“I don’t like this.” Taehyung peered forward where the aqua water turned a deep night blue in a huge, perfect circle. The sea floor dropped away to inky depth. “I really don’t like this place.”
Namjoon tugged on the end of his red head scarf. “It’s just a blue hole, Tae. Wide one, but I’ve seen a bunch. They’re harmless. The water doesn’t move in them, so there won’t be a lot of fish.”
“I’ve seen plenty of blue holes, Captain. This is a monster cave,” Taehyung said. He scowled as he re-adjusted his head scarf.
“Bo’s’n, please take the helm,” Namjoon yelled across the deck. Seokjin ran up onto the quarterdeck and grabbed the helm from him. Taehyung hung onto the rigging and pursed his lips.
“Tae, it’s a submerged sinkhole. It’s fine. I won’t send you ashore if you’re worried.”
“Captain, I’d rather be ashore than in a boat over that hole.”
Namjoon turned towards Seokjin, “Skirt the edge.”
Up in the rigging, Jungkook yelled a warning, and Seokjin swung starboard to get over the shoals.
“I don’t think we should do this, Captain.”
“Do you have an alternative proposal? Find the Golden Dragon without using a map maybe? Want to search every inch of shoreline in the entire Caribbean?”
“Approach from outside the reef,” Hoseok said beside them. “Send someone in with a dinghy.”
“That’s several miles of water and sandbars they’d have to drag the dinghy over,” Namjoon said, “Such a waste of time. Don’t tell me you’re scared of monsters too now.”
Hoseok shook his head quickly.
“Oh, sure. I’m crazy again,” Taehyung said, “I’m always the fucking crazy guy. At least the old crew would have agreed with me. If we fuckin drown, you all owe me rum in hell.”
Jimin and Yoongi hauled up the mainsail and stood awaiting further instruction. “What do we do about dropping anchor, Captain? It’s too deep.”
“We don’t. We drop Kook and Hoseok into a dinghy and sail in a slow circle around the edge. We’ll pick them up and sail out.”
“What if there are traps?”
“We won’t be far away.”
“Is it a good idea to send the surgeon out?” Jimin asked, pointing to himself. “You know, at the rate we keep getting injured.” Jungkook frowned at a large scab wrapping over his upper arm. Yoongi touched a healing bump on his head. Taehyung shifted his stiff ankle delicately. Namjoon had a large burn on his leg that he didn’t like to think about.
“You’ve never been a surgeon in your life, Jimin. Just because you’re the carpenter and you can handle a saw doesn’t mean I can’t easily assign that role to someone else. I don’t have a lot of people to pick from.”
“Send Tae. He’s just a mate.”
“His ankle needs a few more days of rest," Namjoon sighed, "and he’s is worried about monsters."
Jungkook, just climbing down the rigging, stopped and hung there in the air. “Wait. Monsters?”
“I fuckin swear to the gods of this sea that there are monsters here,” Taehyung said. Jungkook whipped around, looking down into the deep, blue water.
“Monsters or not, I need two men to go ashore and find the capsule. It can’t be Taehyung, and it can’t be Seokjin because he’s the only one who knows how to cook.”
“Land is probably safer,” Taehyung said again.
“I’m going,” Jungkook said quickly.
“Then Jimin, you’re staying. Taehyung will feel safer here with you aboard.”
“Can we stop talking like I’m scared of mommy’s bedtime stories,” Taehyung said, “I’m serious. There are monsters here.”
“Mermaids?” Jungkook said, sounding oddly hopeful.
“I’ll go,” Hoseok said, “Yoongi’s not strong enough.”
“Fuck off,” Yoongi said.
Namjoon shut his eyes, trying to think himself into his happy place, a calm blue sea under calm blue sky and a still, empty ship in morning light with no petulant able seamen and no goddamn monsters.
The Lucifer drifted slowly around the edge of the reef. Namjoon peered over the side down the steep drop off where the water cut suddenly from Caribbean blue to deep, deep navy. Several small fish darted around the sand in little grey slivers, but other than that, the sand was unnaturally barren for a shallow reef. Without the chatter of the other men, Namjoon could feel something off-putting in the mid-reef stillness. They’d barely scraped through a passage in the reef floor on a king tide, and had under an hour to get out again, or their deep hull would get them stranded for twelve hours at least, and months at most.
They dropped the dinghy into the water. Hoseok and Jungkook climbed aboard and paddled quickly to shore as Seokjin came about, and they trailed lazily away around the curve of the blue hole. Behind them, Hoseok found the spot on the map, and they began digging.
“Such a weird way of doing things, finding shit on some weird map.” Seokjin laughed as Namjoon took his place at the helm again, “I thought we were done with this after Captain Bullard’s disastrous final expedition. What if the capsule just has, like, a drawing of the Dragon and we did all this planning for nothing?”
“Then we give up sailing, go ashore and never bother following weird maps or raiding ships again. We’re already a weird crew, Seokjin. This boat had forty people manning it just three months ago. I’m the captain and the navigator. You’re the Bo’s’n and the cook. We’re not doing any of this by the books anymore.”
“You need a better hat, Captain Namjoon.”
Namjoon laughed and self-consciously touched the battered tri-corner on his head. “I wish I had Captain Bullard’s old, frilly thing. Who even knows where that went.”
“Sea sprites ate it,” Taehyung said without a trace of doubt in his face. He had both his chipped, dirty swords hanging haphazardly from his belt, “And you better hope the old crew ain’t sea sprites coming to get us now.”
“Seokjin, go take over Taehyung’s post,” Namjoon sighed.
“Do you have your sword on you?” Taehyung asked.
“No? Why would I need it? I really doubt we’ll be seeing anyone today.”
“If a giant sea serpent swims up and tries to bite my head off, you won’t be able to do a thing about it.”
“Taehyung, I promise we’ll get out of here as fast as possible as soon as we have Jungkook and Hoseok aboard. Suspend your belief till then and relax, please.”
“Sea serpents exist,” Taehyung said, “I’ve seen one.”
“So have I. Really long silver fish. Looked completely harmless, tiny, and it was dead.”
“I’ve seen one eat a man,” Taehyung said, scowling unconvincingly into the breeze. A little strand of hair pulled free of his headscarf and flopped gently down his forehead, mid-day sun glowing off his deeply tan skin. “Captain, this was a terrible idea.”
“Tae, this terrible idea was yours. Who was it who decided we were going after the Five Kings Ship in the first place? You. And that was a great idea. We need to do this whether there are monsters here or not.”
Taehyung bit his lip and stared at Namjoon for a minute, then swore in Haitian and scampered down to the main deck. Yoongi pulled out a spyglass and came up on the quarterdeck to use it. “They’re pretty deep already. It’s only a few feet under, right?”
“Should be. The water table is just under the sand here, so nothing can be buried very deep.”
“I’m nervous,” Yoongi said, and handed the spyglass to Namjoon so he could look, taking his place behind the helm.
“I don’t know. I always get nervous when Taehyung starts spouting this shit. The old crew would get scared out of their minds because bad shit happened whenever he said it would, but once I caught him and Jungkook starting a fight in the bar just to make his premonitions come true. But it’s just us now, you know? The only person that believes his shit is Jungkook, and Jungkook was the one who was in on the pranks to begin with.”
“Tae genuinely believes what he says,” Namjoon said, “He grew up on this sea. The superstitions are his reality. He just likes pulling pranks too.”
“I was nervous even before Taehyung started claiming there were monsters,” Yoongi said. “I feel it, you know? I’ve seen blue holes. They’re always a little weird, but they never make me scared like this one does. I feel like someone’s about to pull the plug and we’re going to get sucked into it. Or something. I don’t know.”
The half-masted sails pulled the ship over the gently rippling water. The boom creaked slowly as they turned to the wind, swinging around and catching taut.
Namjoon knew the Lucifer like another limb. They all did. They knew how she felt in any wind, how quick the shore should move past with any amount of sail. She moved fine now. He wouldn’t be able to say if she was too slow or too fast, sunk too deep or floating too high, if it felt like her sails were wet or the rudder jammed. Everything seemed normal, but something about the way she moved on the water felt wrong, like she was dragging through syrup.
Taehyung ran up the stairs and fastened Namjoon’s sword belt around his waist as Namjoon stared through the spyglass. They’d made it two thirds around at a snail’s pace. Jungkook pulled the capsule up out of the sand and stepped out of the hole, waving it in the air. Hoseok continued to poke around, maybe checking for anything they missed.
“Can you two go let down a little more sail? They’ve got it and we should book it out of here.”
Yoongi and Taehyung scurried away with. Taehyung’s dirty, too-big blouse billowed behind him. That shirt used to be Namjoon’s. Taehyung had torn his last shirt one drunk night and tossed it overboard before Seokjin had a chance to mend it. The new one didn’t fit him, but he didn’t seem to mind, and Jimin kept talking about how much nicer the view was now, staring not at the sea, but at Taehyung’s collarbones.
The sail dropped a few more feet open and Namjoon swung Lucifer into an arch across the deep water, cutting towards Jungkook and Hoseok. Up in the rigging, Taehyung clung to the mast, staring out across the water. Hoseok and Jungkook got into their dinghy, preparing to come out and meet them. Taehyung stood and made wide, sweeping motions across his throat in a “Don’t fuckin do it,” gesture.
Namjoon grunted in annoyance. Keeping Taehyung comfortable was one thing. Stalling the whole operation was entirely another.
“Taehyung! Let them come!”
“Why? You want the rest of your crew dead too, Captain?” Taehyung yelled.
Every member of the crew straightened up and stared between them, jaws hanging. “I’ll fuckin lash you, you little prick!” Namjoon roared.
“Please sir!” Taehyung yelled, draping himself off the rigging with his eyes closed, “Just ten more, sir. Feels so good, Captain. Harder, sir!”
“Get your flat ass down here!”
“What’ll you do if I don’t, sir?”
Yoongi, looking rather ashen, grabbed Namjoon by the vest and forced him back to the helm. “Something’s up with Jungkook and Hobi.”
Namjoon focused back across the water. Jungkook and Hoseok had gotten out of the dinghy and dragged it up on the sand. Their garbled shouts came quietly over the breeze. They waved their arms wildly.
“Fuckin hell,” Namjoon growled. “We don’t have time for this shit.” The shore got steadily closer. They’d have to swing around again soon and leave, with or without Jungkook and Hoseok alongside. Their hour was already nearly up and they still had to get out of the reef. He whipped the spyglass up to his eye. Jungkook and Hoseok pointed at Lucifer, screaming. Namjoon shoved Yoongi at the helm and ran to the edge of the ship to look down. Water lapped gently up from the wake, bubbling against the hull, empty and still. Then a strip of deep blue detached from the water line and reached lazily up the boards.
Namjoon blinked, trying to figure out how water could flow up the hull instead of down. Or how the water was dark blue and not clear, or maybe how it was splashing so slowly up the side.
Taehyung slammed into the rail beside him. “Lusca!” He screamed.
“W-water? Flowing up? What?”
Taehyung yanked the spyglass from him and leveled it across the surface of the water. “There’s more. Fuck. Namjoon there’s more.” Between the ship and the sandbar, a dozen wide blue bumps rose low over the waves. “We have to leave.”
“Jungkook and Hoseok,” Namjoon said weakly, “The capsule. What are those?”
“They’ll swamp the ship and eat us!” Taehyung yelled, “Yoongi come about! We have to make it out of here.”
Yoongi was right at the railing beside them, staring down and gasping in terror. Taehyung stepped to the helm and whipped it around just as Namjoon got back to the railing and stared down. Lucifer’s port side lifted out of the water, and the deep patch of blue stayed clinging to the side, a massive, eight-armed glob of glistening, undulating flesh. Before his eyes, a massive reef octopus rippled and turned grainy brown like the side of the ship, each arm ten feet long, body large as their dinghy. One long arm wrapped around the railing between Namjoon’s hands and he backed slowly away.
“Sword, Captain!” Taehyung screamed behind him. Namjoon drew it numbly and sliced hard at the rippling, gelatinous surface oozing up over the railing. Blue blood spurted over the deck, then a massive wave of black ink. It dropped back into the water. Yoongi and Seokjin fought a few sails into the right place, dropping them down, and the boat ripped out over the blue hole. The little blue swells followed them, cutting V’s across the surface.
Namjoon knocked Taehyung out of the way and seized the helm. “Map. Get me the fucking map.”
“Jungkook and Hoseok have it!”
“Fuck.” Namjoon yelled. “Go fight those things!”
“Are you gonna navigate the shoals from memory?”
“I’m gonna fucking have to,” he growled. Hoseok and Jungkook still stood on the shore behind them, up on the crest with their dinghy, watching.
Yoongi appeared on the stairs, leveled a rifle past Namjoon, and shot another glob off into the water. The edge of the blue hole passed under their bow.
“Ready?” he screamed.
There was a beat, frustratingly long, and then Jimin, Taehyung, and Seokjin all yelled “Ready!”
“Jibe-ho!” he yelled, and then whipped the boat to starboard. The booms swung hard across, but the men had the sheets, and they stopped right where it needed to. The water churned under the bow. Taehyung scaled the rigging. “Shoals ten degrees to port!”
Namjoon turned Lucifer a little and she slipped past with the barest bump. Jimin rushed up past him waving his arms and saying “Shoo, shoo!”
Namjoon turned quickly and saw another blob retreating obediently away from Jimin. “And stay off,” Jimin yelled after it, and then ran back down.
“Jimin, the fuck?”
“Just ignore it Captain!” He yelled back.
Yoongi came back up. “I think they’re all off for now, but some are following.”
“What do we do about—“
“Shoals fifteen degrees to starboard!”
Namjoon turned again.
“What do we do about Jungkook and Hoseok?” Yoongi said. “They’re gone. They’re not on the beach anymore.”
“Fuck. Fuck! Shit. Can we go back?”
“Not now,” Yoongi said, “The hour is nearly up. I’ll be surprised if we get out of here without getting stranded.”
“Shoals dead ahead! Turn to starboard!”
Namjoon shook his head and turned to port. “I said starboard!” Taehyung shrieked.
“The passage we came in on was this way!” Namjoon called back. “There are too many reefs to starboard!”
“Jungkook and Hoseok!” Jimin said, running up on the quarterdeck, “They’re carrying the dinghy over the sandbars!”
“Reef to port!”
Lucifer bumped over the sandy bottom. The water slowly crawled out of the shoals as the tide turned, lowering the shallow passage.
“Namjoon,” Seokjin said. He crawled up the steps and leaning against the railing. “Sorry—Captain. I can’t. I need to sit down.”
“I can’t sail this ship with only three crewmen, Seokjin.”
“I can’t breathe,” Seokjin gasped. He shook wildly, sweat streaking down his face. “Those things. It pissed black on my boot.”
“It inked on you. It’s just an octopus.”
“It’s huge!” Seokjin yelled. “Get us out! Get us out! I can’t do it!” Jimin knelt beside him and rubbed his cheeks.
“Jimin, leave him till we’re out! Get back to the mast.”
Jimin huffed and ran back down the steps, tugging his shirt off as he went. Hoseok and Jungkook faded further and further into the distance, popping up and over sandbars at intervals. They heard a couple gunshots, saw Jungkook beating something off with a paddle, and then they disappeared for another minute and reappeared over the next dune. Hoseok’s arms flailed in obvious panic.
“We’re not making it out of this,” Namjoon said, “Not with our shitty luck.”
“There’s one in the water behind us,” Yoongi said from his spot by the ropes behind Namjoon. “It’s huge.” Seokjin wrapped his arms around the mast and whimpered.
“We need more wind in the sails!” Namjoon yelled.
“On it!” Jimin yelled from the foredeck, wrangling the foresail into place. He raced up to the jib sails and started tugging those each into place too. Namjoon groaned and stomped impatiently. This sprint would have been difficult enough with all seven of them aboard. Taehyung fought with one of the topsails while the top foresail flapped uselessly in the breeze. He deeply regretted sending Jungkook out.
By the time they reached the edge of the reef, the hull was scraping over every sandbar, tossing them across the decks. Taehyung wrapped his body around the mast and hung on. They skidded up onto the final sandbar before the ocean and stuck right in the middle. Taehyung yelped and slipped off the mast, dangling from the rigging. The sails pulled taut, trying to tug the Lucifer forward, and it teetered right on the edge.
Lucifer rocked backwards suddenly as if pulled. Seokjin screamed. Yoongi leaned over the back of the ship with his rifle.
“Wait!” Namjoon yelped. Silence fell over the boat as they all turned to stare at him. The rudder creaked ominously.
“Namjoon,” Yoongi rasped, “It’s enormous.”
“Will it do what you say?”
Jimin froze up, panic flashing across his face before it went blank.
“Answer me, Jimin! You were ordering them overboard earlier. Can you tell it what to do?”
“Yeah, he can,” Taehyung yelled as he struggled back onto the mainsail’s shroud.
“Good. Lead it to the bow,” Namjoon said.
Jimin balked. A single oak-toned tendril oozed over the back railing, thickening as it rose, blending with the deck. Two more grabbed to railings. Seokjin’s panicked gasping reached critical pitch.
“Yoongi, take Seokjin below.”
Yoongi tossed him the rifle and began wrestling Seokjin down the stairs.
“Jimin, do what I say!”
“I-I don’t know if it’ll work,” Jimin said, “It could just crush the ship. It gets harder the bigger the thing is.”
“No fucking choice now, Jimin.”
“There’s more,” Taehyung said, pointing down at a tentacle clinging to Lucifer’s side, Namjoon’s skin crawled.
The massive mantle began to appear over the back of the ship, and Namjoon stood off to the side. “Lead it to the front or let it eat me, Jimin. Your choice.”
“You’re fucking crazy! Please don’t make me do this.”
“Just do it!” Taehyung yelled. Jimin climbed slowly up to the quarterdeck as the monster hauled its mass in a glob over the railing, plopping down and puddling out across the whole deck. It stank of flesh and saltwater. The whole thing was easily four times the size of any of the others, big enough that the whole quarter deck barely contained it all, and the Lucifer groaned under its weight, tipping backwards towards the lagoon.
One tentacle wrapped around Namjoon’s ankle. He grunted in disgust, resisting the urge to yank out of its grip.
“Let him go,” Jimin said. The tentacle slid off his foot again. “Follow me,” Jimin said, and started walking backwards down the stairs. The thing seemed to hesitate, then slipped slowly over the railing and onto the main deck. Jimin backed up faster, eyes widening in terror. “Follow me,” Jimin said again, voice trembling. “Good boy,” he added. “Keep coming.”
He led it around the starboard side of the mast and the whole ship tilted slightly to the right on the sand.
“Hurry,” Namjoon said.
Jimin backed up faster, and it picked up speed after him, grabbing lazily at his feet. “Don’t touch me,” Jimin yelped. He backed all the way to the mast and the thing followed. Littler ones swarmed onto the deck. “Get off!” Jimin yelled at them. Namjoon got a weird urge to jump overboard. Taehyung slid down the rigging so fast that he hit the deck and rolled. All the little ones abandoned ship. The main monster approached the bow, and the ship teetered slowly, slowly forward with its massive weight, tipped bow-first over the sandbar, and then slid slowly over and into the sea.
“Yes!” Namjoon shouted, leaping back to the helm
The monster shuddered all over, and grabbed Jimin. He jolted and shrieked. The tentacles turned grotesquely to the dark shade of his skin and black of his breeches and boots. It slid swiftly around his body, tentacles sliding around his neck. Taehyung scrambled up and slashed two huge, gaping wounds in the monster’s back. With one last writhe, it expelled a jet of ink all over Jimin, and then shimmied over the side of the boat and dropped into the water. Namjoon ran to the side. The thing pulsed and shot back towards the channel, trailing a billowing cloud of blood behind.
“Taehyung, get Seokjin and Yoongi back on deck. We need to get to Jungkook and Hoseok.”
“He passed out,” Yoongi said, climbing up onto the deck. “Poor city boy. I put him to bed. Why is Jimin so black?”
“It pissed ink all over me,” Jimin whined. “Stop the ship. I need to rinse off.”
“Jungkook and Hoseok,” Namjoon reminded them. “We have to sail around the whole reef to pick them up. That might take a couple hours.”
“I’m gross!” Jimin yelled.
“You can mind control giant octopi. Wanna explain that?”
Jimin looked up at Taehyung. Taehyung shrugged.
“I don’t know,” Jimin said, “Taehyung has a theory.”
“What is it?”
Taehyung shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. You won’t believe me.”
Namjoon rolled his eyes. “Both of you back to work. We’ve got to get around to the other side of the island.”
“I can’t touch the sails. I’ll get ink all over them.”
“Pull up some water in a bucket and wash off then. The sails are flapping. We need to adjust.”
“Wind is picking up,” Taehyung said. He jammed his oversized shirt further into his belt. It stretched across his paper-thin chest, clinging to his shoulders. He’d tied the sleeves above the elbows so they didn’t slide down his thin arms and cover his hands.
They began the long trip around the southern tip of the reef and back up.
After they were well underway up the other side of the island, heading, hopefully, for Jungkook and Hoseok, Taehyung climbed down out of the rigging. “Captain?”
“I’d, um, I’m sorry for being a dick earlier.”
“Who did you all elect to be the captain of this ship, Taehyung?”
“You,” he sighed. “Sorry, sir.”
“When I give orders, you listen.”
“Yessir.” He stared forlornly down at his battered boots.
“And if you have an issue with anything I say, you can politely and reasonably contest it instead of insulting me, yeah?”
“In another crew I might have tied you to the mast for days for that one.”
“But we’re not in another crew, sir, and you always act like you’re humoring me when I actually know this sea better than you.”
“They were giant octopi, Taehyung, not monsters.”
“Monster is a relative term, Captain, and they were monsters. Those were all little ones, even the last one. That was probably a nest of babies.”
“You’ve seen a full grown one then?” Namjoon snorted.
“No, but I’ve heard stories,” Taehyung said, eyes going wide. He leaned forward, story-telling hands up and ready as if he would cast a spell on Namjoon. “The Five Kings used to control them as weapons. Lusca get bigger than you can imagine, like the size of a small island. They sit on the bottom and wait till a ship floats overhead and then pull it under with a single, powerful tug.”
A grin quirked at the corner of Namjoon’s mouth, and the excited fire died from Taehyung’s face. “Fine. You’ve even seen the damn things and you won’t believe me. Do normal octopi know how to attack ships in a swarm, Namjoon? Can they turn into dark blue water?”
“Evidently they can.”
“They’re sea monsters, Namjoon. They don’t have to be the size of an island to be unnatural and terrifying. I warned you about them, you saw them, and you still wanna smirk at me when I tell you about monsters. No wonder I get a little insubordinate sometimes, huh? Respect your fucking crew, Captain Namjoon. You’re smart in your own way, but you don’t know this sea like I do. If you don’t listen to me, I’ll leave.”
Namjoon grabbed him by the collar and pulled him between himself and the helm so he could steer and have him face to face at the same time. Taehyung glanced quickly around, but the crew was all up at the bow looking out for Jungkook and Hoseok. He pulled a defiant look onto his face, but it didn’t cover up the fear. Namjoon sighed regretfully and pressed his lips to Taehyung’s sweaty forehead.
“Calm down. I wouldn’t hurt you. Please don’t leave,” he murmured. Taehyung sagged against the helm. His hands latched onto Namjoon’s vest.
Namjoon bumped their noses. “’Captain’ while the sails are set.”
Taehyung nodded, let go, and slipped out from under Namjoon’s arm.
They finally found the dinghy floating out in choppy water. Jungkook handled both oars, and it looked for a while like he was the only one in the boat, but when they dropped anchor and let Jungkook pull up alongside, they could see Hoseok curled up under Jungkook’s long legs. Black ink stained both of their clothes, worn, sun-bleached breeches picking up the dark stains easily.
“How’d you escape?” Taehyung yelled down as Jungkook hooked the dinghy up to the pulleys.
“They were distracted with you guys, I think. Only a couple of them noticed us. They couldn’t do much. Hoseok shot one and I had to keep beating on the other. It wouldn’t leave the reef. Jimin, you look a little inky.”
“We got a giant one onboard. It inked all over me! Good thing my clothes are black, right? You two look terrible. What’s up with Hoseok?”
“I think he has heatstroke,” Jungkook said as he helped him climb groggily up the ladder. “Should have worn his hat.”
“I didn’t think we’d be out there that long,” Hoseok whined. They brought him below and gave him plenty of water and a bucket to barf into, and then hovered around his and Seokjin’s hammock to open the capsule. Seokjin hadn’t woken up yet, sweaty and ashen even in sleep.
“Better be fucking worth it,” Yoongi groaned.
Namjoon pulled a rolled-up length of heavy canvas out of the capsule and unrolled it on a barrel, right where the sun streaked through the hatch. “It’s another map.”
Yoongi swore and lay down on the floor.
Namjoon studied it. “There’s a third map.”
“What?” Yoongi yelled.
“Yeah. They’re sending us on a fucking scavenger hunt for seven pieces of a third map that leads to the actual ship. There’s also a warning.”
“What is it?” Taehyung said, staring straight down at the warning written in clear, un-smudged Spanish. Namjoon sometimes forgot he couldn’t read, not in English or any language.
“It says there are several other copies of this scavenger hunt map hidden all over the Caribbean, which means several different crews could be after the seven pieces right now.”
“How did the Five Kings even manage this?” Jimin said. “Assholes. I give up. Someone else can have the goddamn Golden Dragon. Can’t we just commandeer another small ship for seven people?”
“That’s the thing,” Taehyung said, “It’s not a small ship. It’s a large ship that a crew of five operated for decades. I saw it come into port once when I was younger. It’s amazing. That thing is huge, fast, and beautiful, and can be easily sailed by only five people. It’s perfect for us. I don’t think any other ships on the sea are like it.”
“It’s an incredible ship,” Namjoon said solemnly. “The Five Kings confronted my Dad’s ship once when I was younger. No attack or bloodshed or anything. They just sailed up and asked for our cargo and we happily gave it away. Our crew helped load the ship themselves. My father locked me and mom in the cabin the whole time, but it was incredible. Even my father was honored that they chose to rob us. They were so polite. I’ve never seen a more beautiful ship. Sometimes I still wonder if I dreamed it.”
“It’s got a lot of really amazing spells on it,” Jungkook added excitedly, picking his head up from Jimin’s shoulder. “Rare ones. The winds always favor it, and it floats really lightly so its damn fast. Barnacles never grow on it. The crew is blessed with good fortunes. Canons bounce right off—”
“The curse won’t follow us,” Taehyung said, “It’s blessed by some Caribbean god. We need to get off this ship, and that’s the only one that the curse won’t follow us onto. We’ll finally stop having such bad luck.”
To Namjoon’s annoyance, every conscious member of the crew grew stone-faced. Jimin patted Hoseok consolingly. Yoongi gazed worriedly at Seokjin. The burn on Namjoon’s leg stung.
“Or so the stories go,” Taehyung said, rubbing his sore ankle, “but since the Captain believes none of those are true, we’re just going with practicality.”
“This might only put us in more danger than we’re already in,” Yoongi said. “Is it worth it?”
“I like this ship,” Jungkook said. “I’ve lived here for like, half my life now. Lucifer is ours, you know?”
“Our ball and chain,” Jimin said. “We should give her up.”
“We should set her on fire,” Taehyung said.
“We can’t do that,” Yoongi said, “The rest of the crew would turn in their graves."
Yoongi was the only one that still referred to the other thirty-four men that used to inhabit the ship as “the crew” and not “the old crew,” like he was forcing them to keep it present, to not forget.
"God rest their souls," Namjoon said drily.
In his hammock, Hoseok snorted. Everyone else nodded solemnly.
"They're going straight to hell, you know," Hoseok said.
"So are we," Jungkook said matter-of-factly. Hoseok's smile flickered off his face.
Taehyung gestured back at the map. "So where do we go first?"
"There's one in Hispaniola," Namjoon said, studying the map, "One up the coast of Mexico, and one on the Yucatan. Those are both pretty close. Then one in Cuba, one up north near Florida, one down in Trinidad. And then the Virgin Isles." He pointed to the last one on the map.
"Speaking of the crew," Yoongi muttered.
"God rest their souls," Namjoon repeated, "Don’t worry. It’s close to Barbuda, but not right next to it."
"Oh god, I don't like that," Taehyung said. "They might be able to reach us there."
"No they can’t," Namjoon said, "They’re dead. Let's just get these pieces and get ourselves a new ship."
Taehyung gave him a baleful glare. "You’ll steer us right to the old crew someday, sir, and then you’ll know I was right, and people will die.”
Namjoon's hands tightened on the map. "Who did the crew elect as captain, Tae?"
Taehyung scowled. "You."
"Well then I guess they trusted my judgement more than yours, didn't they?"
Taehyung gaped at him. All the other men stood very still. Namjoon stared him down evenly until Taehyung got up, threw himself into his hammock, and stared resolutely at the ceiling.
"Good lord," Yoongi grumbled.
"In any other circumstance, I'd say we should travel up the coast and hit the Yucatan and then the coast of Mexico first," Namjoon said, "But we lightened our load too much to come tackle this reef. There's not enough food and water on board to make it all the way around the Yucatan and then back to port afterwards, since there aren't any rivers between here and there. Looks like we're not going to be doing the quick and easy circle around the Caribbean."
Jungkook had gotten distracted by Taehyung, staring worriedly over at the hammock that Taehyung was rocking creakily back and forth. Namjoon grabbed Jungkook by the chin and gently directed his gaze back to the map.
"Sorry," he muttered.
"It's okay," Namjoon said. Jimin pet the back of his head reassuringly and Jungkook leaned against his leg, eyelashes fluttering at the attention.
"I think we should head back to Hispaniola as fast as possible, get the one there, hit the Lucayos Islands and Cuba on the way back, and then hit Mexico and the Yucatan. Then we can run straight across to the Virgin’s Isles and Trinidad and stop in Hispaniola to get supplies if we have to."
"Sounds like a plan," Seokjin said.
"Unless we die," Taehyung muttered from his hammock.
"Well that's always the risk, isn't it?" Namjoon said. "We have a few more hours before nightfall. The moon should be nearly full tonight, so I'd be tempted to keep going, but we don't know quite what the weather will be, and I'm predicting flat calm. Am I right, fortune-teller?"
"Shut up, asshole,” Taehyung said.
"And now you're washing dishes tonight."
"Yes!" Jimin said.
"Fuck off," Taehyung said.
"You're on first watch tonight, right?” Namjoon said, glaring at the back of his head, “Well now you're on second too."
Taehyung’s jaw twitched. Jungkook perked up. "I can sleep?"
"Yup. You earned it. We set sail as soon as I get off the head. Get to your posts."
Namjoon woke in the middle of the night and stared out at the moon. It was almost overhead, so right in the middle of the second shift of watch. He was a little surprised, with all the unseasonably terrible weather they’d gotten used to having.
Sometimes Namjoon looked at all their bad luck and wondered if there was any way they weren’t cursed. And then he remembered curses weren’t real. Taehyung always laughed at him when he said that. He’d wave his hand around at the dirty, banged-up, understaffed ship, all their injuries, rips, and exhaustion and go “so what’s this then?” Namjoon lay on his back for a while, letting worry eat at him, and then slid on some breeches and walked out into the bright nighttime.
“You’re relieved of duty,” Namjoon said, popping up into the small crow’s nest to find Taehyung lying on his back and not watching the horizon at all. Namjoon didn’t call him on it. There wasn’t much need on such a calm night. No ships could move anywhere with the sails slack and the water like glass. Namjoon settled against the railing and waited for Taehyung to leave. Taehyung hummed a little and didn’t move. The tension from the afternoon seemed completely absent in Taehyung’s form. His feet and calves hung over the edge to give the rest of his long body room on the narrow ledge.
“You should go get some sleep.”
“And miss this, Captain? Look how bright the moon is.”
“Yes, I see it,” Namjoon said, still staring at Taehyung. Things tended to look greyscale in the dark, but the moon reflected off the ocean and set everything in shades of deep blue, including Taehyung's smooth, dark skin, and the folds of his too-big white shirt that used to be Namjoon’s, sleeves unlaced and hanging over his palms, swamping his thin body and making him look so young.
“Is this an apology?” Taehyung said.
“I’m not apologizing for doing my best as a captain. Not unless you apologize to me for being a shitty crewman. I really am going to flog you in front of the crew one of these days.”
“Pretty sure you’d lose their respect.”
“I’m trying, Taehyung. This is really hard. I’m not used to being anyone’s superior. I’m trying to do what you all elected me to, and then you get pissy about shit and undermine all of that. I am sorry for being so dismissive of you today, but at some point I have to make decisions, and I’m just choosing what I know best. I’m trying to take care of you anyway.”
Taehyung nodded slowly. “Sound carries really well over flat water,” he said.
“Imagine drifting by an island of sirens now. They’d be able to call us over from so far away, and there’s no wind to escape them. We’d be dead.”
Namjoon huffed. Way to turn the conversation. Sirens. “There’d be no wind to sail to them either.”
“They’re sirens. We’d be swimming. I'm not sure there are even sirens in this sea though. That story comes from Mediterranean sailors. Lord, I wanna hear a siren song.”
Namjoon nudged him with a foot. “Why?”
Taehyung turned on his side, fighting to untangle his feet from the railing. “They tell you everything about yourself. Like, what your deepest desires are. And I gotta know what the hype is. Does the song, like, drug you so you forget it’s dangerous? Or is it just so beautiful that death doesn’t matter anymore? If we ever come up on an island with sirens, tie me to the mast and let me listen.”
Namjoon smiled. “I’d be tied up right beside you. If it’s that introspective, I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
Taehyung grinned, teeth glittering in the moonlight, and rolled onto his back. He’d taken his usual headscarf off, and his overlong hair hung on his forehead like a kid’s, unusually soft. “You’re always so wise,” he said, “but I know you don’t believe in sirens, Captain Kim.”
“I believe in what I’ve seen. I accepted that Jimin can control luscas, didn’t I? Because I saw it. I can’t explain why he can do that, but natural philosophy is finding new things out all the time.”
“Natural philosophers are intent on stripping the world of meaning.”
“And why would the world need meaning, Tae? What if it’s enough for it just to be fascinating and beautiful? We can make our own meaning out of reality, you know.”
“You’ve fucking seen luscas and you still don’t believe.”
“Well I believe in luscas now. And…mind control, I guess. I just don’t see why they have to be supernatural. We just don’t understand them yet, and that’s amazing and cool. It’s not half as scary as believing they’re magic.”
“They could turn blue like the water. And those were all babies. They get much bigger than that. That’s not natural, Captain.”
“How do you know what’s natural and what isn’t? What if magic is just as natural as the rest of us?”
“That’s not as fun.” Taehyung stretched and blinked sleepily at the sky. “Wait till you see mermaids. You’re so logical, but that won’t help you when your head is scrambled up. They’re so beautiful that you feel like your heart is melting through your blood and your head is filled with bees.”
“Yeah, well,” Namjoon nudged his leg, “I’m used to beautiful.”
Taehyung chuckled, grabbed him by the ankle, and reeled him in. Namjoon fumbled and nearly fell ass first out the gap at the bottom of the nest, but managed to stay up until Taehyung had roped him in to lie on top of himself, body heavy on top of his thin little frame.
“There’s no room for this up here,” he said. Taehyung gazed up at him, the full moon reflecting off his eyes, the rest of him shrouded in Namjoon’s shadow.
“Captain Namjoon, sir,” Taehyung said with the edge of a smirk, “Do you really expect me to resist you with lines like that?”
Namjoon huffed and dropped down beside him, wedged in between his body and the railing, still half on top of him, trying to keep a little distance and failing.
“I’ve seen a mermaid, sir. I was ten, I think. It was from a distance. I saw a bare human body, and then it slid into the water and it had a fish’s tail. I’ve never stopped thinking about it. Mermaids will do that to you, catch your attention and change your life, leaving you a pining idiot forever.”
“You sure you have to be a mermaid to do that?” Namjoon said, poking his forehead.
“Shut up,” Taehyung giggled, “Take me seriously for once.”
Namjoon leaned down, struggling to find Taehyung’s lips in the shadow cast by his own head, and ended up with the dip under his bottom lip. Taehyung giggled, a quiet, low rumble in his chest. Namjoon kissed him again, finding his lips this time, and Taehyung hummed, hands rubbing over Namjoon’s waist. He kissed lazily, mouth willing and soft, following wherever Namjoon’s lips took him.
“Captain,” he murmured.
Taehyung moaned and pulled him closer, long arms sliding tighter around his waist. “Isn’t this wrong, Captain?” he murmured, “Against the ship’s articles or whatever?” and then licked past Namjoon’s lips and over his tongue. Namjoon squeezed his arm under Taehyung’s shoulder and rolled them further back towards the railing so he could tangle a hand in Taehyung’s hair and slow them down. He pulled Taehyung’s head back when he got too frantic, mouth wide open and tongue fucking deep into Namjoon’s mouth.
“You’re always so impatient,” he said, “Slow down.”
Taehyung glared, face nearly lost in blue shadow with the moon shining down, but Namjoon could see his indignation, his tongue still hanging a little out of his mouth. “Namjoon!”
“Shh,” Namjoon said, and kissed his long neck instead. He jostled Taehyung up completely into his arms. “You feel like a bunch of twigs strung together.”
“Fuck off,” Taehyung muttered. “I was underfed as a child.”
Namjoon kissed him softly. Taehyung squirmed a little and tried to get it moving faster. Namjoon pulled away and manhandled Taehyung onto his back again so he could look back up at the stars.
“As for wrong,” Namjoon said, he hesitated, one thumb stroking over Taehyung’s cheek, “Yeah. I’m not supposed to do this. It’s bad for ship power dynamics. That’s the entire reason I ditched society and hopped on a pirate ship, you know. No more bullshit power dynamics. Leaders with checks and balances.”
“Then why are you acting like our bullshit power dynamics are so important?” he whined. “Just kiss me and stop caring.”
Namjoon stared at Taehyung’s left jaw, the way his cheek curved gently towards his chin. “Our crew formed under unusual circumstances. I’m trying to run the ship like we’ve always wanted it to be run, but with only seven of us…” his voice trailed off. “I don’t know, Tae. I want you. Technically I shouldn’t. I think Seokjin and Yoongi know, though, and they don’t care. I don’t know if I should or not.”
“Jimin knows,” Taehyung murmured, looking straight up at the moon, “He caught us up by the bow the other night.”
“Does he care?”
“He cares a little. Not about the morals or the ship’s articles or whatever. He says it’s just weird to think about us banging.”
Namjoon chuckled, face turning invisibly red in the moonlight. “It’s not like we are.” They’d limited themselves to soft moments in the dark, passionate kisses and wandering hands and nothing else, always trailing off into just holding each other tight or lying together on the deck until one or the other slipped away.
Namjoon crowded closer, one arm on the wood beside his shoulder to steady himself, and his fingers clutched the edge over a rather scary drop down to the deck below. He tightened a thigh between Taehyung’s legs and leaned in to kiss him again. Taehyung went limp when he was pinned down. Namjoon kissed the freckle on the tip of his nose and he giggled, so giving, so still and easy below him after bouncing off the railings all day, refusing contact and pulling pranks on everyone. It was like his energy left with the sun, leaving him pliant and still every night.
He was beautiful in motion, but beautiful here too, moonlight glowing on his skin and shining in his hair, eyes sparkling with light, body giving in to Namjoon’s easily.
“Gotta get that new ship,” Taehyung murmured, like he could sense Namjoon’s sudden need for safety, for a way to make sure they all lasted.
“Can you read the stars?” Namjoon asked, and almost followed up with, “I can see them in your eyes,” but stopped himself before his inner poet got too enthusiastic.
“Yeah. They say that we have some busy months ahead of us. Enjoy the calm while you can, Captain.”
“That’s not what I meant,” he laughed.
“Then do you want the prediction of danger? Lots of change in the sea, and not in our favor?”
Namjoon snorted. “No.”
“I’m not messing around.” Taehyung scowled. “Listen to what I’m telling you, it might be important.”
“Dangerous, busy time coming. The sea is changing. It’s always good to be prepared anyway. What I meant is can you tell where we are by looking at the sky? Which way are we facing?”
Taehyung’s eyes flicked up. “That’s boring. East-North-East. We’re west of Jamaica by about a week if the weather is good, shorter if we travel at night.”
“How long till dawn?”
“About five hours.”
“Do you know constellations?”
“Not the same ones that you do.”
Namjoon brushed a thumb under Taehyung’s pretty eye, somehow even bigger in the moonlight than it seemed normally, skin flawless as pearl and so soft. “Who taught you constellations, beautiful?”
“Some old man from Haiti. He taught me Voodoo magic.”
“I’ve never seen you use Voodoo magic.”
“I never use it. I don’t really know how. I can do simple shit, but nothing really interesting. He told me about a bunch of cool rituals, some for warding off monsters, some for talking to spirits, some for good luck. You’ve seen me predict the future a bunch of times. That’s Voodoo.”
“Can you kill someone by stabbing a doll?”
“That’s so stupid. No.” He turned away, face flattening out angrily. Namjoon grabbed his ear between his teeth and bit down gently, then licked it and sucked the lobe into his mouth. Taehyung tried to snuggle closer and didn’t do much but shove Namjoon’s shoulder harder against the railing.
“I’m sorry, Tae.”
“It’s okay,” he murmured.
“I want to learn Voodoo magic.”
“Bullshit. You don’t believe in it.”
Taehyung hid his smile behind his hand. “Ever seen a possession ritual? They get wild. The spirits possess them and they sacrifice chickens and drool everywhere.”
Taehyung shrugged, “It’s one body sharing two spirits. It’s gonna be a bit overwhelmed.”
Namjoon rubbed his forehead against Taehyung’s hair. “Everything that comes out of your mouth surprises me, Tae. I love it.”
Taehyung laughed and kissed his cheek, lips lingering, brushing against Namjoon’s dimple as he spoke. “You’re going to have to learn all that shit if you want to captain a ship in this sea.”
“I’m doing pretty well so far.”
“You’re doing okay. And the lusca. You keep calling it the giant octopus. We didn’t do so well there. At the end of the day, I knew about it and you didn’t, and we probably could have done better with that whole mess if we’d been cautious like I wanted to. Accept that folktales are relevant to reality here.”
Namjoon chewed on his lip for a moment, staring at Taehyung’s open shirt collar. “Yeah. Fine. I need to know more.”
“That’s why I’m here,” Taehyung said, and pulled Namjoon’s lip away from his teeth with his own teeth.
Namjoon sat up and peered around. The ocean remained flat calm, empty water. No boats, no giant octopi. “Horizon is clear. No storms, but I hope we’re not becalmed tomorrow.”
“Do you want to keep a lookout now?” Taehyung said, “I’m about to fall asleep.”
“Yeah,” Namjoon said, and sat up. Taehyung tucked himself in under Namjoon’s elbow with his head on his thigh. A light breeze ruffled his hair. “There’s a wind,” Namjoon said, “Let’s hope it builds. I’m sick of bad luck.”
“Mhm. Gotta move before we attract sea serpents.”
“You’ve gotta be kidding,” Namjoon muttered.
“I am this time,” Taehyung said, “Just wait. You’ll see everything I’ve seen eventually, city boy, and then you’ll get it.”
“I’ve been on the sea for as long as you’ve been, Tae.”
“Yeah, in the captain’s cabin of a big merchant ship. Doesn’t count. You don’t get to learn the waves the same way there as you do on a pirate ship.”
Namjoon scratched his fingers through Taehyung’s hair and his eyes closed, body going limp.
“Hrrng.” He pressed one final kiss to Namjoon’s thigh and then drifted off to sleep, leaving Namjoon awake and on watch, eyes on the shifting shadows across Taehyung’s nose, ignorant of the sea.