Title: Probation Period's Over

Author: fogsrollingin

Fandom: OFMD

Relationship(s): Gentlebeard

Story Length: 7k words

Published: 12/31/2023 on fogsrollingin.neocities.org.

Warnings: N/A

Tags: hurt/comfort, traumatized Edward Teach, hurt Edward Teach, comforting Stede Bonnet, protective Stede Bonnet, humiliation, emotional hurt/comfort, crying, hugs & cuddling

"We didn't mutiny. He retired," Stede said, voice firm.
"If he hadn't," Humphrey suddenly jumped in and took a few steps towards them. "If he hadn't retired," the lieutenant winked and Stede grimaced with distaste, "and instead you kept Blackbeard for a little payback before you handed him over for your reward..."
"Oh," Stede breathed, disturbed, "That's not-"
"All we would ask of you, is to trade 500 doubloons for a night with him on our ship."

Set between season 2 episode 5 "The Curse of the Seafaring Life", this fic explores a disturbing reason why Ed might have found himself back in his leathers by the beginning of season 2 episode 6 "Calypso's Birthday."

See below the complete story!

Cheers everybody 🥂 happy holidays!

Chapter 1

Captain Benjamin Hornigold was now the captain of an English Navy vessel. It was the same savagery as pirate living, of course, just masked behind officialdom, uniforms; the appearance of rank and discipline. The British were just as cruel as any ruffian found in The Republic of Pirates, perhaps even more, so Hornigold found himself fitting in terribly well. His two most trusted lieutenants at sea, John Humphrey and Edmund Alastair, were rather talented sadists, he thought with amusement. Would've made fine pirates indeed. He appreciated their work - he was getting older and more interested in observing violent energy than bringing it about.

He was also paying attention to the news far more than in his younger days. When he'd heard Blackbeard and a Gentleman Pirate, Stede Bonnet, had also taken the oath after invoking King George's Act of Grace, he'd been intrigued.

The oddities continued. Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard escaped the academy they'd been admitted to. Then within a couple weeks, Stede Bonnet had a very public death in Barbados, and Blackbeard was on a tear. Reports of demons on the waters with Blackbeard's updated flag - the demon now stabbing a red, bleeding heart - as their emblem.

Ed would surely kill him, the state he was in, and Hornigold didn't want to kill Eddie, so he stayed away. Hornigold wondered if the great Blackbeard was planning to die as he and his crew raided on a near-daily basis.

What a shame that would be.

He still remembered Eddie as a young thing. If he could ever... spend time with him again without the threat of murder, Benjamin Hornigold would bargain, buy, or seize that opportunity in a heartbeat. Especially under the guise of lawful British crime and punishment governance.

Alastair and Humphrey would have a field day.

And so it passed, reports that Blackbeard's crew had mutinied and the most feared pirate on the high seas had gone to his watery grave after steering them directly into a storm.

Figured, Hornigold had thought, disappointed.

Some interesting smaller rumors emerged three weeks later. Whispers. Ed Teach was alive, and still on the Revenge, but captain no longer.

This, Hornigold had to see to believe. Mutiny was one thing, but keeping the captain after? Fascinating.

He wondered what kind of suffering Edward Teach's former crew were visiting upon him.

Hornigold wondered if they could be persuaded to part with Ed so he could visit with him too.

Stede stood beside Buttons, looking out to sea.

"You're sure?"

"Ay, Captain. British Navy. Just one ship on her way across the waters there yonder." Buttons pointed.

"We better get out of their path."

"Mm. They're lookin' for us, though."

"How do you know?"

Buttons stared out over the bright sea. It was just after tea time, the sun passing its zenith and tilting West.

Stede rightly surmised he'd asked the wrong question. "Can we take them?"

Buttons shrugged. "Ay," he said quietly. Stede frowned. Not exactly a resounding vote of confidence. "Something's amiss about this one, though. I can feel it."

Stede blinked. "Amiss? How?"

Buttons shook his head, shrugged. "She doesn't want to attack us."

"The... boat?"


Stede pressed his lips together. "Okay. Well," Stede glanced up at their own rigging. "We did take our flags down, for while we catch our breaths. We're not advertising we're pirates at the moment, are we?"

"Could have something to do with it."

Stede smiled and made a small bow. "Thank you, Buttons."

Buttons nodded.

Stede turned and headed down to the main deck, absently wondering if Buttons knew these esoteric things on account of his newfound abilities to be a seagull.

He thought about asking Ed for his advice but last he had seen, the former captain-turned-apologizer had been baking bread with Roach. Something good was in there. Stede didn't want to interfere with that.

Instead, he found Olu to weigh in. Multiple Navy ships were a hostile assault worth escaping but a single ship on its own headed right for them? That was interesting. Especially because Buttons said they weren't hostile. Or, the boat wasn't. That was the same thing, wasn't it?

He knew it was the British Navy, particularly vicious buggers most of the time, apologizing profusely as they committed shocking, medieval atrocities all over the world.

Nevertheless, Stede's curiosity was piqued. Perhaps an opportunity would present itself. Besides simple trading, if there could be any trifling or hoodwinking (though perhaps not enough time for any kind of fuckery), it would surely boost morale.

Olu pointed out thoughtfully that if it was the Navy, Stede would have to assume a new identity now or else Mary's inheritance of her 'dead' husband's fortune was forfeit.

Bartholomew Thomas - Captain Thomas - Stede decided, and sent Olu off to alert the rest of the ship of his name change.

All there was left to do was wait, then.

Stede followed his heart and ambled his way to the galley.

Roach and Frenchie were arguing over what herbs to use over a fresh loaf of bread. Ed was there too, by a table alone and quietly kneading dough. He had his hair up, tied back from the food. His thin hands were white with flour up to the elbows. He looked peaceful, almost meditative, were it not for the bell tinkling as he worked, or how often he stopped to scratch himself, the rough burlap fabric chafing his skin.

The negotiations for those things had torn Stede apart a little bit. He wanted so desperately for Ed to stay on the ship, he wanted his crew to feel safe, and he wanted no one mistreated. The last one he wanted was sticky, as Ed had sustained abuse in the past, and his desperation to stay with Stede on the ship was increasingly transparent as he offered too much flexibility with what the crew could make him do.

They'd been all together in the galley, and anything the crew suggested (and there were dark ones; they were pirates after all), Ed was accepting with an authentic nonchalance that scared and worried Stede.

When Archie suggested a snake with venom that induced 3 days of fevered night terrors, and Stede caught the slightest twitch of Edward's eye before he shrugged and was about to agree to that too, Stede announced - loudly to drown out all other voices - that they were taking a break from the conversation. He pulled Edward into his quarters and had him sit down. Stede sat down beside him.

Ed fidgeted with his black gloves. "I'm fine. I deserve this."

After a pause of quiet, Ed looked up at Stede, whose eyes were wide, piercing as he said, "no you don't. Ed, nobody does."

Ed scoffed and looked away. He clasped his hands together.

"I'm the captain, remember? This ship is a safe space now."

Ed made a face, teasing the meaning of that sentence out and having a tough time of it.

"Under my captaincy, no one gets deliberately hurt."

"What... what about hurt feelings?" Ed quipped.

Stede blinked, then sat back, thinking about it. Ed laughed as Stede said, "I think, same thing? No deliberately hurting people's feelings."

They had a good discussion about what Stede was expecting to allow regarding Ed's probation. Ed was insistent things could be worse but Stede drew the line.

Ed didn't go back to the galley. On Stede's order, he stayed in the Captain's Quarters while Stede went back and worked with his crew on the terms of Ed's probation.

It came down to a formal apology, a sack for clothes, a bell collar so he couldn't sneak up on people. At night, he'd sleep on the deck, ankle tied to the rigging or some other such fastening and given a wide berth in the interest of all their toes.

All this, and Stede was still mildly unhappy by the bell and the sack. The crew had beaten him and left him for dead for days before they'd realized he was still hanging on. Stede knew something had happened between Ed and Izzy too, that had made things so bad. It wasn't in Ed's nature to cut off toes and make men eat them, but it was Izzy's, and that disturbing give and take needed unpacking one day.

Whatever monster Ed had turned into, it was remarkable how fast it had gone away, leaving a man willing to get tortured by his crew if it meant he could stay with Stede and the crew, live with them, quietly knead bread at a table.

"Hey," Stede whispered, coming over to sit next to him. Ed made room for him, his collar chiming as he continued to knead, and Stede pressed in, a warm line along his side.

"Hi. You doing all the Captainy things, then?"

Stede shrugged, nodded, watching Ed's hands. "You doing bakery things?"

Ed nodded. "It's nice. Kinda relaxing." He flinched and rubbed his chest just under the burlap.

Stede wanted so badly to touch him, wrap his arm around him and pull him in. He wouldn't though. Not when the sack he wore was full of tiny pin-pricks and pinches.

Stede remembered back to when they first met. Ed had felt his soft cashmere, even pressed it to his face. Ed liked soft things, and he liked color.

Ed didn't seem like he'd expand on baking so Stede figured he'd share. "We're waiting on a single British vessel to get to us."


"We could. But I'm a bit curious. I think they might just want to trade."

Ed nodded, shrugged with indifference. Then he smirked. "Gonna see if they have marmalade, aren't you?"

"Oh well sussed, I'm never above that." Stede laughed. "Buttons is working up a list of things we need, things could part with."

"Oh, uh, Roach needs a sharper blade."

Stede sighed and leaned over the table, balancing his head on his hand, angled to face Ed with starry eyes. "Okay," he said gently, "I'll put it on the list."

His eyes tracked down to Ed's hands again, full of flour.

Ed glanced at Stede. He straightened up, a mischievous glint in his eye, and lightly smacked Stede's face, making the white powder puff all over him.

"Ah! What was that for?" Stede cried as Ed fell into giggles. "You-" Stede lunged forward and dragged his hands across the bread board, covering his hands with flour.

"No!" Ed gasped with laughter, nearly falling over backwards as Stede went for his beard.

"You could be Whitebeard!" Stede shouted with a comically helpful tone. He followed Ed to the floor as the dread pirate attempted escape. The bell on Ed's neck rattled loudly which had them both in stitches.

"Hey hey hey break it up," Roach's amused voice filled the space, blotting out Ed's fake pleas for Stede to stop, and Stede's continued praises over a Whitebeard makeover. Roach stepped over them to look at the dough Ed had been working on. "Hey, Ed, this looks good! No lumps!"

Ed grinned, looked at Stede, who saluted him. Together they got off the floor. "Still Blackbeard's Bar and Grill? Not considering a bakery now?"

"And Other Delicicacies and Delights."

Stede made a face, not getting it. "The bakering, that's the Delicicacies and Delights bit."

"Oh. Wow, you really had thought of everything," Stede replied, impressed.

"Know my strengths, mate."

Stede huffed, amused. He wondered if they were strengths of Ed's, or interests he'd never really been able to pursue.

"Captain," Oluwande called suddenly. They turned around and saw he was a few steps down into the galley. "They've sent a tender. They're on their way over."

"Oh, right," Stede was pulled abruptly back to his role as Captain. He looked at Ed and Roach, sorry that he couldn't spend more time with them. He wanted to. The bread smelled delicious, Ed's brown eyes were bright and he still had flour in his beard. Frenchie hummed as he worked in the back.

"Hey," Roach tapped Ed, "You want to know what herbs Frenchie and me landed on?"

"Yeah, man."

Ed gave him a little smile. Stede swallowed and nodded as they turned away.

Stede made a face and tilted his head looking at Ed's bare feet.

Where'd his shoes go?


"Right, right," he headed back to Oluwande. "Okay let's go do some Captainy stuff."

The proceedings were bizarre. Two smug lieutenants with sly, wandering eyes and three officers boarded the Revenge (now dubbed the Royal James, another cover Olu had reasonably suggested). Buttons, Archie, Jim, Fang and Wee John were on deck, cautiously watching. Oluwande and Lucius were standing beside Stede as he made his formal greetings.

"Gentleman, please let me welcome you to the Royal James. I am the captain, Bartholomew Thomas. This is my second in command, Oluwande, and my scribe, Lucius."

"What a gracious welcome," one man stepped up and bowed. "I am lieutenant Edmund Alastair and this is lieutenant John Humphrey. We come on behalf of our ship, the HMS Ranger, to... discuss and perhaps trade supplies."

"Ah," Stede clasped his hands, "Sounds wonderful. Let us discuss in my quarters."

Stede, Lucius, and Oluwande ushered them into the space. Stede halted for a moment with some irritation at the sight of Izzy already inside, standing by his desk to attend the proceedings as well, but quickly got over it. Maybe Izzy would turn out helpful, who knew.

"Ah, this is Izzy Hands-" Stede introduced, but stopped speaking at how the officers started at the name. Alastair and Humphrey exchanged knowing smiles.

Stede looked to his own crew members, who'd seen this weirdness too. They shrugged, shook their heads.

"So, um," Stede coughed, uncomfortable. A furtive glance to Izzy, and the pirate gave a barely discernable twitch that told him he didn't know either. Stede regained his footing and asked, "What supplies would you like to trade?"

Humphrey and Alastair turned to make sure the officers in their wake had closed the door.

Stede mouthed "what is going on?" to Olu. Olu threw his hands up a little. Lucius fidgeted, clutching his notepad.

The officers behind the two lieutenants shifted nervously as Alastair spoke. "Whatever your ship is named now, we are under the impression you are the crew that mutinied and kept," he enunciated every consonant, "your ex-captain on board?"

Stede's eyes widened but otherwise stood his ground, stiff upper lip in place.

"The dread pirate Blackbeard, whose first mate was Izzy Hands," Humphrey said, eyeing him. Izzy glared back.

"Yes, so we now know we definitely have the right vessel."

"The question remains why you, Captain Thomas, were chosen by the crew and not Izzy here-" Humphrey added snidely.

"While that is a point of curiosity, the question we're here to ask, Humphrey, is not that one," Alastair warned. Humphrey nodded with an unctuous smile.

"What we mean to ask is... What did you do with him?" They were grinning like they knew a secret.

"Who now?" Stede stalled.

The lieutenant's smiles vanished.

"Blackbeard!" Alastair growled.

"Oh, well," Stede hedged, "He... He retired, didn't he?" Stede parroted what Frenchie had once told him. He rubbed his head, uncertain. He hadn't expected this.

"Look, we understand," Alastair stepped closer and gestured for Stede to come over to the bookshelves. There were still no books, nor a working fireplace, but it was still an alcove, a measure away from the group to insinuate confidence. Izzy made a few thumping sounds as he came over to shamelessly listen. Stede nodded to him, appreciating it. He faced Alastair, who tried to touch his elbow but Stede pulled away from it as subtly as he could. He couldn't put his finger on it but these men were giving him the creeps. "Mutiny is a serious charge, and actually we have no intention of holding you to them." Alastair stopped and faced Stede. "All we're interested in, is where Blackbeard is."

"We didn't mutiny. He retired," Stede said, voice firm.

"If he hadn't," Humphrey suddenly jumped in and took a few steps towards them. "If he hadn't retired," the lieutenant winked and Stede grimaced with distaste, "and instead you kept Blackbeard for a little payback before you handed him over for your reward..."

"Oh," Stede breathed, disturbed, "That's not-"

"All we would ask of you, is to trade 500 doubloons for a night with him on our ship."

"Yes, we'd return him to you in the morning, a little worse for wear but alive enough for you to get to Nassau and receive the reward for his beating pulse." They chuckled.

"Who's your captain?" Izzy barked.

The lieutenants straightened.

"Benjamin Hornigold. Former pirate, now respectable Captain of the HMS Ranger. He hunts pirates now," Humphrey explained, his tone teasing.

"He's willing to catch and release Blackbeard, though," Alastair continued. "He just wants to revisit the old days. Then let the crew have him... for a bit of fun."

Lucius's pencil broke in his hand.

"Same as what you're doing, no doubt," Humphrey added sensibly.

"Get out," Izzy ordered.

"Izzy," Humphrey stepped forward, head tilting like he was studying a magnificent specimen. "Your reputation precedes you. I want to know what *you* must've done to him-"

"Stop. Stop speaking," Stede interrupted, backing up and moving to his desk. His hands shook with restraint as he gripped the chair back. He felt the wooden slats breaking under his fingers. "You are no longer welcome on this ship. Please take your leave." He fixed his eyes on the two lieutenants. "And pray we never meet again."

Alastair huffed. Humphrey sighed. Their officers exuded disappointment. They were acting like Christmas Day had been cancelled, Christmas Day being Blackbeard's abuse and torture. Stede pressed his fist to his mouth, trying to keep it together.

"All right," Alastair sighed. He turned on his heel and gestured for the door. His officers quickly opened it and lead the way out.

Olu tried to catch Stede's eye as they followed but the Captain was staring at the center of the desk, steadying his breathing.

Olu imagined what it would be like, if Jim's Siete Gallos mercenaries ever showed up now after smelling blood and hoping for the opportunity to hurt and destroy them.

Olu wasn't a killer, but under these circumstances, it was fifty/fifty whether he would issue the order to kill them all.

Olu left Stede alone to collect himself.

It was just as Olu got out onto the deck, following everyone that had been in the Captain's Quarters, and a petty officer was about to climb down to their dingy, that Ed carefully stepped out onto deck from the galley, not paying much attention to anything except the tea and bread he had balancing on nice China.

Humphrey glanced over, then did a double-take. "Is that-"

Alastair gasped. "It can't be."

Edward looked up and froze. He was caught between the crew of the Revenge to his left and the English on his right, breaking into hungry grins, spreading out to get a better look at him.

"Well, well, if it isn't the legendary Blackbeard," Alastair said, hushed, clearly savoring the taste of his own words, "wearing a sack."

"Fuck off," Ed spat, not sure what was going on. He looked to the crew, hoping one of them would clue him in. Olu stepped up.

"Oh no. No, that's not Blackbeard. That's just a man that resembles him quite... quite a bit!" Olu tried. Ed frowned at how bad a liar Olu was, and how absolutely screwed he was if someone didn't interrupt things better than that.

"They've made him a fetch and carry slave!" One of the officers bellowed with scathing delight.

The English laughed, thoroughly entertained.

Ed glanced at the crew again. They seemed conflicted. They didn't like this, but also nobody was stepping up to defend him.

He couldn't blame them, but the lascivious way the English were looking at him was disturbing.

He swallowed, shook his head and took a step back, tea wobbling on the plate. His movements made a metal tinkling sound.

"What the fuck, is that a bell?"

"It's a bell collar - like a cat?"

Ed bit his lip, searching every face. "Olu," Ed called, his voice small. "Stede?" He asked, tone level as he could make it as the English circled closer to him. Olu nodded with a thumbs up and disappeared.

"How humiliating. Hornigold would love this."

Ed's tea and plate shattered at his feet. He looked at the officer that'd mentioned his former Captain, eyes wide.

The officers burst into laughter. Alastair got close enough and grabbed a fistful of burlap at Ed's chest and pulled, making Ed walk back over the broken shards with his bare feet.

"Whoa, whoa, okay," the crew objected together as Ed stepped on the jagged pieces. He didn't feel it, caught up in the name uttered by the officer.

"Oh, good pet," Alastair admired, eyes darkening. "Well trained. Doesn't make a sound."

Ed couldn't breathe. His heart hammered in his chest. He could smell the lieutenant's rotten breath, his dark sweat. His bell rang in his ear.

Chapter 2

A knife appeared at Alastair's neck. Ed looked. The knife was attached to... Jim's hand. 

Jim's face was stony. "Let go of him, puta madre." 

Alastair paused. Jim added pressure. Ed squirmed, trying to get loose of his grip.

"All right, all right," he said, then shoved Ed with such force he soared backwards. 

Ed hit the deck with a gasp, the wind knocked out of him. He curled in on his side, bloody feet throbbing from having smacked against the wood in the fall. After a few seconds, Ed turned onto his hands and knees, coughing. The bell rattled loudly and the British broke into laughter again.

"We understand you want to keep him like this but really, you should consider our offer," Humphrey advised them all.

"Do you only feed the slave pet cat food, then?" One of the officers asked.

Roach grimaced.

"Or is he your mouser?" Another officer jeered. 

Lucius looked like he was about to be sick.

"I daresay they make him crawl around deck, like the animal he is, just like this." Alastair pointed at Ed, who was still catching his breath, the bottoms of his feet wet with blood.  Alastair came closer and Ed recoiled. He leaned over and stage-whispered, "Consider yourself lucky, Blackbeard. It's not even the start of what we'd do to you, much less Hornigold, eh?"

Ed's eyes watered as he visibly fought his fear in favor of pulling his wrath to the surface. He was Blackbeard. He was the Kraken. 

But the beast wasn't rising to save him. He'd shed too much of it. Edward had been reduced to a man dressed in an itchy sack, a bell on his neck, no weapons. Even The Kraken agreed with the British: it was humiliating, degrading. 

No dread pirate could be like this and invoke their beast from the depths. He wasn't worthy of it anymore. 

He had nothing. His feet stung. He thought of Hornigold, of the last real memory of him threatening to flay his skin and feed it back to him. He could see the same cruelty in the two lieutenants' eyes. Alastair looked at him with blown pupils and licked his lips. 

"Come on, you're coming with us, now, aren't you, pet?" 

Ed swallowed, his brow furrowing, not understanding. 

Suddenly Alastair grabbed Ed's ankle and pulled.

"No!" Ed screamed as he was dragged, terrified now. "Fuck off," he gasped in tears, writhing as the deck's uneven boards, nails, and debris dug into his back. The bell was against one ear, ringing so loud. Ed dug panicked fingers into the deck looking for purchase but found nothing. Alastair's grip was tight as a vise. 

Humphrey reached for him and Ed put his hands up. "Please, no," he begged. "Stop." 

Alastair paused and crouched down again. "To hear the great Blackbeard beg."

Trembling, Ed bit back a sob and searched the crew again for Stede. 

Suddenly, an officer portside towards the back shouted with surprise. "What are you doing?! No!"

The sound of the man shouting inchoately then hitting cold waters; his shrill screams were unmistakable.

Alastair and Humphrey let go of him. The crowd parted to see the commotion.

Stede was there, with another officer lined up at knife point.

"Get off my ship," he roared, eyes blazing. "Now."

Stede's presence flipped a switch in his crew, activating them as one to descend on the English, weapons brandished, muttering insults and threats. 

They formed a wall between the English and Ed, and forced the soldiers to the edge of the ship. 

The officers stumbled over each other and scrambled to get down the ladder. Alastair stepped on Humphrey's hand going down too fast. The shocked cries of the lieutenant were more than satisfying before he crashed into the waters with a mangled hand.

The crew watched the tender retreat back to their ship. 

Stede rarely felt hate, but he had a vision of fire and screams on that ship. He might give the order. He was ready to.

Jim stepped back first, and gave a furtive glance to Ed. He hadn't moved. Still on the deck floor, sack and cat collar intact. He was staring, unseeing, at the shattered remains of tea and its saucer, broken bits of a plate and bread. Clearly meant for Stede.

Jim looked back over the waters.

"Probation period's fucking over," they said.

A quiet wave of assent passed through the crew. 

The sack and the collar had been petty, and comical. They'd never read it like how the English had, fucking colonizers that they were, feeding off humiliation and cruelty. 

Now they had, it was over. Subdued and disgusted, the crew of the Revenge melted away to the lower decks, their rooms or the galley. They would find other ways to protect themselves from Blackbeard, to heal.

Lucius stopped on his way out and whispered to Stede, "When you get the cat collar off him, throw it overboard. We're never..." Lucius's voice wavered. He took a drag of his cigarillo. "We're never doing that again."

Stede nodded.

The sun was setting, the light full of pinks, reds, oranges, and yellows. Stede came over and sat down heavily, the adrenaline crash hitting him. He looked to Ed, who was hiding his face with a hand, other hand supporting him. He was sitting sideways so the bottoms of his feet didn't have to touch anything.

Roach came by. "I'll get this, Captain," he said quietly, sweeping the broken and bloody dishware together and using his apron to get them all.

Ed lifted his head to watch. Roach walked to the edge of the boat and dumped it into the ocean.

"Roach?" Stede called.

"Yes, Captain?"

"We'll need some supplies for... some first aid supplies?" 

"Right away."

"And a change of clothes?"

With a worried look to Ed, who'd turned to look away, Roach nodded. "Captain," he said in quiet acknowledgement and took his leave.

It was just the two of them, then. 

Seagulls played on the ropes and sails above them. The waters were calm, the wind an easy breeze. The sun continued her descent below the horizon.

Stede pinched the bridge of his nose. "Ed, I'm... I had no idea." Stede's voice quivered.

"Don't cry," Ed hissed, twisting over to glare at him. Stede pouted, fraught. His throat worked, trying to do as Ed said but failing. The warm yellow setting sunlight reflected off the tears slipping down his face. 

"Don't you fucking dare cry!" Ed spat again, vicious. 

The bell on his collar tinkled. The blood on his feet dripped into the deck floorboards.

Stede moved in closer. Ed clenched his jaw, visibly furious.

Stede touched his elbow. 

"Stede." Ed meant for it to sound like a warning to back off but his voice betrayed him, breaking into something else. Something small, desperate. 

"I'm right here. I'm right here, Ed," Stede whispered. 

Ed shook his head, squeezed his eyes shut. He needed to... Just not think about it for awhile. He focused on the throbbing pain from his feet.

But then another sensation, a touch, feather light to the small of Ed's back. 

Ed's breath came faster, eyes prickling.

"Let me get the collar off," Stede whispered, moving directly in front of him, so close Ed could smell him - coconut oil, salt, tea. 

Ed's throat closed up, his breath coming as gasps as Stede worked, the bell jingling loudly in his ears and grating his senses. He reached for Stede's shoulder, solid and warm, grounding. Stede glanced up and did a double-take. "Hang in there, sweetheart."

"Yeah," Ed said but it came out as a whimper. 

They make him crawl around deck, like the animal he is. 

The lieutenant's voice echoed in his mind. His stomach roiled.

"There we go." Stede removed the collar and threw it aside quickly. "Okay, c'mere," he said, getting his hands under Ed's arms.

"Stede," Ed pleaded, reaching for him.

Stede pulled him into his lap. Ed was a heady scent mixture of sugar, salt, and flour coming with him from the kitchens. It was insane that only a few hours ago, he'd been all soft smiles baking.

Stede hitched Ed closer against him and Ed curled in, knees at Stede's waist, face buried into the crook of his neck. 

Stede pressed his head against Ed's, kissed his temple. "God, I love you," Stede breathed, awe and wonder in it. He ducked down to whisper, "I've got you." 

Stede covered Ed's head with his hand, protective and intimate and Stede's words, his soft touches... Ed was rapidly losing control. There was nothing to keep him sharp, jaded, hateful; nothing to take him to Blackbeard. There was only Stede holding him warm, Stede's whispers he was safe, Stede covering him, keeping the outside world at bay so he could break.

Ed clutched the back of Stede's shirt, fisting the fabric, hanging on tight as tears blurred his sight and he choked on air. "You can let go, Ed. I've got you." Stede kissed him along his hairline.

Ed broke into sobs, body shuddering under the deep cries. Stede hugged him tighter. He started rocking them, a slow soothing rhythm Ed could pick up on. 

"I didn't- I didn't know what to do," Ed whimpered. Stede rubbed his bare back under the burlap, his shoulders, hands warm and steady. "I always fucking know what to do," Ed choked out.

"There was nothing you could do," Stede said plainly. "There was nothing you could've done." 

"I could've-"

"Edward," Stede pulled back for a second. Ed went still, held his breath, his red-rimmed eyes and tear-streaked face worried, like maybe Stede was about to reject him. "Honey," Stede said quickly, voice soft and affectionate. He brushed Ed's hair away from his face, thumbed tears off his cheeks. Ed's chin quivered and he bit his lip to stop it. "There's nothing you could've done," Stede promised. 

Ed's face screwed up. He turned back into Stede's neck and Stede was more than happy to wrap around him again, be his blanket as sobs wrested out of him.

It took Stede's breath away, to have anyone, much less Ed, latch onto him with such abandon, such trust. But Ed... Ed was fragile with him. For some reason, Ed let Stede in. He always had. Maybe since the moment he'd introduced himself as Ed, just another man on Blackbeard's crew.

A tear slipped down Stede's cheek. It was enormous, this feeling of love he had for Ed. Consuming and stressful, heartbreaking and worth living and dying for.

They were so locked in, it took a minute for Stede to realize Roach was back.

Stede brought Ed up closer, drew his legs around him when Roach came into view, an instinctive reaction to anyone infringing on such a private moment, he supposed. Ed shifted under Stede's handling.

"Roach," Stede said. In his arms, Ed started and froze for a second. 

"A change of clothes," Roach explained, setting them down in front of Stede. Ed relaxed, just stayed tucked into Stede's arm.

"Thank you, Roach."

"Yeah. And I brought the first aid supplies to your cabin."

"Thank you, Roach."

"Will you be needing my help? With his feet?"

"Ah, no. If you don't mind, I'll be taking it from here."

"Whatever you want, Captain," Roach replied, tone low and respectful. He departed silently, back down to the galley.

"Hey Roach?"


"In an hour could you bring us some food in my quarters? Just some snacky bitings."

"You got it."

"Thank you."

The last sounds of Roach's footsteps faded. Stede sighed and rubbed Ed's back. Limp and exhausted, Ed shivered under Stede's hands. Stede jostled the dread pirate and kissed his temple again. "Don't fall asleep."

"I'm awake," Ed grunted into Stede's neck.

It was dark now, the wind picking up.

"M' not hungry," Ed added the complaint, voice wet and gravelly but steady. Stede smiled down at him.

"Well I am. You smell so good from the kitchens," Stede explained with easy honesty, and proceeded to snuffle like an excited dog along Ed's hairline. 

"What the hell-" Ed started but then Stede got into his ear, his playful breath and sniffling sounds so close and loud, a laugh punched out of Ed, then another as he tried to get away with a manly squeal and Stede fell into laughter too, relenting, instead pressing butterfly kisses to his head, his hair.

Stede was weird and embarrassing and hilarious and Ed relaxed in his arms, giggling between sniffs and rubbing his eyes clear. 

Steady enough to sit on his own now, he shifted up and Stede gave him space for it until Ed gasped in pain, the bottom of his foot coming into contact with the deck.

"Oh ouch," Stede hissed, moving around to take a look as Ed clutched his ankle.

"Forgot," Ed murmured. Stede hummed, distracted.

"I can't get a good look at your feet. It's too dark out now."

"Temperature's dropping too."

"Right," Stede said, resolute. He picked up the change of clothes Roach had brought them and handed them to Ed. "Hold on to those."

"Okay," Ed said slowly. "Oh, whoa!" Ed gasped as Stede scooped Ed up, one hand under his knees, the other his back. "Bloody hell, Stede!"

"Relax, I've got you," Stede advised, getting used to Ed's weight and balance.

"I am relaxed. This is great. Did you..." Ed trailed off a second as Stede took his first, surprisingly solid steps with Ed in his arms. 

"Did I what?" Stede asked, not terribly out of breath. 

"Um," Ed stalled. It was suddenly difficult to think. He hadn't known what to expect with Stede picking him up, but exceptional strength and balance wasn't exactly it.

"Ed?" Stede prompted lightly, maneuvering them into the hallway to the Captain's Quarters.

"I, um, I made myself the bride on a wedding cake topper we'd found after a raid," Ed confessed.

"You..." Stede trailed off, processing. The entryway into his quarters was tight, and a pivot had Ed knocking his foot against the door's threshold.

"Oh, fuck, Stede," Ed gasped in pain, curling in and holding on around the man's neck tighter. Stede squeezed him back in apology.

"I'm so sorry. I can't see a damn thing in here," he griped. 

There were only a few lanterns lit in strategic places around the room - the desk, a built-in shelf by the bed, and atop the fireplace mantel. He shuffled over to the settee and lowered Ed down carefully.

Ed let out a slow breath and sank into the cushions as Stede rustled around, searching for and finding additional candles to light. 

Ed was still mostly in the dark when he touched his chest and remembered the spare change of clothes still there. He sat up a little straighter, flipping the shirt out.

"Ed?" Stede's voice came from a few yards away.

"Yeah I'm here."

"I'm almost done. I've found the supplies Roach left, and I've just about enough candles, I should say."

"Cool," Ed replied, glib, getting one arm out of the burlap sack through the neck hole, then the other. He popped the billowy cotton shirt over his head and pressed it to his chest, closed his eyes. He leaned back against the cushions with a deep sigh. The burlap sack had felt like sandpaper. In comparison, the shirt was practically cashmere.

Stede rounded on him, a flickering bright candelabra in one hand, a wooden crate of medical supplies in the other.

"All right, ready," Stede announced, happy at the renewed sight of Ed. He paused though, noticing Ed had changed. The sack was still pooled around his waist - he'd need help with the pants. 

Stede scratched his chin in thought. "So do you want the sack all the way off right now?"

Ed took a deep breath. "Y-yes, yeah."

Stede nodded. "'kay," he said softly. He knelt. "I was going to wait until I'd treated your feet, but this is more than fine. We can just make sure that your feet are protected as I remove the rest..." Stede trailed off, setting his things down before turning back to Ed. He reached for the sack's folds along Ed's waist. 

Tattooed hands braced his wrists and Stede stilled, tilted his head up at Ed, eyes wide. "Ed? You all right?"

Ed licked his lips. He swallowed nervously. His stomach was in knots. 

Stede was about to take his clothes off. He was about to see him nude.

Can we just take this slow? Sometimes it's nice to just be patient, and wait.

Stede had been so accepting then. But Ed didn't know, with such intimacy they were about to share here, if Stede would make a move; go too fast again.

Ed's heart hurt, thinking about having to push Stede away. With every fiber of his being, he didn't want to. Not again. He wasn't ready. If Stede initiated, Ed wasn't sure he had it in him to say no.

"Hey," Stede murmured, just as a tear slipped down Ed's face. "No, Ed. What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Ed lied, sniffling. 


"Okay. I-I can't," Ed blurted, heart breaking. "We - I can't do anything tonight." He looked away, fidgeted with the upholstery on the settee, eyes watery. He didn't want to see Stede's face twisting in annoyance, or worse: falling to disappointment.

"Ed, no. Those aren't the vibes right now. You're hurt."

Ed squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block out the British soldiers' threats.

It's not even the start of what we'd do to you, much less Hornigold, eh?

"You'd be surprised," Ed choked on his laugh, a few tears falling down his face. Hornigold had preferred him hurt. Calico Jack had always been rough. There had been others too-

"Here," Stede had gone and come back again with a blanket, a sea green-blue velvet with tassels at the ends. He draped it over Ed's lap.

- none of them had ever been as kind as Stede.

"Is this alright?" He asked, burrowing his hands under the blanket to pull the sack the rest of the way off of him. Ed sniffed and nodded.

"Thank you," he said weakly.

"No need, my love. No need." Stede wrapped a warm hand around Ed's ankle and carefully removed the sack from down one leg so the rough fabric never touched the bottom of Ed's feet. Then the other leg, and then the sack was all the way off him, and Ed felt the pain in his feet but Stede's hands were warm, the blanket covering him was soft...

The pants were drawstring with big holes for legs so Stede just bunched them up to go through Ed's foot at once. He let them out as he brought them up to Ed's knee, and moved to do the other leg.

"'kay, lift up a bit? There we go," he coached as he got the pants up to Ed's waist. 

"Can I-" Ed started then stopped. Stede stilled and waited beside him, patient. "I can do the drawstring."

"Okay. I'm gonna get your feet now, alright?" He stroked Ed's hair back behind his shoulders, pressed a palm to the back of his neck. 

Ed took a deep breath and nodded. His cut up feet hadn't been the center of his attention yet. He'd been full of adrenaline, and he was still shocky. Now, he tried to focus on doing up his pants so he wouldn't think about the injuries. 

The tea and cups had been a thin, glossy ceramic. Very fancy. Stede was surely charmed by it, which was why Ed had chosen it down in the galley. Unfortunately, the thinner ceramic was, the more shattered sharp pieces it made when dropped to a ship deck.

Stede sat on a stool beside him and delicately brought Ed's feet up onto his knees. 

Ed squirmed, the pain on the pads of his feet starting to swell and throb now that it was all he could think about. "I know, I know," Stede shushed, rubbing a hand along Ed's legs. The other was holding the candelabra near Ed's feet so Stede could see. 

"This is going to hurt," Stede admitted.

"Yeah." Ed knew the drill. Stede went to work, picking out any pieces and cleaning the wounds with alcohol-soaked rags.

Ed had been through worse. It was agony though, a special kind of torture, because Stede began to tear up after a few minutes of Ed's hitched breathing through the pain.

Nobody shared in Ed's pain. Pirates weren't empathic. That wasn't a thing. But Stede's compassion, how he'd hold Ed's legs and wait for him to calm down with garbled reassurances and weepy apologies for hurting (treating) him, had Ed blubbering too because he couldn't keep a stoic demeanor when Stede damn well couldn't either.

Stede wrapped Ed's feet in gauze and finally, it was over. "All done," Stede breathed, a little shaky, and leaned against the settee back, Ed's legs still over his lap.

Ed watched from under the velvet blanket, eyes wet and wide. His feet weren't hurting anymore. Stede had done an excellent job.

"We'll re-wrap them in the morning." Exhaustion was setting in. Stede stroked Ed's leg from where he sat on the other side of the sofa, staring unseeing at an empty bookshelf. 

"Roach can. Roach is good at things like that," Stede muttered absently. He patted Ed's ankle, a distinctly platonic air to it. Ed realized with a pang that Stede was pulling back.

"Stede?" Ed prompted weakly, hoping Stede would look back at him with the open kindness he was used to, the type of look that made Ed confident and vulnerable at the same time. Stede made Ed believe he could reach for love and help and comfort, and receive it.

"Can I... um," Ed paused, heart thundering, eyes watering. He was so scared to ask. He'd never asked this in his entire adult life. He swallowed. 

"Can I sleep in bed with you tonight?"

The question seemed to part the clouds for sunshine on Stede's face.

"I would love that," Stede answered, calm and sincere, and Ed sniffed, emotional, not quite knowing how he kept getting rewarded for asking, for wanting such soft things.

He reached up and Stede got his arms under him. With very little trouble, Stede carried him past the curtains, and set him down gently onto the bed. 

"There we go," Stede whispered. "I've got to go get my bedclothes. I'll be right back." 

Ed relaxed, moved around, arranged blankets until he was comfortable. Stede had changed into a simple clean shirt and drawstring cotton pants like Ed's. It was nothing impressive, and he quickly slipped  in next to Ed, with what Ed couldn't describe any other way but giggling sounds. Then he was making the same sounds as Stede felt around and inadvertently tickled him around the sides.

Stede made Ed laugh outright, announcing, "Slumber Party!" as he gave up on tickling and pulled Ed against him. Ed snuggled in, a perfect fit under the covers.

They were asleep in minutes.