Victor Nikiforov was known the world over, despite his name hardly ever uttered in ports or on decks. To speak it was rumored to bring him crashing in, said to call for the white of his sails and pillaging at the hands of his crew.
Often, sailors looking to make a name for themselves for a night claimed to have come upon the silver-haired captain, their whispers fueling his infamy. He was known for his youth, his infallibility. For his ruthlessness toward those who wronged him and his gratitude toward those who aided. Many claimed to have ended their encounter with the pirate richer than when they met him, showing off pieces of eight granted to those who housed and served his crew in port.
It was said that the silver of his hair could be seen before the skull and crossbones flying overhead. Strands like precious metal whipping in the wind, glinting with the beaming sunlight or foreboding with the storms rolling at his ship’s back. Captured off the royal fleet his first year at sea, she could cut through waves like his silver tongue could cut through pride.
Victor always asserted that the sea was like a lover. Scorned, she could bring fight without warning, shreds ships to splinters which she would never surrender from the depths of her vengeful clutches. But understood and respected, she could grant treasures and favorable winds to glide on like parting kisses. The sea was temperamental. She rarely shared her secrets and liked to claim those who discovered them.
Victor heard the cries coming off the sea before he saw the figure tossed in her waves. They pierced through him, weak and empyrean, like music barbing round his heart. Twisting and tugging till he was on the starboard railing, rope burning at his hands as he heaved himself over. The cries came like a song, weaving through him until the ice of the water swept them away.
Victor touched feathers before he touched the body dipping beneath the surface, tangled in netting. The salt of the waves slamming against him stung at his eyes and burned down his throat, but Victor had never permitted the sea to best him. Despite all her aggression, she pushed Victor back to his ship, helping him carry his rescue.
The force of the dinghy crashing onto the surface of the water sent Victor under. Kicking back up, he heaved the limp figure over the side before lifting himself into the boat. He sputtered out sea water as the pulley raised them back out of the rough water.
On deck, the knife strapped into the inside of his boot made quick work of the netting around the motionless body. The threads were strong against Victor’s fingers, silk fraying as he cut through it. Too expensive, too precious to be used by fishermen. Silk nets were found on the decks of ships that feared the myths of the seas. When sold, merchants would brag that it was the only material strong enough to contain the likes of a mermaid, kraken…
The young man lying unconscious was draped in torn black fabric, crystals like diamonds sparkling off his shoulder and waist. One of his crew made to seize for the gems but Victor slapped hands away. At his hip was strung a lyre, strings broken. The skin near his hands and feet bled color, turning to the shade of night in patterns of feathers, like the dark of his hair and lashes. The feathers Victor swore he had plunged his fingers into in the water were gone, vanished as if they existed only as designs on his skin.
“It can’t be. Did anyone hear it?”
“If it is, it’ll wreck us.”
“Sirens don’t fly so far from land.”
“Where’s its wings?”
Sirens were like gulls, clinging to cliffs onto the jagged edges of which they drew ships. They collected the riches scattered on their rocks, feasted off the flesh of men foolish enough to listen to their songs. Sirens were dangerous, vicious. They sunk ships faster than hurricanes, their nests said to be made from the bones of their victims. Few men pleased Lady Luck enough to be able to escape their bloodied claws.
Sirens were monsters.
The man before Victor was beautiful. Beautiful and barely breathing.
To the protest of his crew, Victor swept the man up into his arms, skin like ice against his own. Pulse weakly beating. “Man your stations!” Victor commanded, “If he came off a ship, they may be near. Be ready to hoist colors!”
In his cabin, Victor quickly stripped the soaked clothing off his rescue’s body, drying him of the sea. If not for injuries marring him, he would have been flawless. If such beauty awaited for him in port, Victor’s love of the sea might have finally found its match. Strong thighs and delicate wrists, with lips still tinted pink despite the chill of his skin. Carefully, Victor tipped the man onto his side and stopped. Frozen, trapped in the vision before him.
On his back were wings. Long, ruffled, bent black feathers inked into his skin. Victor stared at the folded wingtips racing down the length of his spine to rest just above the curve of his buttocks. Red like blood splattered over them, but when Victor touched his fingers to the bright colors, they lifted away clean. The tattoos were unreal, wings as vivid as if they were ready to unfurl straight off his flesh.
Cautiously, Victor wrapped him in thick blankets to warm him, feeling the slow but present beating of his heart. He was still alive. And Victor was captivated.
They came upon no other ships, with nearest landfall at a few day’s distance. Victor silenced the worried murmurs on board, despite the apprehension pooling inside him. No one else had heard the cries that remained nestled deep in him, a haunting echo.
The roughness of the sea settled. Their guest slept, resting in the warmth of Victor’s private quarters, wounds bandaged by Victor’s hands. The ship kept sailing. Speculative whispers of mythical creatures died, attention turning to the gems which had covered his clothes. A nobleman, perhaps. Son of successful foreign merchants. No ordinary sailor would have such wealth sewn into fabric. It was possible that a handsome ransom or reward could be collected for his safe return.
When night took the horizon, Victor descended back into his cabin. Loud rustling alerted him, a sound like the fluttering of sails drawing his attention. His guest was sitting upright in Victor’s bed, startled.
The floor was littered in black feathers, bedsheets torn into strips with smears of drying blood covering the remnants. Marks like sword strikes or claws scarred the walls, writing desk thrown clear across the cabin. A lamp was smashed, oil leaking over broken shards of glass.
Victor’s eyes met ones of melted amber, wide and dark with shock. Quickly, Victor raised his hands, palms flat and fingers spread to show he carried no weapon. “I mean no harm. We found you nearly drowned… are you okay?”
The man did not respond, his eyebrows furrowing as he stared at Victor, clutching at shredded bedding. The tension in his shoulders was sharp, his grip so tight that the black discoloration of his fingers turned nearly white.
Victor made a step forward, cautious. The man drew back, pressing his back to the headboard behind him. Immediately, Victor halted. “You were caught in a net. I pulled you on board. This is my ship.”
As Victor turned to gesture up toward the deck, his hair whipped around his back. He yelped as the very next second, his guest was upon him, grasping onto the tail with strength. Fast as a bullet, Victor spun around, seizing onto wrists only to realize that he had already been let go.
The dark beauty was staring at his own fingers, where he held the few strands of hair he had tugged out of Victor’s scalp. The light of oil lamps glinted off the silver and those enchanting eyes darted back up, trained on Victor’s hair. Without any words between them, Victor understood his voiceless pleading.
Reaching back, Victor pulled undone the ribbon keeping his hair tied, letting it fall free. The other’s gaze followed the motion of the strands in reverence. “I’m not as old as it makes me look.”
Curious fingers played with the strands, twirling them around. He wove small sections into tiny braids before letting them twist loose. The gentle wonder with which his guest explored fascinated Victor as much in response. “Do you like it?”
Victor swore his heartbeat stuttered as pink dusted across the man’s cheeks and the bridge of his nose, preceding a short nod. Delighted, Victor beamed. “You understand me then?”
A second nod, again in silence. Words seemed poised on his full lips, but they did not part to speak.
“What’s your name? I’m Victor.” Hesitation, and then Victor’s hand was taken. A fingertip traced letters into his palm. “Yuuri?”
Yuuri nodded once more.
“Are you hungry, Yuuri?” With quiet confirmation, Victor asked Yuuri to wait, stepping over the feathers scattering the floor. He returned swiftly, reassuring Yuuri with soft words and an offering of hard bread, salted meat, and the ripened flesh of a mango left over from the ship’s last docking.
Yuuri tore into the meat as soon as it was within his reach, as if starved.
While he ate, Victor carefully redressed the wounds on his back, admiring the curve of his shoulders and the tattoos painted there. The red ink had spread and Victor swore the feathers depicted there had changed. The bent, broken ones previously marring the design were gone, as if they had fallen off real wings. Victor studied those on the floor. Damaged. Discarded. Speckled with blood, shed off an injured creature. “How did you end up in that net?”
Yuuri glanced over his shoulder, chewing slowly on the last bit of meat. He made a throwing motion with his hands.
“Someone caught you?”
“And you fought back? …Is that how you damaged your wings?”
Yuuri startled, leaping away. The plate holding the bread and fruit clattered to the floor. Victor made no motion to follow after him.
“I heard your voice, I heard you crying. And look at the floor, I keep no birds on board this ship. Don’t worry, Yuuri, I’ve no desire to fight a siren. You haven’t hurt me, I won’t hurt you.”
Yuuri regarded him with uncertainty, edging forward. He plucked the fruit off the floor, eyes watching Victor as he bit into it. Victor’s lips curled at the corners as the siren preened at the sweet taste, taking in the pink of his tongue as Yuuri licked up the juices spilling over. Sirens were known for the allure of their voices. Yet, even speechless, Yuuri had caught up all of Victor.
“Can you fly?”
Instead of shaking his head, Yuuri glanced around the room. The damage told the story on its own.
“Come here, let me finish looking at your wounds…”
Yuuri did not move. Instead, he motioned with his hands a question.
“Why?” Victor guessed. “Why am I helping?” He chuckled when Yuuri confirmed. “It cannot be bad to win the favor of a siren. That and I am but a man, and you’re beautiful.”
Yuuri responded by retaking his seat next to Victor, facing him directly. Moving calm and deliberate, Victor changed the bandages on Yuuri’s arms and legs, torn from Yuuri’s apparent earlier struggle. Perhaps wrapping a siren previously caught in a net in blankets had not been a brilliant decision.
Yuuri watched Victor’s hands and as Victor finished, he noticed the gaze. Like a port orphan preparing to pickpocket, Yuuri was focused on the jewelry decorating his fingers. “Just like a bird, hmm? Is that why you liked my hair?” Smiling, Victor removed his rings and deposited them into Yuuri’s hands.
Blinking in surprise, Yuuri immediately proceeded to hide them in blankets bunched behind him. Victor laughed. “You can have them… But will you please give one to me real quick? I promise I’ll return it.” Yuuri looked dubious but fished one out, the plainest, handing it back to Victor.
In turn, Victor reached out to take Yuuri’s hand, sliding the ring onto one of his fingers. “If you wear them, they’re harder to lose.”
Yuuri examined the ring on his finger, turning his hand over to see how it glinted in the light before snatching the rest out of the blankets to put them on as well. All but one fit him well, loose on his ring finger. After a moment’s contemplation, Yuuri removed it and replaced it onto Victor’s hand.
“You’ll let me keep this one?” Victor asked, amused at having it returned. “Well, I suppose I cannot ask of a better thank you from a siren.”
The hint of a smile bloomed on Yuuri’s lips and it left Victor breathless.
That night, Victor did not sleep. It took time for Yuuri to settle, curled up on Victor’s bed. Dark eyes watched Victor, studying through long lashes until they finally fluttered shut near dawn.
Yuuri stayed, recovering, in Victor’s cabin. The captain forbid the rest of his crew from entering. Knowledge of a siren on board would only stir trouble.
Victor gave Yuuri new clothing, kept his bandages clean, helped him tend to his wounds until Yuuri stopped bristling in reaction. Slowly, the red splashed over Yuuri’s tattoos subsided, frail inked wings growing fuller. However, it was clear the siren was becoming more restless with each dawn.
Feathers continued to litter the floor, despite Victor ridding his quarters of them each morning and night. More than once, he witnessed Yuuri crushing the shed feathers in frustration. Victor caught fish for Yuuri, tried to distract him with stories of the ship’s voyages and battles. At the week’s end, Yuuri had collected a small horde of precious metals and gems which he always managed to relinquish from Victor without resistance, but his pride at the minor conquests faded quickly.
One evening, Victor offered Yuuri a bottle of rum and laughed when the siren smashed the bottle after burning his tongue on the liquor. Moments later, he came curiously and silently asking for another sip.
When the ship docked in a port friendly to them, Victor’s crew took their days of leave to enjoy the solid ground and spend their recent earnings. Under the cover of night, Victor let Yuuri come onto the deck, watching him cautiously move between the rigging.
Yuuri stood and watched the stars, the wind rustling at his borrowed clothing. When Victor asked if he could fly, Yuuri glanced down over his shoulders and shook his head. A few droplets of red still tainted his back. That night, Victor learned that there could not exist a sound sadder than the sobs of a siren.
From port, Victor brought Yuuri fresh meat and fruits, amused as the siren made meals of them without any preparation. Yuuri gazed out the windows as he ate, watching the gulls that soared outside of them.
The night before the ship’s departure, Victor sat next to Yuuri and cleaned the siren’s hands, receiving a questioning look. “I have something for you.” In Yuuri’s lap, he placed a flat box tied in a silver ribbon.
Yuuri opened it under Victor’s guidance, hesitant until he saw what was folded inside. The siren sprung up, grasping the clothes to him, light dancing in his eyes. Without shame, he dropped the clothes Victor had given him to wear, replacing them with his gift. The mended black fabric draped him beautifully, gems adorning it brighter and more brilliant than before. Yuuri preened as he admired himself, smiling as if he were finally in the comfort of home, back in his own clothes.
Victor knew he was under a siren’s spell. Had been from the moment he heard Yuuri’s cries coming off the sea, but he had not a single thought to escape it. “You’re welcome,” Victor said, not needing words from Yuuri to see his gratitude. “I have one more thing for you, but you must promise me you won’t use it to wreck my ship.”
The surprise which had painted Yuuri’s expression at seeing his clothing turned to shock when Victor produced his golden lyre. Immediately, Yuuri grabbed for it, but Victor held it just out of reach, teasing. “This wasn’t cheap, you know. Getting these fixed. Do you know how difficult it is finding someone trustworthy enough to work on such precious things, let alone someone who will help a wanted pirate?”
In response, Yuuri stuck out his lower lip and pouted.
“Don’t make such an adorable face at me, that isn’t fair.” Victor plucked at the strings, testing them. “I play much better after I drink, but let me try for you now.” Smiling, Victor played Yuuri an old sea song.
Yuuri’s eyes shone despite a few notes gone flat. Victor was equally unfazed, playing and dancing to entertain. Yuuri giggled silently behind his hand at Victor’s showmanship, standing up to try to rescue his instrument only to have Victor twist away to continue his off-key assault.
Yuuri laughed without sound and chased after him, bare feet slapping on wood. Victor snaked an arm around Yuuri’s waist, tugging him close. He spun with Yuuri against him until his song was graciously finished by Yuuri clasping a hand over Victor’s mouth. Victor laughed, kissing at it.
Faint blush on his cheeks, Yuuri snatched away his lyre. He examined the strings, adjusting the tune before he began to play. Pure and ethereal, unlike any melody Victor was familiar with. Victor hardly saw Yuuri’s fingers move as he created music, notes filling the cabin with their magic.
And then Victor heard it. Yuuri’s voice. It pierced through Victor and rendered him immobile.
A siren sat on Victor’s bed, singing sweetly of a silver-haired captain. The myths said that a siren’s call was impossible to resist. But Victor had already been long lost to it.
The song did not cease when Yuuri stopped playing, changing instead into the music that was the sound of Yuuri’s hitched gasp against Victor’s lips. Yuuri wound his fingers through Victor’s hair, twisting silver strands around golden rings, his mouth warm and eager in its response. If there was madness in the kiss, Victor accepted it for it gave him Yuuri, settling hot and wanting in his lap.
Instead of feathers, their clothes covered the floor. Victor could drown in the sound of Yuuri’s whimpers and moans exhaled across his skin. Like symphonies all on their own as Victor’s oil-slicked fingers found the spot inside Yuuri that had him arching, hands clawing at Victor’s arms.
Just like the first time he heard them, Yuuri’s cries enveloped Victor. But this time, they sang in ecstasy, enchanting Victor into wanting to hear only more. And this time, Victor had the blessed vision of a siren shivering above him, his hard cock sheathed by Yuuri’s wondrous body.
Victor memorized the taste of Yuuri’s mouth and skin as the siren rode him. Victor drank in the part of Yuuri’s lips, the flutter of his lashes, the heat of his movements, the music of his voice. Then, Yuuri threw his arms around Victor, burying his face in Victor’s neck as he gasped, and Victor saw them. His wings.
Blacker than night, they unfurled with the strength of a storm’s wind. Spreading, they stretched to the ceiling, as stunning to behold as the rest of Yuuri. Feathers bold and full, like silk they swept around Victor. Yuuri’s wings wrapped around them both as the siren cried out again, clinging onto Victor.
From the tattoos on Yuuri’s hands, Victor felt the blooming touch of feathers and the sting of Yuuri’s grip tightening, leaving marks on his skin. He was caught in the heat between them as Yuuri shuddered under his touch, decorating them in white pearls to contrast the dark of his wings. Victor fell into oblivion with Yuuri, driven by the beauty of Yuuri’s voice and the blissful feel of his body.
Yuuri did not let go as time calmed them. Victor kissed his breaths away until Yuuri curled into him, feathers ruffling happily around them. Victor marveled at Yuuri’s wings, whispering incredulous compliments until Yuuri’s elated pride faded into playful scowling and he folded them away.
When Victor made to move from the bed, the siren tugged him sharply back. Laughing his understanding, Victor settled against Yuuri. “I’m not leaving, I’m just—”
Yuuri huffed an interruption so Victor leaned in, pressing his lips to Yuuri’s forehead and nose, stroking his thumbs over high cheekbones. In turn, Yuuri threaded his fingers through Victor’s hair like he had taken to doing at any opportunity.
At the foot of the bed, Yuuri found the ribbon which had been used to tie his present box. Shuffling around, he sat behind Victor and pulled the long hair back into his hands. Carefully, Yuuri smoothed out the strands, fingers gently combing through. Victor leaned back against Yuuri, who braided his hair and wove the silver ribbon into the plaits. Yuuri tied the end with the last bit of ribbon, pleased with his handiwork. In thanks, Victor kissed Yuuri’s palms, the pink of his lips against the black of Yuuri’s skin. The lamps in Victor’s cabin burned low.
Yuuri fell asleep against Victor’s side, his steady exhales falling back to his usual quiet. As the siren dozed, Victor admired him with newfound reverence. At Yuuri’s feet, Victor carefully folded his mended clothing and set his lyre atop them. There was no more red splattering Yuuri’s back, only the intricate black tattoos of his wings. His wounds had healed. Yuuri was ready to fly.
In the softness of the morning light, the black of Yuuri’s tattoos was stark against his skin, but Yuuri looked like a bird in a cage. He sat with knees pulled to his chest, staring out the ship windows. No gulls flew in their sights, the ship had left their reach.
Having seen his wings’ true form, Victor wondered if it felt like a restraint to Yuuri, to keep them folded away. To be unable to stretch them amongst the wide freedom of the sky. “Yuuri... come here."
The siren took Victor's hand when it was held out to him, following across the cabin and up the steps ascending to the deck. The sun was strong on their faces, the sky cloudless. Victor ordered his crew to stand back, Yuuri bristling beside him at their stares.
Hand in hand, Victor led Yuuri to the bow of the ship, and there, he let Yuuri go. Yuuri's eyes darted toward the ocean, the sky, the horizon. He made a hesitant step forward, ink on his feet ruffling into feathers. Turning back, he looked to Victor, eyes shifting between him and the sea.
"Sirens don't belong on ships, and I can’t keep you like a bird. Just give us a fair head start, if you will."
The smile Yuuri gave rivaled the brightness of the sun. Then, his wings blocked it out entirely, unfurling and spreading past the width of the bow. The strength of them swept wind into the sails and nearly sent Victor stumbling.
Yuuri soared, a happy cry piercing straight through Victor's heart as the siren dipped to skim the water with his fingertips. The shadow of his wings encircled the ship once, and vanished. As suddenly as he had appeared, Yuuri was gone.
The sea was calmer and more silent than Victor had ever known it to be. He ordered the ship turned around, setting sail away from where the siren had flown.
They spent a week on open water, sighting and trailing a supply ship which kept outrunning them. In the evenings, his crew swore they heard singing coming off the waves, but it did not reach Victor’s ears. He found a few of Yuuri’s feathers still scattered around his bed and strung them into the ribbon tying his hair, if nothing more than a message that he had met a siren and lived.
It was on the eighth morning that he awoke to the shouts of his crew, and came onto the deck to a clamor. Off to the starboard side was the ship they had chased. Half submerged with its sails shredded, deck painted red and its crew missing. Atop its crow’s nest perched a single figure, wrapped in darkness.
Victor heard the yells from his men, felt the wood beneath his feet tremor at the heavy drop of weight before him. He had no time to draw his sword or pistol, but he did not need them. “Yuuri?”
The black staining Yuuri’s skin retreated, the feathers blooming off his arms and legs melting into the intricate designs of his tattoos. He reached forward and took Victor’s hands, smiling as he slid all manners of rings onto Victor’s fingers before holding out his own hands, showing off matching sets.
Victor stared, incredulous, before Yuuri tugged on his braid, smile wider when he saw his own feathers woven in. Yuuri gestured toward the side, excitedly showing off his conquest.
“You sunk a ship for me?” A nod in confirmation. Victor laughed. “That’s the sweetest thing anyone has ever done. But, you know it’d be easier for me if it wasn’t already halfway to the bottom of the ocean?”
Yuuri rolled his eyes, the feathers of his wings ruffling. He made to turn, but Victor stopped him, catching his hands and his lips, like Yuuri had caught his heart.
Victor Nikiforov was known the world over, a pirate captain who sailed with a siren at his side.