Blackbeard is himself again. Blackbeard is himself again. Blackbeard is himself again.
Izzy scowled, downing the rest of his tea, repeating the maxim in his mind again and again as if hammering a bent nail into strong cherry wood, forcing himself to believe that yes, this was right, this was what he wanted.
But the frigid, silent way Blackbeard gave him his orders often reminded him of that night where he lay cold and exposed in his bed, in his own room. It reminded him of the nauseating pain that tore across his body and the sickening crunch that resounded in his ears as he choked down the appendage, liquid iron staining his mouth. It reminded him of how a few moments after Blackbeard left the room, he had tried vomiting it out into his bedpan, the flickering candlelight in his room illuminating the smooth half-red, half-clear vomit and yet his own toe remained entrenched within the pits of his stomach. It reminded him of how regardless of how many times he had mopped the blood away, how many layers of bandages he wrapped around his foot, the dark red still seeped through, a show of his own infallible vulnerability which he had tried so often to hide.
He squeezed his eyes shut, an involuntary spasm shooting through his left arm. He could almost feel it again, the reality-shattering fear and shock that came with almost a decade of violence rarely threatened and no longer executed, and a pang of guilt shot through his chest as he remembered the way he crashed down into the lowest depths of subspace, mind heady and arousement spiking during his defilement. Another shudder wracked his body, his hands tightening around his emptied mug.
The ship was deathly silent, as it rightfully should be in the dead of the night, but when that dead silence extended to even during the day, where the only noises that could be heard were the sounds of tightening ropes and people going on about their other chores, only broken up every so often by his yelling, it became eerily isolating. This insufferable silence had only held for about five days, after the first public beating, and Izzy already found himself wishing he was back on Bonnet’s Revenge with his stupid little crew who, despite their incompetence, would provide a constant source of life to the place, as much as he hated it.
Hell, he’d even take the old Queen Anne crew, if only they could leave their ship, because they still acted like living, breathing humans who wanted to survive to the next day unlike whatever the fuck Blackbeard was up to these days. Sure, the crew was finally doing their chores, they had just looted another merchant vessel a few days back, and they managed to sink an English naval ship trailing them with some expert trickery courtesy of Blackbeard. They were the perfect symbol of a pirate crew at their productive peak. But they moved like automatons; no Blackbeard-approved immature shenanigans for entertainment, no talking during mealtimes to build relationships (at least according to what Ivan had told him)… There hadn’t even been rumours of buggery on the ship. Nothing but silence. These days, it was all just raid, kill, loot, in that order, with an additional splash of avoiding the English Navy.
God, he never thought it’d feel so wrong when everything was already whole, when everything was running smoothly, just the way he fucking liked it, just the way he needed it to be: an orderly, stable routine with definitive metrics of success measured by the mounting amount of riches that now adorned the ship and its crew, including a (black) curtain made of fine fabric which he’d brought back for Edward just two days ago in the hopes of reawakening that strange, Bonnet-induced part of his soul, only to be waved off and beaten down like some dog.
He suppressed a groan, bringing his hand close to the candle fire on the table, its wick running low from nightly use, extinguishing the flame with a slow pinch and wincing at the burning heat licking at his fingertips.
Izzy pushed himself off his chair, using the table as a support while he dropped his mug into the sink to wash. He mused over the events of the past few months, the way Edward leaned into the open, emotive culture aboard the Revenge, almost as if he had devised an entirely new character in the timespan of that fortnight they had spent on the ship before the duel, and the decreasing frequency of which they did “real pirate” things simply because Bonnet provided more than they could ever steal.
Suppose I got my wish.
He absent-mindedly ran his gloved thumb over the spade tattooed on his left hand, thinking of all the times he sparred with Ed, all the scrapes, cuts, and bruises they’d both sustained from their fights and how they would just return to their own respective cabins afterwards, no questions asked. He thought of the way Ed used to flog anyone who dared to raise concerns about his plans and ideas, himself included. He thought of all the keelhauls, all the maiming, all the deaths and tortured victims who had suffered under his hands, oftentimes their crime undeserving of the sentence they received. It was necessary, of course, and the Blackbeard name gained notoriety fast – He had killed the renowned Hornigold after all. But it had taken him a decade of loyalty and going all the way to the brink of death before he was allowed even a modicum of gratitude from him, before he was allowed the intimacy of calling Blackbeard by his nickname and granted the honour of helping him further develop and perpetuate the Blackbeard persona.
Izzy brushed his thumb over the brand on his face. What the hell was that all for if he could have so easily chosen kindness and pleasantry instead? Why the fuck had he sentenced himself to a lifelong commitment to Blackbeard, branded himself as a traitor loyal to solely Blackbeard, just for Blackbeard to abandon him so readily? Anger brewed in his stomach, but dissipated as quickly as it came. He let out a shaky breath, turning on the tap to fill the sink.
Blackbeard wasn’t himself again. He was worse, and it was all Izzy’s fault. It was his own damned fucking fault that Ed wouldn’t touch him, wouldn’t even fucking look him in the fucking eyes anymore when they talked. With the old Blackbeard, even as their relationship frayed, at least he was acknowledged. Now? He was a phantom, one who had tried so hard to re-enter the living universe, but was now left to fend for himself, his only interactions with Blackbeard and the crew being work-related matters damnit! A warmth spread across his eyes and he quickly blinked, turning off the tap and leaving his mug to dry.
He sighed, bringing a hand to his temple, returning to his room to sleep, only removing his leather waistcoat and baldric. As he undressed, his arm looped around his neck, brushing up against his cravat, and his actions faltered. After a moment’s consideration, he removed his cravat too, depositing his gold ring in the drawer of his bedside table before lying down, ensuring the sole of his boot was kept just right at the edge of his bedsheets.
The next few days were more of the same drudgery, the crew looking more and more like prison inmates than they did fearsome pirates with each passing night. He couldn’t really blame them, not when Blackbeard ordered him to flog anyone for the smallest missteps or even for the simple sin of not doing things the way he wanted it done, like the way his tea was prepared. Izzy had made the mistake of adding in six sugars instead of seven that morning because their stocks were getting low, and his palm still ached for it, burnt flesh rubbing against the leather with each clench of his fist or wave of his hand.
Fuck off. He suppressed the full-body shudder he felt coming on, redirecting it to a minute spasm in his left arm instead.
Their laudanum stocks were also getting low, partly due to the impromptu amputation of his toe, but also no thanks to the rising amount of physical punishment he had to dole out despite his best efforts to soften his strikes. Though Blackbeard would remain in his quarters the majority of the time, he would sometimes pop his head out, swaggering along passageways and eyeing the crew as he passed. If they were lucky and he was drunk, he’d ignore them. But more often than not, he’d make up some stupid bullshit reason to punish them with a public lashing.
Half the crew was probably high at this point with the severity of penance Blackbeard demanded. It sickened him, really, watching their skin break and their blood spill with no protest beyond a few quiet sniffles and the occasional yelp. Just the lash of the whip and Blackbeard’s silent gaze. How the Hell did any of them endure it? How the fuck had he himself endured it, all those years ago, where silent compliance and submission to your Captain was valued above all else, even if your fucking Captain was a dick?
He’d devolved to Hornigold’s level of gaining and maintaining respect. Izzy grimaced, wishing someone else would stand up against Blackbeard, knowing full well it was only reasonable for them not to. Better alive than dead, right? Better fucking toughen up, improve your pain tolerance if you’re gonna be a successful pirate. It’s Blackbeard, you don’t want to piss him off – what if he maims you?
He sucked in a breath. Thus far, none of Stede’s old crew had suffered under either his or Blackbeard’s hands, and he was hoping it’d stay that way. The bard had taken to being an excellent sailmaker, but beyond that, his instrument remained untouched, probably gathering dust in the berth, leaving the atmosphere on the ship thick, spiritless, and almost unbearable to breathe in. Going by Ivan and Fang’s words, Jimenez remained in the brig, declawed but still feisty, glaring daggers at anyone who dared to come near them even if just to offer food.
As he looked over at Blackbeard’s cabin, he sighed, creases deeply etched in his features, a glimmer of fear skimming over his eyes. He strode over, footsteps once again brisk with the aid of his cane, and knocked on the door, readying himself for whatever mood Blackbeard had found himself in.
He found him lying on the floor, body curled up, back turned to him, hands wrapped in the sole remaining possession of Bonnet’s: his stupid yellow silk robe. Izzy cleared his throat, standing close to the door, looking straight at Blackbeard’s desk rather than the curled-up man in front of him. “Orders for the raid, sir?”
It took a moment before Blackbeard croaked out, “The usual. We follow the ship. Raid ‘em. Kill ‘em. Loot ‘em.”
“Right on, boss.”
As Izzy headed back out to pass on the instructions to the crew, he could have sworn he heard Ed choke out a sob, a sound so small and sudden he’d almost thought he’d misheard him until a series of bawling noises resounded behind him just as the door swung shut.
He hesitated, angling his head backwards, then turned back around and stepped forward, hooking his cane onto a piece of rope, spreading his legs slightly apart to stabilise himself. Washing his face of any sign of emotion, he clapped his hands together, gathering the crew for their next raid.