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Stede’s mother died giving birth to him.

His father was never subtle about it being Stede’s fault and that everything in their lives had gone to shit simply because he came into existence. Made worse that Stede’s father had originally had to hold what he thought was his baby daughter, name her Charlotte, and kiss his hopes of passing on the family name goodbye.

When Stede was only eleven, his father had given up on trying to keep him tied into lace dresses and intricately pinned hair, and on the eve of his leaving for boarding school he had sat Stede down in the parlor. It was terribly late, or maybe it was terribly early, Stede didn’t know— the room was dark, only lit with candlelight and a servant stood with them holding a pair of scissors to her chest.

“You want to pretend to be a boy, right?” His father stared down the bridge of his nose with disgust.

Stede had swallowed, eyes locked onto the scissors, “I’m not pretending, Papa, I—”

“Silence!” His father hissed, “Your name is Stede now, do you understand? You will let everyone at school believe your little delusions, and you are never, never, to let anyone see you in a state of undress, do you understand?”

Stede had nodded, let his father hand him a profile of papers with a new birth certificate, prior studies from falsified tutors, and sat carefully still while the servant cut away at the length of blonde curls on his head. His father paid a handsome sum every year to keep the school quiet, and to ensure that Stede roomed alone. To ensure that Stede Bonnet was the lone son and heir to the Bonnet fortune and homestead and that he was no longer burdened with an unruly daughter he could never hope to seal a successful marriage for.

It’s when he’s much older, aboard a ship that he’d commissioned when he’s untying himself from his many layers of clothing, that he realizes not everyone is from the same world his father raised him in. The first mate of The Revenge is a strange man— stranger than even Stede, named Nathaniel Buttons and he walks steadily into Stede’s quarters, bows slightly and doesn’t so much as flinch when he catches an eyeful of Stede in only his undergarments. “Cap’n” He nods while Stede cries out in surprise and pulls his jacket up over his chest. “The winds are in our favor if we set sail from port come sundown.”

“I— okay, um—” Stede is waiting for the inevitable disgust. The leering or the accusations. Being called false.

Instead, Buttons keeps his hands firmly behind his back and tells him, “Be sure to replenish yerself in the moon while it’s in its waning crescent if yer on yer monthly bloodshed. Last time I sailed with a whaler who ne’er listened when I said and he had a fainting spell— right into a whale's mouth.”

There’s a lot to unpack, from Button’s talking about his bodily functions, to his acknowledging the man he had learned this from was, well, a man.

Stede only stares at him like he’s only just figuring out the English language for a moment more before he tells him, “That’s not really something I have to worry about anymore.”

It takes him some time to adjust— time to unlearn what he thought being a gentleman entailed vs. what it meant to actually live as himself out at sea. The people he’s met, the lives they lead, the identities and sense of purpose they’ve carved into the expansive fabric of life with their own hands and words and thoughts, that made them all so perfectly whole. The people who never once stumble or falter when he declares himself Stede Bonnet, a man of his own, only question him with a quirked eyebrow or eyeroll when he calls himself a pirate.

And in that time, he finds himself, for the first time ever, in a state of undress on his bed with a man between his legs. One hand gripping Stede’s thigh, the other using deft fingers inside the hot core of him with a clever tongue, while Stede nearly chews a hole through his lip trying not to scream.

Stede’s heels dig into the mattress, back arching off the bed as he digs his fingers into thick, grey hair, “Ed, Ed, please—” He whines, coming for the second time in far too short of a time from the first, every nerve in his body twitching from his fingertips to his toes.

“God, you’re gorgeous like this.” Ed sounds just as breathless as Stede feels, and he works his way up his body with gentle kisses, facial hair scraping over Stede’s sensitive skin. He’s sucking kisses into Stede’s neck when he reaches between them, sinks his thick cock to the root deep inside of Stede.

Stede whimpers, moans, twists around underneath Ed so frustrated that he somehow can’t get his body even closer to his. As if they aren’t already connected, Ed grinding his hips into Stede’s so that every thrust sends a jolt up Stede’s spine. “You feel so good.” Stede whines against Ed’s mouth, licking against his tongue and his teeth, kissing him sloppy and with zero finesse. Driven entirely by desperation as Ed grips Stede’s hips, leveraging him up to thrust hard and fast into him.

“Wish I could keep you split open on my cock all day.” Ed pants out, the calloused, rough expanse of his palm sliding over the soft skin of Stede’s belly. When Stede rambles out an agreement, begging him for just that, Ed laughs, “ ‘m not gonna last that long.”

He knows that he’s not thinking realistically when Ed drags his thumb down to his swollen clit, slowly rubbing circles into it while he keeps up his thrusting. Building up to what he thought was an impossible precipice. Still, he babbles out nonsense, about how he doesn’t have to move when he’s done. How the two of them can stay in bed all day and that the ship won’t sink if they spend it wrapped up in each other. It devolves into pleading— Ed’s name and God’s getting mixed up until there really is no separating the two in spoken word or entity and Stede is practically praying to him anyways. His body clenches and shudders, legs wrapping tight around Ed’s hips, arms around his shoulders, clinging entirely to a lifeline.

It’s when he’s coming for the third time, wrapped around Ed like they’re fused together, that he breathlessly lets it spell from his lips

I’m so in love with you

That’s all it takes for Ed to follow him over, cock pulsing inside of him.

He doesn’t pull out right away, and Stede thinks for a moment he might’ve taken him up on his early pleading to stay buried there for the day. But then he makes a reluctant noise and slides carefully from between his legs, only to collapse onto this back next to Stede. There’s a warm rush of come leaking out of him without anything to keep it plugged up and if Stede had even a fraction more of his energy he would be rushing to get a cloth to clean himself up.

“Stede?” Ed’s voice sounds so calm, entirely conversational, and Stede lets his head roll to the side on his pillow to look at his dark, beautiful eyes. Stede hums and Ed looks impossibly shy for someone who was just inside of him, “Did you mean what you said? Just now?”

Ah, Stede thinks, the love thing

“Of course, darling.” Stede rolls entirely onto his side then, sliding his foot forward so that he can wedge his leg between Ed’s, “I would never lie to you about that.”

Ed shrugs but his cheeks are flushed and he looks entirely pleased now, “Men say things they don’t mean all the time when they’re fucking.”

“Well I’m not most men.”

“That’s right,” Ed drags his hand over Stede’s back, “You’re a gentleman.” He grabs Stede’s ass and laughs when Stede yelps, burying his face in Ed’s neck. Ed can feel him laughing though and gives him a more solid groping, “Well, I’m not a gentleman, but in the sake of being honest—” His voice drops low, a mix between a whisper and a growl that sends goosebumps over Stede’s body, “this is the best cunt in the entire seven seas.”

If Stede wasn’t on the flirting edge of sleep he would be climbing back into Ed’s lap. Even still, he’s contemplating it in a serious way, and he’s one more filthy promise whispered in his ear from casting aside his body’s needs for his body’s wants. Ed must sense that he’s working him into a sex stupid haze and he presses a kiss, soft and sweet and meant to being him down to the safe arms of a loving, “Take it easy, mate.”

Ed rolls over, back pressing up against Stede’s front, and he drags Stede’s arm across his chest, kissing his knuckles. He glances back over his shoulder, waiting for Stede to open his sleepy eyes before telling him, “I love you too.” He gets a kiss to the back to his neck for it and Stede bundles Ed, the blankets, possibly some of their clothing, as tight as he can to his chest, but not to hide. Only because it all makes him feel safe.