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All My Little Words

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“It really was pretty cool,” Olu said, “when you rescued us.” 

It was hard to hear him from where they were, tied to opposite sides of the same mast, but Stede thought he sounded mostly genuine. 

“Thank you, Olu, I appreciate that.”

“Would have been a lot cooler if you hadn’t gotten us captured by the English half an hour later, though.”

“Yes, all right, Roach!” Stede didn’t like to snap, but it was hard not to feel irritated. He had felt quite cool for a moment there. “How was I supposed to know the English would be so intent on following me? Turns out they really hold a grudge about breaking your word on that whole ‘Act of Grace’ business.”

There was a general murmur of agreement. Stede only had a clear view of Buttons and Pete—they had been left on the deck with their hands and feet bound, while the rest were secured to masts or barrels somewhere behind him—but he didn’t need to see anyone to suss that morale was low.

“Listen, guys.” Stede cleared his throat. “We’ve been in sticky situations before, haven’t we? And haven’t we always come out okay? All we need is a plan—”

Pete snorted. “Who’s gonna come up with a plan to get us out of this? In case you haven’t noticed, Blackbeard’s not here.”

That smarted a little, but Stede tried not to let his voice waver. “Well, with that attitude—”

He was cut off by the sound of scuffling and arguing from somewhere behind them. A few seconds later, two English officers threw a hog-tied Lucius onto the deck beside Buttons.

“Lucius!” Pete and Stede cried it at the same time, which was a little embarrassing, actually.

“Hey, babe,” Lucius said. His head was next to Buttons’s ankles, voice a little muffled into the wood of the deck, but he lifted his head enough to give Pete a wink.

“What happened?” Pete asked. “We had no idea where you went!”

“What happened,” Lucius said, lifting his chin to glare after the English as they walked away, “is that Edward threw me into the ocean.”

Everyone gasped, except Stede. He closed his eyes tight and sucked in a breath. He’d already had a bad feeling that the crew getting abandoned on an island might not be just Izzy’s doing, but if Ed had really tried to kill Lucius….

“But then—” Pete’s voice sounded as weak and disbelieving as Stede felt. “How did you survive? How did you end up here?” 

“It’s a funny story, actually—”

“Come on, Lucius, we don’t have time for that now!” Stede’s mind was racing. He was almost dizzy with renewed urgency to escape and get back to Ed. “We need a plan. We have to get back to the Revenge!”

“Uh, sorry, did you miss the part where Blackbeard tried to kill me?” Lucius rolled halfway onto his side, just so he could be sure Stede got a view of his incredulous raised eyebrow, probably. “Listen, Captain, I know you two have a whole… thing… but trust me, the only plan we should be working on is how to take control of this ship and then sail it as fast as possible in the opposite direction of the Revenge.”

Stede swallowed, his throat going uncomfortably tight. He found he was quite unable to reply.

“Jim’s still onboard,” Olu said. “And Frenchie, yeah? We can’t just abandon them.”

There was a rumble of quiet discussion at this, punctuated by an “Ohh right, Frenchie,” that definitely came from Wee John. 

“We’ll take the English ship first,” Stede said at last, resolving himself. “Anyone who doesn’t want to pursue the Revenge doesn’t have to, but I’ll be going after her, even if it’s in the dinghy.”

More murmurs greeted that. “We’re with you, Captain!” said the Swede, which would have been sweet if it weren’t immediately followed by Pete’s “I still haven’t agreed to anything.”

Lucius gave an exasperated sigh. “Okay, well, whatever we do, it has to be soon. The English were talking about setting up a firing squad at dusk, and I don’t think we get to play the Act of Grace card twice.”

Stede glanced up at the sky, frowning. At best, they had another half hour before sunset.

“Right,” he said. “Buttons, do you reckon you can chew through rope?”

If Buttons responded, Stede didn’t hear. An instant later, there was a cry of alarm from an English officer, and the mast above them exploded into splinters. They were under attack.




Stede awoke disoriented, his ears still ringing from the sound of gunshots and cannon fire, and tried to blink his eyes into focus. He was at a loss as to where he was or how he’d gotten there—on a daybed, by the feel of it, somewhere very dark—and it was a struggle, too, to sort through his final memories before blacking out. Smoke and dust had made it hard to see much of anything, but he knew the English ship had been boarded, and had watched many officers get killed or captured with ruthless efficiency. 

He’d been coughing when someone emerged from the fog to cut his ropes, and hunched over, watery-eyed and wheezing, until someone took him by the shoulders and dragged him roughly upright. Someone who had looked remarkably like—

“Edward?” Stede sat bolt upright, then winced at the throbbing protest from a wound at his side. “...You stabbed me!”

His eyes were clearing now, growing used to the dim light of the room, and he could see that he was, indeed, on a daybed—his own daybed, in fact, on the Revenge . It was no wonder it hadn’t felt familiar at first; the window curtains were drawn, and the rooms themselves were in a state of chaos. What little furniture was still present had mostly been smashed to pieces, half-burned, upended, or some combination thereof. All of the books were gone, as were the chandeliers. There was a blackened soot stain crawling up the wall in one corner that looked suspiciously like someone had tried to set the bookshelves on fire. 

And sitting on a chair at his feet, just like the first time they had met, was Edward himself. His eyes, fixed hard on Stede’s face, were very cold.

Well. Not just like the first time, then.

“Oh, Ed,” Stede said, wincing again. “You look—”

“I did stab you, yeah.” Ed lit his pipe and took a few puffs from it, his gaze never leaving Stede’s face. The effect was especially chilling paired with the dark black grease paint smeared across his eyes and jaw. “Took it like a champ. You’ll be fine.”

“Are you…planning to do it again?”

Ed looked away at last. “Not just now.”

Stede decided to take him at his word. He didn’t feel too bad, all things considered—if he’d learned anything from being a pirate, it was that stab wounds were often, quite surprisingly, not actually that big of a deal!—but none of this changed the fact that Ed had stabbed him. And tried to kill Lucius. And left the rest of the crew for dead.

“The crew,” Stede said suddenly, shifting himself a little more upright.

“Also fine, for the time being.” Ed was puffing hard on his pipe, the smoke making it nearly impossible to get a good look at his expression, but the quiet rasp of his voice was bone-chilling. “So,” he said. “You came back to rescue your little friends—what was the plan then? Bring them home with you? Or were you—you’d get another boat, I suppose. Start over again? With them?”

“No—Ed, that was not the plan.” He wanted to say more, but Ed interrupted him again, with a rambling sort of urgency. 

“Did you even have an idea of where you would go? You must have thought I’d find you—how were you planning to get away? Or didn’t you care? Didn’t even think I’d have the heart to— that must have been it—thought you could just—”

“That’s not it, Ed!” Stede had to shout to get Ed’s attention again, and when those oil-black eyes snapped sharply back to him, he almost regretted it. “I was trying to find you— I thought you’d all be together, maybe. It was just luck that I spotted everyone on the island first! I was looking for the Revenge , and hoping you’d be on it.”

Ed scoffed, a cruel, derisive sound that wasn’t at all right coming from him. “Right,” he said. “I suppose next you’ll tell me it was all some misunderstanding—that you didn’t just— leave, after—” He cut himself off, cursing quietly, like the words had burned him on their way out. 

Stede’s stomach twisted, acutely, wrenchingly guilt-sick. “Ed,” he said, barely more than a whisper. “I’m so sorry.”

“SORRY?” Ed whirled, pipe clattering to the floor as he drew his dagger and plunged it into the wood just to the left of Stede’s temple. He drew himself very close, pressing in over Stede, who flinched and shrank underneath him. “Sorry for what, exactly? For what, Stede? For showing up with your precious little boat and all your precious little linens? For taking me to parties?” The words were all rushing out in a hiss, vitriolic, dripping with hate. “For making me—for telling me we were—for turning me into a fool?”

Stede was almost flat against the cushions of the daybed now. “Yes,” he said in a gasp. He was trembling, albeit more from shame than fear, as he lifted one hand to rest, very cautiously, on the front of Ed’s chest. “I’m sorry for all of it, Edward—” He paused, frowning. “Well. For most of it, anyway. I seem to recall it really was your idea that we go to that party—”

“YOU LEFT ME!” Ed caught Stede’s hand as he roared, wrenching it away from him, so forcefully that it left Stede’s side smarting again where it was bandaged.

“I know,” Stede said, ignoring the pain. “I know, Ed. It’s just—I left them first.”

The silence that fell was more terrible than all of the snarling and shouting. Stede’s skin pimpled with the icy cold of it, the way Edward straightened up and turned, tortuously slowly, away from him. Stede couldn’t hear a single thing beyond the sound of the blood pounding in his ears. Ed stood and walked a few paces, stopping in front of the empty fireplace. He bent over it, his shoulders hunched, and scrubbed an arm across his face. Stede could see smears of black on his forearm when it fell away.

“I had to make it right, Ed,” Stede said, blinking back the tears that were pricking at his eyes.

“Right.” Ed’s voice was gravelly and low. “So this was a goodbye tour, then. When are they expecting you back? I’m supposed to kill you, you know. That is, I’m going to kill you.”

“I’m not going back.” Stede eased himself, very, very cautiously, up off the daybed, holding tight to the wall for balance. 

“Well. Obviously, because I’m going to kill you.”

Stede gave a short, impatient huff. “I’m not going back,” he said, “because we publicly faked my death, and I left my entire fortune to Mary and the children.”

Edward spun to stare at him, his eyes wide at first, then narrowing suspiciously. “What? Fuck off. No you didn’t.”

“I did!” Stede straightened a little, unable to help adding, “You would have been impressed, I think, actually—there was even a leopard!”

“Why would you do that?” Ed crossed the room back toward him, but stopped several paces away, his hands clenching and unclenching at his sides. Stede rather suspected he wished his knife weren’t still stuck in the wall.

“Because I—I want to be with you!” It was absurd, how hard it was to say, even after all this. Stede’s tongue felt useless and heavy in his mouth, and his cheeks burned with his embarrassed flush.

“Shut up,” Ed said. His breath was coming fast, chest heaving with the panicked alarm of a cornered animal.

“I want to be with you,” Stede repeated stubbornly, releasing his hold on the wall and taking one unsteady step forward. “I think I’m—probably in love with you, actually—”

“Fuck you,” Ed said. “FUCK you, shut UP—” He closed the remaining space between them and grabbed rough fistfuls of Stede’s shirt, dragging him onto his tiptoes, bringing their faces dangerously close.

“You can kill me if you want,” Stede said in a rush, a little fearful that if he didn’t get everything out in the next few seconds, he would never get another chance. “I wouldn’t blame you if you did—I’ve been such a coward, Edward, I know I have—I know I hurt you, and you have no reason to trust me or believe me ever again, but if it’s the last thing I ever do, I just have to tell you—”

Edward had started walking him backwards, and when Stede hit the wall it knocked the wind out of him, leaving him gasping and dizzy.

“You don’t get to do that,” Ed hissed, sounding rather breathless himself. “You don’t get to—change me—to make me fucking weak—” Ed was crying, Stede realized, belatedly, through his own disbelieving tears. “You don’t get to make me hope for something for the first time in my fucking life and then just leave and come back and—and tell me you LOVE ME.” 

“I know,” Stede said. He, too, was crying freely now, and grasping at Ed’s wrists, where they shook with the effort of holding him up. “I know, Ed. I don’t blame you—you can—stab me again if you want, or—cut off all my toes, or—”

He was silenced when Ed released his collar to grasp, no less roughly, at the sides of his face, pulling him into a jarring kiss. Both of them gasped into it. Stede had to blink away dark spots as he scrabbled for fistfuls of Ed’s shirt, as much for purchase to hold his shaking legs upright as enthusiasm to keep going.

“You left,” Ed was saying—repeating it, Stede realized, punctuating each word with fierce, bruising kisses to his jaw and neck. “You left me there—just left—”

“I’ll never leave again.” Stede knew he sounded desperate but he didn’t care; he tried to meet Ed’s kisses, responding with equal ferocity. “Never—not for a day—not for an hour —”

To his dismay, Stede realized his words seemed to be having the opposite of their desired effect. Ed cursed, letting go of Stede and staggering back, pressing the heels of both hands hard into his eyes. “Fuck,” he groaned. He dropped to a crouch on the floor, rocking on his heels. “Fuck you, Stede Bonnet.” 

And then Edward collapsed entirely, buried his face in his hands, and wept like a child.

It wasn’t easy to find a position that didn’t aggravate his injury, but Stede lowered himself gingerly to the floor, and eventually managed to coax Ed with him toward the wall. When he wrapped an arm around his shoulders, Ed responded by burying his face in Stede’s chest, and Stede had to wipe his own eyes as they began brimming with fresh tears of relief.

“There you go,” he said, running one hand up and down Ed’s back like he used to do when the children had nightmares. “That’s better, isn’t it? It’s all right.”

“I’m fucking Blackbeard and I’m fucking crying, it is not all right.” Ed sounded so petulant when he said it, half-hiccuping into the front of Stede’s shirt, that Stede had to bite the inside of his cheek so as not to laugh.

“Nothing wrong with a good cry now and again,” he said. “I’ve been crying, too, see?”

Ed lifted his head slightly, furrowing his brow as he studied Stede’s face. Stede studied him, too; he really was in quite a state, with black tear tracks staining all the way down to his neck. He tugged one of his sleeves over his palm and started to dab at Ed’s cheekbones. 

“Why?” Ed asked. 

Stede paused, frowning. “Why what?”

“Why have you been crying?”

“Because I feel terrible for hurting you!” Stede said, incredulous that he had to say it. “And for making you cry! And, well—because I’m just a crier, really. Haven’t you seen me cry about a hundred times already?”

Ed went quiet, maybe considering this. After a few moments, he dropped his head to Stede’s chest again, and Stede resumed rubbing his back.

“What if—” Ed seemed to choke on his own words, pausing to clear his throat. “What if we just pretended the whole running away thing never happened?” He hesitated. “And the part where I tried to kill the crew, maybe.”

Stede blinked, momentarily stunned. After a beat, his mouth curved into a smile. 

“We could?” he asked, quietly.

He recognized the hitch in Ed’s breathing as a sign of renewed tears, and didn’t wait for an answer, just squeezed his shoulder once.

“I think I might like that.”

Neither of them moved right away. This little peace they’d found seemed too delicate, liable to shatter if pushed; Stede didn’t know if he could bear testing it. But Ed eventually heaved a deep, shuddering breath and peeled himself away from Stede’s damp shirt, wiping uselessly at his face. 

“I want to show you something.” Edward caught Stede’s eyes and looked quickly away, bashful as a schoolgirl. When he stood, he offered a hand to help Stede up, and kept holding onto his hand after, leading him to the far side of the room. They stopped in front of one of the built-ins, and Stede finally noticed there was one statuette still remaining, conspicuous without its surrounding books.

“Ed—you didn’t—”

Without answering, Ed pulled at the statuette, and the secret door popped open. He tugged Stede in behind him.

“It’s all the same,” Stede said in wonder. All his finest clothes were still there, just as he’d left them, untouched by the damage Ed had done to the rest of his quarters.

“I just…couldn’t,” Ed said. 

Stede turned, his chest absolutely aching with love, and kissed him. 

They fell against the clothes, kissing harder, Ed’s hands lifting to tangle in Stede’s hair. It didn’t matter that they were getting sweat and grease paint and…blood, probably, on everything—these might have been the last of Stede’s belongings, but he would toss them all into the ocean himself as long as it meant they never had to stop. Thankfully, Edward seemed equally determined to keep kissing and touching. His hands traveled everywhere, down Stede’s neck and over his shoulders and lower, lifting, a little tentative, when they neared his waist. 

“Careful,” Stede said, on instinct. He wasn’t sure he even meant it.

Ed’s hands, hovering near Stede’s hips, twitched a little. 

“Do you—have you—you aren’t—”

“What?” Stede frowned, perplexed, until he wasn’t. “What? Of course I’ve—of course I’m not! I said ‘ Careful’ because of the stab wound— I have children, Edward, for God’s sake!”

“Right,” Ed said, tangibly uncomfortable. “Obviously. Sorry.” He seemed not to know what to do now, his fingers twitching again, his breath coming out in little puffs next to Stede’s ear. They both shifted awkwardly.

“So that’s. Twice, right there—”

“Wait. Twice?”

Stede already regretted speaking. “I mean—there are the two children—”

“But only twice?”

“We’ve already established that it was a loveless marriage, Ed!”

Silence fell between them again, stretching long enough that Stede hazarded a glance at Ed’s face, worried he’d broken the spell, or just spoiled the mood. But when their eyes met again, Ed opened his mouth and blurted, “I’ve never been sober.”

Stede genuinely didn’t understand. “What? What do you mean?”

“I mean, I’ve done it—loads of times, obviously, and with some very attractive people—but never not. You know. Pissed.”

“Oh.”

Stede knew the tips of his ears were going red, but he suspected, if he could see Ed’s ears under all the paint and tangle of hair, that they would look the same. 

“Do you…want to?” he hazarded. He caught one of Ed’s hands, then the other. After a pause, Ed’s thumbs stroked across his wrists.

“Yeah.” Ed nodded toward Stede’s bandaged side. “...Should probably wait until that heals a bit, though.”

“Probably, yeah.”

Their eyes met, and they both looked away quickly, shifting again. 

“We could just—” Stede gestured to the floor. 

Ed frowned, clearly not following. “What?”

“You know. Have a…cuddle,” Stede said, miraculously managing not to pass out from sheer mortification. 

To his very immense relief, Ed brightened at once. “Oh,” he said. “Yeah. All right.” It looked rather a lot like he was trying hard not to grin. 

They lay on the floor, carefully—very carefully, for Stede’s part—and faced each other. Stede moved first, to push the hair away from Ed’s forehead. Ed mirrored him, and they both pressed closer, kissing slowly. They had lost all of the urgency from before, but Stede found he didn’t mind. It was easy to touch and be touched like this; instead of fumbling, their hands on each other were calm, the press of their mouths easy and natural. Stede wondered if anyone in the world would believe how soft Edward’s touch could be.

“I didn’t know it could be like this,” Ed said after a little while, his voice hushed, the words ghosting out across Stede’s lips. 

“Like what?”

Ed hesitated. “Easy,” he said at length.

Stede thought the sharp twinge in his chest must be his heart swelling to twice its original size. “Me neither.” 

He sighed, and Ed echoed him. For a long time they stayed just like that, pressed close, legs tangled together and faces buried into each other’s shoulders. Edward mumbled something about being cold, and Stede tugged a robe down from a hanger to drape over them, and Ed turned, fitting his back to Stede’s chest, tensing a little self-consciously even as he did so. 

“Is this…okay?”

“This is wonderful.” Stede sighed again, into Ed’s hair now, and hugged him close. All the remaining tension in Ed’s muscles relaxed. Stede thought it was probably the most at peace either of them had ever been.

Naturally, it couldn’t last.

“CAPTAIN!” 

Stede and Ed both jolted as the unmistakable sound of the chamber doors being kicked in roused them from a tentative slumber. 

“Captain?” came a second call, less sure this time. Stede was relatively sure it was Olu. “Jim helped us escape and we knocked Izzy out and came to…rescue you…where the hell are they?”

Too late, Stede realized the door to the secret closet was still ajar. He barely had time to exchange a horrified glance with Edward before it was pushed all the way open, and the faces of damn near every member of his crew appeared in the doorframe.

“Woah. I never would have pegged Blackbeard as the little spoon,” said Frenchie.

“SERIOUSLY?” Lucius looked absolutely appalled. “We thought you’d be in here getting all your fingernails torn off and instead you’ve been having make-up sex?”

“Told you,” said Jim.

“Guys—” Stede’s voice broke on the word, but even despite his embarrassment, he was having to work very hard not to laugh. “A little privacy, please?”

“PRIVACY?” shrieked Pete. “Do you even understand how hard we had to work to get here? Buttons absolutely ruined his false teeth—”

“Wait a minute.” Edward sat up, lifting a finger to point at Lucius. “I thought I killed you? Sorry about that, by the way.”

“No hard feelings. It’s kind of a funny story, actually—”

Olu groaned. “Enough, Lucius, everyone’s heard it a thousand times already. Could we maybe just get out of here while their clothes are still on?”

An argument broke out at that, heated enough that Stede finally had to clear his throat and put on his best Captain voice.

“That’s enough, everyone! Your rescue attempt is appreciated even if not, ah, strictly necessary. Clearly everything is fine now, so why don’t you go ahead and clear out—Roach, what do you say to whipping up something celebratory for dinner tonight?”

“Slop and grog it is, Captain!”

A chorus of cheers sounded and the crew finally began to disappear from the doorway, filing back out toward the galley.

“For what it’s worth, I’m thrilled you’re back together!” Lucius called over his shoulder, waving before pulling the door shut behind him.

“My God,” Stede said, “I’ve missed them.”

Ed hummed something like agreement, then dragged Stede down to the floor again. “What do you reckon we should do with Izzy?” he said, settling back under Stede's arm.

Stede thought for a moment. “Think he’d like that English ship for himself?”

“Hope so. Man needs to leave the nest already.”

“Mm.” Stede pressed his mouth to the back of Ed’s head. “And then what?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, what’s next?”

Ed fell into a contemplative silence. Stede was just beginning to wonder if he’d fallen asleep when he spoke up again. “You reckon the crew would be interested in seeing China?”

It was impossible not to grin. Stede wrapped his arms even tighter around Ed’s shoulders, downright giddy with happiness. “One way to find out,” he said.