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The first time it happens Ed is sure he misheard. He is distracted. It’s late, and Stede utters the word so very softly, he almost can’t hear anything at all.

The second time Ed is taken aback, because he most certainly hears it correctly now. He's been called many things in his lifetime, but never this. He isn’t sure what to say. Panicking, Ed searches for the right response and finds absolutely, totally nothing. And thus, exactly nothing is said.

The third time, it's so casual, so unexpectedly natural coming from Stede, that Ed thinks for just a moment he might prefer the endearment over his own name now. Well, if it’s Stede speaking at least.

“Morning, darling. Sleep well?” Stede smiles warmly. They’re cozy, Stede tucked under Ed’s arm and sharing the same bed as the early morning light creeps in. Ed turns on his side to face Stede, brows drawn and dark eyes studying him.

Darling…

Ed turns the word over and over in his head, rattles it around a bit, processing the increasingly familiar sound. Stede never stops surprising him, making his head spin dizzyingly with just a look or a touch or a kindness. The day has barely begun, but one simple word and Edward Teach is at his mercy with affection brimming over before breakfast.

Stede’s mouth twists with what Ed assumes is worry. Why is he worried? Ed wonders if he’s scowling in thought again. He’s been told he does that.

“Sorry, was that alright?” Stede asks at last.

“Hm?” Ed loses his train of thought.

“The uh… well. Nevermind.” Stede forces a smile. “I’ll fetch us some tea.” He starts to make an escape.

“Oi, oi, wait a minute, now,” Ed grabs Stede’s wrist gently, anchoring him to the bedside. “What’s wrong?”

Stede had gotten better about sharing his negative thoughts rather than running in the opposite direction from them, but it was still a process. For both of them. They were both learning to communicate better, really.

Stede swallows, his face pleading a bit. “I just… wasn’t sure. About the, uh, ‘darling’,” he whispers, as if they weren’t entirely alone. “I couldn’t tell if you… well, if you… liked it.”

Ed smiles. He could burst. He is absolutely head over boots for this silly little man distressing over a couple of syllables. Two months had passed since their reunion, and everything was still so very new, yet somehow oddly familiar. Certain moments felt easy and comfortable, as though Stede had been by his side always. Ed liked those moments. Others were startling, embarrassing even, though exciting all the same. Ed quite liked those moments too, actually; moments not unlike this one.

Ed releases his grip and instead turns his hand over, offering it to Stede. His co-captain visibly relaxes, slipping his fingers between Ed’s.

“Tea can wait,” Ed replies, squeezing Stede’s hand and beckoning him to return to bed, which he promptly does. “It was unexpected is all,” he reassures Stede. “Like most things with you.” Ed pulls the back of Stede’s hand to his lips, pressing a warm, lingering kiss against the tender skin. “I don’t s’pose there is much you could call me that I wouldn’t answer to,” he admits.

Stede shifts, tucking himself in next to Ed. Ed welcomes him, draping an arm over his waist.

“It just sort of… came out,” Stede offers meekly.

Ed can tell he’s still fretting a bit. “Hey.” He places a finger under Stede’s chin, lifting his face. “I liked it,” Ed replies honestly.

“Okay.” Stede grins and it’s as bright as mid-day sun. A laugh bubbles up and releases, crinkling the delicate skin around Stede’s eyes.

“What’s funny, mate?”

Stede shakes his head, as if dismissing something absurd.

“Come on…” Ed prods, poking a teasing finger into Stede’s side, furthering his mirthful laughter.

“Don’t tickle me, Edward,” Stede warns with a giggle.

“Don’t make me.” Ed’s fingers twitch in mock threat.

“Fine, fine, white flag!” Stede throws up his palms in jest and Ed smirks. “I just…sometimes I feel, I don’t know…” he runs his fingers through his own hair, blonde curls bouncing back with ease. “I just feel a bit silly,” he shrugs lightly.

Silly?

“In a good way,” he continues, rushing to reassure Ed. “I’m not getting this right.” Stede pauses for a moment to consider. “You make me feel… ridiculous. And I know I am already sort of a ridiculous man –“

Ed concedes this point with a look.

“But…” Stede laughs, trying to finish his thought, “I feel like a kid, somehow… with –“

“A boyhood crush?” Ed supplies, his eyes cast down to the sheets. The room feels quite hot suddenly.

“Well, yes, in a way. Which is odd, because I didn’t really have many of those when I was a young man.”

Ed rolls on his back, face to the ceiling as he considers this. He burrows an arm under Stede, and Stede inches closer. Their bodies fit together as though by design, carved from the same stuff. He tries to imagine a young Stede Bonnet: cherubic and blonde, nose stuck in a heavy old book about flowers or foliage or piracy. Ed pictures the same kind eyes and boyish grin he found ever so charming today. What would young Stede Bonnet have thought of young Edward Teach?

“That’s not to say there’s anything ridiculous about us, or how I feel about you,” Stede continued, now tracing his finger along the fading ink of an older tattoo.

“I know what you mean. I – I feel it too,” Ed confesses, eyes still on the ceiling. “Think it’s just happiness, sorta long overdue to us. So long, I s’pose we just didn’t know what it’s meant to feel like.”

Stede huffs, a small noise of revelation and agreement.

“Say it again,” Ed whispers after a pause. Not a demand, a bashful request. Ed’s cheeks are heated and he’s still unable to break away from staring upward as long seconds tick by.

“Say…?” Stede puzzles.

Ed doesn’t blink. He swallows the lump forming in his throat. He wills Stede to simply know what he means, what he’s asking, because he’s sure any moment his throat will close up for good.

A hand finds Ed’s chin, turning his face. When Stede kisses his forehead, Ed’s body relaxes, and his co-captain pulls him into an embrace. Ed is melting in the sun. He’s floating, set adrift in calm waters, untethered. Lips are at the crown of his head now, hands gliding up his back.

“Darling…” Stede whispers, warm breath in Ed’s hair.

Ed tries to memorize the sound of Stede’s voice as the word passes his lips. He closes his eyes, face now nestling against his co-captain’s bare torso. It's all too much. The feeling of Stede’s hands idly combing through his hair, lips leaving casual kisses at the top of his head, their half-dressed bodies balmy and entangled comfortably. Lovely words echoing softly in his ears. Stede couldn’t possibly understand how overwhelmed Ed feels. He craves Stede’s softness. He wants to bury himself deeper somehow, but it isn’t physically possible. Ed curses the limits of the human body.

“Thank you, love.”

Stede’s hands halt as soon as the word escapes Ed’s mouth. The slow rise and fall of Stede’s chest ceases, his breath hitches.

Edward had known he loved Stede for quite some time now. He’d known apparently before Stede understood his own feelings. But when they reunited, Ed never used the word. Stede had said it, confessing his love that very first night after his return, and it broke Ed in a way he never imagined possible. After, they had sobbed together and soothed each other in turns. It was healing to hear it, to have his own feelings affirmed. Yet still, Ed hadn’t said it. There had been a lot of heartache to get past first. He was too raw. There was trust to rebuild. He knew they both made mistakes, and they had forgiven each other since then, but he needed time – they both had needed it, really.

But here and now, in each other’s arms, Stede affectionately showering him with endearments as they hold each other in the bed they share… it somehow feels like the right moment. As good a moment as any, because now all his moments with Stede are good ones.

Ed timidly lifts his head to at last make eye contact, and perhaps ensure Stede remembers to breathe. He’s certain his face is flushed and that Stede will see this and that his embarrassment will deepen. Instead, as his eyes catch Stede’s, his heart thrums wildly and threatens to shatter his ribcage. Shimmering eyes stare back with such unabashed affection that Ed might just fall in love all over again.

“Was that okay?” It’s a needy question. Ed knows it was okay, he isn’t daft, but he longs for the affirmation anyway.

Stede’s smile grows impossibly wider and he nods, huffing a breath at last. He throws his arms around Ed, kissing him firmly and enthusiastically in response and crushing them both against the pillows.

Ed chuckles softly against Stede’s lips. His partner’s energy is infectious as ever. He can’t help wondering: how ever did he manage to attract such a shining light in the darkness of his life?

Ed snakes a hand up to Stede’s hair, fingers lacing through the fine golden curls at the nape of his neck. Their lips continue parting and reuniting, warm breath and soft sounds of pleasure ringing out in the silence of their quarters. Stede’s palms are searching Ed, exploring, kneading flesh and muscle. He drags his nails gently down the exposed skin on Ed’s back and the sensation is so exquisite he arches his body, grinding against Stede in the process. When Stede’s tongue grazes his own, a fire ignites in Ed’s belly.

“The tea’s gone cold I imagine,” Stede manages between impassioned kisses.

He is ridiculous. Ed never stood a chance.

“Fuck the tea,” Ed purrs, shifting and rolling them over so he’s now hovering over a breathless Stede. Things have gone from languid to urgent in only a short time.

Edward buries his face in Stede’s neck, trailing hot kisses over the soft skin there and eliciting small encouraging noises from his partner. Stede clings to Ed as though he is a buoy in a vast ocean; Ed’s never felt so desired. It’s terrifying and euphoric at once. Love remains a welcome paradox to him.

Smoothing his palms over Stede’s chest and stomach, Ed’s mouth travels lower, lingering at his collarbone momentarily.

“Edward…” Stede’s voice in his ear is a song, Edward’s name but a note.

“Hm?” Ed is distracted by the hollow of Stede’s throat now.

“Darling,” he murmurs, “your turn,” his fingers are tangled in Ed’s mane, rubbing small circles into his scalp. “Say it again.”

Ed pulls back for a moment to meet Stede’s gaze, and he’s quite the sight: tousled hair, skin flushed with lips kissed pink. His bare chest heaves rhythmically as he attempts to catch his breath. Ed considers for a moment that he might never let them leave this room. He can just keep Stede here forever this way. What could possibly be outside that would be more fascinating?

He presses his forehead against Stede’s, eyes unblinking. This time he won’t hide his face. He wants to see Stede’s reaction. Moreover, he wants Stede to know he means every word, even if saying these things is new and flustering and maybe even a little scary…he still means it.

“Anything for you, my love,” Edward whispers.

Stede looks as though he might cry.

Ed’s heart lurches, chest tightening. To see him so moved by only a few words was almost painful. Stede Bonnet deserves novels singing his praise. Libraries overflowing with books of the finest words from the finest stories could never fully illustrate the depth of what Ed feels for him. He captures Stede’s mouth with his own; a feeble attempt at distilling all the thoughts and feelings he’s too overwhelmed to express into a single act of love.

“You are, you know…” Ed continues, some confidence building. “My love.” He cups Stede’s cheek, gliding his thumb over porcelain skin. “My first,” he punctuates the word with a kiss. “My favorite.” Another kiss. “My only.” Another.

“Am I really?” Stede asks softly, eyes glistening and pupils wide. There’s specks of green in his irises. Ed could get lost in them.

“Only you, Stede Bonnet. Ever.” He brushes a curl from Stede’s forehead. “Just my Gentleman Pirate.”

Stede grabs Ed’s face, pulling him close and kissing him deeply, hungrily. Edward returns his fervor, the simmering heat between them now blazing. Each touch singes.

Stede writhes below Ed, bodies flush and hands grasping, clinging, each pulling the other under the tidal waves of their passion. If Stede is a lighthouse, Ed is prepared to crash upon the rocks again and again, just to bask in his glow.

There’s little between them, naught but their waists covered in thin silken undergarments. Robes and the like long discarded last night during the summer’s heat.

Ed is perhaps just a bit pleased to feel the growing firmness against his thigh, as Stede’s silk is doing nothing to hide his excitement now. Ed’s mouth slowly travels again down Stede’s torso, stopping to tease a nipple. Ed laps his tongue over the delicate pink knot of flesh he’s caught between his teeth.

“Oh Christ.” Stede arches his back, fingers tugging at Ed’s long locks and nails dragging gently across his scalp. Edward hums his approval. He could get used to that.

It's terribly tempting to spend a bit more time in this area, but Ed is far too curious what other praises he might earn from his co-captain if he continues his expedition elsewhere. His tongue travels lower, tasting salt and hints of their prized lavender soap. He stops occasionally to lovingly press kisses into the soft and inviting flesh of Stede’s belly. Ed remains endlessly fascinated by Stede’s form. Billowy, loose-fitting shirts too often hid a fit, attractive body. Lightly freckled skin. Taught, muscled arms. Fine, toned legs. Ed grazes his thumb over the scars where Stede had been run through. He kisses them with reverence. The raised flesh and scar tissue remind him of their storied journey to this moment.

As Ed’s mouth and tongue reach the small patch of golden hair above Stede’s silk breeches, it occurs to him there’s really only one bit of mystery remaining to this body he so adores. Stede’s writhing is accompanied by whining now, and Ed worries his teasing might be bordering on torture. The flimsy fabric is strained, tented against Stede’s rapidly firming erection.

Ed is now very aware they are about to, possibly, venture into uncharted territory as a couple. Now wasn’t the time for miscommunication, they’d been through far too much. His mouth is a desert suddenly as he tries to find the words. He pushes himself back up to meet Stede’s eyeline.

“Stede.” With one hand, he caresses his lover’s face, thumb tracing his jawline. “Love,” he kisses the corner of Stede’s mouth. “I’d like to take these off,” he slides a hand down to his partner's waistband, stopping short and resting a palm at the hip bone. “I’d like to touch you. Is that alright?”

“Oh God, yes. Please.” Stede’s nails are biting into the skin at the back of Ed’s arms as he clings to him, desperate for relief.

Stede’s pleas feel like thrumming music coursing through Ed’s veins. His head is beginning to spin, nerves are shot already. The thrill of being so intimate with Stede, the fear of getting this first experience just right, the comfort knowing on some level that it would be just fine no matter what. He was all over the place at once, and as usual, Stede his anchor. Ed slips a tentative hand lower and takes Stede, palming him through the luxurious fabric. Stede instantly hisses at the touch, releasing his grip on Ed’s arm, one hand pleasingly returning to Ed’s hair. Stede’s other hand is clawing softly at Edward’s back now, sending a spine-tingling jolt straight through him.

“I’m here,” he whispers, their cheeks flush. “I’m with you, love. Tell me what you need,” Ed croons.

Stede is miles away now, head tipped backward, neck exposed, soft murmurs and wordless praise spilling from his lips. Ed is swimming in it, drowning in it. He doesn’t plan to come up for air.

He strokes Stede slowly at first. Just a few times and he’s already leaking, leaving an enticing damp spot on the lovely silk still about Stede’s hips. The fingers in Ed’s hair tighten their grip as he lowers the fabric, tossing it aside.

Fucking hell.

Ed licks his lower lip instinctively. The sight of Stede fully exposed, pink and erect, chest and face flushed with desire and heat, it's almost enough to make Ed lose focus and stroke himself. But Stede is there and looking so divine, he can’t possibly let go yet.

Instead he lowers himself down the bed, gently pressing Stede’s legs apart. The bed is small and awkward, but he manages a position that works well enough for them both. Ed presses his lips against the tender alabaster skin of Stede’s thigh. He drags his teeth, nipping, teasing.

“Still with me, love?” He’s watching Stede intently, looking for any sign of a changed mind. “Is this okay?” He takes Stede’s cock in his hand again. “I’d like to put my mouth on you now.”

“Oh Christ. Yes, please. Yes,” Stede pants, voice ragged.

Ed lifts Stede’s leg, draping it over his shoulder. He strokes downward and takes the head of Stede’s still leaking cock into his mouth. The Gentleman Pirate cries out and curses as Ed’s mouth envelops him. Fingernails scrape against Ed’s scalp and he hums again. Stede’s cock is near the back of his throat now and Ed’s nose is buried momentarily in that lovely thatch of blonde hair at its base. He's thick, warm and heavy against Ed’s tongue.

“Oh God, Ed,” he moans as Edward bobs and strokes his length in time until Stede bucks under him, whimpering an apology at the involuntary thrust. Ed’s free hand is pressed against Stede’s thigh, holding him in place and rubbing circles into the muscles shifting under his skin as he writhes against the bed.

Ed can’t help but study his handiwork. Stede’s temple is glistening, and a blonde curl is matted to his sweat-dampened skin. Stede’s eyes are closed, and his hands are twisting at the delicate sheets below them. It’s obscene and so bloody gorgeous.

Ed pulls off Stede’s cock momentarily and drags his tongue from base to tip. Stede throws his head back, an arm draped across his eyes, a gasping exclamation follows.

“I’ve thought – thought about this.” Stede’s voice is raw and strained. “Thought about you - your… m-mouth.”

Fuuuuuck.

Ed groans something deep and feral. Stede’s voice, his words… Ed’s nerve endings are alight at all corners of his body. He can feel his own cock leaking now too, desperate for relief, for touch, anything. Taking Stede’s lovely pink head in his lips again, Ed slides his tongue over the pooling fluid at the tip, then picks up the pace again, desperate to bring them both to pleasure.

“Edward,” Stede opens his eyes at last and captures Ed’s gaze. His eyes widen suddenly, “Oh my god,” he pleads, “darling I’m – ah - I’m close.”

Edward groans, taking himself in hand and stroking at last as he continues working Stede with the other. God, such sweet relief, finally.

“Ah, ah, Ed,” Stede lets out one final cry, worshipping Ed’s name as he releases. Salt and warmth fill the inside of Ed’s cheeks. He swallows, losing his grip on his own cock momentarily as he catches his breath against Stede’s leg.

Stede’s breathing is slowing, shock waves ebbing, and he reaches a hand down to caress Ed’s head and push away an errant strand of hair.

Ed’s aching now and beginning to stroke himself again. His knee is getting a bit stiff in this position though, and he shifts uncomfortably with a mild groan.

“Darling,” Stede soothes, his awareness shifting, returning to Ed now. “How can I help?” His hand is on Ed’s shoulder, stroking sweat-dampened skin. “What do you need?”

“Bloody knee, just need to change positions.” His erection is beginning to flag a bit, to his own disappointment.

Stede pushes himself off the bed and darts across to the washroom. Ed can hear rummaging momentarily before he’s back in a flash and smoothing the sheets of the bed, rearranging pillows, and fussing over Ed’s needs.

“Let me look after you.” There’s such tenderness in the words, Ed’s chest feels full.

Stede sits at the head of the bed now, his back against the wall. “Come on,” he pats the empty space between his spread legs beckoning him over. Ed slides between Stede’s thighs, his back resting against Stede’s torso and belly. He nudges a pillow under Ed’s sore knee. Behind him, he can feel Stede playing in his hair, tying it half up in its usual coif. Ed rests the back of his head against Stede’s shoulder.

“All right?” Stede whispers, lips brushing the shell of Ed’s ear as he wraps his arms around him.

“Mmm, yes, better. Sorry about that. You should still be lying back in bed, basking right now, not playing nursemaid,” Ed sulks.

“Don’t be silly. Caring for you is a privilege, not a burden.”

Ed kisses Stede’s knuckles. “Thank you,” he whispers, closing his eyes. I love you. I love you. I love you.

“That was incredible, Edward,” Stede kisses the words into his skin, burying his face into the crook of Ed’s neck. “I had no idea it could feel this way.”

Ed is suddenly grateful Stede can’t see his face as warmth blooms across his skin.

“It’s your turn, darling, if you’re comfortable,” Stede’s breath is on his neck. “I’m not terribly experienced, but I’m an excellent student.” He’s kissing Ed’s shoulder now, soft hands sliding across his chest.

Ed turns his head to catch a glimpse of him. He kisses Ed’s temple. “Show me how to make you feel that way, Edward.”

Oh god. The air seems to have left the room.

Ed’s feeling more amorous now, his knee mostly forgotten. Stede’s voice in his ear, words in his mind, hands splayed and rubbing over his sweat-slicked skin; it’s as close to heaven as Ed thinks he’ll ever get. His cock is firming again already.

“You make me feel more than you know, love,” he admits.

“I want to take care of you.” Stede glides his palm up to Ed’s arched neck, wrapping his hand carefully, reverently around his exposed throat. “I want you to come for me, darling.”

Ed’s eyes fly open. “Fuck,” he rasps, his hand returning to his cock instantly. “Jesus, Stede.” He did not expect that.

“Too much?” Stede whispers and Ed can practically hear the teasing grin in his voice.

“Hell no,” Ed half-chokes on the words. He’s stroking himself again as Stede is burrowing, nibbling, sucking and kissing a bruise on his neck.

“I brought this for you.” Stede unearths a small vial of oil from under a pillow.

When did he…? Cheeky little bugger.

“May I?”

“Please,” Ed pants, turning over his palm as Stede empties a bit of the vial into it.

Ed was no virgin by any stretch of the imagination, but his trysts had been no more than a means to an end. Drunken, usually. But it was never about Ed. It was always about “Blackbeard”. But this was… Christ. Ed had thought Stede Bonnet surprising, fascinating, but this was entirely new and hot as hell. Ed had not been prepared for how easily Stede’s words would affect him.

“Fuck. Keep talking, love. Please.” Ed’s palm is slick with oil now and stroking steadily as Stede cradles him. Ed sits splayed between Stede’s thighs, slowly getting himself off while Stede watches from over his shoulder, mouth and tongue wandering over his skin.

“Whatever you want, darling. Anything,” he hums. The hand at Ed’s throat remains in place, thumb stroking his jawline now. “Will you show me?” Stede’s free hand is at Ed’s hip bone, steadily moving closer to Ed’s cock. “Show me how you like to be touched.”

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Ed feels like he’s about to lose it already.

When Stede places his hand over Ed’s, it’s already slicked with oil. He laces their fingers together, allowing Ed to guide him as he pleasures himself. Ed’s palms are calloused from years at sea unlike Stede’s satiny touch. The whole experience is more erotic than Ed would have ever imagined.

“You’re beautiful. Perfect. My treasure.” Each word is timed with a stroke of Ed’s swollen cock and he is utterly wrecked. Unfamiliar sounds escape him as Stede sings soft, loving praises in his ear, accompanied by the crude noises of their oily hands sliding in unison, pumping Ed’s length, over and over. It’s a symphony of pleasure.

After what may be a few minutes or perhaps a few hours, Ed no longer has any concept of time, Stede whispers, “Would you like me to take over, darling?”

It turns out, he would very much like that indeed. It should have come as no surprise that, yes, Stede was an excellent student in the art of pleasing Edward Teach. Ed lets go, relaxing against Stede’s body as his companion strokes him from behind and presses kisses into whatever part of Ed’s skin he can manage. They aren’t practiced hands, but they are Stede’s and that’s really all Edward wants: his touch, his words, his love.

Ed lifts his arms overhead, clasping at Stede’s neck and hair behind him, holding fast. He turns and cranes his neck so their mouths meet as Stede continues working him. Ed groans, a guttural, throaty thing, as Stede tightens his grip a bit and twists his hand on the upstroke. Stede’s tongue is searching Ed’s mouth while his free hand roams every accessible inch of Ed’s form.

“So good,” Ed breathes. “Fuck, Stede. Don’t stop, please.” The coils in his belly are tightening now. Won’t be long.

“You’re so lovely, every bit of you.” Stede’s purring in his ear. “I’ve thought about this too, you know.”

“Oh god,” Ed shivers. Stede Bonnet will be the death of him yet.

“Touching you. Pleasing you. Making you cry out.” He pushes Ed’s hair aside gently, kissing the back of his neck. “But I could never imagine how incredible you would feel in my hand.”

“Hnnnggg.” Ed’s not sure he can form words now. He reaches for Stede’s free hand and pushes it into the hair gathered in a bun, squeezing his fingers, begging him to pull on it. He’s squirming a bit and his hips thrust forward into Stede’s slick palm.

“Oh,” Stede marvels. “Is that good, my love?” He tugs firmly at Ed’s hair, nails scratching at his scalp.

“Ah, god, s’close. St-stede.” Ed practically sobs. The room is hot and spinning, and he’s arching back, back, back into Stede, huffing heavy breaths. “Ah, aaa…”

“That’s it. I’m with you. My love, my darling.” Stede is burrowing into the crook of Ed’s neck once more, his words vibrating against him. Teeth scrape over sensitive skin. He continues stroking, his pace quickening. Ed’s lower body is in knots and he again thrusts into Stede’s fist, both men losing their precision, clumsier now, as the buildup in Ed’s body reaches its limits.

“I love you Ed, it’s okay. Let go.”

“Ah, ffffffaaaa, ah…” A cry rips from Ed’s chest as he releases at last, painting his belly and Stede’s hand in sticky, warm fluid.

His body is hot and tingling. He’s relaxed and thoroughly exhausted. He feels like jelly against Stede as he savors the wave of euphoric aftermath. Feather-light kisses in are in Ed’s hair, on his temple. A hand strokes his upper arm. Languid and gentle pets are shared, the fire between them now smoldering, and the room cooling. Several blissful minutes pass as the two men sit in sweet, comfortable silence, only the ship’s creaking can be heard.

“Well, my knee feels better.”

There’s a beat of silence.

Stede is the first to break, a fit of giggles overcoming him until he’s trembling and shoulders bouncing. Once Stede gets going, Ed can’t hide his amusement for long, and soon the two men are both cackling with childish, belly-aching laughter.

“Oh gosh,” Stede wipes a mirthful tear from his eye. “Who needs piracy? I clearly missed my calling as a doctor!”

Ed snickers, and he’s grasping his side now where a stitch is forming. “Not sure I’m familiar with that sort of doctor, you sure they teach that in medical schools, mate,” he quips.

“Probably a specialty,” Stede declares with delight, egging Edward on.

“Weirdest house call ever,” Ed deadpans.

Another few minutes of laughter and ribbing pass before they are catching their breath again, sighing with satisfaction at their own mutual absurdity.

“Ugh, now comes the worst part. Clean up,” Ed groans at last.

“Oh! Wait!” Stede reaches his clean hand under the pillows again and pulls out a lightly damp towel.

“Good god, man!” Ed gestures dramatically. “What other surprises are under that pillow? This was truly a well-planned seduction, Captain Bonnet,” Ed teases as he shifts his body to face Stede.

“Seduction!? Me?” Stede feigns offense. “I think you’ll find you initiated this little… exchange.” Stede waves hand at the space between them. He tosses the damp cloth playfully at Ed.

Ed’s face is scandalized, and he mockingly clutches his non-existent pearls. He laughs, cleaning himself up and tossing the towel to the floor.

“Hate to break it to you, Stede, but you’ve been seducing me since the day we met.”

“I was half-dead.” Stede looks incredulous.

“Admittedly it was well-played.”

“I don’t actually think I’m capable of such a thing,” Stede responds rather genuinely and shrugs.

Ed stands next to the bed and grabs Stede’s hands, pulling him to his feet. He fetches their robes, donning his first, then wrapping the other about Stede’s shoulders. Ed smooths the fabric down Stede’s chest. “I know exactly what you’re capable of.” Ed steps closer, resting his hands on Stede’s hips.

Stede raises his eyebrows curiously, awaiting an explanation.

“You, Stede Bonnet, are capable of captivating the world’s most legendary pirate, Blackbeard!” He exclaims with a satirical tone, jumping back and spreading his arms out theatrically.

Stede huffs a sheepish, breathy laugh, “Really? Me? Captivating Blackbeard?”

“Oh yes.” Ed grabs Stede by the robe, pulling him close. “So much so, that he is now madly, ridiculously in love with you.”

When Stede takes Ed’s face in his hands and kisses him, it somehow feels like the start of something new. Which is absurd to Ed, of course. They’ve kissed thousands of times now. But there was something undeniably different between them in that moment that Ed couldn’t quite put his finger on yet. Like the relief of finally letting out a secret which he's held onto for too long. When he looks at Stede, there's a certainty in his gut that he hasn't felt for some time. 

“Come on, love. I’m famished.” Stede takes him by the arm and leads them to the dining table.

“Probably should have had that tea,” Ed smirks, earning him a playful elbow to the ribs.