands. “Alright, alright, jeez.” Edward turned back to the door. “Don’t get your bow tie in a twist.” He could still feel the eyes glaring into him as he stomped back into the building.

Israel seemed to have a thing for Blackbeard (but notably not for Ed), and it bugged the shit out of him whenever he came by. Until Stede had appeared, though, he’d been his only form of social interaction, and maybe he was fun to talk to every other meeting. But now he had Stede, and Ed was scared to drive him away. Not after being vulnerable for the first time in forever.

God, what the fuck was he going to do?

Chapter Text

Stede spoke for too long, but eventually they did get a date set, and the number of pieces to be set up. Doug also came in and offered his opinion on a few things, but both men gave Mary the final say. She’d done her fair share of art shows, she’d know how it was done. Given how in house it was, and how her schedule was pretty free at the moment, the event landed on the Saturday of the next week. Stede didn’t see Ed during all that time except for the puddles he left in his wake, but those were a nice familiarity he would accept. 

He had a print shop in town make some fliers, and passed them out around town. Most people gave it a skeptical look, but it would have to work. And if it didn’t he’d just try again. Stede also got used to Jim living in the building with him. They didn’t change much, but they did notice Stede had no clue how to cook, and he was starting to actually eat more complex meals than canned soup and instant oatmeal. They slept on a futon he’d hauled into the building despite the protests they could sleep on one of the many couches. Stede wouldn’t have it. They needed a proper space to themselves.

The arrangement was that, for hosting them, Stede would get a small portion from the earnings, but he would have to prepare refreshments and Mary had to approve the advertisement, which they sussed out while she visited. Stede had a wondrous time preparing small bite sized bits of food. Why couldn’t every meal be like this? Just small portions one could eat in an entire bite. Jim helped with the food of course, and the rest of the crew buzzed about the event. Or, Oluwande, Lucius and Pete did. Buttons was. He just was, and maybe that was fine enough.

This strange man started hanging around the library too. He had a black vest and green shirt, and wore a sour expression. Stede tried to talk to him, even called out to him once, but the man just sneered at him and disappeared. There wasn’t much he could do about it though, besides keep an eye out for him. The man reminded him terribly of a stray cat, stalking around a property and eying up the goods inside. Perhaps he should leave out some food.

The event was fast approaching though, and as the paintings were brought in, Stede watched with awe as Mary ordered people about. He’d only ever been to the exhibits after they’d been set up, but seeing her so in command was something new. No wonder her other showings had gone so well. He looked back to Lucius who was hunched over the desk. Due to the showing, they’d had to close the library for a day or two to set up, but the crew had come to hang out anyway. “Have you an idea of the general… atmosphere, around town?” He slid over.

Lucius raised his head from the journal he’d been doodling in. “Do you think that just ‘cause I’m a gossip I know everything?” He raised a brow at him, tapping the pen against the paper, but grinned when Stede began to stutter. “Well, I do. It’s kind of a mix. But there are gonna be some people coming, I’ve asked about.”

“Oh— oh, good! Wonderful!” Stede clasped his hands together, and looked through the many paintings already set up. “I think this will be a right little showing, then.”

Lucius made a sound, going back to sketching, then paused. “Would she be alright with me setting up a couple of my own sketches?” He looked over. “Or I could draw people who come in. A little sketching service for people who can’t afford a hundred dollars in paintings.” He looked back to Stede for a moment, then looked up. “Hey, Mary!” Lucius and Mary had gotten somewhat close during the day or two, talking in hushed tones, and giggling like school children. Stede watched him rush off to explain his idea.

He heard boots step up behind him. “This is a lot of people.”

Stede looked over his shoulder to see Edward peering from the back room. “Yes, and hopefully it will be many more when we open tomorrow.” He watched him twinge back slightly, and Stede eyed around before shuffling into the room with him. “Do you not like people?”

“Nah, nah it ain’t that.” Ed shrugged, folding his arms over himself. “I mean, kinda. Been used to a certain quiet for years, and now…”

“It’s rather loud.” He nodded in understanding, then looked back at the people moving. “There is the basement room; you could stay down there? I could set you up a small place with a blanket and a wireless.”

Edward looked down at him, playing with a loop of leather in his pants. “Your little paintin room? Are you sure? Everything’s so… fragile.”

“Oh, it’s just a small bit of room. You’ll have the rest of it to yourself, and the door being shut should stifle the noise.” Stede could see the nerves bouncing around behind Ed’s darkened eyes, so he reached forward and took his hands. “Trust me, it’s okay. It’s your space as much as mine. You lived-“ he paused. “You were here before I was, it’s not right of me to just take up everything and leave you nothing.”

He tilted his head to the side, a wayward strand of pepper grey hair crossing his face as he looked away, hands twitching under his grasp. “Nah mate, weren’t mine before. Just showed up and it was empty. Never formally mine.” 

Stede forgot just how stubborn this man could be, and decided to put a bit of force behind his request. “Regardless, you’re getting a space, and you may use it as you please.” He didn’t end with a question or opening for him to deny. “It will be there if you need it.”

Edward stared for too long, and it felt as if he were picking apart the fibers of his face. That thin twitch under his beard told him he was grinning now. “Alright, mate, you win this one.” He took his hands back. That troubled shadow flew over his eyes, though, just as it cleared. Something else was plaguing his thoughts, and causing him to draw back. Stede wanted to try and coax it out, but the way he was shifting about reminded him of their first day together. If there was one new thing he’d learned about the famed pyrate Blackbeard, it’s that he was adept at not talking about things he didn’t want to.

“Let me get that ready for you, then.”

-

There were more people than Stede knew what to do with. Maybe this had been a foolish idea, with the amount of employees he had, and the people that were interested in the Painter Bonnet clogging up the space, he was more than overwhelmed. It wasn’t like it was packed, the building could hold her fair share of people, but Stede could only handle so much. Here he was, pressed into the back room and cursing himself. He should be out there, trying to talk people into coming back to the library, but he was cowering in here with the buzz of talking vibrating the walls. Vibrating his head too.

Stede had been out there, watching everything, when he’d been so overcome with sound that his body began to feel numb. Every note of noise rose into a cacophony of discomfort rattling his chest, and he’d needed to escape. Buttons now sat across from him, silent and chewing an orange. He watched him with glassy wide eyes. “Mr Buttons, could you please stop staring at me.”

“Ye been courtin death, Cap’in.” So he’d picked up on the name as well. “I can see ‘er touch on yew.”

“What do you mean by that?” Stede parted his fingers from his eyes and peered up at him. No one else on the crew knew about Ed (besides Mary, but that's another story), as he’d made it clear he didn’t want other people talking to him, but Buttons had always spoken strangely about the place. And he spoke to his bird, Stede had heard him do it before.

Buttons leaned closer. “This place. She’s tainted. I seen him.” He whispered in a conspiratorial tone. “So have yew, aye?”

“What..”

“Karl told me.” He stroked a finger down the back of the crow’s head, who cawed quietly. “Ye been meetin with a spirit. Best be careful. They’re tricky li’l buggers.” Buttons pinned him down with a suddenly knowing look, and it curdled the words in Stede’s throat. “‘E passes all me protections, y’see? I been trying to cleanse this place since yew let me on.”

“Is that what you meant by protection?” He blurted suddenly.

Buttons, and it seemed Karl too, stared at him in an affronted way. “Yew thought I meant fightin? Nay!” He shook his head.

He felt like an idiot. Those pieces of paper scrawled with drawings pasted to the walls made much more sense now. “Oh, Mr Buttons, you’ve no need to try and drive off Edward. He’s perfectly fine.” Stede figured he knew, he’d practically just told him to be careful around him. How he knew, he’d never know, but there was no use denying it now. 

“I weren’t referrin to physical harm.” He took another slice of orange and sucked out the juice, causing Stede to cringe. And he didn’t say anything more. So they were left sitting there with a stale air between them.

Well, Stede could always get up and leave. So he did.

He pushed the chair back and hurried through the doorway into the gallery of people chatting and pointing at art. Lucius was busy sitting in a little booth for himself, a large man with a white beard, a warm green shirt, long grey pants and a scrap of fabric tied around his head. Olu was talking to a thin man with large shifty eyes and small wisps of hair on his head. Jim was hiding in the bedroom, and Pete was chatting with… was that Wee John? Good for him. Maybe he should go talk to him. Stede relaxed slightly into the noise now. If he didn’t focus too hard, it would just wash over him, and he’d be fine.

“Stede bloody Bonnet.”

He was pulled very rudely out of his dissonance by the short stray cat man. Stede blinked. “May I help you?”

“Yeah. Fucking leave.”

“Pardon…?”

“Go back to whatever hole you crawled out of.”

Stede furrowed his brow, and glanced back and forth to see if anyone else saw what was happening. Apparently not, the bustle was just as loud as it was before. And he had been raised to be petty. “I’m so sorry, my good man, I can’t hear you over the noise.”

The man’s eyes flashed wide and he grit his teeth. “I said go!” His tone raised slightly over the noise, but not enough to attract more than a few wry glances.

“Sorry, sorry. Still didn’t get it.” Stede frowned, if only to keep himself from grinning. He could see the color creeping across the man’s cheeks, the annoyance bunching in his shoulders. “Perhaps we can chat another time, when there’s less noise?”

The man growled. “You know exactly what I said, you fucking cunt.” He pointed. “And if you aren’t out of here by next week, there will be hell to pay.”

“I’m so sorry. Who are you?”

“My name is Israel fucking Hands. And you better not fucking forget it.”

Stede trailed his eyes back to where Pete was chatting with John. Another man had joined in the conversation, a shorter umber colored man with curly jet black hair that also formed a small beard across his chin. He was cringing close to John and kept his head on a swivel. He recalled their talk about John’s housemate. That must be him. “Well, Fucking Hands, I’ll try not to.” He turned and ducked back through the crowd to more agreeable people. 

John and Pete both greeted him warmly when he came up. “John! So good to see you again. What brings you to our event?”

“I like me some art, from time to time. Recognized the place and name, and figured I’d come down.” John gestured. “This is Frenchie. He and I share a place.”

The lithe man, Frenchie, peered up. “You know this place is haunted right? It’s a black hole of bad luck. We’re putting ourselves in danger just being here, it’ll rub off and the ghosts will follow us home.”

Stede frowned slightly. “I’ve been living here for a few months. I haven’t seen any ghosts.” This caused the man’s eyes to go wide.

“That’s what they want you to think! Then they’ll steal your soul while you’re sleeping. It might already be gone!” He hissed, taking a large step away from him.

John looked back. “Oh, come off it, French. Stede’s a nice fella.”

“Yeah. At least he’s not soulless.” Pete chimed in. “Luci and I have been working for a few months. This place is only haunted by leaks.”

He looked between the two, before glancing back to Stede with a sigh. “…well. Okay, maybe you aren’t soulless… but you’re still in danger. You better protect yourself.”

Stede laughed softly. “Okay Frenchie. I will.”

Chapter Text

Ed quietly watched the art show from the floor. The noise buzzing through the foundations of the house itched at his insides, but he still watched to get a look at what the building looked like when it was truly alive. With all the people crowding the halls and the lights on. It was kind of nice, from a distance. But being right in the middle of it was too much. How did Stede do this so easily? How had he done this so easily on the ship? He could see him, partially, tucked around a group of people and chatting like it was as easy as breathing. This was nothing like the ship. Ships only held like 20 people. Edward groaned and sunk back below the floor line. 

The moon had come out by now, and while Ed wasn’t much one for leaving the library, right now felt like a good time. He tiptoed up the steps, and over toward the door. Course, he could always go through the dirt, but that was just not something he enjoyed doing. Moving through bugs and worms and just… eugh. He wasn’t going to do that. Edward was never sure if he was visible or not, but seeing as how no one was staring at him right now, he would assume he wasn’t.

Or at least, that’s what he thought, before that lady from days before stopped in front of him. He stared down at her, shoulders pulled up as he held his breath. Perhaps she just felt the cold.

“Edward, I was wondering where you were.” She folded her hands in front of her. “Stede said you came and went, but I was hoping to run into you again.”

“Oh- you uh, you were?” Ed crunched back against the wall as best he could, eying the people gathered near them. The air felt stale and compressed, clouded with the constant chatter and thick with the words of others. 

Mary tilted her head a little, scanning over him as some realization sparked in her eyes. “There aren’t many people on the third floor. If you want to go up there.” She offered her arm.

A sigh escaped him as he tucked his hand over her forearm, being led through the flowing crowd up to the second floor where less people were, and then to the third. Virtually no one was there, maybe three people who were tucked in the corners reading and avoiding the other floors like he was trying to do. Edward fumbled with a clasp on his belt. “Sorry, prolly ain’t the best to have to drag a stranger away from your own event.” He mumbled.

“Nonsense.” She waved her hand. This was the same spot she’d met him, Ed noted. “The events aren’t really my main focus. The painting process is what I pour my heart into, not these things. Alas, that’s how I make money, besides commissions.” Mary sighed softly, like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders by coming up the steps. “Besides, with how Stede carried on about you, you aren’t exactly a stranger.”

Something in his chest curled. “He talked about me?” The smile spread under his beard carried in his voice. 

Mary must have heard because she laughed. “Yeah. When he enjoys something- or someone- he isn’t shy about letting people know. Or at the very least, letting me know.” She scanned over him with a sharp eye, and for a moment he wondered if maybe she was appraising him, seeing if he was worthy of such affection from Stede.

Edward cleared his throat a little. “And uh, what. Did he talk about?” He shuffled his feet back and forth. It wasn’t like the whole Blackbeard thing was something he hated talking about, but being just Ed for a while before someone found out was nice. Apparently, Mary must have picked up on what he was trying to suss out.

“He tried to be subtle about that, if you must know. But, frankly I don’t much care.” Maybe it was just being brought up in a similar circle, but Stede and Mary both talked in similar ways. “It’s been a while since someone’s made him ramble on like that.” Mary peered out at the landscape. “Now this is a rather peaceful place you have here, Mister Blackbeard. Maybe I’ll paint it.”

“Just. Just Ed.” He picked at a loose seam. “Haven’t been Blackbeard in decades.” Though there was a shy smile on his face. Thinking of this place as his, it made it seem like his own little slice of paradise that he watched over. “And it ain’t mine anymore. It’s Stede’s.”

Mary nodded. “Right. Well. It’s still pretty.” She peered over her shoulder, and sighed, listening to the din of noise below. Someone was calling for her. “Seems that’s my que.” She murmured. “I just wanted to thank you.”

“Thank me?”

“Yeah. Well, you and the rest of the workers here, but you especially.” Mary turned to the stairs. “Stede and I might not be together still, but he’s my friend. And it’s good to see my friend doing better. I believe I have this group to thank for that.” She hurried off back down the steps to the people waiting for her, leaving Edward at the window grinning like a child. 

But this was a bad thing. He was supposed to drive Stede out, get the building back into spooky haunted mode. Edward had never wanted to do anything less in his life or death, and he’d been a pirate. And he’d seen Izzy when he was being led to the steps, so that could only spell disaster. He moved over to one of the chairs and sunk down.

-

By the time the event wrapped up, and everyone was gone, Edward had moved back into the bedroom to wait for Stede. He had made sure to stay hidden from the rest of the crew, otherwise they’d freak out over the haunted library all over again. Although that one guy, Buttons. He’d been doing these things, and it made his senses burn whenever that happened. Ed figured he should talk to Stede about that, in case that Buttons man actually managed to throw him out of this plane of existence. 

But now that there was someone else staying here, it was getting harder and harder to dodge them. Such as now. He heard the final people dwindle out, and someone walking to the door. Edward barely had time to react as it swung open, and instead of it being Stede, a very surprised Jim stood there. They yelled something in Spanish, and flung a knife out of somewhere towards his chest. Of course, it went right through, ending up stabbed through the wall. 

“Whoa, hey! Easy there-“

“Who the hell are you? What the fuck are you doing in here?!” Jim pulled out a second knife from god knows which pocket and aimed it at him.

The commotion brought Stede rushing back, along with Oluwande who usually stayed behind with Jim before going home. Ed backed up a little bit, shooting a glance to Stede for help.

Olu reached forward to try and lower Jim’s arm. “Jim, easy. We can’t just throw knives at people-“

“He broke in-“

“You don’t know that!”

Stede stepped forward so he was positioned between Jim and Ed. “Please, uh, put the knives down, Jim. This is just Edward.”

Jim’s face relaxed slightly, but they eyed Ed over his shoulder. “So this is your mystery man.” They grumbled and slipped the knife back into their pocket. “I thought he was one of the art people who snuck back here.”

“Nah. I just. Thought I’d come see how things were doing.” Edward cleared his throat awkwardly. “Didn’t mean to give you a right spook.” He sat back down on the bed with a relieved whoosh of air.

They scanned over him for a moment as they crossed the floor to grab the knife buried in the wall. “Why do you look like you just crawled out of the ocean?” Jim flicked the blade into their pocket.

Edward passed a frightened look to Stede, catching Olu squinting at his sleeve of tattoos. “Just am.” He cleared his throat. “Maybe I did. You don’t know.” Their eyes cut into him almost as sharply as their blade had.

“Right… well,” Olu moved over and took their arm, guiding them back to the staff area, “we should. Leave you two alone then. I take it.” He could hear Jim muttering to Olu in Spanish as they disappeared into the next room.

Stede sighed, his shoulders falling down his sides as he pushed the door shut with his foot. “Oh dear, I’m terribly sorry about them.” He slipped off his coat and hung it neatly in the little wardrobe alongside the others. “I told Jim to fetch my reading glasses, and I wasn’t expecting you to be in here.”

“It’s fine.” Ed pulled his legs up. “I was just going to ask how it went. I weren’t paying that much attention to the whole affair.” He watched as Stede grabbed some thin cotton night clothes and worked off the more formal wear. Edward felt his cheeks redden as he scanned over him, noting small scars of bullies past scattered across his skin. They weren’t deep or anything, but he imagined the emotional scarring was worse. And he really took a gander at that ass. Edward was no stranger to another man’s form, but that didn’t make Stede’s any less special. He was almost disappointed when he pulled on the sleeping gown.

Stede turned back to grab his heavy yellow sleeping coat, but his eyes caught Ed’s. He must have realized the predicament because his face went cherry. “Oh my god! I’m so sorry, I wasn’t thinking-“

“Stede-”

“What kind of gentleman am I, changing in front of someone I-“

“Stede.”

“That must have been so uncomfortable-“

Stede .”

He fell silent, but he wouldn’t meet Edward’s eyes again.

“It’s alright, mate. I lived on the fucking ocean, wasn’t like we had a lot of places to change.” He leaned back on his hands. “Lotta people were just half naked all the time anyway.” That was a half lie. Most people at least had clothes, no matter how many moths had had a good snack on them.

The color plaguing Stede’s cheeks remained and he wasn’t saying anything, so he continued. “Trust me. Just changing clothes ain’t something to get all worked up about. I think you look great.” Maybe that was the wrong thing to say. Stede only went redder.

“You…” Stede had grabbed the coat and now pulled it tight over his figure. “Thank you. I think. That’s a very lovely thing to say.”

“I mean it.” He moved over on the bed so Stede had room to get in. “Seriously, don’t worry about it, mate. We’n just pretend I didn’t see anything if it’d make you feel better.”

Stede crawled into the bed, and pulled over a book as he tossed the sheets over his legs. There was a shy smile tucked behind the book as he propped it open and held it up. “No it’s… perfectly fine. It’s just something that happened.” He cleared his throat. “The event went swimmingly, if you must know. A lot of very nice people who said they’d stop by again to check out the books. I’m confident some were just saying that so they didn’t come off as rude when I asked, but I’d like to think more people will show up.”

“I saw that fella that works for you doing sketches?”

“Lucius! Yes, it was his idea to sell more personal art for people who couldn’t afford the paintings. It brought in plenty of capital, but I let him keep most of it.” He situated the book on his knees as he spoke.

Ed hummed. “Most?” He wasn’t entirely sure how these events went, so he assumed he would keep it all. Or maybe give some to Stede since this was his building.

“Well, it’s Mary’s event. She took a small portion as a formality, but it was maybe around 3%? Nothing major, since she had some large sales. She’s rather generous.”

He tapped his hands on his legs for a moment. “Well that’s good. You…” it seemed best to not be too direct with his questions right now. “You meet anyone interesting?” Edward scanned over his expression.

It didn’t change much, only shifting to a more thoughtful look. “I saw Wee John again; he helped me with the repairs if you remember him?”

“Big guy, suspenders?”

“Yes, him! He brought his housemate along, Frenchie, and he was rather nice.” He thought for a moment, before laughing. “Oh, and there was this guy.”

“Guy…?” Edward’s gut sank.

“This short little man. He was very rude, but I haven’t the foggiest why. Told me to leave. Could you believe that?” Stede’s eyes were full of humor as he looked over. 

Ed had to force himself to smile and shrug. “Hah. Weird.”

“He’s been hanging around the building. I’ve seen him walking around outside every now and then. Do you think he’s planning something? I do hope he doesn’t try anything.”

“Nah. Probably won’t.” Panic rose in his throat like bile, threatening to spill over onto the blanket. “But. If it’ll make you feel better. I’ll… keep an eye out?” He tried to hide just how hard he was gripping the leather of his pants.

Stede waved a hand. “It isn’t that serious, I don’t think.” He paused and thought. “But maybe you could see what he does when he’s not here? If you see anything suspicious, of course. I don’t endorse you spying for no reason!”

Edward chuckled nervously. “Yeah. Of course.” He cleared his throat, watching as Stede yawned, and took the opportunity. “You really should get some sleep.” He pushed off the bed and stepped back.

“Oh, already..?” Stede leaned his head into the board. He blinked slowly. “I am rather tired, I suppose…”

“Sleep.” He crossed his arms.

Stede groaned. “Fine.” Then rolled over.

Chapter Text

Lucius sat across from Olu, going over some of the sketches he’d made the other day. “So the captain had some guy in his room?” He peered over to where Stede was trying to hoist a box up the steps. They all knew Stede had some sort of friend, given how many times he slipped up and talked about him, but besides that they knew nothing. “Spicy.”

“Don’t know about that. But, he’s lucky Jim didn’t skewer him.” Olu had just finished going through what had happened over the weekend before with the other three. He looked over. “Funny thing is, they said it should have hit.”

He grunted, leaning against his elbows. “What did he look like? Maybe one of us saw him during the show.” He saw Pete nod out of the corner of his eye.

Olu thought. “Well, I feel like he would have stood out. He wore a bunch of leather, and had tattoos all up his arm? He also had a beard, and kinda muscular.” He frowned when no one came forward with any recognition. “He was bout the same height as captain.”

“Aye. The spirit.”

Everyone turned their attention to Buttons, who was thoughtfully stroking Karl’s chest feathers. “…spirit.” Lucius incredulously lowered the book so he could shoot him a questioning look.

Buttons nodded. “The ghost that walks these halls. He visits our cap’in.” He didn’t move his eyes from his companion, only furrowing his brow in concentration.

“But Stede said this place wasn’t haunted.” Pete spoke up from the shelves. “He’s said so. A lot. And we haven’t seen any ghosts since being here.” He poked his head out. “Unless you just haven’t said anything, babe.”

Lucius shook his head. “Not a one.” He tapped his pencil. “Though, I have been wondering where those puddles come from.” He pointed around the ceiling. “Because as far as I know, this building shouldn’t have any leaks. Stede woulda covered that since he’s such a stickler for details.”

“I don’t think it’s a spirit though.” Pete slid back around to one of the shelves to move a couple books that were in the wrong place. “Don’t think there’s such a thing as phantom water.” 

The art show really livened the place up in terms of business. People slowly trickled in, if only to say they’d been there, and that it was in fact nothing but an old building. It was to the point where they actually had things to keep them busy, which was more than they could say for the last couple of weeks. Lucius figured it was good, but he would be remiss if he didn’t miss being able to laze about and get paid. But good for Stede, really.

They were seemingly in a position where Stede could readily think about other things. He’d mentioned opening a cafe when it was just him and Pete, saying he enjoyed reading with a cup of tea so this would be no different. Lucius had heard from Jim that he wasn’t much of a cook, so they’d need to hire people. Actually, he’d heard it from Olu, since Jim didn’t talk to anyone, but the point remained. He wasn’t entirely sure they liked him, but as long as they didn’t try to stab him, that was fine. 

All of them were trying to figure out how to breach the topic of the mystery man, but according to Oluwande, Stede just changed the subject if he asked. The only way to get any info, an idea agreed upon by the three of them (Jim wanted no part of it), was to corner him and gently coax it out of him. It wasn’t a huge deal, of course, but it was curious that only two of the group had seen him once , in a town where everyone knew each other no less. Lucius loathed to admit that maybe Buttons did have a point about it being a spirit, given the entire situation, but he’d always had a weird feeling about the library, even if he didn’t say it out loud. No one in the group did; if they even felt it.

Lucius ducked his head as Stede came trotting back over. Best not to let him know they were talking about him. He caught Pete’s eye as he spied from around the corner, then made sure to also lock eyes with Olu just in case.

“They were talkin’ about yer specter, cap’in.”

Shit. Shit, he forgot about Buttons. Lucius snapped his head up, mouth open to reprimand the odd man, but Olu beat him do it. “Come on , mate!”

“What the fuck , Buttons.” Pete groaned, slinking around to join the group. His arms crossed over his chest as he stopped beside Lucius.

Stede, bless his heart, looked more bewildered than upset. “My what?” He looked between the gathering, before his brow fell and he planted his hands on his hips, completing the portrait of a disappointed parent. “Now, now. I don’t want you gossiping and making up stories about Ed.”

Ed ?” Lucius leaned forward over the counter. “Is Ed the guy Jim found in your room?” It was an obvious question, with an obvious answer, but it would at the very least get Stede talking. Plus, it took his focus off what they were just doing.

In turn, he went red. “I don’t know what Jim told you, but he was just waiting for me. And he didn’t want to bother you guys by waiting in the staff lounge.” Stede tapped his foot on the carpet.

“And he’s a ghost?”

“No-” Stede balked. “He’s not a ghost.” The problem with this man was that he was a disastrous liar when caught off guard. The nervous twitch to his hand and the wide bugging eyes gave him away more than his words.

And really, Lucius wasn’t sure if he wanted to call him out on such a lie. He simply stared, seeing Pete and Olu both react in similar ways. The silence hung heavy over these words.

“He’s not a ghost!” He repeated, a bit more tinny whine to his voice. “He’s a sailor. So he pops in and out.”

Pete squinted. “What, did he fall off his ship before he came? Olu said he was soaking.” 

Stede stumbled over himself, before just muttering a slight “Maybe.” But he really didn’t sound sure.

The group continued to stare, and Lucius was quietly upset with the real possibility that the library was actually haunted and he’d been duped. That upset burst out into a high pitched scream when someone spoke behind him, and he quickly snagged onto Pete.

“Stede, mate, it’s okay.” A rough voice called from the doorway of the staff room. Everyone whirled around to see this tall, leather clad man leaned into the doorframe. A small puddle was gathering under his feet, and deep brown eyes scanned the crew. “It’s about time I met this crew.” 

Lucius held on tight to Pete. “How- what the fuck-“ It was a very attractive man that stood before them, maybe not Lucius’ type but he could see the appeal, but he was drenched from head to toe, and he looked exactly like Olu described. He heard the fuzz of Stede talking, but didn’t quite pick up what he’d asked.

The man grinned, enough for it to be seen under the expansive beard. “Yeah, I’m sure.” He stepped forward toward the group gathered at the desk. “Evenin, I’m Edward.” Ed dipped forward in some mock bow. “I’m your local haunt, if you prefer.”

Lucius and Pete both looked to Oluwande who nodded. “Yeah, that’s- uh, the guy. I saw.” He took a wide step back away from him, quietly wheezing a what the fuck . Jim suddenly appeared from the doorway.

“I heard a screa- mierda !” They yanked out a knife.

“Augh, cmon, I’m not that scary, am I?”

“You just appeared out of nowhere .” Lucius followed the motion of stepping away. “That’s fucking terrifying. Have you been watching us this entire time??”

“…maybe.”

Jim glared down Ed. “ lo sabía! You’re a ghost!” They aimed the knife at him.

After what seemed like a hard reboot, Stede finally came back to life. “Okay!- okay, everyone just calm down.” He hurried forward. “Jim, once again, please put the knives away. They’ll just hit the wall.”

“You said this place wasn’t haunted.” Pete gave Lucius’ hand a comforting squeeze.

Stede anxiously ran a hand through his hair. “Yes, well, would you have believed me if I’d walked up and said ‘oh, it’s haunted, but he’s a really lovely bloke, you ought to get to know him.’?” The murmurs suggested a rather unanimous no. He took a deep breath. “Well… no time like the present, I suppose. Everyone, this is Edward. He, er, lives here, in a sense.” He cleared his throat, looking to Ed, and some silent conversation the group couldn’t grasp the context of occurred. At least not until Pete spoke up.

“Is he Blackbeard?”

Olu looked over. “I think that’s just a story, mate. Since that Blackbeard legends kind of all this town has.” He had moved to Jim and was trying to get them to fully put the knife away. “Just cause he has a beard doesn’t-“

“I am.” Edward put his hands in his pockets. “I was. I don’t really like being called that anymore.”

The absolute explosion of noise that came from this bombshell was too much to sort through. The Blackbeard enthusiast Pete began spilling out questions while Olu tried to ask Stede questions, and Jim probably said some curses in Spanish out of exhaustion. Lucius noticed Buttons just stood there, completely unsurprised by all this information. He waited for the initial shock to wane before calling attention to it. “So, how’d you know, Buttons?” 

Pretty much everyone turned to him, even Edward. It was silent again. The crow cawed and moved up to Buttons head before he said anything. “Karl noticed first. I be in tune with the spirits, though.” He said it as if it were a completely natural thing. “Been tryin to set up wards since I came here.”

Stede made a sound of realization. “Those bits of paper.”

“Aye. There were a negative energy here. Though,” Buttons squinted, “Mayhaps I got the wrong target.”

The phantom scoffed. “Clearly. M not negative.” He crossed his arms. “But that explains some shit.”

“Well,” stede exhaled roughly, “now that everyone’s calmed down, why don’t we discuss this over some tea- and coffee.” He nodded to Jim, who just looked away.

*

From outside, a group of three men stood. A car was parked down near the bottom of the hill, and two stood nearby, watching. The third, a short, petulant little specimen, peered in through the window. He ground his teeth against each other as the group in the building tricked out into one of the areas in the back, forcing him to lean back and start to change windows. “That fucking bastard.” He growled, drawing the attention of the man to his right.

“What’s a matter, boss?” Ivan tucked his hands in his pockets.

“He’s talking to them.” Izzy hissed, walking around the building until he found a window where some heads were visible. “So our base of opperations is fucking gone now.”

Fang was watching from this side. “I dunno. I kinda like it here.” He smiled. “Very homey.” There was a giddy look in his eyes. No doubt because of that stupid sketch artist. When they’d visited during the art showing, Fang had spent a heap of time getting himself sketched for no reason.

“It isn’t supposed to be fucking homey , Fang.” He snapped, delivering a hard whack to the burly man’s arm and being rewarded with a wince. “It’s supposed to be abandoned, and haunted so people don’t show up.” Izzy peered back in. “He’s having a fucking tea party, oh my god.”

Ivan shrugged. “Why don’t we just keep using the Queen Anne’s ? It’s what we got it for.” He quickly stepped out of range of Izzy’s incoming smack. It didn’t put him far enough away from his withering glare though.

“People will notice if suddenly a bunch of noise comes from a shit bookstore. It’s too risky. If you knew this, maybe you’d be more than a fuckin goon.” He turned his attention back to the window, if only to not see the emotion strike across his face. Izzy didn’t mean to be harsh, but he was too pissed off to care. He’d said, he’d promised he’d take care of it. And here he was making friends. Izzy was incensed.

Fang and Ivan stayed close by, but continued to keep an eye out. Israel thought they’d had a good deal, him and Blackbeard. They got to conduct business in the building, and in return the ghost got some friends. Or whatever they were. Izzy didn’t know, he didn’t consider them friends personally. Just work people. But now Blackbeard was starting to talk to other people. It sent this unpleasant swirl through his chest, sucking everything down into a spreading pool of dread. He really tried to convince himself that it was just because he knew what would happen if he didn’t conduct business, and that was one of the only reasons. The other being that this ponce of a man was ruining Blackbeard. And that was it. 

Fang came around the corner. “Boss. Car’s coming.”

“Shit.” Izzy stepped back from the window. For a moment, he managed to catch the eyes of the ghost, giving him the coldest deadest look he could muster, and then hurried with his boys back to the car. 

Chapter Text

Ed wasn’t entirely confident in his decision to tell the group about himself. He’d made a whole deal about people only knowing him as Edward for a while, but the bedroom blunder had left him in a position hard to wriggle out of. Two of them were probably suspicious, and Buttons was well aware of him. Luckily, they didn’t seem to mind too much. After an initial round of questions, the tension seemed to completely dissipate.

Pete asked a majority of the questions, mostly fact checking things he’d read. Most sentences started with ‘is it true that’ and it almost never was. They all sat around a table while Stede poured them tea (and coffee for Jim). That was maybe the one thing he could make with the tact of a trained brewer. Ed was really surprised by how quickly they acclimated to the whole situation.

Of course, they got the base information about when he died, how he died, was he the one leaving water, why was he so damp and how long he’d been there. Some of the same questions Stede had asked, but he was fine going back over it. They’d started to move on to asking both Stede and Edward questions. 

“So Stede,” Lucius had his legs crossed, holding his cup of tea in one hand, “how long have you known Ed was here?”

“Yeah, you said this place wasn’t haunted.” Pete crossed his arms. He’d actually mixed some coffee into his tea.

Stede chuckled. “Well, he showed up the first day, but I didn’t know until the first day we were open.” He shook his head. “To be fair, I only saw him maybe three or four times between first meeting him and now.” 

Lucius frowned, then turned to Ed. “And you just… appeared in his bedroom?”

The question was obvious, being a pirate and seeing the obvious affection between the boy and Pete made it more than clear what he was really trying to dig at, but he wasn’t entirely sure if he wanted to go down that route openly. Stede was right there. “Yeah. Knives and Beanie were still here, and I didn’t really expect them to come into the bedroom.”

Jim, mid sip, snorted and had to cover their mouth. “Knives?”

He paused. There were nicknames he’d given the crew in his head, since he never really spoke to them directly, and he hadn’t realized he’d said them out loud. Edward cleared his throat. “Uh, yeah. You’re always messing with one. And your friend almost always wears a beanie.” 

“I like wearing them.” Oluwande shrugged, then squinted. “You do know our names, right?”

Edward held his cup closer. “…Yes.” He only knew one because it was the one fucker who was trying to get rid of him and Buttons is an easy name to remember. It also somewhat fit into his nickname scheme, although he still sometimes called him Birdman in his head. He heard Lucius snort, and shot him a look. “Oi, you know how many people I’ve met since bein here? Names don’t mean shit to me.”

“No, no. It’s not a bad thing.” The young man held up his hand defensively. “I just want to know what you call the rest of us.” That sentiment seemed to be shared by the group as he saw a couple nods.

Ed grunted and put down his cup. “Aight.” He pointed to the two he’d already said. “Knives, cause you’re always messing with one, and also threw one at me. Beanie since you’re always wearing them.” He turned to Lucius. “Quill. Because every time I see you, you have a journal open.” That seemed alright with him, since he began to grin. 

Pete frowned. “If you gave me something on me being bald…” he grumbled.

“Nah, I call you Ink. Because you always come in with Quill.” Ed shrugged. “And whenever I see you, you’re near him. Sure it ain’t accurate to your lives, but it’s what I see.” He saw Pete light up at that, and he grinned. “And Buttons is Birdman.”

The man in question hadn’t spoken at all since they’d started; he’d just downed three cups of tea and was working on the fourth. Buttons’ eyes also hadn’t moved from Ed, and it was starting to make him uncomfortable.

“What about captain?” Olu raised a brow.

The group always kept pulling back to him and Stede during this conversation. Odd that. “Oh, he’s just librarian.” Edward turned to look at the man in question as he spoke, seeing a flare of color fade onto his cheeks as their eyes met. Maybe it was just because of the situation, or maybe it was the name. Ed had noticed just how flustered the man got around him, and while he hoped beyond hope that it was for the reasons he wanted it to be, it was probably due to the difference in social norms between them. Ed was just some scrappy dude of the ocean who didn’t care about being proper, and Stede was a fancy man who hadn’t known anything else. Chances were the improperness made him more flustered than anything else. Stede took a nervous gulp from his cup and quickly moved his eyes away.

Jim looked down at the floor where a puddle of water had grown. They grunted. “Is there a way to get you to stop getting water everywhere? It’s a bitch to keep cleaning up.”

A few murmurs of agreement went around, and force the first time, Buttons spoke.

“You’d have to retrieve him from her watery depths.” He poured himself another cup. Everyone turned their attention to him. “But the ocean don’t give up her dead easily.” Buttons swirled some milk into his tea.

Lucius blinked. “Wouldn’t he be nothing but bones now? And the ocean would throw those bits all over the place?”

“If he wasn’t on deck, maybe they all stayed in the same space?” Olu offered, but he didn’t look hopeful. He looked to Ed. “Where were you when you died?”

Ed hadn’t thought about that in a while. He had to lean back on his heels and close his eyes.

-

Waves tossed the ship back and forth under his feet, the spray of salt mixing with the sweat on his skin. He’d been fucking found. Of course he had, they’d set up an entire blockade to stop him and he’d just tried to dance around it like a one legged Frenchman. A suspiciously absent first mate didn’t escape his notice either. The screams of his ill fated crew split the sky, and Edward could barely see through the tangle of limbs and metal and smoke. He stumbled over bodies and dodged slashes and blows from both his crew and the invading British.

It was the end. And everyone on board knew it. Blackbeard would only make it out of this alive if he were a coward, and he wasn’t about to do that. This was what he’d wanted, yeah? Going out in a blaze of glory and steel. But it was too much. He scrambled for the door to the cabin, but as his hand reached the knob, a ball of iron tore through his shoulder. Edward screamed, although it couldn’t be heard or identified over the others being slaughtered behind him.

He tore open the door as hard as he could and slammed it shut behind him. All the fighting was up on the deck, but he knew once they cleared it out they’d search the rest. Or they’d just sink the ship. Edward tossed a chair or two in front of the door and stumbled back, collapsing onto the ground with a groan. Blood gathered in a puddle around his shoulder and soaked the leather through. He crawled over toward the small cot tucked into the corner, propping himself up and staring out the window. The screams of his crew still reached him in here, and while the words were muffled, no doubt the crowing British were patting themselves on the back.

Cowardly. That’s what he’d call this. Hiding away in his room while the rest of the crew were slaughtered like fish flopping on land. Edward would never, not in a million years tell anyone what actually happened on this day, that he hid away as his ship was ravaged by the long hand of the British law. Blackbeard would be remembered as a legend, going down with the ship, but Edward knew the truth. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back. He’d die anyway. It didn’t matter.

People were getting off now, the sounds of battle carrying away, and then a single loud cannon shot that rocked the boat and jostled his shoulder. Ed let out an involuntary groan, and turned to the window where he could see the water inching closer and closer. They were sinking them. Edward laughed bitterly. Dying in the only place he’d ever felt free. What a joke.

Water was creeping under the crack in the door now, inching across in gurgling waves and sucking up the bottles and papers left on the floor. It reached him in a matter of minutes, starting at his boots then wetting the bottom of his pants. He could hear those that remained struggling to get off the ship, and more cannon fire that silenced the fleeing boats that no doubt made it to open water.

As the soak crept up to his waist, he thought back to his mother. How concerned she must have been for him after her husband and son disappeared at the same time. How she must have searched for him. How alone she must have felt. This was just fate returning the favor, leaving him to his lonesome as death came to ferry his soul to the other side. He deserved it really. The pain in his shoulder had blossomed into sharp stabs of agony.

It felt like hours, sitting there and waiting for the end. The water rushed in at a steady rate now, as it pushed up further and further, against his stomach, against his chest, against his neck. All those boats he’d raided and sunk, this was what some had gone through. Maybe they’d been more scared, since they’d had family and friends waiting for them somewhere. What did Edward have? Maybe his mother. Would she wait for him though? He didn’t know.

The water was to the base of his chin now. As the ceiling came closer and closer with the water dragging him up and him barely attempting to swim, he… prayed. Edward wouldn’t consider himself religious by any stretch of the imagination. But it felt right. He didn’t pray to anyone or anything, just whatever was out there. Whatever was willing to listen to the final words of a broken man facing the void of the after. The crown of his head hit the ceiling, but the water kept rising, up to his nose, up to his eyes, up to the top of his head.

He didn’t even bother holding his breath.

-

Edward opened his eyes again. “I’d probably all be in the same area. So it’s possible.” He looked to Buttons. “Though, I doubt in any way all of it would be there. You wouldn’t have to pull the entire thing out, would ya?”

“Nay. Missing some finger bones shouldn’t be a problem.” Buttons shook his head. “But the ocean. She keep her dead well. Others may be there.” Then just as soon as he’d started speaking, he stopped.

The group also didn’t say anything, simply digesting this information. Stede was the first to speak. “I suppose I should rent a boat then.”

“What?” Ed blinked.

“Well, I’m not just going to leave you out there.”

We .” Lucius corrected. “Jim was right. Those puddles are a bitch. So if you’re gonna stay the least you can do is not leave them.” The words were prickly, but the way he said them had some warmth.

Edward looked between them. They all seemed to be in agreement. He swallowed back. “Shit… well, guess if you’re set on it.” He sunk back into his chair. As he turned to look out the window, he spotted a head of greying hair, and an angry expression. Oh, shit. Oh shit had Izzy been here the whole time? Panic soured to his throat. He stood just as the doors to the library opened, and Wee John strolled through. Trailing behind was a still panicked Frenchie.

Stede smiled. “Ah, hello! Good to see you two again.” He set down his cup and walked over. Ed was still staring out the window, but he was a bit stuck. They were probably already leaving, so he couldn’t just run through the wall and catch them. With a resigned huff, he landed back in the chair. He’d just have to find him tonight.

His attention turned back to the two who’d come in, and from what he could gather Wee John was wondering if he could volunteer here in his down time. Roofing jobs only came around every so often, and he needed something to do. Frenchie was that flighty little man he’d seen Stede talking to for a time during the art show, and from what he gathered, he was more superstitious than most. Poor guy looked like he was about to pass out just being here. They must have been out doing something and John wanted to stop by, otherwise he doubted Frenchie would have come.

Stede must have seen the discomfort because he was uncharacteristically succinct with his conversation and sent them on their way. He came back over to sit. “I feel rather bad for him. Being scared like that.”

“Well, he’s right about there being ghosts.” Olu pointed out.

“But he’s under the impression said ghost will steal my soul.” Stede shook his head. “Edward, do you have any use for souls?”

Edward looked up from his cup. “I don’t even know how to steal one. What would I do with it?” He paused, then looked to Buttons. If anyone knew…

But the Birdman didn’t say anything. He just continued to sip.

Chapter Text

Izzy arrived back at the used book store and slammed the door to the car shut as hard as he could. He could hear Ivan and Fang talking behind him, but he couldn’t be fucked to listen to what they were saying; he felt ready to burst as it was. There were people mulling about, all in the same dark clothing as Izzy’s. He disappeared into the back room for several hours to pace and grouch. It was a room with a single large chair and a desk, along with several hidden compartments scattered about the walls and floor. A single window with slatted venetian blinds shone into the back alley. The sun dipped below the horizon as the shop emptied out, and the lights of the small town flicked on and began to cut lines into the opposite wall. The occasional pass of headlights provided extra illumination for fleeting seconds. 

He couldn’t grasp it. Really. They’d been doing this for more than a decade, and all of a sudden he lets these random people live in his house. Israel huffed as he sunk down into the heavy wooden chair as he undid his cuffs and tie, rubbing his eyes angrily. Business would certainly falter now. It would cost a pretty penny to try and run a gambling operation in the back of a used bookstore, plus the room was too small for the amount of smoking everyone did. Of course, they could always scout out another building, but getting people away from it reliably would be difficult. 

From one of the drawers on the desk, he produced a cigar case and a matchbox. The sharp burn of the smoke entering his lungs eased the bunch up of his shoulders just enough for him to drop his head back and stare at the ceiling. Maybe he was a bit hurt. Maybe, in some hypothetical way, he’d considered Blackbeard something of a friend. Not that you could have many friends in this business.  But Blackbeard wasn’t in this business. He was dead, which puts you out of most business altogether. Suppose if he did consider him a friend he’d call him Edward more, but that never really felt right. Izzy didn’t need friends anyway, they always disappeared in the end, always planned to fuck him over or turn his words against him.

He could hear Fang knocking now, telling him he was headed home for the night. Izzy mustered back some curt response before taking another long of the cigar. The nicotine tasted bitter, but he’d long grown used to the bite. At least there’d been some good news last week to offset the knowledge of their set up being taken over. Their rival gang had had a setback since one of the husbands of its leader had been killed, and plenty of resources were now being used to find his killer. That gave Izzy time and space to poke around behind her back. Maybe he could find a building they held and take it over for their own use.

The faint clearing of a throat broke his stream of thoughts, and he craned his neck up to see the bastard traitor standing in front of the desk. He growled softly and pulled the cigar from his lips. “I thought you didn’t make house calls.” Izzy tapped the ash off into a tray.

Blackbeard’s eyes darted away. “Mh. Sometimes I do. I guess. Uh.” He cleared his throat. “Look, I’m working on it. Okay. I said he doesn’t scare easily.”

This bastard. He really had the audacity to walk in here and try to smooth things over, as if people hadn’t tried to before. “Is having a fucking tea party what you call ‘working on it’?” Izzy cut his eyes into him.

“Well-“ He sighed. “Cmon, man. He’s a nice person.” Blackbeard frowned, and his brow dropped, giving him a more annoyed appearance. As if he had the right to be annoyed. “Look, can’t you find another building? There’s gotta be a couple.”

Israel bit down on the end of the cigar to keep himself from speaking immediately. He wasn’t in this business. He was isolated. Of course he’d think it was that easy. But it never was. “Or, you could do what we fucking agreed you’d do. I don’t care if he’s ‘nice’. You’ve chased off bloody families for Christ sake. You don’t think they were also ‘nice’ people?” He snarled. 

The pirate leaned back, a twinge to his lip. His hands worked vigorously at something in his pocket, but Izzy couldn’t tell what. Blackbeard’s eyes came down to finally meet his, and he could see the tide of emotion trying to break through. Something akin to guilt coiled at the base of his spine, but he squashed it down. 

“I don’t want to get rid of him, Iz. I like him.”

“Then what the fuck are you doing here.” He smashed the tip of the cigar into the glass dish, despite his calm tone. “Are you here to beg? Tell me to leave him alone?” Izzy stood now. “Because I don’t have time for what you want. I have a business to run, and you’ve just buggered it all up by wanting something. I can assure you, I will not rest until everything is back on track, and maybe you remember who you were.” He leaned forward over the table. “I will make that bastard regret ever stepping foot in this town!”

“Iz-“

“My name is Israel Hands!” He slapped his palms onto the table. “Now get out of my goddamn office.”

Silence. Blackbeard had recoiled from the sound on the wood, and he was staring wide eyed. He didn’t make motion towards the door though, as a violent expression crossed his face. “No.” His demeanor shifted from timid to domineering in a split second, and the dim lights flickered violently. “I’m not going to let you fucking touch him.” Blackbeard strode through the table, rough hands grabbing his shoulders and shoving him down into the chair. “If you so much as come near the library again, I’m going to pull your guts out of your throat.”

Sitting here with this man towering over him, Izzy was almost impressed. For that brief moment, he could feel the gut churning fear invaded ship’s captains must have felt having the terror Blackbeard threatening them. He understood so abruptly why ships surrendered upon seeing his flag. When he uttered a threat, there was a force behind it that told you his words were far from empty. 

But Israel hadn’t gotten this far without the same tactics himself. He gripped the armrests of the chair and braced his heels on the ground. “Do you really want to threaten me, Edward Teach?” He’d shown himself to Izzy, laid his deepest fear out bare, and he hadn’t even realized it. 

Blackbeard sneered. “Just remember, Hands, only one of us can still die.”  A cold hand clasped around his throat for a moment, and he was forced to suck down air much more deliberately. Izzy tried to reach his hands up to grasp at the restraining force, but only found cold air; nothing he could fully grasp. They stayed locked for a second, glaring at each other, before Blackbeard dropped his hand and disappeared. 

The silence was deafening. He pressed his fingers to his neck where he’d been grabbed and shuddered. Something in him felt hollow, like it had been scooped out and tossed out the window. Izzy leaned his forearms against the desk and lowered his head. Maybe this was what it felt like to lose a friend.

He wouldn’t know. Izzy didn’t have friends

*

In the week that followed, Stede set to work planning out his little cafe. He roped off the area and with the help of a remodeling company set up a little counter space with brewers and glass display cases. They also put in some decent ovens for bakery goods too, and a small space to store ingredients. Wee John helped with the installation as he got accosted to the library. He would do most of the heavy lifting it seemed, but he also had a knack for interacting with kids from what he’d seen. He’d also gotten used to Ed after a quick explanation, and Ed even thanked him for installing the roof and floors.

Stede set up the new room with everything he already personally had for tea and coffee, and even bought more to supply it. Along with the drinks, he bought plenty of ingredients for baking. He obviously had no idea how to make the pastries required though, and there were a lot he wanted to include, so he put out a newspaper advertisement for such a person. Jim offered to work, but they could only make bread and offer some of that delicious marmalade their nana made. 

It didn’t take all too long for someone to respond. On a Sunday, when it was just Stede, Jim and Ed, someone knocked almost frantically on the door. Jim panicked and hid back in the staff room while Ed disappeared. That left Stede answering the door.

The man that stood outside was what he’d describe as ‘frazzled’. He had wild black hair that went up in a cloud and stuck out at odd angles, and wide brown eyes that never seemed to stay still. A thin cotton shirt with a low neckline and some type of suspenders that didn’t seem to fit his lanky body gave him an even more wild appearance. He sported a thin mustache and some hair that went under his chin. “Is this the place?” The handle of some sort of utensil poked out of one of his pockets. “The one with the baking job?”

Stede couldn’t find his words for a moment, but luckily was saved by Edward who apparently had confirmed it wasn’t someone he needed to hide from. He popped his head around the corner. “Yes, it is.” One of his hands found Stede’s arm and he gently moved him aside so the harried man could enter. He rose a brow skeptically, but Ed simply smiled. “I know your type by now, librarian.”

“My type?” The touch had pulled some color to his cheeks, the… what really felt like a term of endearment only made it more obvious, but something about him bringing up ‘his type’ just sent his stomach a-fluttering. Stede knew this wasn’t normal; this was no way a friend reacts to another friend, but he wasn’t about to go mucking things up because he got overzealous.

Ed nodded. “To be frank, you haven’t turned down anyone that’s come in yet. But you take in stragglers, and R- that guy, seems like a straggler.” He pointed to the guy who had rushed over to the kitchen and was poking around with excitement.

“…I suppose it’s my fault you’re that right.” Stede sighed. After letting Buttons come onboard, he really couldn’t say no to anyone, could he? He cleared his throat. “May I have your name, sir?”

“Call me Roach.” The man seemed to nod a bit to himself before turning back. “I’ll take it.”

Stede really should have a hiring process. He was determined to at least have some qualifications for this job in particular, since giving a bunch of people food poisoning would just ruin what he’d worked so hard for. “Now now.” He hurried over. “I want to see if you can make what I require first.” He pulled out a small book with the names of pastries he wished to offer, and squinted down at his loopy writing. “Think of this as your interview. Would you rather make walnut bars or peach puffs? Or do you have some sort of specialty you enjoy making?”

Roach’s eyes lit up, as if he’d been waiting for someone to ask him that question for years. “I have this really good chocolate spice cake. I think you’ll love it.” He quickly turned to the pantry and began to busy himself with baking. It was rather interesting to watch. He was almost messy, but made sure to clean up anything as fast as he could. Stede and Ed sat back in one of the tables he’d had brought in for the cafe area and waited.

After about 40 minutes of idle chatter with Roach and Ed, two slices of cake were brought over on the fancy china plates and some forks Stede bought. “Bon appetit.” He flourished it with a bow before moving to the kitchen to clean up.

Stede took up the fork and cut off a small bit, nibbling on the side to make sure it was cooled enough to eat before pushing the rest into his mouth. It was decadent, with just enough spice kick to offset the richness of the chocolate. He stifled himself with a hand, but heard Ed groan in delight across from him. 

“Fuck, mate, that’s fantastic.” He shook his head and practically destroyed the rest of his slice. Roach grinned from where he was wiping down the counter.

“So, boss?”

He cleared his throat. “Yes, uh. It is rather good.” Stede could see Ed out of the corner of his eye grinning. He did have a type, but this one was more than qualified so he didn’t feel bad proving him right. “We aren’t open today, but you could start tomorrow? I’m not entirely sure if you prepare everything the night before or during the day, so I will leave such details up to you.” 

Roach only grinned wider. “You won’t regret this.”

Chapter Text

Edward never thought he’d be on a boat again, not after the last time. Part of him was excited of course, the ocean truly was his calling, but a deep seed of nerves was rooted deep in his chest. He stood on the bow of the small fishing boat Stede had rented. They’d left a couple people back at the library to keep things running, so the group consisted of him, Stede, Pete, Oluwande and Buttons. Lucius said the ocean air didn’t agree with his hair, while Roach and Wee John weren’t exactly in the know right now. Jim never really left the library, so they opted to hang back.

It had been maybe two days since his little talk with Izzy, and he was getting increasingly paranoid about what that man was planning. Nothing good. He’d seen Izzy ‘disappear’ people before, and Stede hadn’t done anything to deserve that. If anything happened to Stede, he’d never forgive himself. Edward hopped down towards the back of the ship. He should warn him. Say something at least so he knew to prepare or expect something. But then he’d have to explain everything to do with Izzy, and not only would that put Stede in danger, but he’d probably dislike him after that. Being back near the boat again didn’t help much either, given the way his gut spiraled every time he thought about going down and seeing it again. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. That place was heavy with memories, good and bad. Mostly bad, but the only good he’d had for a while. 

To get his mind off such affairs, he busied himself with the diving apparatus they’d brought onto the ship. It was like nothing he’d ever seen before, with a large copper helmet sporting large porthole like windows on the front and sides. It tapered down into a neck portion with knobs and valves, and was placed on top of some burlap suit with rubber gloves and metal tipped boots. Long tubes and a pump had also been brought on board, and it had been explained that those were held at the surface so the person could breathe. It was more impressive than anything they had back in his time on the ship.

Buttons stood at the helm, expertly guiding the ship like a seasoned sailor. Apparently he actually had sailed before, working on a commercial fishing vessel and making a living bringing in bushels of the floppers, but he never said anything until the group debated if they needed to hire someone to drive the boat. He followed Ed’s directions without questions, when they were little more than ‘a little bit this way’ or ‘a smidgen to port’. Maybe Stede hiring this man wasn’t a bad thing after all. He missed sailing; maybe he could be asked to be taken out more often like this.

Speaking of Stede, the man was positively glowing the moment he set foot on the vessel. He’d hurried from end to end, tittering on about each little device and design, and which pirates used what kinds of ships. Edward followed behind him. Standing here with him, that gnawing feeling at his gut followed. Here he was, not a care in the world, and he hadn’t the foggiest his life might be in danger. It made him feel like he had the first time he’d entered Stede’s room and seen all the fanciful things. The things he didn’t belong around. The things he dirtied, like Stede.

Currently, he was hanging near one of the sides with the widest of grins, leaning over and watching the water as the wind tossed his hair. He was wearing some of his finest, a completely impractical outfit for sailing, and Edward really couldn’t help but marvel at him. He’d spied in on Lucius and Pete telling him he should have been a sailor, and judging by just how smoothly he took to the boat they weren’t wrong about it. Sure, most of his knowledge was more book smart than practical, but that could always change. Ed leaned against the outside wall of the cabin and watched as he excitedly pointed to a dolphin swimming alongside their ship. “Ed look!”

He moved to peer over the side. “Mm, yeah. That’s a sign of good luck, you know?” Ed leaned his arm against the rail beside Stede.

“They are?” Stede grinned. “Perhaps that means we’ll have luck retrieving you.” He turned his attention to him. “Can you tell if we’re close?”

“I remember where we went down. It’s about a mile or two ahead of us.” Edward scanned over him for a moment, before clicking his tongue. “You’ll prolly have to change out of that though. If I had to guess.”

“Aw. Well. I suppose if I must.”

Ed chuckled slightly, turning back to the waves. He didn’t speak for a moment, simply allowing himself to get lost in the tide of memories the gentle throw of the waves washed up on his shores.

“You must miss sailing.”

He grunted. “A little. But dying in the ocean kinda sours the whole experience.” Ed shrugged. “Maybe if I had someone to sail with.” He didn’t think about those words, it was just a thought that came to mind. “I think I’d like to sail with you; I could teach you how to operate a boat.”

“What?” Stede had gone a light pink. “Oh, no. No I couldn’t. You’d get fed up with me in a week.” He laughed nervously, and he wasn’t meeting Ed’s eyes anymore.

“Nah.” He grinned. “You said you liked the ocean and stuff, right?”

“Maybe it was a dream at some point. But I doubt I could do anything about it now.”

Ed leaned over a bit. “Mate, I want to, and I’m already dead. You absolutely could.” He nodded his head to the open waters. “I ain’t seen you this happy since you found out who I was.”

Stede flushed more, but as he went to say something, he heard Buttons call out.

“She’s under us, Captains!”

*

Stede pulled off his coat and shimmied into the tight suit supplied to him. It was to be put on over his clothes but under the top layer so his clothes would remain somewhat dry and he could be insulated from the cold. He really struggled to figure out the top suit and helmet, but eventually it all clicked into place. Buttons warned him once more about the ocean and how she ‘swallows regrets and guilt whole’ as he was helped over the side of the ship. It was thick, and it made him feel clumsier than he normally would be without proper footing, but regardless he splashed down and slowly sank to the ocean floor. 

It was beautiful down here. Schools of fish quickly darted back and forth, the light reflecting off their scales as they moved in sync. Sand billowed under his feet as he landed and startled a poor little crab that snapped angrily at his boots before scuttling away. Stede had never been fully under the water like this before, and his breath kept fogging up the small window he had. And a few feet in front of him arched the algae covered stern of the Queen Anne’s Revenge.

She was cracked down the middle, the back half resting under layers of sand a few yards away with a small colony of tiny fish and crustaceans living in the coral growing out of the side of the wood. Her figurehead was a woman raising her hands to the sky, her bottom half that of a fish. Tattered sails waved limp and lazy from the mast, the cloth eaten away from decades of hungry fish and sharks migrating through the area. Stede had to really turn to see Ed floating down through the water after him.

He didn’t make that much of an impact, barely disturbing the sand. Ed stared up at the broken ship with a slightly mournful expression. “I figured I should probably, come with. You know. Since it’s my ship and all.” He held up a small sack. “They also said to bring this. Since you probably can’t carry uh… all of me.”

Stede tried to respond, but it didn’t seem to really get beyond the helmet. He huffed, then gave a thumbs up and took the bag.

Ed laughed, but his shoulders sagged. “Been a while since I’ve seen the old girl..” he walked forward and dragged his hand along the wood. He moved through the deck, the scattered bones of what he could only assume were fellow crew mates scattered over the slanted surface. “Shit… they’re still here.” An undeniable sadness seeped into his voice.

Stede stumbled after as fast as he could, but it felt like moving through pudding. He struggled over the broken railing and scrambled to find his footing on the shifting sands. He yelped as a large flat fish shot out from under one of his boots, almost falling over. If he went down, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to get back up. Stede braced his foot against the deck, breathing out harshly. “Goodness.” He looked up to see Edward pulling a bit of fabric from a cracked and downed flag pole. It was a black rectangle with a white skeleton stitched onto it holding a spear and fork.

“Damn. I didn’t think this old bitch would still be intact.” Ed ran his thumb over the cloth for a moment, then turned back. “Here, open the bag.” He folded it as best he could and stuffed it down into the sack Stede held out. “Sorry, sorry, we’re here for a reason.” Edward scanned back over the ship. “This way.” He helped him onto the deck and moved toward what Stede recognized as the captain’s cabin.

The handle was rusted and slimy looking, a trail of seaweed wrapped around what he could guess was brass. Stede reached out and jimmied at it. No doubt time had taken its toll, as it barely budged. He furrowed his brow and pushed down harder, and with a mighty squeak it dipped. Stede looked back to Ed and motioned in or out. 

Ed was staring at the door, a far off look in his eyes as he slipped his hand into his pocket. He stepped back. “…It’s a push door.”

Stede gave him another thumbs up. The door practically fell open when he pushed against it, given the weight of the suit. His eyes adjusted to the dim light and-

-

He was no longer under water. And he was no longer wearing his diving suit. Stede winced as harsh sunlight glared down onto him and his ears rang. As sound filtered back to him, he heard screaming. And gunfire. Stede’s eyes adjusted, and he very abruptly realized he was on a ship.

No. The ship. The wreck he was diving in.

He stood in front of the door he’d just pushed open underwater, wearing a bright teal overcoat with a matching vest and a frilly dress shirt. Stede passed a ringed finger over the heavy coat. It wasn’t part of his normal wardrobe, but he certainly might make it one. 

Stede yelped as blood splattered the wood in front of him and a head rolled across his line of sight. Oh right, the people fighting. Was this her final hours seafaring? He’d read about this moment several times over, the day Blackbeard died, but this was real. This was what really happened. 

He ducked down as someone fired a shot in his direction, and for a brief moment, feared for his life. He couldn’t see much through the chaos, just a couple coats and flashing metal, but as he turned about in the whirlwind of movement he saw a familiar lock of greying black hair. “Ed-“

The figure ducked through the limbs, away from his voice, then reappeared on the other side. That certainly was Blackbeard, although here he was dry. He wove through the crowd, and Stede realized with a start he was headed this way. “Edward!” He saw Ed grab onto the handle of the door he’d just come from, and flinched back as another shot whizzed by him. Someone screamed.

Edward screamed. A hole tore clean through his shoulder, blood seeping down into his leather as he slumped forward in pain. He braced against the frame before grabbing the handle again. Stede ran forward just as Ed yanked the door open. Instead of running face first into it though, he passed right through, tumbling in after him. “Ed…?”

A blood trail dribbled from the middle of the carpet to the cot cramped in the corner. The room was rather bare, with one table housing sone papers spread over it and some knives stabbed into the wood next to an ink pot. A long carved pipe sat on the only other table in the room, along with some gold coins. Leaned against the cot, Ed cradled his shoulder in one hand.

Stede walked over slowly. “…Edward.” No one else seemed to see him, but he hoped Ed could. The way the man’s eyes locked onto him and trailed the length of his body suggested as such. Now wasn’t a time for his stomach to start fluttering, but it really did at the look he was getting. 

“Stede.” He brought his legs up.

“What’s happening?” Stede crossed the rest of the length of the room to sit beside Ed, who shrugged with one shoulder.

“At this point, it’s probably whatever Buttons was talking about. He seems to just know somehow.” Edward grumbled.

Stede looked around the room. “This is a memory of yours, yes? What happens?”

“I…” He sighed. “…well, I die. I think you could figure that.” Edward ducked his head down. He pulled his hand back and stared at the bloodstain on his fingerless glove. “God damn it. I didn’t want to go through this again.”

“Buttons said something before I came down. About regrets.” Stede tapped his foot on the ground. “…do you regret dying?”

Ed shook his head. “I knew it would happen eventually, being out here you can only live so long.” He sighed. “And I also assumed it would be like this. Raided. British or other pirates, I didn’t know.” He chewed his lip for a moment, seemingly debating something before groaning. “God damn it, if the only way to get out of here is to talk about fucking regrets, then I guess I fucking will.”

Stede watched him shuffle up more. “I don’t know-“

“Either that or we wait hours while I drown.” He crossed his arms as best he could. “I hid in here instead of dying out there in the fight. I always thought I was a coward for doing that.” Ed grit his teeth, waiting for a moment before groaning. “Was that not it? Really?” He clunked his head against the bed frame. 

A moment of silence passed between the two. Stede heard a cannon fire, and the boat jumped with the sound of wood shattering. “Ed, was that-“

“Yeah. We’re sinking.” He sounded defeated. “I regret not having a drink right now.” He grumbled.

“Would the regret thing pertain to both of us?” Stede mused. “Although, I’m not sure what I would be regretful about. My time with you has been wonderful.” He smiled.

Ed blinked. “Really?

“Of course! Maybe not… all of this right now, but it’s still nice.” Stede looked around. “I’ve never been in a real pirate ship before though, so maybe I enjoy this too.” He turned as the first gurgles of water pushed under the door. “…I like it less, I like it less, Ed?”

“Huh. That happened faster than I thought.” It was a slow trickle, spilling across the floor.

“What!?” Stede stood up with panic spreading over him, crawling onto the bed as it trekked towards them. He looked down. “Come on-“ he bent down and did his best to hoist him up onto the mattress. That must have been a mistake, as the water slowly picked up speed.

Ed groaned in pain. “Stede- don’t.”

“Maybe this is a memory, but I’m not leaving you down there. We could- we could go out the window?” The water picked up faster, a good inch or three gathered on the ground now. Edward stared at him with wide eyes, neither moving away nor standing up at his insistence. His expression was unreadable. “Edward! Come on!”

The water only poured in faster, soaking Ed up to the waist where he was half pulled up onto the bed. “Stede…”

“What?” He was panting now, trying his best to yank him up. It wasn’t because Ed was heavy or anything, Stede was just not very good at lifting things. He slumped down. “Do you not want to go?”

“This is just where I die. Why are you..?” Edward shook his head. “You should go. It probably won’t affect you anyway.”

Stede stared, then looked up. As he spoke, the door burst open and dumped a few more inches of water into the room. The mattress was floating off the frame now, and Ed was able to stand easily. He chewed his lip. “Ed, I think the water is tied to you.” He tilted his head back. “What else did Mister Buttons say…”

“Then- go! Fucking hell, Stede!” One arm snagged his and tugged.

“…guilt.” He looked up. “The other thing he said was guilt.”

Gallons began pouring in. Oh yeah, it must be guilt then. Stede squeaked as his head rose to the ceiling, pressing his hands to try and distance himself from it as best he could. It was harder to breathe now, the edges of his vision getting fuzzy. The wood walls around them creaked against the pressure of the water, bowing out against the weight, and glass cracked. “Ed- ed, if there’s something you want to tell me, please-“

Ed hadn’t moved. He simply stared at him with one hand gripping the mattress. And he looked… scared? 

His back was pressed to the ceiling, and he was essentially hyperventilating now. “I won’t be mad about whatever it is, just-“

“Izzy.”

Everything paused.

“What?”

“Israel, Hands.” He sank down in the water.

Stede scanned his face, but Ed refused to meet his eyes. “That man I met at the art show..?”

He nodded slowly. “I know him.” The pressure pushing him against the ceiling loosened slightly. “…I’ve worked for him.”

“Why..” Stede shook his head. “Why on earth do you feel guilty about that?”

“Because I’m not a good person, Stede.” The creaking of the wood quieted. “I wasn’t good alive. I’m not good dead.” 

“Well, that’s not tr-“

“Let me finish, Stede. Please.” He didn’t sound angry. Maybe desperate. Stede shut his trap. “All those people who bought the house before you. I chased them out. I was a pirate , Stede! I maimed people, and- and burned ships, and sank them!” The ceiling inched away. “I k… I killed my own fucking dad, I’m not good! ” Ed finally looked back at him, but only for a moment before his head fell into the mattress. “That's why I don’t have any friends.” He whimpered.

“Edward,” Stede placed his hands delicately on Ed’s frightfully cold cheeks, “I’m your friend.” Their eyes met again, and Stede held him there. The room was only half full by now.

Ed tried to limply pull his head back. “Stede, I was supposed to chase you away. But. I can’t. I like you being here.”

“Why are you…?”

“Izzy uses the building. I’m supposed to keep people away. But I didn’t keep you away, and now he’s going to hurt you, and it’s all my fault.” They were almost to the floor now, Ed’s knees touching the ground.

Stede frowned. Ah. He moved some soaked hair out of Ed’s face. “Well… he hasn’t done anything yet. Has he?”

“…no?”

“And you told me So we can work through this together now.”

“And… you aren’t mad?”

He tried to offer the most comforting smile he could. It was worrying, no doubt, having an implied gangster planning to hunt you down, but that was something he could deal with. “Of course not, Ed.” The rest of the water dried up, and the mattress settled on the floor. They were face to face now, but only for a moment as Edward quickly moved forward and wrapped his arms around him, his body shaking against Stede as he sobbed into his shoulder. “…oh, Edward.” He murmured, and settled his arms around him in return.

-

The sharp sting of oxygen brought him back. The darkened room before him was a broken down and hollow version of where he’d just been. And it was completely submerged in water. Stede felt heavy, and something was obscuring his vision. It was hair.

Ed’s hair. The pirate was still in his arms, pushing out small sobs. He paused though, and slowly moved back, wiping his eyes roughly. “…f you tell anyone…”

“I’m not.” Stede wasn’t sure he could hear him, so he motioned with his hand, then turned his attention to the room again. Near the rusted and dented frame of the cot, lay a skeleton. It was surprisingly intact, the skull tilted into the metal and the arms folded in front of it. One of the shoulder bones was shattered and bits of bone were laying in the back of the cabin. It was covered in algae along with the rest of the ship, and a minnow darted between the empty sockets. He shivered slightly, then pointed.

Ed peered over his shoulder and nodded. “Yeah. There I am.” He sniffled and wiped his nose. “…suppose you should… get to it.” He walked to the door. “I’ll uh, wait out here.”

Stede nodded.

Chapter Text

Edward held himself as he perched on the bow of his ship. He could still see the skulls and rib cages of those he’d sailed with half settled in the sand, staring up at him. Maybe coming here hadn’t been the best idea. The resting place of his memories had been more literal than he’d assumed, and he’d accidentally sucked Stede up into it. He flicked at a bit of algae hanging on by a thread near the tip of the bowsprit. He’d said he wasn’t, but Ed expected Stede was more upset with the information than he’d let on. He wouldn’t blame him, of course, almost drowning in someone’s memory isn’t fun.

He heard the wood creak behind him and turned. The sight of the suit made him jump. It had set him on edge the moment Stede put it on; it was this hunking thing of metal that didn’t look human, and boy was it a jump scare to turn around to. “Stede- fuck.” Ed breathed, then spied the bag swinging beside him. “You got it all?”

The suit gave a thumbs up, then pointed to the surface. He tugged at the tubing slightly and a rope with a weight tied to the end was tossed down. Ed floated up back to the boat and perched on the side, watching the group hoist Stede back onto the boat. Olu and Pete helped him out of the helmet, stumbling back as it popped off. “Did you get him?”

“Yes!” Stede held up the bag, the sound of bones rattling from inside. “He was surprisingly well kept.” He looked back to Ed, but he was keeping his eyes locked on the ocean. The residual guilt was still clinging to his chest, weighing down heavily on his shoulders. He heard Stede clear his throat. “Mister Buttons, please guide us back to shore.”

The boat lurched from under them, and began to sail off. Edward threw his legs back over the side so he was facing into the boat now and pushed off the ledge. Stede was busy working himself out of the burlap, but he quickly shook his leg out of the suit and hurried over, bag in hand. “Ed.”

“Stede, I don’t-“ Edward lowered his voice a little.

“No, no, not that. I wanted to ask what you’d like me to do with your… uh, yourself.”

Ed stopped and looked back. He eyed the bag in his hands, and sighed. “Well. I suppose, just dry it off.”

“And the flag..?”

He tried to smile despite the torrent of emotions tearing through him. “You can keep it. For your little collection.” The smile he got from Stede eased his chest a little. Clearly, he was trying to remain sullen, as Edward wasn’t doing much to mask his discontent, but the joy reached his eyes regardless.

Stede turned the bag around in his hands. “…do you need some space?”

“No.” Edward had moved them over to the other side of the ship, away from the small group so they could talk. He propped his elbows onto the railing and stared out, aware of Stede hovering over his shoulder. “I just… don’t want to talk about it right now. I need some time.”

“Oh. Okay.” He heard Stede move forward and slump on the railing next to him. “Your ship looked nice. From what I saw.”

He snorted softly. “Eh. It was grimy as fuck, not sure you would have liked sailing on it. Lotta assholes too.” Talking about the ship didn’t hurt as much as he thought it would, maybe because it brought up everything else and not the last day. “Maybe if you made your own ship.”

“But that’s how pirate ships were supposed to be, yes?” Stede hooked the bag around his waist. “Rough and tough and loud.”

“Yeah, normally. But you don’t seem like you’d be a normal pirate. More… polite.” He relaxed his shoulders.

Stede flushed. “I guess. I’ve thought about it. Living during then and going on adventures. When I was younger, I drew up a little sketch of the ship I wanted to sail when I was able to, but my father found it.” He hunched his shoulders.

Ed raised a brow. “You made your own ship?” He hadn’t meant it as an embarrassing thing, but Stede’s cheeks darkened by shades.

“Oh, it was a silly little thing. Had all these impossible hidden compartments and secret passages.”

“Ugh, I would have killed to have secret passages in my ship.” Ed shook his head. “That’s got flair, you know, style. Most pirates were the same thing, death and black and murder and money.”

Stede chuckled a little and looked out. There was a comfortable silence for a minute as they watched the waves rush by. They’d sat for maybe five minutes when he spoke again. “I know you don’t want to talk about it, but why was I wearing all that? Is that something people wore back then?”

A prickle ran over his spine. It wasn’t directly talking about it. He could handle that. “Yeah. Or at least I think that’s what the fancy twats wore. Maybe that’s why you were all dressed up, I dunno.” Edward picked at his sleeve. “I haven’t the foggiest how this spooky shit works.”

“Well. It was nice, whatever it was.”

He glanced over to Stede, who was wistfully staring into the distance as he clung to the rail. He was back in his vest and long pants, a visible difference from the fineries he’d been decked in during the little flashback. Edward didn’t know a comprehensive history of the clothes the upper crust of society when he was alive, but Stede had looked nice. “Yeah. It was.”

-

They made it back to dock without issue, and back up to the library. He spotted a car outside when they walked back up, and a couple men standing near the door inside. They hadn’t spotted them yet. Edward, for a brief moment, thought they were here for Stede, but quickly caught sight of a tall lady towering over the desk.

She was tall, wearing heeled boots and an olive green vest. A long crimson coat trailed down to her calves, and rings covered most of her fingers but not enough to mask the clearly wooden hand she spotted. Long black hair spilled down her shoulders. “Where are they?”

Edward had seen her before, meeting with Izzy from time to time when they set up their operation in his library. She went by the name Spanish Jackie, but he was very certain she wasn’t Spanish. “Stede.”

He looked up. “Hm?”

But Olu beat him to it. “We should uh- go round back.” He grabbed Pete and dragged him around the building. Buttons followed without question, and Stede watched.

“Ed, who’s that?”

“Spanish Jackie.” Edward shook his head. “Best you don’t talk to her. She’s in the same line of work as Iz.” He followed after Oluwande.

“Oh.” Stede wasn’t moving though.

And Ed could see he was about to do something probably stupid. “Stede, don’t-“

But he was already walking up the steps. He knocked on the door, and Jackie lifted her head. “Hello! May I help you?”

She scanned him, almost disapprovingly, and tapped her finger on the desk. “And who the fuck are you?”

“Stede Bonnet. I own this library. What can I do for you?”

Edward hit his face into his palm, cringing. Oh god. With the full name too. Jackie hadn’t looked at him yet, so he could reasonably assumed he’d gone invisible. He moved up towards the door. “ Stede .” He hissed.

Stede didn’t make any movement to show he’d heard him. Jackie scoffed. “Mh. I’m lookin for a person by the name of Jim Jiminez. Hands said they were workin here.”

Hands? Oh god, oh no was this part of his plan? Getting Jackie on them as well? “ Stede- “ he was too trusting, and too open, this was not good. He’d just put a bigger target on them, and both gangs could clear this place out easy.

“I’m sorry, the last time Jim worked anywhere near here was when they were working for the people repairing my roof and floor. I haven’t seen them since.” 

Ed and Jackie both stared at him, one in surprise and the other with suspicion. “Mhm. And. You sure of this?”

Stede nodded. “Completely sure, ma’am.”

She stalked across the floor, away from a crunched up Lucius who lifted his head. “Good. Cause if I find out you were lyin, Imma get myself a new nose for my nose jar.”

“Your… what?”

“Nose jar.” She flicked out a knife. “A jar fulla noses.” She pressed the blade to his face and Ed flinched, preparing to jump forward just in case. 

Stede straightened up, leaning back on his heels. “Oh- yes of course- haha-“ 

Jackie squinted for a moment before grunting, flicking the knife back down. “Let’s go, boys.” She stalked out, and the two guys they’d seen from outside followed. The car started loudly and drove down the hill, out of sight.

Edward walked up. “Stede, I said not to talk to her.” He hated how out of breath he sounded, but he knew these kinds of people. They were just pirates, but on land. And pirates were a nasty bunch when they wanted to be.

“She seemed fine. A bit… knife happy but fine.” Stede looked back to Lucius. “Are you okay, Lucius?”

“Took you guys long enough.” He scoffed, but it was clear he was relieved. “She was here for like 20 minutes looking for Jim, talking about her favorite husband.”

Ed furrowed his brow. “Where is Jim?” He looked up as Olu, a complaining Pete and Buttons bustled in.

“They hid in captain’s bedroom.” He gestured over his shoulder. 

Olu hurried back behind the counter and towards the bedroom. He looked panicked, calling out to them as he moved back. 

“Oh dear.” Stede murmured. Him and Ed both whipped their heads around as Roach popped over the counter.

“What the hell was that?”

“We’re tryna figure that out.” Ed shoved his hands in his pockets, then paused. Oh right. “I’m Edward, hey.”

Roach waved limply, although his eyes scanned him up and down. They heard Jim and Olu speaking in rushed Spanish as they came out from the back room, appearing through the door frame to a sea of curious looks. Jim tensed their shoulders and stepped back. “…what.”

Stede sighed softly. “…Jim, I’m more than happy to house you, but I would like to know if there’s something going on.” He stepped forward. “Did you do something?”

Jim held onto Olu tighter, their lips pressing into a thin line as their eyes moved from Stede to Lucius and Pete to Buttons to Roach to Edward. They landed on Olu who shrugged, clearly leaving the decision up to them. Ed could already take a guess as to what the issue was, listening to Fang and Ivan talk when he was working up the courage to talk to Izzy. But he wouldn’t tell for them.

Lucius cleared his throat. “If it helps, we’re all pretty sure you killed someone. So if you did, none of us will be surprised.” Pete nodded behind him.

“Lucius!” Stede put his hands on his hips. “We don’t all think-“

“Alfeo de La Vaca.” They hissed the name between clenched teeth.

They stared. The name didn’t mean anything to most, but Ed knew who they were referring to, and apparently so did Roach who shuddered. The rest of the group looked kind of shocked though, he guessed the belief had been more of a joke than Lucius had let on.

Jim groaned. “You okay with an aiding and abetting charge?”

“Oh- well, I may already have one since I let you stay.”

They scanned over Stede’s face for a moment, with an emotion Edward knew quite well. Stede was too nice, and it got him into scrapes like this, but they weren't sure if they entirely wanted him to act like a normal person. Because of it he’d let Jim stay, and he’d gone and retrieved him from the bottom of the ocean. Edward got that.

They wrung their hands for a moment. “He was Spanish Jackie’s favorite husband. But before that, he was part of a mercenary group. And…” Jim looked up to Olu, who reflected the curious look of the group. Apparently he didn’t know this part, unlike the whole murder bit. They cleared their throat. “Him and I have a history. And he had to pay the price for it.” They grit their teeth.

Stede hummed. “And it’s just him?”

“Just him.” Jim turned. “You sure you want me to stay here now?”

“Of course, we’re a crew. If you’re still okay with staying.”

“We aren’t a-“ They squinted at him for a moment, before scoffing. “If I leave, you go back to eating meals from a can.” Jim shook their head, muttering something and then ‘ estupido ’.

Lucius breathed out when they disappeared. “I actually didn’t think they killed anyone, oh god-“

“Babe, it was the husband of a gang leader.” Pete walked over and leaned against the counter in front of him.

The group buzzed with conversation now, but Edward watched Olu duck back into the staff room after them. He turned and did his own disappearing act up the steps.

He still needed time to think.

Chapter Text

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.