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the Pirate Certificate is for entertainment purposes only and does not give the recipient license to engage in piracy

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“Did you know our university offers a pirate certificate?” Stede says to his roommates on a Sunday towards the end of his sophomore year, over a wonderful brunch spread.

(When he’d suggested they all move into a place together at the end of their first semester, with the promise that he’d fully cover the rent, he hadn’t made the Sunday brunch mandatory; he’d never dangle free rent over someone's head like that. He did highly suggest it, though, and while his friends almost unanimously dragged their feet for the first few weeks, one year in it was a fairly beloved tradition.)

“Really?” Jim says, looking interested enough to pull away from their conversation with Oluwande, and Stede nods.

“Yeah,” he says, holding up his phone as though any of them could read the small screen at this distance, “it says here ‘students who have completed Archery, Fencing, Air Pistol or Rifle, and Sailing’ can get a pirate certificate.”

Jim grabs his hand and squints at the screen. “Says it's for entertainment purposes only. And that we can’t engage in any actual piracy or pirate activities.”

“Still,” Stede, who grew up fairly obsessed with pirates, says, “none of us have completed the gen-ed phys ed classes, right?”

Everyone around the table nods.

“So, why don’t we try and take these classes together?” Stede proposes. “Might be fun to have a class together, and one per semester shouldn’t be too hard to schedule around.”

Nobody seems overly enthusiastic - even Jim seems put off of the idea, probably due to the the fact that the school has to literally say the certificates don’t let them engage in actually pirating - but by the time brunch ends Stede has gotten everyone to agree to it, and over the summer Stede manages to coordinate everyone’s schedules so that they’re all taking Archery come fall.

(Stede, thankfully, has managed to come up with an excuse to stay in the apartment over the summer instead of returning home, and that excuse ended up being an extremely part-time internship that gave him plenty of time to do said coordinating).

Stede offers to pay for everyone’s equipment (the school, for some reason, doesn’t build the cost of archery equipment rentals into course fees and also doesn’t provide said equipment, only access to a discounted rental service) and while some members of the group hem and haw, all it takes is Stede reminding them of his very full trust fund to agree.

So, come late August, all of the members of 121 Revenge Street (the address being only a very small part of the reason Stede chose the apartment, he swears) start on their way to becoming pirates.

Archery ends up going fairly well - Stede never really gets the hang of it, but he does well enough to get a good grade in the class. Jim, no surprise, proves amazing at the sport - Stede doubts there’s anything requiring precise aim that they wouldn’t be good at - and everyone else in their group seems to enjoy themselves; whenever Lucius or Frenchie would bemoan the activity too much Stede would remind them that four phys ed classes were required anyway, and archery seemed a lot more fun than yoga.

Come spring semester, they all manage to sign up for the same Fencing class, which Stede is excited for - Archery, while fun, seemed the least pirate-y out of the four courses. No pirate he’s ever read about used a bow and arrow to take down ships, and while the eventual Rifle and Sailing courses seem equally pirate-y as Fencing, Stede’s pirate games a kid had mostly entailed sword-fighting with his childhood friend Mary until she’d decide it was her turn to choose the game.

Because their group is so large - ten total - they take up about half of the class. Stede and his group are, admittedly, dicking around with the fencing sabers when the last two members of the class slip in, a few minutes late.

Stede doesn’t really realize he’s staring until he feels Oluwande stabbing him. With the fencing saber, so it’s admittedly not that dramatic a loss of attention, but still. The point stands.

Because, the thing is, before Stede came to college, back when he had his overbearing (“a kind word for abusive”, according to Lucius) father and disinterested mother steering his life, Stede had managed to keep the fact that he was gay under wraps. From his parents, and his high school girlfriend (Mary - she’s much happier as just his childhood friend and not his girlfriend, though he still feels bad about the whole asking-her-out-when-he-wasn’t-interested thing), and perhaps worst of all, from himself.

College, and Lucius and Pete and Olu and Jim and all their queerness, has been a turning point for him. He’s never come out, per se, but he’s toyed with the idea enough to come out to himself, at the very least.

Judging by the way Lucius is watching Stede all but drool over the leather clad student who just walked in, maybe he hadn’t kept the toying as much on the down low as he’d thought.

The all but drooling also proves to not be as subtle as Stede hopes, because Leather-Clad-Hottie’s friend (presumed friend - they came in together), also leather clad but incredibly pissy looking, was now glaring at Stede.

Luckily, their instructor saves Stede from LCH noticing.

“Alright.” the teacher claps his hands together. “Let’s go over the syllabus, shall we?”

Everyone quiets down, sitting on the gym floor to listen to the usual syllabus basics and only perking up slightly to listen to what the class will actually cover. The teacher, luckily, moves things along fast, and wraps up the syllabus with about a half hour of the class time left over.

Stede is just getting his hopes up that he’ll get that half hour back when the teacher looks at his watch and loudly claps his hands together again. “Looks like we have time to do an icebreaker! Pair up with someone, get their name and major and an interesting fact, and then I’ll have you all introduce your partner and that’s how we’ll be doing attendance today.” He watches briefly as everyone turns to the person - or, in Stede’s group's case, people - they came in with before interrupting. “And try to talk to someone you don’t already know, okay?”

Stede looks over at his group and grimaces. He’s never been much for making friends - Mary was his only friend as a child, and his current group wouldn’t have come together if it wasn’t for him and Lucius being assigned roommates Freshman year.

Lucius grimaces back, and then raises his eyebrows and gives Stede a thumbs up that Stede doesn’t quite understand until he feels a touch on his shoulder. He turns around, only to come face to face with LCH. Despite looking around Stede’s age, the other man manages to carry himself with an easy confidence that Stede is somehow both jealous of and attracted to.

The full, stark black beard also probably helps with… all of that.

“Wanna pair up?” LCH asks, and Stede nods quickly. LCH smiles and plops down onto the floor next to Stede. “Cool.”

“Stede Bonnet.” Stede says, holding out his hand to shake LCH’s. The other man glances down at the hand in confusion before shaking it.

“Ed Teach.” Ed says. “What other sort of information should we include here? Majors seem boring, but I guess he asked for it, right?” At Stede’s nod, he continues. “Bit boring, I know, but I’m in accounting. Third year.”

“Oh!” Stede says. “I’m a Junior too, and I was in accounting in my first year, but I changed to English. Not that there’s anything wrong with accounting, just - just not what I want to do.”

“I can understand that.” Ed nods, and tenses a little. “I mostly chose it ‘cause numbers are fairly easy to understand, and it pays well.” He shrugs to punctuate his sentence.

“A perfectly good reason to choose a career.”

“Right?” Ed says, loosening up now that he’s not been judged. “Why’re you in Fencing? Seems like you know that lot, was it just a class that ended up working out for you all?”

“Yes and no.” Stede says. “We’re - last year I saw that you could get a pirate certificate if you did certain classes as your phys ed gen-ed’s, so I convinced my friends to go for the certificate with me.”

“No way!” Ed all but yells, and he only looks a little embarrassed about it as he starts his next, much quieter sentence. “Me too! Me and Izzy - that’s the guy I came in with - and our roommates are doing the same thing. We’ve already done the Archery and Rifle courses.”

“We’ve done Archery!” Stede says. “I’ve always been a bit obsessed with pirates, so I thought it would be fun to get the certificate, though I’ll be honest the Archery bit didn’t really scratch that itch.”

“Right?” Ed makes a face while nodding enthusiastically. “Rifle was great though, real pirate-y, though I’m really looking forward to Fencing and Sailing. They seem the most stereotypically pirate-y, to me. Fucking expensive, though, these classes.”

Stede nods. “Well, I suppose we can use the skills we learn to make the money back? Good for thieving, and whatnot?”

Ed laughs, and slaps Stede on the shoulder. “Yeah, definitely. So. Have an interesting fact about yourself, Stede?”

Stede suddenly forgets every single thing he’s ever known about himself. He cycles through every stupid uninteresting fact he can come up with before finally landing on the least stupid and uninteresting. “I had a false wall put in the apartment I share with my roommates so I could have a secret closet?”

“What.” Ed says, looking stunned. “Dude, that’s incredible. Why do you need a secret closet?”

Stede shrugs. “I don’t know. Just seems fun. Also, no offense to my roommates,” he pitches his voice down and gestures over to said roommates, who have largely not followed the teachers instructions of pairing with someone they don’t know, “but sometimes it’s nice to have a place to hide away for alone time.”

“Those are your roommates? All ten of them?” Ed asks, and Stede nods. “Well then, I need another interesting fact, don’t I? Can’t let them know about your hidden closet.”

“Oh, yeah. Good point.” Stede says. “Hm. I read all of the books at the library at my boarding school before I graduated?” Stede clocks Ed’s incredulous expression. “It was a very small library.”

“Still, man.” Ed whistles. “I was just going to go with ‘Edward Teach, born on a beach’, but I think that makes me seem like an underperformer.”

“I don’t know.” Stede says. “I mean, I didn’t take the time to make sure mine rhymes, so it’s really me who’s underperforming.”

Ed laughs, but is cut off from saying anything else by the teacher drawing their attention to the front of the room. Everyone goes around and does their introductions - Stede makes sure to include Ed’s rhyme in his - and Stede is pleased to hear that he already knew all of the interesting facts his roommates came up with (he’s not necessarily keeping track of how much he knows about them as proof of some deep unending bond of friendship they all share, but he’s also not not doing that).

Class wraps up after that, and Stede only has time to let Ed know it was nice meeting him before short-and-angry - Iggy? Was that what Ed said his name was? - is pulling Ed away while glaring daggers at Stede.

“They’re not dating.” Lucius says, as Stede watches the two walk away; Stede and Lucius had both tried their best to work the phys ed class in as their last of the day, to avoid going to other classes sweating, so they didn’t have to rush off like the rest of the class seems to.

“What?” Stede splutters, and Lucius laughs.

“He was my introduction buddy, right? And so I asked him if he and Ed were dating and he said no. I mean, his cadence heavily implied he’d like for the two of them to be dating,” Lucius waggles his eyebrows at Stede, “but I can confirm for you that Ed is single and ready to mingle.”

“Well.” Stede says, trying and failing not to show how pleased he is to hear that. “Good for Ed.”

“Wanna pair up?” Ed asks three weeks into the class (after some fairly boring classes going over safety and terminology and, a bit more excitingly, the history of the sport), when their teacher suggests they get into groups to work to mimic him. He’s left Stede’s group with an uneven number since he’s pulled Jim to run through the examples with him once they revealed they’d trained in Fencing as a kid.

“Won’t your friend mind?” Stede says, looking over at said friend and feeling a bit pleased at the glare that is leveled at him. Ed has taken the time to at the very least wave high to Stede at the past five classes, but this is his first time pulling away from his friend to talk to Stede.

“Yeah.” Ed shrugs. “What do you say? Is that a no?”

“It’s not a no.” Stede says. “In fact, it’s a yes. But I should warn you, I’ve been called ‘very unathletic’ by many a phys ed teacher.”

Stede ends up managing fairly well, despite this warning - Ed seems like a natural, and his help is probably half the reason Stede fairs so well. Fencing, as it turns out, is a lot less wild sword fighting and a lot more regimented patterns, but it still remains way more fun and way more pirate adjacent than archery had seemed, so by the time the teacher wraps up class Stede is feeling really pleased.

“Do you have class after this?” Stede asks, and Ed shakes his head.

“Nah, Iz and I just leave pretty fast because he does.”

“Well,” Stede drags out before deciding to just bite the bullet and ask, “if you want, we could go get lunch?”

Ed perks up. “Yeah, sure!”

“There’s this cute cafe that does a really good soup and sandwich? It’s only like a five minute walk away.” Stede suggests, and Ed nods enthusiastically.

“Sure,” he says, pulling out his phone and typing something. “Sorry, just wanted to let Iz know where I’m headed.”

Stede nods, and starts to lead Ed down the road.

“That makes it sound like he’s my handler, doesn't it?” Ed says, shoving his hands into his pocket. “He isn’t or anything, I just had a rough start to college and he helped me out so now he’s a bit - overprotective.”

“That’s nice.” Stede says, even though ‘nice’ is not a word he has ever associated with Izzy in the few weeks of being glared at by him.

“Yeah. Can be a bit smothering sometimes, but I get where he’s coming from.”

“Oh, look, there’s the cafe!” Stede says, pointing to said cafe which is a bit down the street. It’s largely to avoid having to respond to Ed but also because the cafe is coming up.

“Looks fancy.” Ed says, burrowing his hands even deeper into his pockets.

“Not really.” Stede opens the door - the place is nice, but in a college town sort of way, so Stede can’t really say he’s ever thought of it as capital F fancy.

The place isn’t very busy, so they go straight up to the register and order. “Let me pay, by the way.” Stede says, and when Ed goes to protest he continues. “I asked if you wanted to get lunch, so I pick up the tab, right?”

“Sure. Right.” Ed says, and Stede leads him over to his favorite table in the place while they wait for their food.

Stede’s just about to ask…something, anything to get the conversation going - he’s debating between ‘where’d you grow up’ and ‘what made you want to get the pirate certificate’ as conversation starters, and is only tripped up by their general lame-ness - when Ed clears his throat.

“Stede, um.” Ed says. “Is this a date?”

“No, no!” Stede says, because he doesn’t want Ed to think he’d just presume the other man was interested in him, or that he’d try to force him into some situation where they’re already on a date before he deigns to let Ed know that fact. But then he sees Ed’s face fall and become very steely and closed off, and he realizes his mistake.

“Wait.” Stede grabs Ed’s hand before the other man can stand up to leave. “Let me try that again. No, I didn’t intend for this to be a date - I would have actually asked you, instead of trying to pin you into something. But yes, I would like to date you. If you want. To date me.”

“I do. Want to date you.” Ed says.

“Oh, good.” Stede says back.

(And then their food it placed at the counter, and then they grab it and eat and talk, and then Ed suggests swinging by an ice cream place on the way back to the main campus - and insists on paying when they get there - and then Stede invites Ed back to his apartment, and then they end up going to Ed’s instead because Stede has ten roommates, and then.)

(And then.)

“Now that we’re officially pirates,” Ed says, sitting next to Stede on their couch as they share breakfast, three months after they've graduated but only one day after their official pirate certificates have arrived at their apartment, “do you think we should get, like, a fishing dinghy?”

“I could buy a sailboat.” Stede says, leaving the safari tab on his phone where he was looking for appropriate frames to hang their certificates in to instead open up a (already open; he’s been researching, okay?) tab with sailboat listings.

“You could buy a sailboat.” Ed scoffs, and Stede raises an eyebrow. “No shit.”

“Darling,” Stede drawls, “I’m fairly sure I’ve mentioned my grandparents left me a very fucking huge trust fund. I can’t go about buying boats yearly or anything, but I think I could afford to get us a nice sailboat.”

“But…” Ed says, flabbergasted. “But you already pay our rent? And buy most of our stuff?”

“I like buying stuff.” Stede shrugs. “Especially stuff you enjoy.”

“Are you sure you aren’t, like, trying to become my sugar daddy or something?”

“No!” Stede scoffs. “Well. I mean. There’s nothing wrong with that, but no. Did Izzy say that?”

Ed shrugs but nods his head yes. “He was joking.”

“Fuck Izzy. Besides, you’ve done my taxes the past two years without any payment.” Stede says. “I’m completely useless at that.”

Ed stares at him.

“Listen.” Stede says. “You know that I have a lot of money. It’s very nice to have, but what’s even nicer is spending it, and even nicer than that is spending it on something that would make you - make the both of us happy. If you don’t want to buy a sailboat - I mean, we can do the dinghy, a dinghy would be fun, I had just already been thinking it might be fun to get a sailboat-”

Ed cuts him off with a kiss. “I want a sailboat.”

“Oh, good.” Stede says, a little dizzy. “Good. No offense, but I don’t think we’d be very good pirates with just a dinghy.”

Ed laughs, and doesn’t bring up the many times Stede had managed to stab himself in Fencing.

“It’s too bad we didn’t get the certificates when you had the beard.” Stede says, rubbing his hand against Ed’s cheek. “Beard’s are pirate-y, right?”

Ed shrugs. “Could grow it back.”

“Sure, I mean, if you want to.” Stede agrees. “But I thought you liked it better shaved?”

“I do.”

“So then don’t grow it back. I mean, most of the guys who got the certificate with us don’t have beards. I don’t have a beard. So really, if you look at the statistics of our group of fully certified pirates, I guess beards aren’t very pirate-y.”

“Does it make us less pirate-y that we have certificates through college and aren’t, like, plundering or whatever?” Ed muses. “And are we counting facial hair as a beard or not? Because most of your friend group and all of mine have facial hair.”

“We have the skills now, one way or another. I, personally, will be hanging up my certificate for display. And no, I think you have to have a few centimeters to count as a beard, right?” Stede says. “Hm. Well, doesn’t matter either way, if you prefer to be clean shaven.”

“I guess.” Ed shrugs. “Hey, do you think the sailboat you get could be big enough to invite everyone onto?”

“Darling,” Stede scoffs, “of course I’ve only been looking at the large capacity sailboats.”

Of course.” Ed laughs. “I do also want a frame for my certificate, by the way.”

“Oh, good.” Stede says. “We can hang them in the boat!”

Ed laughs, grabs Stede’s plate from his lap, and places both of the plates on the table in front of the couch, all so he has plenty of room to straddle Stede on the couch. “We,” he says, “can absolutely,” as he kisses Stede, “hang them,” first his lips and then his neck and then a trail down his chest, “hang them on the boat.”

“Oh.” Stede blushes - how he’s been dating Ed for close to two years and the man could still make him blush like this, he doesn’t know.

“Now.” Ed says. “We could either clean up from breakfast, start to do the chores and errands and other boring adult shit we have to get done this weekend. Or we could go back into the bedroom and I could start to make payments on the boat?”

“You’re going to do my taxes? It’s August.” Stede manages to get out without a stutter, which he’s fairly proud of considering the fact that Ed is currently grinding against him.

“Fuck off!” Ed says, giving up the sexy act to laugh into the crook of Stede’s neck, which ironically Stede finds much sexier.

“I choose option B, if that wasn’t clear.” Stede says, and then he attempts to stand up and cart Ed off to their bedroom; he only gets a few steps before Ed has to unwrap his legs from Stede and stand to avoid them both toppling to the floor, but considering he had to stand up from a sit with Ed in his arms Stede considers it a pretty good showing.

“Do you think we could fuck on the boat?” Ed asks, as they make their way into their bedroom.

“Fucking on boats has to be, like, top ten pirate acts, right?” Stede replies. “I would imagine every non-asexual pirate fucked on a boat.”

“Cool.” Ed says, and then neither of them say anything of substance for a good long while.

 

 

They do, in fact, end up fucking on the boat. Right against the wall where they hang their pirate certificates, in fact.