“Does he lay eggs?”
Victor’s boot snagged on the wooden deck. Stumbling, he whipped around to look at the powder monkey that addressed him. Young, short, blond and fiesty. Picked off a ship of the royal navy. Had the makings of a good master gunner, despite the semi-permanent scowl on his face.
“Lay eggs. He’s a bird. Birds lay eggs.”
“Does he look like a bird?” Victor laughed good-naturedly.
“That’s because he isn’t a bird. He does not lay eggs. Understood?”
“If you say so.” The boy looked unconvinced. “He isn’t human either, captain.”
Suddenly, Victor was not so sure himself.
The ship’s cook arched an eyebrow. “Are we expecting baby birds? Because that will make for extra mouths to feed, I’ll need to recalculate the rations.”
Victor’s eyes went wide.
“I’m joking. You have nothing to worry about, the males don’t…” Chris paused in consideration. “…As far as I know.”
“Yuuri, I have a question for you. It’s a little strange, is that fine?”
The answer was another kiss pressed between his shoulder blades as Yuuri continued to fondly braid.
“Do you lay eggs?”
Yuuri’s fingers stilled and after a moment, Victor felt him tremble. He glanced back, seeing Yuuri’s shoulders shake as he laughed silently, his dark eyes sparkling in amused delight.
“Excuse me, you’re the first siren I’ve met. There’s still a lot I don’t know! I’ve heard that sirens sink every ship they meet, yet we’re still sailing.”
Yuuri tugged playfully on Victor’s half-finished braid and gestured for him to turn back, so that he could finish the task at hand. Victor swore that Yuuri was a little rougher and needier than usual that night in their bed.
Yuuri tilted his head to the side in inquisition.
“I want a cat for the ship. It’ll keep mice out of the ship’s food stores. Victor keeps promising and forgetting. Make him get me one the next time we dock.”
With a smile and a nod, Yuuri held out his hands. Chris gave him three eggs.
Victor rolled and heard the crack before he felt it. Shells, shattered. In horror, he looked down. From beneath his hip, thick yellow liquid leaked out onto the bedsheets. Victor lifted up and saw the eggs, smashed under his careless weight.
Leaping up, the choked noise he made wasn’t human. He tried to scoop shards of shell and yolk into his hands, dismayed to see it had already begun to seep into the mattress.
Yuuri stirred, lashes fluttering. His dark eyes took in Victor’s panicked expression and he glanced down.
“Yuuri, it’s okay, I can fix it! I didn’t see them, I didn’t realize. Oh, of course, this is like your nest, isn’t it. I didn’t know, I’m so sorry!” Victor cried, desperate. “They-… they weren’t fertilized, Yuuri! We can make more! Just tell me what to do, if you need me to keep them warm or sit on them, gently I mean, I can do it. Whatever you need!”
Yuuri laughed so hard he fell off the bed. A couple feathers poofed up into the air.
Victor did not get the joke, yolk dripping from between his fingers.
“Not this one, Yuuri. We need it. And you’re not pouting your way into it this time!”
The siren did exactly that, pushing out his full bottom lip. Pleading shamelessly for what he wanted.
“No, Yuuri. It’s a good ship, it’s going to be worth more than everything on board it.”
Yuuri tilted his head down, gazing up at Victor with his beautiful brown eyes, through the fullness of his eyelashes. Which he batted. Where was he learning all these things?
Victor had to draw in a sharp, short breath, but he held his ground. “If we capture this ship and give it Georgi to captain, we expand our power.”
Yuuri’s expression flashed, turning foul as he scowled. Victor could see the feathers sprouting off his hands and legs, standing on end with his irritation. Huffing, Yuuri shuffled his feet, throwing Victor a glare.
“Do you know how much we lose out on every time you sink a ship? Come on, my angry little bird, they’re wasted on the bottom of the ocean. We didn’t even get half the supplies off the last one!”
That did it. Yuuri’s feathers bristled sharply. The second Victor saw Yuuri’s lips part, he knew the argument was finished. However, Yuuri did not speak, gritting his teeth instead, holding back whatever he had been about to say. He stalked straight over to Victor, jabbing a finger into the pirate’s chest.
Yuuri did not bother to take Victor’s hand, tracing letters straight onto the skin revealed by the slit in the front of his shirt.
Go throw yourself off the ship.
Victor went rigid, meeting the red of Yuuri’s glare. The siren was biting his own lip, restraining the command sitting on the tip of his tongue.
With a sigh, Victor lifted Yuuri’s hand and kissed his knuckles. He then left Yuuri’s side, crossing the deck and jumping to stand atop the shipside railing.
Yuuri’s eyes went wide and he yelped as Victor actually leapt overboard. His wings burst forth, but he was too late to save Victor from hitting the water, dragging a soaked pirate out from under the waves and back on board.
The entire crew blinked over at them, keeping their distance.
Victor spat out half a mouthful of sea water, as Yuuri stared at him, distressed. “For you, lovebird, anything,” Victor coughed.
Yuuri flapped his arms haphazardly, wings mimicking the motion. Downwind, a few members of the crew toppled over from the strength of the gust they generated.
“Okay, okay, how about a compromise? Let me give Georgi the ship. And if he ever does anything stupid with it, you have my permission to sink it. No objections.”
Water dripped steadily from Victor’s clothes. Scoffing, Yuuri relented enough to peck at Victor’s lips, their own personal little sealing of the deal.
Yuuri wandered the market with wide, cautious eyes. Everyone on board had been itching to spend some of their newly acquired loot, so Victor had directed them to a friendly port.
At first, Yuuri had clung to Victor’s side, skiddish as a cat. But then the stalls of fruits and fabrics drew out his fascination, and Victor had a hard time keeping up.
Victor had wanted to purchase clothes for Yuuri, as his siren’s robes would attract too much attention outside of their ship. Yuuri was far more interested in little trinkets and admiring hand-crafted instruments. He happily listened to the beckons of shop keepers, particularly those who flashed anything that caught the light of the sun or held out small slices of exotic fruits for him to try.
Victor’s coin purse was left significantly lighter. However he also noticed that people simply gave things to Yuuri. He had new bracelets on his wrists which caught the juices spilling from the orange flesh of the fruit he ate, licking his fingertips clean with a smile stretched clear across his face. Victor had purchased neither yet no angry salesman chased after them.
Yuuri seemed delighted, pleased to explore something entirely new to him, and pouted heavily when Victor finally started to tug him away. He followed only after repeated promises that they could return soon and the reminder that Yuuri could always fly there on his own, if he so wished.
They had nearly left the market when Yuuri froze, grabbing onto Victor’s wrist. Victor heard the squawks before he saw the brightly colored feathers of the parrots perched along a stall. Yuuri was there in an instant.
The birds flocked to him, one jumping into his hands as soon as he held them out. The other two shuffled as close as the leather ties around their feet permitted. Yuuri cooed to them and they chattered back, flapping and ruffling their feathers at him. Victor saw the clipped wings when they spread, saw Yuuri’s smile slip as the birds continued to chirp at him.
The look on Yuuri’s face was pure distress when he snatched up Victor’s hand, hastily tracing letters into his palm so quickly Victor barely caught the words. He did not need them to guess what Yuuri wanted, not with the way that Yuuri bristled when grisly-looking man appeared, laugh rough as he asked Yuuri if he liked his birds.
The line of Yuuri’s shoulders went rigid. He took one step forward, dark eyes flashing with the red of his siren temper. Victor had been about to unstring his coin purse, ready to toss the whole thing in exchange when Yuuri’s lips parted.
The word hit Victor’s chest like a cannonball and in that moment he would give Yuuri everything. The clothes off his back, the pistols off his sash, the gold off his fingers. His entire ship and his life, placed neatly into Yuuri’s hands. But the command wasn’t directed at him.
The daze of Yuuri’s voice did not fade. Victor watched as the ties restraining the birds were hastily cut, their owner stumbling away from Yuuri under the power of his glare the moment they were relinquished.
They left the market with three parrots nestling gleefully up against the siren, and Yuuri never having looked prouder.
“Birdy wanna cracker?”
The parrot on Victor’s arm squawked loudly and was promptly rewarded with said cracker. She crunched away, holding the treat in one claw as she chipped off pieces with her beak.
“She’s learned it, Yuuri, look!” Victor said excitedly.
The siren giggled behind his hand.
Victor held out another, only to have it snatched away by one of the other birds swooping down to settle on his shoulder, the third landing on a nearby perch.
Victor clasped his hands over his ears as the parrots declared their request.
The repeated squawks were deafening.
Yuuri stopped laughing. Victor’s heart-shaped smile dropped off his face entirely, twisting into horror.
“For the love of everyone’s hearing, please teach your children another word,” Chris said, entirely unhelpful as he walked by and shoved more crackers into the parrots’ beaks to shut them up for all of thirty seconds.
Only thirty seconds.
Victor stopped in his tracks and stared at the bird that squawked at him. She sat on her perch and ruffled her feathers, turning her head away in the feigning of innocence. The captain’s eyes narrowed, but the bird remained quiet. Until he looked away.
Again, the parrot turned her head to avoid making eye contact when Victor snapped his attention back.
“You’re not telling me you’ve got a nest with eggs somewhere around here, are you?” Victor questioned, slow and suspicious. Unlike when Yuuri cooed to the birds, there came no response. He was being delibrately cold-shouldered by a parrot.
With a sigh, he turned away, long hair ponytail flipping with the motion.
Victor glared at the parrots. If he did not know better, he would have thought they were grinning, beaks parted just enough to give the impression. “How is that an acceptable way of talking to your captain?”
“I am not. Where’d you learn that?”
The parrots did not give up any names.
He did not bother trying to question them further.
Yuuri nodded, tapping his ear. If he was trying to pass off sympathetic, it did not work. A smile twitched to the corners of his lips.
“You know who it is.” Victor observed. Yuuri’s widening smile betrayed him. “Is it Yurio?”
The siren shook his head, stroking his chin and upper lip in indication of a beard.
“I know it’s not Emil, so… Chris?”
A nod that time.
“Is it because I taught them to say ‘stupid cat’ to his?”
Yuuri shrugged, not appearing like he was particularly devastated by the new nicknames Victor had been bestowed upon by the birds.
“Can you ask them to stop?”
After a moment of consideration, Yuuri held out his hands. Victor placed his own in them, palms up. “What, lovebird, what could you possibly want?“
Yuuri traced his request on Victor’s skin, who laughed immediately. “Really? Okay, if that’s what you want.”
“Beautiful! You’re beautiful!” One of them screeched out, the other two promptly joining in.
Victor smirked, touched by Yuuri’s correction.
Below deck, the siren splashed in a bathing tub, gleeful as he sunk a wood-carved toy boat beneath the water’s surface.
Yet, a solid two months at sea had drained the crew. Supplies were low and the clouds above weighed themselves with building rain. Victor pushed the pregnant ship toward a port, straining for a glimpse of coastline.
One of the parrots swooped down, colored wings flapping fast. She squawked out in excitement, circling the ship to relay her message to everyone on deck. “Land ho! Land ho!”
Up from the crow’s nest, a crewman shouted down a confirmation.
Victor arched an eyebrow, impressed. About time the birds showed some use. Whoever had taught them–
The parrot landed on Yurio’s shoulder, chattering out, “Thank you, thank you!” as she received a treat. The boy rubbed his fingers over her head and sent her off, glaring when he noticed Victor’s eyes on him.
“What?!” he snapped, shoving his hands in his pockets and stalking off.
Victor laughed. Seemed like everyone was turning into a bird person.
The portside railing housed an impressive lineup of toy ships. Some painted, carved with intricate designs, real fabric sails on square-rigged masts. Others were more simplistic, wooden blocks in the vague shapes of boats.
They sat side-by-side, like a miniature fleet, facing into the wind. As if ready to set sail on the blue expanse before them.
With a huge smile, Yuuri ran along the deck behind the ships, shoving them overboard one by one. Little splashes sounded as each one hit the waves below.
Yuuri cackled, delighted, wings bold behind him as he leapt into the sea, smashing any ships that survived the plummet to pieces.
Nearby crew members glanced over the side of the ship, watching the gleeful siren splashing in the water. Maniac in his joy with each toy ship he successfully sunk beneath the waves. If it concerned them, they did not let their expressions betray it.
At the helm, the captain grinned, adoring the chime of his siren’s laughter.
Yuuri squirmed under Victor’s kisses as they tickled his ear. With each sweet brush, Victor dotted the line of small diamond marks along Yuuri’s skin. The roughness of his morning voice melded with the compliments he whispered, of cute and lovely, and everything that had Yuuri’s cheeks flushing redder than the wine Victor had brought on board for them the previous night.
Yuuri bunched his hands against Victor’s chest, giggling silently at how Victor’s lips swept at the sensitive spots. He pushed lightly in protest, felt the joy expanding in his chest as Victor continued with mutters of beautiful and lovebird. A lifetime spent living on the solitude of jagged cliffsides, and now he awoke in the warmth of Victor’s embrace and the fondness of his kisses.
Teeth scrapped playfully over his earlobe, and Yuuri moaned, the exhale soft and hushed. He did not realize he had let it slip his lips until Victor’s laugh rolled across his skin. Bubbling with glee.
“Yuuri, you sprouted.” Victor teased another kiss just below Yuuri’s ear. His lips tickled tiny feathers, blooming from the tattoos he had been tracing.
Cheeks burning hot, Yuuri clasped his hands over his ears, while Victor laughed all the more.
“Oh darling, don’t hide from me,” Victor said, delicate as he pulled Yuuri’s hands away, kissing his fingertips, the inside of his wrist, and up the tattoos twisting up Yuuri’s arms. “That’s the cutest thing in the world, my kisses got you so excited. You know that I adore you, feathers and all.”
Scowling, Yuuri let his feathers bristle, but Victor just beamed in response. Beamed and kissed at Yuuri’s ears again, until the siren’s giggles filled the room with the magic of their delight.
To a sailor, honest or not, the sea was always a threat. Even on the kindest days, she could be deceptive. Still waters and clear skies never lasted long, hiding storms behind the horizon.
It was Yurio who first spotted the flash of color in the water, sounding the alarm. Scales of red and gold hiding amongst the glittering blue of the sea under a bright summer sun. Glimpses of a tail flirting out from the wash of the waves, never permitting a solid look.
“How many are there?”
“I can’t tell.”
“Is it a school?”
“I think it’s only one.”
“They’re not like sirens, they aren’t solitary.”
“Look, there, see!”
“It’s circling us…”
“Well that’s freaking great. Exactly what we need. What kind is it?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never seen one with a tail like that before. Usually mermaids–”
Chris had to seize onto the powder monkey to prevent him from plunging into the water, nearly knocked overboard by the expanse of Yuuri’s wings. The siren had sprung off his perch on the crow’s nest with a sharp cry, diving straight into the water below.
In the split moment before he hit the surface, it broke from beneath with the vibrant flash of gold on scarlet fins. The mermaid leapt into the air, colliding with the siren. Webbed hands grasped onto Yuuri’s feathers, dragging him down into the sea.
Neither reappeared. The surface settled.
“Yuuri– it grabbed him, he’s gone!”
“I don’t see them!”
Victor came running. He threw off the sash tying his pistols to his hip, ready to leap in after his siren.
The ocean erupted. Droplets of water burst up into the air like diamonds, propelled over the ship with the force of Yuuri’s wings. The siren shot up into the sky, twirling as he flew. His arms were wrapped around the mermaid, waist encircled by its tail.
Yuuri’s forehead was tipped against the mermaid’s, smile split across his face. The sound of combined laughter filled the air, wondrous and uplifting in its power.
Yuuri peaked above the tops of the masts, stilling in his ascent. The two fell back into the water. Yuuri’s wings pushed them across the surface as they rolled in the waves, splashing with abandon. Their chatter barely reached the ship, excited, like that of two friends reunited.
The men on board stared, watching the siren kick up water with his wings, splashing at the mermaid. Who proceeded to grab his shoulders, shoving Yuuri down under the water without any sense of fear. He cackled openly when Yuuri emerged, spitting out sea water with a playful scowl.
“….Your bird’s friends with a freaking mermaid?!” Yurio demanded, spinning to glare at Victor.
“I had no idea,” Victor answered, pouting a bit as he watched Yuuri’s lips move rapidly, able to see it even at a distance but unable to hear the siren’s hushed words.
“How delightful life on board this ship has become,” Chris remarked, leaning forward to try to glimpse more of the mermaid. “He’s quite cute, do you think the tales of them growing legs on land are true?”
“We’re all gonna die,” Yurio muttered. “Drowned by mermaids, eaten by sirens…”
From out on the water, the mermaid shouted out something in shocked delight. His brilliantly colored tail slashed through the waves as he tugged Yuuri back to the ship by the hand, waving enthuastically at Victor. “Hiiiiiiiiii!!!”
Victor blinked, slowly waving back. From down below, Yuuri blushed. The mermaid beside him grinned, sharp white teeth contrasting his dark skin.
“Yep, all dead,” Yurio quipped while Chris and Victor shouted down a greeting.
“So how’d you meet Yuuri?” Victor asked of the mermaid seated on the railing of his ship. Phichit had scaled the side without Yuuri’s assistance, showing off the sharpness of his nails. Which he’d polished casually against his own scales upon planting himself on board.
“Stumbled on his cliff a couple years back,” Phichit chirped back, grinning. The resemblance his teeth bore to a shark’s was even clearer up close. “He was singing all by his lonesome. What a tragedy.”
“It doesn’t affect you then?” Victor said, his eyes on Phichit’s shoulders. The sun shone off his golden markings, but that was not his focus. It was the little white bunny-like creatures crawling over them. “His voice?”
“Nah, merfolk aren’t as weak as humans.” Phichit answered, another one of the cute white things making its way around his cupped hands. “Plus there’s nothing he could offer that I wasn’t already happy with. He tried telling me to go away at first, but it didn’t work.”
Victor could imagine Yuuri attempting to order a strange and shiny mermaid to leave him be, then sulking cutely when it didn’t. He would have had that pout on his lips.
“Never thought I’d find him on a ship of all places,” Phichit laughed in continuation. “He hates ships.”
“He likes this one,” Victor defended. The siren was nearby, aiding his crew to change out the sails.
“Ohhhh, I know. He told me. Said he likes something on the ship in particular.” Phichit’s smirk spoke of traded secrets whispered out on the water. “You know that sirens mate for life, right?”
Victor did his best not to choke on air. “No, he didn’t mention that.”
“Oh. Well, maybe that’s something you need to talk about.” The gaze the mermaid cast was pointed. “Anyway, a pirate, huh? You got a lot of good treasure on board?”
“What kind of treasure does a mermaid like?”
“All kinds. That one’s caught my eye,” Phichit said, placing the creature in his hands on his shoulder with the other two.
Victor followed his eyes to see that they were directed at Chris, who was helping roll up the thick sail fabric to set it away. The cook caught their stares and waved at Phichit.
Phichit waved back with his tail, gold scales sparkling in the sun. “Hey there. Fancy a taste of the sea?”
Chris tripped over the sail and Phichit laughed loudly, clearly pleased with the effect. “What?” he asked, seeing Victor’s surprised and skeptical look. “You might not be the only one with a bit of an inter-species kink.”
Yuuri sneezed. Feathers poofed up all around him.
The floor was littered with them. A carpet of molted plumage. The siren sat at the center of their bed. Pillows and blankets were bundled around his waist, a makeshift nest of bedding.
Feathers bloomed off all his markings. His arms, his legs, from around his ears. His wings were not their usual sleek and graceful black. Instead, feathers stuck out at every which angle, falling out in patches.
“How’s my scruffy lovebird?” Victor entered the cabin, carrying a tray of fruits. He chuckled as a few more feathers flinted off Yuuri when he glanced over, and waded through the fluff coating the floor.
The siren scrunched his nose, nestling himself down further into the bed.
Victor set the tray aside, placing a cup into Yuuri’s hands. “Chris heated up some wine for you, said it might help keep you warm.”
Yuuri lifted it to his lips, taking a deep drink before freezing and sneezing straight into the cup. Wine speckled his cheeks, glistening off his lips, and the tip of his irritated red nose. He gazed over the rim of the cup through heavy lashes at Victor, eyes pleading for relief.
Laughing, Victor took the cup from Yuuri. He wiped Yuuri’s cheeks clean and kissed a droplet off his nose. “You’re extremely floofy.”
Yuuri glared, ruffling his wings in displeasure at the teasing remark. It resulted in a waterfall of feathers cascading off him, adding to the piles littering the bed and floor. Yuuri sneezed again and the shed feathers exploded up into the air, showering back down around them.
“Are you allergic to yourself?” Victor asked, picking puffs of down off Yuuri’s shoulders and from around them.
I don’t usually molt inside. Yuuri traced onto Victor’s thigh, sniffling. And not this much.
“Why is this time different?” Victor swept the rest of the feathers off the bed and took Yuuri’s hands. He removed feathers that were loose, doing the same with Yuuri’s feet, kissing his ankle. Once finished there, he shifted to sit behind Yuuri.
Carefully, Victor walked his fingers through Yuuri’s feathers, grooming his wings of the molted ones. He could feel Yuuri relax under his touch, his cute little sneezes settling. Victor took his time, gentle as he sorted through. Yuuri hummed in delight, rustling his wings when no more feathers fell off them.
“Yuuri…” Victor frowned, leaning in to examine Yuuri’s wings. From underneath the molting feathers, he glimpsed the tips of new ones peeking out. “You’re not black…” Instead of jet black, the baby feathers shone of midnight blue.
Yuuri glanced over his shoulder, folding in his wings. I… I change colors during a certain time of year.
“Oh? When’s that?” Victor asked curiously.
Rather than write words, Yuuri leaned in, pressing his lips against Victor’s ear. “Mating season.”
Yuuri’s wings were bare. His old feathers had molted nearly entirely, steadily replaced by the new gleam of midnight blue. Still fresh and not yet fully formed. It left him looking oddly messy, patches of blue amongst greying black, with sharp contrasts between the spots.
Yuuri had traced a few more days onto Victor’s palm that morning, before disappearing back inside his mass of blankets. Peppered down feathers billowed out after him, driven by the force of another sneeze.
Victor had never expected something as cute as a molting siren. Yuuri had spent a week practically nesting in their bed, devouring any food that Victor brought him, affectionate beyond a fault whenever Victor groomed his wings. In the evenings, he seemed to turn from a bird to an octopus, suctioning himself to Victor’s side with all their limbs entangled.
The crew, concerned for Yuuri’s weakened state and sudden disappearance, had left offerings of hand-carved toy boats outside the cabin. Yuuri chirped happily at each, causing a mess when he proceeded to drown one in a glass of Victor’s rum.
Victor stayed with him as much as he could, for Yuuri whined in complaint whenever he left, writing pleas for Victor to return quickly into the sheets and across his skin. He laid beside Yuuri so that the siren could still play with his hair, braiding a few of his molted feathers into the silver.
“Captain!“ The call was preceded by a hasty knock. Without awaiting a response, Mila came in through the door, concern writ across her face. “Come, quick. I don’t know how we didn’t see them coming but— no, Yuuri, not you. Stay here.”
Victor rose from the bed, leaving Yuuri with a squeeze of the hand to follow his quartermaster to the deck. He had no chance to question her worry, he saw it clear when he stepped out. Beside their ship was another. Flying the colors of the Royal Navy. And Victor recognized the gruff elder man standing at command aboard it.
“Surrender the siren, Vitya! We know you have it on board. Give it up and I let your crew be. This time around.”
Victor’s eyes darted to Mila beside him, seeing her hands hovering over each hip. One over her pistol, the second over her sword. He echoed the movements. “Not without a fight, Gramps!”
"Don’t be a fool, Vitya! You’re gonna risk your ship and your crew for a siren?”
A good question. The answer came with one look round his deck. Not a single pair of eyes had wavered back to Victor in concern. Behind him, a few men climbed slowly up the ropes. The gunners had vanished, positioned below deck to load and aim the cannons if word came. Alongside the ship railing, those that remained had hands poised on weapons.
Georgi came up from behind him. “Victor…”
“Tell Otabek to load the split-shots,” Victor muttered. “And get ready to turn us to the wind.”
Beside him, Mila steadied her stance.
Victor squared his shoulders and smirked. “We’ve been longing for a spot of fun! Do you really think we’ll be scared by the rantings of a senior citizen?”
“That thing is filling your heads with its enchantments! It’ll sink you where you stand.”
“Well then, permit us to move!”
The roar of the yells of his crew sounded overhead as his men swung on ropes, launching themselves over the rails. They flew over the split of the sea between the two ships, tumbling onto the deck of the naval ship with practiced precision. The ring of fired bullets echoed against their sails, sparks flying as cutlasses met swords.
Victor laughed as he saw the brusque displeasure streak through Yakov’s expression. The same as it had always been whenever Victor went against an order or dared question navy protocol years prior. He ran up the side of the ship, grabbing onto a swinging rope to help support his jump. A moment of air and his boots hit polished wood.
His sword hit the hilt of another, and Victor flashed his most brilliant smile at the man he met. “Mickey! Give my regards to your beautiful sister.” He heaved the petty officer off, punctuated by a kick to the chest. Hard enough to send Michele stumbling down the steps at his back.
Victor fired off two of his pistols, relieving another naval officer of his own, before flipping someone overboard with an upward thrust of his shoulder.
His third shot knocked the tricorne hat right off Yakov’s head.
“Miss me, Commodore?” Victor swooped in, slapping his fingers lightly over the shine of Yakov’s head. A chuckle escaped him as he was driven back by the quick lunge of a sword.
“This isn’t a game, Vitya,” Yakov growled, gold laced buttons of his blue frock glinting in the sunlight. “Give me the siren.”
“I don’t have him, he isn’t with us.” Victor dodged each strike of the blade with a sidestep. “How’d you find out anyway?”
“You think you can show up in ports with one in tow and no one will notice? You’re as reckless as always.”
“Didn’t know anyone really knew what one looked like,” Victor countered, keeping his own sword up to block Yakov’s charges, backward steps as nimble as a dancer’s.
“Reckless and careless.” Yakov’s growl was emphasized by a push-in.
Victor’s smile slipped when his heels hit wood, flicker of his eyes showing him backed to a ship wall. “Ahhh… I didn’t want to do this but—” He whistled, loud and piercing through the battle cries of the dueling pirates and navy on board.
A cannon blasted. And wood splintered, bursting and showering the ship as the split-shot tore through the main mast. A second took out the aftmost. Laugh back on his lips, Victor ducked and hooked an ankle through Yakov’s, tripping him forward. He slid his sword up, resting it gentle at the hollow of Yakov’s throat. “I don’t have him.”
“As if I believe you.”
Victor made to shrug, nonchalant. But over Yakov’s shoulder, he glimpsed a flash of white.
Yuuri, stood on deck. Still wrapped in their blankets, keeping his weak wings protected. Even in their distance, Victor could see the wideness of his brown eyes, the feathers scattering around his feet in the doorway leading to their cabin. Victor’s blood ran cold.
The muzzle of a pistol jabbed sharply into the center of Victor’s chest.
"Why don’t you just give it up?” Despite the sword insistent against the skin of his throat, Yakov did not waver. “Keeping a siren on board, it’ll only lead to your doom, Vitya. Is that what you want for your ship? To see it down into Davy Jones’ Locker?”
“I told you, he’s not with us. I don’t keep him caged like some bird, he’s not something for me to give.”
“You forget who taught you how to lie,” Yakov spat, shifting the angle of his weapon so it pointed at Victor’s heart.
“That’s Lilia’s gun, we both know that it isn’t loaded,” Victor said, looking down at the muzzle digging into his chest. However, the glee on his face had fallen off, the strands of hair at the back of his neck standing on end.
“It’s been a while, things might have changed.” Yakov cocked the flintlock.
The clamor of pirates parrying with naval officers faded into stunned silence around him. Because Victor saw Yuuri unfreeze, bewilderment shaken with the resounding click of the spring-loaded hammer that should have been lost to the wind. He saw Yuuri run.
Blanket slipping off his shoulders and trailing behind him as he sprinted for the edge of their ship. His black feathers falling off in waves, bare feet thumping across the wood.
Victor’s sword dropped and he fell back, heart beating harder than the blasts of the cannons. It threatened to run out his throat, pounding a fracture into his ribs, making him choke on his tongue as his eyes seized Yuuri’s. “No! Stop, get inside!”
Yuuri stopped. Blanket and bedsheets shed to the deck, molting wings sinking beside him, unable to lift him into the air. The panicked brown of his eyes locked with the blue of Victor’s. And then Yuuri’s lips parted to speak.
Yakov turned. Following the line of Victor’s vision, pistol barrel whipping around to aim—
The muzzle flashed.
Screaming as the lead shot seared through him, Victor slammed himself into Yakov. The blue of Yakov’s frock stained red as Victor fell against him, holding him back. Out of the line of sight of Yuuri, pinned against the ship wall.
“The siren! Men, it’s—”
Victor drove his sword through Yakov.
At their feet, red dripped and pooled.
Yuuri scrambled forward, struggling to rise on his weak and shedding wings. They stretched, spread uneven, flapping hard at his back.
The tip of Victor’s sword buried into the wood behind Yakov, whose eyes widened in shock. “What has that thing done to you?”
Victor leaned onto the hilt, gritting his teeth at the pain of the bullet blistering through him. “He’s not what you think.”
Yuuri crashed against the railing of Victor’s ship, molted feathers swept up by the wind. Panic contorted his features, and he looked ready to jump. As if will itself would carry him between the warring ships. He clawed himself back up, standing tall.
His black and blue wings thrust out to full span, with enough force to fill the sails and turn the ship.
“Stop!” Yuuri’s scream carried to the horizon. And everything ceased.
Men were paralyzed mid-lunge, the swing of swords and the fire of guns halted in place. The sea itself went still.
Leave they did. Like wound-up dolls, Victor’s crew returned to their ship as Yakov’s retreated.
Victor left his sword. He left the naval ship and left a trail behind him, across the polished deck, across the boarding plank.
Turned to the wind, his ship pushed forward. Leaving Yakov’s behind, disabled by her shattered masts.
Victor stumbled into Yuuri’s arms. And left them red with blood.
Victor felt himself heavy in Yuuri’s arms. The ship rushed around them, as men clamored to help one another with their injuries. If any tried to approach them, Yuuri did not permit it. He kept his wings, as bare as they were, folded around them.
Victor’s boots dragged along the deck as he attempted to keep upright, supporting himself against Yuuri. “I apologize, lovebird, I’m supposed to be taking care of you.”
Yuuri scowled, unable to do anything more. Victor was unsteady on the stairs leading into their quarters, toes catching on the steps. He hissed when Yuuri lifted him, carrying him down.
With a single sweep of his wings, Yuuri cleared the floor of his molted feathers. Setting Victor on the edge of the bed, Yuuri kneeled and ripped through Victor’s shirt, dark eyes darting around in panic.
The shot had torn through Victor’s side, blood staining Yuuri’s fingertips as he searched.
“It went through,” Victor muttered, gritting his teeth against the pain. “It’ll be fine, it’s not so bad…”
Yuuri pulled his hands back, palms red. He glanced up at Victor, vision close to swimming. “I’m sorry… I-… I didn’t-…” His voice was hushed, but the words hooked into Victor’s chest and shredded at him deeper than the wound.
The siren fell quiet, helpless.
Emil rushed in and Yuuri allowed him near. Working quick, the doctor splashed alcohol over the wound, ignoring Victor’s shout, and pushed clean sheets into Yuuri’s hands. “Hold it there, put pressure on it. I have to go— Mila’s bad, she might lose her leg. Just try to stop the bleeding.” He left them there, together.
Yuuri’s breath caught in his throat, hitching high and tight. He nodded, keeping the sheet bundled and pressed to Victor’s side until the white turned a bright and shining red.
Victor slid down, falling back against the mattress. Yuuri shifted, staying close, fighting the tears building in his eyes when Victor’s slid shut.
“Heal…” he whispered, command desperate on his tongue. “Heal, heal, heal, heal, heal! Please heal…”
Color continued to seep through the sheets.
Emil returned with grim expression to stitch Victor’s wound, his rolled up sleeves already turned copper red. When Victor inquired of Mila, Emil frowned and shook his head, muttering a line about having a replacement carved and fitted when they arrived in port.
Victor swore, hitting his fist against the mattress. Yuuri shuffled close, gentle as he traced his question onto Victor’s arm. Sharp sigh followed by a sharp inhale, Victor glanced over at Yuuri, a faltering smile on his lips. “He means that he removed it. Her leg.”
Yuuri’s wings fell, shoulders sinking even further.
“It’s not your fault,” Victor muttered, gritting his teeth as Emil threaded his wound back together. “The dear commodore would have come for us sooner or later, whether or not he was chasing you.”
“You’d think he’d make an exception for family,” Emil said, an attempt to keep the room light despite the dim shrouding over it.
“I think that only applies to blood kin,” Victor replied. “If he comes back for Yuuri, I’ll rip the bottom of his ship out myself.”
“Perhaps, but until then you’re not to move.” Emil tied off the stitch and sat back in admiration of his handiwork. “You’re paler than usual. And that’s saying a lot.” He pushed himself up, wiping his hands.
Yuuri leaned in, examining the cross-stitching over Victor’s ribs. The bleeding had stopped, clotted. Held together by the thread, it looked less threatening than before.
Emil smiled at him. “Sometimes humans can work a bit of their own magic. Your job is to make sure he rests. He lost a lot of blood, it’ll take a while to recover. Maybe you two will get through it at the same time.”
Although the siren did not seem amused, Victor chuckled. “Under doctor’s orders to stay in bed with my lovebird? Maybe getting shot isn’t so bad.”
The depth of Yuuri’s scowl made him laugh harder, until he winced when it pulled at his stitches. Victor let Yuuri fret, tucking blankets and pillows all around him, fluttering like a worried bird.
Yuuri’s molted feathers continued to litter the bed and floor, but he kept them well away until Victor shifted in close. Silver lashes sweeping his cheeks and his shallow breaths rolling over Yuuri’s skin as he rested, cradled in Yuuri’s arms and wings.
The siren did not sleep, watching over Victor until night began to transition into dawn. Yuuri dozed off with his nose buried in Victor’s hair, refusing to let go.
When light flooded the cabin, Yuuri stirred and felt Victor warm against him. As the captain continued to sleep, his forehead tipped against Yuuri’s collar, radiating the start of a fever.
Over the course of the night, the wound had held together. But from around his stitches, red streaks extended.
It had grown swollen.
Yuuri tore across the ship so quickly that the claw tips curling off his feet left scores in the wood. He found the doctor still asleep and had no hesitation in shaking him from it. When Emil’s eyes opened, wide but housing the haze of slumber, the siren forgot his usual caution.
“Wake up! Victor, he’s— Help Victor! Help him, now!”
Emil had no chance to question Yuuri’s panic. His legs swept him from his cot without his explicit intention, whisking him from the crew quarters to Victor’s cabin. Yuuri shouted ‘hurry!’ after him and Emil obeyed, nearly falling over his own disobedient feet.
In their room, Emil leant over a stirring Victor and examined the wound. He pressed lightly on the flesh around the stitches and heard a strained hiss.
“That doesn’t feel good,” Victor muttered, silver lashes fluttering to half mast.
“It doesn’t look good,” Emil replied, his usual upbeat tone low. “I need to open it, Victor…”
“I’ll survive,” Victor said, leaning back on his pillows. His eyes shifted to Yuuri and he smiled, the curve of his full lips missing the strength with which Yuuri had grown so familiar. “Good morning, lovebird.”
Yuuri wanted to scream as Emil ran out, still under the influence of Yuuri’s command. His heart skipped over itself, tripping and crying inside his chest. He watched, kneeling at the edge of the bed, when Emil returned to redress the wound.
The doctor cut away the stitches from the day before, draining out the signs of infection. Victor had set the corner of a cushion between his teeth, eyes screwed shut and jaw clenched. Emil splashed the wound with alcohol and resealed it with new stitches.
From his medicine box, Emil mixed dried roots into a drink that emitted an odor that filled the room with bitterness. Victor swallowed it with nothing more than a grimace and a relieved sigh when the cup was emptied of mouthfuls.
The humor from the previous day was absent when Emil turned to Yuuri. “With the gunshot being where it is, there’s not much more I can do. We just gotta hope he can fight it.”
By afternoon, Victor’s fever raged and the red of the infection spread. His bandages and bedding grew damp with sweat. No matter how many times Yuuri whispered ‘heal’ through choked breaths, it didn’t. Victor’s warm fingers crawled across the bed and wrapped around Yuuri’s, holding on for support. Too warm. Too hot.
“Stay with me, lovebird…”
Yuuri ripped his hand away and fled. He scrambled out, onto the deck, and bolted for the edge of the ship. His wings, molting, still barely formed, beat hard enough to blow the ship off course. He dropped straight down and hit the ocean, screeching through his tears.
Wings straining, feathers shedding, Yuuri forced himself into the air, through the pain, and flew for the horizon. He forgot to command Victor to ‘live.’
Yuuri lost count of how many times he fell into the ocean. The salt stun at his eyes, at his throat. The frantic pace of his flight burned at his lungs, at his ragged wings. They screamed in pain each time he beat them, fighting the wind and his own weakness.
The black feathers had shed completely, leaving him with half-formed midnight blue. No other siren would be fool enough to fly then, hiding their vulnerable state in reinforced nests from another creature or human who may embolded by the chance the season presented. The chance at a near helpless siren, whose voice they would be smart enough to block.
Yuuri flew past ships, past ports and cities. He did not stop to rest when the sun set and plunged him into the pitch black of a moonless night. He did not even have his voice, tongue numb and vocal chords shredded from his yells and tears, vision blurred when he finally collapsed at the mouth to a peaceful cove. Tucked away amongst the tropical green of overgrown trees and illuminated in the crystal blue of inlet waters sparkling at the break of dawn.
Yuuri’s legs threatened to drop from under him as he stepped heavy across the sand, dragging his heels until his strength gave out and he could only crawl, pleading with himself not to stop.
He saw the twinkle of gems sewn to fabric rushing toward him, felt himself swept up into caring arms.
“Yuuri, baby bird! What happened, why are you here?!”
Yuuri wept, clinging, into the soft fabric being gathered around him. “M-medicine– I need… I need medicine!”
Bees buzzed around the blossoms of a nearby manuka tree where Yuuri sat, cross-legged, on the floor of his parents’ nest. In his hands he held a cup of tea, wisps of steam coming off the surface. His father had instructed him to drink it before it cooled, the herbs swirling inside meant to help him fill out his wings faster.
Yuuri played with a bowl of greens and nuts set before him, eating only when a pointed glare reminded him that he was meant to be consuming what it contained. Calcium, for his feathers.
“You won’t be able to make it back if you don’t eat.”
Yuuri threw a handful into his mouth and crunched through them, washing them down with the tea. He watched, as his father tended to another siren. Her wings were shredded, in worse condition than Yuuri’s. Yuuri had seen her attempt to spread them earlier, a brilliant gradient of scarlet, under his father’s instructions. Now she managed to lift them through gritted teeth, but when they attempted to unfold, Yuuri saw that they were broken. He looked away, knowing he would not want to be observed in such a state.
His mother shuffled in, clicking her tongue in disapproval. “They’re getting bolder. The humans. Some of them seemed to have figured out a couple tricks. We’ve had a lot more sirens coming by lately, it’s never been this bad. I think they’ve started trying to hunt us.”
“That’s how… that’s what happened to my mate,” Yuuri muttered in reply, hands tightening around the cup. The feathers around his ears twitched, wings rustling. He was keenly aware of the snail-like movement of the shadows, because with each minute they crept closer and with each moment, Victor’s infection would be spreading. And he was simply sitting there, waiting.
“Awful. They should be concentrating on sinking their precious ships with their pride and their arrogance, like they’re meant to.” Hiroko scowled, then softened as she sat herself down next to Yuuri. She placed a jar in front of him, which Yuuri promptly snatched up, holding it tight to his chest. “You should rest more, your wings don’t look ready for flight.”
“I can’t, I have to go, I’m afraid if I don’t…” He had visions of returning to the ship, to a crew angered at the death of their captain. And with Yuuri to blame for it. Of not even being able to see Victor, chased off by grieving pirates who were not frightened of a molting siren.
“We’re not as weak to infections as humans,” Toshiya said, coming back. His wings, a dark blue which matched Hiroko’s, trailed behind him.
“You should bring your mate here when they’re better. We’re so happy to hear you found one. Mari still refuses to. Says she’s not done flying around the world.” Hiroko laughed. “What are their wings like?”
Yuuri thought to the flowing length of Victor’s hair, how it fluttered at the wind which swept over their ship, how it shone the most beautiful in the light of the moon. “Silver…”
“Oh, how gorgeous. You’ll make a good pair.”
Yuuri thought so too, looking down at the golden color in the jar he had been given. Around his fingers, the gold of the rings Victor had given him flared when hit by the rays of the sun. “I-… I have to go.”
Sighing heavy, Hiroko stood and left, coming back a minute later with a satchel. She took the jar of honey from Yuuri and placed it inside, along with a small pouch of powder which Toshiya had pulled from their medicine stores. She draped the satchel around one of Yuuri’s shoulders, tying it snug around his waist so he could fly without fear of losing it. “Fly safe, Yuuri. It’s becoming so that we’re no longer the most feared predator out on the oceans.”
With a short nod, Yuuri unfurled his wings. He could still feel the strain lingering in them. The old black feathers were gone, shed with the desperation of his flight to his parent’s nest, but it meant the new midnight blue was free to grow in in full. He would not be fast or stable, but he could make it. He needed to make it.
A promise to stay cautious given to his parents, Yuuri left. He spread his wings on the beach before the cove, testing their hold. He had to stay low, for fear of falling, but he was steadier than the day before.
Yuuri kept to the coast, more wary of the cities and the ports that he passed. He met no ships until the sun began to sink, painting the sky in colors.
On the horizon was a fleet. With bold white sails and figureheads carved into the forms of warriors. To go around them meant wasting time he did not have.
Yuuri steeled himself and flew straight for them.
Yuuri ripped through the masts of four ships and sunk the lead before anyone could even process what was happening. He heard the shouts below as he tore through the fleet, unable in those moments to feel the ache in his own wings and lungs, in the bloodied claws which had sprouted from his hands.
When eyes and guns turned on him, Yuuri positioned himself at the center of the crippled fleet and screeched at them to forget him. They did.
Yuuri flew past them, biting on fabric shredded off his own clothes against the agony of the strain spasming through his spine and wings.
He choked back cries of happiness when he finally saw Victor’s ship, just off a port. Yuuri crashed into a sail, unable to stop himself, falling hard onto the deck below.
Pain shot through his shoulder, his hip, but he scrambled up, hastening across on elbows and knees until he found the power to push himself onto his feet.
“Yuuri, wait, don’t–”
Yuuri did not hear the rest of the words shouted after him, bolting for Victor’s cabin. He found his captain, laid in their bed, with blankets folded neatly over his waist. As still as death.
Yuuri’s wings swept paintings off the walls, knocked maps onto the floor, overturned an entire table. He collapsed at the edge of the bed, groping for the satchel his mother had tied around his waist, and dumped the contents onto the mattress at Victor’s side.
He tore off Victor’s bandages, whimpering at the angry red still concentrated around his gunshot wound. Yuuri smeared the gold of the honey across it, layering it thick even as he kept his touch light.
From the nearby stand, Yuuri grabbed the first drink he saw and poured the medicine powder into it, letting it mix with the liquid. He grasped for Victor’s hand, for his wrist, searching. “Please… please, please, live…” A pulse beat under Yuuri’s fingers.
The relief which escaped his lips in a whimper was feeble. Yuuri climbed onto the bed, behind Victor, holding his captain’s feverish body against him. He pushed Victor up to sit and tilted his head back against his shoulder. Careful, Yuuri tipped the drink to his lips, gently prying Victor’s mouth open. It trickled in.
Victor choked, sputtering, but Yuuri held him steady, arm wound low around his waist. Silver lashes fluttered. “Yuuri…”
“Shhh, just drink. Please.”
Victor drank. Bit by bit, until it emptied. And Victor slumped back against Yuuri. “My… my lovebird came back for me…”
“Be quiet and rest.”
“Mmmm, I will… I’d like a welcome home kiss first…”
Victor’s head lolled on Yuuri’s shoulder, tucked into the crook of the siren’s neck.
Yuuri wrapped his wings around them both, kissing Victor’s temple. It was hot against his lips.
The entire time that Victor dozed, Yuuri kept him cradled close, a hand covering Victor’s. Sensitive to the weakness of his pulse, he counted the time that ticked, long, between each beat.
Originally posted in a different version on tumblr, has been edited to fit better in with the current arc.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Yuuri paced the room, footsteps heavy with the ache in his muscles, bottom lip worried red by his teeth. His hands were fisted, nails digging into the meat of his own palms.
Across the room, Emil was henched over Victor’s bedridden form. The ship’s doctor let a damp cloth rest on Victor’s forehead, in hopes of soaking up the heat of his fever.
“Yuuri, come here.”
Yuuri rushed to the bedside, rather helpless in his abilities. Even with the medicine administered the night before, Victor had barely stirred, his skin burning against Yuuri’s when touched. Emil had made a light joke about Yuuri potentially commanding Victor to get better, but the siren had not found it amusing. Because no matter how many times he tried, ordering the medicine to spread through his faster, it did not work.
“Wait here with him. I’m going to grab my medicine chest. If you can make him eat a little, do so.”
When Emil left, the cabin settled into uneasy silence, save for the steadiness of Victor’s breathing. Yuuri sat beside him, at the edge of the bed, his fingers curling around one of Victor’s hands. Still too warm to be comfortable.
A minute passed and the silver of Victor’s lashes fluttered, his thumb stroking over Yuuri’s delicate hold. “Oh… I must still be feverish, because I see an angel beside me…” Victor’s voice was hoarse, but a weak smile twitched to his lips as Yuuri scowled at his words. “No? You didn’t like that?”
Yuuri snatched up the salted meat that Emil had left behind, holding it to Victor’s mouth in lieu of a response. The pirate did not take it, even when Yuuri pushed it closer.
“…Not now, Yuuri.”
As if Yuuri was going to let him refuse. He tore a chunk off with his teeth and chewed it, swooping down with his fingers pinching at Victor’s jaw. Lips pressed together, he pushed the food into Victor’s mouth with his tongue, determined to follow doctor’s orders.
Victor promptly choked, coughing and sputtering it out onto the floor. “Ohhh, Yuuri, noooo, that’s disgusting,” he protested, sticking out his tongue. “You’re making this worse.”
Not amused, Yuuri prodded at the blankets covering Victor’s chest, tracing words into it.
Victor’s expression remained unchanged, unable to keep up with Yuuri’s quick scolding through his fever. When the siren rewrote it slower, Victor chuckled weakly. “I wouldn’t say that, lovebird, I very much enjoy having those parts of you in my mouth.”
Cheeks flushing unfairly pink, Yuuri made to speak, stopping because Emil re-entered the room. Both Victor and Yuuri gave him sheepish looks when Emil eyed the spat out meat on the floor, but he said nothing, rolling his eyes as he handed Yuuri something resembling bark to hold.
The siren examined it curiously.
“It’s supposed to reduce fever,” Victor explained, scrunching his nose in displeasure. “You need to–” He cut himself off as Yuuri bit off a piece, laughing when the siren jerked back, repulsed at the bitter tease flooding his mouth.
“That is not the best way of doing that,” Emil said, taking it back from Yuuri to grind some of the bark with a mortar and pestle.
“I think he’s trying to mama-bird me everything.”
Yuuri watched as Emil then mixed the powder into some wine, same as Yuuri had done the night before with his own medicine.
“Help me get him up.”
Yuuri supported Victor’s back, aiding him to sit forward so Emil could tip the cup to his lips without fear of choking. Victor drank, leaning back into Yuuri’s arms when Emil seemed satisfied with the dosage.
“Stay with him. Hopefully the fever breaks soon, if whatever you gave him is good.” Emil instructed Yuuri, setting the medicine aside once finished. “If you’re here, maybe he won’t be so foolish as to try getting out before he’s recovered.”
Nodding, Yuuri laid Victor back down and smiled when Victor turned to rest his head against Yuuri’s lap. Yuuri was happy enough to curl up with his sick captain, giving in to the building strain in his own body.
Victor’s fever did not lessen as quickly as Yuuri hoped. At night, beads of sweat gathered at his hairline and he moaned frail complaints of the heat searing through him into Yuuri’s shoulder.
(And now for a bit of relief)
At first, Yuuri was beautiful above him. With his mating feathers of midnight blue, colors iridescent in the low lights of the oil-burning lamps. He moved like he had danced for Victor in the privacy of their cabin. Slow and sensual, rocking his hips down against Victor’s.
His siren’s robes were abandoned on the floor, gems glittering from the fabric. Like the sweat trailing lines of light down Yuuri’s chest, down his abdomen, down between his legs, spread wide as he rode Victor.
Victor wanted to lean up, to hold Yuuri in his hands, to kiss at his glistening skin but he couldn’t. Not since Yuuri had commanded him motionless with a whisper. Victor could only watch the shine of Yuuri’s feathers, as they bloomed from his marks and spread and spread and spread with each roll of his hips–
“Ca-caaaw!” Yuuri cried as he came, a bird’s shriek replacing his beautiful moans. The feathers kept spreading, coating his skin entirely. His feet turned to claws, lips morphing into a curved, jagged beak. His eyes glowed yellow, like a bewitched crow’s and there were eggs. Eggs everywhere, littering the bed– the nest. No longer of blankets and pillows, but of branches and patches of fur, all housing tens, hundreds, thousands of bird eggs, with shells a brilliant blue that matched Victor’s eyes in the most impossible way–
A bird screeched in his ear and Victor bolted upright, clutching the blankets to his sweat-bathed chest. In the dark of the cabin, he tore his eyes left to right and… Yuuri was sleeping beside him. Normal Yuuri. Not some giant gruesome bird. Yuuri had pushed all the bedding in a protective nest around Victor, whose fever still burned.
Off to the side of the cabin, their parrots squawked again. Shrill and familiar. Victor collapsed back onto the mattress, trying to vanquish the nightmare from his mind. It did not work until Yuuri stirred next to him and cooed, “Sleep.”
Yuuri awoke to the light of the sun and the care of a delicate touch on his back, grooming through his feathers. The past two days, Yuuri had barely been able to move. Adrenaline burned off, the strain he had put his wings and body through had hit him like canon fire.
Emil had ordered him to bedrest once he saw the break in Yuuri, hardly able to lift a limb yet still laboring to act as a nurse to Victor. Small sachets filled with heated sand were lain across his back to ease the soreness in his muscles, but Yuuri had flung them off in protest. He substituted them for the heat of Victor’s body against his own.
Stubborn, Yuuri had not permitted Emil to change Victor’s bandages nor mix more of the siren medicine he had received. He had fought through his own pain to deliver Victor’s doses, until the red of infection began to recede.
Yuuri glanced over his shoulder, at the caress of lips against it. Victor had sat up in their bed and dipped low to kiss beneath the bruise there, from Yuuri’s fall onto the deck. Soft lips trailed down, dotting along each inch of Yuuri’s bicep before slipping further. Victor’s mouth had Yuuri shivering into the sweetness of dawn, kisses counting down his ribs and the curve of his waist to settle above the second bruise marring Yuuri’s hip.
The siren lifted long strands of silver which cascaded over Victor’s face, palm cupping his forehead. Warm. But naturally so. The fever had broken.
Yuuri launched himself at Victor, bowling him over into piles of their pillows and blankets. Streaks of irritation shot through his spine. Equally so, Victor groaned in displeasure.
“Ahhh, careful, lovebird. My side’s not quite healed yet, I don’t want to go bleeding out on you.”
“Shut up,” Yuuri commanded and followed through by plunging his hands into Victor’s morning messed hair, holding Victor’s tongue silent with his own. He could pour his entire heart out into his kisses with Victor, permit himself to flood with emotion. He had his mate beside him, breathing, smiling, flirting like always, alive.
Yuuri pulled back to see the beauty of Victor’s flushed cheeks, pink seeping down past the sharpness of his collarbone, highlighting the paleness of his skin. Yuuri wanted to paint it all in color. The rush of blood to his own face caused the little feathers around his ears to sprout and quiver.
Victor’s eyes pleaded, his heart-shaped smile like a work of art, a treasure beyond any other that Yuuri greedily hoarded. He relented. “You can speak.”
Instead, Victor drew Yuuri into another kiss, a brushing of petals, the blooming of spring. His fingers curved over the line of Yuuri’s wings, a reminder that his new colors had finally come in full.
“I adore you.” Victor’s words lost themselves on Yuuri’s lips, swallowed by one desperate kiss of response after another.
Yuuri tipped their foreheads together, eyes shut, simply breathing in the closeness between them. The feeling swelled inside him until he felt too small to contain it, threatening to break through his ribs and spill over. Like the fondest infection, spreading into every nerve, every fiber, lighting him up. Dancing through his heart and the glimmer of his wings. Yuuri bubbled in that adoration, in the celebration that he could feel the full beat of Victor’s heart under him, unwavering.
Tears splashed from his cheeks down onto Victor’s, glittering off his skin like diamonds. Victor’s fingers, as gentle as always, swept them away.
Yuuri let himself overflow.
“I love you.”
“Those were not the expressions I was expecting to see when I came in.” Chris looked far too amused for Victor’s taste.
Beside Victor in bed, the scowl Yuuri wore carved deeper into his features. He laid back, wings folded away, arms crossed over his chest. His ear feathers twitched in visible irritation.
“Thought you two would be celebrating,” Chris said, crossing the cabin to hold out bowls of soup to the captain and siren. Yuuri glared at it as if it had personally offended him.
“Hard to do when everyone keeps popping it to visit,” Victor replied, holding his side with one arm as he leaned forward, gingerly accepting the soup.
“We nearly lost our captain, you should be grateful that they’re so delighted to see you’re recovering. Many crews might welcome the opportunity for a change in leadership,” Chris replied, watching Victor sip at his concoction with a smile.
“According to Yurio, it’d be too annoying to argue it out in a vote. He grumbled something about preferring to bide his time and mutiny the crew,” Victor laughed, shallowly.
“I think the consensus is that we’d elect Mila. She lost a leg without a wink. You get shot once and the world ends.” Chris went to sit on the edge of the bed, only to leap away when Yuuri practically hissed at him. The cook blinked slowly, full lashes emphasizing the movement. “Oh… is this why Kenjirou is sulking outside?”
“He’d been sticking his head in every half an hour with any excuse he could come up with, trying to catch sight of Yuuri’s wings,” Victor explained in monotone. Yuuri gave a curt nod of confirmation. “So Yuuri finally ordered him to stay out.”
“Did you also accidentally order Victor not to touch you and that’s why you’re both sulking?” Chris chuckled, amused, at Yuuri. The siren’s eyes narrowed, glowing with specks of red. Chris instantly held his hands up in surrender. “Just asking. Expected the boat to be rocking by now, since you’re both finally well enough to move.”
Victor went to respond, but he had barely parted his lips when Yuuri sat straight up and exploded. “We could, if everyone would stop coming in here and leave!” His voice, unnaturally amplified, vibrated through the wood and carried all the way onto the deck.
To the crew’s graceful luck, they had just pulled into port.
The ship was empty, entire crew gone on shore leave, aided in their departure by Yuuri’s echoing command. Irritation fading once he was able to concentrate his attention on Victor, Yuuri nuzzled against Victor’s cheek, leaving a few pecks. He changed Victor’s bandages, pleased to see the gunshot wound had begun healing well. The signs of infection had gone.
Yuuri could not restrain the smile tugging itself across his face when Victor kissed at his palm and smacked his lips at the taste of honey. When Yuuri scolded him with a sharp look, his captain merely dipped in and stole a kiss, daring Yuuri to deny the sweetness. He couldn’t.
Arm looped around Victor’s back in support, Yuuri helped Victor from their bed. Once up, Victor could move more freely, but he did so slowly, taking care of his side. Yuuri aided him onto the deck of their silent ship, carrying some of their bedding with him.
At the bow, Yuuri set up a comfortable little nest of their blankets and pillows for Victor to sit in. He chirped happily when Victor settled, placing another quick peck on his mate’s face. There was no hiding his smile.
Yuuri stepped back, to an area clear of rigging or sails, in perfect view of Victor. He unfurled his wings, each opening in elegance to their full span, unobstructured by the restrictions of their cabin. The midnight blue was iridescent in the sun, dazzling with streaks of red and flecks that glittered with any motion.
Victor stared, mesmerized, as Yuuri displayed his colors with pride. In those moments, he seemed to forget how to speak.
And then, Yuuri started to dance.
Yuuri pranced across the deck, little tiny steps on the tips of his toes. He thrust his left wing out, then drew it back, only to put it out again and shake it all about. Victor bit his lower lip, hard, trying not to laugh as Yuuri repeated the actions with his right wing.
Each of Yuuri’s dance moves was more ridiculous than the last. At one point, Yuuri had sprouted a tail, feathers as colorful as a peacock’s, which he ruffled in Victor’s face. The siren leapt in itty bitty jumps, flapping his wings, swiping at Victor’s cheek with the tip of his feathers before tip-toeing in a circle while waving his hands in the air like a queen on parade.
Victor clutched onto his side, pain splitting through it as he shook with silent laughter.
Yuuri bent over, folding himself in half with palms flat on the wood below him. Victor might have found the sight of Yuuri’s tush quite appealing if the siren did not immediately proceed to shake his tail feathers with such rapid force that the ship rocked.
Snickers finally escaped Victor when Yuuri squawked and dabbed, wings and all. The captain fell back into the nest of bedding, laughing freely in sheer delight. Yuuri appeared over him, blocking out the sun with his wings, scowling at the reaction.
Victor reached up, caressing Yuuri’s face between his hands, brushing his thumbs along Yuuri’s cheeks to his ear markings. “You’re incredible. I loved it. The most fantastic dance that I’ve ever seen, I couldn’t be happier.”
Yuuri’s scowl cracked and he burst into gleeful giggles, nuzzling into Victor’s hands.
You really liked it? I just wanted to make you laugh again. Yuuri traced into Victor’s palm, kissing at his own writing when Victor nodded in confirmation.
“Lovebird, I’d love anything you did. You could lay down, nap for a few hours, tell me it’s your mating dance, and I’d sit and watch every second of it,” Victor replied, tone genuine as he reassured his mate. “Instead I got to watch you shake your cute little butt in my face, how could I not love it?”
Yuuri pulled at his bottom lip with his teeth, smiling through it.
“And I didn’t know you have a tail!” Victor gently took hold of Yuuri’s hips, turning his siren to trace his fingertips over thel long feathers which had bloomed from the tattoo at the small of his back, admiring the subtle streaks of pinks and sky blues through the dominant midnight. Yuuri shivered.
I don’t like it. The siren wrote over the back of the hand still on his hip.
“Why don’t you like it? It’s beautiful.” Victor kissed at the skin above his tail.
Yuuri squeaked, clasping his hands over the base of the feathers as he jumped away. The strength of his blush burned his entire face red. He met Victor’s widened eyes and quickly ducked out from under them.
“Sensitive spot?” Victor guessed, Yuuri confirming with the most minimal of nods. The pirate’s smile widened. “I promise only to touch it if you let me.”
Hesitant, Yuuri stepped back in, dropping to his knees in front of Victor. He shuffled close, nearly settling in Victor’s lap, and leaned in. The warm of his breath against Victor’s skin had heat visibly surging through the captain, who grew rigid at Yuuri’s touch.
Yuuri let his lips brush at Victor’s jawline with each word. “Then let me show you my real mating dance…”
"That wasn’t the real one?” Victor repeated, eyes wide. The heat of Yuuri’s closeness rendered him motionless.
Yuuri laughed without answering, lips skimming Victor’s cheek as he pulled back. He readjusted the blanket nest and cast down a smile. His steps were light across the wood, as if he were skating on air, wings open and sparkling with the sun hitting the flecks on his feathers.
Victor could not take his eyes off Yuuri, off the colors radiating from him, the confidence with which he strut.
Yuuri’s wings furled around him as he struck a pose, back straight, toes pointed, feathers gleaming. He threw a look over his wing, winked and blew a kiss.
Victor felt like dying. Even before Yuuri started to dance, Victor could see the notes floating off him. Music in motion, like–
“Ohmygod, there’s two?!”
Victor and Yuuri snapped their attention to the nearby dock. From behind the port wall, Minami leapt into the air, waving with binoculars in hand, before cupping his hands to his mouth to shout.
“Yuuuuuri, your mating dance was so beautiful! Can I please come on board to grab my sketchbook so I can document it?”
Yuuri’s scowl could have broken a mirror. Victor laughed, more when Yuuri’s feathers ruffled at Minami’s continous jumps of enthusiastic begging.
The laugh was cut off when Yuuri swooped in, grabbed Victor, and flew the two of them off the ship.
Flying in Yuuri’s arms would never cease to be thrilling and terrifying all at once. Yuuri held him tight and close, grip steady. Victor buried his face into the siren’s collarbone, because looking down would yield a rather undignified yelp.
The sea rushed beneath them, sun on the waves.
The speed at which Yuuri could fly was not one Victor dared to calculate, already well familiar with the knowledge that the siren could outpace the fastest ship with ease. Yuuri had not told him where they were going. Simply plucked Victor up, and headed straight, irritation at being interrupted still set rigid in his jawline.
Victor had long concluded it best not to question his siren. Especially not in mid-flight. Because he knew that Yuuri would not drop him on accident. But, at this point, on purpose… He was not so convinced.
The couple times Victor risked a peek up, Yuuri’s face was set in concentration. Wind swept at his hair and rustled at his ear feathers, turned blue instead of black like the rest. Victor wondered how it was possible that his Yuuri grew more beautiful each time that he looked at him.
When Yuuri landed, he did so with an easy grace. Slowing his flight into a lulled stop, setting Victor’s boots down in sand. For a moment, Victor still felt like he had his sea legs on him. Then, he looked to see where Yuuri had brought them.
A clearing on a small island, surrounded in vivid tropical green and blooming colors of flowers in season. Strides from where Victor stood was a lagoon, with water so clear he could see the white sand on the bottom. Back-dropped by foliage and an overgrown cliff, over the center of which cascaded water. Falling to feed the lagoon below, the splashes echoing.
Victor gaped at the picturesque paradise, whipping around to find Yuuri admiring his reaction. “Did you live here, before?”
Yuuri shook his head, tracing his answer into Victor’s palm. Sometimes, in winter.
“When your nest got too cold?” Victor asked, getting a nod back. “It’s so lovely. Be an even lovelier sight to come upon a beautiful siren bathing here, I think. What a lucky sailor I’d think of myself, even if I was marooned.”
Smiling, the siren touched Victor’s wrist and stepped toward the lagoon. His toes broke the surface, clean water licking up to his ankles. “Then don’t take your eyes off me.”
As if Victor could, especially when the siren dropped his robes.
Victor could taste joy on the droplets shaking off Yuuri’s wings. Like a bird in a bird bath, his siren played in the crystalline waters. He dipped beneath the surface, feathers ruffling and trembling, strong legs kicking him down to skim the bottom of the lagoon.
Yuuri danced as he bathed, his wings cocooning himself as he twirled underwater. Bubbles spun off him, like a sparkling wine through the ripples that he caused. Yuuri had told Victor not to take his eyes off him. Even without the command, it would have been impossible.
When Yuuri broke the surface, his wings stretched toward the sky. With his hair slicked back by the water, Victor could see every inch of his siren’s face, at peace and contented. Lips parted only just, droplets glistening off them in the subtest smile. The tips of Yuuri’s wings split the water and curved around him as he twisted in his elegant movements, carving the most fleeting of hearts into the surface.
Sun caught on the mist, surrounding Yuuri in a rainbow as he danced for Victor, eyes closed, caught in a music that only he could hear. Victor was captivated by the music of Yuuri’s body, the colors radiating off him. His wings cast hues of blue across his skin, his cheeks in blushed pink, the dark of his markings highlighted gold by the tropical sunlight.
The toe of Victor’s boots were already being lapped at by the water of the lagoon when Yuuri caught his eyes and smiled, so brilliant and beautiful, beckoning like a silent siren’s call. Then Yuuri held out his arms, open and welcoming, and sang to Victor.
There was no resisting. Victor hit the water without a second thought, ready to drown himself in love.
The water splashed around Victor as he rushed into Yuuri’s arms, catching his siren mid-lyric. His songs were always beautiful, and when he sang to Victor, he so often sang of love. Of invitations to spend eternity together, or as long as it would last for them. As partners, as soulmates, as mates for life.
The soft, hitched exhale which escaped the siren when Victor crashed into him was nearly as sweet. Yuuri’s surprise was drowned out by the water they fell into together. His fingers tangled in Victor’s hair, weaving between strands and the tails of velvet ribbon. Victor’s arms encircled Yuuri’s waist, holding them close as they sunk together to the white sand bottom, kissing through the bubbles spiralling round them.
Yuuri’s wings spread and pushed them back to the surface when they broke for air. They took their breaths off each other’s lips, soaking wet and laughing when droplets slipped into their kisses.
Yuuri shrieked in protest when Victor lifted him up, arms still holding Yuuri’s waist, and spun him around to dip him into another kiss. Yuuri’s hands hastened at Victor’s side, making sure his bandages were still intact and that the stitching beneath had not split. Victor stole his scowl away with a reassurance, hands sliding up to cup Yuuri’s face, brushing away strands of hair left wet and wild.
“What have I ever done in this life to earn a gift as great as you?” Victor whispered, forehead tipped to Yuuri’s.
“Saved me,” Yuuri muttered back, grip curling into the fabric of Victor’s shirt. “Does this mean you accept my mating dance?”
“Lovebird, I had accepted with the first one. It might have actually been my favorite. Can you shake your tail feathers for me like that again?”
Yuuri laughed, pushing Victor playfully away. His wings swiped at the water, splashing Victor with a light spray that formed another rainbow. When his captain responded with waves of his own, Yuuri’s wings swatted so hard he nearly knocked Victor over and had to scramble forward to prevent him toppling.
All it meant was that they both ended up swimming in the lagoon once more, Victor having grabbed onto Yuuri and pulled him down. Exchanged laughter faded into happy murmurs as they made their way back to the shore, to settle, kissing on the sand.
All around them, the island twittered with sound. Birds singing amongst the trees, the waterfall cascading into the lagoon. Behind them, the nearby ocean washed back and forth along the beach. From within it all, there came another voice, from a wall of blooming flowers at the edge of the lagoon. Even and unmistakably layered in siren’s magic. “Why are you playing with the food?”
Victor was mesmerized by the colors of the siren’s wings. Multi-faceted, like a reflection of the rainbow still shimmering near the waterfalls. Bold reds faded into orange tipped with green, underfeathers toned in blue. Unlike Yuuri, who kept his tail hidden, the siren’s long sky blue feathers swept at the sand. The markings on his arms and legs were also colored, mismatched and with design varying from Yuuri’s. The robes he wore covered his body almost entirely, draping him in a dark grey that did not mute the rest of his striking hues in the slightest.
A macaw, in siren form. Victor could have laughed, if Yuuri were not bristling against him.
“He’s not food!” Yuuri snapped and every fiber in Victor tensed, a dread that was not his own flooding through his veins.
“A gift then? How unusual. Is that customary of northern species?” When the parrot–siren–spoke, his tone remained uniform yet stayed as alluring as a siren’s was naturally. Something unknown inside Victor tugged, drawn to the power in this new voice. It did not pull at him as strongly as Yuuri’s had when he’d first heard it, but neither was it aimed at him in the intention.
Yuuri’s eyes darted back to Victor, saw him leaning in, and the transferred fear doubled. “He’s not a gift, he’s mine.”
If the siren was surprised, he did not show it, handsome features remaining unchanged as he strolled toward them. His wing and tail tips left a trailing pattern in the sand. “Well, from a technical standpoint, your dance was perfect, if not peculiar in incorporating water elements. Another siren would be flattered and surely accept. I must decline, as I am not seeking a mate this season.”
Yuuri’s scowl was unfairly gorgeous, from Victor’s point of view. However, he could not tell if it was the result of misunderstanding or Yuuri’s displeasure of having his dance rejected, even by a siren it was not meant for. “I did not dance for you!”
The siren paused. Dark eyes traveled over Yuuri’s bare figure, studying his mating season wings in mild perplexity. “Then why are you on my island?”
“Your island– this is mine!” Yuuri snapped back, rising to his feet. He showed no sign of shame over being unclothed, wings shuddering to rid them of remaining water droplets in a shower around his feet. His wings seemed to expand, feathered tips stretching out and making his silhouette grow larger.
“I think not, I settled here at the turn of the year. There was no sign of a nest. If another siren had resided here, I would have counted this land abandoned. I rightfully claimed it for my own.”
“I did not abandon it!”
“Do you nest here?”
“No, I nest with–”
“If you do not nest here, it is no longer yours. We do not keep two nests.”
Victor saw Yuuri’s wings drop, his shoulders sagging. Defeated. Yuuri stepped back, his gaze shifting back to Victor. He relented. “Forgive me for intruding on your nest, but I carry no gift to offer in reparation.”
“Then, give me the human.”
Victor’s eyes went wider, then wider still when he felt his body start to shift of its own accord, drawn to the strange siren. Yuuri thrust out an arm, keeping Victor back when his captain stood. “I said, he is not a gift!”
“You cannot intrude on another’s nest empty-handed. If you have nothing else, give me the human,” the siren repeated, tone steady and unchanged. “It’s been a while since I’ve eaten one, it’ll make a good meal.”
Whatever allure the voice had over Victor snapped. Likewise, Yuuri’s feathers flared back out, doubling in volume. Defensive. Intimidating. “He’s not a gift, he’s not a meal. He’s my mate!”
Finally, the siren’s expression changed, as miniscule as it was. He arched a thick eyebrow and his gaze shifted off Yuuri, direct to Victor. The survey he appeared to conduct was brief, sweeping from Victor’s hair down to his booted legs. Then back to Yuuri and his wings. “You’re in season… If he is your mate, why are you not mating?”
Victor watched how Yuuri’s toes shuffled in the sand, digging deep imprints in clear irritation.
“I’m trying to mate him, but I keep getting stopped! I brought him here to dance and mate in peace. Perhaps it was my unknowing discourtesy to come here, but you have intruded on a mating pair!”
The siren stopped completely. He blinked once and arched the second brow. “You’re serious… You’re going to mate with a human?”
“We’ve already mated.” Yuuri huffed.
A laugh came back, sounding sharp and loud, like one of their parrot’s back on board the ship. “Why would you do that?” the siren inquired, monotone glitching into disbelief. “What have you done to it? Enchanted it, made yourself a little pretty human toy? How odd.”
Victor saw the rage flare off Yuuri, his inked markings bursting into feathers, feet curling into claws, deep brown of his eyes burning red. Before Yuuri could tear the wings off the macaw like he had with the harpies, Victor stepped forward, but he barely had a chance to protest. “We’re–”
“Don’t speak! I shall not be addressed by a human.”
At the siren’s command, Victor’s mouth clamped shut, tongue choking him silent.
The force of Yuuri’s wings swept up water and sand, bent the trees lining the lagoon. Yuuri launched across the beach, clawed hand grasping at the siren’s throat. His markings has spread up his arms and legs, snaking in threat up to his shoulders and curling over the curve of his hips. “Release him!”
“You’d choose a human over your own kind?” the siren spat back, choking when Yuuri’s grip tightened. His own wings expanded behind him, red and blue feathers springing forth from his forearms as he tried to push Yuuri off, scrabbling to break the grip on him.
Yuuri did not budge, looming over the other. His feet no longer touched the ground, his wings keeping him in the air and lifting the other siren with him. “Try and take him from me, I will pluck you bare."
"You’ll be ostracized."
"I don’t care.”
The colors of the macaw were far less ridiculous when they appeared to darken with his anger, expression turning grim. “Spare yourself and kill it. In fact, I’ll do it for you. Human, dr–”
Yuuri’s screech pierced the air, cutting at Victor’s ears. The siren was flung, like a rag, only to be grabbed again, seized by his wings. A pulse of wind created by Yuuri sent Victor tumbling to the ground and unable to rise back up under its intensity. In a blink, Yuuri was high amongst the clouds, the other siren dragged behind him. If there was a struggle, Victor could not tell. All he heard was the command that screamed down from the heavens.
The vibrant siren dropped from the sky, released from Yuuri’s clutches, plunging straight down. His wings found strength just above the trees, spreading in time to let him glide away in the second before he was impaled upon them. On bent and damaged wings, he fled, colors disappearing into the blue of the sky.
A minute passed, with Yuuri lingering, watching, like a beautiful bird keeping guard overhead. When he dropped back down in front of Victor, his claws were stained red. The feathers on his hands tickled at Victor’s cheek when Yuuri pulled him close, wrapping them both in the protective folds of his wings.
“Yuuri, is the blood–”
“It’s not mine,” Yuuri muttered back, feathers sinking back into his skin, replaced by ink. “But you are.” Before his mate could respond, he claimed Victor’s mouth with his.
When Victor pulled away, he did so with his hands cupped over Yuuri’s. Wings cocooned tight around them, and Victor did not think to break from Yuuri until they loosened. He let the siren cling, even as Victor cleaned Yuuri’s hands of blood with the hem of his shirt. Yuuri would not be letting Victor out of his protective grasp anytime soon. Victor stayed, until Yuuri started to tremble against him.
“Yuuri… Yuuri, it’s fine. We’re okay.”
“I-… I don’t-…” Yuuri struggled to find words, unable to get them out past his tremoring lips. Victor could see the shock cycloning behind his eyes, the fury in them faded back to soft, frightened brown. “I’m so sorry… You could have– he could have…”
There was still far too much about siren culture of which Victor was not aware. Outside of Yuuri, all his understanding came from stories. Whispered against the wind, boasted by drunk sailors in taverns. Yet so many of them had been disproved simply by Yuuri staying at his side. “How many people can say they’ve had sirens fighting over them? And after witnessing such a breathtaking dance?”
Yuuri buried his face in Victor’s shoulder without answering, yelping a moment later. The bottom of Victor’s shirt was stained pink with siren’s blood, but along his ribs seeped a bright, fresh red. “You’re-… your wound….”
“It’s just a pulled stitch, don’t worry.” Victor assured. “Your wings are a bit too strong for me, lovebird."
Yuuri’s head hung and his wings retracted.
Victor lifted his chin back up. "As lovely as this place is, it isn’t the nest we’ve made together. Let’s fly home?”
“What if…” Yuuri trailed off.
“He comes back? I promise I won’t let anything happen to you. I can definitely scream louder than a parrot if I have to, I’ve had lots of practice.”
Yuuri’s worried lips cracked into a smile and he spread his wings again, sweeping Victor up into his arms, taking care not to nudge against his side.
Throwing his arms around Yuuri’s neck, Victor laughed. “Lovebird, as much as I love seeing you in the nude, perhaps you should redress first?”
Yuuri yelped again, this time clearly out of embarrassment as the markings around his ears produced feathers along with his blush. He nearly dropped Victor in his scramble to grab his robes from the lagoon.
Yuuri flew slower going back. He was as quiet as he had been on the way to the island, but took more care of Victor, checking on him often. Approaching the port city, he kept low to the water until they reached their ship, and when he landed he set Victor down just outside the captain’s cabin.
Without waiting, Yuuri led them inside and, gently, pushed Victor onto the bed. He stripped off Victor’s shirt and made him sit still as Yuuri tended to his side. Yuuri changed out his wet bandages, ensuring the bleeding had stopped before redressing the wound.
As Yuuri finished, Victor tugged Yuuri to him and kissed at his honey-sweet fingertips. “Yuuri, what that other siren said, about you being ostracized…”
Yuuri simply shrugged and leaned in, pressing his lips over the top of Victor’s head. He nuzzled into the part of his hair and rested his cheek against it.
“I don’t know much about your culture, are you going to be something of an outlaw for fighting with another siren? Chasing them out of their nest?”
Doesn’t matter, sirens are solitary. Yuuri traced along Victor’s collarbone. I only need you.
“You went somewhere though, to get me medicine. Did someone help you?”
Yuuri shook his head after a pause, not moving away.
“…Have you stopped talking to me?” Victor inquired, tilting his head back to gaze up at Yuuri.
Mouth remaining sealed shut, Yuuri wrote his words over Victor’s skin, taking his time as he did. You were drawn to that siren’s voice more than mine. I may not be able to protect you if my commands lose power.
“Lovebird, I’d do everything you told me even without it, you know that.”
Yuuri pulled his lower lip into his mouth, pinching at it with his teeth. He stayed silent.
With a soft sigh, Victor reached up and traced his thumb along the bottom of the siren’s lip. “You don’t have to say anything, if you don’t want to. I’m happy just having you near.”
A small smile graced Yuuri’s face and he nodded. I’m sorry I can’t dance for you again in here.
“We can still dance.” Victor stood, taking one of Yuuri’s hands in his, placing the other on his shoulder. He slid his left arm around Yuuri’s waist and stepped in close. “I don’t have wings to flap or flash for you though, you’ll have to forgive me.”
Yuuri’s smile spread a little further, then more when Victor began to lead them in a slow sway around the cabin.
“I’ll do a proper mating dance for you once I’ve healed all the way,” Victor promised. “Shaking my tail feathers and all.”
Yuuri’s quiet laughter sounded beautiful in the private of their room.
Victor swept them across the cabin, twirling them into every available inch of space. He hummed the tune of a siren song that Yuuri sang on the days when his happiness spilled over beyond his chirping sounds. Victor spun Yuuri in his arms and tried dipping him low, but the siren pushed back in concern for Victor’s newly changed bandages and the strain it might put on his wound.
So instead Victor tugged Yuuri close, chest to chest, and touched their foreheads together. The bit of height difference between them let him gaze down at Yuuri, smile adoring the fulless of the siren’s lashes when his eyes closed to soak in the feeling of finally being alone and at peace.
Yuuri rested his head on Victor’s shoulder, between the crook of his neck and where his arms were draped over Victor. They continued to sway, until Victor’s humming faded away into lulled quiet. In the gentle harbor waves, they could not feel if the ship swayed with them.
Lifting his face, Yuuri brushed his lips over the curve of Victor’s jaw and backed him up. Leading, dancing steps toward their bed from which Yuuri was distracted when Victor let his head fall to the side, exposing his neck to Yuuri’s wandering mouth.
The back of Victor’s knees bumped the edge of the bed and sent them off-balance, falling onto the unmade bedding together. Yuuri braced himself against the mattress to catch his weight, yet was drawn down onto Victor in the following moment.
“I had something to ask you, before all this started,” Victor murmured, sweeping dark strands of hair out of Yuuri’s face and tucking them behind his ear. They did not stay, falling forward as soon as they were released. It gave Victor an excuse to repeat the gesture and keep his hand cradled against Yuuri’s face.
Yuuri did not need to say anything, Victor knew he was listening.
“I was previously informed that sirens mate for life,” Victor said, his eyes meeting Yuuri’s, holding them as he spoke. “Which would then make me your single and only mate, forever. Is that true?”
Yuuri nodded, lips ghosting the heel of Victor’s palm. He smiled against it.
“I didn’t know… Yuuri, mating for life, most humans… don’t.”
Yuuri stared down at Victor, expression oddly blank. He pushed back on his elbows, to raise himself off Victor slightly and permit him to watch as he waited for his captain to continue.
“Lots of humans, they don’t find the right mate for them the first time around. We have a few, sometimes many, and some of us never find the person we want to stay with forever. I-… I didn’t either, Yuuri,” Victor explained, thumb stroking along Yuuri’s cheek. “I had a few partners before you, but they weren’t… they did not last long, they were people I met and spent some time with, but they weren’t… They weren’t my mate, not the way you think of it. But you, Yuuri, I can’t imagine being with anyone else now. But I need you to know all of this, I don’t want you thinking something of me that isn’t true. I’ve had other lovers, some of them you might meet at some point, and I need you to understand that humans aren’t the same as sirens. You weren’t my only… but I do want you to be my only from now on.”
Yuuri smiled. And started to laugh. He turned his face into the hand Victor still rested on his cheek and pecked at it repeatedly, kissing at his palm and his fingers, as his laughter continued to rumble, light and amused.
Victor’s eyes went wide and his mouth hung open, in confusion, as Yuuri simply cooed and continued nuzzling into his hand. “What, why are you… I thought you’d–did you know already?”
Yuuri nodded, giggling at Victor’s shock, and wrote into his palm. Phichit told me. Bettas don’t mate for life, he said humans don’t either.
At that, Victor positively scowled and huffed. “I thought you’d be upset!”
Only if you’re telling me you don’t want to stay as my mate.
“Of course not, lovebird! How could I possibly even consider spending the rest of my life with anyone other than you? You’ve ruined me. But I want you to think about this. We’re going to have both humans and sirens hunting after us. A pirate’s life isn’t a safe one, if something happens to me, you’ll be without a mate. You have one chance, are you sure you want to waste it on a human? I’ve already almost died on you twice this week."
Kinda too late to ask. Yuuri nudged a finger into Victor’s chest. Already mated with you.
"Not gonna regret that? You’ll be okay having a mate who isn’t as strong as you? Who might not live as long? A mate without feathers, for the rest of your life?”
Yuuri rolled his shoulders and straightened his spine, his wings blossoming from behind him. Even in the dim of the cabin, they shone and reflected the sunlight peeking in through the windows. Glancing back at them, Yuuri threaded his fingers through his own feathers, until one came loose. Iridescent blue, speckled with light and tipped in the softest pink. He tucked it behind Victor’s ear, as if it were a flower. I’ll just adorn you in mine.
“I’d love that,” Victor replied, smiling back. “I want to tell you… many humans don’t mate for life, but some do. We have something called marriage, where we promise to stay together, till death do us part. Sometimes we exchange rings as a symbol, but you’ve already taken all of mine.” The gold Victor used to wear around his fingers shone on Yuuri’s.
“I know humans aren’t well known for keeping promises, but I’ll make this one to you… I will never love anyone as completely as I love you. Having you, as my mate for life, is more than anything I could ever hope for,” Victor said, taking both of Yuuri’s hands in his own. “And no one, not human, not siren, could take me from your side. I’m yours and only yours, for as long as you’ll have me.”
Yuuri watched the fullness of Victor’s smile, searched the blue depths of his eyes. Then he pulled his fingers out of Victor’s, and seized hold of the silver streaks of his hair, plunging down for a kiss.
Victor met him halfway.
Victor had the heat of Yuuri above him, the colors of his feathers painting them both in midnight blue, the drive of his gentle force. They clung to each other until the night had come and gone, spent the earliest light of dawn gathered in each other’s embrace, in the protection of Yuuri’s wings. Dancing in the bedsheets like they had danced out of them, singing into each other’s mouths until they were both too exhausted to move and could only fall asleep, still entangled.
Yuuri’s enchanted command had kept the crew off board, leaving them undisturbed. When they woke up, they fed one another breakfast off their fingertips, revelling in the quiet that they could fall back into with their love.
Victor’s lips started low, touching every inked feather, every mark stained into Yuuri’s skin.
He took Yuuri’s ankles into his hands, adoring the contrast between the shades of their skin. His fingertips fluttered up behind Yuuri’s calves as he kissed the soles and arches of Yuuri’s feet, worshipping every part that marked him as a siren.
Victor pushed his tired siren back to the center of the mattress, continuing his caresses upon setting Yuuri down in their nest of bedding. From the jut of Yuuri’s ankle bone, he brushed along the length of Yuuri’s legs until the dark of the tattooed feathers ceased into the peach of his thighs.
From there, Victor took Yuuri’s hands in his. One at a time, he kissed at Yuuri’s palms and fingers, over each ring the siren wore. Then, his mouth traveled over Yuuri’s wrists and forearms, tracing the markings there.
Yuuri chirped his approval when Victor wrapped himself around his siren, laying them side to side. Wings folded away, the tattoos depicting them adorned Yuuri’s back. The colors of the ink had changed with the season, pinks and blues replacing his usual red and black. Almost as alluring as they were in their unhidden form.
Victor kissed between Yuuri’s shoulderblades, from where the wings crested to the feather tips resting just above the curve of his buttocks, and back again.
Yuuri unwound in Victor’s arms, the pace of his heart settling like it only could around his mate. Kisses continued, sweet and giving, over the ridges of Yuuri’s spine, the back of his neck. Up behind his ear and across his jaw, where the markings dotted Yuuri’s face. Victor could feel the stretch of Yuuri’s smile beneath his lips.
“I love your markings so much,” Victor muttered against Yuuri’s ear, kissing at it too. “I love how they spread when you’re angry, how they look against my skin when you touch me. I love how the ones here sprout feathers when you blush.”
As if on cue, little feathers tickled at Victor’s lips, Yuuri’s cheeks burning pink.
“I had an idea… for something I could do, a symbol that would show you as my mate for life.”
The siren twisted at the waist, gazing back at Victor with wide brown eyes. His finger drew a question onto the back of the hand which had settled low on his stomach.
“It’d be a surprise, but I promise that you’ll like it. Or I hope so,” Victor laughed. “I think you’d like it. A way of having a part of you with me, no matter where I am. Is that okay?”
Yuuri turned into Victor completely and nuzzled into his chest, kissing above his heart. He traced his answer over the lingering warmth his lips left there. Please.
They spent another day together aboard the ship, listening to the whisper of the ocean and the sweetness of each other’s heartbeats.
Before they left, Victor slid gloves onto Yuuri’s hands and dressed him in pants and a loose-fitted long sleeve shirt, despite the cute pout which had been directed at him the entire time. He’d brushed Yuuri’s hair down around his ears and kissed the tip of his nose.
If rumors of sirens were spreading along the shores, they did not need Yuuri’s markings standing out.
In the harbor town, Yuuri released his command and shuffled his feet when they met with members of the crew. Partially because he was not fond of wearing boots and was irritated with them, partially to show his embarrassment as he actually muttered an apology for kicking them off board. Minami pouted more at seeing that all of Yuuri’s marks were covered up, but kept him mouth blessedly shut.
Yuuri abandoned them all the moment he saw a flash of red hair coming down the main street. He rushed to greet Mila, who was walking straight-backed and tall, guided by a dark-haired and olive-skinned girl. She laughed off his deep bows of remorse and lifted up the layers of her skirts, proudly showing off her new leg. It was carved expertly of a lightwood, heeled and patterned with cresting, crashing waves. A few feathers bordered the curve just under her knee. “Don’t worry, Yuuri. Your lover’s footing the bill,” she winked to emphasize her joke, “plus it’s already impressing all the pretty girls in town.”
Yuuri still flittered around her, signing his apologies and pointing at other ships in the harbor, offering to sink them for her. She only laughed harder.
Chris threw an arm around the captain’s shoulder and clasped on, giving it a purposeful squeeze. “So, how was mating season? Worth almost dying for?”
Victor tore his eyes away from Yuuri, smiling as Mila introduced a silent Yuuri to the nurse that was at her side. He met Chris’s eyes straight on and adopted the most serious of expressions.
“I’m going to lay so many eggs.”
Yuuri still had not gotten used to ports. He had come off the ship with Victor on a few occasions, but it was the first time they had gone into a town by the harbor. The streets buzzed with human activity, and while Yuuri looked upon store fronts with curious wonder, hardly anyone seemed to pay him any mind. If looks lingered for a second longer in admiration of his beauty, he did not notice.
He attached himself to Victor’s side as he was led through the town, arms linked. Before they had separated from the crew, Victor made mention of taking Yuuri somewhere for the afternoon. However, Victor did not stop at any shops, though he did nod at some people who seemed to recognize him. At the edge of the town, Victor had Yuuri wait outside a rather large building, telling him that he would only be several minutes.
He did not lie, Yuuri waited a brief time before he heard Victor’s voice calling out to him. But it did not come from the building Victor had entered. Victor appeared at a short distance, and he was not alone.
Yuuri went rigid. Because Victor was in the air above him, riding atop a horrifying four-legged beast.
Heart-shaped smile gorgeous on his lips, strands of silver hair billowing in the gentle breeze, Victor reached out to Yuuri, offering his hand to the siren. Behind Yuuri, a corsetted woman swooned.
“Jump on, lovebird.”
The beast whinned, throwing its mane.
Yuuri’s feathers poofed up all at once, making him into a giant floof caught up under the fabric of his clothes.
Victor laughed so hard he nearly fell off the horse.
Yuuri’s dark hair stood up on end, ear feathers quivering out from underneath. The loose fabric of Victor’s shirt, which had replaced his robes, pulled from his frightened fluff. His pants puffed up from where they had been tucked into his boots.
Victor had to wipe a tear from the corner of his eye, as Yuuri stood frozen absolutely solid, not breaking eye contact with the horse.
“Oh, lovebird, are you scared?”
A low growl escaped from Yuuri, gargled from the back of his throat.
“It’s not going to hurt you!”
Yuuri seemed to disagree, glaring hard but remaining immobile. The horse whinnied again. Yuuri’s floof doubled, his clothes straining to contain him.
“Just take my hand.” Victor reached out to Yuuri again, who quickly shook his head rapidly from side to side. His dark eyes focused in on the horse’s hooves, making Victor chuckle. “It’s not going to kick you.”
Yuuri stomped his foot onto the ground.
“It can’t stomp on you if you’re riding on top of it, love,” Victor teased.
The siren continued to look dubious. Reluctantly, he took a step forward. The horse pawed at the ground, as if in challenge. Yuuri leapt back, throwing Victor a pleading gaze. His captain took pity.
Victor swung his leg over the horse and dismounted in one smooth motion, likely causing another individual to faint in the background. “You have to get on. We can’t walk there, it’s too far. And as poofy as you are now, flying might draw a little bit too much attention.” He smoothed down the feathers escaping from under Yuuri’s hair, hiding them.
Yuuri seized his hand and wrote into it furiously. I shall not touch this hell beast!
“It’s a horse, she won’t hurt you.”
Why do we have to take it anywhere?!
“I wanted to show you what a proper restaurant is like.”
What use is this so called restaurant?!
“It’s quite a rare treat for most people. I thought you’d enjoy it. They serve the freshest meat. And are said to have quite the assortment of wonderful fruit desserts. With mangoes.”
Yuuri’s eyes narrowed and he glanced over Victor’s shoulder toward the horse. Fine. But if it bites me, it will become our freshest meat.
Victor laughed and laced his fingers through Yuuri’s. “Just don’t let her hear you say that and you might be fine.” He grabbed Yuuri by the hips and lifted him up onto the back of the horse.
The siren sat stiff, unyielding, never having looked more uncomfortable.
His floof did not recede in the slightest.
If Yuuri was being rational, he would have known that the hellbeastback ride took hardly an hour. And normally he would have been quite content to wrap himself around Victor for that long, except the steady rocking of the horse was unsettling. Plus he was certain that it kept flicking his legs with its tail on purpose. Yuuri resisted nudging back only out of fear of the size of the teeth he had glimpsed earlier. Victor had said something about it being a herbivore. Yuuri had his doubts.
Yuuri, however, was not being rational. As much as he liked being in one of Victor’s shirts, the pants and boots were uncomfortable. More so than usual, as his poofed feathers had yet to entirely retreat. He relaxed only when they arrived at the border of a different town and Victor lifted him off the horse.
The siren threw a final glare at the horse. The horse ignored him, nudging its nose into Victor’s hand when he patted its face. Yuuri’s feathers threatened to floof up for an entirely different reason.
Yuuri trailed alongside Victor as he led the horse to a stable for caretaking while they explored the town. As soon as it was just the two of them, Yuuri clasped himself onto Victor’s arm, refusing to let go when Victor laughed at him.
“Stay close, lovebird.”
There was no chance of Yuuri not doing that. Before they stepped onto the streets of the town, Victor paused and tugged free the ribbon tying his hair. He wound his long silver locks around his hand and pulled them up into a messy bun at the back of his head, lacing it in place with the ribbon. Strands escaped, falling loose to frame his face. Yuuri felt like the swooning woman from before.
Yuuri noticed that when Victor took to the streets this time around, he kept off to the side where the buildings cast shadows. He did not stop to acknowledge the people they passed, keeping his face turned down and his pace quick.
He paused outside a shop, throwing a few coins to the keeper and grabbing a hat off a display. He hid his hair beneath it and whisked Yuuri off across the street with a wink. “This town isn’t as friendly to wanted pirates.“
Yuuri was too busy being suspicious of the assorted feathers which decorated the new hat to notice. He did not know what bird they belonged to, but if they were going to be gracing Victor’s beautiful head, he would have to replace them with his own.
The so-called restaurant was not what Yuuri had envisioned. Though, to be fair, Yuuri had no idea what a restaurant was supposed to look like. Victor had said fresh meat. Yuuri had been looking forward to seeing a wide variety of carcasses on display, bright red and appetizing. Or large legs strung up and hanging from the ceiling, like the salted meats Victor would purchase for the crew from the markets, but fresh. It was nothing of the like.
Victor ducked into an imposing building marked with a sign designating it as a tavern, out of which noise flowed like a flooded river. Inside was dim, large banquet room illuminated by oil lamps and candlelit chandeliers. If Victor’s crew got rowdy during evenings of drink and song, Yuuri would have thought the patrons in here were ready to start a war.
The conversations were loud, fueled in their merriment by the scent of alcohol strong over the bar. A pair of musicians played in the corner, their instruments barely carrying over the crowd. Yuuri glimpsed a few women, in stunningly colored dresses that swept the floor. Briefly, he thought Mila might look particularly lovely in one that was emerald green.
Victor led him through the crowd, leaning over the wallside bar to speak in a low voice to the man tending it. Yuuri saw the shine of gold trading hands and followed Victor when they were escorted to a corner table, boothed in and blocked out of view from most of the tavern.
Seated, Victor pulled Yuuri close and fixed his hair, making sure the markings around his ears were properly covered. Yuuri’s eyes were fixed on the hat still on Victor’s head, watching the quiver of the feathers.
His captain noticed and smiled. “You’re right, I should take this off. Not polite for a gentleman to wear a hat indoors.” It got set down at the far end of the table, out of Yuuri’s reach. The siren’s fingers twitched.
“I’m not sure what they’re serving today, but do you have any requests for me to inquire on?”
Yuuri wrote into Victor’s hand.
“No, they do not have horse meat, lovebird. Nice try.”
A young girl came around, her eyes shifting between Victor’s silver hair and Yuuri’s prominent pout. While Victor conversed with her, Yuuri fidgeted with the gloves covering his fingers, removing them under the table. Without proper lighting, his markings would make it look like he was still wearing them. The long sleeves covered up the feather patterns further up. He was tempted to kick off the boots as well. Perhaps walk his bare toes up Victor’s calf in revenge for making him wear them.
Their plates of food arrived not long after, sizeable cuts of meat next to a healthy helping of potatoes. Yuuri’s heart fell past the floor. He pushed the plate away, crinkling his nose.
“What’s wrong, lovebird?”
Yuuri pointed to the surface of the meat.
“Oh, what, because it’s cooked? No, look, here.” Victor leaned in and cut into his steak, revealing the fullness of the red inside. “It’s just seared, you’ll like it.”
Yuuri pushed the plate away further.
Victor laughed at him. “Just try a little piece for me, please?” He held a small portion up to Yuuri’s mouth, blue eyes pleading.
Reluctant, Yuuri accepted and chewed. Slow, letting the flavor soak into his tongue and run down his throat. He swallowed, looking straight into Victor’s eyes.
“Well? Not that bad, right?”
Actions smooth and deliberate Yuuri took Victor’s hand in his own, trailing his touch along the inside of Victor’s wrist before writing into his palm. I hate it.
The siren then dropped Victor’s hand and grabbed the glass of wine which had been brought along with the meat.
That, he downed in one.
Yuuri had gotten through his fourth glass of wine before Victor was halfway through with his first. But that was fine, because Yuuri finished that off for him as well.
His disdain for the cooked steak had been relatively forgotten by the third glass and he had ripped out the bloody center with his fingers, humming to the tune of the flowing music as he chewed. With Victor’s glass emptied into his mouth, Yuuri let the tension in his muscles loosen.
Yuuri scooted closer to Victor, kicking his boots off under the table. Victor choked on a bite of potato when Yuuri nudged at his ankle with his bare foot, trailing it up the length of his calf.
The siren’s cheeks were flushed pink, the color warm on his skin. It was unavoidable whenever Yuuri drank more than a certain amount, but Victor had always said that he found it beautiful… Yuuri wanted to hear those exact words right about now. He abandoned his shredded dinner in favor of nuzzling against Victor’s jaw line.
“You’re being very affectionate all of the sudden. I take it the wine agrees with you.” Victor laughed, shifting to put a little more distance between them.
That was absolutely not the right thing to do.
Yuuri scowled, nudging hard at Victor’s leg beneath the table.
“We’re in public, lovebird. This isn’t the ship.”
Yuuri motioned toward the front of the tavern, in indication of them leaving. It was noisy in a way that was grating on his ears and head, the loud bustling of an indoor crowd unfamilar to him. The music that played was not nearly enough to soothe him, the meat was not what he expected, and looking around he saw not a single mango in anyone’s possession. His skin itched from the foreign clothing, and from having to fight to contain his feathers in order not to attract attention. He wanted to hear more of the music and flash his wings, show them off again to Victor and shake them in his face before the colors started to fade.
Yuuri glared once more at the hat on the table.
“Okay, okay, shall we leave?”
Victor stood. Yuuri expected to feel a hand on his shoulder, sliding down to the small of his back in order to guide him along. Like from a proper gentleman.
Instead, Victor reached for his hat. Yuuri snatched it away, gripping on. The feathers in it weren’t even that special. White and black, some speckled brown. What a boring bird they must have belonged to. Nothing like his colors. Victor deserved way better. He deserved to have only the most gorgeous of feathers in his hair or his hat.
Victor smiled at him. “Did you want to wear it?”
Yuuri shook his head. He wanted to pluck it.
“You can hold onto it for now, but I’ll need once we get outside. Give me a moment.”
Victor left him, headed toward the bar. Yuuri wondered if he could hide the hat somewhere and pretend he lost it. He looked around, eyes wandering over the crowd of people. He could give it as a gift to one of the pretty girls. Stuff it under the table of a group of rowdy men playing some sort of game. Maybe toss it at the musicians playing in the corner. They seemed lively enough, with their assortment of strings and percussion.
Naturally, Yuuri gravitated toward them. If Victor was going to ignore him in favor of unknown feathers and a hellbeast, Yuuri was going to remind him exactly why it was that Yuuri was the most beautiful bird in town.
Excited cheers, whistles of encouragement distracted Victor from his quiet conversation with the bar keep. The sounds of the tavern changed quickly, from the drone of liquored conversation to that of lively music chiming out. In front of the musicians, the floor had cleared of people, making room for one individual.
Yuuri was dancing.
Not with the same grace and seduction that he had displayed with his mating dance on the island, surrounded by mist and the scent of tropical blossoms. He danced with the energy of the tavern music, on the sharpness of a fiddle and the beat of a tramborine. His bare feet slapped the floor, keeping time with the jig, hands clapping along. The smile on his face was beauty unparalleled.
And then he wasn’t alone. The allure of Yuuri’s dance had drawn a few patrons to him, overjoyed voices joining in to shout as they linked arms with the siren and skipped to the music. Made figure-eights and swapped partners, all led by Yuuri’s quick movements and the melody of his laugh.
The song ended to the protest of several patrons, a couple coins thrown in request for another. The band immediately started, playing a song as lively as the last. Yuuri caught Victor’s eyes and held out his hand. As if Victor could resist. Before a second had passed, he was at Yuuri’s side.
The siren smiled, grabbing the hat off a nearby table so he could sweep it down as he bowed to Victor, in formal invitation for a dance. He then plopped it onto his own head, seemingly have forgotten of the feathers still adorning it.
Victor whisked Yuuri into his arms the very next moment. Yuuri’s laughter was more melodious than the music. His fingers threaded through Victor’s, eyes sparkling as they made use of the entire dance floor. They skipped to the time of the percussions, twirled one another with the singing of the strings.
While some of the other patrons switched partners, Victor and Yuuri stayed in each other’s arms. They spun and romped, skin flushed, smiles stretched wide. The fine strands of Victor’s hair escaped the loose bun he had tied them into it, messy around his face.
As the music dipped, Yuuri dipped Victor. He pulled the velvet ribbon free, allowing Victor’s hair to cascade as Yuuri ran his fingers through it. Then, on the note of Victor’s laugh, he tugged his captain back up, swinging them around in a whirlwind of shining silver locks.
They danced until their feet began growing numb, muscles burning, lost to everything but the music and the joy radiating between them. Victor’s hands settled low on Yuuri’s waist, lifting him up and twirling them both around.
Yuuri slid down against him, chest to chest, heart beating to heart. His cheeks were flushed an even deeper pink, brown eyes glimmering with love, lips parted and breathing hard with the energy of their dances. He threw his arms around Victor, nuzzling into his collarbone. “Be my mate, Victor.” He pouted, voice sweet and pleading, layered in the wine he had drunk.
“I am your mate, lovebird.” Victor said, cradling Yuuri’s face in his hand, thumb stroking slow over his lower lip. “Right now and forever. I’d sink the world for you.”
Yuuri’s already impossible blush darkened, burning so bright and pleased that the markings around his ears floofed into feathers.
The music stopped.
A chair scrapped against the wooden floor as it was pushed back, its occupant rising. Victor could feel the eyes on his hair, became vividly aware of the fact that Yuuri no longer wore boots nor gloves. In the dim of the tavern, the sublties of his markings would not be evident, but the conflicting color of his limbs and the rest of his skin would. Not to mention, the little blue feathers now decorating Yuuri’s ears. Victor pushed the hat down lower on Yuuri’s head, hoping they would blend in with the feathers atop it.
“I believe it’s time for our grand finale,” Victor whispered and picked Yuuri up bridal-style, spinning his siren around.
Yuuri’s feet collided with a table and kicked it over, plates and liquor crashing down with it. In the same moment Victor cut through his coin purse and sent gold and silver rolling in every direction.
A shout of “Nikiforov!” was swept away by the clamor for spilled coins and the cries of patrons whose shoes were flooded with beer and wine.
Yuuri clung onto Victor, smiling as his captain skirted between people, jumping out of the way of a woman tripping over her heels as a man slid across the floor, grasping for rogue gold.
The gruff looking individual who had recognized Victor leapt over a table, throwing a punch which Victor easily ducked out from with his dancer’s grace. The man’s fist collided with another patron’s jaw instead, causing Yuuri to laugh in sheer delight. In return, another blow was struck, knocking over a second table and more people, from whose hands dropped gathered coins.
A proper brawl broke out, driven by the band who began to play for the humor of it.
Victor slipped out of the tavern amidst the madness. Outside, dusk had settled, the sun sinking just beneath the horizon.
“Hang on, we’re gonna run for it,” Victor told Yuuri, hitching him up to steady his grip. Yuuri was more than happy to secure his hold as Victor took off down the street, his long legs carrying them quick toward the edge of town through side streets.
A shot rang out behind them, making Victor stop and spin. Two men chased them, weapons drawn.
“What, no please?” Victor called back, smiling as the wind fluttered through the loose strands of his hair. “What incentive do I have?”
“The price on your head is worth more alive than dead!”
“How flattering. May I inquire as to how much?”
Yuuri giggled at Victor’s nonchalance, gazing out from his rather comfy spot in Victor’s arms. Victor could not reach his guns or sword while holding Yuuri, so the siren glanced down, seeing if he could grab them for him. Not that he knew how to use one. Yuuri slid a hand between them, groping around Victor’s belt to try to find the guns holstered somewhere along there.
His aim was slightly off, Victor flinching and chuckling as he winked down at Yuuri. “Save that for the bedroom, lovebird.”
Yuuri’s feathers twitched.
“Hand yourself over, Nikiforov, and find out!”
The twinkle in Victor’s eyes was brighter than the emerging stars above. “Hmmm, appealing but I’m afraid that you’re disrupting my date. Such poor manners. Lovebird, will you tell them that they’re disrupting our date and kindly ask them to leave?”
Oh yes. Yuuri could do that. He looked straight at the two men and smiled. “You’re disrupting our date! Leave!”
Just like that, the two went rigid and turned, walking off as if not in control of themselves. The siren and his captain watched them go, until they rounded a corner and disappeared. Victor laughed richly. Yuuri chirped, delighted with his own success.
“Well, that all went much worse and much better than expected. Let’s head home before anyone else comes chasing after.”
Yuuri nodded in agreement, fingertips playing with silver hair which cascaded over Victor’s shoulders. He remained pleased until they arrived outside the stables.
Where Victor had left the hellbeast.
We can fly! Yuuri protested, his traced letters a little sloppy and certainly less than steady on Victor’s palm.
“Can you walk?” Victor chuckled, his fingers scratching gently over the horse’s nose.
Yuuri was swaying on his feet, just a tad. He was standing as far as he could from the horse while still being able to scrawl to Victor. I danced.
“You did, beautifully. Now how about you ride the horse, beautifully?”
The siren regarded the animal with great suspicion.
“You rode her here, and it was fine. Are you going to let her intimidate a siren like yourself? Or are you gonna master the hellbeast?”
That had Yuuri squaring his shoulders and marching up to the horse. She paid him no mind, waiting.
Yuuri’s first try at mounting was nothing more than a short hop that barely got him off the ground. Victor had to stifle a laugh. His second attempt went a bit better, the third worse than the first. By the sixth he was simply leaning against the horse, hands flat against her side, his eyes closed. Victor was not sure if it was in concentration or exhaustion.
“Shall I help you, lovebird?”
“No! I can master this hellbeast myself!” With an immense show of his strength, Yuuri lifted himself up and over. Almost all the way over, Victor having to grab his arm to keep the siren from tumbling off the other side.
Yuuri sat up tall, back straight, and pointed off into the distance. “Onward, hellbeast!”
Victor laughed so hard he had to clutch at his side, where his stitching stretched and ached. Because Yuuri was seated facing in the direction of the horse’s tail.
The feathers on the hat which remained on his head shivered in the wind.
“Stupid hellbeast,” Yuuri muttered into the back of Victor’s shoulder. He slouched against his captain as they rode together, arms draped loose around Victor’s waist. The multiple glasses of wine had finally caught up with him. “You don’t… you don’t get to touch his butt. I don’t want his butt on you… That’s-… t-that’s my, my butt… Victor should only be riding me…”
Victor was having a difficult time keeping himself upright. Yuuri’s mutters were hushed into the fabric of his shirt, a few rather unintelligible altogether. Victor wondered if a drunken siren’s commands would still have the same effect as a sober siren’s.
Yuuri’s hands wandered, lazily tracing patterns over Victor’s back. It required a minute of concentration to figure out what Yuuri was doing, his usually precise writing impaired.
Yuuri was drawing wings. From the curve of Victor’s shoulderblades down as far as he could go without sticking his hands down the captain’s pants.
“What are you up to, lovebird?”
Yuuri hummed, the tune lively, an echo of the music at the tavern. He danced his fingers over the vertebrae of Victor’s spine, peeling down the back collar of his shirt. “You said you liked my… my marks. I’m gonna… mark you up.” He started to dot kisses over exposed skin, nipping wherever he pleased. “Gonna show that stupid bird on your head… you’re my mate…”
The earlier suspicion with which Yuuri had regarded the hat clicked. Victor chuckled, glancing over his shoulder. The trihorn had shifted, tilted precariously at the back of Yuuri’s head. The feathers bounced with each step the horse took. Victor considered pointing out to Yuuri that he was the one wearing the hat. His siren, however, remained blissfully unaware.
“My feathers are better. Stupid bird only has… white and grey… how boring.” Yuuri paused in his muffled kisses, tugging on Victor’s shirt. “Victor… Victor, tell that bird… Tell that bird I’m prettier.”
Victor twisted, grabbing the hat off Yuuri’s head and holding it out before him, in view of his siren. “Yuuri is far prettier than you. His plumage is superior in every way.”
“Far superior,” Yuuri mumbled in confirmation. “More than any bird…”
“You’re the most beautiful bird in the world.”
“Mmmm… damn right I am.”
The horse nickered, shaking her mane.
“See, even the horse agrees, Yuuri. You’re the most beautiful bird.”
Yuuri leaned sideways to look toward her face, his eyes wide in amazement. It took a full minute, but then he smiled, as if he had won some sort of victory.
“Should I even bother asking?” Chris said, rightfully wary as Victor carried Yuuri on board the ship.
“I tried letting him walk. He started taking off his pants,” Victor explained.
Yuuri was curled up happily in Victor’s arms, the hat in his hands. He was plucking the feathers from it, one by one, laughing softly each time that he did. Victor gathered that Yuuri had wanted to do as such from the beginning and let him. A plucked hat was well worth the price of a siren’s smile.
“I doubt many would protest.” Chris chuckled.
“He’s not wearing any undergarments.”
“I wouldn’t protest.”
Yuuri arched in Victor’s arms and slipped a hand beneath his own shirt, eyebrows furrowed in sharp concentration. From it, he pulled a long speckled blue feather, fitting it into the hat. Chirping, he then plopped it onto Victor’s head, mouth split wide in satisfaction.
“Thank you, lovebird.”
“How much did he drink?” Chris asked, watching the siren nuzzle into the cut neckline of Victor’s shirt.
“Clearly more than he should have. Alert the crew, we’re setting sail as soon as I get Yuuri to bed.”
Yuuri perked at the last part. His ear tuffs had yet to retreat, quivering with the blush spreading high on his cheeks.
“Seems like you said something to excite your bird,” Chris pointed out, laughing. “You must be quite the mate, Victor.”
At that, Yuuri snapped his attention to Chris, the depths of his eyes fierce. “He’s the best mate… And I’m gonna mate him. Right now.”
Victor nearly choked on air.
Chris arched an eyebrow. “I thought Emil warned you off strenuous activity, Victor.”
“I’ll be fine. He’s already danced,” Victor said. “And befriended a horse.”
By the time they glanced back down at Yuuri, he had fallen asleep. Victor looked at his dozing siren with pure affection.
“I think,” Chris regarded Yuuri with caution, “I might need to reconsider my fondess for mythical creatures.”
“Why? He’s making my life all the more worth living.”
Turns out I skipped a few chapters uploading, so I'm going back and making sure nothing was missed.
Hiroko rushed down the beach, all but catching the brightly-colored siren when he landed. She threw his arm over her shoulders, holding his weight as it threatened to give out from under him. Her eyes darted over his wings, battered, feathers bent and broken, then to the blood streaked across his face, staining the collar of his robes.
“Come on, you can walk, it’s not far.” She led the exhausted siren along into the cove, helping him settle down by the pit of hot coals heating water. From the pot she fished a cloth, wringing it with her bare hands and snapping it twice, hard, to cool it. She moved quickly, wiping the blood off Seung-gil’s cheek and the claw piercings at the sides of his neck. A bruise had begun to form around his throat. She then moved through his wings, fingers darting through to examine the feathers. “Some of these are quite bad. Do you want me to trim them or pull them out?”
“Just pull them,” Seung-gil said, bunching the shoulder of his robes and placing it in his mouth. He gritted his teeth against the fabric as Hiroko plucked the feathers, pain shooting through his nerves as each quill was removed. When she finished, she rushed off, returning to trim the rest into rounded edges.
“What happened, you look like you were attacked by harpies?” Hiroko asked, filing the edges down on the feathers she cut so they would not irritate.
“Not harpies, it was another siren,” Seung-gil muttered, shoving his discarded feathers into the fire pit, watching them smolder and burn. “He intruded on my nest and chased me from it.”
“You fought another siren?”
“I did not fight. I was attacked. I calculated my odds of winning and they were miniscule. I chose to leave.”
“Unprovoked?” The doubt was light in Hiroko’s voice but present. “I know you don’t get on well with others, dear, but–”
“He had a human with him,” Seung-gil said, the statement bitter on his tongue, cutting through the usual steadiness of his tone. “He claimed they were a mated pair.”
Hiroko paused. The cove went quiet, with only the buzzing of the bees and the nearby lull of the tide on the beach holding off silence. At the base of the old manuka tree, another siren with scarlet colors dozed. Her broken wings were outstretched, splinted and healing.
“A siren with a human mate?”
“I did not believe him. The probability of that being true is astronomical. I considered it more likely that he was being manipulated by the human, in some way but I could not determine the cause. I tried to rid him of the human, to help him escape its influence,” Seung-gil explained. “A ship attempted hunting me, before the season. They were unsuccessful. I thought it likely that this siren had not been as fortunate as I.”
“And he attacked you?”
“He did not react as I expected.”
Hiroko rested back on her heels, quietly thoughtful as she brushed the feather trimmings off her hands.
“He was performing a mating dance when I saw him,” Seung-gil added, cautiously retracting his wings toward himself, testing how they felt. “As he was in my nest, I determined it was performed to court me. And that the human was a gift, a custom of you northern sirens.”
“Us northern sirens?” Hiroko asked, expression furrowing.
“His wing pattern resembled yours. Midnight feathers. Speckled blue, in the same spread as your yellow. Tipped in pink. His dance was flawless in technical elements, but I am not seeking a mate. However, if he was dancing for the human…” Seung-gil paused, voice dropping suddenly. “Then I threatened his mate. I attempted to kill his mate. He attacked because I meant to separate a siren from his mate…”
“You couldn’t have known, dear. A siren with a human mate, it’s unheard of.”
“We’re meant to trust other sirens…” Seung-gil spoke with hesitant consideration. “If we cannot trust each other, what do we have?”
“No harm came to them?” Hiroko asked, pushing herself onto her feet.
“No. He protected the human. His mate,” Seung-gil repeated the final portion of his words, a note of disbelief still laced through them. “As any siren would.”
“Well then… If it’s true, then that’s good. Such a peculiar thing.” Hiroko frowned, inspecting Seung-gil’s wings one more time. “Stay here, dear, rest. I’ll get you something for your feathers…” She left the macaw in contemplation, shuffling off toward the medicine stores.
Her mate joined her side, light touch settling on her arm. “Do you think…”
Hiroko shook her head, voice hushed to avoid being overheard. “Tell me those did not sound like Yuuri’s wings to you.”
Toshiya gave her no such assurance.
The Sunday market was bustling. Victor had lost Yuuri amongst the crowd some ten minutes prior, but he did not bother seeking him out. Markets had become one of Yuuri’s not-so-secret loves whenever they landed in a port and the siren had grown accustomed to navigating them. He had eagerly jumped into a pair of boots as soon as the parrots squawked their calls of land and dressed himself in Victor’s clothes, almost more eager than the crew to get off.
With the turning of the season came typhoons, meaning Victor kept them close to the coast in order to catch protection from the storms. It also meant fewer ships on the water, merchants not wanting to risk their cargo to the temper of the summer sea. Less to pirate meant the days grew longer and rougher, while the supplies on board dwindled.
Victor weaved between stalls and people, picking up some local herbs that he knew Chris would debate on buying with his own coin, supplies and food stores for the crew, medicine powders to restock Emil’s chest. He stopped to look at some beautifully dyed fabrics which he could use to make into robes for Yuuri, but the siren always preferred his own. Not that Victor faulted him, they were as mesmerizing as Yuuri himself.
When the sun hit high noon, Victor found Yuuri kneeling at a stall selling birds. There were fowl in large cages, a few parakeets shuffling around perches, a pen of clucking chickens. Yuuri ignored them all in favor of chirping at a small nest of eggs set out under the warm sun.
“Of course you’d be with the birds. You’re as bad as Minami,” Victor teased, but Yuuri’s attention did not waver even for a millisecond. Chuckling to himself, Victor examined the chickens pecking at feed in the pen before turning to the small elderly lady manning the stall.
A few chickens on board could produce fresh eggs for the crew or serve as a decent meal themselves if food stock ran low. He doubted Yuuri would mind too much, and they would keep the bird nerd happy enough. If Chris complained about the extra work, he could task Yurio with their care. The powder monkey had trained the parrots remarkably well, right under everyone’s noses.
“Yuuri, what do you think about–”
The old merchant lady next to him gasped. Victor would have done the same if he had not grown used to all of Yuuri’s little surprises. Extremely little, this time around.
The nest no longer contained eggs. Only cracked eggs shells scattered around, broken into jagged pieces.
Cupped in Yuuri’s hands were four tiny yellow chicks, peeping excitedly. The smallest wings flapped up at him and they all hopped, beaded black eyes directed at Yuuri in the equivalent of pure adoration.
“Oh dear, I thought those weren’t going to hatch for another day,” the stall keeper said, shuffling toward Yuuri. “Look how healthy they look though. And they’re imprinted on you, it seems, the bitty cheepers.”
Yuuri looked delighted. The chicks continued to peep and he imitated them, peeping back.
“You’d make a good mama bird.”
Laughing at the cuteness before him, Victor scooped one yellow fluff ball up and deposited it atop Yuuri’s head, letting it nest in his hair. Another peep. Yuuri went entirely still to make sure it did not tumble off.
Victor tucked a silver coin too many in the old lady’s hands.
“We’ll take the lot.”
When they got back on board the ship, Yuuri set all four chicks down and shuffled in experiment across the deck. They followed behind him in a single file, peeping all way.
The low burning lights in the cabin flickered off Victor’s skin and the new colors it hosted. Yuuri’s fingertips hovered over his left pectoral muscle, twitching with desire to touch but restraining. Patience was a trait that came and went with Yuuri, and with the sight Victor presented, he could hardly contain himself.
Victor had drawn Yuuri into their room with a secretive smile, made Yuuri sit on the edge of the bed as he pulled his own shirt over his head.
“What do you think?” Victor asked, gazing down at the shimmering fresh ink of the tattoo. “This way I’ll always have your feathers on me.”
Crossed over Victor’s heart were two feathers, of Yuuri’s ever-beautiful red-tipped black and the speckled midnight blue of mating season. Beneath them, a scroll scripted out an adoring, “Lovebird.”
Yuuri gazed up from the ink with eyes that shone so bright that it made Victor laugh.
“X marks the spot, you know?”
The siren tilted his head, inquisitive.
“To the treasure that my siren holds.” Victor took Yuuri’s hands in his and placed them over the crossed-feather tattoo. “My heart.”
Yuuri flushed so fast and fond that his ear feathers sprung forth, causing Victor to laugh loud enough for the melodious sound to fill the room.
“I take it that you like it then?”
Nodding, Yuuri touched a kiss to the ink of his own feathers imbedded in Victor’s skin, to the “Lovebird” wrapped around his heart. Marking Victor as Yuuri’s mate, for life.
Minami climbed down from the crow’s nest, sketchbook tucked under his arm and charcoal pencil in his teeth. The second his feet landed on the wooden deck, he reopened his sketchbook and stared, starry-eyed, rendered in motionless awe at whatever image it was he had managed to record.
He collapsed back against the mast, sliding down to the floor, right hand clutching over his own heart. A low continous squeal escaped him, all while he refused to look away.
Naturally, a couple nearby curious crew members gathered to gaze over his shoulder to see what exactly it was he had sketched.
Yurio scoffed and stalked off, grumbling something about the wasting of time. Mila gasped in delight and ruffled Minami’s hair, praising his skills. Chris laughed and called out a warning, “Don’t let Victor see that.”
Minami tore his eyes away from his drawing. “Why no–”
The sketchbook was torn out of his hands by the captain. He flapped his arms and leapt up, jumping in fruitless attempts to get it back. Victor held it well out of reach.
“Are you bothering Yuuri again?”
“I wasn’t, I made sure to be quiet!” Minami protested, already pouting and putting on a display of crocodile tears.
“Didn’t he tell you to stop?” Victor asked, flipping through the pages of the sketchbook. It was filled with multitudes of birds, from all different angles, details of their beaks and their wings, with fully annotated notes of their colors and calls, descriptions of mating dances or other observed behavior. However, the most recent pages were filled with drawings of Yuuri. In flight, in the water, playing the lyre for the crew, stretching his wings after emerging from Victor’s cabin in the morning. Detailed recordings of how his markings spread and how his feathers appeared when in battle, but also filled with many empty lines and question marks added to notes that Minami had not yet confirmed.
“If he told me to stop then I wouldn’t be able to do it!” Minami pointed out, making another attempt to grab back his book.
Victor flipped it to the newest page and stopped.
It was a drawing of Yuuri, curled up asleep in the crow’s nest. The siren had claimed it for himself a few weeks after joining the crew, and lined it with blankets, filled it with trinkets he collected, a few broken toy ships he had gleefully destroyed. Made it into an actual nest, far too grand to belong to a crow. Victor had found him napping inside it on more than one occasion and the sight always warmed his heart.
Except in the sketch Minami had made, Yuuri wasn’t alone. Snuggled next to him were his four fluffy chicks, sleeping under the crook of his chin, against the siren they saw as their mama bird.
Just like Minami had, Victor clutched a hand over his heart. “Oh….”
“I know! It’s adorable, it’s so cute I’m gonna die! Now give it back!”
Victor did give back the book. But not before tearing the page out and pocketing it for himself. When Minami howled in protest, Victor tossed a couple gold coins at him in payment. The deckhand swatted them out of the air, not chasing when they rolled away.
“You can’t, that picture is priceless!”
“And as your captain, I can rightfully claim such a treasure for myself. Thank you, Kenji.”
Sticking out his tongue, Minami tried scaling back up the netting leading to the nest, only for Victor to grab him by the back collar of his shirt and tug him back down.
“What are you gonna do if he wakes up and actually orders you to stop? No more siren sketches….” Victor paused for dramatic effect. “…Ever.”
Minami’s eyes went wide and his voice wavered in uncertainty. “He won’t… wake up?”
“Are you willing to take that chance?” Victor asked, and very loudly and purposefully, cleared his throat.
Victor tilted his head back and opened his mouth to call up to his lovebird.
Minami jumped onto him, clamping his hands over it. “Mutiny!”
“That only works if everyone agrees to it!” Victor’s laughter was muffled as he tried to wrestle Minami off him, playfully fighting and giving chase when the boy stole back the sketch.
Their scuffle ended with a chirp, as a confused and awoken siren stared down at them from the nest above.
“Do mermaids eat humans?” Chris had been holding out on asking the question, he truly had. Thus far, his few chats with Phichit had been feeding the mermaid all the details of Victor and Yuuri’s blossoming love, which Phichit collected in the same way Yuuri hoarded toy ships. With utter delight and a constant craving for more.
Phichit flashed his most dazzling smile, the razor sharp points of his teeth on display. “Oh don’t worry. I’ve gone vegetarian… or pescatarian… well, mostly. On Thursdays. And holidays.”
Chris was not certain of the meaning of approximately half of what Phichit had stated. He nodded anyway. Nothing like a beautiful myth to leave him unable to find his brain. “Do you have a favorite?”
“Anything with colors brighter than mine,” Phichit replied, his tail flicking at the air. The mermaid had perched himself on a railing, a vivid distraction to anyone who walked by. Despite the siren on board, the apprehension toward the mermaid persisted. Chris was the only one brave enough, or foolish enough, to approach. Phichit had seemed pleased to have admiring company. “If we’re talking human food, then I love nothing more than a big meaty sausage. Something juicy to sink my teeth into.”
“I could make that,” Chris said, swallowing down the bit of concern sitting on his tongue. “Next time we dock.”
“I’m sure you could provide just the thing to hit the spot.” Phichit tipped Chris’s chin up with his tail fins, smirk tempting. “You know, there’s more than one way to be a maneater.” With a wink, the mermaid granted a very light fin slap to Chris’ unshaven cheek and dove off the railing, vanishing down into the depths of the ocean.
Chris staggered back a step, gripping his racing heart. He caught Victor’s gaze, the captain observing quietly from nearby. “I’ve never been more terrified and more turned on in my entire life.”
Victor approached, patting him squarely on the shoulder in comradery . “Yeah… Believe me, I know.”
Atop the figurehead that graced Victor’s ship sat a siren and a mermaid.
Phichit had leapt on board without so much as a warning, climbing up the side of the ship as it sailed. His claws retracted into the brilliant smile he had tossed to blinking members of the crew, along with a cheerful, “Morning!”
Phichit’s gold and scarlet scales glinted in the sun as he flicked his tail, chattering with great enthusiasm. He held something cupped in his hands, showing it off to Yuuri. His sea bunnies crawled slowly over his shoulders, rabbit-ear antennas wiggling.
Yuuri’s hair and feathers rustled in the breeze, wings stretched out and relaxed behind him. A light smile curled the corners of his mouth, followed by a soft blush when Phichit appeared to ask him a question. The mermaid took notice and laughed heartily in response.
Chris was supposed to be clearing his kitchen of rubbish. He had come on deck to scrub out the built up char from several of his pots, yet was finding the task far more strenuous than usual. Each time that Phichit’s fins twitched, the sun sparked off the gold of his scales and markings. Blindingly beautiful. In quite the literal sense.
Chris moved toward the ship railing, making to toss the scrubbings overboard. A flare of reflected light from Phichit’s tail shone into his eyes and a miscalculated step sent him tumbling right over the edge.
He hit the water with a perfectly dignified yell and a splash, sinking beneath the ship. A second splash followed and before Chris had a chance to kick himself to the surface, he was grabbed. The salt of the water stung at his eyes, but through the blur he saw the colors contrasting the blue of the sea.
Phichit had dove in after him and, in a seemingly impossible feat, dragged him up the side of the ship to dump him back on deck. The mermaid shook droplets from his dark hair, smiling deviously at his rescue. “I’m not a dolphin, you know.”
Chris sputtered out a mouthful of water and an equal amount of embarrassment. “I’m sorry?”
“I’ll only save a human once.”
Without awaiting a thanks, Phichit pushed himself gracefully back across the deck, rejoining his siren friend. Yuuri deposited the sea bunnies back onto Phichit’s shoulder.
Chris managed to stare for only a moment, shaking himself free of the daze the mermaid permanently inflicted on him. The pot he had been holding, however, was forever lost to Davy Jones’ Locker.
Phichit yelled, claws swiping at the air when he was suddenly ripped from the ocean. Water cascaded off his hair and fins, splashing back to the sea below. His tail whipped around, barbs on it flared and ready to damage whatever thing had grabbed him. A feathered hand caught the base of his fluke, stopping the strike.
“I nearly took your face off, warn a fish!” Phichit snapped at Yuuri, heart pounding. He twisted in the siren’s arms to try to wiggle free. “Let me go!”
Yuuri did not listen, wings turning him around and carrying the both of them quickly in direction which he came from. When Phichit flopped and attempted to escape, Yuuri lifted them higher into the air until Phichit yelped about the height.
“You cannot fishnap a mer with no explanation, Yuuri!”
Yuuri smiled but did not answer, holding steady onto his friend until the ship came within sight. He dropped a protesting, struggling mermaid onto the deck without explanation.
Phichit glared for barely a split second, catching sight of what was undoubtedly the reason Yuuri had so unceremoniously abducted him. “Oh. My. Poseidon.”
Victor and Chris were both shirtless, helping to rig the sails. Their muscles strained under the sun, sweat like diamond drops slipping down skin. Phichit spied a long scar hooking the line of the cook’s hip and had an odd urge to lick it.
“Oh. Oh, I can see why you like humans,” Phichit muttered. “Suddenly, I’ve got a thirst the size of the ocean…”
Yuuri’s eyes were trained intensely on his mate, the strength with which he worked and the flutter of his silver hair in the breeze. The few black feathers tied into the velvet ribbon tremored along with it. Involuntarily, Yuuri let out a chirp like a whistle.
With the sails at half-mast, Chris and Victor glanced over the sharp lines of their shoulders, catching the two staring creatures. They smirked at each other and turned back to their task, pulling harder on the rigging. The muscles stretching down their arms and backs to well-cut hiplines flexed in a beautiful symphony of movement.
“Do you think they need help?" Phichit edged forward.
Yuuri braced his hand against Phichit’s chest, holding him back with a shake of his head. The siren and the mermaid sat back, shamelessly enjoying the spectacular view.
“I was under the impression that mermaids traveled in schools,” Chris said, taking a seat on the deck railing next to a lounging mermaid.
“Some species do,” Phichit replied, his fins spreading to soak up the warmth basking down on them. “Not bettas. Instinctually, we’re not very good with other fish.”
“Why is that?”
“We like to be the center of attention,” Phichit smiled, fanning his tail and arching it over himself in order to nudge playfully at Chris’s knee. “Another betta around is competition. I want your focus on me.”
“Well, humans have an expression. Chasing tail. You’ve made that quite literal for me.”
“And that means?”
“Means that your tail is indeed the center of my attention. And that it’s the only one I’m chasing.”
Phichit grinned, teeth flashing. “How do I know that you’re not just looking to serve up a healthy portion of fish, chef?”
Chris leaned down, fingers slipping under Phichit’s chin to tilt his face up. “That’s not the taste of the sea that I’m interested in at the moment.”
Phichit’s fins flared, his quick wit faltering. A sharp exhale escaped without his permission. “Oh.”
Yuuri sat behind Phichit, draping fine gold chains around his friend. The gleaming color contrasted with the darkness of the mermaid’s skin, threaded between the sharp-lined markings along his collarabone and shoulders. Yuuri placed a bracelet onto Phichit’s left wrist and sat back, admiring the shiny gifts he had bestowed on his friend.
Phichit turned from side to side, smiling down at himself. “How about one for my tail?”
Yuuri dug into his little collection of treasure and pulled out another chain which he wrapped around the bottom of Phichit’s tail, clipping it in place. The loose portion dangled between his tail fins, pleasing the mermaid greatly if the size of his smile was anything to go by.
“I swear, you’re the luckiest siren ever. Got enough gold to spare now that you’re giving it away.”
Yuuri chuckled, sorting through the rest. He paused on a elegant hair pin, picking it up to examine. The length of it had thin strands twisted to create the patterns of feathers and flowers, faces of which were imbedded with yellow topaz.
“Whatcha gonna do with that?” Phichit asked.
Yuuri glanced around the deck and saw his mark. He beelined for the powder monkey tasked with swabbing the deck, snatching the tied bandana off Yurio’s head.
“Hey, you freaking bird, what are you–”
“Stay still,” Yuuri commanded and Yurio obeyed, permitting the siren to grab handfuls of his blond hair. He kept shouting, however hopelessly, for Yuuri to let him go. The siren did not seem to care the least about the expletive noise.
Yuuri swept up Yurio’s outgrow bangs , twisting them at the back of his head and pinning the strands in place with the hairpin. The gold and topaz was incredibly fitting with the blond. Humming in content, Yuuri nodded and flew back to Phichit, releasing Yurio from the command as he went.
The powder mokey remained paralyzed, reaching back slowly to touch the priceless pin. He felt out the shape and the stones, finally breaking from his shock to round angrily on the siren. “Why’d you do that?!”
Yuuri only smiled, but Phichit waved and shouted back. “Cause he thinks it looks pretty on you!”
Scowling, Yurio spun away and stalked off, abandoning his task. He dropped his face, doing his best to hide the blush betraying him.
Phichit scrunched his nose as he looked across the deck. He had climbed on board in order to send the afternoon with the siren. Except there would be none of that. Apparently, Yuuri had just returned from a long flight and there was no tearing or tempting him away from his mate.
Victor had Yuuri in his arms, the two twirling each other across the ship, Yuuri’s wings enveloping them both. They danced, foreheads tipped together, like swans reunited. Even at a distance there was no missing the strengths of their smiles. Phichit huffed.
“Not a fan of the lovebirds?”
Phichit saw Chris, who was looking amused at the mermaid’s pout.
“They’re adorable. Are they always like this?”
“No,” Chris replied, settling back against the railing to watch the happy couple along with Phichit. “Sometimes, they’re much worse.”
Phichit followed their movements, observing the few quick pecks that they exchanged before Victor took hold of Yuuri’s face and pulled him in closer. Yuuri raised his wings, shielding them from view with his out-stretched feathers. The mated pair stayed hidden for a while longer.
“How do humans even mate?” Phichit asked suddenly, eyes darting to Chris.
That question seemed to briefly startle the cook. “Ummm… like normal? We have sex. How do mermaids?”
Phichit blinked, expression blank. “Sex?”
Chris gazed down the line of Phichit’s body, eyes settling on his tail. “…Do you lay eggs?”
“I don’t, don’t be ridiculous!” Phichit laughed, waving his hand to dismiss the notion. “Only female bettas do that. I’d just fertilize them and care for the eggs until they hatch.”
“Like a fish…”
“Well, I am a fish. Kinda. So yeah, like a fish. Why, how do you do it?”
“…Like a dolphin.”
“I have something to show you.”
Shivers always pulsed through Yuuri whenever Victor spoke such words. Yuuri had never had surprises before Victor. A siren’s life was rather predictable. Hunt, survive. Life on a cliffside was lonely, cold. Nothing like the warmth and joy Victor had brought into Yuuri’s life.
“Turn around, okay? You’ll need to wait a bit.”
Yuuri obeyed, sitting with his back to Victor on their bed. He waited, ears perking. He heard rustling, the swish of fabric, the sound of Victor’s guns and sword being set on wood. His mate was undressing. Yuuri smiled, closing his eyes, a hot spark flashing through his veins. He waited, listening to the sound of Victor’s movements, the soft reassurances from Victor to wait just a little longer.
“I’m sorry it took so long for me to show you, but I wanted it to be perfect. Look at me, lovebird.”
Yuuri turned and gasped. Because Victor was golden. A gold sash wound around his waist, securing skirt robes. On his arms and legs were siren markings, patterns of feathers inked in gold. His hair was tied with golden ribbon, but all that was overshadowed by his wings.
Victor had wings. They folded behind his shoulders, tips sweeping the floor. Strong gold feathers, streaked with silver the same soft shade as his hair. Yuuri rushed to him, reaching out to touch the feathers. They brushed like silk against his fingertips. Real. Like the perfect siren markings on his skin.
Yuuri clasped his hands over his mouth in shock. Victor was a siren.
“Surprise?” Victor chuckled, taking in the intensity with which Yuuri stared. He held out his arms to Yuuri, palms open, displaying his siren markings. “Do you like it?”
Yuuri took hold of Victor’s hands, tracing his fingers up the gold patterns. When he lifted them away, his fingertips came off stained with gold. His face snapped up and he grabbed Victor, spinning him around to examine his wings. Gold ribbons looped from their hilts, winding around his shoulders. Securing them in place.
Realization struck Yuuri and he started to laugh. He glanced down, to the backs of Victor’s legs, looking closely at the markings on his skin. Just beneath his left knee, the ink had smudged.
“Don’t laugh at me, I worked really hard on this!” Victor said, glancing over his shoulder at Yuuri. “And these are heavy!” He pulled on the wing ribbons, shifting their weight up his back.
Yuuri touched the feathers once more, rubbing them between his fingers. They were definitely real siren feathers, the feel of them the same as his own. Victor understood his question before Yuuri asked them.
“They’re yours. Most of them anyway. The ones you molted during mating season. I had them dyed and arranged by a costume maker, someone who makes outfits for balls. They look quite good, don’t they?”
They did. Good enough to fool Yuuri. He ran his fingers down the length of the wings, feeling where the feathers shifted from his own to that of some other bird. Firm and long, from a hawk, another bird of prey. Yuuri smiled and nuzzled his face in between Victor’s shoulder blades, writing a question into his skin.
“Ahhh, well. Actually, I’ve been painting them every day this week waiting for you to come home so I could surprise you. I’m nearly out of the paint,” Victor said, flipping his hands over to look at the markings on his skin. “Minami helped, we did them with the references of your markings from his sketchbook. Did you think they were real?”
Embarrassed to admit so, Yuuri nodded. Victor laughed harder, turning to draw Yuuri into his arms. He kissed Yuuri’s temple and smiled down at him. “I had them done so I could do something for you. Sit down.”
Yuuri sat back on the bed, grinning from ear to ear. More when Victor gathered their blankets and pillows around him, forming a nest just like Yuuri had done for him. It was also when he noticed that the cabin had been rearranged, desk and dresser pushed to the edges, clearing more space in the center.
Victor slide his fingers into the feathers of his wings and when he lifted his arms, they lifted along with them.
Yuuri watched, delighted, as Victor started to prance across the room, little tiny steps on the tips of his toes. A perfect imitation of the first mating dance Yuuri had performed, right down to the booty shaking and the dab.
The siren had never felt more in love.
Yuuri’s fingers were entwined with Victor’s, fond and warm. Yuuri tailed after the stunning gold of the wings that Victor wore, onto the deck of the ship. The siren giggled when his mate had trouble manuveuring up the stairs due to their bulk, helping push him through. There was a reason Yuuri rarely unfurled his wings inside.
They bloomed from the markings on his back, however, once they were under the darkness of the night sky. Stars twinkled overhead, the moon full. Victor led Yuuri to the bow of the ship and into his arms. The ocean made their music, the waves on the sides of the ship. Their feet set the rhythm, bare on wood. Victor started, but Yuuri led, fondness threatening to burst through his chest as Victor followed him in each step of a siren’s pair mating dance.
Yuuri did not care if some of their steps were misplaced, feet crossing feet, laughing against Victor’s heart-shaped lips. They spun with each other, gold joining black. Yuuri brushed his hand over Victor’s cheek, kissing Victor’s palm when it came up to caress his own.
They danced bathed in moonlight, Yuuri guiding Victor to furl his wings in so that their feathers could entwine, wrapped in a cocoon of color. Yuuri drew Victor into a kiss, chirping out his happiness.
“I’m sorry I can’t fly with you,” Victor muttered onto Yuuri’s lips, his fingers threading Yuuri’s, mixing all their traded rings together.
Yuuri smiled so brilliant he outshone the stars. Throwing Victor’s arms over his shoulders, he pulled himself tight against his mate, spread his wings and flew.
Victor yelped, burying his face into Yuuri’s neck as the siren lifted them into the air. Yuuri flew them around the ship, looping the top of the mast, between the sails and under the figurehead, their toes skimming the surface of the water.
As they dipped low, Victor hooked his ankles around Yuuri’s and released the hold he had on his mate. Yuuri’s arms supported his back, keeping Victor from falling as Victor slipped his fingers into his wings. Yuuri laughed as Victor flapped the made wings, throwing them off balance and nearly sending them plunging into the ocean. The siren raised them up, flying over the deck and up to the crow’s nest.
They settled on its edge, sitting together, wings brushing, positioned like two sirens at the top of the sea. Victor leaned in and caught Yuuri in a kiss, imitating Yuuri’s chirp back to him when Yuuri kissed back.
They fell off the crow’s nest when Yuuri threw himself against Victor in joy, laughing as Yuuri landed them safely in the ship’s netting. Yuuri wrapped them in his wings, nuzzling against Victor, unable to restrain the smile pulling on his cheeks.
“I love you, lovebird.”
Yuuri placed Victor’s hands on his heart, letting Victor feel how fast it beat. “And I, you.”
“You’re staring again,” Phichit pointed out, smirking at having caught his companion out. “See something you like?”
“Who wouldn’t stare? It’s like admiring a masterpiece. I want to be sure I don’t miss any beautiful detail,” Chris replied, proud of himself when he did not stumble over any words. He had finally stopped becoming tongue-tied around the mermaid and he would not let the opportunity go to waste. Normally he was the one doing the flustering. Phichit was a unique challenge, but Chris had always adored ending up on top of the most difficult ones.
“Didn’t realize humans had such a thing for fins.”
“We’re a very versatile species. Fins, feathers, apparently we’ll go for all of it,” Chris said, winking. “Your fins aren’t the only beautiful thing about you though. You’re stunning head to tail.”
Phichit tipped his head back, exposing the golden lines marking his neck. “Sweet talker.”
“Have you not seen yourself? You can’t possibly deny it.”
Chris started at that. “What?”
“Seen myself. I haven’t. I can see my tail, of course, but I have no idea what the rest of me looks like,” Phichit confessed with a shrug of his shoulders. “I just know that I have beautiful colors. Some bettas will milk sea snails or catch jellyfish so that they can dye themselves with better colors to impress mates, but I’ve never had the need.”
Chris leaned in and traced the line of Phichit’s jaw up to his hairline before drawing back. “Wait here. I’ll show you.” He left the mermaid waiting, rushing down below deck. He returned shortly after, carrying a mirror. He cleaned the surface with his sleeve and then presented it to Phichit, the mermaid reflected in it. “Look.”
The betta went mental. The fins of his tail and along his forearms exploded, flashing to twice their normal size. His gills and ear flaps flared, his sharp teeth bared as he screeched. “No! My territory, back off!” He grabbed the mirror, smashing it to pieces against the ship railing.
Shards fell into the water below, Phichit leaping down after them. He broke the surface with a splash, tail thrashing, and did not reemerge.
Chris sat quietly on the deck, hands still out in the same position as when the mirror had been torn from them. That did not go as expected.
“Where’s Chris?” Victor inquired upon coming up from the galley. “I can’t find him and he’s supposed to be preparing food. I’m getting complaints from hungry pirates.”
Yuuri waved a hand, indicating toward the ocean. Not far off the port side of the ship floated a dinghy, oars up and out of the water. The single blond figure seated in it was leaning over the edge, tipping it with his weight and precariously close to flipping the whole thing into the sea. If he were privy to the fact, he did not seem to mind.
“So instead of feeding fish to the crew, he’s feeding the fish,” Victor observed, amused.
Chris was serving up portions of cut sausage straight to the razor sharp teeth of a scarlet mermaid. Phichit’s fins dipped in and out of the water, nibbling at the meal he was being treated to from Chris’s fingertips.
When the plate on Chris’s lap was empty, the mermaid flipped beneath the gentle waves with chattered gratitude, tail splashing water at the cook. Phichit did not reappear, his presence replaced by a steady stream of bubbles which gathered around Chris’s dinghy.
“Maybe he didn’t like your cooking!” Victor shouted, catching Chris’s attention.
“Or maybe he’s never been taught the phrase Kiss the Cook,” Chris called back and shifted to the center with a sigh heavy enough it carried back to the deck of the ship.
Victor and Yuuri helped hoist the little boat back on board, the siren giggling when the cook stepped out looking defeated.
“What’s so funny?”
Yuuri cupped a hand around Victor’s ear and whispered into it. The captain’s eyes went wide and he laughed as well, clapping Chris on the shoulder. “Well done, mate.”
Chris threw them both a confused glare. “What, amused that I’m literally chasing tail?!”
“Yuuri says you should look up the reasons bettas blow bubbles.”
As the captain and his siren walked off, linked arm in arm, Chris flapped his own. “Why do bettas blow bubbles?!”
The only response he got was a set of deviously delighted laughs.
Moonlit shadows wove over the ship, sea water lapping at her sides. They had stilled overnight, drifting a couple miles off port city which would be expecting incoming merchant ships. But not for at least a couple days.
Chris leaned against the starboard railing of the ship, enjoying the quiet of the night. The crew had been fed– Chris had spent the majority of the afternoon fishing off the relatively shallow waters, only to have Yuuri bring in twenty fish for his every one.
He drowned his woe in the glass of wine he had in hand. Not that he actually minded, having a siren on board proved entirely helpful. Even if Yuuri did end up taking a good portion of the catch for himself, flying up to the crow’s nest to eat it fresh and with no preparations. Fine by all means, less for Chris to slave over a hot oven for. He got the sense that Yuuri was not entirely fond of his cooking.
Life on the ship had certainly become more lively with Yuuri’s arrival. Victor was happier. Minami was ecstatic. Yurio had taken to training the parrots all sorts of tricks and words, when he thought no one was looking. Georgi had a new romance to swoon over, in tears less about the anguish of his Anya back in port. And there was the delight of the mermaid who would appear every now and then, winking at Chris and calling Yuuri out for a day playing on the sparkling waves.
Chris had never had such an intense fondness for fish before.
In his free time, he found himself flipping through the few books on ocean lore they had on board, trying to gather some information on mermaids but all that was available was scattered. And Phichit hardly fit into anything he did find.
Words passed around ports said that mermaids were shy creatures, who traveled in schools, that there were some who fell in love with humans and whose affection yielded great rewards. Other tales spoke of warnings, that their appearanes harbored whirlpools. That if cornered, they would drag men to the bottom of the ocean, use their flesh to lure their prey, leave the bones as an offering. Neither of these fit the mermaid who had befriended a siren, bright and mischevious, alway read to flash a smile and his fins.
Chris was left wondering what was true. The glimpses of Phichit’s betta tendencies had left him fascinated. He might have to ask the next time for the mermaid to confirm some of the rumors he saw the colors of Phichit’s tail beneath the water.
He turned, grabbing the bucket of leftover fish scraps he had brought out from the kitchen and tossing it overboard. He poured the remainder of his wine out into the ocean as well, watching both beneath into the darkness of the midnight sea.
The cook closed his eyes, the wine gone from his glass buzzing pleasantly through his tired mind. Rest would suit him well, perhaps bringing dreams of a cute mermaid who never missed the chance to throw a wicked smirk when he noticed Chris staring. How could he not stare? Just another sailor ensnared by a mermaid’s appeal.
From beneath the ship, the sound of the waves briefly shifted. Chris felt the splash of droplets on his skin, succeeded by a petal-like brush against his lips. Lashes fluttering up, he glimpsed a flash of gold disappearing into the ocean. On the railing was left the trace of wet, webbed handprints.
Reaching up, he rubbed at his stubble and the lingering sensation of a kiss on his lips. Clouds wisped past the moon overhead, breeze light on his skin. Dazed, Chris walked back toward the galley, knocking shoulders with Yurio as he descended down the stairs.
“Watch it!” the powder monkey glared.
Chris barely noticed. “I think I was just kissed by a mermaid.”
“I think you need to stop drinking,” Yurio replied and brushed past Chris, who did not have enough mind to consider why the boy was sneaking onto the deck so late at night.
The cook wandered to to his kitchen, hand still on his lips.
Yurio glanced quick from side to side, checking the dark deck of the ship to ensure no one else had seen him. He slunk, stealthy and quiet, down to the main crew quarters. Anyone not on night duty was asleep. Yurio made sure not to stir them.
The ship swayed gentle in the waves. Yurio used the walls for support, weaving through the corridors to where Otabek was waiting for him.
“Thought you weren’t coming.”
Yurio scowled, throwing back his hair. “Shut up. Let’s do it already.”
“Fine. Get on the bed.”
Yurio flopped down on Otabek’s cot, heart pounding against his ribcage.
Otabek pulled down an oil lamp, turning down the flame till it cast their shadows across the walls. The gunner undid the top few buttons of his shirt, rolling his sleeves up to his elbows. “You really wanna learn how to do this?”
“Would I be here if I didn’t?”
With a short laugh, Otabek shrugged his shoulders and approached Yurio, standing over him. “It’s your choice then. Which do you wanna try first?”
Yurio had not expected to be asked. He had thought Otabek would take the lead and simply show him. All of the sudden, he was not so sure. He knew what he wanted. But it was probably good to save the best for last. “The-… that dog style one?”
Otabek smirked. “Is that what you really want?”
No. It wasn’t. There was no fighting it. Yurio’s anticipation was threatening to break through. “No, okay! You know what I want, so just do it!”
“Shhh, you’ll wake someone up,” Otabek reminded and sat down beside the cot next to Yurio, tapping the blond’s hip to make him shift. He then pulled the lamp in front of them and positioned his hands before it, so that the shadows hit the wall. He curled his ring and middle fingers into his palm, knuckles of his small and forefinger forming ears. His other hand dropped to his elbow, fingers shaping a flickering tail.
The shadow of a cat was cast upon the wall.
“Holy shit!” Yurio shouted, dropping to the floor so he could get a better look at the position Otabek held his arms in. “Do another!”
Otabek hushed Yurio, but changed his hands, twisting the back of one hand into the palm of the other. The cat was replaced by a kitten. As Otabek wiggled his fingers, its mouth opened into a silent mewl.
“Wait, wait, didn’t you say you could do one with whiskers?”
“Yeah. Grab those twigs over there.”
Yurio’s eyes searched and then seized onto them, hurriedly shoving them into Otabek’s hands. The gunner curled his fingers around them, so that the ends stuck out from either side of his fist. The prior cat shadow gained whiskers.
Yurio lost it, kicking his feet in joy. “That’s so fucking cool! Show me, show me!” He had never looked happier when Otabek guided his hands, teaching him how to cast the shadow puppets in the dead of night.
Yuuri stirred, rolling his shoulders when something scratched against them. He felt the softness of Victor’s lips on his skin, then the same grating roughness. Shifting in discomfort, the sleep-dazed siren flipped over, gazing at his mate. Victor’s face was growing.
Startled, Yuuri shot back an inch, rubbing his eyes. He squinted but his vision did not correct itself. Victor’s face was definitely growing. Gingerly, he inched his fingers forward, touching his mate’s cheek. Usually smooth skin was coarse under his fingertips. He snapped his hand away, as if burned.
Blue eyes still closed, a low chuckle rumbled from Victor’s chest. “Confused?”
Yuuri nodded, needing a moment to realize that Victor could not see it. Carefully, he touched Victor’s chest, where his feather tattoo peeked out from beneath their covers. Quickly, he wrote his question before clutching his hand back against himself.
“I normally shave before you wake up,” Victor said, lashes fluttering up. He lifted his hand, rubbing at his own chin. “But since Chris broke my mirror, I wasn’t able to this morning. You might have to deal with a scruffy pirate until I get a new one.”
Squinting harder, Yuuri cautiously inched forward, examining Victor’s face. Little silver hairs had sprouted from his skin, along his chin and upper lip, traveling up his jawline. Yuuri regarded it with suspicion.
Victor slid in, arms winding around Yuuri’s waist to pull his siren closer. For once Yuuri resisted, tilting his head away when Victor dipped in to kiss at the hollow of his throat and up his neck, the sensation of making him squirm. The day-old growth tickled Yuuri’s ear, prickling at his nerves, and Yuuri shot out of bed.
Victor’s eyes widened in surprise. “What, no good morning kiss?”
“No!” Yuuri shouted in protest, already darting up the stairs to the deck. “Too prickly!"
Chris bolted upright in his cot, eyes wide, skin freezing, hair dripping wet. He sputtered out water, wiping his face clear. Another bucket of water was thrown over him, ripping him out of sleep completely. Coughing, he hit his own chest, gasping for air.
Above him, a tall shadowy figure loomed.
The cook blinked up, eyes adjusting quick to the dark. Victor stood over him, two empty buckets by his boots, another one full in hand.
“What?!” the cook snapped, hands sinking into his soaking wet bedding. “I was sleeping!”
“You broke my mirror, Christophe.” The tone of Victor’s voice was deep, dangerous. Chris knew it well. It was the tone that had earned Victor his infamy, cutthroat when the pirate did not get his way. “I used that mirror to shave. Which I now cannot do. And unfortunately for you, my lovebird now refuses to kiss me. You have made yourself a very unhappy captain.”
“Are you kidding.” Chris swore under his breath, wiping his dripping hair from his face. “That’s what this is for?”
“He slept in the crow’s nest last night, Christophe.”
“Why don’t you ask Emil then?! He can do it!“
"You need to get me a new mirror. Or Emil is going to be giving you a very close shave, by my courtesy.”
“Where do you expect me to get a mirror from?” Chris demanded, gesturing at the ship around them. “We’re in the middle of the ocean!”
“You’ve been using the dinghy a lot lately,” Victor replied casually, taking a step forward. Instinctively, Chris scooted back against the wall. “I suggest you use it again. Because you know what they say about breaking mirrors. Seven years bad luck. And that’s without an angry siren mate around.”
The third bucket was dumped over him. The cook did not dare to avoid it.
“Lovebird, please come down from there!” Victor called up to his siren, who was perched in the crow’s nest.
Yuuri shook his head, the movement minimally visible. His eyes were barely visible from the top of the barrel. The only way Victor could be sure of his refusal was the rotation of the chick that sat on his head. Yuuri had grabbed his chicks when he fled, muttering under his breath about them not being prickly unlike someone.
“Lovebird, come on, it’s grown out a bit, it isn’t so rough.”
Yuuri shook his head again. His chick peeped.
“All right, fine, but I’m coming up there.” Victor leapt onto the netting, starting his ascent. Within moments, he was pelted in bits of broken toy ships and feathers, Yuuri tossing them down to keep his mate from coming up.
“Just kiss me and see!”
“Chicklet, tell him to come down and kiss me.”
The chick peeped.
Victor paused and stared. “…What’s that mean?”
Sighing heavy, Victor jumped down from the netting. His eyes swept the deck and landed on Chris, who froze mid-step in sneaking past. Blue eyes sharpened into slits.
The cook bolted.
“S-st-…” Yuuri laughed uncontrollably, unable to get out his command. His fingers grasped at Victor’s shoulders, halfway between pushing him away and drawing him closer. The stubble on Victor’s face rubbed against the soft skin of his stomach, making his nerves stand on end. Victor kissed him continously, sloppy and wet and ticklish all at once, Yuuri squirming with joy on his lips.
“Want me to stop, lovebird? Just say so,” Victor teased, not ceasing.
Tears stung at the corners of his eyes as Victor assaulted him without remorse, blowing raspberries into his abdomen. Revenge for Yuuri’s utter refusal to kiss him over the past couple days.
Yuuri kicked his legs weakly under Victor’s weight, wiggling as if trying to escape. He laughed as Victor’s stubble dragged over his hipbones, fingers slipping beneath to lift one of Yuuri’s legs and rub his face into the siren’s sensitive thighs.
Yuuri yelped and shot up, unexpected heat firing through him and making the muscles of his thighs tremble.
“Oh.” Victor noticed. Victor always noticed. “You liked that.”
Victor’s mouth was back on his skin, teasing, but with a whole different goal. He sucked at Yuuri’s skin, traveling up the inside of his thighs until his breath ghosted a part of Yuuri which sparked to life with the warmth blowing against it.
The siren covered his own mouth with his hands, muffling the lewd sound which escaped him. Victor growled between his legs, hand sliding to caress the small of Yuuri’s back. He raised Yuuri off their mattress, making him arch and guiding his legs to fall apart as he buried his face between them.
“How is that, lovebird? Or do you want me to stop?”
Yuuri let a broken whimper answer for him.
Victor smirked and rubbed his cheeks between Yuuri’s, making sure that his mate could feel the prickle of facial hair against his skin.
“Mmmm, I’m going to make you change your mind about this,” Victor muttered, tasting Yuuri as he spoke.
His siren already could not contain his cries for more, clutching at the base of Victor’s braid and pushing his stubbled face in closer.
Yuuri winced as he slipped into his robes the following morning. His thighs burned red, the irritation from Victor’s rough stubble spreading farther up than he would admit. His cheeks flushed the same hue, each shift of his legs a reminder of how long and deep Victor had gotten inside him with his tongue, while also making him want to screech out with the frustration at the pinpricks smouldering on his skin.
He glared at Victor’s facial hair so intensely that Victor’s expression grew concerned.
“What’s wrong, lovebird?”
Yuuri opened his mouth, then shut it quickly. In that moment Victor was not deserving of being blessed with the music of his voice, however angry. Instead he jabbed a finger into the center of his mate’s chest, scrawling fast and messy.
“Don’t lovebird you?” Victor chuckled once he caught the words. “What did I do?”
The siren seized the bottom of his robes, lifting them to show off the cherry red of his thighs to Victor. He jerked his fingers up, clipping them off Victor’s whiskered chin.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Victor purred, hands sliding between Yuuri’s thighs to pull him closer. “I can kiss them better?”
Yuuri yanked himself away, eyes flaring red. Feathers bristled from his forearms and sprouted around his ankles.
“You weren’t so upset last night,” Victor reminded with a smirk, rubbing at his own face. “You wouldn’t let me stop.”
Pursing his lips together, Yuuri wrote several choice words into Victor’s skin. Most of which he had learned off the blond powder monkey.
“Now don’t say that. Come here, lovebird. I can get some ointment from Emil and rub those better for you..”
More of Yuuri’s feathers shot into existence, from the markings along his ears this time. The siren scowled, upset with his own feathers for betraying him.
Victor laughed and tugged him in. Yuuri angled his face away, refusing any kisses no matter how many times Victor called him lovebird.
A weight sat on Victor’s chest. The silk of feathers fluttered over his legs, bedsheets rustling beside him. Gentle fingers brushed his face. He opened his eyes to the glint of metal in the dark. Victor went rigid.
Yuuri had his legs straddling Victor, angling his mate’s face up and to the side. Through the night filling the cabin, the razor blade in his hand shone like a beacon.
Victor found himself having a hard time breathing. “Lovebird… Lovebird, what are you doing?”
Yuuri grinned and rubbed his free hand all over Victor’s face. With it, he spread a foam, smearing it over Victor’s cheeks, mouth and throat.
Victor sputtered, glimpsing the small basin of water by Yuuri’s knee. “Ahh, wait, wait, wait! Are you serious?”
The siren’s devious expression remained unchanged and he flipped open the razor.
“Okay, okay, but not in the bed!” Victor could feel his heart beating a solid bruise into his ribcage. “I promise I won’t run, just let me move.”
Yuuri did not shift, head tilted toward one shoulder, considering the proposal. Wordlessly, he shifted back on his heels and moved off Victor. The pirate scrambled off the bed, away from his blade-wielding siren. Yuuri, however, remained perky. He moved the basin of water to Victor’s work desk and pulled out his chair, tapping the seat in invitation.
“Gimme-… gimme one second,” Victor muttered and grabbed a pair of loose sleep slacks, slipping into them. He then went straight for his weapons cabinet, removing from it a bottle of dark rum. One deep gulp in, with the mild added taste of shaving foam, he cleared his throat and returned to Yuuri. “…Do you know what you’re doing?”
Yuuri smiled and patted the chair again. Victor did not feel reassured. He sat. Yuuri tugged his head back by his braid. A whimper might have escaped the pirate.
Timing his breaths slow and steady, Victor shut his eyes and prayed.
The first stroke of the razor against his skin was smooth and gentle. Yuuri kept his head angled and skin pulled taut. His movements did not falter, no pained slice cutting into Victor’s cheek. The swish of the blade being rinsed in the basin and another effortless pass across his skin had Victor lifting a single eyelid.
A sweet smile relaxed Yuuri’s expression. He moved as fluidly as when he danced, hands kind on Victor’s face. Little by little, Yuuri shifted along. The razor blade pulled easily halfway down Victor’s throat, shaving off the growing facial hair. Yuuri guided him through each stroke with his touch, wordless in his concentration. By the time he finished, Victor was watching his every movement, enraptured.
Yuuri rinsed the razor and set it aside, leaning in close to examine Victor’s face. He wiped it clean with a cool towel and swooped in, chirping as he kissed Victor’s expertly shaven face.
In awe, Victor touched his own chin and rubbed up. No knicks, no scraps, no spots missing. Utterly flawless, better than he could have done himself. He stared at Yuuri. “How did you-…”
Emil taught me. Yuuri traced onto Victor’s chest, nuzzling his face against his mate’s newly smooth cheek. Did I do okay?
“Amazing,” Victor muttered back, quiet in his disbelief. His fingers traveled over his face once more, mouth tugging into a smile. “You should do this for me every morning. Preen me.”
Yuuri threw his arms over Victor’s shoulders, chirps as happy as they could be. He pecked kisses all over Victor’s face until his mate could barely support him through the laughter.
“Really, Yuuri, you surprised me… I was ready to bleed for you.”
I practiced on Chris. Just in case. He didn’t get off so easily.
Laughing loudly, Victor kissed him. And kept kissing him till morning came.
The next time Chris saw the mermaid, all other thought abandoned him. He marched for the shine of scarlet and gold.
“You kissed me!”
Phichit was lying atop the figurehead, forearm over his face to shield his eyes from the sun, tail draped over the edge. The golden markings under the curve of his jaw seemed to pulse. A trick of the light.
Moving with grace and deliberance, Phichit flipped over. He cupped his chin in his hands, smug smile on his lips. “Pardon?”
“The other night. You kissed me.”
“Hmmm, well, I’m afraid that I have no idea what you’re talking about.” The mermaid stretched out his webbed fingers, examining his claws. He blew on him, polishing them against the scales along his forearm. “Sure you weren’t dreaming, chef?”
Chris climbed up the bow of the ship, to where Phichit laid, and stopped. He glanced out onto the ocean with a smirk. “Must have been another mermaid then. Another betta in your territory.”
Phichit scrambled forward, fins floundering. “Take that back!” His tail curled under his torso and he pushed himself upright on it, grasping handfuls of Chris’s shirt. “Is there?! I thought I was the taste of the sea that you wanted!”
Chris laughed, arm snaking around the mermaid’s waist. “Do you admit it then?”
Phichit sucked in his cheeks and huffed. “What, can’t be sure on your own?”
“Only one way to check.”
Phichit’s question was muffled by the kiss he was caught in.
A dinghy was beached at the edge of the tide. The ship sat on the horizon off the small island Chris had rowed to, to catch an afternoon of privacy.
Phichit laid stretched out across the white sand, adorned in red coral jewelry and the gold that Yuuri had gifted him. They matched his colors splendidly. Phichit had his chin cupped in his palm, tail aimlessly flicking from side to side now that he had been permitted to move it. “Hurry up.”
“You can’t rush beauty.”
“I’m the beauty though.”
“You absolutely are,” Chris replied, continuing to layer color on the canvas before him. He was not quite the practiced artist that Minami was, but he had gotten a few tips from the deckhand in exchange for snacks suitable for birds. If he could say so himself, the result of the portrait that he was painting was rather stunning.
A mermaid on a beach in summer, adorned in well-crafted jewelry, the sun lighting up the golden markings on his skin and shimmering off his scales. After the mirror incident, Chris still wanted to show Phichit how stunning he looked. Phichit was overjoyed at the suggestion of a painting, delighted to pose against a beautiful natural backdrop. Chris would take any excuse he could get to be able to capture an image of the mermaid.
“I’m drying out,” Phichit complained, shifting a hand down to touch the scales fading up his abdomen. They had sunken in, no longer sleek. He had spent too long in the sun, his tail rough and skin parched. “I need to get back in the water soon.”
“Don’t move, darling, I’m nearly finished.”
“No, Chris, I think I really need to get back in the water, look!”
The ship cook set aside his paintbrush and looked where Phichit was gesturing. Between his tail fins, a crack had formed, splitting the scales of his tail. As they watched, another splinter appeared, traveling up the length of Phichit’s tail, scales flecking off. The mermaid shrieked.
“Get me back in the ocean, now!”
Chris knocked over the easel as he rushed to grab Phichit, lifting the mermaid into his arms and sprinting for the water’s edge. He did not make it.
Phichit screamed, clawed nails sinking into Chris’s shoulders. The sun flashed off his scales, making Chris screw his eyes shut lest he be blinded. When he opened them again, Phichit thrashed in his arms, yelling. His tail had split in two, fins withering in until they vanished, plastered like markings against his skin. His skin.
Phichit continued shouting, but for a different reason altogether, mixing the shouts with laughter. “I’ve got legs!”
He did. Beautiful, shapely legs, with ten wiggling toes. His colors remained, skin stained gold and scarlet in the same patterns as his tail.
“You’ve got legs.”
“I know!” Phichit cried in amazement, kicking them. “And they move!”
“Did you know this happens?!”
“Hell no!” Phichit shook his head wildly from side to side. “We were told to never let ourselves get dry as kids!” He clung on when Chris gingerly set him down in the sand, the cook’s hands supporting his waist. He buckled immediately, needing to be caught and picked back up. The second time he managed to hold his own weight, despite wobbling knees. “Oh. Oh wow. I’ve got legs.”
Chris cleared his throat, eyes directed down Phichit’s body. “…You also have a dick.”
“I have a dick?!?”
Phichit looked down between his new legs and screamed. “How the hell am I supposed to walk?! Is it supposed to be this huge?!”
Chris felt like buckling too.
Chris came back on board the ship limping. To call his clothes disheveled was an understatement. He was in an utter state of ruin. Fabric in shreds, hair disorderly, a shoe missing off one foot and a sock off the other. His forearms were marred in long red scratches and he shuffled toward Victor, seemingly dazed.
The captain looked upon his cook with curiosity. “Did you fight a war?”
“I have died and lived,” Chris muttered, mouth bruised red. “And I have known the love of a mermaid. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me… I don’t recommend it.”
Chris patted Victor on the shoulder and limped away, dragging his painting behind him.
Victor glanced over the side of his ship, met with the wave of a mermaid. Phichit’s tail slapped in and out of the water. “And how was it for you?”
“Ehhhh, I don’t get Yuuri’s hype,” Phichit called up, shrugging his shoulders. “Couldn’t even squeeze any eggs out of him.”
Chris whistled a sea shanty as he tossed food scrap overboard. He went to turn away, if not for the sudden bubbling of the sea.
From full across the length of the ship, the waves turned white, then red, sparkles of gold flailing in the angry foam. Tiny tails with the fins of baby bettas thrashed in the water, spanning further and further, until their colors consumed the blue to the extent of the horizon.
Chris backpedaled, tripping over his own feet, as the tiny bettas who looked so much like a cross of him and Phichit began to scale the side of the ship. Their claws scrapped up the wood which groaned under their weight. They came up in wave after wave, climbing over each other, others falling back into the water in streams.
Over the railing, they spilled by the thousands. They flopped all over the deck with their tails and fins, the gills at the sides of their necks flaring. They all screeched, miniscule black eyes trained on Chris. Nails of the claws dug into the deck as they drug themselves toward him.
Chris scrambled back, kicking as his ankles were seized by countless webbed claws, the baby bettas overtaking him, their razor sharp teeth and nails sinking into his skin. High-pitched shrieks of “You’re not our dad!” filled his ears as he was covered completely in the bettas and their lashing tails.
Chris yelled as he tumbled out of his bed, torn from the vivid nightmare, terrifying visions of gold and scarlet scales burned into his retinas. He gasped, sweat dripping from his brow, and screwed his eyes shut as his heartbeat drummed.
“…I shouldn’t have made so many egg jokes to Victor,” he muttered to himself, shuddering.
Minami sat cross-legged at the bow of the ship, sketchbook open in his lap. The palm of his hand pushed up his cheek, elbow balanced on his knee. His charcoal pencil rested at the center of the binding, the open pages blank. He huffed out a sigh, brows knitted together as he watched the ship’s parrots preening their vivid feathers atop the figurehead.
“Wish I could be that colorful…” he muttered to himself, glancing down at his plainclothes. “Would be nice. Siren’s are so lucky, getting to change colors every year…”
From up in the crow’s nest, Yuuri stretched his wings and took off, red-tipped wings catching the sunlight.
When his shadow passed over Minami, the deckhand tipped his head up and watched Yuuri until the siren disappeared beyond the horizon. Shoulders slack, Minami shut his sketchbook and shuffled off. Might as well make himself useful.
Yuuri returned the next morning and did not head staight for Victor’s captain quarters. He landed right in front of the deckhand, much to Minami’s surprise and delight. Which only tripled when Yuuri grabbed his wrist and pulled him down into the ship’s galley.
Chris arched an eyebrow when Yuuri pointed to the oven and a pot, indicating that he wanted to use them. Yet, he complied without questioning, putting water on for Yuuri. The siren dumped out a mound of entangled roots from his carry pouch, sorting through them to pick out the thinnest ones.
Once the water boiled, Yuuri splashed handfuls of the plant into the pot, not flinching unlike Chris and Minami who leapt back. He nodded to himself, grabbing the rest of the roots before leaving.
Chris and Minami blinked at each other in confusion, glancing into the pot.
“What is it?”
“Don’t know, never seen it before,” Chris said, plucking one out. He blew it cool and nibbled on the tip, before promptly spitting it out. “I don’t think that’s for eating."
Yuuri returned, scowling. He smacked the plant out of Chris’s hand, putting it back into the pot. The roots he had taken with him were gone, replaced by a vial of white powder from Emil’s medicine chest.
The water boiled down, softening the roots inside. Once satisfied, Yuuri emptied out the remaining water and smashed the plant into a bright red paste, into which he mixed Emil’s powder. He then snatched up one of Chris’s clean kitchen towels, ignoring the cook’s mild protest.
Yuuri pushed Minami into a chair, threading his fingers through the boy’s blond bangs. He lifted a large chunk, placing the towel atop his head under the separated locks. The siren scooped a large dallop of the red paste and smeared it over Minami’s head, rubbing it into the strands until fully saturated. Yuuri chirped as he folded over the towel and patted it down, happy with himself.
Keep it covered till evening.
"Ummmm, okay?” Minami squeaked, breathless to be getting so much attention from the siren. If Yuuri told him to go walk the plank, he would do it. Keeping a towel on his head for a day, especially one blessed by Yuuri’s touch, barely seemed like a hardship.
Neither him nor Chris could quite figure out what had happened, even after Yuuri left, smiling.
Minami fidgeted with the towel all day, making sure to keep it secured until the sun set and Yuuri reappeared. Quite unceremoniously, the siren ripped off the towel and dumped a bucket of water over Minami’s head. The deckhand could not even gasp his surprise as Yuuri rubbed his hair dry in rough quick motions, then spun him round to look down into another bucket.
Reflected in the water, Minami saw himself, with bangs colored a stark red like the feathers of their macaws. His eyes went wider than cannonballs.
Just like a parrot. Yuuri wrote into his back.
Minami died of happiness.
At the center of Victor’s desk was a single pebble. Rough and round. Speckled black. He glanced around, turning side to side, in case he missed something. It was the size of one of his knuckles, not nearly large enough to be a proper paperweight. With a curious click of his tongue, he moved it to the edge of the desk and dismissed it.
Perhaps it was Yuuri’s.
The following day the pebble was gone.
Another one replaced it. Larger. Oddly-polished. Victor looked at it a bit longer. The colors were of warm brown tones, matching the inside of his cabin. He set it aside too.
One manifested in the pocket of Victor’s breeches. Having no use for it, he tossed it overboard.
A small collection of rocks appeared. All rather pretty, gleaming when the sunlight caught their edges. Victor wondered when Yuuri had started a new hobby and swept them all up, putting them into Yuuri’s treasure box.
Rocks appeared on his pillow. Weighing dead center. Purposefully placed. Victor knew because there were none on Yuuri’s, none scattering the floor, none spilling down onto the mattress. One of Yuuri’s feathers was tucked in, some sort of signal. Victor did not understand it.
And he could not ask, because his siren was missing from the ship. Irritated and perhaps a bit drunk on rum, Victor dumped them all onto the floor and collapsed in the bed.
Normally he would have tugged Yuuri’s pillow to him and embraced it, catching the lingering smell of his mate on the fabric. This time he resisted.
But only for a minute.
He woke up with Yuuri sitting next to him, eyes swimming. Victor shot up, scanning Yuuri for injuries, for anything that might be wrong. He spotted nothing. “Lovebird? What happened?”
Sniffling, Yuuri waved his hand toward the assortment of rocks and pebbles on the floor. They had scattered further apart during the night, with the rocking of the ship. You don’t like them? He traced his question into the sheets instead of Victor’s palm.
“What, they’re rocks, why would I-…” The glistening in Yuuri’s eyes thickened. “Oh. Did you get them for me?”
Lips pursed together into the thinnest line imaginable, Yuuri lifted his head high and shook it. Victor did not have a chance to stop him or ask him to wait. The siren rushed off, leaving his captain behind. Who heard a couple shouts and the loud thunder of Yuuri’s wings taking off with angered force coming from the deck above.
Well then. He had definitely missed something.
“Yuuri’s been bringing me rocks.”
Minami’s red-dyed head shot up, eyes growing wide. “Rocks?”
“Yes. He’s left some on my desk and in my pockets and last night on my pillow.”
Minami snatched up his sketchbook, flipping quickly to a page details siren habits. Under a long list, he added, ‘pebble gifting!!’
Victor watched him, blank. “Great, so what does that mean?”
“What’d you do with them? Can I see them? How big are they? How many? When did he start?”
Victor sighed at the fact that his question went utterly ignored. Meanwhile, Minami was practically sparkling.
“I don’t know, I threw some out–”
Victor winced at the volume. He did not get a chance here either, because Minami scaled him, jumping up and seizing onto his collar. “You threw them away?!”
“They’re his gifts to you! They are tokens of his affection! Certain species of birds present them as a gift to their mate, before mating or during nest building, or sometimes just like humans do– to say, 'hey I saw this pretty thing and it reminded me of you!’ AND YOU THREW THEM AWAY?!?!!”
Oh. Well then. How was he supposed to know that. “Not all of them? There’s a bunch on the floor still…”
Minami yelled and abandoned his idiot captain, sprinting off. No doubt to try to sneak a few of the rocks for himself.
Victor let him.
Yuuri’s wings were sore. His lungs burned. His bones ached. His fingers fumbled with the drawstring of his carry pouch when he landed, worn and tired.
Victor ran up to him, but Yuuri kept his head down, concentrating.
Yuuri pulled out the rock he had brought. It was jagged and rough, the sharp edges cutting at his skin. He could not understand why humans would supposedly want such an ugly rock, the size of his fist, unlike all the cute polished pebbles he had found for Victor prior.
He shoved it into Victor’s hands. “Is that good enough for you?!”
Victor stared down at the rock. A few crew members glanced in their direction, all eyes trained on the rock. Then Victor’s lips curled up into the heart-shaped smile that Yuuri so adored. The one that could make Yuuri melt in seconds. And he did. Melted into a warm, bubbling puddle when Victor kissed him firm and deep. “This is perfect. I’m sorry about all the other ones.”
A tiny chirp slipped from Yuuri. Except then Victor disappeared with the rock and when he returned, it was gone from his hands.
“It’s in a safe spot, I promise, lovebird.”
Yuuri’s eyes narrowed. He remained suspicious.
Minami paced back and forth, wringing his hands together. He dipped them in and out of his pockets, bottom lip bitten to the point of splitting in his nervousness. The fact that no one was paying attention to his obvious strife made it that much worse. He thumbed the rock in his pocket and finally yelled out in frustration. “I can’t take it anymore!”
The deckhand marched up to where the captain stood, next to his navigator at the wheel of the ship. When Minami stormed up and thrust out a rock, Victor raised an eyebrow.
“I stole it, okay! I admit it! I took it cause you said you threw them away so I didn’t think you’d miss it, but it was a gift to you from Yuuri and it’s not mine, it’s not right for me to take something that a siren gave his mate, but I just wanted to have one of his rocks, okay, like, just one, plus it might be something very special, I don’t know, but you should appreciate his gifts even if it isn’t, but I know stealing is bad so just take it from me and punish me, okay, I deserve it, I’m not a good researcher for doing this, and stop looking at me like that!” Minami huffed hard enough the breath blew up his colored bangs.
Victor tapped his lips with his forefinger and hummed. He reached out, not for the rock, and ruffled Minami’s hair. The deckhand swatted his hand away.
“Take it and spare me my misery!”
Victor did. Plucked up the rock and walked away, not giving his deckhand a single word.
Minami did not know if he was more relieved or terrified by it.
“I apologize for not understanding that the rocks you left were gifts for me.”
Yuuri frittered. He had formed a nest around himself, looping the blankets into a perfect circle with their pillows as cornered reinforcements. A couple articles of Victor’s clothing had been dumped onto the floor, a velvet ribbon tailing off the edge of the bed. Presumably, Yuuri had used them for his nest at first and then decided that he did not want Victor’s belongings contaminating it.
“I thought they were yours. And I got annoyed that you were gone and apparently only coming home to leave rocks everywhere, because I missed you. But I should have waited and asked you.”
Yuuri kicked his feet out from under the blankets, toes pointed accusingly in Victor’s direction.
“Can I join you in that nest of yours so we can talk?”
The cabin was quiet. Yuuri’s chicks would be sleeping in the galley, next to the warmth of Chris’s stove. Minami had woven them a basket, which Yuuri had lined with his own down feathers. The unpredictability of the summer storms brought cold chills on sudden winds and Yuuri wanted his chicks safe inside. The parrots would be circling their masts, scanning the sea for merchant ships sitting low in the water, heavy with rich cargo. Yuuri had briefly considered joining them, taking his own frustration out on the belly of a foreign ship. It had been a while since he had sung humans dead.
Yuuri pushed his heels against his bedding fortress and made an opening for Victor. I apologize for assuming you knew what I was doing.
The disconnect between their culture and their habits was not always easy to pinpoint. Victor had thought Yuuri had picked up a new hobby. Yuuri had thought Victor was rejecting his gifts. Victor had gotten frustrated that Yuuri spent so long away collecting rocks. Yuuri had gotten frustrated that Victor did not seem to like any of them. Rather amusing, in a way.
“I’ll ask next time. Or you come tell me,” Victor said, tugging on the blankets and reforming Yuuri’s makeshift nest. “And I’ll be sure to appreciate your gifts, no matter what they are. Because they’re from you. And that’s all I need.”
You always do nice things for me. Wanted to do something for you. Yuuri traced into the mattress.
“You did, lovebird. And I’m just an idiot. Look what Kenji threw at me.”
One of the larger rocks that Yuuri had collected was set before him. It was not one of the prettier ones. Dimpled and rough, only selected out of Yuuri’s desperate search to find something that Victor might end up liking.
“Apparently he stole it. Cause he understood what you were doing and wanted to have one of your gifts for himself. I think I’m going to have to start taking formal lectures on siren knowledge from that boy.”
Smile cracking on his lips, Yuuri prodded at that rock. He did not blame Victor for rejecting it. It was quite ugly.
“Next time we get into a port, I’m going to have this polished so it’s as nice as all the other ones you gave me. Because I should value all the ones that you gave me, not just the last one.”
Brows furrowing, Yuuri looked to Victor.
The gentleness in Victor’s eyes was warmer than the peak of summer, and melted right into good-natured laughter. “Wait, you don’t know what you brought me?”
Yuuri shook his head.
“Really?” The depth of Victor’s laughter filled the room. “Why do you think I locked it away? How did you even find it–… Yuuri, it’s a gem stone. It’ll need to be cut and polished, but one that size could buy us an entire fleet of ships. And I’d let you sink them all. Because that’s what you’d deserve.”
Yuuri ducked his head and buried himself under Victor’s chin. Luck or not, he had found a gift for Victor. He had never seen gem stones which were not polished, but if it was good enough for Victor, Yuuri could not be happier.
“Does that mean that my lovebird forgives my ignorance?"
Yuuri kissed above Victor’s heart in response, chirping with laughter when Victor tackled him into the nest. His fingers got tangled in Victor’s hair, biting his lower lip to muffle his giggles as Victor smothered his face in affectionate kisses.
His foot made contact with the stolen rock next to them, knocking it off the bed and onto the floor with a dull thud. Victor stopped and glanced over with stitched curiosity.
Picking up the rock, Victor rapped it against the frame of the bed. ”…This is hollow.“
Gemstone? Yuuri tried, leaning over to examine it. It looked nothing like that other one, currently hidden within the locked drawers of Victor’s personal cabinet.
"No, not this one…”
Victor turned it over, slowly, until he found a chip from its fall. Beneath the rugged exterior, a vein of rich blue glistened.
“Do you know what this is?”
Yuuri shook his head.
“I think we need to check the rest of your rocks, lovebird. Because it seems you’ve got a talent for finding ones that are quite special.”
“The pirate ducks under the swinging sword, with steps light like feathers! His cutlass sparks against the blade as he spins and drives his own straight through the heart of his foe. The air fills with the mist of blood, smell metallic over the burn of gun powder. Red drips from his brow, over the scar carved into his cheek. ‘Board the ship!’ he yells, voice gruff with the smoke of canonfire, and launches himself over the rail–”
“–and falls straight into the ocean because the author forgot to write the ships in close enough together to make it across.”
Guang Hong’s twirling step came down over the edge of the table on which he was prancing in imitation of the narrative. With a short shout, he tumbled off, the book in his hand flying up into the air.
Somehow, Leo caught them both before they hit the ground. “I told you that you were gonna fall off.”
“That’s cause you ruined the climax of the scene and distracted me!” Guang Hong protested, hands planted against his friend’s chest. The muscles under Leo’s coal smudged shirt were firm and Guang Hong tried really, really hard not to pay attention to that. Honestly. He did. He leapt up, snatching the book from Leo. “You gotta use your imagination, ok? While Captain Silverlock was fighting the Admiral, the ships moved closer together!”
“You do realize that Captain Silverlock is supposed to be the villian, right?” Leo laughed, moving back to the furnace. He adjusted the thick gloves on his hands and checked the metal forging inside the bright hot coal, humming to himself.
“Yeah, so?” Guang Hong asked, jumping back up on the table. He straightened his vest and cleared his throat, flipping the book back to the proper page. “He’s super cool. Look, listen– 'and launches himself over the rail. Man after man falls under his sword. The deck of the naval ship is slick with blood but the pirate’s boots never slip. He leaves smeared prints in his wake, until the pistols on his waist are fired dry and his cutlass is rusty with the fluids of his enemy’.”
“Gross,” Leo supplied, adjusting the position of his forging metal in the furnace and pushing it further into the coals. “And that’s the fastest rust I’ve ever heard of. Wonder where Captain Silverlock is getting his weapons, they’re obviously not of good quality.”
“Leo,” Guang Hong whined. “Let yourself get lost in the adventure!”
“I’d find it easier if his cutlass wasn’t ready to fall apart after a single battle.”
Guang Hong dropped onto the surface of the table, sitting cross-legged with the book spread open over one of his calves. He watched as Leo pulled steel which would eventually form a sword from the furnace, setting it on an anvil. From the tool belt at his waist, the blacksmith apprentice took a hammer which sparked against the yellow metal with the force of his strikes.
The pounding was mimicked by Guang Hong’s heart. He tried not to pay too much attention to the flex of Leo’s muscles. Really. He did. “You’d make me good weapons if I became a pirate, right?”
Leo laughed, the rich sound alive between the clang of metal on metal. “Ji, why would you become a pirate?”
“For adventure!” Guang Hong huffed, pout heavy on his lips. “I do nothing all day but read and study! It’s so boring…”
“Even when you’re here?”
“No! You know I love coming here…”
Leo smiled, warmer than the heat of the furnace. “If you became a pirate, I’d make the absolute best weapons for you. Free of charge. In return for all the good you’ve already done me.”
“Yes!” Guang Hong pumped a fist in the air. “Pirate Ji, sailing the seven seas, amassing treasure and the fear of men!”
“As long as you remember to bring your ship close enough to the Admiral’s to board from the gunwale.”
Chapter warning: violence, blood, gun use
Note: chapter order changed to accommodate new arc
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Captain, the sail!”
Victor snapped around and swore when he saw it. The edge of the storm sail thrashed viciously, the line tethering it snapped. “Hold her steady!” The sky raged above, near black with the swirling of hurricane clouds.
Wood strained beneath his feet. Victor clutched onto the starboard railing as he staggered his way down the deck, keeping low as the ship lurched forward. The icy spray of the sea showered over him, stinging at his eyes and biting his skin.
As the ship dropped with crash of the wave beneath, Victor leapt across, seizing onto the rope whipping in the harsh storm winds. The muscles in his arms screamed as he fought the power of the elements, rope burning his palms as he heaved himself up, quickly rethreading the sail. A moment later and one of the deckhands slammed against his side, yelling as he grabbed at the rope to help secure it.
The swell of the waves rose over the height of their masts, but the wind caught the storm sail, sending them over before it crested.
All around them, the ocean stormed, rain cutting like daggers across his skin. Behind the helm, Victor could see Mila attempting to keep the ship steady, driving them over the top of the waves. They climbed slow and dropped fast, at the mercy of the sea’s violent temper.
Victor heard the thunder before he could attempt to maneuver back to the wheel. The dark sky was void of the flash of lightening, but the thunder kept sounding, booming over the bow of the ship. It struck straight through his chest, the vibrations clamoring through his ribcage and Victor knew what it was before he saw them.
His warning was mute against roar of the storm, the thunder of their wings. The wind filling the sails went still, the ship’s momentum ceasing. A wave crashed against them the same moment that they descended, piercing through the black of the storm clouds. A murder of harpies, circling the ship like the swirl of the hurricane.
Their screeches flooded the ship, ear-splitting. Half-human, half-birds, and unlike the allure born by sirens, they were repulsive. Legs of a vulture, arms absent for wings. The stench of their feathers fouled the air, warning of the death they brought with them.
The first struck his shoulder and sent him reeling, falling fast to the deck. Victor rolled before it could grab him, its claws smashing into the wood beside his head. His pistol was drawn and fired into its chest without aim, harpy’s harsh shriek exploding with a spray of feathers and blood.
The second seized onto his arm, bared teeth flashing in his eyes in the moment before he ducked his head. The knife strapped on the inside of his boot was in his palm as its nails sunk into his flesh, the sea-soaked fabric of his clothing staining red. Victor yelled as he sliced through its claw, pitching forward to slam the creature against mast rigging, sword driven through its heart.
At the helm, he glimpsed Mila firing on more, one arm attempting to keep the ship steady from the pounding of the waves. At the stern, a harpy hurled one of his crewmen off the side of the ship, body limp like a rag and lost to the sea. Victor shouted, the second pistol off his sash useless as the shot missed, hardly clipping a bloodied wing.
The harpy’s angry screech ripped at his ears, its force making him stumble. Another wave sent him off balance, tripping into the grip of the harpy swooping in.
Victor threw up his arms to protect himself, but he never collided with it. Right before his eyes, the harpy’s face twisted with a scream, spine arching as Yuuri tore the wings off its back. The siren’s eyes were as red as the splash of blood coating his claws, dripping as he tossed the harpy aside.
Yuuri’s wings were full and bold, spread grand in battle. His skin was stained near completely black, feathers bristling from his arms and legs.
Three more harpies fell to his hands as easily as if they had been gulls, others fleeing when they glimpsed the siren. Yuuri’s wings cut through the air, through the harpies still spiraling above the ship, before his voice pierced through the deafening roar of the storm.
Time itself seemed to stand still, the wind dead, waves calmed until the moment in which Yuuri’s cry disbursed. Fierce faces contoured, the harpies’ eyes settled on the siren as the thunderous beat of the wings bore down.
Yuuri spoke no command, spreading his wingspan over the center of the ship. The harpies scattered.
Then the sea slammed against the ship and Yuuri’s arm wrapped around Victor before he could be thrown into it, holding him tight to the siren’s side as he flew. Victor buried himself into Yuuri and the silk of feathers all around him.
Yuuri set Victor back behind the helm, wings encircling him in a brief embrace. Victor did not miss the brush of Yuuri’s hand through his hair, lips catching against the side of his face. The siren was gone again in the second that followed, leaving Victor to fight the fading of the storm with two words whispered sweet to his captain.
The heat of the furnance filled the forge as Leo worked. With a grunt, he struck at lengthening metal, sparks cascading around his feet. Sweat built on his brow and he blinked it from his eyes when it dripped, shaking his hair from his face. Damp strands stuck to his skin.
Not far off, but far off enough to be safe, Guang Hong slumped against a work table. He had his textbooks before him, notes filled with neat characters in at least three different languages. His head was nestled atop his crossed forearms, light brown of his bangs falling into his angelic face. He had dozed off studying, lulled by the warmth of the forge and the steady rhythmic beat of Leo’s smithwork.
Leo quenched the red-hot blade in oil, leaning back when it caught fire. A quick exchanged dip between the bath of water and back again, the metal cooled enough to set. Leo tested the hardness and examined its form before setting it aside. Tomorrow he would temper the steel and grind the blade, then present it to his mentor. His last few swords had not been strong enough and shattered upon striking.
Removing his gloves and pushing his hair back, Leo walked over to where Guang Hong slept and smiled. His friend had fallen asleep muttering something about enjoying the view. But Leo had had his back to Guang Hong and not made out the words in full.
He glanced over Guang Hong’s notes, flipping through the pages. Languages, physics, various philasophies from wise men across the ocean. On the back pages of his notebooks, however, Guang Hong always scribbled pictures from the adventure books he favored. Pirates fighting on high seas. Beautiful mythical creatures which only existed in fantasy. As good as Guang Hong was with languages, his art was not quite at the same level. Leo chuckled at the sparring stick figures on the page and then returned the book to where Guang Hong had left it.
Fetching a thin blanket, Leo covered Guang Hong’s shoulders in it and pressed his lips to the top of Guang Hong’s sweet smelling hair. “Sleep well, Ji. I hope you dream of adventure.”
The gun powder stores were low. The bullet and cannonfire stores were low. A vast portion of the food on board had gone off, water-logged in a flood from the rough storm and the damage caused by harpies. Hands were still bleeding from the quick patch jobs to the leaks that had split with the thrashing. Summer meant the storms were just going to get worse, and Victor knew that neither his ship nor his crew would be able to take it without a heavy toll.
He stood, staring at empty powder kegs in their storage rooms, rubbing his chin in contemplation.
“Do you want to turn back?” Mila asked beside him. “If Yuuri flies ahead–”
“It’s too far and we’ll have the wind against us if we turn.”
“We’re close to a port…”
“Not that one, Victor.”
“We don’t have another one.”
Despite her new leg, Mila walked light. Her grace had not been lost with the limb. Yet now, she dragged her heel across the floor, producing the sharp screech of wood on wood. “Don’t be an idiot.”
“We’ll take it for a vote then.”
Victor’s feathered ponytail whipped around him as he turned quick. Frown deepset on her brows and her lips, Mila followed him up to the deck of the ship, where Victor called for the crew to assemble.
“We’re not in good condition. We need to find a port, soon. We can turn around and take our chance with the storms, or we keep going and hit land within two days. You all know where we are, you know what time of year this is and the risks we face either way. So, I want hear voices. Those in favor of turning back?”
A few hands were raised, including that of the quartermaster’s.
“All in favor of heading for the coast ahead?”
At first there was no movement. Then Chris put his hand up and more followed, one by one. Mila clicked her tongue behind Victor.
Victor’s expression stayed cold, no joy behind his victory. “To the coast it is. We shall try to approach her quietly. But if that fails, I want everyone prepared for a raid. Understood?”
A chorus of aye’s sounded.
Yuuri pulled on Emil’s sleeve, tilting his head to one side.
The doctor’s frown could not be more somber. “There’s a stronghold on the coast. A sister city to the capital. There’s an artillery there Victor probably means to raid.”
Yuuri looked toward his captain, who was arguing with Mila under their breaths. The rest of the crew did not seem happy either.
“There’s a festival is held in the city every year at midsummer. We’re going to hit the middle of it. Now normally I’m all for a good party, but the problem is that the Queen’s never missed it.” Emil continued, voice low so that only Yuuri could hear him. “And the day before Victor abandoned the navy… She’d personally knighted him.”
The only reason that Guang Hong was not skipping down the street was the basket in his arms weighed heavy. The summer sky was bright and blue. Colored decorations for the upcoming festival were strung across shops and street lamps. The whole city was in good spirits, carrying the mood through Guang Hong.
Guang Hong bounced on the balls of his feet when he arrived at the forge, checking his pocketwatch. A minute to half past noon. He straightened his vest, a rich black with intricate pink threaded flowers that sparkled a little if he turned in the sun just right. No particular reason for him to have picked out some of his best day clothes, none at all. It was probably too fancy. He should have worn something plainer. Leo was gonna tease him for it.
“Are you going somewhere special?”
Guang Hong squeaked, jumping to attention.
From behind him, Leo laughed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“You didn’t! I was just- surprised!” Guang Hong replied, noticing that his voice was a little louder than it needed to be. “And yes, I am! I’m going to take my best friend on a picnic, unless you have a problem with that.”
“None at all. I would have tried to find something better if I knew we were dressing up.”
“I’m not… This is normal,” Guang Hong protested, clutching the basket to himself.
“You look very good normal then,” Leo responded, holding out a hand in offer. “Would you like me to carry that?”
“No,” Guang Hong said, cheeks pinker than before. Leo looked very good normal too, missing his usual leathered gloves and apron. Guang Hong noticed that his clothing had been well-washed and pressed, no patterned burns of spitting oil down his breeches or coal smudges around his sleeves. He still had them rolled up. Not that Guang Hong liked that or anything. Leo just had nice forearms. That was an indisputable fact. “March!”
With a smile that was far too nice, Leo marched. They walked through the city streets together, toward the harbor and the hill that overlooked it. On days with good weather, Guang Hong liked to climb it and watch the ships. Fishermen coming back from their mornings with their catch. Merchants unloading fine goods from across the ocean. Naval ships stopping to resupply before resuming their patrol.
They found a flat spot under the shade of a banyan tree, where Leo laid out a blanket he had brought from the forge. Guang Hong unpacked the picnic basket, unloading precisely cut sandwiches and small porcelain containers of steamed vegetables and sliced fruits.
“You always bring too much,” Leo said as Guang Hong set out two different types of miniature savoy tarts, arranging it all in a manner fit for an oil painting.
“I only bring as much as I can carry,” Guang Hong answered, grabbing two halves of a sandwich and giving one to Leo. “Eat, I’m hungry!” He dug in first, knowing that Leo never started before him.
When Guang Hong had first started visiting Leo at the forge, he noticed that the afternoon often came and went without Leo stopping in his training to eat. Since then Guang Hong tried to go by everyday, with his books and an extra lunch packed for Leo.
The soles of their feet pointed out to the ocean, the surface of the water sparkling under the sun. From their spot, Guang Hong could see men working on the deck of a large merchant ship, preparing it for a journey. From his studies, Guang Hong could name every part of the ship, despite never having been allowed to step on one. Huffing, he bit hard into his sandwich.
“Look, that cloud looks like one of your textbooks.” Leo pointed toward the sky at a cloud passing over them.
Guang Hong stuck out his tongue. “Why would you ruin the mood?”
“Okay, one of your adventure books.”
Chuckling, Leo dusted off his hands and set them behind his hips, leaning back to gaze at the sky. “Are you still reading about that silver pirate?”
“Yes! His crew just took out a kraken!”
“I thought that was supposed to be impossible.”
“Yeah, but they lured it up the side of the ship and fired the cannons right as it was passing over them.”
“Would the great Pirate Ji use the same strategy?”
“Hmmm,” Guang Hong paused, closing his eyes as he visualized the scene. “Oh, I know! I’d throw a barrel of gunpowder into its mouth and fire a shot to make it explode!”
“What if you didn’t hit the barrel or it didn’t ignite?”
“It’s my adventure book. Of course it’s going to ignite. Instant roast octopus!”
Leo laughed so hard that his hands slipped, falling onto his elbow. “That’s one way to keep up a healthy diet at sea. The crew of the Pirate Ji. So feared they eat kraken for breakfast.”
“It could last a while.”
Grinning ear to ear, Guang Hong clapped his hands. “Oh! Oh, I made something for you! Here, I made it all by myself!”
From inside the basket, he pulled out a small cake. It was encased in a porcelain cup, whipped frosting swiped across the surface. A design decorated the top of the cream, the resulting effort of Guang Hong’s hard work. He had nearly bitten through his tongue creating the cake, having had it pinched between his teeth in concentration.
“Is that a… goat?” Leo asked hesitantly, guessing at the animal that Guang Hong had drawn on.
“No, it’s a lion! For you, cause you’re Leo. There’s the ears and the mane and the whiskers and–… it does look kind of like a goat.”
Leo took it nonetheless, leaning over to grab a silver spoon. “It still looks delicious. You made this all by yourself?”
“I followed a recipe one of the kitchen staff gave me,” Guang Hong stated proudly. It was a miracle he had been allowed back in, as the last time he had used the stove it was for an experiment and had nearly resulted in an estate fire. Nothing was permanently damaged. Other than his pride. “How is it?”
The spoon cut into the cake smoothly. Guang Hong tipped in close enough he was breathing down Leo’s shoulder, watching with wide eyes. It may have been possible that a quiet ‘yesss’ slipped out when the sponge came out fully baked and fluffy. His gaze was trained like a hawk on Leo’s mouth, nerves tingling in anticipation as the cake melted on Leo’s tongue.
Leo coughed. His other hand flew to his mouth, holding it shut, eyes scrunching shut as he struggled to swallow. “Ji, oh my god, are you trying to kill me?”
In disbelief, Guang Hong seized the cup and spooned out some of the cake, scarfing it down. The second it touched his tastebuds, Guang Hong flailed and spit it right back out. Coughing, he grabbed the bottle of drink he had brought, washing down the taste with several mouthfuls. He handed it over as soon as he no longer felt like gagging.
Leo accepted the drink with gratitude, washing out his mouth.
“How did–… what…. why?!”
“I think you might have accidentally mixed up the sugar with the salt.”
Oh. Well. That would certainly explain the assault on the senses. Guang Hong whined, pouting heavily.
His laughing friend laid back on the blanket, resting his head on his hands, and nudged Guang Hong playfully with his knee. “Don’t worry. You’ll get it next time.”
“But now we don’t have a dessert.”
“You’re sweet enough for me.”
Guang Hong blushed so hard and got so distracted, he nearly took another bite of the cake.
“I want you to learn, okay?” Victor had his arms around Yuuri. On the railing were set a collection of toy boats, carved to the size of a palm. Yuuri had his head tilted back against Victor’s shoulders, brown eyes sweet in their questioning curiousity. “In the chance that there comes a time when you can’t show off your power but still need to protect yourself. It can’t hurt to know how.”
Yuuri nodded. Victor smiled and curled Yuuri’s fingers around the handle of the pistol he had given to his siren.
“It’s simple, okay? Make sure you have the handle firm against the heel of your palm. You can use both hands to hold it when you’re starting off.” Victor lifted up Yuuri’s other hand and showed him how to position it. He spoke softly, lips at Yuuri’s ear. “Keep that finger off the trigger until you’re ready to fire. Now use your thumb to pull back the cock– don’t giggle, lovebird, if you do well I’ll let you thumb a different cock later.”
Heat radiated off Yuuri’s cheeks, but his concentration showed in the fact that the marks on his face did not bloom feathers. He followed Victor’s instructions, cocking the pistol. It clicked into place, releasing the safety lock.
“Now, this particular model tends to pull left, so aim a bit right of your target. Line up your sights, and–” Victor guided Yuuri’s finger over the trigger and pressed it inwards. The cocking mechanism snapped forward, striking the flint and igniting the powder they had loaded together. The gun fired in Yuuri’s hand, the siren shouting in surprise.
The rightmost boat exploded.
Delight spread across Yuuri’s face and he chirped excitedly, glancing back at Victor.
“Yeah, I thought you’d like that,” Victor chuckled and took the pistol back, returning it to holster on his waist sash. He placed a second loaded pistol in Yuuri’s hands. “All right, try on your own just like I showed you.”
Nodding, Yuuri raised the gun and aimed. His hand trembled slightly and, without warning, he squeezed the trigger. The pistol fired, shot echoing off the sails, smell of burned gun powder flooding the air. Yuuri stumbled, the recoil sending him back a step. The three remaining toy boats remained unscathed.
“Did you just shoot that with your eyes closed?!”
From the sky over the rail, a seagull plummeted into the ocean.
Very carefully, Victor removed the smoking pistol from Yuuri’s hands. “Let’s, umm… let’s get all the parrots inside before we continue, shall we? …And maybe the crew too.”
Guang Hong bit into a cushion, teeth grating at the fabric. The party his parents had thrown for him was nowhere close to dying down, voices and music echoing through the estate halls. The oil in the lamps had been replaced by their servants prior to the gathering, but Guang Hong could see that it had already burned low.
The entire day had been spent with people fretting over him. Guang Hong had lost count how many times he had his hair ruffled by people much taller than him, by extended family visiting from neighboring cities, by the friends of friends of friends of his parents.
There was a table groaning under the weight of the gifts that had been brought for him. They would be filled with clothing made of expensive fabrics, texts for his studies, perhaps scripts in languages that he had yet been exposed to. The previous year, an uncle had brought him one as such and stayed with his family for weeks, each day prodding Guang Hong for an interpretation. When he had finally managed to translate enough of it, a sort of instructional for gaining access to an ancient temple, the script had been snatched away with delighted exclamation and his uncle had disappeared. He had not returned this year and no letters had arrived with news regarding his voyage. Guang Hong could not say that he had mourned.
Guang Hong had snuck off after the second round of desserts. No one was really paying attention anyway. He had lit the candles in his room and buried himself within the final pages of his book. Perhaps his life was not meant for the kind of adventure portrayed in its page, of duels with pirates, encounters with mythical beasts, the heartache of a love left on the shores. At the very least, he could lose himself in the fantasy of it, until the last page turned.
Something hit his window. Guang Hong looked up in time to see a pebble knock against the glass. Then another. He sat up and unlocked it, sliding the window up. He had to duck when yet another pebble flew by, going over his head into his room.
“Leo!” Guang Hong smiled, leaning out the window. “How did you get in?”
“There is a possibility that I climbed a fence that was put up to prevent people from climbing over it.”
“You’re going to be in so much trouble if you get caught,” Guang Hong laughed, completely forgetting about finishing the last lines of his book.
“Well so are you. But I had a gift to bring a celebrating friend.” Leo held up a present, wrapped in a simple white cloth. The corners had been twisted into a bow on top.
“Wait, I’ve always wanted to do this.” Guang Hong raised the glass of his window fully open and latched it in place before clambering out. He heard Leo’s call of concern but shushed him, glancing down to plan his route. There was no ladder or vines snaking up the side of the house to help him down. Guang Hong turned and gripped the ledge, lowering himself down until he was hanging from the window by his fingertips. A three floor drop probably would not be good for his ankles.
“Ji, are you mad?!”
“You gotta catch me!”
Guang Hong strained to look over his shoulder, seeing an extremely worried Leo below him.
“You’re smarter than this, pull yourself up and get back inside!”
“Nope! Don’t have the upper body strength. I trust you!” With that, Guang Hong let go.
And fell straight down into Leo’s arms.
It still hurt a bit, his dropping weight sent them both to the ground, rolling in the grass.
Guang Hong laughed, clutching onto a rib bruised by the hard contact with the pad of Leo’s wrist while Leo rubbed at his hip. “That was amazing!”
“Please never do that again,” Leo groaned, hitting Guang Hong lightly with the wrapped gift. “You’re my best friend but I’m not going to be hung cause you couldn’t use the stairs like a normal person.”
Ignoring the jab, Guang Hong eagerly undid the bow of his present. The fabric unfurled to reveal a book and a small blade, sheathed in leather. His eyes went wide like coals.
“I noticed you were almost done with the other one… And that, well, I made that. Thought the pirate Ji should have his own knife. For whittling. Or for when you go fishing. Please don’t stab anyone with it.”
Guang Hong threw his arms around Leo with so much force he knocked them both onto the ground again.
“These are the best gifts ever!”
“I’m pretty sure you got way better things today.”
“No way. These are from you. Nothing could be better.” Guang Hong looked back to his house. All the windows on the first floor were lit up from the party still going on inside. “I wish you could come in.”
“And force me to be bored to death with you?” Leo teased, pulling them both up onto their feet. “Flattered as I am to be invited to the Ji Residence, I must kindly decline. Come by tomorrow if you can.”
Guang Hong nodded, holding his gifts to his chest as he muttered goodbye. Leo ruffled his hair, giving a promise to be careful sneaking back out. Guang Hong watched him go, already missing the feel of Leo’s hand in his hair.
Yuuri had seen the crew prepare for battles before. They usually went into it with grins and soulful laughter, singing songs to keep the rhythm as they worked to prep the ship. Loading the cannons and rolling barrels of gun powder into position. Swabbing the decks clean to ensure firm footholds. Hoistening pirate colors high into the sky, with a blood red flag strung at the ready. Chasing the tails of fleeing ships with their captain at the helm, silver streaming around him as the wind filled their sails and their hearts with the eager anticipation of an adventure.
There was no glee on board that day. Guns were loaded and swords were sharpened, but it was done with solemn spirit. There was not a single smile amongst the pirates, no notes sung out to echo in the thick fabric of their sails.
When Victor called out to Yuuri, he called out to him by name.
Victor took him down to their cabin and pressed his lips to the top of Yuuri’s hair, sweeping the coarse black down to cover the markings around his ears. He took Yuuri’s hands and slowly removed each of his rings, kissing the siren’s knuckles as he went. Yuuri let him, watching silently as Victor removed his own and dropped them in a pile together with Yuuri’s. Victor took off the gold clips in his ears and dressed them both down. Plainsclothes and plain dressed, without a hint of grandure or any of the riches that they had collected.
“Will you braid my hair for me? I’ll need it hidden.”
Victor still asked, even though there was not a chance in the world that Yuuri would say no. Having the silk of Victor’s hair between his fingers was a gift of which Yuuri would never tire. He took his time, brushing out the strands long and slow, until they glistened under light of the burning oil. He sectioned off the pieces, threading them between his fingers, gentle as he worked. Victor’s hair always smelled like the sea. The salt of the breeze, the rush of the water. Yuuri could bury himself in it and never let go.
Yuuri did Victor’s hair differently from the usual single braid that his captain slept with. He brought the strands from the sides of Victor’s face together to join at the back of his head, braiding and winding together. When Yuuri went for his little collection of gold pins to keep it set, Victor shook his head. “Just the copper ones, lovebird. I don’t need to be drawing any attention to myself this time around.”
Yuuri used the copper ones. Tucked them into the thickly wound braids and secured any loose strands in place, admiring his own handiwork. Victor was beautiful. Victor was always beautiful. Even with the sad smile on his lips when he kissed Yuuri in gratitude. He wanted to wipe it away, taking hold of Victor’s face and pushing up on his cheeks with his thumbs to draw up a better one.
Victor chuckled into Yuuri’s palm. “You’re so sweet…” The long silver of his lashes swept up, the melancholy blue of his eyes pouring into Yuuri’s. “When we go out into that city, I need you to listen to me, all right? This is not somewhere friendly to pirates. Not to sirens either. I wouldn’t have come here if I thought we had any other choice. I’m known in this city and I’m wanted. And I don’t want the same for you. I know you want to come with me, but if you do, I don’t want to take any chances of anyone there finding out what you are. I don’t want you taken away from me. So stay close to me. But if we get separated or if something happens, I need to you to come back to the ship. Protect her and the crew. Do you understand?”
He nodded. Nodded and took Victor’s hands, kissing the centers of his palms.
Victor smiled. “Good. Well, get ready. It’s been a while since this crew has had a good adventure.” With that, Victor left him, tucking his braided hair under the rim of a hat as he disappeared up the stairs.
Yuuri remained sitting on their bed a while longer, watching the sun sink on the horizon out the cabin windows. Lower and lower as the ship grew closer and closer to shore.
Dread sat heavy in the siren’s belly.
The door leading to the back of the forge slammed open. Instantly, Leo stood at attention, expecting a royal inspection or the sharp vigilant eyes of his mentor.
What he saw instead was a mousy head of hair and the cutest cheeks puffed out like an angry hamster. Guang Hong stormed across the room– as well as he could for someone of his stature– and threw his carry bag onto the work table. Books spilled out from it, skidding across wood and onto the floor. Guang Hong kicked one for good measure.
“Hello to you too, sunshine,” Leo smiled, walking over to pick up the fallen books. He dusted them off and replaced them on the table. “Another fight?”
“They said I’m not allowed to come here anymore!” Guang Hong said, voice loud and breaking. He was biting the inside of his cheeks, shoulders stiff, the rims of his eyes red and puffy like he had been crying. “They said that I should be focusing on my studies and not wasting my time being friends with someone– someone that’s…”
“Below your class?” Leo guessed.
“You’re not, okay! That’s so stupid!” Guang Hong quieted the moment he heard his voice echo through the rafters. “And I come here to study, I’m way beyond their stupid curriculum, and who cares if sometimes my clothes are a little messy after I come here, it’s not like we can’t afford it!”
“Ji, you should listen to your parents…”
“No! I always listen. I do everything they say, and I can’t have anything for myself, not even the one friend that I want instead of those stupid socialites that only talk about whatever dumb fashion has come across the borders or gossip they heard from around the royals, and I hate it, I hate it, I hate it!” Guang Hong knocked the same books back off the table, tears welling up in his eyes. “You’re the only good thing I have in my life.”
“You know that’s not true–”
“That’s what it feels like though!” Wet drops rolled down his cheeks and dripped off his chin. When Leo stepped closer and lifted his arms, Guang Hong rushed straight into them, burying himself. He rubbed his face into Leo’s chest, not caring if the streaks of coal on it smudged across his skin. “I don’t want to stay there anymore.”
“What are you gonna do then? Run off and become a pirate?” Leo teased, holding Guang Hong close.
“…I told them I was going to the library to study.”
“You never go to the library to study. You always come here.”
“They don’t need to know that,” Guang Hong muttered.
“You brought your books though.”
“This is my library.”
Leo laughed, smiling when he felt Guang Hong’s lips mimic the expression. “Your secret library?”
“Never said it couldn’t be. You’re not doing a very good job of hiding it though,” Leo said, tilting up Guang Hong’s face so he could point at the black smudges on his white collar.
Guang Hong squeaked and broke off, rushing for a rag and the water bucket.
Leo smiled and followed after to go help him before he made the stain permanent. Like he always did.
The ship reached the coast with nightfall. They did not dock in a harbor, navigating away from the city lights shining on the shore. The anchor hit the water under the cover of a cove, dinghies lowered to take the crew to land in stealth. Voices stayed hushed as they rowed, all clad in the dark of funeral colors.
Yuuri’s eyes stayed on the ship, on the red, white, and blue flag flying centermast. The Queen’s flag, he had been informed. A pirate ship in disguise. He didn’t like it.
Their little boats were tied to the docks with loose knots, at the mouth of the harbor. They crept, keeping low with steps silenced on the balls of their feet. One by one, pirates made their way along the wooden expanse of the docks, pausing at the sight of a uniformed patrol.
A silent hand motion from Victor and Minami scurried forward, quick as a rat. Yuuri watched, tense, as the boy went straight for the men. He expected Minami to pull out the knife slotted into a hidden sheath beneath his shirt and jump on them from behind like he would often jump on Victor.
Instead, Minami straightened and yelled.
“Please, help! My sister, she fell into the water. She can’t swim, please!” His panicked voice was laced with crocodile tears.
A smile passed over Victor’s lips as Minami rushed the patrol to the far end of the docks. Yuuri hung back with Victor, the rest of the crew splitting up and disappearing to pursue their assignments. Supplies, weapons, the possibility of a new recruit or two.
Victor squeezed Yuuri’s hand once and then let go, guiding him toward the heart of the city. As he walked, Victor kept his head down and shrunk to the walls of buildings, staying concealed in the shadows of the night. The streets were narrower than Yuuri was used to seeing and soon it was no longer packed dirt beneath his feet, but stone. Houses stood close together and despite the dark, people lingered.
As their path began to widen, Yuuri heard the distant notes of music winding around cobbled corners. Voices carried on the unfamiliar song, more vivid as they grew closer. Footsteps echoed, patterned and rhythmic. Laughter rang out with the chime of celebration.
The streets opened into a square. Yuuri stopped.
Tall oil lamps burned bright, colored glass illuminating the festival in full swing, bathing the joyous crowd in flickering rainbows. Decorative flags fluttered overhead, swept up with the gust of festivities. The sweet smell of baked breads and roasted meat filled the air, but that was not what caught Yuuri’s attention.
The clothing of the men and women at the center of the square was richly dyed. Tyrian purples and indigo blues, reds deeper than the petals of newly bloomed roses. They wore costumes adorned in gems, crystals which twinkled in the burning light. Gold flashed, silver jingled. Faces were obstructed in beautifully crafted masks, decorated in feathers and the sparkle of diamond powder. They laughed and chattered, toasting drinks in their merriment.
Yuuri took it all in with stars in his eyes. It was grander than the nights spent playing instruments and singing on the ship, more extravagent than that tavern Victor had taken him to in mating season.
Lured by the dance, the music and the glint of gold, Yuuri stepped into the light.
“Come on, they had already started playing music when I went by!”
“If you want to go to the festival, you can go on ahead. I have to finish here first.” Leo’s work had ended with nightfall but the duty of cleaning the forge remained. Tools had to be tended to and set away in their proper places, the ash cleared from the furnace, the floors swept. The woodstock was low, Leo would have to replenish at sun up. Guang Hong liked stopping by and watching him chop wood, for a reason Leo suspected but never had the courage to confirm.
“I wanna go with you though,” Guang Hong complained from his spot atop the work table, kicking his dingling legs.
“I thought you weren’t meant to be associating with me any longer. What if someone notices?” Leo asked, keeping his focus on his tasks. For the most part. The temptation of Guang Hong’s smile was too sweet to resist for long.
“You’re my friend. It’s not like this is some sort of forbidden romance.”
“You’re right. Less risks to be had.” Leo glanced in Guang Hong’s direction, but Guang Hong seemed to be elsewhere, his head down and his bangs concealing his face. Leo returned to his work, their conversation settling.
When Guang Hong first started stopping by the forge, he had offered to help Leo with his tasks. Leo had refused, for multiple reasons, but Guang Hong had insisted and attempted to aid him regardless. Mishandling of the forge tools in his rushed haste had resulted in a burn scar on the side of Guang Hong’s right wrist. Guang Hong was not allowed to approach the furnace or handle any of the tools after that.
By the time Leo completed his duties, more than an hour had passed and Guang Hong had started nodding off. Leo stirred him with a light touch.
Guang Hong shot up straight with excitement. “Ready?!”
“Yes. If you’re fine with me going in these clothes.”
“I don’t care, let’s go!” Guang Hong jumped off the table and grabbed Leo’s wrist, pulling him along. “Someone said that there’s a patissier visiting from the capital, you know that one who came by two years ago. They’re so amazing, I want to get a few of their cakes!”
“All of them!”
Chuckling, Leo allowed himself to be aggressively tugged across the forge. Guang Hong had been looking forward to the midsummer festival for months and Leo was not about to deny him. He would buy all the cakes for Guang Hong himself, even if it emptied his wallet.
When they reached the door, it slammed open. Guang Hong squeaked in surprise, ducking behind Leo for concealment. Leo was met with a brilliant, practiced smile and well-tailored clothing resembling that of a naval uniform.
“Behold! You have been graced with the presence of her royal majesty’s most valuable and most decorated privateer! Make way, for it is–”
“Oh no.” Leo heard Guang Hong mumble behind him.
Victor grabbed Yuuri’s wrist, quickly tugging him back into the shadows. Yuuri spun into him, hands bundled into fists against Victor’s chest. The siren met Victor’s eyes before glancing over his shoulder and back again, gazing up at Victor through the thickness of his lashes.
The brim of Victor’s hat was tipped down to keep his face hidden, his expression caught in a conflict as he looked at Yuuri, at the path he had been leading them toward, then at the festivities before them. The music and laughter washed over the silence between them. Yuuri’s fingers curled in a bit tighter.
“I do suppose it is unfair of me to bring you to such a scene and not permit you to look around,” Victor conceded. “But Yuuri, I can’t go out there. There may be people here who could recognize me.”
Frowning souring his mouth, Yuuri looked back onto the crowds of people. The jewels of their costumes and accessories flirted with the light. Yuuri broke off from Victor, approaching a couple who had settled on a nearby bench to rest.
“Sell me your masks.”
Obediently, the couple unlaced the ribbons tying back their masks and handed them to the siren without question. Yuuri dropped a couple coins into their hands, muttering a thanks and an order to pay no more attention to him before returning to his mate. He held out one of the masks to Victor.
It was two-toned in white and gold, with the pattern of glittering roses above the sharpness of his blue eyes. Yuuri helped him tie it snugly in place, tucking escaping strands of silver hair away at the same time.
Victor chuckled when he secured Yuuri’s. “Of course you went for feathers.” The mask the siren had taken for himself was painted black and red, with dyed feathers fanning off the edges. “We can’t stay though. One song. And then we leave, understood?”
Yuuri nodded with so much enthusiasm the mask nearly slipped off his nose. He readjusted it immediately, dark eyes shifting toward the festival.
“You’re going to get me killed one day, lovebird.” Victor smiled, taking Yuuri’s hand in his.
Yuuri swooped in, chirping gratitude softly against Victor’s ear. And then he led his masked partner out to dance.
“I wish for it to be engraved with my insignia, and as I understand this to be a haste request, I shall reward you handsomely!”
Guang Hong sat huddled up on the bench of the work table, his knees pulled up to his chest and his arms hugging them close. His attempts to duck out of JJ’s line of view had gone entirely unsuccessfully, with the privateer explaining a loud greeting of “Master Guang Hong, how delightful!” puncuated by a sweeping bow.
They had made acquintance a year back, at one of the parties hosted by Guang Hong’s parents. Guang Hong had been rather excited to hear that in attendance would be a privateer of the royal navy, coveting a chance to hear stories of swashbuckling pirates on the high sea. However, he had instead been met with a lot of JJ this and JJ that, and while JJ did have stories they tended to focus on… JJ.
“It should read, along the blade, the word ‘Style,’ so that those who fall to it shall always know how it was they were slain. They shall bear my mark on them, from the mortuary to Judgment’s Gate.”
“Are you carving Js into your victims?” Guang Hong muttered, words muffled by his knees and the weight of his pout. Leo had accepted the request, despite the late hour, after JJ had waved off the notion of waiting till morning to let a proper professional engrave it for him. The apprentice worked diligintly and quietly, only responding to feedback and guidance.
JJ rounded on Guang Hong, whisking around to clap his hands over the boy’s shoulders. “What a brilliant idea! Alas, they are not victims. They are criminals or else enemies to Her Royal Majesty, of whom I have been granted the right to dispose.”
Standing straight, JJ laid a hand over his heart and the royal decorations sewn into his jacket above. “However, let us be gracious for Her Majesty’s visit onto this city, for with her presence we could not be safer. There’s a patrol on every path to enter and more at the harbor! The artillery has been fully stocked, the lookout stations reinforced, and what more, you have JJ himself at your service. Not a bandit nor pirate could enter this city now and escape unbeheaded.”
Guang Hong thought that a pirate might be at least more courteous and rob the forge after he and Leo had departed for the festival. Rather than trap them in it with depends for work despite the clearly late hour and the lack of lit lamps inside.
Leo’s tools clinked against the metal of the privateer’s sword, carving the pattern into it little by little. Guang Hong puffed out his cheeks and cursed the crown for disrupting what could have been his chance to dance with Leo. As friends.
“A pirate raid would be more fun than this,” he grumbled and sank even lower.
JJ just grinned brighter as his sword was engraved with his overlapping initials.
One of Yuuri’s palms was flat against Victor’s. They stepped in time with one another, to the rhythm set by the music. Yuuri recognized the dance as one Victor had taught him, during slow days on the deck of the ship. To think they had been more free to move there than they were on land, where the feet of others fell all around them.
They followed the dance, palm to palm, in a half-circle around one another before twirling round and switching hands like the rest of the couples. Victor smiled from under his golden mask, making Yuuri flutter with fondness more than the music.
The melodic notes dipped momentarily, and Yuuri was taken away from Victor by the change of partners. He bowed his head in response to the masked girl who nodded at him in greeting, taking care not to trod on the sweeping skirts of her dress. Yuuri admired the speckled pink crystals imbedded in vines around the eyes of her mask, wondering if he could demand a few more masks simply to try them all on Victor.
Another dip and Yuuri found himself with yet another partner. The dance was simple and repetitive, but the music was light on the warmth of the summer night, carrying the spirits of the festival go-ers. Yuuri could easily glide on it, dancing with partner after partner until he was spun back to Victor.
This time when they joined hands, Yuuri laced their fingers together and led them through the finishing steps on the lilt of the wind instruments. Victor’s unfaltering smile set the pace in Yuuri’s heart, drowning out the speech from the nearby stage which had followed the music.
Victor closed the distance between them, squeezing Yuuri’s hand. The song was over, and Yuuri had agreed to go. He nodded, ready to be led by his captain.
There was a cheer from the crowd, starting low and escalating in a roar. Victor’s fingers tightened around Yuuri’s, tugging as he nodded in indication toward the edge of the square. Yuuri tapped his thumb against Victor’s hand, turning to leave.
Something burst in between them, breaking them apart. Yuuri heard shouts, laughter, his eyes jumping to find Victor and landing on–
A grotesque, malformed horse lept around Yuuri, neighing with the raucous rasp of a human. Its long, stitched nose jutted toward him and then the hellbeast reared, kicking up with wood-carved hooves. “Welcome to the festival!” the horse bellowed to him, laughter coming from deep in its soft belly.
Yuuri screamed, his feathers and wings all exploding forth.
Yuuri’s wings knocked people off their feet, sending women falling into the layered fabrics of their skirts and men stumbling over the heels of their polished shoes. Confusion spread, chatter rippling through to those further from Yuuri. His hands jerked up, making sure his mask was still tied tightly around his face. Alongside the decorative feathers, he could feel his own sprouted from the markings at his ears. Murmurs bloomed all around Yuuri.
“Wings, look at them!”
“They’re so real.”
“Where did they come from?”
“It’s a costume!” A voice pierced through the milling crowd.
Steeling himself in the face of the horse, Yuuri nodded in weak confirmation. If there was life beyond the dull, painted eyes of the horse bearing down on him, Yuuri could not tell. Muscles in his back spasmed, wings twitching, ready to take flight at the slightest sign of panic. Oxygen hitched in his lungs, his heart stopped, his brain working overtime, jumping, racing. Victor, he needed to get Victor, he needed to find Victor, Victor, Victor–
The crowd erupted with applause. Whistles, shouts, exclamations all rang in Yuuri’s ears. Someone clapped him on the back with enough force that Yuuri stumbled, his heartrate suddenly that of a jack rabbit’s. There were hands on his wings, stroking his feathers, adoring cooes and compliments showered all around him.
“Oh they’re beautiful.”
“Who made these?”
“Are they spring-loaded?”
“What bird are these from?”
“Pardon, I would like to see too.”
“Look at his hands, the attention to detail!”
Desperately, Yuuri scanned the crowd, looking for the glint of gold in that mask Victor had worn but there were so many of them that were similar. Yuuri had no glimpse of silver hair to guide him. He caught words ready to fly off his tongue, a call for his mate, a command for the humans clamoring around him to stop stroking his wings. Yuuri jerked his shoulder away from a stranger’s hand, only for someone else to grasp his wrist and tug him through the crowd.
Yuuri had a breath of relief, except the person who had caught him wasn’t Victor. He found himself being pulled up wooden stairs, away from the reach of curious fingers, a step above the shouts echoing after him.
The siren stood, bathed in the colored lights of the burning laterns, in the center of the stage. In front of the whole festival crowd, with his wings on display.
Wave after wave of people swept around Victor, pushing past him, vying for a decent look of the winged man. Victor’s shouts were drowned out by the rest of the voices. He slipped between as best as he could to try to get close to Yuuri, but there were tens of others attempting the same. The sudden appearance of Yuuri’s wings was an understandable attraction, people immediately drawn to the spectacle.
Victor could not get past, hand jerking up to keep his hat from being knocked off his head by the clamor. He could see the curve of Yuuri’s wings amid the crowd, could see how the siren tried to twist away from those reaching out to touch him. Victor ducked under the arm of a well-dressed woman, his elbow digging purposefully into a gentleman’s side so he could dodge in front of him as well.
One, two, perhaps three more lines of individuals separated him from Yuuri. And not an inch of space between any of them. The fingers of strangers stroked over the black of Yuuri’s feathers, which twitched, receding. As Yuuri jerked his head from side to side, Victor caught the panic behind the siren’s mask, his wild search for his lost mate.
“Yuuri!” Victor’s call was lost, hopeless. Gritting his teeth, Victor trod on the toes of a woman, his knee nudging hard into the back of that of another, clearing his way. Almost. “Yuuri!” Straining to reach, his fingers nearly closed in around Yuuri’s wrist. Someone knocked into him, sending him off-balance. His fingers closed around air. Swearing under his breath, Victor scanned for Yuuri again and saw him, being pulled away.
A small pistol was tucked into the waistline of Victor’s trousers. His hand flew to it, thumb on the cock of the flintlock. A quick distraction, before–
Yuuri was on stage. Under the black outline of his feathered mask, his skin was pale with fright. Victor pushed through to the front as quickly as he could, checking his guns and the blade hidden in his boot in case they were about to become necessary.
It had taken Yuuri long enough to get used to the narrow spaces and the amount of people on the ship. To be roughed and felt up by a crowd, then displayed like a show horse… Victor was expecting to see blood.
“Ladies and gentlemen, looks like we have our first entrant to the contest! What a superb costume it is, those wings!” A dark-haired man in a mask and costume resembling a turtle stood beside Yuuri, waving toward the siren. “They move, don’t they, did I see them move before?”
Victor’s lungs seized in his chest, watching as Yuuri’s lips trembled, the siren’s fingers shaking as they wound around the hem of his shirt. Yuuri looked more scared than the day Victor had found him, his eyes darting around the crowd.
“Come on boy, do they move, show us.” The festival host prompted, edging closer to Yuuri.
Biting the inside of his cheeks, Victor tipped his hat back enough to let a sliver of silver show. Yuuri’s gaze snapped to him.
I’m here, lovebird. Victor mouthed silently. Stay calm.
The bristling of Yuuri’s feathers settled. Victor hid his hair once more.
Slowly, Yuuri raised his wings, but their movements were not fluid. They jerked up inch by inch, as if being pulled by strings. Victor felt his pulse quiet. Yuuri was pretending they weren’t real wings, imitating the movements of the ones Victor had made to surprise him.
The crowd oohed and ahhed nevertheless.
“Wonderful, simply wonderful! Are they on some sort of spring mechanism?”
Yuuri looked away, staring at Victor, caught in a moment of uncertainty. Victor gave a short, single nod. Yuuri gave one too.
“Did you make them yourself?”
Hesitant, Yuuri nodded again.
“Are they heavy?”
That time, Yuuri nodded enthusiastically. Victor had to stifle a laugh.
“Did they take long to make?”
Yuuri shook his head, his thumb and forefinger crooked to indicate a short period. Then, after a short moment’s pause, he flattened out his palm and rocked it. The crowd laughed. A smile cracked on Yuuri’s lips.
“Good, good. All right, then, do we have any other entrants willing to challenge this marvelous creation?”
The crowd shifted, making room for individuals to excuse themselves through. Victor saw Yuuri visibly stiffen when the pantomime horse clambored up the stairs, the siren side-stepping to shift further away from it. A woman with a hand-stitched dress of peacock feathers ascended, bestowing onto Yuuri a short glare of combined jealousy and admiration.
Each of the contestants stepped to the front of the stage, showing off their costumes or performing a short routine to draw out laughter. The pantomime horse fell over, splitting into two parts with red confetti tossed into the air. Yuuri both gasped and seemed to enjoy that bit, visibly more relaxed once he understood it was simply two men in costume.
Midway through, a man in torn striped clothing stumbled up, waving around an empty jug labeled, “Rum.” He had a stuffed parrot on his shoulder, an eyepatch askew, and a fake peg-leg which he kept nearly tripping out of. The spectators chuckled as he swung and dropped a wooden sword, playing off as a drunkard and slurring lines about the most feared on the open seas. That was until he stopped entirely, spotting someone in naval uniform in the crowd and sprinting off with a comical squeal of terror.
Yuuri huffed as people laughed, his feathers ruffled. Victor read his lips muttering a quiet critique about bad pirate impressions.
The success of each individual was judged by the strength of applause from the crowd, narrowing down entrant by entrant until only Yuuri and the woman remained. She lifted her head high and buried her silk-gloved hands into the folds of her skirt. Raising the back of it, she spread the fabric into the grand display mimicking a peacock’s tail. A challenge to a show of feathers.
The siren’s wings unfurled, gliding along the surface of the stage until they extended to their full length. His feathers fanned out, the subtle iridescence in the black shimmering under the glow of the oil lamps. Yuuri raised them overhead, surrounding himself in a halo of his wings. He was breathtaking.
Victor’s heart sank. Because the competitive glint in Yuuri’s eyes was unmistakeable. Victor grabbed onto the top of his hat, holding firmly onto it. Yuuri’s wings beat down once, sending hats flying and dress skirts fluttering. Victor had ducked his head and steadied his stance, but several of those next to him fell over from the strength of the gust generated.
People picked themselves up and helped their companions. And stared, stunned.
Yuuri gazed back out at the astounded crowd, looking ready to shrink away. The festival host took a hesitant step toward him and Yuuri caught Victor’s gaze again, instantly straightening when he saw that his mate remained unshaken. He curled one wing into himself, dipping into a sweeping bow.
The applause was thunderous, supplemented by yells and whistles, shouts demanding for him to do it once more.
Recovered from the momentary shock, the host laughed and motioned for the noise to settle, speaking over it. “I think we have our winner, ladies and gentleman! What an unparalleled display, you really must show us how you did that, come here, come here, up to the front with you, we need to show the people your–”
“Stop!” A single, commanding voice cut through the drone.
The hairs at the nape of Victor’s neck stood on end. Cautiously, tentatively, he glanced over his shoulder.
On the balcony of the stately building at the rear of the square, the imposing figure of a woman stood tall. Even in the shadows of the night, her beautiful features were prominent. Sharp cheekbones and cutting green eyes. She carried poise on the high collar of her yellow gown, straight-backed and majestic. Set around the tightly-wound bun of her dark hair, gems glinted on a golden crown.
“Stop, I wish to see his face. Remove your mask.”
Before the host could round on Yuuri, a shot fired from the crowd. One of the lamps burning at the corner of the stage exploded, bursting into flame as the oil spilled from it. Fire licked down the stage and flooded into the square.
The festival descended into chaos.
The wood of the stage was quickly engulfed in flames, musicians and contest entrants leaping off to flee. Yuuri’s eyes went wide with panic when Victor leapt on instead, grabbing his siren by the hand.
Yuuri ran, folding his wings away, the rest of his feathers retreating. The fast pace of Victor’s strides took them through the winding city streets. Commotion spread as the clanging of a church bell echoed over the city, alerting of the smoke and the flickering light of fire building at the central plaza.
Victor pulled them into an alleyway, halting them with a motion for Yuuri to stay quiet. Yuuri did, his heart pounding like a drum, swallowing back his panting breaths as Victor gazed around a building corner. Men in uniform ran past them, carrying rifles, swords swinging at their hips. Victor waited until they were gone to turn back to Yuuri. “Well, so much for doing things quietly.”
Yuuri hung his head in regret, aware that his rash decisions were the sole cause. Victor’s fingers tipped his face back up the very next second. “Don’t look so down, I said it was high time for an adventure. And I could never regret a chance at another dance with you…”
Yuuri could hear it. The ‘but’ sitting on his captain’s tongue.
“Lovebird… I need you to go back to the ship.”
The siren quickly shook his head, ready to argue. He knew he had agreed to listen, to obey the request if it came, but leaving now would mean abandoning Victor in a city that might be hunting him, in which he was already wanted.
“Yuuri, you promised. People saw you, Lilia– the Queen, you heard her. Her men are going to be ensuring that she’s safe first but if she thought for a second your wings weren’t a costume, they’ll be coming after you as soon as that fire is out. They can’t do that if you’re not here. Go back the ship, keep it safe for me.”
Yuuri said nothing, his lips pursed together, eyes darting to the street beside them.
“Please, Yuuri. I know this city well, I know where to hide and how to keep myself from being discovered. They aren’t going to be looking for me now, they’ll be looking for you. I don’t want there to be any chance for them to find you. And if you’re on the ship, I’ll have you there to go back to. What could be a better motivator for me to stay safe than to be able to be back in your wings?”
Lower lip bitten red with worry, Yuuri slowly nodded. He took Victor’s hands in his, tracing the outlines of the rings missing from his fingers. In the moonlight peeking from between the clouds, Yuuri could see strands of silver hair spilling down to frame Victor’s face. Yuuri reached up to tuck them away once more and found his own face being drawn in by a gentle touch.
Victor lifted the mask Yuuri wore and settled it above the siren’s messed bangs, his own still in place as he leaned in. The golden mask brushed cool against the bridge of Yuuri’s nose, but Victor’s lips were warm. Sweet and gentle, they moved against his, a goodbye in the night.
Whimpering, Yuuri curled his fingers into the loose silver silk of Victor’s hair. His heart beat like it did in flight, rapid in his chest, sailing for Victor. Yuuri kissed him as if it were their last, pouring his love into Victor’s mouth, clinging because letting go meant it would end.
When Victor pulled back, Yuuri held back the cry of protest threatening to slip off his tongue. Instead, he corrected Victor’s mask and hid his hair, stroking a lingering caress across his half-concealed cheek. “Come back to me safely,” he ordered, treasuring the smile that pulled at Victor’s lips.
“I promise,” Victor replied, kissing Yuuri’s knuckles before taking a single step back. “Keep the crew from harm.”
“I promise,” Yuuri said. He stepped back too, his fingers slipping from Victor’s. Step by step, they grew apart, until Victor finally turned and disappeared into the night.
The heel of Guang Hong’s palm pushed up his cheek and pout as he waited less than patiently. It was possible that his toe of his polished shoes had continously scribbled “Leave JJ” in at least five different foreign languages into the floor of the forge. He did not bother erasing the last one until Leo cast him a pointed glare.
Wiping the fine shreds of metal from the blade and polishing it quickly, Leo returned the sword to JJ. “If it pleases you, sir.”
JJ appeared delighted, inspecting the engraving etched above the hilt and the edge newly finessed by grinding it on stone. “JJ Style! It’s wonderful, how can I thank you?”
“Your satisfaction in my work is enough,” Leo replied, removing his gloves and wiping his hands on his apron.
“You could pay him,” Guang Hong piped from his spot, arching an eyebrow in JJ’s direction. “Plus a tip for keeping him overtime.”
“But of course! As promised.” Sheathing his sword, JJ placed several coins into Leo’s hands, curling his fingers around them. “Make sure you keep a few of those for yourself.”
“This is too much,” Leo protested, frowning down at the payment, more than thrice the normal rate that his mentor would have charged.
“Nonsense! Appreciation of work done well will hardly empty my pockets, but it can line yours. That’s JJ Style after all.” The privateer winked, laughing at himself. “And Master Guang Hong is correct, I did keep you late. Count it as payment for your courtesy. Now, am I correct in assuming you were headed for the festival?”
“Trying,” Guang Hong cut into Leo’s polite nod. He checked his pocket watch, frown cutting deeper. “It’ll be nearly over soon. We’ll have missed the costumes.”
“I’ll keep you no longer then, but escort you there. Arriving with me at your sides shall certainly extend the festivities!”
Guang Hong appeared ready to voice a protest of sorts, but Leo stepped in first. “We would appreciate the company. May we proceed?”
“Onward, then, to celebrate!” JJ exclaimed, turning toward the door. Leo had latched and locked it, in order to ensure no more visitors unexpectedly arrived. Except that even before JJ had reached it, the handle jiggled.
The three went quiet. Soft clicks echoed from the door, followed by the unmistakable sound of the lock being turned open. A thin metal wire appeared in the crack between the door and the frame, sliding up until it hit the wooden latch. With a quick jerk, the latch flipped up and the door swung open.
They all stared at the tall figure who stood in the doorway, clad in dark clothing which would have blended into the night behind him if not for the shine of his golden mask. Between his teeth, he pinched a couple of bent hairpins. Eyes landing on the men in the forge, he smiled handsomely. “Oh. Didn’t expect anyone to be here.” As he spoke, a breeze flirted with strands of fallen silver hair. “Pardon my manners, gentlemen, but this is a raid.”
Guang Hong and Leo stared, at a loss.
Beside them, JJ swiftly drew his sword, the newly sharpened metal of it scrapping against the mouth of the sheath. “Surrender, in the name of the crown!”
Victor laughed, shaking his head. “But I’ve only just arrived.” He stepped in, light on his feet as he kicked the forge door shut behind him. “I don’t wish to threaten anyone. Simply collect a few items and depart.” He held his palms out flat, showing that he held no weapon as he approached. "If you permit me, it’ll be a much friendlier encounter for us all.“
"And take advantage of this business, I think not!” JJ defended, the tip of his sword pointed high, at the level of Victor’s throat. With a swift jerk upwards, he flipped off Victor’s hat. It fell to the floor, exposing the silver hair beneath.
Guang Hong’s breath hitched on a sharp intake, hands flying to his mouth to quiet his excited squeak.
“I’d recognize you anywhere, Nikiforov!” JJ declared, chest puffed out with the pride of his discovery. “Finally, my chance has come again.”
Victor blinked, not fazed by the branishing of JJ’s swords, his expression more confused than anything. “Have we met?”
“You stole my ship, a summer ago!”
“I steal a lot of ships.”
“She was the grandest of her kind, my Isabella! I have been chasing after her since, what did you do with her?”
Victor tapped his lips with a finger, in consideration. A stolen ship, a year prior. Would have been around the time that Yuuri had had his ship destruction streak, before the crew had started carving toy ones to sate his instincts. “Ohhh, I don’t carry good news. It was the locker for her, I’m afraid.”
“Vile pirate!” JJ lunged at Victor, slashing at air as Victor side-stepped gracefully and pulled out his own sword, metal clashing with metal.
Behind the two dueling men, Leo was trying to keep Guang Hong from hyperventilating.
Sword parried on sword. JJ lunged in with each strike, intent on driving the pirate into a corner, and Victor let him. He stepped toe to heel, smile ever present on his lips, as if there were nothing he could be enjoying more.
When Victor’s boots hit the wall, the privateer gave a triumphant shout. Victor ducked and spun out from under him without blinking, a swift kick to JJ’s back sending his opponent stumbling. “You’ve already lost to me once apparently, why not give in now and save yourself the humiliation of being forgettable a second time?”
JJ straightened and retook his fighting stance. “I’ll never surrender to a traitor.”
“Alleged,” Victor corrected, deflecting a jab with the hilt of his sword.
“I keep the warrant for your arrest in a frame on my desk,” JJ replied, words biting between the clang of weapons.
“A pity you don’t have it on you now.”
“I know your crimes by heart.” Step, block. “ Desertion. Larceny. Incitement.” Thrust, parry. “Kidnapping. Bribery. Murder. Piracy.”
Victor laughed. The blade of his sword scraped down the length of JJ’s until it struck the guard. With a quick rotation of his wrist, he disarmed the privateer. Smirking, he let his own sword dangle lightly off his fingers. “Are those in order of offense?”
Eyes darting around them, JJ spotted and grabbed another blade off the wall. He bounced it in his hand, adjusting to its weight. “Petty treason,” JJ continued his accusations, re-engaging in their duel.
“Petty? That don’t sound like me.”
“On a few counts. Petty treason. Followed by numerous counts of treason, and high treason.”
“Ahhh, that’s better. What would you classify the sinking of ships as? By proxy. I didn’t actually sink her, my darling lovebird had that privilege.”
Teeth grated in his anger, JJ shouted as he leapt at Victor, branishing his sword with hard strike after strike, driving the pirate back through brute strength. Victor’s heel struck a step, briefly throwing off his balance.
Twisting an arm around, JJ swiped upwards on one of Victor’s easy blocks, blade tip clipping Victor’s loosening braids.
Silver strands fluttered slowly to the floor, along with a cut black feather which had been woven into them.
Victor stopped, gazing after them. JJ stilled, watching as the pirate sighed and lifted a hand. Tugging free the ribbon tying his mask in place, Victor removed it and tossed it to one of the boys observing the fight. “Hold onto that for me, will you?”
Guang Hong clutched it tightly to his chest, nodding rapidly enough that he could have been a wind-up toy.
Changing the position of his feet to adopt the proper stance he had been taught in the navy, Victor cast the privateer a smile. “En garde, Jean Jack.”
Guang Hong watched with bated breath, golden mask tightly secure in his hands, as the pirate struck blow after blow. Feet steady on the cobbled floor of the forge, he moved with the grace of ease and the power of confidence. JJ could barely fend off his strikes, stumbling backwards over his own feet in his feeble attempts to keep sharp steel from cutting him to ribbons.
Back to the furnace, JJ shouted and threw himself forward. Both of his hands gripped his sword as he swung down, a last ditch effort to overpower the pirate and gain back his advantage. The deflection looked effortless, strike meeting hilt, stopped in its path with barely a tremor.
A kick centered to the privateer’s chest sent him reeling, sword knocked from his hand by expert disarmenment. Guang Hong fanned himself with the mask.
“I warned you.” The pirate’s tone no longer danced with playfulness, charm lost with his black feather. JJ scrambled to regain his footing, only to have it swept out from under him. “You chose to become a nuisance.”
A short scream echoed through the rafters when a knife produced for the inside of the pirate’s boot sunk through JJ’s foot and into the cracks in the floor, immobolizing him. Blood trickled from his shoe, forming miniature streams between the cobbled stone.
Guang Hong went rigid, breath absent from his lungs when Leo quickly rose and snatched one of his self-made blades from the nearby stock. Latching onto his friend’s wrist, Guang Hong held him back. “Don’t be an idiot!”
“I have to help!”
“What, you think you’re gonna do better than JJ?!” Guang Hong squeaked, knuckles white. “You can’t fight him, that’s Silverlock!”
“Silverlock is fictional, Ji!” Leo jerked his arm away, running across to where the pirate had JJ pinned under his boot, sword at his throat. “Avast, pirate!”
Guang Hong’s pulse seized as Leo skidded to a halt, a pistol aimed at the blacksmith’s heart.
“I said I didn’t want to threaten anyone. Move out of the way.” The ice in the pirate’s voice was as cold as the blue of his eyes.
“They’re civilians, Nikiforov, let them–” JJ was struck hard with the butt of a sword. He crumpled, unconscious.
Attention was turned back to Leo. “All I need is a few swords and knives, and I will leave. I prefer to do so before what’s-his-name here wakes up. Hand them over and there will be no more trouble.”
Leo stood his ground, shaking his head. “I can’t let you do that. You’ll fight me first.”
Wordless, the pirate cocked his pistol.
The pirate held the tip of his sword at JJ’s jugular. Guang Hong was not JJ’s biggest fan. Some fifteen minutes prior, he would have cheered the idea of JJ getting his head cut off, if it would have gotten him to stop needlessly flapping his mouth. However, now, with JJ bleeding out onto the forge floor and the threat of death pointed sharply at him, Guang Hong found a shred of sympathy for the obnoxious privateer tucked somewhere far far far far… far back inside him.
“Move out of the way,” the pirate repeated, as Guang Hong’s heart ran its second marathon, falling over itself in his chest.
“A pistol is cheating,” Leo accused, grip steady on the hilt of his sword. “Fight me proper.”
“You want a proper fight? Don’t challenge a pirate.” Soot collected at the base of the furnace was kicked into Leo’s face, blinding him. His sword clattered to the ground, knocked out by a boot heel colliding with his wrist bone.
Leo swiped his hand across his face, clearing his eyes, and lunged toward the pirate. Guang Hong saw his finger go to the trigger.
Guang Hong threw himself between the two of them, hands up and shaking. He faced the pirate, all of the sudden aware of the distinct height difference. The pirate was at least a full head taller than him and, ohhh, even more attractive close up. His hair was like a beacon in the dim of the forge. Guang Hong didn’t know why but he had always pictured Silverlock as far more gruff, with scars across his face, weren’t there supposed to scars on his face, how was his skin so pristine?
In Guang Hong’s imagination, when confronted with such a dire scenario, he always stood straight-backed with his chin up. Unwavering in his resolve to be the hero. Or the anti-hero. In either regard, the hero of the moment. It was possible that he had had a daydream or two of impressing Leo by swooping in on a line to save him from the jaws of a rabid siren. Steady and cool, like the main characters in an adventure. “I-, I’ve read books about you!” His voice quivered and cracked.
The pirate’s finger twitched off the trigger. The gun did not fire. The seconds of silence between them were deafening.
“I’ve read about you, you’re Silverlock!” Guang Hong reasserted, clearing his throat.
“Ji, it’s not about him,” Leo hissed behind him, but Guang Hong did not himself be distracted.
“I read about how you took on the whole navy with just one ship and made it out without so much as a scratch! And about how you killed a kraken, it was so cool, even though I would have done it kinda differently, but I mean, the way you did it totally worked! And about when you seduced that mermaid. Actually, I was curious to know because the book didn’t really explain it well, do they grow legs when they’re out of the water or do they have to be on land, because being on a ship isn’t really on land so that would mean they couldn’t have legs and if that’s the case, how did you even do any loving with it, cause, you know, the whole tail thing and all, or is a whole different type of anatomy, because that would make way more sense with the–”
Leo jabbed him in the back of the knee, breaking his rambling. “He’s not Silverlock!”
“Yes, he is, look at him!” Guang Hong replied, glancing quick over his shoulder to make sure that Leo was ok. “You’re Silverlock, right?” he asked, turning back.
“That’s not a name I’ve heard used for me before,” the pirate answered, his eyes flickering between the three men. “It’s not a bad one though, as far as pirate names go.”
Guang Hong had a hard time muffling the excited whine at the back of his throat. He cleared it again, regaining himself. “Take what you want.”
“Ji, no, don’t–”
“Let him, Leo!” Guang Hong snapped, his shoes planting firmer and his posture straightening. “If we let you take the weapons, will you let us go?”
“That was my request.”
Silverlock’s frown cracked at the corners, and he shrugged. “Him? If you want to deal with him, I’m fine with letting him become your problem. He’s not going to be running after me anytime soon.”
Guang Hong took a step back, keeping Leo shielded behind him. “Hurry up then.”
It was probably not the best time for Guang Hong to think about the fact that Silverlock had a very nice smile, but it was an undeniable fact and one that he would be adding into his imagination the next time he reread his favorite books. Which, due to present circumstances, would need to be very, very soon.
Silverlock kept them both at gun point as he side-stepped his way to the weapon’s stock, tying knives and daggers into the sash around his waist and adding a few swords to his own after a quick inspection of their quality. He stocked up on what he wanted, his focus unbroken, not permitting the two boys an inch of leeway that might permit them to get a jump on him.
Once finished, he made his way to the door and holstered his pistol, sweeping his hat up from the floor. “He’ll come to in another minute or two, if he isn’t dead,” he said, nodding his head in JJ’s direction. “Put pressure on his foot or he could bleed out, especially if he tries to struggle his way out of it.”
Guang Hong nodded, arm holding Leo back, in case his friend foolishly tried to prevent the pirate from leaving.
“Oh, and feel free to keep the mask.” With a flourish of his hat and a wink to Guang Hong, Silverlock was out the door– just as a troop of uniformed soldiers strode by.
Silverlock raised his hands, empty and open, above his head in easy surrender. Rifles encircled him, and even Guang Hong could tell there was not a centimeter of room for escape.
“That’s the pirate Nikiforov!”
Guang Hong felt his hair stand on end as he heard Leo’s voice call out from inside the forge, glancing back to see his friend helping up an awoken JJ. The privateer had a towel wrapped tight around his foot to stop the bleeding, knife removed. He hobbled toward the door, supported by the blacksmith’s apprentice.
The pirate was grabbed by multiple soldiers and he did not fight, allowing his arms to be tied behind his back. Guang Hong watched it all, fingers curled into the doorway, as Silverlock was roughly searched and had his weapons stripped away.
The clamor around the arrest doubled when members of the royal guard arrived and saw the pirate.
“Is that really him?”
“Doubtless, Michele used to serve with him and confirmed. He’s already gone to notify the Queen.”
“The fire at the festival was caused by a pistol, if he tried to assassinate her–”
“Give me more credit than that.” The pirate’s tone was light once more, cutting through the overlapping exchanges of the soldiers and guards. “How bad of a shot do you think I am? I’ve no interest in harming my dear Lilia.”
“Insolence! Take him away and gag him while you’re at it. Her Majesty will be content to know we’ve identified the perpetrator.”
Several spectators had collected to observe the commotion, whispers spreading about the arrest of a pirate, his name repeated on hushed lips. Guang Hong’s attention, however, was drawn to the corner of the street, where a boy close to his age seemed just as gripped by the sight of Silverlock. His hair was strange, streaked with unnatural red. His eyes darted between the pirate and the soldiers in a concern that seemed oddly misplaced.
The troop marched their capture away, in the direction of the prison at the base of the city. The blond boy turned and sprinted, heading toward the shore.
Guang Hong’s foot hovered above the step leading out of the forge.
“Ji!” Leo grabbed him. “Come on, we need to get you home.” JJ was gone, escorted by some soldiers to seek medical care for his wound and damaged pride.
Guang Hong did not want to go home. “If he was looking for supplies, it means he might have a ship nearby! In the harbor. This is our chance!”
“What do you mean– you’re not serious?” Leo’s voice overflowed with disbelief. “Did you not see any of that, he’s a pirate! He tried to rob us, you watched him nearly kill a man!”
“He didn’t though! He let us go. If he’s got a crew here, then maybe I can–”
“You want to join them?! Ji, this isn’t a book, this is real. Do you have any idea what you’re talking about?!”
“Yes, okay! I’m tired of people questioning what I do or don’t know! I know a lot, Leo! I’ve spent my whole life knowing things, I want to do them! Did you see him back there, it was amazing, I want to do that, I want to be like that!”
“If you getting on that ship, you’re gonna be a criminal!” Leo protested, holding Guang Hong’s hand strong in his. “You’re never be able to come back to the life you have here.”
“I don’t want to come back to the life I have here! You know I hate it, Leo, you know that. I want to live a proper one, that hasn’t been dictated to me! This is my chance, this is what I’ve been waiting for!” Guang Hong would not be able to count how rapidly his heart beat if he tried. Above them, the moon had sunk in the night sky, the illuminated clouds mixed with black smoke. It would set and up would come the sun, rising over the harbor that might house a ship, an adventure, Guang Hong’s chance at a taste of freedom. “Leo, come on… come with me.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Ji.”
Leo’s eyes were dark. His fingers were laced into Guang Hong’s, warm, comforting, touch like a solid rock that Guang Hong had always clung to for support. There was a tightening in Guang Hong’s throat, a bitterness that built pressure behind his eyes and made him blink it away before it could spill over. Swallowing a breath that threatened to choke him, Guang Hong slid his heel back across the doorframe step and dropped onto the street.
“Ji…” Leo did not let go, holding on.
“Leo, just come with me. We always talk about adventure, right? This could be it.”
“You’re the one who talks about adventure. My adventure’s here. It’s always been right here, with you.”
“This is different, this is real!” Guang Hong replied, pulling on Leo’s hand. “A real one!”
Leo shook his head. “Don’t be stupid, you’re not a pirate.”
“I could be!”
“You’re not though.”
Guang Hong’s hand slipped from Leo’s. His friend lurched forward, grabbing on again to hold him back. Their eyes met in the dim of the night, in the spreading quiet, each pleading with the other.
Biting his lower lip, Guang Hong jumped onto Leo and hugged him tight, face buried in his shirt that still bore the lingering scent of smoldering coal. But before Leo could wrap his arms around, Guang Hong tore himself away.
He turned and ran, straight for the harbor.
The moon’s light wilted in the night sky as Yuuri waited, his feet curled over the edge of the ship’s figurehead. The crew on board had worked throughout the night to patch the ship of the damages she had sustained from the harpy attack and the storm they had brought. As dawn neared, those who had gone into the city returned, rowing the dinghies back.
Otabek and Yurio heaved barrels of gunpowder on board, helped by others who had secured shots for the cannons. New lengths of rope were laid out, along with spare canvas to patch the sails. Chris brought with him food, tossing a mango in Yuuri’s direction but the siren set it aside.
Nearly everyone had returned, speaking softly as they worked to ready the ship for seafaring once more. Victor, however, had not.
The same dread as before swirled in Yuuri’s belly. He fidgeted, eyes trained on the coastline, plucking at the feathers sprouted around his wrists. The darkness of night had faded, its ink turning from black to navy blue. Stars twinkled out. The tide came in high. An aching chirp died in Yuuri’s throat when he glimpsed a boat approaching.
Yuuri stood fast and tall, craning forward to catch a glimpse of silver. His wings rustled behind him, itching to spread and fly straight for it. He needed his mate back safely in his arms.
Except there was no silver abroad the dinghy. Minami stood at the center, waving his arms and shouting, his voice skipping across the waves only to dampen before it reached the ship. Members of the crew came to the railing, to see what the commotion was about.
Minami cupped his hands over his mouth and yelled at the top of his lungs. It carried.
“Victor’s been caught! The Queen’s men arrested him! They think he tried to assassinate her!”
“They took him to the prison! I passed the gallows, they had men stationed there. I think– I think they might be preparing for an execution!”
Yuuri’s pounding heart skidded to a halt.
The sun had just peeked over the horizon.
Yuuri’s bare feet slipped as he scrambled starboard, toward land. He heard shouts behind him, warnings. He did not listen to them. Wings shot from his back before he reached the rails, shreading through ropes and netting of the rigging. The force of his lift-off had the masts groaning, tips of his feathers cutting at the water below. He spun and skimmed across the surface, robes sprayed wet by the waves.
He nearly missed the harbor, wings twisting to turn him at breakneck speed. He couldn’t quite pull up out of it in time, careening into the side of navy ship just off the docks. Yuuri’s claws ripped through its belly, tearing wood to shreds it as if it were paper. His siren’s screech pierced the air, anguished and calling, and his wings took out the mast of another ship as he regained his direction.
Yuuri tore through the city. His wings swept early-risers off their feet, smashing through the support beams of buildings when he could not move away quick enough. His focus was straight ahead, searching for the building where Victor was being held. He would tear it apart brick by brick.
Yuuri saw the colors of uniforms, the same as when the naval ship had come to threaten Victor. The men clad in them carried rifles in their arms, swords on their hips. They stood at attention before a square, at the center of which were gallows. Nooses looped from the frame.
Yuuri saw red. It splattered off his claws and across his wings, streaking the ground in his wake. The men who were not within reach of his grasp, he reached with his voice, ordering them dead of their own weapons.
When he reached the foothold of the prison, Yuuri tore the door off its hinges. And came face to face with the top of a bicorne and the double-breasted blue of a naval uniform.
Yuuri lunged for the throat, blood-stained fingers curling in. His wrist was seized, tugged on sharply enough to send him off balance. Yuuri fell in, command on his tongue silenced by a hand covering his mouth. Long fingers were cold against his lips.
Ice blue eyes and a heart-shaped smile flashed down at him. Yuuri glimpsed strands of silver falling free of the hat hiding them.
“Hi, lovebird. Come to help me escape?”
Yuuri’s heart pounded so hard and loud he was afraid it would be heard out on the streets. In the hallway and on the staircase at Victor’s back, Yuuri saw an entire platoon’s worth of unconscious men. Victor’s smirk spelled out pure pride.
The feathers jutting from Yuuri’s skin calmed and he threw himself at Victor, wrapping himself tight around his mate.
Victor chuckled against Yuuri’s cheek. “You don’t think it’s the first time I’ve escaped from a prison, do you? Though at this point, I would have expected them to watch me a bit closer.”
“They’re going to hang you!” Yuuri’s fingers tightened in Victor’s stolen coat.
“They’re not going to hang me, lovebird. I’ve been charged with high treason. Sentence for that is being drawn and quartered. Much more exciting. Involves horses.”
Yuuri bristled. Victor laughed. “Come on, we’re going to have a much easier time getting out of here if we get you in disguise. I doubt you were subtle coming here.”
That, Yuuri could not deny. The square outside the prison already looked like a violent execution had taken place, bathed in the same red dripping off his hands. Victor pulled Yuuri away from the open doorway, down the prison hallway.
Victor flipped over one of the bodies of his captors, making quick work of stripping the man bare. “Step in, lovebird, we’re gonna make an officer out of you.”
Yuuri did not protest, changing quickly into each article of clothing Victor held out to him. They were not comfortable. The breeches were stiff and sat low on his hips, the sleeves of the coat hanging past his knuckles. The fabric of the too-large shirt bunched around his waist, making him lumpy. When Victor plopped the hat on his head, it slipped down over his eyes. Yuuri batted it away.
When Victor straightened, Yuuri finally got a proper look at him. A short laugh slipped out. While his uniform was too large on him, the one that Victor wore was a size too small. The buttons along his chest strained to contain his pectoral muscles, upper arms hugged by the fabric like a second skin. His ankles were exposed, pants comically short. Even to a siren’s eyes, they would not be fooling anyone.
“Excuse me, I didn’t have time to be very selective with size comparisons,” Victor said and swiftly undid the front of Yuuri’s coat. “Strip. We’re switching. Let’s just hope we don’t get caught with our pants around our ankles.”
Usually, Yuuri savored the sight of Victor undressing. He tried not to sneak too many glances as they swapped clothing, a far better match in sizes. Yuuri’s heart might have fluttered a couple of times. Victor looked unfairly good in the uniform, deep blue with gold accents. His mate was thinking the same thing, the way his eyes swept Yuuri obvious.
“My, lovebird, I had never considered a uniform to be so cute before. And I must say, those breeches do wonders for your ass.”
Yuuri chirped, halfway between flattered and scolding.
“You’re right, I’ll flirt later. Ready to make our bold and daring escape?”
Smiling, the siren chirped again.
“Anything you say, officer.”
The single reason that Yuuri did not cling onto Victor’s fingers as they made their escape from the prison was the sense that most navy personnel would not be holding hands while searching for an fleeing pirate. Yuuri followed after Victor, taking note of the fact that the uniform breeches also did wonders for Victor’s hindquarters. When they got back to the ship, Yuuri might need to have a failed escape attempt from a certain uniformed officer. Perhaps he didn’t like wearing human clothes, but he very much liked Victor in them, especially ones so fitted and handsome.
The sun was rising on a gruesome scene. Bodies of soldiers littered the copper-streaked ground, chests opened by fearsome claws. Fired guns laid spent alongside their spent owners. Victor stepped over a detached arm, picking up a shed black feather, flicking it clean of red droplets before slipping it into his pocket. “All this for me, lovebird? It isn’t even my birthday.”
Yuuri almost looked sheepish.
“I hope you enjoyed yourself, at least,” Victor said, scanning the square for their best route out. "Come on, stay quiet. Try not to draw too much attention.“ Easier said than done. Victor waved them down the street leading away, down a side street and not exactly straight back to the harbor.
They did not make it far. It was possibly the fact that they were running away from the commotion gave their disguises up. Or that Victor’s messy hair was not entirely contained, a dead giveaway to anyone that glanced in their direction for longer than a second. Or Yuuri’s fidgeting with the legs of the stolen uniform, where they tucked into the boots. Why didn’t they just cut the pants shorter, Yuuri did not understand. Or roll them up. He could roll them up and make them far more pleasant.
Victor plunged a sword through the heart of a shouting soldier, kicking him off the blade, catching another in a defensive block. He strained to push the man off, a bit winded, and Yuuri remembered the tens of bodies in the prison that Victor had already gone through mid-escape before Yuuri had arrived to save him. A shame, because Victor always looked incredibly good when he was fighting, a beautiful reminder of how lucky Yuuri had gotten with his mate.
"A bit of help, please!”
Said beautiful mate had locked swords with a soldier, and was fending off the leveraged weight of a knife nearing his throat, fingers clenched around the man’s wrist.
Stay in disguise as long as possible, Victor had said. Luckily, Yuuri had learned a few human tricks of late.
He grabbed the rifle off the man Victor had already killed, cocked the flint, directed the gun toward the struggling duo and squeezed the trigger. The rifle fired off, and as did all of Yuuri’s nerve-endings at the strength of the kick and the clap of thunder in his ears.
The shot fired through the soldier’s shoulder. Victor broke the knife out of his grip and drove it into the side of his neck, body collapsing at his feet. His sigh of relief was heavier than it needed to be, Yuuri felt.
“Lovebird, your fluff is out,” Victor said, indicating toward Yuuri’s ears, which had floofed up with the firearm’s explosion.
Yuuri had to concentrate to draw his fluff back in, though he preened with the pride of a successful shot, smiling wide at Victor in expectance of a compliment.
“Please tell me you did that with your eyes open this time.”
Yuuri did not reply. Best not.
The city was waking up. Yuuri chased after Victor, almost laughing at the burn in his legs and the stiffness of his boots. Thrill coursed through him as they wove through the city, dodging past vendors, around the people beginning to mill in the streets. The sun came bright and warm on their faces, chasing them toward the harbor.
There was activity on the docks, men at work the moment the dawn light permitted it. Victor pulled Yuuri into the shadows, adjusting the siren’s uniform, humming in displeasure at the specks of blood on his sleeve hems. He folded them in. Yuuri’s eyes went wide and he grabbed Victor’s wrists. “You want to go through there?”
“There’s no boat, they’re all back at the ship,” Yuuri protested, his marks itching beneath his clothes.
“Then we steal one,” Victor smiled, smoothing Yuuri’s hair down over his ears and patting his hat down lower. “Look alive, officer.”
Yuuri was not quite sure what that was supposed to mean, as in his opinion, he always looked alive. He did, however, copy Victor’s cues to a fault. Victor straightened his posture to a line, with his shoulders back, and so did Yuuri. Victor lifted his head high, striding forward with confidence, and so did Yuuri. No one seemed to glance in their direction, busy with their morning tasks. They reached the end of the docks without incident or a second glance, to where a smaller fishing boat lingered.
“Attention, sailor!” Victor’s voice was commanding. Yuuri caught himself about to call out the same, biting his tongue. “We are commandeering your vessel.”
The man standing at his boat frowned, hesitant. His eyes swept the two uniformed men, moving to block their path. “On what grounds?”
“Give us the boat,” Yuuri said, voice quiet to limit its range. Obedient, the fisherman stepped aside.
“So helpful,” Victor said, untying the ropes holding the boat to the docks. He offered his hand, palm up, to his siren in order to help him step abroad. “Shall we, lovebird?”
Yuuri took his hand.
A glimpse of Victor's navy training days
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Yakov’s sword clattered across the courtyard.
Victor grinned, gleeful, rotating his own which was still firmly in hand. “Two out of three?”
“This isn’t a game, boy.” The gruffness of Yakov’s voice rumbled as he picked up his weapon and pushed himself off his knee, sheathing his sword as he faced Victor. “Watch your feet.”
Victor glanced down, his feet close together and pointed forward, a complete break of the proper stance that Yakov had been trying to drill into him. “I disarmed you though, why does it matter?”
“It’s for your balance, for speed! So that you don’t get knocked off your feet the second that someone tries.” Yakov kicked Victor’s ankles, nudging his stance further apart and changing their angle so that the tips of his shoes no longer faced straight. He knocked his elbow into the base of Victor’s spine, making him straighten his posture.
They retook their positions on the chalk lines drawn across the courtyard, and at Yakov’s signal, took a second match. Victor had sprouted several inches over the previous year, but he remained light on his feet. The dance lessons he had forced to take along with his other training had not made sense to him at first, but he found he enjoyed them more than the relentless strategy games and experiments Yakov ran him through.
Victor parried and stepped his way out of each of his mentor’s attacks, outmatching him for footwork even though Yakov growled, “Your stance, Vitya!” as a reminder. Victor hardly saw the point for concern regarding it, advancing when Yakov lunged. He ducked under the strike, knees bent low as he batted the weapon away and thrust out his own. The tip struck the center of Yakov’s chest, ending their match.
“Well?” Victor asked with a sense of pride, pulling back. “Am I done?”
“You’re too easy on him, my dear Yakov, how will he learn?”
Both men straightened to attention, bowing their heads. Lilia approached them, lifting up the sweeping skirts of her royal gown, heels of her shoes clicking across the stone of the courtyard. Her dark hair was pinned tightly back, adorned in gems that sparkled in the sun.
“Give it here.”
Yakov held out his sword to her, shifting away as Lilia took her spot on the line. A collection of curious on-lookers gathered, watching from the open halls.
Hesitating only for a moment, Victor returned to his starting stance, bowing low. “Your Majesty.”
“Stand straight, no slouching. Chin up. Look at my eyes when you fight me.”
Lilia gave him no warning, her gown trailing behind her as she struck. Victor was pushed back by her speed, the nimble expertise of her movements, barely able to fend off her quick attacks which did not lend themselves to an effective counterstrike.
Victor made to sidestep out of her assaults, but the moment his left foot crossed his right, his balance was swept out from under him by the hook of Lilia’s heel. A circle parry down near the hilt knocked his sword from his hand, but Victor dove for it, not ready to give in.
No sooner had he snatched it up that it was out of his hands again, skidding away into the nearby grass. He froze, the tip of Lilia’s sword resting over his heart.
“That’s a fault!” Victor protested, scowl unbridled. “You cheated!”
“There’s no such thing when it’s your life on the line, boy. Even less so when it’s a life you’ve been tasked to protect. If you had kept your stances proper, I wouldn’t have had the chance.” Lilia took him in, her thin lips set in a line, tutting in indignation. “And your hair is getting too long. Have it trimmed, or it’ll get into your eyes.”
“Yes, your Majesty…”
Lilia held her sword out for Victor to take, turning away. She paused briefly before Yakov. “Be firmer with him, Yakov. Don’t make me regret allowing you to bring him here.”
She left the courtyard, followed by her escorts.
Victor looked after her, raising a hand to touch the lengthening tips of his silver hair. It was cut again that very same evening.
“Tell me you are not fool enough to believe you’re getting away in that.”
Victor’s fingers tightened around Yuuri’s at the level voice which came from behind. His siren stopped, foot hovering above the side of the fishing boat, ready to step on. Victor drew him back onto the docks, turning to face the person who had addressed them.
Soldiers stood at attention, swords drawn, while others pointed cocked rifles. They flooded the harbor, blocking the paths with rows of men upon men, yet Victor could see the weakness of the knees in those at the front. No doubt they had passed through the square littered with the evidence of Yuuri’s rescue operation.
Before them all, the Queen stood tall and regal, her gown forgone in favor of the navy blue and gold of a military uniform. The belt on her hips was strung with a pistol and a rapier. Her green eyes trained on Victor with an intensity that had him nearly shying back, reminded of his younger days.
“Other options would have been preferred, but I’ve always made do with what’s available to me.” Victor plucked the hat off his head and swept into a low, formal bow. “Your Majesty.”
“It is a shame you aren’t keeping that uniform, Victor. It suits you.” Lilia approached, her strides long, stopping out of arm’s distance. Her men shuffled forward, keeping at her back.
“I’m afraid it doesn’t fit me well anymore,” Victor straightened, shifting before Yuuri, to shield him from Lilia and her soldiers. “Good to see you again, nonetheless. How’s our dear Yakov? Did he give you my regards?”
“You drove your sword through him and left his ship disabled at sea.” Her tone was like ice, cold and cutting in the warmth of the summer morning. “A younger sailor would struggle to live through that.“
Victor stiffened, teeth gritting together. A tremor ran through his nerves, constricting around his heart. He shrugged. "Regretful to hear. He shouldn’t have come for me.”
“He did not come for you,” Lilia replied, chin tilting up as her gaze shifted to the man hiding behind Victor, to the black fingers curled over the shoulders of Victor’s uniform. “He came for that… your siren.”
The entire dock went still, no soldier daring to breath as the queen addressed the siren behind Victor. As Yuuri peeked out over Victor’s shoulder, the disbelief coming from the troops was evident.
Yuuri’s brown eyes were wide as he took in the scene, the extended force filling the harbor. He looked meek, his fingers curled into Victor’s clothing like he needed the protection of his captain. His hair was messy under the hat Victor had put on him, fluffed around his ears where it was meant to hide his markings. He was unsteady in his boots, feet fidgeting, hardly the appearance of a threat.
“Lovebird, I think her Majesty is implying she’d like you to go with her. Do you accept her request?” Victor glanced over his shoulder, casting Yuuri a sweet smile.
Biting his bottom lip, Yuuri shook his head. Victor winked at him before turning back to address Lilia.
“I must apologize, he doesn’t want to,” Victor excused, playing with a sorrowful expression. “Perhaps next time, if you send us a royal invitation, we might consider.”
“Where do you expect to go, Victor? No ships for you to sink here. You’re going to try to take on all my soldiers with your back to the ocean?” Lilia questioned, her hand on the hilt of her rapier. “We’ll shoot your bird out of the sky.”
“I take issue with that,” Victor answered, reaching up to lay his fingers over Yuuri’s and give them a gentle squeeze. “He isn’t a bird. But he can fly.”
Yuuri’s wings ripped out of the stolen uniform, shredding fabric, sending waves rolling through the water. His arms wound around Victor, lifting his mate into them as his wings beat down onto the docks. The wind knocked rifles out of hands and soldiers off their feet.
With a shout, several men were swept into the water, along with Lilia. The men who remained upright at the front scrambled for the edge of the wooden platform, diving in or reaching out to save their Queen.
“Idiots, I can swim, get Vitya!” Lilia yelled from the water, pulling herself out of it.
Rifles fired, but Yuuri was already out of range, soaring high into the sky with Victor securely in his arms. Laughing, the pirate removed his hat and waved it in farewell. He let it fall down to the ground, a cocky token. “Better luck next time, Lilia!”
Her cursed orders were lost to the wind as Yuuri flew away, chirping when Victor kissed his cheek in triumph.
They landed on board the ship to relief, but Victor granted no time for it. He called out for a count on the crew, ensuring that they had all returned to the ship in good health. Then gave orders to launch for the horizon, with warnings of possible navy ships on their tail.
Yuuri kicked off the boots at the first chance he got, shrugging out of torn clothing. While Victor aided in securing the anchor, he helped hoist the sails, feathers ruffling in obvious eagerness to be out the rest of the stiff uniform.
“Go get changed,” Victor told him, pinching gently at the feathers sprouted around his ears.
Smirking, Yuuri tipped up to press a kiss to Victor’s cheek, tracing words into his mate’s palm. With a wink, he turned and was gone, leaving Victor slightly dazed and uncertain if he had caught them correctly– No, Yuuri was definitely swaying his hips with purpose as he walked away.
“Was it the two of you who nearly burned down the city?” Chris asked, eyebrow arched in suspicion. “Cause I think it was the two of you who nearly burned down the city.”
“What– no, I mean, just a bit– hold that question."
If Victor had been carrying anything precious when he walked into his cabin, it would have smashed into a million pieces all across the floor.
Because Yuuri sat in their bed. On the edge of their bed. Naked.
Victor latched the door.
Yuuri’s wings were out, draped over their bedsheets in pure elegance, sleek and gleaming in the low light of their quarters. The remaining fabric of the naval uniform was discarded, under the point of his bare feet. Victor could already see himself taking those delicate ankles in hand, kissing up Yuuri’s feather markings.
Yuuri had his legs casually crossed, smooth muscles of his thighs flexed and begging to be worshipped. The siren leaned back on one hand, trailing the fingers of the other up his own chest, up the length of his throat, up the side of his beautiful face. He swept his bangs back with the push of his fingers, eyes half-lidded as he pinched his tongue between his teeth and directed a look which Victor could only interpret as an invitation to come pray in gratitude at his feet.
Victor was not sure what had brought such a reaction on so suddenly. The daring escape. The threat of execution. The opportunity to engage in a bit of bloodsport, which Yuuri had been missing out on of late. The thrill of a good adventure.
Yuuri smirked, full lips quirking and leaving Victor weak. With one smooth motion, he uncrossed his legs, spreading them in welcome. "Come here, officer.”
Oh. The uniform.
Victor swore that his pants would have dropped of their own accord, if it were not for a shake of his gorgeous siren’s head. “No. Leave it on.”
Victor’s fingers moved gently through Yuuri’s hair, lifting up the dark strands of his bangs and letting them flutter back down. Yuuri nuzzled into his shoulder, contented and preening, despite having been forced to move their post-coital nestling on the deck of the ship. At the very least, he had managed not to hiss at anyone this time around.
With the wind graciously at their rear, the ship picked up speed, making her way over the waves as if she were sailing on clouds. Minami had scaled up to the crow’s nest, parrots on his shoulders, keeping watch for any ships chasing their tail. They remained to be sighted.
Victor had let down his hair, allowing Yuuri to brush out the messy braids in favor of tying it low with a single ribbon. Loose strands danced around them, Victor standing in silence as he looked to the water and the sky in the distance. When Yuuri’s fingers traced his knuckles, Victor turned his hand over, offering his palm to his siren.
Victor curled his fingers over Yuuri’s, holding on. “He adopted me, when I was a kid. There used to be these board games we’d play in the orphanage, where the goal was to capture your opponent’s queen. He came by one day, said he’d heard that I never lost a match and challenged me. I didn’t know who he was then, but it was fun to have someone new to play against. We ended in a draw, and he left. But he came back two weeks later. And played me again.”
A small smile pushed up the corners of Victor’s mouth. “He started with the exact same strategy as the previous week. I won easily, didn’t think back then that I did anything impressive, I simply remembered every move that he had made. I left the orphanage with him that day. Started training under him, as a strategist for the navy. Before I had even turned ten…
"Obviously, we didn’t always agree. But I finally had a father. When I got to be a little older, he introduced me to Lilia. I didn’t even know she was our Queen at first. She scared me a lot more than Yakov did, despite it.” Victor laughed lightly, lacing his fingers into Yuuri’s. “We’d visit her, on occasion. It was nice, having a family, even if it wasn’t quite what most people would call normal.”
“Why did you leave?” Yuuri asked quietly, his words almost softer than the wind.
“I wish I had a good reason,” Victor replied. “I was tired of always being under someone’s heel. I wanted to see what a taste of freedom would be like.”
“…Was it worth it?”
“Of course.” Victor turned, tipping Yuuri’s face up to bestow him with a fleeting kiss. “It tastes like you.”
Reaching back, Yuuri ran his fingers through his wings. Carefully, he pulled loose a few of his feathers. Bunching them in his hand, he wove them together, twisting them in the form of a blooming flower. Yuuri set it into Victor’s hands, gesturing out to the ocean.
Victor pressed his lips to Yuuri’s forehead and stepped out to the bow of the ship. He let the wind catch the blossom, carrying it out to the waves.
The captain stood with his siren at his side, watching the feathered flower float to the horizon and then be overtaken by the sea.
A shrill squawk sounded from above, pulling everyone’s attention to the crow’s nest. Minami was all but invisible from the angle that Victor stood on, able to see only a tuft of red hair. The parrots, however, dove down, circling the supplies raided from the city.
Swords were drawn and pistols were cocked by everyone on board.
Victor held up a hand, frown fouling his expression, and cautiously approached where the parrots had started to peck at barrels of gunpowder. Leaning over to look down between them, he was met with a head of mousy brown hair and eyes so wide it was possibly to trip into them. A boy.
Victor grabbed him by the collar and lifted him out. He wore deceptively simple clothes, like a pageboy, but the shoes on his feet were polished leather. The chain of a pocket watch looped down from the buttons of his vest. All of which were soaking wet.
“Where’d you come from?”
“Ummm-…” the boy stammered, his feet kicking out for support but unable to reach the wood.
“Ummm?” Victor prompted, eyes glancing around to see his crew still holding their weapons at the ready.
“I’m, I’m trying to think of something good to say,” he squeaked back, pitch of his voice breaking.
Victor’s frown cracked. “You look a bit too proper for a pirate ship. Why are you here, boy?”
“I- uhhh, I’m looking for adventure?”
An eyebrow arched, Victor scoffed and released the boy, letting him drop. Instantly, he snapped up, back straight and posture proper. “Adventure? As a stowaway?”
“I want to join!”
Victor chuckled, eyes sweeping the small frame before him in consideration. “…Aren’t you the one from the blacksmith’s?”
Brown eyes shone back at Victor, the nodding of his head eager. “Yes! Ummm, yes, that-… that was me.”
“Have you ever worked on a ship?”
“N-no,” he replied, hands twisting at the hem of his own vest. “But I’ve helped at the forge and… I know a lot about… a lot of things.”
“You were an apprentice?” Victor asked, surprised. The boy’s fingers were thin, skin smooth and hands showing no wear of labor.
“Well, I helped the apprentice…”
Victor chuckled, shaking his head. “You don’t belong on a ship.”
“I promise I can work hard! I know all about ships, I’ve studied them! Look, I managed to get on deck without anyone noticing me, that should count for something!”
“I don’t think so. We’ll drop you off at the nearest port. You can have your adventure finding your way back.”
“But I can work!” he protested, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Oh, you’ll work,” Victor replied. “No one stays on this ship for free. Anyone here need a spare till port?” he glanced around, holding a hand open in invitation.
Otabek stepped forward. “I could use a new monkey. I need another one after what happened to Cao Bin. While he lasts, at least. Hopefully long enough to rotate the canons.”
“There you go,” Victor smiled. “All right, Beka, he’s your responsbility. You can have him start with getting the barrels to the powder room.” Victor turned, then paused and gazed back at the boy as his crew withdrew their questions. “Any questions?”
The boy quickly shook his head. As Victor went to leave, his hand shot up into the air. “Wait, just one!”
Victor gestured for him to continue.
“What, umm, what happened to… Cao Bin?”
Laughing, Victor spun on his heel and walked away. Strands of his long silver tail and the black feathers woven into them trailed behind him.
Otabek pushed Guang Hong to work.
Guang Hong bit his tongue, refusing to allow a single whimper escape when the ship doctor splashed his hands with alcohol and wrapped them in bandages. They bled, raw from rope burn. He had slept in a hammock that rocked with the motion of the ship, waking up with muscles burning so much that he had cried upon forcing himself onto his feet.
He had spent the entire previous day working, transporting supplies below deck before being tasked with cleaning cannons. By sundown, Guang Hong’s skin had been stained black with soot and gunpowder, his normally pristine clothing dirty and ragged. The pads of his fingers felt like they had been worn down to the bone, the soles of his feet aching for a soak in a hot salted bath.
Dinner had consisted of a portion of dried meat and hard bread, along with a comment that the cook was busy sorting his new stores. Breakfast, at least, had been hot, a cup of soup with generous chunks of fish meat. Guang Hong didn’t really like fish. He had chugged it down, grateful to fill his stomach.
“Come show them to me tonight before you sleep, I’ll make sure they won’t get infected,” the doctor said, kind smile on his scruffy face. “Try to keep them clean. I’ll tell Otabek to be a bit easier on you today.”
“No!” Guang Hong flinched as his own protest sent sparks of muscle pain spasming through his spine. “I-… I want to work.”
“Can’t work if you’re broken.” The pat to his shoulder almost made Guang Hong whimper. “You can wash decks with Kenji. Still work. Doctor’s orders.”
Guang Hong nodded, following Emil to the deck. He had eaten his dinner next to Minami, who had sat with a parrot on his head and juvenile chickens pecking around his legs. The chickens clucked menacingly in Guang Hong’s direction, driven by the occasion accusatory squawk of “stow-way!” from one of the macaws.
“They’re not usually like this!” the blond had quipped. Guang Hong, having drawn his knees up to his chest to keep his toes away from the frittering birds, simply nodded and continued chewing on his dried meat for going on the fifth minute.
“Kenji, you’ve got Freckles here.” Emil called out, giving Guang Hong a gentle nudge to push him forward.
“Hiiiiiii!” Minami waved, smile splashed wide. His hair was tied back in a bandana. The chickens gone, but the parrots stayed perched nearby, preening their feathers in the sun. Earlier, Guang Hong had sworn he heard clucking overheard but that made no sense. “Welcome, by the way!”
“Ummm, thanks,” Guang Hong muttered, gaze drawn to the other boy’s bare feet and the wet rag next to them. Hesitantly, he stepped out of his leather shoes, rolling down his socks to tuck them inside. “Kenji?”
“Yeah! Guang Hong, right?”
The energy shining off Minami was encouraging. He was even smaller than Guang Hong, so if he could survive the work of the ship, then Guang Hong should be able to manage. “Yes.”
“Awesome. Here, yeah, take your shoes off, don’t leave them too close to the triplets though, they’ll chew them.” Minami handed Guang Hong another rag, and dropped to all fours, ready to push it across the wood. Guang Hong knelt down to copy him, back already complaining. “So, how’d you end up here?”
“Ohh, ummm, I-… I kinda… Captain Silverlock is really cool?”
A passing Yurio laughed so hard that he slipped on the wet deck, clutching his sides as he fell over.
Storm clouds gathered on the horizon, cold and dark, casting their shadow across the ocean. Victor had ordered the ship toward the coast, in hopes of glimpsing a cove where they might find sanctuary from the weather. Wind whipped at the sails, driving the speed at which the ship cut through the waves.
Guang Hong watched with wide eyes as Minami climbed quickly up to the crow’s nest, pencil in his teeth. He did not dare to question why, legs already shaking from trying to keep himself steady. He could not imagine what the pitching would feel like atop a mast.
Orders were shouted across the deck and Guang Hong rushed to the railing, checking that everything along them was secured against the potential storm. Rope burned at his hands despite the bandages around them, but he persisted, determined to prove he could earn his keep aboard the ship. Adventure was not supposed to be easy.
Wood creaked and Guang Hong saw a flash of gold in the near black of the sea. Rope looped around his wrist in case the ship pitched, he leaned over to try to catch another glimpse. He shouted in frightened shock.
Webbed, scarlet claws dug into the side of the ship, leaving welts in their wake. A thick tail thrashed behind the creature that slithered up the ship so quickly that Guang Hong did not have time to blink. The boy stumbled back, tongue swallowed by his throat, hands fumbling for the knife on his belt.
Curved long nails gripped onto the railing struts, dripping in sea water. With a shout, Guang Hong launched himself at the mermaid, short weapon trembling between his fingers.
His wrist was grabbed from behind and the knife knocked away as easily as if he had not even been holding onto it. “Stop that.”
Guang Hong’s head snapped around to see Chris, the cook scowling in clear displeasure.
“Siren!” Guang Hong yelled in protest, pointing at the mermaid on the railing.
“Not a siren,” both Chris and the finned-hybrid spoke at the same time. “Mermaid.”
If Chris was not holding Guang Hong off the deck, he might have gone weak-kneed in fear.
“And he’s friendly,” the cook added on, dropping him.
Guang Hong choked on his words, jerking around.
A perfectly friendly face looked back at him, wet dark hair over dark eyes. Some sort of cute little white bunny-looking slug crawled over the top of his head. The mermaid waved, fingers webbed. “Hey there! I’m Phichit, are you new?”
Slowly, stunned, Guang Hong waved back. “Yes? Nice to meet you?”
Chris chuckled behind him and clapped Guang Hong on the back.
Phichit grinned, displaying the kind of razor teeth Guang Hong had only seen on sharks before, in the pages of his textbooks.
He tried to convince himself that his legs weren’t about to give out. It didn’t work. They did.
Guang Hong sat near the bow of the ship, back against the railing, legs spread out straight in front of him. He worked his fingers carefully over the sore muscles of his thighs, wincing now and again when he hit a sensitive spot. He had spent the entire day scrubbing rust off cannons. His neck and spine were stiff from laying on the wooden floor, under the cannons as he cleaned their wheels and bellies. Emil had told him the pain and exhaustion would fade as he grew used to the work. So far it was only getting worse. He had not been able to climb out of his hammock that morning. The boy called Yurio had flipped him out of it.
He had wanted to catch the last bit of sunlight before the night fell, having spent far too many hours inside the dim of the hull. The sky had been clear and blue after the storm, but Guang Hong had not had the privilege of savoring much of it.
Minami stomped onto the deck from the crew quarters, normally cheerful face crumpled into a scowl. He turned from side to side, eyes holding out a spot of hope as he searched.
“I can’t find my sketchbook!” Minami plopped down next to Guang Hong, kicking out his legs in frustration. “I’ve looked everywhere! One of the triplets was preening a chicken, it was so cute, I wanted to draw it but it’s nowhere.”
“Did you leave it somewhere?” Guang Hong asked, trying to remember if he had seen a sketchbook anywhere on board. “What about yesterday? Up there?” he pointed to the crow’s nest.
“No, I couldn’t find it yesterday either,” Minami replied, huffing heavily. “I just borrowed some paper from Victor, I thought maybe there’d be some harpies with the storm and I’ve been trying to get a better record of their wings. They’re really different from a siren’s, I tried to ask Yuuri if he knew why but he left for a hunt so… Guess I gotta wait till the next storm.”
Guang Hong was still trying to get to know everyone on board the ship. The encounter with a mermaid had been a surprise. So much for the novels being an exaggeration… They had just failed to describe the amount of labor that went into maintaining a ship. “Hey, can I ask you a question?”
“What… what happened to… Cao Bin?”
“Oh.” Minami’s eyes went wide and he reached up to rub at his neck. “Uhhh, yeah, we don’t talk about Cao Bin because, ummm… Yuuri ate him?”
Guang Hong snapped his head around so fast that the kink in his neck corrected itself. “What?!”
“Well, like, it was when he first got here, you know! You can’t really blame him, that’s his thing! Bin didn’t like having him on board and fought with Victor about it, so Yuuri… ate him.” Minami defended, waving his hands in attempted reassurance. “He doesn’t anymore, not the crew, I mean! That’s why he goes off on hunts, when he has that urge, he–” Minami paused, taking in Guang Hong’s terrified expression. “You haven’t met him yet, have you?”
Guang Hong shook his head. No, no he had not met the member of the crew that was apparently a cannibal that hunted humans.
“Oh!” Minami brightened up instantly, frown flipping upside down. “You’re gonna love him, Yuuri’s amazing! He’s not scary at all, I promise! You’ve gotta hear him when he sings, it’s the most beautiful thing in the world. Do you play any instruments, cause he adores music and if you play something for him, he’ll usually come out to sing and dance. I mean, I’d let him eat me if he really wanted to, but he’s really super nice, he rescued Victor from the Queen all by himself. They’re mates. You should have seen how incredible it was when he flew off the ship to go save him, I wish I had a siren mate, how cool would that be?”
Minami only stopped when he ran out of breath, smiling happily, his prior mood at having misplaced his sketchbook entirely dissipated. He gazed out across the deck, toward the horizon, and his joy doubled. “Look, there!”
From inside low hanging clouds, Guang Hong glimpsed the shape of a bird emerging. Dark and flying fast toward the ship, growing larger and larger by the second. Wings spanning broader than the bow of the ship cut through the sunset sky, casting a shadow that enshrouded Minami and Guang Hong.
“Yuuri! Welcome home!” Minami waved.
A huge wing, torn off at the shoulder and warped out of shape, dropped with a dull thud at their feet. Guang Hong tried to swallow his scream, he really did, cementing himself back against the railing. Brown feathers the length of his forearm were splattered in blood, the wing ripped from a creature that Guang Hong could not even begin to imagine.
The wood beneath Guang Hong shook when another creature landed heavily before them. A whimper died in Guang Hong’s throat.
Blood dripped off claws wrapped in pitch black feathers. Guang Hong watched, unable to look away, as talons melted into human feet. The wings at his back furled in, sweeping the deck. His beautiful face was contorted into a glower.
There were feathers along the side of his face, but they were ruffled, bent. He threaded the tips of black fingers through them, lifting out one that was broken. A hiss came from him, quiet but somehow it wove into Guang Hong, sending fear around his heart, squeezing air from his lungs. Guang Hong could not break himself out of it. The sound rooted inside him, as mesmerizing as it was terrifying.
The broken feather was released, floating to the ground. Eyes flinted with red glared straight at the two of them, and then the man stormed off, leaving a trail of bloody footprints, the drag of his wings smearing them as he went.
Squeaking in a way that was nothing close to the horror that Guang Hong felt, Minami dived for the wing left in front of them, clutching it to his chest in utter joy.
Guang Hong stared after the footprints that spanned the deck and disappeared down the stairs which led to Victor’s cabin, a stunned breath escaping him, “… Oh my god, an evil siren lover.”
Victor caught an armful of siren, hands coming to rest on Yuuri’s back when his mate nestled into his chest. “Lovebird? What happened?” he asked, holding on. Yuuri’s fingers curled into his shirt, clutching tight. His feet had tracked blood across the cabin, and Victor had glimpsed more on his hands, a faint smear across his cheek. It was rare, for Yuuri to return from a hunt without cleaning himself off first. Victor could feel Yuuri starting to tremble in his arms. “Yuuri? Yuuri, talk to me, what happened, are you hurt?”
Dark eyes still lined with the red of his siren temper gazed up at Victor, swimming. A tear spilled over, trailing wet down his cheek.
“Oh. No, Yuuri, don’t cry.” Victor thumbed the tear away. He cupped Yuuri’s face in his hands, trying to read through Yuuri’s eyes what had upset him. “Was it the harpies? Did you not find one?” After Minami’s disappointment at not sighting one during the storm, Yuuri had decided to fetch a wing for the boy. A gift, for notifying him of Victor’s arrest. Victor had thought it was rather sweet.
“Look at my feathers!” Yuuri cried, turning his face to show Victor the black fluff at his ears.
Victor looked immediately. They were ruffled, vanes split. The downy of the smaller contour feathers was stripped. At the crest of Yuuri’s ear, there was a bald patch, feathers ripped out by the root.
“Those… those… those flying rats tore them out!” Yuuri snapped his face out of Victor’s gentle hold, covering his messed up feathers with his hands. “I-… you like them and they tore them out…”
Victor blinked, taking in the pout Yuuri wore, the frustrated anger filling his eyes with tears. He wrapped his fingers around Yuuri’s, pulling them down to take another look. “Were you worried about me being upset at you losing feathers?”
Cheeks puffed out with an exhale, Yuuri muttered another harpy insult under his breath. “…I always want to be your pretty bird… This must look awful."
Laughter escaped without Victor’s intention and he swooped in, pressing his lips to the skin visible through the part of Yuuri’s feathers. "Lovebird, you’re always beautiful. A few missing feathers isn’t going to change that.”
“I don’t like it,” Yuuri murmured, angling his face away from Victor’s further attempted kisses. “It’s gonna be days before they start growing back.”
Chuckling, Victor let go of Yuuri’s hands. “Here, look.” He pulled his braided hair around, removing a few feathers which had been woven in. Tucking them behind Yuuri’s ear, he fidgeted with the placement until they covered the offending patch. “Perfect. The prettiest bird I’ve ever seen."
Victor could tell that Yuuri was trying to contain it, but a smile cracked on his lips. "They’re gonna fall out…”
“Then I’ll put them back. Or maybe, if I make you blush hard enough, they’ll sprout again.”
A near silent chirp purred from Yuuri’s throat, pink blossoming on his cheeks like it always did at Victor’s flirts. He dropped his head back against Victor’s chest, nestling in.
Victor kissed the top of his head. One of the set feathers slipped out of place, so he carefully readjusted it. “How about we get you cleaned up, lovebird? You’ve got harpy all over you.”
Yuuri nodded, but did not detach himself from his mate. Victor held on, cradling Yuuri against him even as he walked them across the cabin so that he could wash the blood off Yuuri’s hands and feet for him.
Minami leapt to his feet, harpy wing still cradled in his arms. He had been carefully inspecting the feathers, moving the joints before rigor set in, all the time muttering little notes about it to Guang Hong who had been assigned the task of scribbling them all down. He was not sure if he technically had to listen to Minami, but figured it best not to start arguing with pirates so early on.
If Guang Hong had to be honest, it actually was quite interesting. He had only heard tales of the creatures said to live at sea before, never knowing if they were true. Now he had met a mermaid and a siren–and knew the difference– all in the span of two days. And learned a bit about harpies from Minami. They almost sounded scarier than the siren, if not for the fact that they had the gruesomely bloody limb of one, while the siren seemed to have made it out of the fight with nothing more than a couple feathers out of place.
Guang Hong saw a flash of silver and his heart picked up its pace again.
“Will you ask Chris to boil off water for a bath and bring it to my room? Get, what’s-his-name, Freckles there to help you.”
Minami groaned, shoulders dropping. “But–”
“It’s for Yuuri.”
That perked him back up. “Of course, Captain!”
Guang Hong gazed after Silverlock after he had disappeared back inside. He had barely caught more than a glimpse of the captain, trapped as he was under the ordered work of the master gunner. Guang Hong had read about pirates ruling their ships under an iron fist, yet thus far… there had been no indication of such. Apart from their tasks, the crew seemed pretty free to do whatever they willed. The only real rule that he had been made aware of was to stay out of the crow’s nest unless otherwise ordered. Yet, he had seen Minami climbing up there during the storm.
“Come on, we gotta get water.” Minami tucked the harpy wing under his arm, elbowing Guang Hong. “Do you know where the kitchen is?”
Guang Hong nodded.
“Okay, go there and tell Chris. I’m gonna put this away.”
Minami skipped away.
Guang Hong wondered what kind of life experiences had led a boy his age to treasure a dislocated wing gifted by a siren dripping in blood. He would have to debate about whether to ask.
He made his way to the ship’s galley below deck, finding the cook seated near his stoves. It was humid and hot, pulling sweat from Guang Hong’s skin immediately. A white cat slept atop a table, face tucked into its long fluffy tail. Chris was scratching behind her ears as he watched large vats set over the heat. An eyebrow arched in Guang Hong’s direction. “No seconds. We barely have enough to make it to the next port. Fish if you’re hungry.”
“Ummm, no, the captain requested water for a bath?”
“Oh, did he now?” Chris questioned, standing up, arms crossing over his chest. “You call tell the captain that I just finished boiling off some water, but if he wants some for a bath, he’s gonna have to wait because it’s for drinking and not for–”
“It’s for Yuuri!” Minami dropped in, sleeves rolled up, hands cleaned of harpy blood.
Chris’s expression remained unchanged, but he sighed. “…Fine. For our dear murderbird. But the two of you are fetching me more buckets after this, I’m not going to sauna myself two days in a row.”
Guang Hong did his best to help as Chris hoisted up a barrel of water, having shifted the vats over which a tarp had been strung to catch steam, the salt and grit left behind. Freshwater ran down the fabric to collect, dripping into more barrels.
If he pulled knowledge from his studies, Guang Hong could calculate approximately how long it would take to boil enough water to fill a barrel. His mouth went dry thinking about the glass of water he had knocked over that morning, when his hands had been shaking with exhaustion after a fitful night.
The water was reheated, poured into buckets that he and Minami had to trudge to the captain’s quarters. Minami led and Guang Hong followed, wide-eyed at being granted access at a new part of the ship. Below deck, the crew’s quarters were rather cramped. Guang Hong could touch walls with both his hands in many places and he slept with another hammack right above his own.
The captain’s quarters, however, were quite grand. Wide, richly colored carpets rested on polished dark wood. Guang Hong noticed bookshelves groaning with the weight of the texts filling them, a proper bed against the far wall laid in golden covers. His imagination when reading his own books could hardly compare. Oil lamps lit the room, their flickering flames casting reflections in the expansive windows off the left side. Guang Hong saw a porcelain tub positioned near them, white and gleaming. And at the center of the room was Silverlock…
Guang Hong’s heart dropped into the pit of his stomach.
The siren sat, in a chair of wood carved intricately and spun with gold. The harpy blood tainting its skin was gone, as were the wings Guang Hong had witnessed upon the deck. Instead, the siren’s skin was marked with black patterns, weaving to form feathers on its arms and legs, which were crossed in the regal pose it had taken on the chair.
Silverlock was kneeling before the siren, holding its foot in his hands. Guang Hong watched as the captain carefully wiped the siren’s ankles clean with a damp towel. His movements were delicate, almost reverent, taking care not to miss any spots.
“Right over there,” Victor said, gesturing toward the tub. Minami shuffled across the room, grinning as he also looked to the siren, before pouring the steaming water into the tub. Guang Hong did the same.
It took several trips back and forth from the galley to fill it high enough. The second time in, Guang Hong caught sight of Silverlock pressing a kiss to the sole of the siren’s foot, then another to the arch. The third time, the siren’s gem-laid robes had been discarded and instead he was covered in golden sheets seemingly pulled off the captain’s bed.
In the opposite corner of the room, Guang Hong saw a parrot perched, her eyes carefully following his movements the same as the siren’s did.
On the last time in, Guang Hong nearly tripped because Silverlock’s shirt had been discarded. On his chest, above where his heart should be, was a tattoo. An X crossed with one of the feathers that Guang Hong recognized as belonging to the siren, a scrolled word beneath. Throughout it all, the siren stayed, a commanding presence beside the captain. Only when the bath had been filled was Silverlock permitted to leave the siren’s side, dipping his fingers in to test the water.
“I think it’s fine, lovebird,” Silverlock said and Guang Hong connected it to the tattoo. The pirate captain had been marked, perhaps in ownership. “All right, out with you two. Give Yuuri some peace.”
Minami saluted, grabbing their empty buckets and Guang Hong by the arm. “Have a good bath, Yuuri!”
Guang Hong let himself get dragged out and up the stairs. He glanced over his shoulder, into the room, and caught sight of the golden sheet dropping, the siren’s back bared to him. Tattoos in the form of wings were painted down its back, accented tips sweeping the curve of its buttocks. More feather markings were stamped the small of its back, contrasting the paleness of its skin. The siren had lifted an arm, black fingers grasping the braid of Silverlock’s hair. It tugged him in close, rough.
Guang Hong was torn away by Minami, the door shut behind them. His companion took him to the task of fetching more water for the galley, rattling on about how the captain was way too lucky to have the privilege of watching the siren in a bird bath. Guang Hong hung onto every word.
Silverlock, and perhaps his whole ship, was under the possession of a beautiful, dangerous, deadly siren.
The hot, clean water sunk into his bones, melting Victor down. His arms were loose around Yuuri’s waist and he leaned into his siren’s back, brushing nonstop kisses across Yuuri’s shoulders. He traced the top curve of Yuuri’s tattoos with his mouth, content to simply sit and treasure the gift in his arms.
A splash made him squeeze his eyes shut, droplets jumping up into his face. Laughing quietly, Victor peeked over Yuuri’s shoulder, to where a small toy boat had been submerged and was being held under until the air bubbles stopped floating to the surface.
Chirps mixed into Yuuri’s giggles, pure and crisp like the trickling of a spring. He released the boat, letting it float back up. Before it broke the surface, he plunged it back down with both hands, cackling in delight.
Victor tipped his face to the side, touching a kiss beneath the lobe of Yuuri’s ear. “Is this what you imagined doing to my ship, when we met?”
Yuuri’s head tilted back on his shoulder. His dark hair was wet, strands plastered to his skin. Tiny specks of water clung to his lashes as he blinked, low and slow, playing innocent. Victor fell in love all over again.
The toy boat bobbed in the bath water. Yuuri guided a finger around it, directing it through waves of his own making. A mischevious smile adorned his lips and he lifted out one of the loose feathers that Victor had tucked behind his ear.
Dampened by his touch, it fell more than floated, landing atop the boat. Yuuri lunged in, snapping the toy clean in half, wood crushed by his fingers. Splintered remains scattered across the water, bits sinking beneath the surface.
Victor scooped them out and deposited them over the edge of the tub as Yuuri continued to laugh. “You’re so terrifying, lovebird. I don’t know if I can continue to keep you on board.”
Yuuri smiled with the brightness of peak summer, nuzzling into the underside of Victor’s chin, happy hums vibrating against his throat. Victor’s arms wound tighter around him, face dipping in for a kiss.
Yuuri chirped into it, making Victor laugh as he proceeded to peck kisses repeatedly to Victor’s lips and to his face, littering his skin until Victor had to sink into the water to escape them. Grabbing for his shoulders, Yuuri tried to pull him back out, only to yelp when Victor tugged him down.
Their breath formed more bubbles, then none, as Victor sought out another kiss in the warmth beneath the water’s surface.
Victor’s long hair floated all around them, like silk threads. Yuuri twisted some around his fingers, adding silver rings to the gold already on them. He let himself get lost in the kiss, breathing off Victor’s lips until his lungs burned and they broke the surface, laughing, dripping, wrapped up in each other.
Yuuri tipped his forehead against Victor’s, eyes still shut as he caught his breath. Victor couldn’t remember ever having seen a single sight more beautiful. He fell in, sending them splashing again, wanting more of Yuuri’s laughter echoing in his ears, echoing through the entire cabin.
The floor around the tub was certain to be a mess, soaked in water. Victor did not spare a single thought to it, not when he had Yuuri taking his hands, kissing his rings, his palms, his wrists. He laughed for himself when Yuuri grabbed another toy boat from the edge of the tub and tucked it into Victor’s fingers.
“You want me to sink it?”
Yuuri nodded so rapidly his entire body trembled, making waves.
Victor set the boat to float. With a finger pressed against the curved top, he pushed it gently under. Yuuri promptly slapped his hands.
Yuuri shook his head no. He grabbed Victor’s wrists and plunged them down, forcing the toy down to the bottom. He did not let it go, keeping Victor’s hands down for a minute, two, three. A grin spread across Yuuri’s face.
“What?” Victor asked, gazing down at the drowned boat.
“They’re all dead,” he declared, gleeful at his simulated mass murder. He was pure joy personified, radiant. Water was diamonds on his skin, light dancing waltzes in his eyes.
Victor was hopeless, helpless when it came to Yuuri. “I love you so much.”
Yuuri’s laugh filled Victor’s chest to the point of bursting. Even when Yuuri let him go, nestling close once more, Victor continued to hold the boat underwater, trapped in Davy Jones’ Locker. Yuuri seemed to like that idea, kissing his cheek in approval.
Victor was content to simply sit and let Yuuri teach him how to sink toy boats until the water chilled around them.
Guang Hong could not sleep well that night. The rocking of the ship made him feel ill and whenever his eyes did manage to slip, visions flashed behind them. Of a glaring siren with human blood dripping from its mouth, the ship captain trapped beneath a taloned foot.
He was awake before Yurio came to flip his hammock, climbing out himself. Seated toward the bow of the ship, he chewed through breakfast slowly, softening a hard biscuit between his lips. His eyes were locked on the captain’s cabin, waiting to see.
When he had asked the previous evening, where it was the siren slept, Minami had shot him a funny look. With Victor. I told you, they’re mates.
Mates. Guang Hong meant to find out exactly what that meant.
When movement came, Guang Hong sat up straight, eyes narrowed. He continued chewing, not want to give off the impression that he was spying. From below the deck, the siren rose. It stretched arms up toward the sky and outward toward the sea. Wings appeared off its back, spreading till the tips could brush the ship railings at either side, before folding in. The smile Guang Hong could see adorning its lips was unnaturally beautiful– because it was. Guang Hong shook his head, refusing to let himself be taken in by any siren’s magic.
His attention shifted quickly, to Silverlock, who followed three steps behind the siren. Guang Hong stiffened. The captain walked with a slight limp that was undoubtedly missing the night before. He kept a hand behind him, pressure on his lower back, wincing on the steps. What more– his neck was bruised, dark marks peppering his skin from his jawline to where his collarbone disappeared under his skirt.
The siren leaned in, expectant, and Silverlock obliged, meeting it with a kiss.
Guang Hong’s eyes narrowed further.
Seeming pleased with its demand being met, the siren spread its wings again and took to the sky. Its vast shadow circled the ship once, a shrill chirp echoing through the sails, before it was lost to the clouds.
Silverlock waited, watching, and only moved away once the siren had vanished from sight. Given a moment of release.
Guang Hong sprang to his feet. His decision was made for him– he had to save Silverlock.
Guang Hong collapsed in his hammock at the end of the day, shaking the sleep from his eyes. He couldn’t, not yet, not until he had his plan for the next day figured out. His attempt to talk to Silverlock had not gone well. The moment the captain noticed him beelining in, he had grabbed Guang Hong by the shoulders and directed him to work, along with a comment of, Have you been earning your keep?
He did not even have a chance to protest, his warning lost by the loud squawk of a parrot swooping in to land on Silverlock’s shoulder. The handsome captain had rubbed her beak, but Guang Hong noticed how those bird eyes followed him around. No doubt, all the birds on board were under the siren’s orders as well, to supervise the crew while it was away and report back. Guang Hong was not going to be able to accomplish anything under their watchful gaze. He’d jumped when a chicken clucked at him after he got below deck. Evil siren spies…
He and Minami had searched every inch of the ship that they could for the sketchbook. Minami had whined about it being full of all his notes about Yuuri, and how he wanted to add in drawings of the harpy feathers and wing, to document it all properly. It remained missing, Minami finishing their search by kicking at some barrels, frustated, muttering something to himself in worry. He wouldn’t tell Guang Hong why when he asked.
Guang Hong had spent the rest of his time going around, asking any members of the crew who had time questions, passing it off as natural curiousity. About the ship, about their voyage, about the captain… about the siren. Everyone had nothing but praise for the creature, enchanted. The fact that it feasted on the flesh of men seemed to faze so few of them.
Thus far, it seemed like not a single person on the crew had been spared from the siren’s magic. Not the captain, not the cook, not the doctor, not the deck hands. At first, Guang Hong had theorized it was a spell that affected only men– but no, Mila, the quartermaster, was just as in love with it as the rest of them, remarking how cute she thought the siren and captain were together.
He had thought to climb to the crow’s nest the following day, before dawn, while the siren still slept. To see what was up there, why no one was permitted in it under usual circumstances. Guang Hong had tried to remember, any rumors he’d heard or any books he’d read, if sirens were said to have any weaknesses… He would find out. No creature was invincible.
Guang Hong went still as footsteps approached, other members of the crew making their way through the sleeping quarters. The young, angry voice that echoed down the hall was familiar.
“I kept asking him and he refused. Just for one night! I’ve trained them so well and he won’t trust me to keep them here. The triplets don’t need to be listening to what they get up to there at night.” Yurio walked, not bothering to be quiet as he vented frustration.
“Ask Victor,” replied Otabek, following along.
“You know Victor will just do whatever Yuuri says, command or not. I’ll just have to find some other time to teach them… dumb siren.”
Guang Hong sat bolt upright.
Guang Hong slept past dawn, having been kept up by his late night mental scheming. The work task for that morning was inspecting any gun powder barrels for leaks or water damage, and transferring out the content of any that were found as such. He tried to get close to Yurio during that time, offering help in exchange for the chance at whispered conversation.
Yurio, however, did not want any help, snapping at him to do his own work. Guang Hong gritted his teeth but continued on, even if his arms screamed from the strain of the gun powder’s weight. He had to take several breaks, looking for his opportunity the whole time. It came as they were finishing.
Guang Hong struggled with lifting another barrel, the bottom of which had started to disintegrate. His leg muscles were beyond sore, fingers full of splinters and close to bleeding again. His arms shook, ready to give out at any moment despite his huffing breaths and determination to get it done. The edge slipped from his fingers, barrel dropping.
Yurio caught it, diving in. He scowled and heaved up the barrel on his own, cracking a fist against the lid to pop it open, emptying the powder into a dry container. “You’re lifting it wrong, idiot. Bend your knees, not your back! And rest back edge on your shoulder, it won’t feel so heavy.” He split the wood under his foot, pulling off the metal rings, tossing both into two different piles.
Guang Hong stared, then glanced down at his knees. How was he supposed to know that if no one told him? Steeling himself, he threw his shoulders back and glared straight at Yurio. “You!”
Yurio took a half a step, surprised by the sudden outburst. “What?!”
“The siren! You’re not under its spell!” Guang Hong blurted out, seizing his chance. “How? How are you resisting it? Everyone else, the captain, they’re all entranced by it!”
Yurio’s brows furrowed at the center, arms crossing over his chest. “What?!”
“Haven’t you noticed– this ship has been possessed. The siren has Silverlock trapped and doing whatever it wants! We gotta find a way to break everyone out of it!”
Whatever reaction Guang Hong had been expecting, it wasn’t an eye roll and a scoff. “What the hell are you on about? No one’s under any dumb spell. Victor’s just stupidly in love. Yuuri’s family, leave him alone or he’s gonna eat you too. You’re not part of the crew, that rule doesn’t apply.”
“But you– I heard you last night. You called him a dumb siren!” Guang Hong protested weakly, his shoulders dropping.
“Yeah! Cause I wanted to train the triplets how to make some shadow puppets but he wouldn’t let me take them cause he thought they’d get scared if they went too far below deck. Wouldn’t even let me try!” Yurio shook his head, irritated. “I wouldn’t keep them down there if I thought they were scared.”
Scowl deepening, Yurio dusted off his hands, turning away. “And stop calling Victor Silverlock. It’s weird.” He stomped off, leaving Guang Hong behind.
Guang Hong felt like sinking into the pile of broken, discarded wood at his side. His last hope, gone. The only person left unaffected by the siren’s magic was… himself.
Any chance that Guang Hong got to chat with Minami, he took, prying out any and every tidbit of information about sirens that he could. It was shockingly easy. Minami jumped at any opportunity to chatter about “Yuuri,” eager to offer answers to all the questions that Guang Hong had even if the majority of them did not help him to figure it out how exactly it was the siren cast its spells.
He did learn that the majority of the siren’s power was behind its voice. A command given by the siren would be followed, without resistance. It explained why Guang Hong had felt such overwhelming dread when it had hissed at him, influenced by its magic. Minami had told him that the siren was weak in the spring, spending a couple weeks inside, shedding feathers and unable to fly. But Guang Hong could not wait that long– and even if he did, the problem of its voice remained. He needed to find some way of silencing it… or discover another weakness.
Another problem he had was that whenever the siren was on the ship, it kept close to Victor, refusing to leave the captain’s side. Keeping control. Guang Hong could see how it would lean in, whispering its incantations into his ear. He kept an eagle eye out– until one midday that both the siren and the captain vanished from sight.
Checking that the deck was mostly clear and that those around were occupied, Guang Hong made his way up the rope nets that connected to the crow’s nest. He climbed carefully, slowly, dinstinctly aware that each time he inched up, the ship got smaller beneath his feet. A breeze blew, shaking the nets and Guang Hong had to cling, trembling.
A glance down had fear seizing around his heart. At height, a single missed step would mean a quick drop and very sudden stop. Guang Hong had very little confidence in his ability to catch himself should he fall– but he could not stop now. If the siren kept secrets, he needed to find them, to be prepared to take it on.
Hand over hand, foot over foot, he climbed, keeping his eyes put, refusing another look down. He remembered one day he and Leo had out together, during the previous year’s summer festival. Guang Hong had brought a kite his family had received as a gift, shaped like a butterfly with purple wings. He had gotten it caught in a tree within five minutes and Leo had climbed to retrieve it, teasing Guang Hong who had been too scared of falling to try getting up the tree himself. If only Leo could see him now…
Guang Hong grabbed onto the edge of the crow’s nest, gasping when he pulled himself up. He made it. He looked into the crow’s nest and his entire body went stiff.
It was not empty. Blankets and pillows lined it, plush and warm under the sun. It was littered with shed feathers, black and red, and others, midnight blue peckled in shimmering pink– Guang Hong recognized them as the second half of the cross on Victor’s chest. That was not all. He glimpsed the sparkling of gold, of gemmed jewelry scattered around. And the stark white of what he was certain were bones.
It wasn’t a crow’s nest. It was a siren’s nest. Set directly over the heart of the ship. And inside the siren’s nest was the siren, curled into a half-circle, with the silver-haired captain trapped in its arms.
Both dozed, the siren’s face buried in the back of Victor’s neck, an arm draped around his waist. A few of its feathers were woven into the captain’s hair, laid behind his ear in claim.
Between them a chicken nestled, its beak tucked into its own feathers. Another slept at their feet, third having tucked itself against Victor’s stomach. The siren’s stained-black fingertips edged into its wing feathers, keeping contact as they dozed.
The fourth…. sat above their heads, vigilant. Its beady eyes stared straight back at Guang Hong.
Yelping, he dove down, ducking beneath the edge of the crow’s nest, his heart pounding a march against his ribcage. From inside the nest, he heard rustling and then a voice. Gentle, preening, soft with sleep. It called out, a sweet chirp resonating despite its quiet. “Victor…”
Something strange filled Guang Hong. A warmth unlike that of the sun beating down on him, a lightness unlike the breeze. It pricked at his nerves, setting him alight, mind flooded with memories of the comforting smell of the forge, the tender stroke of Leo’s fingers through his hair, the joy of their shared laughter.
Guang Hong shook with the intensity of the visions, fingers tremoring as he wrapped them in the net and started to descend, unable to comprehend what had just happened and why the unsettling emotions plunged so deeply inside him.
Whatever magic had been layering the siren’s voice, Guang Hong had been hit by a big dose of it. For hours after, his heart ached, his mind shifting to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, his impression of the siren had been wrong. Maybe it had not trapped the captain in its bloody clutches. Perhaps what Yurio had said was not lies, maybe Silverlock– maybe Victor was actually, simply in love. With a siren… that dripped with blood, controlled people with its voice, made him kiss its feet, and ate members of his crew. A crew that, as far as Guang Hong had seen thus far, Victor really cared for.
No, he could not give up. He had to find a way to break everyone out of the siren’s spell, before he fell under it himself.
The following day, Guang Hong scaled his way back up to the crow’s nest, snatching up shed siren feathers from between the blankets. He threw some into the ocean, crushed some under his fingers, threw some into the embers heating the kitchen stoves when the cook wasn’t looking.
The siren remained on board the ship, lounging on the figurehead with its wings spread out in the sunlight, a mermaid chattering away next to it. Guang Hong kept away from them both.
Guang Hong volunteered to bring the siren its food at night, Chris having prepared fish for the whole crew. Plenty of servings to go around, as the siren had fished for them all. Guang Hong planned to steal spices from the stores, to try to make the siren go hoarse, as without its voice maybe the rest of its magic would wane too. His plan failed when Chris had laughed and shook his head, ruffling Guang Hong’s hair as he told him not to worry. The siren did not eat cooked meat, so Guang Hong was welcome to an extra share for himself that evening.
Minami had told him that the only things that really bothered Yuuri were the feathers of other birds around his mate, and horses. Guang Hong drew a horse and ran by the siren, shoving the paper into its hands. It blinked at the page, then handed it to its chicken to shred and play with. Guang Hong regretted his lack of artistic skills.
He collected the discarded feathers of the chickens and the parrots, covering his hair with them, ready to prance in some sort of bird dance in hopes of intimidating the siren. Instead, the quivering feathers had caught the attention of Chris’s cat, who saw an opportunity for a game of chase that the actual birds refused to take part in. Guang Hong had rid himself of the feathers quickly after, shaking them off and throwing them all at the cat, legs and arms scratched red.
One quiet evening, the crew collected on the deck, bringing out instruments to play music. Yurio showed off the fact he had finally taught the triplets how to cast some playful shadow puppets across the white of their sails, rewarding them with small bits of fruit. Guang Hong hid in the crew quarters, wrapping towels around his head to muffle the sound of the siren’s voice. The song it sang was sweet and mellow, weaving stories about the comfort of its beloved nest.
Guang Hong cried into his sleeve, frustrated, unable to block the sound completely. His heart crumbled inside his chest. He pined for familiar company, for the person he had left behind, for his own nest, for the sense of home.
He fell asleep weak, trembling, rocking not in a hammock but on the edge of defeat.
Paper crinkled between Guang Hong’s fingers. His arms were draped over his knees, sticking out from between the ship railings. There was nothing but water around them. The sun rose out of the water, the sun set on the water.
Guang Hong repeated the same tasks everyday. Get up, eat a diet of stale bread and salted meat, work until his muscles gave out on him. That was, if he was lucky. Days on board the ship were long. Minutes dragged on when there was nothing to do. He napped, volunteered himself for small tasks in the galley. He tried making friends with the ship cat, he talked with Minami, he plotted. He wished for his books, which had lied about the promise of adventure.
There was no swashbuckling, no chests overflowing with treasure, no kraken tentacles snaking their way up the side of the ship, ready to snap it in half and send it plunging down into the cold black abyss. His biggest adventure that day had been avoiding the chickens that had trailed after him. They had followed him around most of the morning, after he had accidentally dropped part of his biscuit.
He was lost. Uneasiness weighed between his ribs. When the siren had come back from its flight that day, it had landed into Victor’s outstretched arms. Nestling exhausted into the captain’s chest, it had called out a command to be carried to bed. A command that was immediately obeyed, a choice in the matter not granted. Yet, Guang Hong could not shake the sight of the smiles on both the siren’s and its captive’s faces.
Guang Hong did not know the extent of its power, perhaps it extended to manipulating emotions. Or maybe, it was something else. Like how once, after Guang Hong had fallen asleep at the forge, Leo had carried him home. Or how after a picnic, Guang Hong had complained about walking down the hill so Leo had thrown him up, giving him a piggyback ride. Guang Hong had laughed all the way down.
Minami had spent their free afternoon untwisting some spare rope, sewing together loose pages of notes that he grudgingly made into a new sketchbook. Guang Hong had stolen one of the blank pages.
With no books nor adventure to keep him company, Guang Hong wrote his own. A letter to Leo, painting a grand picture of his time on the ship. He wrote about fighting a mermaid, about learning how to fire cannons into the bellies of enemy ships. He wrote about the gorgeous redhead on board, who walked with a wooden leg and directed men with the sharp gaze of sapphires. He wrote about how the ship was controlled by fearsome birds that pecked at his ankles, whose echoing screeches filled the sails fuller than the wind. About his plans to challenge their siren overlord. About how the nights could be cold and how he missed the warmth of the furnace on his skin, about wanting to be wrapped up in the itchy wool blankets Leo always draped over him.
Water welled in Guang Hong’s eyes again, dripping from his chin and splattering on the folded pages filled with his exaggerations. A letter was only a letter when it could be posted. He had left Leo behind without a thought, who would have no idea of what had happened, if Guang Hong had made it on board the ship, if he had drowned or been killed, if he had fallen to the fire that had burned through the city. Guang Hong knew that Leo would be fine, yet to Leo his absense would be a mystery. And for how long? Weeks? Months? Years? Forever? How long till Leo forgot about him?
Guang Hong bit his lip, trying to muffle his sobs, wiping his face on his collar. It was dirty and rumpled, smelling of salt and the sea, and Guang Hong hated it. He wanted a hot bath and clean clothes, he wanted something more than fish and stale biscuits which got him chased by chickens. He wanted his books, he wanted floors that did not sway with the waves, he wanted Leo’s arms to craddle him in comfort, he wanted Leo.
Bare black feet stepped next to him. Guang Hong did not care, dipping his head down further to hide the tears staining his cheeks, hoping if he stayed still and quiet, it would leave him be.
It didn’t. The siren remained standing, silent, facing the wind.
Guang Hong pushed the ball of his hand up his cheek, wiping tears from it. “W-what do you want? Are you-… are you g-gonna eat me too?”
No response came back. Guang Hong trained his focus on his knees, trying to blink away his tears. He didn’t want to look weak in front of the siren, he refused to let it think he could fall under its spell as easily as the rest of the crew seemed to have.
Guang Hong risked a glance. The siren was staring down, its expression unreadable, but its dark eyes were not on Guang Hong. They were on the pages in his hands. Guang Hong crushed them against his chest, protectively. “You can’t read them, they’re not for you!”
The siren’s gaze shifted and Guang Hong felt his heart do an involuntarily flip. “Are they for your mate?” it asked.
Guang Hong could feel it this time, the magic in that voice. It pulled on him, made him open his mouth to respond to its question before he had even decided if he wanted to. It made him feel safe, like there would be no more sorrow or worries if he simply followed it. So sweet and giving, reminding Guang Hong of all his favorite things at once. He fought against it. “No! No… he’s- Leo’s just my friend.”
“Do you love your friend?”
Guang Hong wanted to cover his ears, to block out its voice. His mind, his chest flooded with the same ache he had felt before, when he had overheard the siren calling out Victor’s name. He didn’t want it, he wanted it out of him, wanted its power out of his head, making him feel like if he answered its questions that everything would be okay. It wouldn’t.
“It doesn’t matter,” Guang Hong snapped, crumpling the paper. “He’ll never read them anyway.” With that, he chucked the pages at the ocean.
They did not hit the water. Guang Hong was nearly knocked overboard by the sudden force of the siren’s wings bursting forth, feathers erupting off its marked skin.
It caught the pages in its claws, and then was gone, vanishing into evening clouds and taking Guang Hong’s letter with it.
The siren did not return by daybreak. When Victor came onto the deck that morning, he looked tired. The usual smile was missing off his lips and his long hair was bound into a loose knot, strands coming off it messily. Small black feathers remained tangled within them.
Guang Hong stayed observant. The captain spoke with a few people, all of whom shook their heads at him. His shoulders were weighed in worry when he finally turned toward Guang Hong. “Have you seen Yuuri?”
Biting his tongue, Guang Hong shook his head. The siren had stolen his pages, on which Guang Hong had written his intentions to fight it, and had not come back. When it did, he was sure to become meat, a feast for a mythical sea creature… A memory flashed in Guang Hong’s mind, lines from one of his books.
“If you see him flying back, please let me know.”
This time, Guang Hong nodded, hiding his surprise at how timid Victor sounded, how drained. He kept his eyes on the captain once he’d walked away, then bolted across the deck, grabbing Minami. “Si– the captain doesn’t know where the siren went!”
Minami shrugged his shoulders, playing with his bangs. The red streak was fading into a strawberry blond. “Yuuri leaves sometimes. He used to, a lot, but not so much recently. He’ll be back."
Guang Hong glanced after Victor, who had gone up to the helm, his blue eyes out on the horizon. "He seems worried?”
“That’s normal. Victor always a bit different when Yuuri isn’t here, he’s changed a lot since Yuuri showed up.” Minami smiled, hands planted on his hips. “Yuuri’s got control of his whole world now. You should have seen how this ship was before.”
There it was. Exactly what he had suspected all along, before the siren’s evil magic had begun seeping into his brain. Determination flared through Guang Hong and he gazed up at the crow’s nest, the netting leading up to it.
He didn’t know how long he had until the siren was back, but he had a plan. One shot, one real chance. He would capture the siren and break the spells cast by its voice, return the ship to how it had been before. Guang Hong rolled up his sleeves.
Time to get started.
The night after the festival, when the sun had risen, the city had been left in a chaos far worse than Leo had imagined. The fire from the plaza had been put out before it spread too far but several buildings had been charred down to their foundations. The prison and path leading from it was bathed in red, bodies ripped limb from limb by something that had not been human.
As Leo later heard, the forge was not the only place that had been hit by pirates. The artillery had been raided, stripped of guns and gun powder. The apothecary had also found her stores emptied, while one of the food merchants had told a shaken account of being robbed at gun point.
More bodies had washed up on the shore, and Leo felt guilt eat into his chest when he had sighed at relief at seeing they were only soldiers. Harbor patrol. The ones who had somehow let the pirates past them.
The dead had been laid out, so that the families of those who had lost could claim them. Leo had searched and with each waxen face, his chest tightened around his heart. Guang Hong was nowhere to be found, and it was not long before whispers reached his ears. The son of the noble family was missing.
Leo had not thought that Guang Hong would actually try to follow after the pirates. He expected Guang Hong to run to the harbor and stop. Perhaps, at best, try to get into a dinghy and give up after a couple strokes of the oars when he realized it was not as easy as his fantasy books would have led him to believe. Except now, Guang Hong was gone and Leo spent every second praying that he was fine, that he was safe, that he had not actually gotten himself onto the deck of a pirate ship.
The second morning Leo had risen before dawn and set at his work as usual. Chopped wood. Tended to the forge, before his mentor arrived. With weapons missing and the rumor that the navy was preparing to give chase to the escaped pirate Nikiforov, their orders were full. Yet, Leo’s mind was not on his work and by sundown he had a few new burns on his wrists and forearms to show for it, the scolding he got each time doing nothing to snap his focus back.
Leo had found himself wandering through the streets that night. The festival decorations had been taken down, solemnly early. A city in mourning was far too quiet for a summer’s night. He had ended up at the gates to the Ji Estate, greeted with less than enthusiasm by a servant at the door.
He could not tell the truth, that Guang Hong had run off with the intentions of joining a pirate crew. So he told half of it, that Guang Hong had been with him when Nikiforov had arrived, that Guang Hong had challenged him in order to save the life of Privateer Leroy. And that later, members of the Nikiforov crew had kidnapped Guang Hong, intent on holding the young master hostage in exchange for their captain, had he not escaped capture.
Leo’s story had been met with a slap to his face, the hand of Guang Hong’s mother stinging at his skin as she cried and yelled, that she had told them, she had told him to stay away from her son. That if Guang Hong had been home, away from that dirty and dangerous forge, he would be safe, he would be alive.
Leo accepted it, hanging his head in shame, knowing it to be true. It was his fault. He had let Guang Hong be put in danger. He had not stopped him, not chased his friend. Even if Guang Hong was alive and not rotting at the bottom of the sea, would he ever make it back? And how would he be after surviving the harsh command of pirates who had wrecked such havoc, such death upon the city without remorse. It was said that Nikiforov had flown off in a siren’s arms, laughing after taking so many lives. Guang Hong escaping unscathed seemed like a fantasy.
Guang Hong’s parents had called for guards to seize Leo, to have him questioned about their son and why he did not come forward sooner. He stuck to his story, and a gracious confirmation from Jean-Jacques was enough for him to be released.
The guilt grew heavier. The days dragged.
Each night without sign of Guang Hong made it all the less likely that he was all right. Before he slept and right after he woke, Leo walked to the harbor and hoped by some miracle he’d find his friend sitting on the docks. He also feared it, in the case that it would only be a ghost. He did not know which was worse, knowing that Guang Hong was gone or being left wondering, forever.
When his work finished, well past sundown, Leo peeled off his gloves, casting a glance at the table at his side. It was lonely, quiet, working without Guang Hong there to weave his fantasies, reading books out loud, acting out the scenes that he got caught up in. Leo hoped, hoped so hard that it made his chest hurt, for a knock at the door which would bring him back his friend, smiling and freckled, laughing about how great of a prank he had managed to pull, making Leo wait and worry for so long.
As if on cue, there was a knock, so soft that Leo almost missed it. Then, the squawks of what could only be a parrot penetrated through the door, repeatedly demanding, “Open up, open up.”
Leo crossed the forge to go open it up.
Leo risked peeking up from the letter that had been shoved into his hands. It had been accompanied by a look that was strangely intimidating despite really not matching the man that had bestowed it upon him.
He did not believe what was written on the pages at first. Wouldn’t have, if his heart had not convulsed at the sight of what was distinctively Guang Hong’s handwriting right from the start. It said that Guang Hong was all right. That he was on abroad Silverlock’s crew, or, as he later corrected himself, Nikiforov’s.
A laugh got caught in Leo’s throat as he read about Guang Hong threatening a mermaid which had scaled the ship, jabbing at it with the knife that Leo had gifted him. Only to later discover that the mermaid was actually a welcome guest on board, unlike himself.
Halfway through the ridiculous tales that could only come from Guang Hong, Leo’s vision blurred and he had to stop, to wipe his eyes and catch his breath. Guang Hong complained about the ship, about the food, about how much work he had to do and about how boring it was in the same sentence, about how he was sore to the bone, about being seasick, about being homesick, but he was alive. Alive and well enough to complain. Somehow his sweet, spoiled Guang Hong was surviving life on board a pirate ship.
The letter mentioned a siren, without doubt the same one that had destroyed the city, with Guang Hong insisting on a theory that it was controlling the ship with a miniature army of birds.
The macaw which had requested for the door to be opened perched on the edge of Leo’s work bench, her beak chipping at the wood. The attractive young man on whose shoulder she had ridden was occupying himself by frittering around the forge, footsteps light but a bit clumsy in the oversized boots he was wearing. He had yet to speak a single word. It was the parrot who had instructed Leo to, “read, read!” once the letter was delivered.
Leo was at a bit of a loss. He doubted that the pirate ship was anywhere nearby, even more than he doubted the parrot’s ability to deliver a letter on her own. If Leo squinted, the siren’s description could match the man curiously inspecting a rack of newly made swords, the blades of which had yet to be sharpened. Yet, Guang Hong and the words of those in the city who had seen it told of a creature dripping in blood, with vicious claws, whose voice could coerce men into taking their own lives without hesitation.
What Leo saw before him was a timid specimen, that poked at metal with hands wrapped inside socks that had finger holes ripped into where toes should go. His breeches were rolled up to above his boots, the vest he wore was inside out, his shirt misbuttoned, hat on sideways. Leo would have suspected a drunk getting dressed in the dark, if he weren’t extremely attentive, with brown eyes that sparkled with curiousity as he explored.
“I-… this is from Ji?” Leo risked, clearing his throat. “From Guang Hong? He’s okay?”
The man’s head snapped up, hat nearly tumbling off. He readjusted it, angle at which it sat precarious. He nodded. Leo caught sight of odd black markings speckled around his ears.
“How did you find me? Did he tell you where to bring this?”
The parrot answered, taking a break from chewing on the table. “Victor! Victor!”
Both the parrot and the man nodded their heads.
Leo leaned back, a pressure in his chest pushing out against his ribcage. Guang Hong had challenged the world’s most infamous pirate, as a result saving Jean-Jacques’ life. And had apparently ended up taken in by his crew, liked enough to be permitted to send a letter via… “Are you the siren?”
The dark-haired man put a finger to his lips, small smile indicating a secret.
Leo glanced back down at the letter, rereading the lines in which Guang Hong detailed his efforts to defeat the siren controlling the ship with no success. Leo looked at the siren, in its rather ridiculous clothing, then back at the letter, and then back at the siren. The siren blinked. Leo did the same.
He could not even begin to understand. “You didn’t… you haven’t eaten him, have you?”
Brows furrowed in confusion, the siren shook his head. His parrot supplimented in a way that was not quite helpful. “Can’t eat the crew. Don’t eat the crew, Yuuri! Don’t eat the crew!”
Leo was not sure if it was appropriate to sigh in relief. Folding the letter, he tucked it into his apron pocket, glancing around. “Would you mind taking a letter back to him?”
With a shrug of his shoulders, the siren mimed writing. Leo rushed off to find paper and ink, stealing sheets from the front of the forge to scrawl out a hasty response. He nearly spilled the ink all over the table, causing the parrot to flap her wings and squawk at him in irritation before once again returning to chewing on wood.
Leo hesitated, eyes on the parrot. “Oh, are you…” He had no idea how long they had flown. “Are you hungry? Can I give her something?” he asked the siren.
A nod granted him permission and Leo left, returning with some crackers and hard cheese. The parrot snatched them up, her beak making quick work of the food. Leo watched her for a moment, before noticing the siren’s gaze intently trained on the falling crumbs.
“Did you want some too?”
The siren nodded again, his bird following it up by lifting one of her legs, talons wrapped around part of the biscuit, “Yuuri wants a cracker!”
Leo fetched the siren his own share of crackers. The thanks was unnecessary, evident as he tore into the food. So much for man eater. With both parrot and siren happily munching away, Leo sat down to write.
It was surreal. For the last couple weeks, Guang Hong had been a mourned memory, and within minutes he had become…
Leo smiled, addressing the letter to Pirate Ji.
Crackers still puffing up his cheeks, Yuuri accepted a wax-sealed letter and dipped his head in thanks.
When he had first joined Victor’s crew, he had been on edge and unease, the experience of living amongst so many humans completely foreign. Yet, day by day, they had welcomed him in, adjusting to Yuuri’s customs just as he had to adjust to theirs. It had not been easy, for him to let go of thinking humans as prey, existing only for his gain, to seeing them as somewhat of a new family. Humans weren’t that bad though. Some of them, anyway. He had come to enjoy quite a few things about them. Like their crackers.
Watching the new tiny human who had snuck on board try to adjust to the life had been fun. Yuuri had a bet with Chris that he wouldn’t make it. And a bet with Emil that he would. He would get a new toy boat out of it either way. Yuuri smiled to himself.
“Thank you,” the human who had previously introduced himself as Leo said. Lutz had taken a liking to him after the gift of food, permitting him to rub the top of her head with a finger. “Please, please take care of Ji. I know he can be a bit much sometimes, but he’s a good person. And he’s very smart, when his head isn’t in the clouds. I just want him to stay safe.”
Yuuri would make no promises. But observing Guang Hong had been entertaining, especially how he jumped whenever one of the birds got close to him. Yuuri may or may not have been egging his chicklets on, encouraging them to try to steal food from the newcomer. And Yuuri was curious to see how long he could survive aboard the ship. The longer it was, the more fun for Yuuri.
With a chirp, Yuuri saluted in imitation of the soldiers he had seen, knocking his hat off. He snatched it up and plopped it back on his head. He did not like it. But Victor usually put hats on him when they went to shore, so Yuuri had followed the pattern. He was quite excited to show his mate the disguise he had gotten, all by himself. It was very good. Very human. Boots and gloves and all.
Yuuri tapped his own shoulder and Lutz flew to him, perching herself there. He had carried her for only about half their flight, both of them enjoying the leisure of a longer journey, a chance for the proper stretching of wings. With the response letter tucked away, however, Yuuri was eager to get back home to his ship.
A little more than a day apart and his heart was already pining for Victor. No doubt his silver hair would be messy without Yuuri there to tend to it. Yuuri would need to spend extra time brushing it out and braiding it, to make up for his sudden absence.
Leo saw him to the door, checking outside first to ensure that the coast was clear, before holding it open for Yuuri. Much appreciated. Yuuri nudged at Lutz’s wing feathers. “Thank you!” she squawked for him. Leo echoed back with a “you’re welcome” and stayed at the door, watching the two of them walk away, headed for the harbor.
The night was warm, but the city streets quieter than they had been when Yuuri had come with Victor for the festival. Yuuri was tempted to explore, as his only experience with human cities had always been accompanied by Victor. But he could tell that Lutz was tired and he was itching in the stolen clothing. There was no way he was going to get his wings out without ripping them, but a sacrifice was a sacrifice.
Yuuri chirped to Lutz as they approached the ocean, making sure she was ready to fly. She ruffled her feathers in response. Smiling, Yuuri peeled the glove-things off his hands, the marks on his skin rippling into feathers. He had grown used to keeping his wings and feathers contained, living in the restricted space of the ship, but letting them free was always a welcome relief.
His wings ripped through the shirt after all, slipping rather uncomfortably out of the vest sleeves. Yuuri would have removed the clothing entirely, if he hadn’t wanted to get his praise from Victor at doing so brilliantly picking out an outfit for himself.
Stretching, Yuuri wiggled to get adjusted to the feel of the restrictive fabric, testing the movement of his wings.
A yelp sounded behind him.
“S-s-siren… Siren. The siren! You’re the siren!”
Glancing over his shoulder, Yuuri saw the uniform colors of a soldier, whose face was painted with fear, a cocked rifle trembling in his hands.
Yuuri lunged, claws out, ripping out the man’s throat before his shout could resonate. He collapsed, gurgling cry muffled by a mercifully quick death.
Dropping the fistful of flesh, Yuuri looked down at himself, at the blood splattered over his clothing. How disappointing. He had really wanted to show off his new clean clothes to Victor. He had been so careful when getting them, and now this.
Yuuri turned back to the sea and took flight, pouting heavily at the parrot on his shoulder in the hopes of receiving a chirp of sympathy.
Guang Hong remembered a story that his uncle had once told him, about the voyages he took at sea. That the oceans were full of creatures that thirsted for human blood and were far stronger than men, created to hunt and overpower sailors. Yet, every creature had its weakness. And, according to Guang Hong’s uncle, all of the sea beasts shared one.
Guang Hong had spent his every waking moment on his plan, searching the ship for silks only to find them in the siren’s nest. Peculiar, but perhaps it kept them there so that no one else would have access. For three days, Guang Hong shredded and twisted the fabric into ropes, weaving a net large enough to catch the siren like the bird that it was.
Before the spring, foreign merchants would usually come to the city, peddling various wares. Some had sold silk ropes, promising that they were the only material strong enough to contain the vile beasts of the sea. Guang Hong’s uncle had told him story of catching a mermaid on a line of silk, and how it had held despite its thrashing when all other ropes broke.
Guang Hong would catch the siren and silence it, breaking the spell over the ship. Silverlock had grown glum, regularly spending time with his eyes on the horizon, watching for the siren’s return. One of the parrots had vanished too, the other two circling the ship, keeping everyone under their vigilant gaze.
The high noon sun was hidden behind thick clouds when the parrots began yelling, loud squawks catching attention of everyone on deck. Guang Hong’s breath seized in his lungs, pulse stammering. The ship had been moving slowly, wind filling the sails and ebbing away, but Guang Hong knew this was the only chance he would get. Another week under the siren’s influence and he might be as gone as the rest of them.
Checking the sheathed knife on his hip, Guang Hong jumped, climbing as fast as he could to the crow’s nest. He had hidden the silk net in it, under the siren’s other bedding. From his observations, the siren almost always circled the ship before landing and that was where his best shot was.
The wind picked up and Guang Hong had to keep his grip strong, not permitting himself even a split second of fear. If he wanted to be a proper pirate, he could not be scared of heights. His eyes momentarily dipped down, showing the drop beneath him. He forced them back up again. He saw the shadow of the siren, breaking through the clouds and heading straight for the ship.
Guang Hong gritted his teeth and climbed higher, reaching the nest. He reached in, grabbing the silk net from within, and turned, steadying his feet on the mast rigging.
The siren grew closer, its wings spread to full width as it soared. Guang Hong adjusted his hold on the net, eyes narrowing as he waited for his chance. Just a bit nearer was his adventure. The Great Pirate Ji versus a siren. He’d teach it to steal his letters.
Guang Hong counted his heartbeats, breathing deep and slow. The siren approached, flash of color tucked into its collar. It was not in its usual bejeweled black robes, and Guang Hong could see the copper of dried blood staining the shirt it wore. Had it murdered someone simply to steal clothes?
Closer, closer. Guang Hong met its eyes as it swooped in, circling the mast. It locked gazes with him and Guang Hong saw its lips parting, as if to speak. With a shout, Guang Hong threw the silk-made net.
Everything happened in a split second. The siren’s voice sounded out, a panicked cry, its wings beating forward to twist away from the net. The force of the wind it generated ripped the silk from Guang Hong’s hands and knocked him backwards, his footing slipping.
Guang Hong fell, yelling, legs kicking and arms flailing, from the top of the mast. There was no rigging under him, no nets to catch him as he plummeted. In the final moment, he squeezed his eyes shut, bracing himself for impact.
Instead of his back slamming and breaking on the deck below, he was rammed sideways. Gasping, Guang Hong clenched his jaw, the pain of the sudden jolt pulsing through his arm. But he did not hit wood. Instead, he felt like he had kept falling, an arm wrapped around his back, another hooking under his legs. There was the sensation of the pit of his stomach falling out, swept up with breeze fast against his cheek.
Guang Hong cracked open an eye and saw the green and blue feathered face of a macaw, peeking out from within messy folds of blood-stained fabric. “Stow-way!” the parrot squawked right at him, chortling to herself.
He glanced up further, seeing the beautiful stretch of the siren’s neck, the wind-rustling black feathers spilling down its jawline. Guang Hong was in the arms of the siren, being flown in a short loop around the ship before it landed at the helm, carefully setting him down.
Guang Hong trembled, his knees weak, legs shaking and ready to give out. His tongue was tied, lost somewhere down his throat. The siren’s eyes swept over him, checking for injuries. Guang Hong cradled his arm, elbow sore from where the siren had bowled into him, catching him in the moment before he hit the deck.
A scowl sat heavy on its features as the siren carefully lifted its parrot out from her riding spot inside its shirt, chirping to her. She ruffled her feathers, holding her wings out in display before it gave her a satisfied nod. She flapped away, still squawking “stow-way” accusingly at Guang Hong.
Guang Hong stared as the siren adjusted in its new clothing, at a loss for what to say. Its eyes came up to meet his again, the deep brown burrowing into his soul. Then its attention snapped, drawn to the shout of Silverlock calling out its name.
Half the crew had gathered on the deck, coming up to the helm to see what the commotion was in regards to.
“What were you doing up there?!”
Stammering, Guang Hong shrunk back, faced by a group of pirates with their focus trained specifically on him. The siren had caught him, it had saved him. Silverloc–Victor was at its side, having caught it in an embrace the moment they were within arms reach. It nuzzled into his chest, all warmth and affection followed by a look of irritation when it caught sight of the unkempt state of the captain’s silver hair. Oh. Oh.
Without warning, Yurio rounded on him, jabbing at Guang Hong’s chest, his face split in anger. “Idiot! Are you thick, are you delusional?! Did you really just try to catch him?!”
Guang Hong stumbled back, holding his hands up in defense. “N-no! No, I–”
The silk net Guang Hong had dropped was thrown at his feet.
Guang Hong shrunk back, trying to make himself as small as possible. He hit a ship wall behind him, trapped against it by pirates. The faces that had previously smiled at him during his time on board were a lot more frightening now.
Pure rage burned off Yurio as he yelled in Guang Hong’s face, spitting accusations. The intricate patterns carved into Mila’s wooden leg suddenly served as knowledge that she must have lost it in battle, yet she still stood tall, pistols flanking her hips, no doubt loaded and ready for use. Chris might have been kind enough to put a little extra of portions on his plate, but now the knives he usually carved fish with could be equally as useful for carving up Guang Hong. Even Emil’s normally gentle face now hinted at the certain plethora of poisonous concoctions he could mix with his supply of herbs and medicine powders.
Guang Hong’s eyes darted around, searching for any way out, an escape. Pressure collected in his throat and in his chest, making it hard to breathe. His chances at survival might be brighter if he could weasel through and dive for the edge. At least on the open sea, he might not– Guang Hong rememebered the mermaid. Which, according to Minami, was the siren’s best friend. He had the choice of becoming siren food or mermaid food, and did not have knowledge about either’s eating habits to make an informed decision.
The captain stepped forward, one of the parrots descending to perch on his shoulder. Its eyes bore into Guang Hong, black whereas Victor’s blue pierced straight through him. Guang Hong’s mind flashed back to the image of him driving the knife through JJ’s foot without a second of hesitation, wondering if the same might become of his heart. Ripped out to be served on a platter to the siren.
“Did you try to catch Yuuri?” The calm steadiness to the words was deceiving.
Guang Hong whimpered. “I-… I wasn’t… I d-didn’t mean–… I thought that… I w-wanted to… I–”
“I just wanted to break the spell!” Guang Hong yelled. He had been trying to do good, to help them, to save the ship. “That’s it, that’s all, just that!”
Perplexed faces stared back at him.
“He thinks Yuuri’s got us under some magic, doing his bidding,” Yurio scoffed, arms crossed over his chest, scowl hard. "Even though I told him he wasn’t.“
"Is that it?” Victor asked, head cocked.
Guang Hong nodded, as long and rapidly as he could.
Yuuri approached, sliding a foot out. He carefully touched the silk net with his toes, jerking it toward him. He jumped back, as if indeed scared, before leaning down to inspect it. His eyes went wide and he snatched it up, a soft noise of anguish spilling from him.
The siren held out the net made of his shredded silks, showing it to Victor, before his gaze snapped to Guang Hong. The brown of his eyes was gone, replaced by a deep, blazing red. His feathers spiked, standing on end.
Despite not a single word exchanged between them, Victor seemed to understand the siren entirely. If there had been an ounce of sympathy prior, it vanished.
The captain gazed down at Guang Hong, tall, cold, commanding. “Take him to the brig.”
Guang Hong did not even have the chance to shout out in protest.