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*

“Captains want to talk to you about some fucking… picnic food or something.”

Roach startled at the sound of Izzy Hands stomping his way into the galley. He didn’t like that - he’d never liked being startled. The fact that Izzy, who announced his presence at all times with footfalls that had no reason to be so heavy for a man so small, had managed to be the one to do it made things even worse. He’d gotten soft on Stede Bonnet’s ship.

“Picnic food,” echoed Roach, “what-”

Izzy held up a piece of paper and waved it in his face before slapping it down on the countertop, next to the carrots he’d been chopping. Roach resisted the urge to punch him in the face.

“It’s a list of things - for one of their date nights.”

The way Izzy hissed those last two words through his teeth made it sound like the very concept was an insult to him. 

Roach stared at the paper, not really paying attention. Stede and Edward were still making tentative, halting gestures towards each other since they’d reunited, and he supposed this was the latest attempt. It seemed like a fairly solid plan. They were certainly getting better at those ‘date nights’, because they were ending much more often in the Captains being suspiciously absent in their cabin and much less often in shouting, or awkward, wistful sessions of staring out at the ocean.

“Hello? Roach?” Izzy was tapping the paper impatiently, “I’ve got things to do. Is there going to be a problem with any of this?”

Roach blinked as he was jolted back to the present, then looked more closely at the notes he’d been given. It was a stupid thing to do; the black squiggles of English were as indecipherable to him as they’d always been. Stede did that sometimes - forgot about the fact that things that came as second nature to himself weren’t always the case for everyone on board. He had been getting better at noticing, though. At least until right now.

“I can’t fucking read that,” said Roach.

“Yeah, well,” said Izzy, tilting his head to the side as he looked at the paper, “Bonnet’s got a bit of a scrawl, hasn’t he-”

“No, I mean I cannot fucking read English, Izzy.”

Now it was Izzy’s turn to blink at him in surprise. 

“Hasn’t Bonnet taught any of you? Why’s he been collecting all those fuckin’ books to refill that fuckin’ library then?”

Confusion made the two of them silent for a while as they both mulled over this particular question. It was kind of weird actually, now that Roach thought about it. Maybe he’d teach them if he asked. 

Izzy swiped the paper off the counter, and for a moment Roach braced for some sort of comment about his lack of education, or perhaps the nuisance he was being. To his surprise, Izzy just held the paper up to his face, so close that his nose was almost touching the paper.

“Cucumber sandwiches,” he read out slowly, squinting at the writing.

He looked ridiculous like this, reading with his face all scrunched up. He vaguely remembered seeing little round glasses perched on Izzy’s nose at some point. He held the image in his mind for a little longer than was necessary, fascinated with the way they softened the prickly first mate.

“Well?” snapped Izzy.

“Oh! Yes, cucumber sandwiches, I can do that, we have everything we need-”

“Don’t need a whole fuckin’ commentary,” grumbled Izzy, “now, those… ‘lovely little egg squares.’”

“Aww, I didn’t know you thought my cooking was lovely,” said Roach, fluttering his eyelashes at him.

“I’ll fucking kill you.”

“I think we’re fresh out of that one.”

Izzy made a noise like a whistling kettle, and Roach held up his hands in silent surrender.

“Scones with marmalade and cream, if you have it. Christ, he’s written a whole essay here.”

“We don’t have cream.”

“Right, who gives a shit, they’ll live without it. The last thing on here is ‘biscuits’ with ‘surprise me’ written in brackets next to it, with an exclamation mark.”

“Yes yes, I will make him something nice. I think they like ginger.”

Izzy nodded, then scrunched up the piece of paper and tossed it over his shoulder. As he exited the galley, Roach called out a mocking “ thank you!” at his back, and received two middle fingers in return.

“What are you doing?” said Izzy, staring as Roach scraped the corners of the tin he was holding with a skewer.

“Trying to get the last of this tea out,” said Roach with his tongue between his teeth.

“We’re not out, are we?” said Izzy in alarm, “I could have sworn-”

“This isn’t everyone’s tea, it’s my own stuff. Gunpowder.”

Izzy screwed up his face in disgust.

“That’s just what it’s called,” said Roach with a small smile, “it’s not actual gunpowder.”

“Huh.”

It wasn’t exactly unusual for Izzy to wander in and out of the galley outside of mealtimes - from what Roach could tell, the man mostly subsisted on bread and various dried things that he grabbed either before or after everyone else was done eating. Roach allowed it, because the other option was that Izzy didn’t eat at all, and as much as Izzy was a difficult man to tolerate, the idea of someone on the ship going hungry was unthinkable. 

What was unusual, however, was the fact that today Izzy appeared to be trying to start a conversation.

“If you’re so good at cooking ponce food, what the fuck are you doing here anyway?”

The words sounded stilted coming out of his mouth, the kind of words one used to fill an empty space rather than ask a particularly pressing question.

“Look at me,” scoffed Roach, “do I look like I belong in a ponce kitchen?”

Izzy tilted his head at him, assessing.

“You’re good at what you do though, right? So what-”

“Why do you people always assume that the best places are the richest ones? I can think of nothing worse.”

Izzy looked away, tapping one finger awkwardly against the countertop. Clearly this conversation was not going the way he’d pictured it.

“Besides,” said Roach, “those guys make up completely stupid rules. I’d have to wear clothes I can barely move my arms in. And there’s no finger chopping, no cannibalism, no fighting, no fun of any kind-”

Roach watched with glee as Izzy’s lips silently formed the word cannibalism, but to his dismay he didn’t question him any further than that. He fiddled with the top piece of flatbread on the stack Roach had just made.

“S’pose that makes sense,” said Izzy finally, and apparently, that was that.

“Why are you so nosy today anyway?” said Roach, slapping his hand away from the bread.

“Just trying to make conversation.”

“Mm. No.” Roach waved his cleaver in Izzy’s direction, noting with glee that Izzy took a slight step backwards, “no, I don’t accept this answer. You never want to make conversation. You just scurry in and out like a rat.”

“How dare you,” hissed Izzy, “I don’t scurry , you stupid fucking-”

“How else would you describe what you are doing right now? In and out before mealtimes, always in secret, always ignoring everybody.”

Izzy looked away, and for a moment Roach thought he was going to bolt like a startled animal. Scurry away, like he insisted he didn’t do.

“I will let you in on a secret then,” said Roach, “I like cooking Captain’s ponce food maybe only half of the time. English cooking feels like it was created by people who hate eating. Your people make crimes against good food everywhere you look, or they make everything too fussy, or they just…” Roach flung his arms around vaguely, “ruin perfectly good ingredients! Sometimes when Captain makes a request of me I feel pain, right here,” he tapped his chest, “but I must do my job nevertheless.”

Izzy snorted at that.

“I can relate to that,” he said, “half of Bonnet’s orders don’t even make any fuckin’ sense. But, you know, food’s food. Fuckin’ inconvenience that we have to eat in the first place, if you ask me.”

“Ah yes, words from a little rat who gnaws on ship’s biscuits to feel better-”

The end of Roach’s sentence dissolved into a shriek as Izzy grabbed him by the front of the apron and dragged him over the countertop.

“Stop fuckin’ calling me a rat,” he hissed through gritted teeth.

Roach smiled pleasantly.

“No.”

And bit him on the nose.

He scrambled backwards as Izzy yelled and swore, grabbing his cleaver and holding it out in front of him as the first mate stormed through the door with his dagger drawn. He advanced on Roach, one hand on his nose and one pointing his blade directly at Roach.

“What… the fuck,” he hissed quietly. 

He levelled the point of his dagger at Roach’s throat. 

It was ridiculous. Izzy might as well have thrown his hands up in surrender for all that the threat affected him. Roach swiped his cleaver through the air in a swift arc, catching Izzy’s blade on its way and knocking the whole thing out of his hand.

“Stupid way to make a threat,” said Roach, patting Izzy’s cheek with the flat of his blade, savouring the stunned expression on his face, “why would you put your blade to my throat? You’re not such an idiot that you’d really slit the throat of the one cook on board, would you? The Captains would be so angry.”

Izzy snarled at him, but didn’t say anything more. And then - oh. His throat bobbed as he swallowed, and his eyes twitched, so quickly Roach nearly missed it, but it was a soft fluttering of his eyelashes that was very interesting indeed

Spurred on by his victory, Roach took a step into Izzy’s space, taking full advantage of the several inches of height he had on him. Izzy’s gaze seemed to take its time trailing up the line of his throat, over his jaw and face, before not quite meeting his eyes. He heard Izzy’s breath hitch quietly, and wasn’t that just delicious

“Was there something else you wanted?” said Roach, leaning over Izzy just that little bit further. 

This was, apparently, a step too far because Izzy turned and fled from the galley then, his footsteps echoing down the corridor.

Fascinating. Roach wasn’t entirely sure whether he genuinely liked Izzy, or if this buzzing in his chest was simply the thrill of gaining the upper hand. 

He went back to his work, putting the finishing touches on the stew for that night’s dinner, when his gaze fell upon the piece of flatbread Izzy had dropped. His heart sank, and the feeling startled him.

Why should he care about a rude little man who barged in and out of his galley like the rules didn’t apply to him?

Why was said rude little man trying to make conversation with him anyway?

He resolutely ignored the ache that settled in his chest, and continued with his work.

Izzy went back to not speaking to him after that, and in fact became even more rat-like in the way he scurried in and out of the galley around mealtimes. It broke Roach’s heart a little to see.

Because it was so fucking pathetic. 

That’s what he told himself.

This led to a decision that he was going to make it easier for the two of them to have as little interaction as possible. He managed this by setting aside a little food for Izzy each mealtime. If he made sure that the small pile had enough in the way of everything to ensure a substantial meal, well. He was simply doing his job there as well. The victory he’d won over Izzy had long since soured, and he wished he hadn’t pushed the rat thing quite so much.

The uncomfortable stalemate lasted until their next brief stint at Nassau, a fairly boring one that was more parts carrying things to and from the ship than it was drinking or fighting. 

He returned to the ship tired and sore, wanting nothing more than to get all of his prep work out of the way and then faceplant into the nearest, softest sack he could find and sleep.

Instead he discovered Jim clambering out of a panel in the far wall.

They froze there like a startled cat.

“Uh-” they started.

“Explain this,” said Roach, “has this always been there?”

Jim turned around, as if only just noticing the secret passageway they were currently in.

“This?” they said, “er… it’s a passageway.”

“Why don’t I know about this? How did you find it?”

“It’s how Lucius survived while Captain was… Blackbeard. You know.”

Roach ran to the opening, waving Jim out as he stuck his head inside. There was a dim passageway in there, only just wide enough for him to stand in with both shoulders touching the walls. He shuddered a little at the thought; he’d never liked small spaces.

“Captain Bonnet had them built in,” said Jim, “there’s openings all over the ship.”

“Show me and I won’t cut off your hands for being a thief,” said Roach.

“I haven’t stolen anything!”

“Today. You’re telling me this is the first time you’ve snuck into my galley?”

Jim’s silence told him everything he needed to know. He got out, and pushed the panel, which slid shut with a click.

“Any requests? I’m here anyway, so you don’t need to make do with raw ingredients-”

“Pancakes.”

Jim spoke so quickly Roach couldn’t help but laugh.

“Alright. Here’s the deal - you help me with my prep work for tomorrow, I make you some baghrir. My own recipe. How’s that sound?”

Jim had known him for long enough to recognise what that meant by now, when Roach brought out one of his recipes. They smiled.

“Sure, can’t be that hard. Knives are knives, or so I’ve heard.”

“Wise words.”

Roach wandered to the kitchen to get everything ready. What he found, however, was a tin left on his countertop. There was writing on the front he couldn’t read, but recognised the shapes as something vaguely Asian. Chinese? 

He picked it up, and a slip of paper fluttered out from underneath. On it was drawn a crude image of a cannon, with a cross through it. Roach frowned in confusion, until he opened the tin to find little pellets of rolled up tea leaves in there. He held it up to his nose and inhaled, smiling to himself at the aroma.

“What’s that?” said Jim. 

Roach held the tin up to them and they inhaled deeply.

“That’s nice.”

“Gunpowder tea,” said Roach.

“Uh-”

“It’s not real gunpowder.” 

He decided that Izzy Hands wasn’t such an awful little man after all. He was just a complete, utter idiot.

Roach made up a teapot the next morning, with his new tea and fresh mint leaves picked from the pot he kept nailed into one of the shelves near the window. He waited until everyone was done with their breakfast, waited until the tea was cold, then a little longer after that. Finally, hours later, he sipped it himself with a frown that was only partially to do with how awful the cold tea tasted. Where on earth was Izzy?

He didn’t show up for the midday or evening meals either, and Roach tried not to worry too much about it. Izzy was a grown man, and the ship was a small one. He’d find something to eat if he needed to.

But then the next morning, Izzy didn’t show again, and Roach didn’t see much of him at all until around midday, when he brought a jug of coffee around to the crew currently on duty. The coffee run was usually an excuse to gossip and chat anyway, so he stood around with Jim and Oluwande for a while as they worked, smoking and trying not to look too obvious about surveying the deck.

“What’re you looking for?” said Jim.

Trying to be discreet around them was a bad idea. Roach should have known.

“Always need to be on guard, Jimenez,” said Roach, blowing out a puff of smoke in what he hoped was a nonchalant manner. Jim snorted in response, and Roach held back a grimace.

“Right, you lot! What’re you doing over there, coiling ropes and uncoiling ‘em?”

Izzy rounded on Lucius, who took a step back to stop the two of them from colliding.

“What the fuck kind of work do you call that, you useless fuckin’-”

“Izzy, babes, there’s literally nothing to do right now that me or my hands are qualified for, so if you could just, I dunno, leave me alone for a bit?”

Roach watched with interest as Izzy’s fists clenched tightly, and then released.

“Christ, he looks rough,” muttered Oluwande, “wonder if he’s gonna get seasick again.”

“You say that like he wasn’t throwing up over the side of the ship last night” said Jim, “I heard him, it was awful.”

Oluwande shuddered.

“Hate that sound,” he said.

“It hasn’t been that rough, has it?” said Roach, scratching his head. It seemed odd for someone who’d spent as much of their life at sea as Izzy had, to be getting seasick.

“Yeah, I mean maybe he’s just… sick-sick,” shrugged Oluwande, “don’t really care to get close enough to find out, to be honest.”

“Dare you to ask him how he’s doing,” said Jim, “see if he tries to stab you or throw you over the side.”

“Nah, no way in hell I’m going anywhere near that,” said Oluwande.

The three of them watched as Izzy wobbled slightly where he stood, grabbing at the railing to steady himself. He leaned over and spat off the side of the ship.

“I’ll do it,” said Roach.

Jim and Oluwande both turned to him at once.

“You’re a goddamn maniac, you know that?” said Oluwande.

Jim said nothing, but narrowed their eyes at him.

“What’s the bet?” said Roach, “c’mon. Stabbed, thrown overboard, bitten-”

“Bitten?” said Oluwande, “Izzy doesn’t bite, does he?”

I’d certainly like to find out.

“Not that we know of,” said Roach, “but who knows, this might awaken something.”

“Stabbed,” said Jim.

“I think he’s going to do that hissy thing,” said Oluwande, “you know, like an angry cat. Used to do it to Captain all the time. Bonnet, I mean.”

“Ah, your ideas are both boring and wrong. Watch this.”

Roach strode up to Izzy, settling with his hip against the railing so he could block Izzy’s circuit around the deck.

“Didn’t see you in the galley yesterday,” he said, quietly enough that he wouldn’t be heard by the others. He heard the creak of leather, which meant Izzy was clenching his fists again.

“Didn’t go to the galley yesterday,” said Izzy very slowly, like he was trying very hard not to strangle him.

“Why not? You don’t like my cooking anymore, little man?”

“Don’t fucking call me that.”

“You must be hungry-”

“Oh for fucks sake, leave me alone!”

Izzy stormed past him, and Roach followed behind with a skip in his step. He ran around Izzy, blocking his path again and stepping into his space, like he had that time in the kitchen.

“Got something that’ll help with your stomach,” he said, a little more gently this time. 

Izzy pinched the bridge of his nose and made a quiet, cut-off sound of irritation.

“Will you leave me alone if I take it?”

“You are not in a position to bargain. Come down in a bit, I will make sure you’re okay, hm?”

Not waiting for an answer, Roach took a chance and patted his shoulder before wandering off, leaving Izzy standing there, unmoving.

“What the fuck ,” said Jim when he returned. Roach hopped up on a barrel and spread his arms wide, bowing at the waist. 

“What did you do, offer to suck his dick?”

“I think maybe he would have tried to kill me if I did. No, I just asked if he was alright, and he said no, and that was that!”

“Looked like you were using a few more words than that,” said Oluwande, eyeing him suspiciously. 

Roach held a finger up to his lips and winked.

Sure enough, a little while later, Izzy slunk into the galley. Oluwande was right, he was a little pale, and he looked more tired than usual.

“Sit,” said Roach, gesturing at the communal table, “you look unsteady as it is.”

“I’m not-” Izzy proved himself wrong immediately as his stomach lurched and pressed a hand to his mouth. He sank down involuntarily and squeezed his eyes shut, rubbing at his temples. 

“Not fuckin’ seasick.”

“No, that much is obvious or you would be sick a lot more often.”

“Ironically, I think it’s something on land that doesn’t agree with me,” continued Izzy, “feels weird trying to stand on ground that doesn’t fuckin’ move. Feels wrong.”

“So you get landsick then?” said Roach. 

Izzy blew out a breath, which for him was as good as a laugh. Roach boiled some water and rummaged through his spices, picking a few out from memory. Cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, madder root, and dry ginger, tiny pinches of everything that he pounded in his mortar and added to the teapot.

“Sugar?”

“Hmm?” now that Izzy had sat down, his energy was flagging. He blinked slowly at Roach, trying to piece together what he’d been asked.

“Oh,” he said finally, “yes. One.”

“How interesting.”

“What’s so interesting about that?’

“Wouldn’t have guessed you liked sugar at all.”

“Don’t normally have it. Fuckin’ waste of resources if you ask me,” said Izzy, “but if Bonnet’s going to insist on it being a necessity you bet I’m having some.”

“Do you actually like it?”

“‘Course I like it you twat, it’s fuckin’ sugar, isn’t it?”

He said it like it was so obvious, Roach couldn’t help but smile. Then a wave of something seemed to come over Izzy and he ducked his head and sucked in a pained breath. Roach tutted at him and put the little glass of tea next to his hand, crouching next to him.

“Here, drink,” he said, “this will settle your stomach.”

With a great amount of effort, Izzy forced himself to look up. His usual ire was softened by how thoroughly, miserably ill he was and so he nodded wearily.

“Thanks,” he said. 

He was quiet as he sipped at the tea, and Roach busied himself around the kitchen. Though they didn’t speak, the silence today was easier. Roach found that he could breathe, and when he glanced over at Izzy he’d slumped sideways, resting his head on his hand. 

“Maybe I will make some tea of my own,” Roach said softly, “somebody so kindly bought me some last time we made port.”

The corners of Izzy’s lips twitched, and Roach smiled to himself.

Gotcha .

When he was a child, Roach won his first fight by biting a hand that was reaching for his throat. He was young, a stowaway, and it was the first of many important lessons on that ship: if you wanted to survive, you could not afford to fight fair. Rules were for people who could afford them. 

Without any guidance but his own, he began to toy with people, testing his limits with belligerent comments to his peers that would get him a swipe or two that he could dodge, or a headlock that he could practice wriggling out of. He made note of these things, giggled with glee as he discovered that he was, in fact, very good at getting himself out of a scuffle. 

When he grew too tall to rely solely on wriggling, he noted that the ship’s cook always had a knife in his hand, and an extra assortment of sharp items nearby. It was as good a reason as any to learn a new skill, and Farraj the old cook was more than happy to have a young boy to scurry around doing the lifting and peeling and shucking for him. 

By now, Roach fancied himself a dab hand at the art of the scuffle. He was fast, he was ruthless, and most importantly, he didn’t care at all about the outcome provided that it involved him being alive. He learned how to start a fight, to get it out of the way before the other person got the jump on you. He learned how to end a fight quickly, efficiently, and with enough theatricality that people might think twice before trying to do it again.

His judgement was always impeccable. Stay and fight or run away - he always made the right choice.

But then of course, Stede Bonnet happened.

Stede Bonnet, with his guaranteed pay and his talking it through as a crew , and his ship full of people he’d begun to think of as friends. He could breathe here in a way he’d never realised before, let go of some of the tension that had sat coiled in his shoulders ever since he’d first slipped into a cargo hold unnoticed and hidden himself in a barrel. For the first time since he’d set foot on a ship, he discovered what it meant to be recklessly happy.

Facing down the tips of two well polished swords, Roach realised that he had, perhaps, gotten too comfortable.

The two swords belonged to the hands of two extremely well trained Spanish men that he’d been unable to prevent himself from goading into a confrontation. Too late, Roach went over his usual assessment of the situation and discovered that there were no possible exits or distractions. The cleaver in his hand was a poor substitute for the reach and speed of the weaponry currently pointed at his face. 

It was fine. He would improvise.

All options screamed that he had found himself at an impasse, but he refused to simply lie down and accept that. He swiped his cleaver at them, and found it beaten out of the way with a sturdy blade. He turned to run, only to find the second Spanish man had circled and was blocking his way.

“Well gentlemen,” he said, shrugging at them, and then cursing himself for leading with English, of all fucking languages, “uh… sorry about all this-”

A flurry of black came barrelling out of the corner of his eye, and suddenly Izzy was upon them, sword in one hand and parrying dagger clutched in the other. Distracted, both of the Spanish men turned on him and he fended them off, twisting effortlessly between opponents, blocking with the dagger while he swiped with his sword. 

There was an economy of movement to Izzy’s fighting, in the way he barely seemed to move but every step, every flick of his wrist was executed with such swift precision that he didn’t need to. 

He slit the first man’s throat with a quick slash, then turned and ducked a wide swipe from the other before slamming the dagger into his chest. He waited until he gurgled through his last breath before gripping the hilt of the dagger and giving the man a little shake so that he slid off, and landed on the deck. Then he wiped the blood off on the hem of his shirt and sheathed both blades.

“Thank you,” said Roach.

Izzy finally turned to him, panting slightly from the exertion.

“You provoked those two specifically, didn’t you?” he said.

“It’s a raid!” said Roach, spreading his arms wide, “so what if I want to have a little fun with it?”

“So what, you go around picking fights now? You absolute fucking-”

Roach caught a movement behind Izzy, and something in his expression must have alerted him because Izzy whirled, dagger in hand before Roach even had a chance to shout a warning. A bloodied, wounded Spanish man charged at him, and Izzy sidestepped him easily, blocking the man’s sword with the dagger while he drew his sword with his other hand. Roach saw his opportunity and surged forwards, grabbing a handful of the man’s hair and pulling his head back, baring his throat for Izzy.

“What the fuck ,” hissed Izzy, “what the fuck are you doing?”

“Getting him ready for you!”

“What the fuck for? I had him, you didn’t need to interfere!”

“What?”

Roach grabbed the man’s sword hand and wrestled it down to his side.

“This isn’t how you’re supposed to fight,” muttered Izzy.

“What, do we need to go by your fencing rulebook? Or what, your old master will come out and tell you off?”

“There are procedures-

“Show me the page they are written on, little man-”

“You can’t fucking read-

“Exactly! Rules were all made up by somebody at some point! Why don’t you go by Roach’s rules for once, live a little.”

“Excuse me,” said the man, “are you going to-”

“Shut up!” shouted Izzy and Roach simultaneously.

Izzy sighed, and he let his arms fall to his sides.

“You deal with him then,” he said wearily.

“With pleasure,” said Roach, and broke the man’s neck.

Roach thought perhaps that Izzy was done, but the first mate came and found him later that night, when the candles were burning and Roach was inspecting the new additions to his stores. As usual, his footsteps announced his arrival far earlier than he appeared, so Roach was prepared when he stormed in.

“Does this taste okay to you?” he said, holding out a spoonful of the jam he was currently checking. Izzy opened his mouth, presumably to tell him to fuck off, so Roach simply jammed the spoon in there instead.

Izzy’s eyes widened in surprise, but then he grabbed the spoon and pulled it out of his mouth (clean, Roach noted). It had done the trick though; Izzy needed to swallow before he could speak, and that seemed to force him to calm down. Just a little.

“How the fuck have you managed to stay alive as long as you have, the way you fight?” he said, tapping the spoon against Roach’s chest.

“I’m not an idiot,” said Roach, “I can get myself out of a scrape when I need to.”

“And today? Getting yourself sandwiched between two swords you haven’t got a hope in fuck of matching, let alone beating?”

“It was a miscalculation!”

“One that could cost you your-” Izzy’s anger took a brief, dramatic turn into something else - something that made his voice tremble and made him clench his teeth before he tried again.

“One that could cost this ship its cook and surgeon,” he finished.

“Ah, I am important to you then.”

“To the ship , you imbecile.”

It was hard to tell in the dim orange light from the candles, but Roach swore he saw a flush of pink creep across Izzy’s face.

“If you insist on being in the thick of it, we’ve got to get you up to speed on what to do if there’s a sword in your face.”

“You will teach me how to fence then, first mate? Show me your fancy footwork?”

Izzy crossed his arms, lifting his chin slightly to look Roach in the eye.

“If that’s what it fuckin’ takes.”

Roach could have kissed him. He was ridiculous. He was at once one of the most guarded and yet one of the most transparent people he’d ever met.

“Very well, First Mate Hands,” said Roach, “I will learn your style of fighting. If it makes you feel better.”

“It won’t make me feel anything except maybe less fucking annoyance at having to watch your ass everytime you go leaping headlong into a fight you can’t win.”

“You have such little faith in me,” said Roach, shaking his head teasingly, “I am deeply offended.”

“Yeah? Good.”

“Ridiculous man. Now help me finish trying these new ingredients. My mouth feels like the bottom of a chicken coop after tasting the spices, and you are getting too thin.”

“Alright, mother,” said Izzy, rolling his eyes.

“A joke! Don’t injure yourself Izzy, you’re doing very well.”

Izzy laughed at that, a single syllable of ha! that he quickly got back under control, but a laugh nevertheless. 

“You’re not going to make me fight like this all the time, are you?” said Roach. He felt a little silly in the strange half-squat Izzy had him standing in. The sword felt too large and unwieldy in his hand, and when he tried to move it he had none of the speed nor control that seemed to come effortlessly to Izzy.

“Think of this as an ‘addition to’ rather than an ‘instead of,’” said Jim from where they were perched on a barrel, watching him. 

Somehow, although Roach would never find out precisely how, Izzy had managed to wrangle them into helping out as well, trading in with their knife handling skills whenever it looked like Izzy and Roach were going to tear each others’ throats out. 

Izzy was a rigid tutor, constantly making adjustments to Roach’s stance and making him repeat every action until his legs and arm and wrist ached. Roach tolerated this only through a steady stream of suggestions, his mind whirring with potential improvisations with every new move he was taught. The subsequent clashes might have ended in disaster were it not for Jim, who seemed to exist in a happy medium between their two styles.

“I’ve seen people do this before,” said Roach, “aren’t you supposed to do a little pose before you start fighting?”

Roach demonstrated by wiggling his sword around a bit, and Jim ducked out of the way with a snort of laughter.

“Not anything like that, unless you want your opponent to think you’re an idiot,” snapped Izzy, “but if you mean this-”

He did what looked more like an awkward little dance, tapping his foot, advancing and retreating while he moved his sword around and mimed taking off and putting on a hat.

“- that’s a thing you do if you’ve got enough money to be able to swordfight for sport rather than to stay alive. Nobody’s going to stand by and watch while you dick around saluting people.”

“Ah, so it seems even the great Izzy Hands is not immune to rule breaking when it suits him,” said Roach.

“I break rules when the alternative is to look like an idiot ponce. Now pay attention, this is about staying alive-”

“I stay alive by improvising!”

“Oh for crying out loud-”

“Listen Izzy, if you’d just-”

Roach was cut off by Izzy grabbing a handful of his collar and jerking him downwards, bringing their faces together.

“Learn the fucking moves first, you stupid twat,” he hissed, “you can’t improvise if you don’t know the basics.”

“As much as I hate to say it, he’s right,” said Jim, “there’s a difference between improvising and just doing it wrong.”

“Of course you’re right,” said Roach sweetly.

He made a brief mental calculation of the odds of being stabbed, and then kissed Izzy on the nose.

Izzy recoiled like he’d been struck, and the look of horrified betrayal on his face made both Roach and Jim burst out laughing.

“The fuck did you do that for?” he growled, making a show of wiping his nose with the back of his hand.

“Because I like you, and you were so angry!” said Roach, “here, why don’t we make a salute of our own? It can be just for the two of us.”

“Stop it,” said Izzy, his voice whittled down to a hoarse whisper, and - oh. Too far again. 

“Jimenez. You’re up,” he continued, sheathing his sword, “I’ve got work to do.”

Roach was still getting a feel for Izzy, where his limits were, what kind of teasing would elicit one of his rare not-quite-smiles and what would send him away hissing and retreating. He wondered what had made the difference today. Jim pressed their lips together but said nothing, unfolding themselves from the barrel top and hopping down to the deck.

“Aye aye,” they said, frowning as Izzy stalked away.

Roach had an excellent idea for patching things up with Izzy: Take him along on his next resupply run. He went to the first mate with the idea, ready to bully him into agreeing, but discovered that Izzy was surprisingly - not pleased , but certainly agreeable. The reason he gave was to ensure that Roach didn’t indulge all of Bonnet’s ridiculous food requests, but once they were there, Izzy seemed content to simply hang back and watch Roach make his rounds.

Roach took them on the scenic route around the marketplace, showing off a little as he conversed with stallholders in Spanish, Arabic, Dutch, a little French. Izzy followed with his hands behind his back while Roach chattered away, silent while Roach passed him little things to try - roasted spiced almonds, a round of candied ginger to soothe his stomach, a glob of honey on a stick. He nibbled at these, seemingly content to be led around. It didn’t escape his notice that Izzy never stood to his side, though. He always stood slightly behind him, turned slightly so that they were facing away from each other. On guard, even here.

Roach remembered what he’d said about being land sick, and wondered if this bothered him too; the unending rabbit-warren of the market quarter, with unfamiliar people at every turn and unexpected surprises around every corner. Roach knew how he felt - there were too many people here, too many variables to keep track of. Normally, resupply came with a persistent itch between his shoulder blades, the phantom pain of a knife wound that was only a matter of time. But with Izzy behind him, he relaxed a little. He breathed a little more easily.

A voice called out from the other side of the pathway, shouting the prices of his food in English, then Arabic, then Tamazight. Roach’s head snapped towards the sound of his mother tongue.

These dates look good,” he said in Tamazight.

He and the old man grinned at each other as he split one of the dried fruits in half, popping the pit out and handing half to Izzy. 

“Well?” he said.

Izzy grunted and nodded, his gaze skittering away to check behind them.

Don’t mind him, that means he likes it,” Roach said to the old man.

Your friend is very silent,” the stallholder replied, tilting his head in Izzy’s direction, “ he does not wish to accompany you?”

Trust me, if he didn’t want to be here he would not be,” said Roach, handing over a coin.

Ah, he is the kind of man who guards his heart with a sour face. Much like my wife.

The woman sitting at the back corner of the stall stuck out her thumb and jerked it up and down at them.

I love her,” said the stallholder sincerely.

Roach beamed.

“I think I might love this man too ,” he said.

“Are you two talking about me?” grumbled Izzy.

“Yes!” said Roach, “he says you smell bad and I told him wait until you are crammed into the galley with him and he won’t take the hint to fuck off.”

The stallholder chuckled and scooped a few extra dates into Roach’s waxed bag.

Since he likes them,” he said with a wink.

Roach gathered up the bags and nodded his thanks, then nudged Izzy with his hip.

“Come on, stop standing around. We’ve got work to do.”

“You’ve got the be fuckin’ kidding me,” grumbled Izzy, but he followed Roach out of the market nevertheless.

The majority of their purchases were being brought down to the docks for them, but Roach’s special purchases - dates, nuts, honey, the spices he liked but Stede was politely “still building up a tolerance for” - he kept in the little waxed bag, to be squirrelled away in the galley where they wouldn’t be found by a pirate looking for a midnight snack.

He fiddled with it on the way back, securing it to the sash around his waist, untying it and slinging it over his shoulder, retying the sash around it as a strap so that it bounced against his hip as he walked. Anything to keep his hands busy while his conversation with the vendor rolled through his head again and again. 

I think I might love this man.

Roach had felt it for a long time now, even if he hadn’t been able to admit it to himself. But his shoulders loosened when Izzy was around. Sometimes a meeting was not the discovery of something new, but a recognition of the familiar.

Izzy Hands walked into his galley, and his thought was not the how are you of an acquaintance. When Izzy walked into the room, Roach wanted to smile and say “ ah, there you are!”  

He felt a quiet thrill at Izzy’s poorly concealed enjoyment of the things he’d eaten today, the bits and pieces of himself that Roach had found in the market and handed over. He wanted to cook something for Izzy that was so good he wouldn’t want to conceal how much he liked it. He wanted to hear Izzy groan with pleasure. He wanted to whisper his name into his ear, the one he’d been given at birth that he kept tucked away in secret, and relish in the knowledge that somebody else knew.

Izzy rolled his eyes and sighed and tutted loudly.

“D’you have to keep fucking with that thing?” he muttered, “just carry it like a normal person.”

“Would you rather I were a normal person then?” said Roach, nudging a little closer to him.

“It’d certainly keep you out of trouble,” said Izzy, but his heart wasn’t in the barb.

Emboldened, Roach threw an arm around his shoulders as the two of them turned onto the path towards the docks. He felt Izzy stiffen under his touch, but after a few moments, he relaxed. Leaned into Roach’s side, and slowed a little.

“I’m awfully fond of you, little man,” whispered Roach. 

His heart sank as he realised, too late, that it was another miscalculation. Izzy struggled out of his hold and took several steps back. His eyes were wild and angry, and his lips twisted into a snarl, then a grimace, then his jaw slackened into confusion.

“What the fuck,” he said, his voice quiet and raw.

“Izzy,” said Roach, taking a step towards him. He felt himself break a little when Izzy took an answering step back, his gaze skating around as he searched for an escape. The thrill inside his chest grew suddenly, decisively cold, and it hurt , like Izzy had carved a slice right out of the core of him.

Then Izzy’s eyes grew wide as he stared at a point somewhere beyond Roach.

“The ship,” he gasped.

“What-”

“Can you swim?”

“I-”

“The fucking ship’s leaving!”

Roach whirled to see what he meant, and panic gripped him as he realised that The Revenge was indeed setting sail.

Without them.

Chapter Text

The two of them broke into a run, sprinting down to the pier as fast as they could go. It was then that Roach discovered that Izzy was not a good runner, and he found himself slowing down to make sure Izzy could catch up.

“Go! Don’t fucking wait for me you idiot, run!”

Roach reached the pier before Izzy and jumped off into the water, paddling for the ship and praying it would remain slow. In the back of his mind, he realised that he’d run past crates and barrels waiting to be loaded. Something was wrong. 

He heard a splash behind him, and - ah. Now that Izzy was in the water, he caught up to Roach easily.

“Either we’re on the run,” he gasped, “or we’ve been boarded.”

Roach’s arms burned from exertion as he pulled himself through the water. His clothes dragged at him, making every movement through the water an effort. He could hear Izzy’s ragged breaths at his side in between the sounds of the waves that crashed over his head, stinging his eyes. By the time they made it to the side of the ship they were both exhausted, clinging to the side of the ship while they caught their breath. Izzy’s hair was plastered to his skull, wet hanks of it hanging in his face as he looped one arm through the rope ladder and slumped panting against the hull. Roach knew he probably didn’t look much better while he focused on sucking air in and out of his lungs until his heart stopped hammering quite so hard in his chest.

“Alright?” said Roach, when he had breath enough to speak.

Izzy nodded, then looked up at the ship.

“My money’s on us being boarded,” he said, his mouth twisting into a determined scowl as he spoke, “my gun’ll be useless now, but at least I’ve got the knife. You armed?”

“Knife as well,” said Roach, “but if they’ve taken the ship surely there are a number of them?”

Izzy blew out a breath and shut his eyes tightly, knocking his forehead against the hull. 

“Hey!” said Roach, placing his hand between Izzy’s head and the hard wood, “stop that-”

“Need to think,” muttered Izzy, “need to - to figure out a plan.”

“We’ll need to see how many there are first,” said Roach.

Izzy nodded.

“Right.”

He began to climb the ladder, but Roach grabbed his arm.

“We should hang off the side a while,” he said softly, “wait until we’re not so dripping wet. In case we need to hide.”

Izzy stared at him for several long moments, then nodded.

“Alright. Climb up under me then.”

He ascended a few more rungs, then looped a leg and an elbow through the spaces to keep himself in place. With his free hand, he drew his knife. Roach watched him as he stood guard there, craning his neck upwards, still and silent but for the droplets of water that fell back into the ocean. 

Roach’s treacherous heart crept back into his thoughts in the silence, and he found himself running over that moment yet again. His quiet admission. Izzy’s step back. His confusion at what Roach had said. 

What the fuck ? What kind of a response was that? Was Izzy disgusted with him? Surely not. Not after everything else. Roach was a great many things, but he was fairly certain that he wasn’t delusional. Izzy was… softer around him these days. He was sure he hadn’t imagined it when he’d choked on his words that day Roach had almost been killed. The first mate wasn’t as good at concealing his feelings as he thought.

The ladder wiggled gently, and Roach looked up to see Izzy gesturing upwards. The two of them were now simply damp instead of dripping wet, and Izzy clamped his knife between his teeth and began to climb.

Izzy poked his head briefly over the side, then crouched back down.

“Boarded,” he mouthed silently, “English.”

Why on earth were the English sailing the Revenge? 

“Navy?” whispered Roach.

Izzy held his hand flat and then tilted it from side to side. Curiouser and curiouser.

Suddenly, a thought occurred to Roach. He pointed towards the chain closest to the stern. 

“Get over there,” he whispered, “get between the shrouds and the ship.”

Izzy stared at him.

“Trust me,” pleaded Roach. 

There should be a latch somewhere on the hull. Jim had shown him the crawl space just inside, some bizarre tunnel area Bonnet had had made up for his kids to explore. It should fit the two of them.

With some effort, they were able to shuffle their way across, dangling from the little ledge of wood just below the gunwale. Izzy got himself up first, then scooted all the way back while Roach hauled himself up onto the chain. Lying on his side, Roach felt along the hull, poking and prodding at cracks until he felt the tell-tale click, and a panel folded into the ship.

Roach rolled inside, then lay on his back while Izzy crawled in after him. The panel slid shut, and then all of a sudden, the two of them were in the dark.

Roach felt his heart rate skyrocket at the darkness, the way he could feel his hot breath linger in the space in front of his face. His clothes clung to his skin and itched, and the crawlspace, heated from the blazing sun, felt like a furnace. He sucked in a gasp of stale air and squeezed his eyes shut. He was a child again, rail thin and hungry, not daring to move for fear of being caught. Footsteps from above loosened dust into his face, and he knew if he moved, if he made a sound, he would be caught and killed. 

From next to him he could feel Izzy moving, rolling over with a grunt.

“D’you know how to get out of here?”

The words were barely there, fragile syllables that hung in the air between the two of them. Roach opened his mouth, but as much as his mind shouted at him to reply, he found himself unable to speak. The pounding of his heart grew louder in his ears, and he forced a breath into his lungs.

Come on. Come on. Speak up, boy. Speak up-  

Roach inhaled sharply as he felt a movement on his chest, but then a hand settled there firmly, grounding him.

“Roach,” said Izzy, “come on. Snap out of it.”

The hand pressed down harder. Roach dragged in a breath and let it fill his whole lungs.

“This way,” he whispered, and rolled on his belly so he could drag himself down the crawlspace. Something about Stede’s intention to have his children do this for fun made him tremble.

It wasn’t a long way, but dragging themselves inch by inch down the narrow space in the stale, unmoving heat made the journey seem like an eternity. Eventually Roach’s hand came up against solid wood, and thankfully when he pushed at it, it gave way to a little door that led out into a dimly lit room about the size of a cupboard. He crawled to the far side and collapsed against the wall, trying to pant silently for air as sweat rolled down his face and neck. Izzy emerged, his hair a damp mess that stuck to his forehead and cheeks. He hauled himself out of the hole and then flopped down on the floor, flinging an arm across his face. They sprawled there for a while as they recovered their breath and allowed the reality of their situation to fully sink in.

Eventually, Izzy sat up and scooted over to Roach, pressing in close to him so that he could whisper directly into his ear. Roach found himself hyper-aware of the press of their damp, heated skin and the teeth-grinding irritation of their wet clothes.

“How far do the passages go?” he said. The quiet syllables were grating from how closely Izzy’s lips were to his ear. A breath ghosted across Roach’s cheek, and he shivered.

“All around the ship,” answered Roach.

He swallowed as Izzy tilted his head to allow him to whisper more efficiently.

“We should figure out where everyone is,” he continued, willing his voice to stop shaking, “what we’re dealing with. We need information.”

Izzy nodded, and Roach didn’t miss the brief flicker of his gaze - down to his lips, then back up again. What was going on ?

“Lead the way,” whispered Izzy.

Roach was very good at following directions. He had the whole ship, passages and all, in a kind of mental map that he carried in his head. He could picture it clearly, precisely where they were and where they needed to go. Right now they were near the brig, which seemed like a fairly good bet if they were looking for crew members who’d been locked up. He prayed they’d just been locked up.

Roach led the way, Izzy following close enough behind him that he could hear the other’s man’s breaths in his ear, too loud, too clumsy. Izzy Hands might have been able to hold his own in a duel, but he’d never had to balance his life on the knife’s edge of silence. 

Roach trailed his hand along the walls, feeling for a gap in the wood, a crease where there might be a hidden latch. Little slivers of light filtered through the boards here and there, allowing them narrow glimpses into the parts of the ship they were passing. Roach could see flashes of movement, but none that he recognised as their crew. At least, not until they got to the brig.

The sound of somebody shouting in Spanish made it clear who was being held in there. The glimpse of a loose beige shirt and dark hair only served to confirm Roach’s suspicions. Jim was in there. Good. 

Well, not good. None of this was good. But Jim was a good start.

Roach tapped twice on the wood, then waited. There was a rustle as Jim stood up, looking directly at the wall. Roach tapped again, and Jim walked to the wall, crouching down beside it.

“It’s Roach,” he whispered, letting only the barest amount of sound out of his mouth.

Jim pressed their ear to the wall and nodded, then continued in the same angry tone of voice they’d already been using.

I need a lockpick.”

The others? ” whispered Roach, switching languages. He knew Izzy wouldn’t understand, but he could explain later.

I don’t know. I think they’re keeping us apart. What’s the plan?”

Roach hesitated.

“Don’t have one yet. We’ll get back to you.”

“Hurry the fuck up, I hate it in here.

“Oi!” 

The guard’s voice was muffled, but he gave it two loud thumps.

“Shut the fuck up in there or we’ll fuckin’ make you.”

Roach had enough of a view of Jim’s eyes to know that when they made it out, they would delight in the resulting consequences. For the time being though, they remained silent.

“Care to fill me in?” whispered Izzy, too loud. Roach squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed the urge to scream at him.

“Not here,” he breathed, “and stop talking. You are too loud.”

He heard an irritated exhale in the darkness, but to his credit, Izzy did as he was told. 

Jim in the brig. One down, eleven to go.

They were in luck again because the next room was where they kept the goats and the chickens. Roach heard the cacophony before he was able to peek through a warped section of the wood to catch a glimpse of Buttons, happily chattering away to Tilly.

Here, he wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. He could knock, but he was pretty sure Buttons wouldn’t hear it over the sound of the other animals. There was no way he could talk - there was no way of knowing how close by their captors were. But then little old Tilly bleated, and Roach pressed his lips together, hoping he’d be dismissed as a strange sound rather than an intruder. 

Tilly was the goat they used for milk on the ship, and she’d been skittish and frightened when he’d first started coming to her, so he’d started singing quietly to her when he approached, sitting a little ways away to get her gradually used to him until he could lay a hand on her head with ease. He wasn’t the greatest singer, his voice thin and reedy, but she seemed to enjoy it nevertheless.

He hummed then, a little tune that he hoped would be masked by the clucking and scratching and bleating. Tilly perked up immediately as the sound made its way through the confusion, and trotted over to the wall, the bell on her neck jingling as she moved. She began to headbutt the wall, and Buttons followed her in confusion.

“Are there ghosts in there, lass?” he said, “I always suspected there might be.”

Roach began to panic, hoping that Buttons would simply be dismissed for his rambling. He watched, holding his breath as Buttons ran the palm of his hand over the wood, making quiet noises in the back of his throat.

“Here, ghostie ghostie ghostie,” he murmured, “here-”

“Buttons,” breathed Roach, as loudly as he dared, “it’s Roach.”

Buttons crouched in front of the wall, staring directly into Roach’s eyes. There was no way he’d be able to see into the darkness, but nevertheless Roach was certain that somehow he was looking directly at him.

“Met lots of ghosts in my time, Miss Tilly,” said Buttons, “I’ve always figured the best way to handle ‘em is to let ‘em speak first.”

“Izzy and I are hiding,” whispered Roach, “we’re working on a plan.”

“It’s a good thing those guards outside the door don’t seem afraid of ghosts either, because I figure this ship’s as good as haunted,” Buttons continued. 

There was a thump on the door and another muffled shout for Buttons to shut the fuck up. These guys didn’t have much in the way of imagination, it seemed.

“You’re a good lass Tilly? Ye’ll let me know if you hear any more ghosts, won’t ye?”

Tilly bleated quietly in reply.

“I’ll wait for ye to tell me all about it.”

Buttons’ eyes didn’t leave Roach’s, and Roach nodded gratefully, then tugged Izzy along.

The gun deck was a bust. Wee John and Pete were in there. Somehow, Wee John had found a ball and was bouncing it sadly against the wall. Roach would have felt terrible for them if they didn’t look so ridiculous. The room was too big, and they were too far away to risk trying to make themselves heard. The passageway didn’t seem to open up anywhere, so they pressed on. 

Roach’s tongue was starting to feel fuzzy and swollen in his mouth. It was also getting more and more difficult not to snap at every tiny noise and movement Izzy made alongside him. He hadn’t spoken a single word since they’d started exploring, but he was still so fucking loud , with everything from his footsteps to the swish of his clothing to his increasingly ragged breathing. He and Roach inched their way around a corner, and when Izzy inhaled particularly loudly, swallowed down the growing urge to strangle the man.

Shut the fuck up shut the fuck up shut the fuck up shut the fuck-

He felt Izzy’s hand grope around in the dark, finally grasping at the hem of his shirt. He heard a quiet gasp, then another. In the darkness, with the damp humidity and the stink of stale air and wet wood, Roach suddenly had a vivid sense memory of the smell of rotting fish, and suddenly found he couldn’t breathe. They had to keep moving.

“‘ch-”

Roach caught only the tail end of his name, stuttered out into the darkness, and bit down hard on the inside of his cheek. Wordlessly, he grabbed Izzy by the wrist and pulled him along, hearing the quiet thump as the smaller man stumbled and knowing that if they were in here for much longer, a scream would tear loose from his throat and doom them all. 

Izzy was breathing too loud. He was making too much noise. They were going to be found, and that couldn’t happen. His skin itched and his resolve to resist the urge to claw at it was fast waning. There was a buzzing in his head that was making it hard to focus on anything but how fucking hot it was, how his shirt was glued to his back with sweat, the near-unbearable tickle of it running down his neck.

They came to the end of the corridor when Roach nearly walked face first into the wall in front of him, stopping only when his nose brushed wood. The pressure in the back of his head built as he pawed for a latch, a lever, something in the darkness that would open up the room. Behind him, Izzy’s breathing had turned into a series of quiet gasps.

Fuck Izzy. Fuck this ship. Fuck all of it, why the fuck had he said yes to being on Stede Fucking Bonnet’s crew in the first place?

Roach dug his fingernails into the wood, feeling a splinter embed itself under his nail but barely registering the pain.

He had to get out

He had to get out

He had to get the fuck out because he was going to-

He was already-

He was dying-

He was going to fucking die-

His thumb found a divot in the wood and pressed down hard, and the wall swung open from both sides, double doors that let in a rush of cool air. It had him gasping in a great lungful before the sound of his own breath reached his ears and filled him with terror all over again.

The two of them stumbled out into what looked like… a wardrobe?

There were racks of colourful clothes lining all the walls, stacks of boxes done up with ribbons, carefully folded scarves and wigs and jewellery. They’d come out of a false cupboard down one end of the room.

Behind him, Izzy staggered over to an open hatbox and proceeded to retch into it. Roach watched him absently, standing and swaying in the middle of the little room while the lingering tendrils of panic refused to fully recede from his mind, keeping him numb and confused. 

Izzy spat into the box, wrinkled his nose at it, then put the lid on. He used the wall to pull himself back upright, then waved a hand in front of Roach’s face.

“Okay?” he mouthed, his brows furrowed.

Roach stared at him. Izzy looked like a madman and Roach was certain he didn’t look much better, sticky with sweat, pale and visibly trembling. His mind still hadn’t quite cleared yet, so he let Izzy push him down to sit against the wall, kneeling beside him.

“What’s wrong?” he whispered. 

Roach flinched and pulled away; his breath stank.

Izzy grabbed a fistful of his own hair and yanked hard in frustration.

“Heat?” he mouthed, “heat sickness?”

Roach shook his head, screwing his eyes shut and trying to remember what breathing felt like.

Izzy watched him for several more moments, then tentatively splayed the palm of his hand on Roach’s chest like he’d done before. 

“I think we’re in Bonnet’s room,” he whispered, keeping his arm’s length away from him, “that fucking thing is so big, we’ll be hard to hear. Safe spot. Safe.”

Roach tilted his head back and forced himself to draw deeper breaths, covering Izzy’s hand with his own and clinging to it while he tried desperately to reassure himself that he wasn’t about to die.

Then Izzy pulled his hand out. Roach thought for one terrible moment that he’d fucked up, but Izzy was crawling back to the hatbox and dry heaving into it again, one hand braced on the wall despite the fact that nothing came up. Now that Roach’s brain felt like it was here with him once more, he noticed that Izzy looked frighteningly pale.

He’d thought the whole thing about getting landsick was a joke, but now he wasn’t so sure. Izzy looked thoroughly miserable as he slumped against the wall, his eyes sliding closed while he caught his breath. His chest rose and fell shallowly, and he had a hand slung across his stomach. With his usually well groomed hair falling in tangles around his face, he looked oddly pathetic, and Roach felt a pang of sympathy the same way one might feel for a half drowned cat.

“Your stomach?” said Roach.

Izzy nodded, closing his eyes.

Roach ran through a list of remedies in his head, then remembered there was no way he’d be able to actually access any of them. Not until they made their way around to the galley anyway, and there was no saying whether they’d be able to sneak in or not.

But then he remembered the knotted bag at his hip, and he hastily untied it and took out the little parcel of candied ginger. He took one out, and took Izzy’s chin.

“Open,” he whispered.

Izzy opened his mouth obediently, and Roach placed the slice on his tongue, and closed his mouth. Izzy slumped back against the wall and closed his eyes, focusing on trying to manage the nausea. Roach arranged himself beside Izzy so that he could keep an eye on him, but let himself relax too. He stretched his legs out in front of him and sighed as he focused on allowing his cramped muscles to loosen. It was quiet in here, the danger less immediate. 

While they rested, Izzy convulsed only one more time, making a choking sound in his throat. It reminded Roach that the two of them weren’t safe yet, that they might have a while ahead of them before they managed to be. The most immediate concern he had was that the two of them might pass the fuck out before they managed to scrape together a plan.

We’ll survive. We’ve survived worse than this. 

He knew this about Izzy too, though he’d never heard the details. He simply recognised the fallout.

His train of thought was cut off by the unmistakable sound of Stede’s voice.

“Hello there? Listen, I can hear you walking around outside! I must say, this is highly unusual, keeping a Captain in the dark like this! Show yourselves, I say! This is behaviour unbecoming of a true pirate!”

Roach and Izzy rolled their eyes at each other, and crouched at the door-shaped crack in the wall.

“I suppose that means there’s no one in there,” whispered Izzy.

Roach nodded, but he still drew his knife. Izzy did the same, and then they pulled the cord next to the doorway and watched as it swung open with a click.

Stede was tied to a chair in the middle of the room. It appeared that they’d removed anything that could be used as a weapon - the room was still fairly sparse in the first place, but now it looked practically empty. Stede opened his mouth when they appeared, but Roach strode over to him in one fluid motion, and covered it with his hand.

“We weren’t on the ship when you left,” he whispered into his ear, “we’re going to figure out a plan.”

Stede brightened considerably at that, and Roach marvelled at his ability to overlook danger for the sake of some good dramatics.

“These men are using our bell to signal shift changes,” said Stede, “perhaps you can use that to your advantage. They seem a little… disorganised.”

“Few Navy uniforms out there,” muttered Izzy, “if that means anything.”

“Goodness, we must be quite popular then,” said Stede, trying and failing to conceal a smile, “not that that’s important.”

Roach was privately pleased that Izzy was sick, because he did not want to see his reaction if he’d had the strength to do anything more than glower.

“Are you two alright?” said Stede, “you both look terrible.”

Izzy gave him a flat stare, then chose to ignore the question.

“We need lockpicks,” he whispered, “and do you know where they’ve put Edward?”

Stede shook his head. 

“I can hear people shouting, but I’ve not heard his voice. Lockpicks, you say?”

“Do you have anything?”

Stede pondered this a moment, before brightening.

“Hairpins! There’s some in the ensuite.”

Izzy and Roach were both unable to stop themselves from rolling their eyes. The ensuite. Of course. How could they forget that they were sailing with a pirate captain who had a fucking ensuite concealed in his room. 

There were indeed a collection of hairpins in one of the drawers, which they pocketed. Scissors too, which were sharp and pointy and therefore useful. Roach pondered the torturing possibilities of the nail care set, but ultimately decided against them. For now.

“Can’t believe he’s got a fuckin’ bath in here,” grumbled Izzy.

“I think I would like to try it.”

Roach trailed his fingers along the edge of it, then tapped a nail against it to hear the sound reverberate around the hammered copper. A real bath. They didn’t even use it that often really, but Roach wondered what it would be like to be completely submerged in heated water. 

“Haven’t had a proper bath since I was a child. And even then they used to throw the kids in a handful at a time. Make the most of the occasion.”

“I think I have heard Jim talk about this too,” mused Roach. It seemed strange to do it any other way, really.

“Once we are out of here, I think I will have a bath.”

“Yeah, good luck getting Bonnet to relinquish it,” snorted Izzy.

They loosened the knots in the ropes holding Stede in place, then slipped back into the auxiliary closet. 

“We’re going to have to arm everyone,” said Izzy, looking the scissors over in his hand. They weren’t much, but he suspected Jim would know what to do with them.

“With what?” said Roach, “are we going to whip the English to death with Captain’s ribbons? Strangle them to death with lace? Actually, that sounds quite poetic-”

“I’m not good-” said Izzy, unable to meet his eyes, “at improvising .”

Of course. That had always been Edward’s area, with Izzy as the steadfast first mate. Roach wondered when the last time had been, that he’d acted on any orders that hadn’t been from him.

Izzy was staring down at his feet now, still pale but for an unhealthy flush that had crept into his cheeks.

“It is a good thing one of us knows how to survive as a stowaway then,” said Roach, resolutely ignoring the sharp movement of Izzy’s head, the pointed drawing together of his brows as he processed what Roach had revealed to him. It took several moments, and Roach tensed for - for something. He wasn’t sure what. But with vulnerability came consequences, always.

Izzy nodded, a jerky up-down movement of his head, and then turned to regard the double doors that led back into the passageway.

Roach took a deep breath.

“You ready?” said Izzy instead.

“I do not think I have a choice.”

“I’ll be right behind you.”

Roach nodded, then plunged headfirst into the darkness once more.

The ball room was the smallest on the ship, where the Swede was sprawled uncomfortably atop all of the cannonballs. Somehow, miraculously, he’d managed to fall asleep. He looked like a renaissance painting in there, bathed in beams of evening light and framed with particles of dust turned golden. 

Fang was in the cargo hold, tied to a chair like Stede. 

Roach heard Izzy’s quiet exhale of frustration each time they found a crew member it was impossible to reach. Or perhaps, every time they found someone who wasn’t Edward. Either way, it was a small relief when it turned out Oluwande had been locked inside his and Jim’s room. Much like Stede’s the room had been largely emptied, and he sat forlornly on the empty bed, staring at the wall. Roach scratched at the wood, too rhythmically to be a rat, and Oluwande’s head shot up. He rushed to the wall, pressing his ear to the wood.

“Jim?” he whispered.

“Sorry,” came Roach’s reply, “Roach. And Izzy.”

He heard a soft sigh from the other side of the wood.

“Jim’s okay. We are going to get you out.”

“Have you heard anything from Ed?” whispered Izzy, and Roach felt himself tense at the unexpected voice.

“I heard ‘em saying they were taking the Captain up on deck, but I wasn’t sure which one they meant.”

Roach heard Izzy’s breath hitch.

“They meant Ed,” he said, and Roach had to fight to steady himself as he felt Izzy’s hand make a fist in his shirt, gripping it tightly.

“Wait for instructions, but we’re going to try and get everyone out. Lockpick incoming.”

“Thanks.”

Roach slipped a hairpin through the cracks in the wall, and the two of them were off once more. 

Izzy waited until they were between rooms, in pitch darkness and silence before he stopped and grabbed Roach.

“Is this the plan?” he said, desperation lacing his voice, “we just… trust everyone to do as they’re told at the same time? We need to get to Edward, he’ll have a better idea-”

“Then you’re an even bigger idiot than I thought,” snapped Roach, as silently as he could manage despite the fact that all he really wanted to do was scream in Izzy’s face. Get above decks? The man was insane.

“This is barely a plan.”

“And you are not helping!”

“Listen-”

Roach slapped a hand over Izzy’s mouth as he heard footsteps come closer. They were slow and measured, and were coming straight towards them. They made a solid thud against the deck. Hard-soled shoes. Expensive ones. Officers. 

He dug his fingers into Izzy’s cheek, hardly daring to breathe as the footsteps slowed to a stop right in front of them. There was only a wooden panel stopping him from being found out. The two of them pressed themselves against the back of the corridor as hard as they could, and Roach shut his eyes despite the fact that the darkness was just the same either way.

Knock. Knock.

Roach shut his eyes even tighter, praying that neither of them would fuck up, that they could stay still for as long as they needed to without making a sound, without moving, without breathing-

The man’s foot tapped twice, then the footsteps left, fading off into the distance, and Roach sucked in a careful breath. He let go of Izzy, who remained silent.

The two of them pressed on.

Izzy didn’t mention Edward again. Roach was unsure if it was because he’d given up, or because he lacked the energy, but either way it was good. He was starting to find it hard to breathe, and here in the quiet of the corridor he could hear his heartbeat thumping in his ears, feel the sweat pooling in the small of his back. Their progress was teeth-grindingly slow for fear of making too much sound, and though he was grateful for Izzy’s presence, that alone could not stop the steady press of panic against his sanity.

They had to stop briefly, Izzy’s hand flopping clumsily against his side to signal that he needed to pause to gasp shallow, wheezing breaths into his lungs. He stopped too, grateful suddenly for the narrow walls on either side of him to hold him up while he fought his own wave of nausea. He was dizzy in the darkness, strange colourful shapes dancing in front of his face that he hesitated to focus on for too long lest they coalesce into something more sinister. 

A nudge from Izzy, and they kept moving.

It was a relief then, when the door to the galley clicked open and the two of them found Frenchie and Lucius in there, tied up back to back on a bench. Roach closed his eyes at the feel of cool air on his face once more, sighing with relief as he took in several big lungfuls of it. Beside him, he heard Izzy do the same. 

The sun was well and truly on its way down now, and the light inside was dim and gray. They’d spent all day in the walls, making their way through the ship with excruciating care. Such constant, vigilant attention to detail had exhausted them both, but they had no idea where they were headed, and time was of the essence.

Ignoring the urge to sink to the floor and savour the delicious relief of breathing normally again, Roach clambered out of the wall. Frenchie’s face lit up when he saw them, and very nearly said something until Roach held a finger to his lips, and he snapped his jaw shut.

“What is it?” whispered Lucius, who was facing away from them, “what’s happened?”

Roach ran around and hushed him too, and watched with some satisfaction as his eyes grew wide. The annoying part was, though, that of course they’d stripped the galley of anything dangerous as well. They’d even taken his spatula, which was ridiculous. 

Roach crept to the kitchen area and reached under the counter, dislodging the knife he kept concealed under there in case of emergencies. 

They loosened the ropes just like they’d done with Stede, retying the knots into slip knots that they could easily get out of. Then Roach slipped the knife under Frenchie, so that he was sitting on it.

“Alright,” said Roach with a dangerous smile, “do not wiggle around too much, if you value your balls. Wait for our signal, we will-”

There were footsteps outside. Roach stared at the door in horror, and he was about to fumble for his knife when he was grabbed from behind and hauled back into the passageway. Izzy hit the lever on his way out and the wall panel slid shut just as the door burst open.

“Who’s in here?” demanded an unfamiliar voice.

“Nobody!” said Lucius - far too quickly. Roach could have strangled him.

“You know what we said about talking,” said the voice, lower now, more dangerous.

“I was just asking him some questions,” said Frenchie quickly, “to pass the time. I spy with my little eye-”

There was a meaty thwack, and Roach tensed as Frenchie howled out an indignant “ouch!

Then, something solid and metal clattered to the floor, and Roach felt his heart sink.

“What’s this then?” said the voice. 

Roach felt Izzy tense next to him, though to his relief the other man didn’t do anything more than that.

“Uh, that’s-”

“When did that get here?”

“I dunno-”

Another slap. Roach began to slowly reach for his own knife.

“These two are obviously more dangerous than we realised.”

Fingers clicked twice. A commotion as wood scraped on wood and Lucius and Frenchie began shouting.

“What should we do with ‘em?”

“I dunno, take ‘em where we can watch ‘em?”

“Yeah, tie him to the mast-”

“But we’ve already got-”

“The other mast.”

Roach felt rather than heard a quiet sigh from Izzy.

Suddenly, there was a pause in the noise.

“Sneaky little bastards, aren’t you,” sneered the voice, “slip knots? Are you two some sort of escape artists then?”

“No-”

“We’re actually really shit at the whole escaping thing, you know, we’re not-”

“Forgive me if I don’t take your word for it.”

Thwack . Lucius cried out in pain, then Frenchie, the both of them alternating between stammered pleas for mercy. Roach gripped his knife and prayed that it wouldn’t go any further. He bit down hard on his cheek at the urge to intervene, make it stop-

Footsteps, the scraping of cloth against the floor as the two of them were dragged out.

The door slammed.

Then, nothing.

“I’m sorry,” whispered Izzy, “I’m sorry-”

The two of them sagged against each other, and Roach wondered when he’d grown soft like this. The suffering of others had always come secondary to his own survival, it had been ingrained. He was a selfish man at heart, had to be, to stay alive. He’d changed.

Izzy was trembling against his side, and he held the smaller man close to him. It was too hot in there, too hot to breathe and certainly too hot for the two of them to be so close together, but Roach found that he didn’t care. In lieu of being able to see, he focused on the weight of Izzy against him, the tickle of his beard hairs, the soft huffs of air against the exposed part of his skin. Izzy leaned into his shoulder, and he felt him convulse briefly, then settle. 

The two of them stayed like that until they could bear the heat no longer.

“The galley’s empty, as far as they know,” Izzy whispered, “we might be able to-” his throat made a horrible, wet clicking noise as his stomach rebelled again. He let out a small, pained sound and Roach thought for one horrifying moment that he might throw up on him. The thought was chased by the realisation that there was likely nothing left to come up at this point.

“Yes.”

Roach hurriedly opened the panel again, and helped Izzy - who’d gone all wobbly and disoriented - out and sat him down on a bench. 

To his relief, there was still a jug of water on the kitchen counter, and he held a cup of it to Izzy’s lips until he managed to grip it himself with shaky hands. Roach drank straight from the jug, slowly sipping until he felt the pounding in his head begin to subside. A little of the water dripped down his own face, and on a sudden whim he tipped some of it over his head on purpose, sighing with relief at the sensation on his heated skin. Without asking, he dumped some over Izzy too, laughing silently when the other man shook his head like a wet dog.

He reached out and raked the wet hair out of Izzy’s eyes, letting his hand linger at the other man’s jaw.

There was no way to calculate this, nor was there anywhere for Izzy to run if he’d made a mistake. Roach prayed that he had not. 

To his relief, Izzy seemed in desperate need of a comforting touch right now because his eyes slid shut, and he allowed the weight of his head to fall into Roach’s hand, pressing his cheek to his palm and letting out a soft breath of air.

“I’m sorry,” Izzy said against his hand, “for earlier.”

Roach ran through a mental list of things he could be annoyed at Izzy for. It was quite a lengthy list, but an ambiguous one nevertheless.

“You took me by surprise,” he continued.

“That does not clear up what the fuck you are talking about.”

Izzy’s eyes shot open.

“Don’t make me say it,” he ground out, “back on shore. Before all this.”

Oh.

“You are a little asshole,” hissed Roach, “you made me think you didn’t-”

“I wasn’t sure if you were fucking with me or not,”

“Why on earth would I be-”

“Roach, stop it. Please.

Izzy was out of energy for a fight; instead his cheek pressed further into Roach’s hand, his other hand coming up to hold it to his face. Roach petted through the damp tangle that was Izzy’s hair with his free hand. It felt horrible, but he didn’t particularly care. Izzy let him, seizing the moment and clinging on to it with all his might.

“You say that some of those people out there are navy men, yes?” said Roach.

Izzy nodded.

Roach took a seat next to him, let Izzy lean against him while he rested his cheek on top of his head.

“When I was a very small boy, I ran away from home.”

“Not an unfamiliar story,” said Izzy dryly.

“I killed a man.”

Izzy sighed.

“Always something extra with you, isn’t it?”

“Keep interrupting me little man, we shall see how well you swim out of the ocean half dead like you are now.”

“Alright. Alright.”

“My first ship, I was a stowaway. I stayed in a barrel in the cargo hold for… I don’t remember. I was not counting. I would sneak out sometimes to steal food. Catch rats, sometimes. Eventually, I found a crew member who was my size. A short man, like you.”

Izzy huffed, but said nothing.

“I slit his throat with the edge of a can, and stowed him in my barrel. Then I wore his clothes, and that was how I got my first job on a ship.”

“Can I speak now?” said Izzy.

“Yes.”

“Fuckin’ hell.”

Roach nodded. It was a story he kept close to his chest, if only for the fact that anyone who heard it never looked at him the same way afterwards. When he had been younger, he had relished the horrified looks that came with the tale. It was one of the first stories out of his mouth, so that people knew who they were dealing with. He’d stopped telling it when he realised that the horror was not entirely comprised of fear like he’d thought, but of pity as well. That, he could not abide. 

Izzy did not pity him.

Izzy absorbed the shock and barrelled right on ahead.

“Your point?”

Roach found himself wrenched back to the situation at hand.

“Our captors are navy men, yes?”

“Or wearing their uniforms.”

“Right, or this. So one of us needs to pretend that we are one of them, and go up on deck to free the rest of our crew. Preferably someone who can give commands. And who is quite skilled at fighting. With a sword.”

He pinched some of the skin on his arm between two fingers.

“It cannot be me.”

Izzy mulled this over.

“Right. So you’re planning a sort of sneaky… fuckery, I guess.”

“You will tell Blackbeard I did well?”

Izzy looked furious for a brief moment, but then took one look at the grin on Roach’s face and shoved at him.

“Fuck off.”

“You have to admit, it is a good idea.”

“Going out in disguise? Yeah, it’s a good idea. People have been doing it since the dawn of fuckin’ time, it’s hardly anything new.”

Izzy huffed and drank some more water. A little colour had crept back into his cheeks, which was a good sign. 

“I’ve got a face tattoo,” he said.

“It is not very large,” said Roach, “perhaps I can-” 

He mimed slicing at it with his knife.

“Absolutely the fuck not ,” said Izzy, “maybe we can cover it.”

“Like the French. They have the dots, on their faces.”

“The face dots.”

“A spot on your face. Perhaps it helps you forget that you married your cousin for their wealth.”

Izzy made a choking noise into his cup, and Roach smiled, satisfied.

“S’pose we could just turn it into a spot, yeah.”

He stroked his goatee as he said this, then his hand stilled. Roach looked at his hand, then gave him an impish smile.

“Ah, yes. There is this matter, too.”

“No,” said Izzy, “time for a new plan. Fuck this.”

Roach grabbed Izzy’s chin and ran his hand over the prickly grey hairs there.

“Perhaps it is time for a makeover, hm?”

“Fuck you.”

Chapter Text

Roach had been convinced that Izzy wouldn’t agree to it. Being held down and shaved with nothing but oil and the blade of a knife - Roach certainly wouldn’t have trusted anyone to do it to himself. But Roach prided himself on his steady hands, and the practised precision of his movements. He wondered what Izzy would look like clean shaven. 

Roach smoothed the oil along his jaw and cheeks, then under his chin and all through his goatee. The pads of his fingers ran over scratchy stubble, and he dug into the tension he could feel there, smiling with satisfaction when Izzy let out a quiet breath and relaxed. 

Izzy had his eyes averted, and held still while Roach began to pass the knife over his skin. It was more dangerous than a razor blade. The cold steel was weightier as it pressed against Izzy’s flesh, and Roach concentrated on maintaining the perfect amount of pressure to take away the hairs but not pierce the skin.

“Hold still now,” murmured Roach, “wouldn’t want to cut you.”

He held Izzy’s jaw, tilting his head backwards to bare his throat. Izzy went easily, and closed his eyes at the feel of the knife blade running over his adam’s apple. His breath hitched, then a quiet sound escaped him, the aborted start of a moan.

“Like this, do you?” said Roach, bending in closer.

Izzy, tense again and with his eyes squeezed firmly shut, nodded.

“Wonderful.”

It was hard going with just the knife, but Roach kept the blade well honed and sharpened. He shaved a long strip up the other side of Izzy’s neck, then ran a finger over the smooth skin there, letting it slip over the oil. Then he leaned in and ran his tongue up the same path, smiling with satisfaction at the near-silent whine Izzy gave. 

They were skirting with danger here, but Roach found himself unable to stop thinking about grabbing a handful of Izzy’s hair and wrenching his head back, about the urge to bite and squeeze and devour -

“Roach,” croaked Izzy, “I’m too fuckin’ old to go risking my life for a quickie in the kitchen.”

“I promise you, Izzy,” said Roach, “I was not planning on being quick .”

Nevertheless, he finished shaving Izzy’s face with his usual professional detachment, though the goatee itself needed several passes before he was able to remove all of it.

“Normally when people get rid of their beards, they look younger,” mused Roach, stepping back to survey his handiwork.

“No chance of that with me,” said Izzy with a grim smile, “I’m just a tired old man no matter what I’ve got on my face.”

“It does look odd, though. You look… unfinished.”

Izzy just stared at him, weary-eyed and uncomprehending. He looked so haggard Roach couldn’t help but grip the back of his neck and squeeze, watching the rest of the tension drain from his shoulders. He moved carefully around behind Izzy, keeping a hand on him at all times like one might when moving behind a horse, broadcasting his position so as not to spook the man. He gave Izzy’s shoulders a squeeze this time, grimacing as he found the muscles there to be pulled so taut they felt just about solid.

“I think we should use the bells as a signal,” whispered Roach, digging his thumbs in hard. Izzy sucked in a sudden breath.

“I suppose we can ring it… unconventionally” he replied.

“Pour your pent-up frustrations into it Izzy, everyone will recognise it is you.”

Izzy huffed quietly.

“Wouldn’t want to break the thing.”

“Ah, a joke. You are recovering.”

He pinched the base of Izzy’s skull and moved his hands down slowly along the back of his neck, gratified when Izzy sighed and ducked his head. 

“We will need weapons.”

Izzy shook his head.

“Too much of a risk, us running around to steal shit. And besides, I’ve seen you lot fight. Might not be the best pirates, but the insanity makes up for it in a pinch.”

“A compliment?”

A wince.

“The truth.”

Roach dug his fingers into Izzy’s scalp and he melted , first burying his head in his hands, then gradually wilting further until his head was pillowed on his arms on the table. He lay there for longer than Roach was expecting, breathing much more softly now while Roach kneaded at him. It was extremely satisfying, feeling Izzy’s shoulders return to being pliable and, well, human

“The tricky part’ll be getting everyone out,” said Izzy.

“The tricky part will be trying to make you look respectable,” said Roach.

He let Izzy lie there for a few moments longer, watching his soft breaths and savouring the brief moment of peace. Then, he pulled Izzy upright again. 

“Come on, old man.”

It was endearing, though Roach would never say it out loud for fear of being murdered by the volatile little man. But Izzy was tired and muzzy, his expression vulnerable because of it. Roach wanted nothing more than to kiss him again. Instead, he focused on combing his fingers through Izzy’s tangled hair. He hadn’t cut it, and so it had grown longer and now fell to just below his ears. 

“I’ll have to wear a hat or something,” murmured Izzy, “I look a right mess.”

“Don’t worry, Roach will fix you up nice and proper. Make a real gentleman of you.”

“Why does that not fill me with confidence?”

His name was Frank. Franklin Lewis Walker the Second, though nobody actually called him that. Of the people currently crewing the Revenge, Frank was one of the few who had actually had a stint in the navy, though his stint had been short-lived due to insufficient funds. In simpler terms, this meant that he had been unable to quite scrape together enough money to buy his way into an officer’s commission, though he had enough, at least, to have a version of the uniform made for this journey. The reward from turning in the legendary Blackbeard and his Gentleman Pirate would be more than enough for a second chance at fame and fortune on the seas. Especially once he eliminated some of the competition. 

He kept a knife concealed at his hip alongside his usual weapons, and some nights he dreamed of a glorious moment where, in the heat of battle, he faced a pirate head on and slit its throat, catching it by surprise while it clutched at its neck and the rest of his crew looked on in awe. Sometimes in these fantasies, everybody applauded. At no point, however, did the corpse in his mind’s eye ever bleed.

Navy Man.

Frank’s footsteps stilled in the middle of the corridor. Was this the fellow in the brig? The strange person down there oscillated between silent brooding and insults shouted in Spanish. It didn’t sound very much like them, nor the Scottish one who kept talking to the goats. Both of them had actually been fairly quiet for the last few hours, since they’d threatened them.

Little Navy Man.

Frank whirled to see who had spoken. Peering through the door to the ball room, he saw that whoever was in there was fast asleep.

“Who’s that?” he said, straightening out his coat. One of the prisoners was baiting him, he knew it.

“What’s that?” called one of the others from down the hallway - Hester, who had a similar plan to himself, but a slightly less quality uniform. That’s what happened when you were a copycat.

“Thought I heard one of the prisoners,” called Frank, “being a bit of a cheeky asshole.”

“Don’t pay ‘em no mind, or give ‘em a bit of a bashing if they’re causing you grief. Not worth getting your pants in a twist over.”

Little itty bitty Navy man.

“Oi!”

Frank opened the nearest door, only to discover it was an empty storage cupboard. Nobody was inside. 

“Right there?” called the man down the hall.

“Yeah.”

A pause.

“I’m not that short, am I?”

The man’s eyes widened, then he turned and strode briskly down the hall and around the corner. 

Frank clenched his fists and went to close the cupboard, when suddenly out of the darkness two hands shot forwards and grabbed him by the lapels while another clapped over his mouth, stopping him from crying out. Then something hard hit him in the back of the head and he crumpled.

“I still think he is a little taller than you,” whispered a voice with an accent Frank couldn’t quite place.

“I think your obsession with my height is fucking with your perception,” responded another voice.

“I don’t think he is unconscious yet.”

“Right, because I have to do everything myself around here.”

And then everything went black.

Jim wanted to pace. They wanted to throw things and shout and kick the stupid bars of this stupid brig that their stupid Captain and his stupid boyfriend Co-Captain had had built in here for their stupid bullshit pirate play-ship.

Not that they weren’t happy here, but of course the first and only time their brand new brig was being used was to keep them confined here. Stede and Edward had spent ages designing it for comfort and security, because a gentleman pirate couldn’t be seen mistreating any of his guests, even if those guests were technically prisoners. They even had a bed, which was nice.

A quiet scratch from the walls drew their attention, and they scooted closer so they could listen.

“We’ll ring the bell after first watch. Get free by then.”

Jim jerked their face back when something jabbed them in the cheek. 

“Sorry!”

It was a hairpin, sticking out from a gap in the wood. They grabbed it and put it in their mouth, then grabbed the nail scissors that were shoved through and put those in their boot.

Is that really the best you can do? ” they said in Spanish, giving the bars of the brig a kick for good measure.

I’m sure you’ll manage!” whispered Roach’s voice.

“I’ll manage these up your ass!”

“That doesn’t even make sense!”

Listen ,” whispered Jim, their voice growing lower, more urgent, “ you swear the others are gonna cope?

Izzy says they will.”

The pause was one of surprise. Through the split in the wood, Roach saw Jim’s eyebrows’s raise as they pondered this.

“What’re you saying about me?” whispered Izzy.

“Jim says you’re smart and cool to trust them because they’re gonna do a great job, now let’s go.”

Jim had half a mind to stab the scissors back through the wall and see what they managed to hit, but a quiet swish of fabric on wood told them that Roach and Izzy were already gone.

Tilly, once again, ran to Roach with barely a need for coaxing. Roach felt a small pang at the fact that he couldn’t sing to her properly. When this was all over, perhaps.

“Nae problem lads. Bess and Tilly here make great battering rams, don’t ye?”

“Would you stop bouncing that fuckin’ ball?”

Wee John caught the ball in one hand, then looked at Pete.

“You could’ve just asked nicely,” he said airily.

“Alright. Would you stop bouncing that fuckin’ ball, please?

Wee John sniffed and bounced the ball again, only to have it batted out of the air by Black Pete. 

“Hey!”

He got up and hobbled over to where it had rolled, a little unsteady from having sat down for so long. When he bent down to pick up it up, however, a piece of paper came out of the wall and floated gently down to the floor. 

On it was a little drawing of two stick figures - one tall and curly-haired and holding a cleaver, one smaller with an angry face and a scribbled goatee. The angry man had a bell on a string, and wiggly lines indicated that it was being rung.

Underneath these were crude drawings of Wee John in his overalls, and an absolutely terrible likeness of Black Pete that they could only really discern from the fact that he was bald. These two were punching a man in a bicorn hat.

“Without any weapons?” whispered Pete.

“Pick ‘em up as you go along,” came Izzy’s quiet reply.

“Don’t love those odds,” said Wee John.

There was a long, measured exhale of air from behind the wall.

“Listen, I’ll be there too. Just… do your thing. You’re good at it, or whatever.”

Pete and Wee John stared at the wall, hardly believing what they were hearing. Izzy Hands, reassuring them?

“Aye aye,” whispered Pete.

There was a rattling sound in the wall, and a hairpin slipped out. 

“What’s that for?” murmured Wee John, “we doin’ our hair before we go out?”

“I won’t need help with that,” said Pete, “but are we gonna have to look nice for it?”

He smoothed his hands nervously down his rumpled vest.

“Pick the fucking lock ,” hissed the voice of Izzy Hands from behind the wall, “Jesus motherfucking Mary and-”

Wee John and Pete listened as the angry whispers were dragged out of earshot.

“Roach, I’m not sure-”

“Hush.”

Roach punctuated this by placing his hand over Izzy’s mouth, which earned him a firm bite to the palm. The two of them were back in Bonnet’s auxiliary closet, trying to shove Izzy into something vaguely resembling a British Navy officer’s uniform. It was hard going - even clean shaven, his hair combed back as neatly as they could manage it, and with little tacking stitches to help the uniform fit him a little better, there was a roughness about Izzy that no amount of forcing him into a uniform could erase.

Nevertheless, Roach smoothed both hands over Izzy’s freshly combed hair, then settled the bicorn onto his head.

“You look lovely,” he said with a small smile, and Izzy squirmed from the fact that for once, it seemed as though Roach was not teasing.

“Sure as fuck hope not,” he grumbled.

“I hope I never have to see you dressed like this again, but I am enjoying it while it lasts,” said Roach. 

In truth, Roach was a little terrified, too. He knew that Izzy was more than capable of holding his own out there, but these were unfamiliar waters, in every sense of the word. Their crew was in danger.

And he was worried about them.

This never would have bothered him before Stede Bonnet.

“Your sword,” said Roach. 

He bent and buckled it around Izzy’s waist. Izzy looked away while he did it, though he rested a hand on his shoulder and did not try to interfere. 

The bell sounded to signal the change of watch, and Izzy looked up at Roach. He opened his mouth, then closed it again with a grimace.

“You will be alright,” whispered Roach, “here-”

When he’d undressed, Izzy had slid the ring off his cravat. He’d held it in the palm of his hand like he wasn’t sure what to do with it. It was such a little thing, and clearly precious if he kept it on his person at all times. 

Izzy had taken Roach’s wrist and, with a silent plea in his expression, slid it onto his pinky.

Now, Roach slipped his amulet off and fastened it around Izzy’s neck instead, tucking the two little pouches underneath his collar where they wouldn’t be seen.

“This will keep you safe,” he said quietly, “and I will be there too, just out of sight.”

Izzy pressed a hand to his chest, feeling the weight of the amulet under his shirt, and nodded. Once more, the two of them opened up the cupboard doors and stepped into the darkness.

Izzy squinted against the bright morning light as he emerged onto the deck. He kept his posture straight and clasped his hands behind his back in an attempt to emulate the stance of the officers around him. 

It was his first chance at getting a proper gauge of who they were dealing with - and it was as he’d suspected. Upon a first glance, Izzy would have been convinced that they’d been taken over by His Majesty’s Navy. Certainly the men looked the part, and in a pinch - under duress, when there wasn’t time to really look , it would seem that they were on their way to a reckoning with the law.

But Franklin’s uniform was stained and worn, threadbare in places, and was missing a button. This was not unusual for the group of men gathered on the deck, and so Izzy mentally recalculated: These men were not in the navy at all. Their uniforms were… of too high a rank, and too low a quality.

Izzy made his way up to the main mast at the leisurely pace of someone unconcerned with the drudgery of sailing. This part, at least, he had had some experience with. He allowed his gaze to skate over the sailors who had taken over their vessel, noting with interest that they did not appear to be much of a crew at all. They kept their heads down while they worked, each of them apparently suspicious of each other while they moved around the deck. Izzy realised that he’d grown accustomed to chatter, to songs and the strumming of Frenchie’s lute guitar. 

Edward had been tied to the main mast. He was half dressed in his Blackbeard leathers, which meant that he’d at least suspected that something was amiss before they’d been captured. He’d clearly had a difficult go of it - it was hard to make out, but there was an undeniable slump to the way he stood, his hair flying wild in the breeze as he leaned far too heavily on the ropes to keep himself upright. 

Izzy paced a purposeful line to the bow, then turned sharply to look up at the quarterdeck. 

Just as he’d thought, Lucius and Frenchie were up there, tied back to back to the mizzenmast. The setting sun shone directly into Frenchie’s eyes, making him squint as it blasted golden light at his face. Lucius, on the other hand, looked down at Izzy and then looked away quickly. 

Good. He’d learned, then. 

Edward in front of him. Lucius and Frenchie behind. Roach in the walls, waiting to run out into a fray he’d only had a scant amount of time to prepare for. Izzy tried not to think about what would happen were he to fall into a situation where he had to choose.

He turned in a circle, mentally mapping out where the crew would emerge from, and who he’d have to cover instead. Freeing Lucius and Frenchie seemed like the smartest thing, since they were closest to the bell. Then, clearing the entrances to the deck. He’d have to keep an eye on Edward, though, in case nobody else went to help him. It would be a close one, but he’d manage. 

He strode purposefully up into the quarterdeck, surprising the navigator, but gracing him with a curt nod that seemed to do the trick of convincing him he ought to be up here.

“Where’s the Captain?” he said.

The navigator gave a nervous laugh and jabbed a thumb at Edward.

“I meant our Captain,” said Izzy.

The man peered at him suspiciously.

“Are you trying to start something?” he said. 

Panic flared in Izzy’s chest, making his skin prickle.

“Not at all.”

“Got ideas, do you?”

“No! No ideas here.”

“Good,” said the navigator, “we don’t need any of that Captain shit. Equal shares, all of us. Don’t fuckin’ forget it.”

Equal shares. No Captain. 

The Revenge had been taken over by a bunch of fucking idiots in costumes. The irony of it was not lost on Izzy.

“Hey, not to be nosey or nothin’, but have we met? I thought I’d talked to all of the men on this crew, but a voice like yours - figure I would remember it.”

Oh, shit.

“No, we haven’t,” said Izzy, and then lunged for the bell. He grabbed it and rang it as hard as he could manage, then drew his sword and ran it straight through the throat of the navigator.

“Sorry,” he said, as the man went down with a gurgle, “you were in the way.”

There were whispers from the crew now, as they grabbed for their own weapons and began to advance on him.

This hadn’t been in the plan.

Where the fuck was everybody else?

“Excuse me, you up there! What are you trying for, a bigger share or something?”

“What did we fuckin’ say about shit like this?”

Izzy backed up beside Frenchie, watching as the men began to congregate, closer and closer.

Come on, you bastards-

And then finally, Roach came barrelling out of the Captain’s cabin, brandishing his knife and screaming. The men up on deck recoiled, and then drew their own weapons, amidst quiet whispers of what the fuck and who-

Roach faltered as he found himself faced with over a dozen armed men, realising suddenly that he was alone. He turned around in a circle, and Izzy grappled with the urge to simply vault over the edge of the quarterdeck and defend him. He was alone down there, and a loud giggle escaped him that Izzy could hear the edge of panic in.

But then a chicken made a horrendous screeching noise from somewhere below the decks, and voices from beneath them began to scream. 

Izzy had but a moment to feel relieved before he turned and sliced through the ropes binding Frenchie and Lucius to the mast. The two of them stumbled, suddenly no longer held up by ropes, but they recovered quickly.

“Plan?” said Frenchie.

“Attack,” said Izzy with a shrug.

The shouting grew closer, the sounds of cracking wood and screaming men. The kind of screaming that heralded the sort of unhinged pain the crew of the Revenge took great pleasure in doling out, when the time was right for it. He heard Roach’s scream cut through the rest of the noise and smiled to himself before launching himself back down the stairs.

On the deck, Roach appeared to have stolen himself a sword and had it held out in front of him in a perfect mimicry of Izzy’s usual form. His eyes darted from side to side, quick and clever and with the gleam of someone who was ready to draw blood. Izzy noted with amusement that he’d gotten a hold of his cleaver and was holding it in his left hand in a strange echo of the way Izzy held his parrying dagger. The two men he was facing down were staring at it, trying to figure out what kind of madness they were in for.

Roach grinned and lunged, taking advantage of their confusion to smack first one sword, then the other away. He slapped one of the navy men with the flat of his cleaver and Izzy rolled his eyes at his propensity for theatrics. Then the blade embedded itself squarely between the eyes of a man.

Roach turned to him, his face splattered with blood and grinning from ear to ear. Izzy gave him a quick nod before launching himself into the fray. He hewed his way through a man twice his size, ducking under the arm that slashed at him and stabbing him swiftly through the ribcage before stepping in beside Roach. 

He’d taught Edward too, in the early days. Back when they’d been young enough to notice a distinction between the boy Edward Teach and the man Izzy Hands. Edward had, of course, surpassed him easily once he’d gotten the basics down. He had his own way of doing things, his own style and ability to take the rules and bend them to his own will. When he fought alongside Edward now, all he could do was keep up.

But Roach was… predictably unpredictable. He heard the man let out a howl, and spun to cover his back as Roach charged, brandishing that cleaver of his. It found its mark as Izzy kicked another man squarely in the chest, slashed at his front, then looked up to find Pete trying to free Edward. It was a valiant effort, but left his back exposed. 

He grabbed Roach by the sash around his waist and shoved him towards Pete. He got the hint fairly quickly, charging into the side of Pete’s would-be attacker while Izzy fended off the other two men advancing on them. 

He heard the sound of metal whipping through air, and mentally recalculated for a third opponent. 

That was okay.

He could do this.

He and the two in front of him toyed with each other for a while, worryingly evenly matched, two to one. Behind him he heard the sounds of Roach and Pete dealing with the third, and out of the corner of his eye saw Jim rush across the deck to stab someone in the eye.

Good. Fine. This was going well.

He parried both men with dagger and sword, then feinted and clipped one across the chest, smoothly ducking the other sword and then plunging his dagger into the heart of the second man. 

He did not, however, count on the pommel of the first man’s sword coming up to smack him in the face.

Izzy reeled for a moment, his vision blurring and panic setting in as he tried to will his balance back to himself. 

This was it. He was done for.

The man levelled his sword, and Izzy forced his own up as well. The interruption in the flow of his fight had broken his focus, and he was suddenly all too aware of how sluggish the movement felt, how his arm ached.

The tip of his sword was trembling, and sweat made his dagger feel slippery in his hand. He could feel the muscles in his thighs jumping and twitching from the effort of maintaining his stance, and he stumbled backwards, his footwork leaving him in the wake of exhaustion. His opponent’s sword whipped through the air once, twice - and he only just blocked the blow that would have sliced his throat right open. He did it clumsily, and the force of the attack sent a jarring pain up his arm to the shoulder. Izzy gritted his teeth as he barely blocked another attack, and then another, a relentless combination of attacks cleverly assembled as the other man pressed his advantage - and then gave a wet, gurgling moan.

Izzy stared at the man as he dropped to the deck, revealing a blood-splattered Roach standing behind him, breathing hard. There was a manic glee in his eyes as he wrenched his cleaver from where it had been embedded in the man’s skull, and wiped it off on his shirt like it was so much tomato sauce. 

Along with the demise of this latest opponent, the din around them was dying down now, and they were both accustomed to this, the sound of victory. Izzy let his sword clatter to the deck, then flexed his hand, which felt like it had frozen to the grip. Roach took it, then when Izzy swayed he pulled him close, squishing Izzy’s face against his shoulder in a tight hug. 

“If you go by Roach’s rules you will live a little longer, I think.”

The words were whispered into his hair, and Izzy couldn’t tell whether it was himself or Roach who was shaking so badly. Roach held him there for a while, and Izzy was content to give himself a few moments to recover before he gently pulled away to survey the aftermath of their fight.

There was Buttons, his face smeared with blood, chatting to the ship’s goats who flanked him like two little bodyguards. Izzy tried not to think about the blood smearing their horns, too.

Jim and Oluwande had fallen easily into step with each other. Izzy wondered how they’d fared, and then his gaze landed on a fallen man with a pair of scissors through his eye. 

The rest of the crew looked alright, armed with improvised cudgels and stolen knives. Stede had somehow liberated a very fancy-looking sword from somebody. 

“Who did you get that from?” shouted Izzy, pointing at it.

“This?” said Stede, swinging it over his shoulder and making the Swede duck out of the way with a yelp, “oh, I knocked a man out for it! Would you believe he just went down like that?”

He snapped his fingers for emphasis, and Oluwande rolled his eyes.

“He tripped over a loose rope on the deck,” he said, “I don’t think it was really-”

“Knocked him right out,” said Stede, nodding. 

Izzy went over to the prone body and nudged him with his foot.

“It’s a wonder these idiots managed to get this far at all,” he murmured, “I suppose sometimes you can win from being too stupid to fight.”

He tried to pair the comment with a pointed look at Stede, but Stede was already crossing the deck with long strides to get to Edward, crumpled at the base of the mizzenmast. Izzy and Roach watched him go, dropping the sword on the way, amongst the fallen strangers who had, for a day, just about succeeded in taking over the Revenge.

“Well,” said Roach, and then trailed off.

It was strangely anticlimactic, looking around at the carnage. Usually at the end of these things there was loot to be taken. They would be high on the excitement of success and at what they had gained from their raid or from winning the fight. But right now, there were simply a lot of dead bodies to be thrown overboard.

Izzy closed his eyes as the exhaustion he’d been pushing to the back of his mind finally took over. A fog seemed to descend upon him, screening the images in front of his eyes off from his ability to interpret them. The crew were chattering amongst themselves, swapping accounts of their captivity and comparing the bizarre weapons they’d improvised. Most of them were impressed with Jim’s thing with the scissors, and were taking turns congratulating Tilly on her place in everything. She accepted the pats with a pleased tippy-tap of her hooves.

Roach slapped the ridiculous bicorn off his head, and then tugged the coat off him as well. 

“Before you go any further with that-” said Lucius.

“Shut the fuck up,” hissed Roach, “he looks ridiculous. I need to fix it.”

He spat on the hem of his shirt, then used it to rub the black spot off Izzy’s face while he spluttered indignantly. 

“You know, technically I think that counts as having spat in his face,” said Frenchie, “did you just spit in Izzy’s face and get away with-”

Roach rolled his eyes, then grabbed Izzy by the shirt and mashed their lips together. It was an awkward, fumbling kiss because it took Izzy a few moments to catch up and kiss back. His eyes widened in shock, then closed in surrender. He gave himself up to the feeling of Roach’s lips against his, savouring both the sensation and the sounds of shock and scandal as the rest of the crew realised what they were doing. He reached up and grabbed fistfuls of Roach’s shirt too, clinging on to him for dear life. It was over, but relief was making him feel faintly ill.

That, or perhaps it was the smell of stale sweat and rot that had seeped into their clothes.

“Smell terrible,” murmured Izzy once he pulled away.

“I know you are talking about yourself and not me,” said Roach, “given only one of us threw up in the Captain’s hat box.”

“You did what?” exclaimed Stede, who had one of Edward’s arms slung across his shoulders.

 “Captain, I would like to remind you at this point that Izzy and I technically saved the ship,” said Roach quickly, “and that he threw up because he is ill! Aren’t you, Izzy?”

Izzy narrowed his eyes at Roach.

Roach squeezed his cheeks, making his mouth pucker like a fish.

“Yes Captain,” he said, squeezing his cheeks in time with his words. He spoke in a high pitched voice that sounded absolutely nothing like Izzy, “I am feeling particularly under the weather at this moment-”

“For fuck’s sake-” spluttered Izzy, trying to wriggle out of his grip.

“You see, Captain?” said Roach, nodding earnestly like he hadn’t just spit on, kissed, and then humiliated Izzy Hands in front of the rest of the crew, apparently with absolutely no consequence.

“Yeah, actually I can smell those two from over here,” said Lucius, sensing a change in the ship’s dynamics and latching onto it before it could slip through their fingers. 

“Don’t be mean babe, they’re not that bad,” said Pete, who then yelped as Lucius stood on his foot.

“Actually, yeah, they smell awful,” he amended quickly, “so bad.”

Izzy stared as the rest of the crew nodded, murmuring their agreement. Roach wanted to laugh at how bewildered he seemed.

“Alright, Iz?” said Edward, a weary smile on his face.

Izzy straightened a little, then inclined his head silently.

“They do look a bit shit,” said Edward, turning his head to Stede, “and you probably don’t want ‘em throwing up in any more hat boxes.”

“It was an empty one,” mumbled Izzy.

“Yeah, not many of those around.”

“Right!” said Stede, clapping his hands together, “that sounds wonderful. Off you go then. Please .”

Roach grinned and saluted him, then ushered Izzy out of the way before Stede could backtrack and figure out what he’d agreed to.

There was one thing that Stede and the rest of the crew of the Revenge, Edward included, could never quite agree on. 

For Stede, baths were a solitary affair. One took a bath to calm oneself down, to have a private moment to relax and enjoy the heat soaking into tired muscles and smell the sweet scents of whatever oils and soaps he’d put into the water.

For the rest of them, baths were strictly a communal activity. What with the resources and work that went into a bath, the request for one was never taken lightly, and the partaking in one never done alone. 

It was, perhaps, the best possible option for Izzy and Roach. Physically and emotionally wrung out, they were desperate to stay close to one another but out of words to convey this precise feeling. Instead, they sank into the hot water together, after Roach had made a big show of poring through Stede’s bath oils and selecting a mostly inoffensive sandalwood.

Izzy was huddled in his own space at the other end of the tub, his knees tucked up to his chin and his arms crossed in front of his chest. Granted, it wasn’t like he had a huge amount of space to begin with, but he was making the most of claiming his side. Roach stretched out experimentally, and watched as Izzy frowned, trapped between his legs.

“Could you perhaps keep your overly long fucking limbs to yourself?” he ground out.

“It is always two steps forward and one step back with you, isn’t it?” said Roach. 

He wished he had a cigarette. And that Izzy would fucking relax, like he had in the galley. That would make this scenario just perfect.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“It means you are pissing me off, little man. The battle is over, you can relax.”

Izzy mumbled something under his breath. Roach cupped a hand to his ear and leaned closer.

“What was that? You will have to speak up.”

“I said, I can’t fucking relax.”

Roach knew what he meant, actually. There was a lingering buzzing under his skin, and he was reluctant to close his eyes for too long, reluctant to be in the dark at all, under any circumstances. He feared nightfall, when they would put out the candles and the lanterns, and the stars would be there, but would they be enough? 

“I know,” Roach said wearily, letting go of the light humour in his voice for once, “I know.”

Izzy watched him slump against the end of the bath, lost in thought. He slowly uncurled then, tentatively allowing their bodies to press up against each other in the tub.

“Is this better?” he whispered.

Roach nodded, and then an idea occurred to him. Well, not quite an idea. An impulse.

He opened his arms, and watched as Izzy stared at him, unsure.

“In or out, First Mate Hands?” said Roach, “this will be much more comfortable. You won’t be pushed out of the way by my too-long limbs, as you say.”

Slowly, tentatively, like a stray cat testing the waters, Izzy inched forwards in the water and lay down on Roach’s chest. The water around them was pleasantly warm, and he could feel the tickle of Izzy’s hair where their skin pressed against each other, slippery but solid and alive.

“Oh, shit,” said Izzy, “I’ve gotten your necklace wet-”

“It has survived much worse than bathwater, silly man,” said Roach, “keep it a little longer.”

“You don’t need it?”

“I have you here, don’t I?”

Izzy laid his head down on Roach’s shoulder, and Roach reached up and grabbed one of his pecs, squeezing firmly and making a noise like a bike horn.

“What the fuck was that?”

“I am enjoying you.”

“Enjoy me more normally, Roach.”

“I cannot.”

Nevertheless, Roach trailed his fingers up Izzy’s side, satisfied when this drew out a slight shiver. He shifted so that the two of them were pressed more closely together, tangling their legs and freeing up his arm so that he could brush the backs of his knuckles against Izzy’s cheek. 

“Looks strange,” he said quietly, “you having a smooth face. How does it feel?”

“Fuckin’ awful.”

“We can draw one on perhaps, a fancy moustache while you wait for it to grow in again.”

Roach traced a finger over Izzy’s upper lip in a swirling pattern, and the corner of Izzy’s mouth ticked up in a little self-satisfied smile. 

It disappeared very quickly when the door creaked open a crack.

“Hello?” said the Swede, poking his head in, “I was just wondering if you two would be okay to answer some questions?”

“Fuck off,” hissed Izzy.

“I thought you might say that, but you say this quite often, and I think maybe it is not so scary a thing to hear anymore,” said the Swede, inching his way further in. 

“Yeah, it’s sort of. I dunno, I think we've all gotten over the whole intimidation tactics thing. Except for you. But I think you might be maybe catching up to it or something,” said Frenchie, poking his head in too.

“Christ, you too?” said Izzy. 

Frenchie opened his mouth to respond, but then fell forwards with a quiet oof as the combined weight of Oluwande, Jim, Wee John, and Pete - also, apparently crouched behind the door - sent him stumbling to the bathroom floor as they toppled over one another.

“Listening at the door?” said Roach, wiggling his eyebrows. He seemed entirely unfazed by the appearance of the rest of the crew.

Lucius wandered in after them and sat on the edge of the tub, watching the two of them together with a smug little smile on his face.

“Don’t you dare give me any of that I told you so shit,” grumbled Izzy, “you didn’t have a fuckin’ clue. We didn’t have a fuckin’ clue.”

“I did,” whispered Roach, softly enough that only Izzy could hear. He felt Izzy go still in his arms.

“Not what I was going to say, anyway,” said Lucius.

He turned his smile on Izzy, who tensed at the way he was smiling.

“What.” said Izzy flatly.

“I just think it’s interesting, you know? The fact that you two rescued all of us.”

"Oh for crying out - what, were you expecting Roach and I to fight everyone off the ship by ourselves?"

"I think you could, if you wanted to. I mean, Roach has been taking lessons from the great Israel Hands, finest swordsman in the-"

"Fucking... shut the fuck up-"

"I though it was a nice touch too, the two of you fighting together."

“Lucius-” said Izzy through his clenched teeth.

"Lucius," said Roach, uncharacteristically sober, "let him be. Annoy him when he has the energy to chase you around the deck, hm?"

"Just thought I'd get a few in while he was down," shrugged Lucius, "but for what it's worth, that swordfight was pretty hot."

Roach soothed his thumb over Izzy's ribcage as he felt tension seize him once more at Lucius' words. He wondered if Izzy recognised the attempt for what it was - a thank you, wrapped up in the sharp-edged needling Izzy needed in order to hear any kindness that was directed at him. 

“We just want to know what happened,” said the Swede, inching up to the side of the tub and peering over it. It was not unlike looking into the gaze of a curious puppy.

“Ah, you want a story!” said Roach.

“Mmm, not from you,” said Jim, waving him off, “you’ll just tell us a bunch of lies that you’ll laugh about later. Like when you convinced us you were one of Spanish Jackie's husbands.”

"You have to admit, that was a good one."

“What, and you trust me not to?” scoffed Izzy.

“Uh, no offence but you’re a shit liar," said Lucius, "and you have no imagination.”

He primly folded his hands in his lap as he said this, content with the knowledge that Izzy was too tired to jump out of the bathtub and strangle him. Izzy flipped him off, then thought better of it and splashed him with the bathwater instead. Lucius shrieked and fell off the side of the tub, and the same small, satisfied smile settled on Izzy’s face once more.

“He has a point,” said Roach.

“Prick,” said Izzy.

He looked around at the eyes of the crew that were trained on him, and Roach felt his body relax against him as he blew out a long sigh.

“We were walking back to the ship, and then we realised-”

“Wait!” shouted Frenchie, holding up one hand, “we’re not even comfy yet!”

There were murmurs of agreement as everyone shuffled themselves so that they were sitting on boxes and crates, as Lucius re-settled himself on the side of the tub and as someone fetched a chair for Wee John. Roach craned his neck so he could watch the look of bewilderment that had settled on Izzy’s face as he looked at everyone getting to work.

“Christ,” whispered Izzy, “they’ve put me in charge of storytime.”

Roach pinched his side, making him yelp.

“Bold of you to believe you are in charge of anything here, little man. Now tell them the story from the start. When we walked through the markets together."

I said I loved you in a tongue you could not understand, but I think you heard me anyway.

"Is that true? Roach took you on his super secret supply run?" said Wee John.

"Cute," said Frenchie.

"It's not a - a fuckin' romance story!" spluttered Izzy.

"Perhaps," said Roach, "but when we have told it, that is what the people will remember."

Izzy was silent for a long while. For an excruciating part of that time, Roach feared he'd done it again, pushed Izzy too far and ruined the fragile new something that had grown out from the cracks of the Revenge's secret passages. 

Izzy took a deep breath.

"The markets are too fuckin' loud for my liking. But there were some... nice parts. After we left, though-"

"What were the nice parts?" said Frenchie, "you can't just say 'there were some nice parts' and then not say."

"Why not?"

Izzy seemed genuinely bewildered by this.

"Because we want all the juicy details," drawled Lucius, "that's what makes it fun, Izzy."

"I will fill in the details," said Roach, "and you can all guess whether or not what I'm saying is true."

If they could fight back to back, they could tell their stories like that too. Roach settled in to tell some of the wildest lies of his life, content to keep the truth close to his chest, next to where Izzy was laying his head.