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Guardian

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day 1.

Leeteuk is wrapped in blankets and shivering at one end of the small lifeboat. Kangin sprawls out on the other end, dripping and exhausted. He stares up at the constellations as they bob and toss in the air above them, seemingly as buffeted by the waves as they are.

Leeteuk tosses him one of the blankets, almost as an afterthought. The blanket, heavy with water, lands with a squelching splat halfway between them. Kangin moves painfully, almost missing as he swipes for it with one clawed hand.

He drags it towards himself, feeling the weight of it pressing against his chest. "Don't fall asleep," Kangin mumbles at the other man, not sure if Leeteuk can even hear his croak over the waves, and spends the next several hours trying to take his own advice.

--

day 2.

By tacit agreement, they're eating measured amounts of dried biscuit, trying to make it last. Leeteuk had divided it evenly, painstakingly, and Kangin had known better than to argue.

It's the water that's the most important, anyway, he thinks to himself. He watches as Leeteuk tilts his head back and takes neat gulps from the worn canteen, ten swallows exactly, and passes it over. His skin is already starting to freckle and redden from the sun.

Kangin takes the profferred flask and sets it to his mouth. He counts five gulps before a wave roars over the edge of the boat, sending him careening sideways. Leeteuk lunges forward, his fingers bony but strong as they clamp down over his, holding the water safe.

Kangin coughs and shakes his head, flinging water in all directions. Leeteuk's hold relaxes slowly. "You had seven left," he says.

"I can count," Kangin snaps.

When Kangin takes his remaining five swallows and tries to pass it back, Leeteuk shakes his head. "Seven," he insists.

Kangin looks at his knuckles, still aching from the force of Leeteuk's grip. Without another word, he drinks.

--

day 3.

Kangin grew up on boats. His father was a sailor, and his father before him. The ocean's in his blood.

But he knows that Leeteuk is precious cargo, a king's prize couched in luxury from birth. He's never been subjected to the mercy of a tossing sea: he's always known exactly where he stands.

Leeteuk sits at the back of the boat as Kangin drags their boat towards shore, one sweep of the oars at a time. The edges of his tarnished robes are still a blinding white from the crusted sea salt that clings to the hems, and his body shifts naturally to accommodate the pitching waves. His hands lay folded in his lap, and he looks out towards the horizon, away from Kangin. He seems serene and out of place.

"You're not afraid?" Kangin asks.

Leeteuk's head turns, slowly, and their eyes meet.

"No," he says.

"You shouldn't trust me," Kangin says. "Maybe I'll throw you overboard tomorrow."

"Maybe," Leeteuk says, offering a thin, cracked-lip smile. "But you swore an oath, didn't you?"

--

day 4.

Kangin's shoulders and back burn from the relentless push-and-pull of his oars against the dark water. Leeteuk is sitting before him, head drooped to his chest, his shoulders hunched forward. He seems fragile, hollow-boned. He's refusing his share of the food and water, and Kangin frowns, staring at the back of Leeteuk's sunburned neck.

Leeteuk rouses, lifting dazed eyes when Kangin pulls the oars in and sets them down clattering in the center of the boat. Kangin fumbles underneath the seat for the rations and shoves them in Leeteuk's direction. "Eat, or I'm not rowing," he growls.

Leeteuk stares blankly. "You'll need the strength to..." he trails off, blinking.

Precious cargo, Kangin's mind whispers. He shakes his head. "You can't die on me. There's no point in getting to shore without you," he says. "They'll kill me."

Leeteuk sighs, lifts a biscuit and looks at him expectantly. Kangin picks up the oars and begins to row, matching his pace to Leeteuk's tiny bites.

--

day 5.

A month ago, Leeteuk stands by the ambassador's side, wreathed in gold and silk. Kangin bows low with his fist over his heart and swears to deliver him safely into the hands of his king. "I trust you with him," the foreign queen says.

Kangin nods. It's not the first time he's escorted royal goods; his ship is the fastest and most experienced in his kingdom's fleet, and a goodwill gift is nothing out of the ordinary.

Leeteuk is beautiful, and his eyes crinkle with what seems like genuine kindness when he smiles at Kangin. He's well-trained, Kangin thinks. He brings him to his vessel, shows him to his chambers, and leaves, returning to the more important business of running a ship.

They're almost to their destination when the fire breaks out. Kangin races to Leeteuk's bedroom and throws the door open, dragging the man stumbling through hallways and sloshing through rising water until they reach a lifeboat.


Five days after the shipwreck, their food and water runs out.

Leeteuk plucks off his gold and finery and drops it into ocean, one piece at a time. He watches each one as it glimmers and flashes, wavering in the water's refraction, and finally disappears into the gloom.

Kangin has nothing to offer the ocean gods: he just rows.

"I trust you," Leeteuk says again, as night begins to fall.

"You shouldn't," Kangin murmurs, eyes closed. His arms pull the oars back based on muscle memory, not intention.

--

day 6.

"What will you do when we get to shore?" Leeteuk asks.

"If," Kangin corrects him. He's reaching the limits of his strength, and knows it. "What's your name?" he asks.

The other man looks up, startled. "Leeteuk," he says.

"No," he says, "what's your name. Your real name."

Leeteuk stares at him. Kangin laughs harshly at the confusion in his eyes; "If we're going to die," he says, "I'd like to know the name of the person I'm dying with."

He forces himself to row, ignoring his hunger. Finally, Leeteuk whispers: "Jungsu."

Kangin nods. "Jungsu," he repeats. "I'm sorry."

"No—I—thank you," Leeteuk responds. "Thank you for everything." He looks down, biting his lip.


That night, they see the flashing of a lighthouse in the distance.

--

day 7.

It's a royal ship that finds them, and another captain who pulls Kangin up to safety on the deck. Leeteuk is whisked away from him, and Kangin feels a flash of panic as he sees his retreating back. "I swore—"

"We'll take both of you to the palace," their savior says, forcibly dragging him in the opposite direction; Kangin is too weak to resist. "For now, you must rest."

--

epilogue - one year later

Leeteuk is nearly unrecognizable from a year ago, kneeling at the king's feet with his eyes downcast, adorned in silk and pearls. Kangin has to drag his eyes away from him when he begins to give his report: the war is over, and the other kingdom is willing to negotiate for peace.

"Please accept this gift as a token of our appreciation," the king says. Leeteuk lifts his eyes to Kangin's, and the shadow of a smile crosses his face.

Kangin bows with his hand over his heart: an easy gesture. "It would be my honor," he says.


end.