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Lovers and Madmen

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After the storm came the calm. And despite how dull life at sea could be, Ed’s had mostly felt like a montage of maiming, fire, gouging, puking in shit filled alleyways, more maiming, storms so cold they burned, shitting in puked filled alleyways, stabbing-

The point being: he was ready for it. He was relieved when Stede’s apologies finally trailed off into exhausted silence and he was desperate for the calm to begin.

The same couldn't be said for Stede, whose life, he knew, had been completely opposite. The man had spent so long quietly waiting and hoping for the doing to finally start. That, Ed supposed, was why he found himself having his first real disagreement with Stede while they read Shakespeare with their dicks out.

Well, his first real disagreement with Stede after the whole Stede Abandoning Him On A Dock And Breaking His Heart Into A Million Pieces thing. Which Ed was over. Mostly.

“They always get hitched at the end,” Ed said.

Stede snapped the book shut in that officious way he had. Ed’s cock gamely tried to take an interest but he was still too wrung out from the night before. Ah, the night before.

“Unfortunately,” Stede agreed as he returned the book to its proper place on the (still somewhat empty) bookcase.

Ed wished A Midsummer Night’s Dream had belonged on a shelf that involved more bending or stretching.

“Unfortunately?” Ed said. “Isn’t it a happy ending? They all had a dance and got married.”

“Can’t say I’m a fan of the institution.”

“Yeah but you had a bad experience.”

Stede gave him a look which said that’s putting it mildly.

“I’m just saying, you don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Then again, Stede’s marriage wasn’t unique in its awfulness. There was his parents’ godforsaken marriage, for one. And Stede’s parents, for another. And his own to that barmaid in Tortuga, though the priest had probably been a fraud since he’d agreed to marry two people three sheets to the wind.

“I’d happily throw out the bath as well," Stede said.

"But you're such a romantic."

"Guilty as charged, but marriage isn’t, it's very… staid."

"Stayed what? Stayed where?"

"No, staid. It means boring, unadventurous. Not piratey." Stede frowned at Ed’s dubious look. “You’ve surely never married?”

“Probably not. Never gotten matey with anyone, either.”

Stede looked offended. “We’re matey, aren’t we?”

“I mean the French thing.”

“What French thing?”

“Matey wotsit. Pirate marriage.”

Judging by his blank look, Stede’s books had glossed over that.

“Pirates marry differently to the rest of the population?”

Ed snorted. “I’d say so, yeah.”

“I didn’t think they were the marrying kind.”

“It’s usually more of a financial arrangement but sure, they marry.”

“Must be quite rare.”

“Not that rare.”

“I mean I haven’t encountered many female pirates,” Stede said.

“Yeah, and?”

“Who are all these pirates marrying then?”

Ed let Stede get there in his own time.

"Oh." Stede’s eyes grew comically wide. "Wow.”

“That unstained enough for you?"

“Staid.” Stede’s expression shifted rapidly from curious to pinched. “Be that as it may, I’ve learned my lesson.”

“And what lesson’s that?”

“Don’t make the same mistake twice. I won’t be leaving your side again, not for the world, and I won’t be remarrying. I’m lucky to have a fresh start and I’m not about to mess it up. I’m sticking to what I’m good at this time around.”

Ed remembered Stede’s gallant but terrible effort at tying knots the day before. “Right.”

“Everything okay?” Stede smiled as he sat on the bed beside him. “I’ve not sent you to sleep with all this marriage talk, have I?”

Ed wanted to protest but it was hard with Stede stroking his hand idly up and down his back.

“Nah, all good,” he said.

He said nah, all good but an idea was now firmly sown in his brain. Perhaps Stede didn't want to make the same mistake twice but Ed made it his life’s work to fuck up as many times and in as many different ways as possible. Perhaps Stede thought marriage was uncool or whatever but to Ed, marriage sounded like sinking into a warm bath after a relentlessly shitty day.

Ed said nah, all good but what he meant was, god as his witness, he was going to marry the shit out of Stede Bonnet.

*

His first attempt at getting hitched took place on a merchant ship, knee deep in a raid. The ship’s crew had briefly resisted before recognising the top half of Ed’s face and promptly cacking themselves. After that he’d had the run of the place and begun digging through crates for anything worth fencing. He found clothes and books and god knew what else before hitting the jackpot: a case of rings inlaid with jewels.

Grinning, he tipped it upside down and let them go skittering across the floor.

“Ah, shit!” he huffed dramatically. “STEDE!”

As always, Stede practically sprinted to him.

“What’s wrong? Are you alright?” Stede looked down at the mess of jewellery. “What happened?”

"Butterfingers here. I’d pick them up but with my knee-”

“Say no more.” Stede crouched. “They don’t look especially valuable, I think they’re gold plated.”

“Maybe these ones are but I saw one that looked fancy as fuck.”

“Where?”

“That one.” He pointed to a ring that had become wedged between the floorboards.

Stede got on his knees to pluck it free.

“There we are!” He held it up with a smile and a flourish. “Rather nice, though still just plated I think.”

“I do,” Ed said.

“What?”

“Yeah, go on then.”

“Ed, what are you talking about?”

“You’re down on your knees, holding a ring.”

Stede laughed cheerily. “One knee is customary for that.”

Ed manhandled him. “There! Now you’re on one. I do. Are we taking your name or mine? Maybe we could combine them and be Mr and Mr Beach, though that kinda sounds like bitch with a French accent.”

Stede stared at him for a moment before slapping Ed on the back and laughing some more.

“Can you imagine? Taking a break from all the looting and swashbuckling to write our wedding invitations! Come on, I saw some beautiful silk down this way.”

And with that, Stede was striding away.

So, Stede wasn’t going to take this lying down. Or crouching. Nothing was ever easy when it came to Stede, Ed thought moodily. It was somehow always the biggest head fuck of his life while simultaneously being as effortless as breathing.

Ignoring how his knee popped, he snatched his other favourite ring from the floor then went to check out whatever had gotten Stede so giddy.

*

His next attempt at getting married came on shore leave. The crew were off doing whatever it was crews did with their free time - making bad choices? Exacting revenge? Going shopping? - and Ed was figuring out what it was he liked to do now he was beard-free and reputation-lite.

He didn’t feel like drinking and nature was still too bitey for his liking so he did what came naturally and followed Stede like a stray dog. Perhaps he did it for the company, or to make sure no-one tried anything funny with Stede. Maybe it was so he could walk a few paces behind him and watch Stede's arse in his newest pair of slightly too snug trousers. Realistically, it was all three.

Stede was doing an okay job of avoiding obvious scams in the dock’s ramshackle market so Ed mostly let himself zone out and cop more looks, until he registered someone in the crowd.

There. The bloke stood out like a sore thumb thanks to his punishingly warm woollen clothes. If you weren't trying to look cool as fuck, there was only one reason to dress so unseasonably in the Carribean sun: because you thought a magic lady in the clouds would be impressed with your pain and suffering.

Bingo.

“Wow, look at that stall over there!” Ed said.

Stede followed his gaze. “Which one?”

“That one. Wait, no, the one after it,” he said as the damn priest decided to sidle further away.

“The one with the-”

“Flowy fabrics. Yeah, that one. Wow!”

Ed manoeuvred Stede until they were practically shoulder to shoulder with the sweaty priest.

“What do you think of this one?” Ed said, plucking the edge of some wispy white fabric with delicate embroidered flowers.

“Quite lovely but not really on our shopping list.”

“But you like it?”

“Yes?”

“Try again.”

“What?”

“Do you like it?”

“Yes?”

“Try. Again,” Ed ground out. “Do. You. Like. It?”

“I do?”

“I do too!” Ed barked at the priest.

The man gave them a fearful look before scurrying away.

“What was all that about?” Stede said.

Ed scowled. “Seriously?”

“Did you know that man?”

“Excuse me,” the stallholder said.

“I can’t even tell if you’re playing dumb or if you really are clueless,” Ed said.

“Clueless about what?”

“Excuse me?” the stallholder said.

“What do you think?” Ed insisted.

“Excuse me-”

“What?” Ed and Stede both snapped.

“We operate a strict you grope it, you bought it policy and-"

Ed looked down. He was stroking the bolt of fabric like a cat. “Well, fuck.”

“Guess we’re getting it after all,” Stede said as he pulled out his purse. “Wonder what we could use it for. Curtains, perhaps?”

Ed let his finger trace one tiny flower. His smile grew as an idea came to him, far too readily.

“I’ll figure something out.”

*

In the end, it was a becalming which provided Ed with his best and last opportunity for getting hitched.

The crew were bored witless and had already exhausted classic becalming pastimes such as intentionally breaking things, singing, swearing, climbing things, accidentally breaking things, I spy, giving one another regrettable tattoos and having regrettable hook-ups.

Worse still, the crew were now looking to their captains for inspiration which Ed, slumped against the mast, wasn’t sure he could provide. Not that he was convinced he was captain, either. He wasn’t sure who he was nowadays. They hadn’t really clarified that after The Whole Abandonment Thing. It was better that way, he thought, and drew less ire from them all. He was a source of bemusement and that was fine. He constantly confused himself so he couldn’t expect anything different from anybody else.

“We could try doing some arts and crafts,” Stede said to vaguely mutinous looks.

“Or an orgy?” Ed said.

“It’s too hot for an orgy,” the huge guy said, sounding disappointed.

“How about we split the difference?”

“An orgy where we do arts and crafts?” Lucius grimaced.

“No, like.” Ed hadn’t thought that far ahead but, being a tactical mastermind, he knew how to improvise. “What about like in Shakespeare?”

“The heat’s gotten to him,” one of the crew muttered to another one of the crew. Ed really needed to learn their names.

“How do you mean?” Stede said, in a supportive, if bewildered, tone.

“Like in the one where the woman fucks the ass. The one we just read."

“I didn’t know Shakespeare was that kinky,” Frenchie muttered to the cook.

“Not like that,” Ed said, to disappointed looks from the crew. “Ass the animal, not the body part.”

"Bloody hell Bill," Frenchie said.

“She doesn’t do anything like that with the animal, either,” Stede said. “There’s no sex in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“It’s implied,” Ed said.

“Is it?”

“Yeah, plus her husband fucks that other fella, the fairy who’s stirring shit up.”

“Cap, can you read us A Midsummer Night’s Dream next?” someone said.

“I can but I must stress, none of that happens.”

“It should’ve,” Ed said. “But what I’m saying is they have a party in the moonlight. They frolic and shit.”

Bird Guy brightened. “In the moonlight, you say?”

“It’ll be cooler at night. Like temperature wise and everyone'll look hotter.”

“I thought this wasn’t an orgy?” Stede said.

“Strictly frolicking. Cavorting only.”

The crew were already chattering excitedly amongst themselves. It was a done deal. Ed shot Stede a triumphant look.

“So what you’re saying is we should have a rager under the full moon tonight?” Lucius said.

“Exactly. Music, drinking, dancing.”

“Ass fucking,” Frenchie helpfully added.

“We don’t have an ass,” the big one said.

“We could dress up.”

“No animal costumes,” Stede pleaded. “And we should only do this if we have enough provisions, we’re not going anywhere fast.”

The cook shrugged. “Should be fine. If it isn’t, we can just eat one another.”

Bird Guy looked delighted.

“But it sounds fun, right?” Ed egged them on. “It’ll help us cool down, take our minds off-”

“How we haven’t moved in a week?” Jim said. “Not that I’m counting.”

“Well, I suppose it’s better than doing another stocktake,” Stede sighed. “Everyone in favour, raise your hand.”

The deck was a forest of hands. Bird Guy raised both while Izzy raised neither.

“You can do another stocktake, Iz,” Ed said.

“Fan-fucking-tastic.”

“Everyone else, go and prepare!” Ed commanded. “You can’t have a moonlight frolic without preparation! Get your gladrags on, practise some tunes and get the nibbles ready!"

And with that the crew were off, with more energy and enthusiasm than they’d shown in days. For all his having come up with the idea, Ed was clueless what he was going to wear to their vaguely Pagan disco. He followed Stede back to their cabin where Stede made a beeline for his primary wardrobe.

“You’re welcome to pick out something of course,” Stede called from within, already neck deep in shirts.

“Thanks.” Ed let his eyes rove over the sumptuous fabrics. He looked at the embroidered flowers on one of Stede's jackets and was struck with an idea that made him feel half giddy, half sick. “I think I’m alright, actually.”

Stede poked his head out. “Oh? What are you planning to wear?”

“Nothing.”

“I think clothes should be mandatory or we’ll never convince Buttons to dress again.”

“I just mean it’s bad luck to see one another before the big day. Night.”

“That’s weddings, isn’t it?”

Ed suppressed a smile as he grabbed the pilfered rings from their hiding place and shoved them into a pocket. “Right, yeah.”

He let himself into the auxiliary wardrobe and found the bolt of white fabric. Positioned in front of the mirror, he began unfurling it and draping it over his shoulders, like a sash or a toga or something. His smile grew.

“You’re fucking getting married bro,” he whispered to his wide eyed reflection. “This is happening.”

“What was that?” Stede called from the other wardrobe.

“Nothing!"

“I thought I heard you say something?”

“Must have been the wind.”

“We’re becalmed.”

“Oh yeah, weird. Anyway.”

Grinning like a madman, Ed yanked his knife from its sheath and began jaggedly cutting the first length of fabric.

*

Hours later, Stede came back and knocked on the door.

“Ed? Are you still in here?”

Bit rich coming from the man who took an hour to get ready each morning, minimum.

Ed gave himself one last look in the mirror. He adjusted the little fabric flowers he’d dotted in his hair and gave the bow around his waist a tug. Wouldn’t do to have everything coming undone mid-frolic.

“Yeah, still in here,” he said as he gave his reflection a weird little smile. It wasn’t quite approving but more like, yeah, we’re doing this, eh? This is what we’re doing. Besides, it wasn’t the weirdest thing he’d ever done. Wasn’t the normal-est, either.

“Roach has laid out quite the spread and Frenchie is all tuned up so we’re ready whenever you-”

Ed opened the door.

Stede had gone all out too. He had layered silk upon silk upon cashmere upon whatever other priceless fabrics, all in different textures and in shades of subtle pink. He looked good in pink. Ed had told him as much once and Stede had taken the comment to heart.

Stede gawped. Ed thought about offering some explanation - about how it was sort of Midsummer Night's Dream-y, maybe - but he thought better of it. Instead, he straightened his shoulders and let Stede drink his fill of him.

“Oh heavens,” Stede whispered.

That felt about right. It was a pretty heavenly look.

He gave Stede’s arm a reassuring pat. “You’re not gonna pass out, are you?”

“Hard to say.”

Stede dropped to his knees. Both knees, damnit. Ed couldn’t stay mad given the adoring, wide eyed look on his face. He felt flustered and ridiculous and powerful, but not mad.

“Look at you,” Stede said, softly.

“Look at you. Don’t go creasing your trousers.”

“They’ll survive.” Stede pressed a kiss to one glove-free hand, then the other. To one fabric draped leg, then the other.

Ed pet Stede’s hair. “Aren’t we supposed to be doing something?”

He sort of hoped not. He’d happily stay there, maybe forever.

“I think we are, can’t remember what.”

The spell was broken by a song striking up outside.

“Ah, that was it,” Stede sighed against Ed’s thigh.

“Ah yeah,” Ed agreed. “Time to cavort.”

*

They danced, they drank and Ed did as much hand stuff with Stede as he could get away with without the crew throwing him overboard. The pair of rings practically burned a hole in his side as they taunted him, but finding words was hard. Harder still when the crew broke out the good booze.

As always, Stede was to blame in the end. His brow knit as his roving hand grazed the bump on Ed’s hip.

“What is that?” he said.

Ed regretted his lack of pockets, and pants (though the breeze was nice).

“Stede,” he said wearily.

“Feels like… rings?”

The man had some nerve. It was easier telling him as much after so much sherry.

“You’ve got some fucking nerve mate.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve got flowers in my hair, a pair of rings and I’m wearing a fucking dress.”

“You look lovely,” Stede agreed, pulling him closer.

Reluctantly, Ed pushed him back so he could meet his equally drunk gaze.

“Are you really this stupid?”

Stede grimaced with apparent embarrassment. “Of course not, I know, you want to marry me, I know that.”

It took all of Ed’s restraint not to shake the bastard. “Then why the fuck are you acting so clueless? Why are you saying shit about marriage being understated?”

“Staid, not-"

“STEDE!” He was this close to simply pulling his gun.

“Because why would you?”

“What?”

“Me,” Stede said deliriously. “Why would you marry me? I’ve proved that I’m terrible at it, why would you nail your colours to a mast like mine?”

“I’d rather you did the nailing.”

“You know what I mean.”

Ed took Stede’s face in his hands, teeth bared. “Stede.”

Stede looked suitably pathetic. “Edward.”

“Stop asking such stupid fucking questions.”

“But-”

“Do not ask me such stupid shitting questions. Why would I want to fucking marry you? Are you fucking kidding me? Who the shit else am I gonna fucking marry? There’s only one way this goes from here on out and it’s fucking me with fucking you. It’s fucking you and fucking me and we fucking marry and that’s fucking final.”

The music had stopped. The crew had fallen silent. Well, fuck it.

Stede placed his hands over Ed’s as he apparently processed his words.

“Well?” Ed snapped.

“That’s the nicest, swear-iest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”

“Right.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t fucking thank me. Please. Stede. Please marry me before I do something I regret.”

Like shoot something. Or cry. Cry was more likely. Possibly cry while shooting something.

“But wouldn’t we need a priest?”

Ed laughed with relief. Thank fuck.

“Nah, the first mate marries the captain. Hey, Iz!”

Iz looked up from decidedly-not-frolicking about the deck. “Not on your fucking life.”

“Bird Guy?”

“I would, but I fear I’d be unintelligible through my tears of joy, Cap’ns.”

Unexpected, but alright.

“Anyone?” Ed said, shooting the crew desperate looks.

Oluwande was shoved forward by the others like a sacrificial lamb.

“Fucking hell, alright, alright!” Oluwande put his hands up in defeat.

Ed faced him, arm looped tightly through Stede’s.

“Okay, uh,” Oluwande said. “I guess we’re gathered here today to-”

“Cavort,” Ed supplied. “Get to the point. Quickly.”

“Alright, Cap-”

“That one,” Frenchie offered, helpfully pointing at Stede, who was now even pinker than his suit.

“That one,” Oluwande agreed. “You wanna marry this guy?”

Stede turned to beam at Ed. “Yes, I think so.”

Ed shoved the ring on his finger before he could change his mind.

“Great. Ed? What d’you reckon? I mean, you had the rings in your pants, man.”

“Yeah, figure I do.”

Stede slid the other ring home with a shaking hand.

“I declare you…” Oluwande blew out his breath. “I dunno, whatever the fuck this is. Kiss and get it over with!”

True to his word, Bird Guy was bawling.

Ed barely had time to look at Stede before he was being dipped and snogged impressively hard. The crew applauded, cheered, sobbed and groaned with embarrassment.

“You really want to marry me,” Stede said, breathlessly, when they surfaced.

“Mate, did you black out? We just got married.”

“We just got married,” Stede repeated, dazed. “Wow.”

“You remember what comes after the ceremony, don’t you?” Ed said, grabbing a handful of Stede’s arse.

Stede’s eyes flew wide open. “Right. Yes.”

“Right. And I think it’s customary to-”

It wasn’t graceful and, judging the noise he made, Stede definitely pulled something in his back but, sure enough, like the single-minded man he was, Stede got Ed in his arms. He strode towards their cabin to a chorus of polite clapping, wolf whistles and cringing from the crew.

“Have you been practising this?” Ed asked as he shoved the door closed behind them. The question came out more whimpered than he’d hoped.

“Not really, you’re just lighter than you look. And I’m stronger than you think.”

“I dunno, I’ve had some pretty graphic daydreams.”

“No pressure then." Stede half lowered, half dropped Ed onto the bed. Rather than break it decided to simply groan in protest, sounding a bit like Jim just now, or the cook, or-

Now wasn't the time to be thinking about those guys. Now was the time for thinking about how Stede was pulling off his clothes with brutal efficiency until he was stood, all hairy chest, strong thighs and very pleased to see Ed.

Belatedly, Ed realised he should be undressing too but Stede held up a halting hand. What was it about Stede telling him to stop? What was it about Stede telling him to do anything, for that matter?

“I’ll do that, thank you,” Stede said.

Ed made a sound like an embarrassed, horny kettle as Stede clambered on top of him and began unravelling his dress.

“I’m your husband, after all,” Stede said under his breath. “It’s my duty. It’s in the vows.”

“There were vows?”

“Well, there’s usually vows.”

“I wasn’t listening to the words,” Ed admitted as Stede ran his hands over his now bare chest. “I was too busy looking at you.”

Stede flushed. “There’s some stuff in there about taking care of one another.”

“I like the sound of that,” Ed said. “You gonna take care of me?”

“Anything for my husband.”

“Wife." Ed tried to suppress a shiver of embarrassment.

Stede kept looking at him with the same knowing, hungry smile.

“Of course, I misspoke. Let me make it up to my beautiful wife.”

Ed was back to his horny kettle impression. Stede yanked the last of the billowing fabric free and deposited it on the floor in a big poofy cloud before positioning himself between Ed’s eagerly spread legs and rocking against him. Ed stroked his hands encouragingly down Stede’s back as the man kissed along his neck, his shoulders, his jaw.

“That’s great,” Ed said, and it was, his painfully hard cock agreed, “but I want you in me at some point. Preferably yesterday.”

“Understood,” Stede said as he reached blindly for the oil.

Maybe they fucked too much, Ed mused, given how effortlessly he found it. How easily he opened him up, how rapidly Ed lost the ability to string words-

Make words-

Words-

They fucked a lot.

“Husband, please.”

Ed did the thing where he made his eyes about three sizes bigger. Stede couldn’t handle it when he did that, he knew.

It worked. Stede sank home and Ed gathered him in his arms, half groaning, half sobbing with relief.

“Is it better?” Ed gasped as Stede began moving in that way that threatened to snap either Ed, or the bed, or both, in two.

“What?” Stede groaned.

“Is it better this time?”

“It’s always good.”

“No, no, you don’t-” Ed interrupted himself with a sob. The music outside got noticeably louder. Sorry, crew.

“Tell me," Stede insisted. "Tell me.”

“Marriage. Is it better? Am I doing it right? Am I good for you?”

Stede's pupils were blown when he looked at Ed. “You’re perfect for me.”

“Show me, show me I’m perfect.”

Stede pressed closer and Ed thought he might die. Too much, too hot and heavy and close and perfect. He couldn’t get a hand on his cock if he tried, his brain had given up telling his body what to do. That was Stede’s job now, apparently, and he was driving him insane with it, too hard and fast and-

Stede held him tight as he came with a shocked gasp. Stede always sounded so surprised about it. Maybe it was how perfect it always was. Maybe Ed just had an amazing arsehole. Ed liked to think it was both.

Ed was quick to follow, going from tensed and thrumming to squiggly and sluggish in seconds.

“Fucking hell,” Ed declared when he’d located his brain and tongue.

Stede was still draped on top of him and breathing like he’d run a race. “Mmhmm."

“Thank you, husband.”

“You’re welcome, wife.”

Ed smiled and stroked his hair. “It’s just like in Shakespeare.”

Stede propped himself up enough to look at him. “Is it? I really don’t remember the part where they fucked each others' brains out.”

If Ed had been a younger man, hearing Stede swear would have been enough to get him ready for round two. He settled for giving Stede an approving pat on the arse.

“I told you, it’s implied,” Ed said. “And besides, that's not what I meant, get your mind out of the gutter."

"Then how is this like Shakespeare, exactly?"

"Because there's dancing, and they're always happy and married at the end, aren’t they?”