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The Sea that Turned to Sand

Chapter Text

Heavy winds rattled the door of the captain's cabin. Sometimes, they were almost deafening in their ferocity, but at the moment, Rin was unperturbed. His eyes rested on an ancient map upon his great oak desk. None of the words were in a language he understood and the area depicted looked like nothing he had ever seen in all his time in the vast desert sea. He slammed his dagger down into the map. Who could have known that a simple piece of paper could be so infuriating? He needed someone who could read this hideous map.

The door to his cabin suddenly swung wide and Momotarou, his young crewman, entered. He seemed harried, but excited.

"Captain, we've just captured a small crew from a tiny ship! Only four people!" he raved. "It was so easy to defeat! Their mast snapped like a twig from one cannonball! Of course I-"

"Quiet," Rin barked, tired already of Momotarou's inane chatter. "This crew you captured is likely just as useless as the rest of them. Toss them overboard."

"But captain, they were flying the flag of the King."

Rin's eyes narrowed. "Fine, I'll examine the goods." He rose from his plush seat behind his mighty desk, wrenching his dagger out of the wood before following Momo outside into the desert sun, his necklace of jewels glinting in the light. He stepped forward to look over the railing and the main deck where the captives were tied to the bottom of the mast. He saw Sousuke, his right hand man and Quartermaster, gesture toward him, making all the captives look up at him.

"Our captain."

Rin was silhouetted against the azure sky, and his new property had to squint against the sun to see him. After a few seconds, he stalked over to the staircase leading to the main deck and descended slowly, taking his time in the stunned silence of his captives.

"From this moment on, you all belong to me," he called as he strode closer. "You are my property. I will do with you as I please, and if that means you are of no use to me," He stopped in front of the the dark-haired captain of the small vessel and caught his gaze. "you will die."

One of the captives, the only one taller than Rin himself, started to whimper and visibly tremble. Rin scoffed. "Pathetic! Of the four of you, I thought you to be the only one to rival my quartermaster, but it seems I am mistaken."

"Don't speak to Makoto like that," the dark-haired captain retorted. When Rin looked back at him, the man's expression was infuriatingly blank, but his eyes held a raging storm.

"You..." Rin snarled.

Makoto balked at the courage of his captain. "Haru, don't patronize him! I really don't want to die!"

"Yeah, Haru-chan! We'd all like to live a little longer!"

Rin growled and turned his attention to the one prisoner that had yet to speak, an impeccably dressed man who seemed to have no business being out on the desert. He wore a ruffled, snow white monstrosity of a shirt with a blue silk vest. His stupid glasses made Rin want to slap him. At least the other three looked like a feasible crew, but this one? God, Rin hated him.

"What about you?" Rin asked him. "What have you got to say? Throw your thoughts in too, Four-Eyes!"

Fancy Man sneered at him. "I have nothing to say to you. You'll kill us if you want. There's no use begging."

Oh, this one made Rin mad. This one could read him like a book - he was observant. Rin felt his anger rising, but a look from Gou, his sister and First Mate, calmed him.

"Rei-chan, stop it! Please don't listen to Rei-chan, Mr. Pirate!"

"Shut up!" Rin yelled. "The only way any of you are getting out of this mess alive is if you have something I need, and right now I need a Master Navigator to decode my ancient map!" Rin smirked devilishly, his abnormally sharp teeth on display for his captives. "And none of you are Master Navigators, are you?"

"Rei-chan is a Navigator!"

"Shh! Nagisa!" Rei tried to quiet him.

"Yep, he's the best in the kingdom! Chosen by the King himself!"

Rin ran his palm down his face in frustration. "Of course you're the Navigator. That's why you're out here dressed like that." Rin gestured animatedly to Rei's outfit. "You don't actually do any hard work. Well, you'll be working hard soon." Rin stepped closer to Rei, getting right up in his face. "Every second that you're on my ship, you'll be in my quarters decoding that map. Food and water will be brought to you. You don't see the light of day until that map is in a language that I understand. Is that clear?"

"I refuse."

Rin's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Really? Well, that's unfortunate, because you don't have a choice, but if you insist on refusal, Sousuke," Rin gestured to his biggest and most muscular crewman, his Quartermaster, "will whip all of you, starting with the big one."

He pointed to Makoto.

"Then the little one."

Nagisa.

"Then your idiotic captain."

Haru. Then Rin's finger landed right upon Rei's nose.

"Then you. And then I'll personally slit all your throats. Again, starting with the big wimp first and working my way down to you last. I'll take great pleasure in staining that ugly shirt with your blood. So if you don't want to watch the life leave your friends' eyes, you'd better do as I say, pet."

Rei grimaced and looked over at his friends and crew mates; he could see the immense fear in all their eyes, even Haru. Makoto was shaking uncontrollably with tears streaming down his face. Nagisa was vacantly staring at the ground, shaking his head and muttering to himself. Haru's jaw was clenched so tightly Rei was worried about him damaging his teeth. Rei felt tears growing in his eyes. He blinked hard and they flowed down his cheeks, momentarily getting caught behind his glasses.

"Fine, I'll decode your map. Just please, let them live."

Rin used his dagger to cut the rope holding Rei to the mast and pulled Rei to him. "Sousuke!" he called.

"Yes, Captain?"

"Put the others to work. This one's coming with me."

"As you wish, Captain!" Sousuke affirmed, watching his captain slip back up the stairs and into his cabin with the navigator. Sousuke then approached the rest of the captive crew and stood in front of them, taking in their bewildered expressions. He studied each of them before deciding on the role they would play in the running of the ship.

"Until further instruction from the captain, you're all part of the crew." He pointed at Nagisa. "You're going down the the lower decks with Momo to inventory the cargo."

Next he pointed to Haru. "You're going with Ai to the galley to help with meal prep."

"And you," he gestured to Makoto. "you're coming with me. We're going to the weapons store. I want to see how you are with a cutlass." He cut the ropes off each of them and allowed them to be claimed by their respective crewman, except for Makoto who was held behind. "Follow me." He led Makoto across the main deck to a door that the others had also entered. They went down the short flight of stairs and passed by the door to the galley, where Ai and Haru were inside picking out some vegetables for dinner. Makoto shared a glance with Haru before he heard Sousuke clear his throat to get his attention back. Makoto looked back and Sousuke stood tall with his bare arms crossed, his biceps bulging and his face twisted in a scowl.

"Follow me," he commanded again.

Makoto nodded quickly and caught up with Sousuke, who ventured deeper into the ship's underbelly. They passed Nagisa and Momo, who were examining large crates of gunpowder, cannonballs, and even extra barrels of wine and water. Sousuke eyed them for a moment before continuing on toward the front of the ship and the weapons cache. Only Sousuke had the key to the weapons cache, and Makoto watched him intently as he unlocked the heavy door. His eyes were focused on Sousuke's back and arms, then suddenly, Sousuke pushed the door open and turned to face him. Makoto blushed and looked away quickly.

"Well, come on," Sousuke instructed.

"Uh, okay!"

When inside, Sousuke handed him a thick sword and also picked one up himself. "I'm pretty sure I can take you, so I don't feel uncomfortable giving you that."

Makoto held the cutlass as if it were going to burn him. "Uh, I-I'm not really a fighter... I don't know how to use a sword or a gun..."

"I knew I could take you," Sousuke snickered. "I can tell by the way you're holding it that you probably have no interest in learning how to use it either."

"You'd be right," Makoto said quietly, embarrassed.

"So what should I have you do?" Sousuke said, taking the sword from Makoto and replacing it on its hanger on the wall. "You look strong... Manual labor, maybe? Ship maintenance?" He thought for a moment. "Yes, I think that will work. Ship maintenance. Cleaning, labor, working the rigging, basically anything that I do should suit you well, except for fighting of course." He smiled. "I'm glad your crew mate decided to help Rin out; it'll be nice to have an extra set of hands."

'Decided?' Makoto thought. No, it wasn't a decision. It was for survival, though Makoto was also happy that he was currently alive, so he supposed that he couldn't say anything contrary to that.

At that moment, a deafening blast ripped through the belly of the ship, making the entire vessel shake and shiver as if an earthquake had struck. Makoto fell to his knees, screaming and covering his head.

"What the hell?" Sousuke screamed, rushing out of the weapons storage.

----------

Ai had led Haru down to the galley and showed him around. He seemed particularly receptive to all the things that Ai had been showing him, as his eyes seemed to sparkle with each new asset the boy showed off.

"Okay, now we're going to gather some stuff for dinner. Today, I was going to make something with these." Ai opened up a small crate on the counter top and showed Haru the vegetables inside. "What do you think?"

"Do you have any oil?" Haru asked.

"Yes, of course!" Ai grabbed a jug from one of the shelves and removed the cork. "All the oil we need."

Haru nodded and started unpacking some vegetables as Ai corked the jug and set it down. It was at that moment that Makoto and Sousuke passed by and Haru caught Makoto's gaze. He looked wistful, but was soon pulled along by Sousuke, leaving Haru with Ai to prepare dinner. Haru focused back on the meal he was envisioning - fried vegetables with a side of bread.

"You have bread, right?"

"Yep!"

Haru nodded again and returned to cooking. He started to cut up the vegetables as Ai lit the fire under the stove grate. Haru then moved the pan over the flame and added a little bit of oil to the bottom and continued chopping vegetables as the oil heated.

"Wow, Haru, you're a natural!" Ai beamed, clearly impressed by his skills.

"Thanks."

Ai wiped at his forehead. "Ah, it always gets so warm in here when the fire is lit. Do you want something to drink? We have a whole barrel of water here for that purpose alone!"

At the mention of the word 'water', Haru froze. He slowly turned to face Ai, who was starting to look slightly terrified by Haru's new behavior.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" he asked carefully.

Haru started to remove his jacket and stalked toward Ai, who panicked and rushed away from the barrel as Haru approached, more and more clothes coming off by the moment, until he was left in nothing at all. Ai was unable to tear his eyes from the situation as Haru climbed inside the barrel of water, displacing a large amount in the process and allowing it to spill all over the floor of the galley. Ai screamed at that. Water was a precious and expensive commodity, and the captain did not like wasting even one drop.

"Haru, please! You have to get out! If the captain finds out what's going on right now, he'll kill us both!" Ai felt like he was on the verge of fainting when he heard a monstrous bang, which he originally thought was his head hitting the floor as he finally did faint at Haru's insane behavior, but he was still standing. Haru also looked to be visibly shaken by the noise, jumping out of the barrel and scrambling to clothe himself.

"That sounded like cannon fire!" Ai screeched.

----------

"Ahhh, I swear we got stuck with the most boring job," Momo complained, "Taking inventory really sucks. We just have to count everything."

Nagisa looked at him curiously. "What kind of stuff do we count?"

"Ugh, everything. How many barrels of water, wine, and grain we have, crates of cannonballs, kegs of gunpowder, boxes of vegetables and dried meats, the list is super long."

Nagisa shrugged. "That doesn't sound hard. Let's look around!"

They started prowling around all the crates and barrels and boxes, examining the contents of each one. Nagisa noticed Sousuke and Makoto pass by the on the way to the weapons store, and he also noticed Sousuke stare at them for a moment before unlocking the giant door to the weaponry.

"Ahhh, I wish we could go in there," Momo whined, "That's where they keep all the good stuff like swords and guns! Only Sousuke has the key though."

Nagisa looked at him quizzically. "What do you mean, Momo-chan? We have lots of guns out here!"

"What? No, they're all in there!" Momo pointed to the weaponry, where he could faintly hear Sousuke and Makoto talking.

"Momo-chan, the cannons?" Nagisa whispered. "They're guns too, and we have everything we need to fire one right out here!" He picked up a small cannon ball from one of the crates.

"Nagisa, we can't! We'll get in so much trouble!"

Nagisa wasn't listening. He was already loading the cannonball into the cannon.

"Nagisa!"

Nagisa was filling the end of the cannon with gunpowder. Well, either way, Momo was going to get in trouble for this, so he may as well enjoy it. He looked around, digging through the crates looking for a fuse light and handing one off to Nagisa when he found one.

"That's the spirit, Momo-chan!" Nagisa struck a piece of flint against the iron of the cannon, causing a spark that he used to light the fuse. "Okay, now we run!"

They both took off toward the other end of the storage area and jumped behind some crates just as the cannon flared to life in a thunderous explosion, sending the cannonball flying off into the distance and causing the entire ship to heave from the force.

"Wow, Nagisa, that was amazing! So cool! I've never fired one outside of battle before!"

Nagisa laughed. "We have a bit of time before anyone realizes it was us, so let's enjoy it while we can!"

"Yes!" Momo exclaimed, as the boys shared a high five.

Sousuke suddenly came out of the weapons storage. "What the hell?" he screamed, looking around. Noticing the smoke wafting from the business end of the closest cannon, Sousuke grew livid.

"MOMO!"

-------------

Rin practically dragged Rei up the stairs with him, the man struggling the entire way. Rei knew that once he set foot in that room, he may never come out, so he would enjoy as much sunlight as he could before he was imprisoned. Unfortunately, the time he had left in the sun did not end up being too much longer as he was pushed violently inside the captain's cabin and the door was sealed behind them. The room was, by far, the best cabin on the ship. The walls were all dark, warm wood with a few paintings and maps hanging from them, and there were large windows at the rear of the room beyond the enormous desk, much to Rei's pleasure. It was so much easier to work with natural light than candle light. There was a bed set into the wall on one side, and the opposite wall was lined with bookshelves. Rin bullied Rei over to the desk and pushed him down into the velvet-upholstered chair across from his own. This chair faced the windows. There was no way in hell Rin was going to let Rei sit in the captain's chair, which had its back to the windows.

"Sit down. Here." He gestured angrily to the map. "Read."

Rei looked up at him with a disapproving scowl on his face.

"No, don't look at me. Look at the map!" He clutched Rei's chin in his hand and forced him to look at the map.

Rei struggled in his grip, trying to wrench Rin's hand from his face, but Rin proved to be much stronger than he looked. "You're crazy! There's something wrong with you!" Rei spat through forceibly-pursed lips.

"Really?" He jerked Rei's chin out of his grip. "Well, if you'd just do as I tell you, I wouldn't have to wreck up your pretty little face, Rei."

Rei hated the way Rin said his name; it sounded venomous and deadly. "You're evil."

Rin raised his eyebrows in delight and removed his hat, throwing it onto the desk. He then slipped away from the desk to the windows and threw one wide open, taking a second to look out over the sand and nodding in satisfaction. Rei was starting to get confused as Rin circled back toward him. He then grabbed Rei by the arm and stood him up, dragging him over to the open window. Then Rei realized what Rin was going to do. Rin bent him over with a firm hand on his back so his top half was hanging outside the window frame, the toes of his boots just scraping the floorboards inside the room. Rin was also holding onto his belt so he could either hold him secure or pick him up and toss him out if he wanted.

Rei planted his hands firmly on the exterior wood of the ship to try and ground himself better.

Then he saw the sand sharks circling near the back of the boat just a short fall away.

"Okay, okay! I'll do it, I swear! Just bring me back in please!"

"That's a good boy!" Rin chided as he let Rei up and dropped him at his feet. Rei fell to his knees in front of Rin, breathing hard and heart hammering wildly. Rin walked away from him.

Rei was acutely aware of the departing footsteps.

"Now get over here."

Rei looked up at Rin. He was standing near the desk a few steps away with his arms crossed. Rei moved to stand.

"No." Rin barked.

Rei looked at him in confusion.

"Crawl." The mirth in Rin's voice was tangible.

Rei looked down at the floor and started crawling along the wood, his cheeks burning.

"Look at me!"

"Please just give me this." Rei retorted weakly, trying to keep some semblance of his dignity. Suddenly the boots were approaching again and the firm hand was under his chin once more, forcing his face up toward Rin, but he kept his eyes shut.

"Open your eyes or I throw you out the window."

Rei finally cracked his eyes open and met Rin's gaze, his face scarlet with embarrassment.

"Follow me, pet." Rin walked backwards along the floor toward the desk, guiding Rei with a hand under his chin, their eyes never parting. "Sit right here," Rin said once they reached the desk, seating Rei right at one of the legs. Rei sat completely still as he watched Rin grab a length of rope and tie one end to the leg of the desk and only flinching slightly when Rin firmly tied the other end around his ankle.

"As much as I would have liked to tie it around your pretty little neck, I do want you to be at least somewhat comfortable," Rin said, "You will be here for days, after all. Now, you can stay on the floor like an animal, or you can get up, sit your ass in that chair, and get to work on that map."

A sudden cacophonous bang shocked the two out of the moment, rattling the ship and sending it pitching wildly.

"What the fuck!?" Rin screamed, grabbing his hat from the desk and tearing out of his cabin, leaving Rei behind. He quickly descended the stairs and flew toward the door leading below deck. By the time he made it to the storage area, Sousuke was already on the hunt for whoever had fired the cannon. Ai, Haru, and Gou stood off to the side out of his way and shied away as Rin approached.

"Sousuke, what the fuck happened?" Rin snarled.

"Someone fired a cannon from the port side! I'm placing the blame firmly on Momo and the captive crewman he was with!"

Rin growled and stalked around the room. "Come on out, Momo! I'll cut both your punishments in half if I don't have to find you and drag you out!"

Momo turned to Nagisa. "That's a good offer. We should take it."

Nagisa nodded. "Okay." In unison, they both stood from behind the crate, showing themselves.

"Sousuke." Rin snapped his fingers and pointed to them. "24 hours in lock up. No food or water."

"Yes, captain." Sousuke apprehended the two young crew mates, throwing Nagisa over his shoulder and taking Momo under his arm.

Rin turned to Gou, Ai, and Haru. "While Sousuke throws them in the brig, you three start moving all the gunpowder into the weaponry. It now stays behind lock and key." Rin sensed movement behind him as Makoto tentatively peeked out from the weapons store. Rin swiveled to face him. "You!" he yelled, catching Makoto off guard and making him squeak. "You're helping with the heavy lifting!"

"Y-Yes, sir!" Makoto bowed, unwilling to upset the volatile captain.

Rin stalked back up toward the main deck, leaving the four of them to their task.

Ai turned to Gou. "How many kegs of gunpowder do we have left?" he asked.

She counted them quickly. "Looks to be around twenty. Seven large barrels and thirteen smaller kegs."

"Alright, the faster we get this done, the faster we can get back to making dinner," Ai said. "Come on, Haru."

Haru turned to Makoto, helping him lift a larger barrel of gunpowder. "Are you doing okay, Makoto?"

Makoto sighed. "Yes, it's just... that captain is terrifying. Everyone else seems okay though. Sousuke was pretty nice to me. I just worry about what the captain is doing to Rei up there." The two of them walked the barrel into the weaponry and set it down along the far wall. Gou and Ai were carrying in a few of the smaller barrels while Makoto and Haru heaved the larger ones into the room. When Sousuke finally returned sans Momo and Nagisa, he impressed everyone by lifting the last large barrel all by himself. Makoto almost fainted from the sight, at which Haru snickered.

"That's our Sousuke!" Gou beamed. "Toughest guy around!"

"Stop it, Gou." Sousuke chided as he carried the last barrel into the weapons cache, setting it down, exiting, then locking the door behind him. "I'm not trying to show off; I'm just helping."

"So modest. I wish a bit of your personality could rub off on my brother," Gou sighed, "We all know he needs it."

Sousuke turned to the crew. "Everyone back to work," he instructed, sending Haru and Ai back to the kitchen and Gou back above deck to the helm. She acted as captain whenever Rin was preoccupied.

Once the others were gone, Sousuke looked over at Makoto. "You good at climbing?" He asked.

Makoto nodded gently. "Yeah, I guess."

"Okay, we're going to inspect the sails and rigging for damage. After the brief skirmish with your ship, I want to make sure they're all in good condition."

"That's what I used to do on our ship. I was in charge of setting the sails and tying the rigging ropes."

"Good, then you'll be of great help to me," Sousuke said, "But tell me, how did you guys get along with so few crewmen?"

Makoto raised his eyebrows. "I could ask the same of you."

"We all work hard to pull our weight around here. Well, mostly all of us." Sousuke shrugged. "The captain doesn't really do much; he just broods over his map most of the time, but honestly, that's okay. He's not very pleasant to have around."

Makoto was surprised at how Sousuke spoke of his captain. "As I've experienced."

"Like I said, you're lucky your friend agreed to help him because he really would have done all that stuff he said. I've seen what he's capable of."

"Why do you stay here then?" Makoto asked.

Sousuke looked him right in the eye. "Rin may be a horrible person, but he is able to give us a steady supply of food and fresh water. That's why we stay." He shrugged one shoulder. "Gou is his sister, and she thinks that we can change him if we try hard enough, but I'm not too sure about that." Sousuke started toward the stairs leading up to the main deck, waving a hand as he passed by Makoto. "Come on, let's go up top, but I warn you, this talk stays below deck, understood?"

Makoto nodded quickly, a nervous blush spreading across his cheeks as he followed after Sousuke. "Yes!"

Chapter Text

When Rin returned to his cabin, Rei had moved himself onto the chair and faced away from the door. He spared a quick glace back at Rin before focusing on the map once more. Rin approached him and laid his hat on the table.

Rei tensed. "He's too close," he thought, "What does he want now?"

"Any progress?" Rin asked abruptly.

Rei furrowed his eyebrows, but did not look up from the map. "No, I've only been looking at it for the two or three minutes that you were gone."

Rin scoffed, rounding the table and sitting down in his captain's chair across from Rei. "Useless."

Now Rei sneered, looking up at Rin. "Well, you expect me to be in here for days, as you said, but then you want me to have it decoded after two minutes? Isn't there some kind of famous quote? Rome wasn't built in a day or something like that?"

Rei caught the murderous glint in Rin's glare at his bold words, so Rei lowered his eyes back to the map. Rin stood from his chair and strode over to the bookshelves along the wall, searching for something to pass his time as Rei worked.

"You wouldn't happen to have any books on ancient languages over there, would you?" Rei asked.

Rin glanced back at Rei, then returned his attention to the shelves. "I might." He fingered through the spines of the books and found that he did have one book that might help Rei. He slipped it off the shelf and tossed it down on the table. It landed with a heavy thud next to Rei, making him flinch slightly. "That's all you get."

Rei slid the book closer to himself, sending Rin a glare while he continued to look through the shelves. "Thanks."

As Rin finally chose a book to occupy his time, he returned to his plush chair at the desk and sat down, making himself comfortable by putting his feet up onto the desk in a leisurely manner. Rei eyed him, but Rin made no effort to remove his boots from Rei's work space.

Rei sighed. He'd have to get used to it. He couldn't exactly tell the captain what to do. Rei tried to ignore it and study the images of ancient texts in the book that Rin had given him. The words definitely looked like something he had seen before, but none of the languages and alphabets in the book seemed to exactly match the one used on the map. Some came close, and that could be a stepping stone for him, but none were a perfect match.

----------

After reading through about a quarter of the book Rin had thrown him, Rei was starting to feel rather tired. The sun was fading from the sky and the light would soon be gone. He'd need a lamp or some candles if he was to continue. He looked up from the book to see that Rin had started to fall asleep too, his head bobbing up and down every once in a while as he drifted in and out of consciousness. Rei snickered at the sight, finding comfort in the peaceful look on the dreaded pirate captain's face. Rei didn't want to disturb him and incur his wrath, but he really needed those lanterns lit.

"Captain?" he asked gently.

Rin was startled from his brief slumber, blinking fast and scowling. "What?"

"Could you light some lanterns for me? I'd like to keep studying this after dark."

Rin put his feet down on the ground (much to Rei's delight) and grabbed a box of matches from inside one of the desk drawers. He struck a match against the wood of the desk and used it to light both of the oil lanterns near Rei.

Rei heard Rin's stomach growl, but Rin said nothing as he slipped away from the desk and out of his cabin, fetching his hat along the way.

Rei was surprised that Rin hadn't just thrown him the box of matches and made him light the lanterns himself, but Rei was thankful for the action.

-----

Rin descended below deck toward the galley. He was hungry and was looking forward to whatever the crew had made for dinner that night. He entered the galley and called out.

"Ai! Where's my meal?"

Ai looked up from where he was cleaning the dishes. "Ah, captain! You're just in time!" He left the sink and moved toward a serving platter with a lid over top. "Everyone else has already eaten -except the two in the brig, of course- but there is still a fair amount of food left. Haru is a genius down here." Ai lifted the lid on the platter and showed off the sauteed vegetables.

Rin didn't like being the last one to eat, but he took a plate of his own from the shelf and started to pile the lukewarm vegetables onto it.

"You should take some to the navigator too," Ai said, "He'll work better if he's not starving."

Rin glared at him, but said nothing, turning away once he had loaded his plate to his satisfaction. He took a jug of water with him as he stalked out of the galley with his plate of vegetables.

-----

Rei heard footsteps approaching the cabin door. He knew the captain was back.

Rin pushed in through the door and set the plate of vegetables down on his side of the table, pushing a piece into his mouth as he sat down.

It was at that moment that Rei realized he was also very hungry. He stared at the plate of sauteed vegetables. They looked just like the ones Haru made. He heard Rin stop chewing and looked up at him. He was scowling at him, so Rei dropped his eyes back to the map, but all he could think about was the amazing smell of the food.

Suddenly, a goblet of water was being slid toward him.

"Drink it."

"You didn't poison it, did you?" Rei asked, suspicious.

Rin raised an eyebrow. "I need you alive to translate the map."

Rei figured that he had a point, so he lifted the chalice to his lips and drank the cool water, relishing the feeling of fresh water slipping down his throat. It had been so long.

"That's amazing," Rei sighed, "Thank you."

He should have savored it more, drinking it slowly instead of just gulping it down like he was dying of thirst. Who knew if Rin would allow him any more? He returned his attention to the map, his stomach momentarily sated by the water. His eyes landed on a few symbols that he may be able to translate using the book Rin had given him. He flipped back to the page where he had seen the alphabet symbols and read them aloud as he translated them.

"I...wa...to...bi." He furrowed his eyebrows in confusion, then cast his gaze quickly up toward Rin, who was also looking at him, but Rin's expression was nothing less than astonished.

"Captain, is this what I think it is?"

Rin quickly shook the stupefied expression off his face. "It doesn't matter what you think it is! Just translate it!"

"But-"

"No!" Rin yelled, standing up so quickly the desk shook. "No more talking! Just work!"

Rin turned and moved away from the desk toward the windows. He looked out over the vast sand sea glowing in the fiery sunset. His body thrummed with excitement. Rei had actually been able to translate a bit of the map. Sure, Rin had known that the word 'Iwatobi' would be on the map, but the fact that Rei had been able to read it after only about an hour of studying it made Rin very happy indeed.

"You know, we-" Rei began.

Rin turned back to him quickly, eyes narrowed. "What did I just say?" he growled.

Rei cast his eyes back down to the map, and Rin nodded in satisfaction, striding back to the table and resting on the edge, munching on a few more vegetables from the plate as Rei worked.

After a few minutes, Rin had eaten his fill of food and slid the plate across the table toward Rei, who looked up at him again.

"I'm done with that," he said, pushing away from the desk. "I'm going to bed. Don't try anything while I'm asleep." Rin removed his coat and hung it on a hook on the wall next to his bed.

Rei eyed the captain as he removed his coat, then his boots and slipped under the covers of the bed, turning to face away from him. He wished he could sleep in a comfy bed like that too, but it seemed his bed would be either this chair or the floor for the coming nights. He looked back at the plate of food Rin had left for him. Obviously this food was safe for him to eat; he had just seen Rin eating it, so he knew there was nothing wrong with it. Rin had also given him water earlier, and the half-full jug was still sitting on the table, the water gently lapping from the rocking of the ship.

Rei glanced over to the bed, then back to the plate of food. He was quite hungry, so he removed his thin black gloves and took a piece of broccoli from the small pile that was left and popped it into his mouth. He didn't even care that it was cold; at least it tasted good. He ate a few more pieces of carrots and cucumbers before focusing back on the map, looking for more words that he recognized.

He worked for almost another half-hour, but was only able to read one other word before he slipped into unconsciousness along with the captain.

Samezuka.

--------

Rei awoke sometime in the middle of the night with an awful pain in his neck from the position he had fallen asleep in. One lamp was almost out of oil and the sky outside had gone completely dark. He quickly looked over to where Rin rested on the bed, finding him still sound asleep and looking far more comfortable than Rei, but sometime earlier in the night, Rin had turned over and was now facing Rei. His face once again looked peaceful and calm, maybe even happy. Rei couldn't tell in the dim light of the cabin.

Looking back to the desk, he pulled the lantern closer to him and continued reading the book Rin had given him earlier.

-------

When Rei awoke again, the sun was rising. He had been able to read a few more chapters of the book before passing out, and he had still woken up before the captain had. He didn't feel rested at all. He needed to find a semi-comfortable way to sleep at this desk if he wanted any of it to be decent. He stood up from his chair, desperately needing to stretch his legs after sitting in that chair since yesterday afternoon. Touching the toe of his boot to the rope around his other ankle, Rei briefly thought about trying to untie it, but he imagined Rin would be very upset with him if he did that, so he left it alone.

He decided instead to explore the cabin as far as he could go away from the desk. The rope was just long enough for him to go over to the bookshelf where Rin had gotten his book from before. He glanced over the spines of the books, but most of them were stories, not research.

"The captain seems to enjoy legends and fairy tales, but that is as I expected, regarding his map," he thought.

He suddenly heard Rin shifting on the bed, seemingly awake for the morning. He wondered if he should try to get back to the chair, but he didn't want to trip over the rope tethering him to the desk, so he settled with leaning on the desk to study the map instead.

Rin sat up on the bed and looked over at him, seeing him standing and squinting at him in suspicion. "What are you doing up?"

"I needed to stretch my legs," Rei answered, "I've been sitting in that chair for hours."

"I suppose I'll allow that." Rin replied, slipping on his boots and rising from the bed. Rin was starting to feel hungry again, so he grabbed his coat and hat and left the cabin in search of food. Sousuke and Makoto were on the main deck tending to the sails and Gou was at the helm. She called out when she noticed him.

"Morning, Rin! How's the map coming along?"

Rin ignored her and kept walking, descending the stairs and crossing the main deck, past Sousuke and Makoto. He didn't care about what they were doing; he just wanted something to eat.

He entered the galley and started rummaging through crates, looking for something he wanted to eat. Finding some dried meat in one of the boxes, he set a few chunks on a plate and continued his search. He pulled out a few pieces of bread and some apples. This would do just fine.

He took his plate and a fresh jug of water with him when he left the galley, making a bee-line straight back toward his cabin. He passed by the others on the way back, but none of them said a word to him.

Rin entered his cabin once more and slammed the door behind him, making Rei jump. He set the plate of food and the new jug of water down on the desk.

Rei looked at the variety of food quizzically. "This isn't really breakfast food."

"Does this look like a fancy inn where I bring you breakfast? No. This is a pirate ship; you get whatever I give you. Remember, you're still my prisoner," Rin reminded him.

Rin was correct, Rei should be happy that Rin gave him any food at all. He decided on a piece of bread and went back to the map.

-------

A short while later, there was an urgent knock on the door of the captain's cabin.

"Rin!" It was a woman's voice. "Please open the door!"

Rin jumped up from his chair, and Rei was startled by how quickly Rin reacted to the knock. At least he had finally heard someone say the captain's name; it never seemed like the right moment to ask, and Rei thought it was unfair that Rin knew his.

He threw open the door. "What is it, Gou?"

She pointed off into the distance. "We're headed straight into a sandstorm! It'll be upon us in minutes! I've already instructed Sousuke and Makoto to raise the sails. Grab anything you need while you can!"

Rei watched her tear away from the doorway, and Rin looked back at him briefly before following her, leaving the door open in his haste. Rei went as close as he could and looked out, but he couldn't see much, as he was still a fair distance from the door.

Rei knew how devastating sandstorms could be. They could rip your sails to shreds if you didn't raise them in time. They could blast right through the hull of your ship if you didn't seal everything off, and even then, if you got stuck in a particularly long one, you probably weren't going to make it out. All Rei could do was hope that it would pass quickly. He moved away from the door as he heard the wind begin to howl outside. He hoped Rin would return to secure that door soon, otherwise the cabin could suffer damage from the sand.

Rei went back to the desk as the wind started to blow inside the room, sending Rin's prized map flying. Rei scrambled to catch it, but it slipped towards the back of the room, out of reach of his tether. He eyed it very closely as it traveled around the cabin on the wind, waiting for it to come close enough for him to catch. He was a dead man if he lost that map. It fluttered closer to him, and as soon as he was able to snatch it out of the air, the wind stopped and the door closed.

"What are you doing?" Rin yelled, setting the small crate and extra jug of water that he was carrying down on the desk.

"You didn't close the door behind you when you left, so the map flew across the room when the wind picked up! I had to save it!" Rei set the map down on the desk and secured it under his book as a precaution.

"You should have secured it right away! Then there would have never been a chance of it getting lost!

Rei animatedly put a hand on his chest in a mocking gesture. "Well, excuse me for not thinking ahead!"

"You're excused, but don't let it happen again or you're going out into that sandstorm."

Rei grumbled to himself, sitting down once again in his chair. He had a feeling that this was going to be a long couple of days.

--------

Gou, Sousuke, Makoto, Haru, and Ai were all clustered under the main deck of the ship to wait out the storm. Makoto and Ai sat on some uncomfortable, wooden stools around a small table, Haru sat on the floor against the hull, Sousuke stood against a crate, and Gou paced across the room.

"Well, we're gonna be stuck down here for a while," Gou sighed to the crew. Her pacing was a sign that she was nervous. "There's no telling how long though. We just have to wait it out." She turned to Sousuke. "Great job raising the sails as quickly as you did. Hopefully they'll survive the storm."

"Thanks, Gou," Sousuke replied, leaning his elbow on top of the crate. "I had some great help."

Makoto couldn't help the blush the lit up his cheeks. "Thank you, Sousuke." He turned to Gou. "I also just want to say thank you all for treating me and Haru so nicely. It's a welcome change from how your captain treated us."

"One has to learn how to get along with Rin," Sousuke said, "and believe me, it's a skill I'm still working on."

Gou rolled her eyes. "He's not that bad."

"He threatened my crew and I with torture and death yesterday," Haru stated.

"He's also murdered countless people," Sousuke added.

"And he threw Momo and Nagisa in a cell for a whole day without food or water for firing a single cannonball," Ai finished.

"So he has some bad qualities! He's still my brother and I love him!"

Haru closed his eyes and leaned back against the hull of the ship. "I'm glad I don't have any siblings."

"Hmm," Gou thought for a moment. "Speaking of Momo and Nagisa, it might almost be time to let them out of their cell."

"No." Sousuke shook his head. "After lunch. I want to avoid talking to Kisumi again until I've had something to eat."

"Who's Kisumi?" Makoto asked.

Gou groaned audibly, slouching over at the thought of her last conversation with Kisumi, where she had been so annoyed that she almost killed him herself. "He's just a prisoner we have locked up in the brig. Rin hates him. He's seriously the most annoying guy any of us have ever met."

"Honestly, I think he's gone crazy down there. Ai only gives him a biscuit and one glass of water per day," Sousuke said. "That's enough to drive anyone crazy."

"And that's more than I'm supposed to give him too! The captain wanted me to give him only half a biscuit per day and run-off water from the galley, but I couldn't do that; it's inhumane!"

"I feel bad for Momo. Being stuck down there with him is probably hell." Sousuke shook his head. "But it is a punishment, so I can't feel too bad."

Makoto laughed quietly. "Nagisa is probably having a blast with him down there. He talks a lot too, and none of us seem to be able to keep up."

An angry wind began to heave outside, pushing the ship and making it groan and creak from the force. Everyone could hear the constant battering of sand grains on the outside of the hull, and there wasn't a single person in the room who wasn't on edge from the storm.

"No one goes outside for any reason," Gou warned.

Haru cracked his eye open and peeked over at Makoto. The poor boy was terribly faint-hearted, and Haru had taken to being his protector of sorts while they were out in the desert. Haru rose from his seat against the wall and moved to sit next to Makoto as a calming gesture, as he could see the fear in his body language.

Makoto took Haru's arm. "Thank you, Haru. I hope we all can make it through this," he said softly, only loud enough for Haru to hear. "And I hope Rei is okay up there with the captain."

"Everything will be fine, Makoto. I'll be here if you need me."

Makoto set his head down on Haru's shoulder. "Thank you."

---------

Ai surveyed the galley, contemplating their choices for lunch. "What should we make for lunch today, Haru?"

"We could boil and fry some of that dried meat."

Ai made a face, a grimace at the thought of eating re-hydrated meat. "I guess we could, but it might not taste so good."

"A soup then?" Haru proposed.

A excited look flashed across Ai's features. "That's a great idea! A nice hearty soup should calm everyone's nerves while we wait out the storm." He started rummaging through crates, gathering ingredients for a basic soup, something Ai had made countless times for the crew before, but he had a feeling that this soup would be ten times better with Haru's influence.

Haru lit the fire under the stove grate and prepared a big soup pot with a base of water, spices, and wheat grain, mixing the pot gently as the water came to a boil.

Ai took to chopping the vegetables this time. A few bundles of broccoli, a bushel of carrots, some celery stalks, and several potatoes were what he had decided upon.

"Let's leave the dried meat out of this one, Haru. We'll just keep that for snacks."

Haru looked over to him, his judgmental eyes focusing on Ai for a second longer than Ai was comfortable with. "Fine."

A bit shaken, Ai continued lopping the stems off the broccoli crowns. "He certainly is quite... unusual," he thought. "He is a good cook though, so I suppose it's alright."

Ai was startled when Haru was suddenly standing next to him and dicing potatoes, but he said nothing.

"Are you still mad that I jumped in the water barrel?" Haru asked plainly.

"Ah, no, not really, but please don't do it again," Ai replied. "You saw what the captain did to Momo and Nagisa for wasting a cannonball; what he'll do to you for wasting water will be much, much worse, and I kinda like having you around to help in here. The only other time the food turns out like anything close to yours is when Sousuke comes in to help me, and that doesn't happen too often. He has lots of other duties on the ship." A dejected look sat upon Ai's features, and his chopping slowed.

There was a moment of silence before Haru spoke.

"Well, now I can help you."

Taken aback, Ai peered over at Haru, but Haru continued to work as though he had said nothing at all.

"I'm grateful," Ai replied, a small smile on his face.

---------

"Wow!" Ai exclaimed, "This soup is amazing! Everyone will love it, I'm sure!"

"Thanks." Haru said, and Ai could see the tiniest sliver of a smile shine through his stoic expression. He moved to the door of the galley and called out, "Lunch is ready everyone! Come get it!". He stepped aside as Gou, Sousuke, and Makoto filed into the galley. Haru served each of them a small cup of soup.

Gou was the first to try the concoction. She took a small sip, and her eyes dazzled.

"This is amazing!"

Makoto smiled. "Haru was always a good cook on our ship too!"

Sousuke shot Haru a judgmental glance. "Wasn't he your captain? What was he doing in the galley? Shouldn't he be at the helm?"

"I was the captain. I can do whatever I want," Haru replied, narrowing his eyes in displeasure.

"A captain is supposed to lead their crew, not run off to the kitchen." Sousuke retorted.

Malice started to burn in Haru's eyes. "Does your captain lead you, or does he spend all his time sulking in his cabin?"

Makoto held out a hand. "Haru, be careful."

Sousuke let out a sudden bark of laughter at that. "That is true, but Gou acts more like a captain than Rin, and she is exceptionally good at it."

Haru peered over at Gou. "I can't fault you at all. A good captain inspires their crew to follow their every command with a strong sense of companionship, and so far that's what I've seen with you."

Gou simply nodded in acknowledgement.

"Can we continue eating in peace, please?" Makoto pleaded. He hated seeing people fight.

Haru stared Sousuke down. "I will if he does."

"Fine."

"Great! Let's all finish this food that Haru and I worked very hard on!" Ai finished, leaving no more room for arguing. "We can't start arguing already. We still don't know how long we'll be down here. Let's try to be civil to each other."

Sousuke sighed. "Ai's right. I'm not one to tell you how to run your ship, Haru."

"Thanks."

They ate the rest of their meal in silence, and once they were done, Sousuke decided to brave going down to the brig to retrieve Momo and Nagisa.

"They can have some when they get here," Sousuke said.

Makoto looked concerned all of a sudden. "Everyone has had their fill, right? Nagisa will probably eat quite a lot when he gets back."

"Momo as well." Gou added.

Haru shrugged. "It's okay. I can make more if we need it."

"If everyone is fine with that, I'll go get them." Sousuke drawled as he headed in the direction of the cells.

"I'll go pour them each a cup," Ai said, trailing back to the galley.

The brig was on the lowest deck of the ship, so Sousuke descended further. The lowest deck was bare of most things. The only things stored here were extra lumber and various tools for ship repairs - and prisoners, of course.

Nagisa and Momo both perked up when they heard Sousuke approach, ecstatic to be finally let out and given some food. They sat in the single cell with a pink-haired man who looked rather cheerful despite his situation - Kisumi.

"Sousuke! You're finally here! It's been so long!" Momo exclaimed.

"It's actually been less than 24 hours."

"Does that mean you're not going to let us out, Sou-chan?"

Sousuke's attention went straight to Nagisa. "What did you call me?" he asked, scowling.

"Er, Sou-chan?" Nagisa offered.

Sousuke raised an eyebrow, grimacing in disgust. "Maybe I will leave you in here."

Nagisa reached a hand through the bars. "No! Please! We're so hungry and we don't want to talk to that guy anymore!" He jutted a thumb back at Kisumi.

"Yeah Sousuke! Kisumi is so annoying!" Momo added, pleading.

"I am not!" Kisumi pouted from across the cell. "You guys just don't like talking to me because you know that Rin will give you a hard time."

Sousuke rolled his eyes so hard they started to hurt. "Sure, that's it." He quickly unlocked the cell. "Come on Momo, Nagisa. Let's get out of here. There's food waiting for you in the galley."

"Yay!" "Yesss!" They cheered, rushing out of the cell as Sousuke locked it behind them.

"Aww, you're no fun, quartermaster," Kisumi drawled, a flirtatious lilt to his voice as he sang Sousuke's title, but Sousuke turned away, watching Nagisa and Momo run across the deck and climb the staircase. He followed along behind them quickly, not sparing a glance back. Kisumi slumped over in the cell, forced into another day of solitude. He pulled his knees up to his chest and rested his chin on one and thought about how much longer he'd have to stay in here.

He was roused from his thoughts a few moments later when he saw Ai come down to give him his daily biscuit and water. He waved animatedly.

"Ai! It's so good to see you! Sousuke didn't want to talk at all."

"I won't be here for too long either, but I brought you something special today."

Kisumi tilted his head like a cat, curiosity obvious on all of his features. "Really? What is it?"

Ai handed him a cup of soup.

"Soup? I'm sure Rin would never allow you to give me this."

"He doesn't have to know."

"Going against your captain?" Kisumi smirked. "You're bad." He took a quick sip of the soup and was instantly transported to his own version of heaven. "My god! This soup is delicious! Did you make it?"

Ai shook his head. "I'm afraid I can't take the credit. We have a new cook on board, and he is quite talented."

"Well, who ever he is, tell him I love him and I'd like to marry him."

Ai raised an eyebrow. "Uhh, okay... Sure."

Sousuke was right. Kisumi had gone crazy.

"Anyway, that's all for today, but before I go, I want to tell you that there's a big sandstorm going on outside, so we're all stuck below deck for the time being."

Ai thought he noticed a menacing gleam in Kisumi's eye at that, but it was so brief that he dismissed it as Kisumi returned to his vibrant self. "Then you all should come down and visit me more!"

"Er, I'll make the suggestion. Enjoy your soup," Ai said, turning to leave.

"I'll treasure it, for it was made by my future husband!" Kisumi called after Ai as he returned to the upper deck.

---------

After Nagisa and Momo finished their portions of food, the crew was desperate to find something to pass the time.

"We could play cards," Gou suggested.

"But we have nothing to bet with," Momo said, "It's no fun if there aren't stakes!"

Gou scowled at him. "We can totally play for fun! It'll be a great time!"

---------

They played cards for two hours 'for fun' as Gou had suggested, and by the end of those two hours, no one was having fun anymore. The game had devolved into notorious cheating from Momo and Nagisa, forfeiture from Makoto, and outright refusal to play with each other from Sousuke and Haru.

"He's cheating," They both accused the other.

Gou was exasperated. "Neither of you are cheating, they are!" She pointed to Momo and Nagisa.

"We are not!" Nagisa cried.

"We aren't even playing for anything! Why are you cheating?" she shrieked.

Momo stood from the table and raised his hand in a triumphant fist. "FOR HONOR!"

Gou sighed, completely done with cards. "Let's do something else."

"Like what?" Sousuke asked, apathetic.

"We could tell stories or sing songs?" Makoto offered.

"I don't sing," Haru and Sousuke said in unison.

"Stories, then?"

Nagisa raised his hand. "Ohhh, I know a good story! It's about a ship and its crew that was lost in a sandstorm!"

"Uhh," Ai started. "I don't think that's a very good idea for a story, given our situation."

"Oh, right."

Haru sighed, standing from the table. "I'm gonna take a nap before I have to make dinner."

"That's a good idea," Makoto said, "I'd like to try to take one too."

Sousuke eyed Nagisa and Momo as Haru and Makoto went off into the sleeping quarters.

"The rest of us are going to clean up this place until I'm satisfied with the result." Sousuke said, earning two mortified expressions from Momo and Nagisa.

"No way!" "I don't want to clean!"

"Really? Would you rather go down and hang out with Kisumi again?"

The two young crewmen went silent.

"That's what I thought."

-----------

The droning cascades of howling wind and sand were even more unbearable in the captain's cabin. Rei rested his head on the desk and tried to ignore it, but when a sound surrounds your being so absolutely, it's hard to simply ignore it. Rei needed to grow used to it if he was to make any progress on the map.

Rin sat across from him, reading his book once again, seemingly unperturbed by the storm.

"How do you take it?" Rei found himself blurting out without raising his head from the desk.

Rin looked over at him, but said nothing.

"The noise. How do you take it?" He asked again.

"When you've been in the desert for as long as I have, you've been through your share of storms," Rin replied, "Now get back to work."

Rei sighed and lifted his head, pulling the map closer to him. Glancing at the aged text, the letters seemed to jumble in his vision, scrambling to the echo of the wind. He was exhausted.

Rin's hand slamming down on the table forced his eyes wide open. When had he closed them?

"Do you need water or something?" Rin asked, a disinterested tone to his voice.

"Yes, please. That would be lovely," he replied. "And if I could trouble you for something to eat as well. I think it would help with my drowsiness."

"Tch, demanding, aren't you?" Rin leaned forward in his chair and wrenched the lid from the crate he had brought in earlier. Then he slid it closer to Rei. "Help yourself."

Rei looked inside the small crate, finding only dried meats. While Rei was never much of a meat eater, he knew that Rin had probably grabbed this particular crate because meat would give them the most energy for the least amount of food. They had no idea how long the sandstorm would last, so they needed to try to eat and drink as little as possible.

"Thank you," he said quietly.

"You can take any water you'd like as well," Rin said, "Just try to make it last."

Rei nodded in response, pouring himself a small goblet of water and taking a sip. It did help to refresh him, though his stomach still rumbled, so he decided on an average-sized piece of meat from the crate and began to slowly munch on it as he worked, always keeping it close-by for a pick-me-up when he found his concentration waning. The two were mostly quiet for the better part of three hours, Rei studying the foreign letters and Rin reading his book. The sandstorm outside had become nothing more than white noise by this point.

"Ugh, this storm better end soon," Rin growled, setting his book down on the desk.

"Or what? You'll kill it?" Rei retorted, the words leaving his mouth before he could stop them.

Rin's hand shot across the desk, grabbing him by the ruffled collar of his shirt. "Shut up," he snarled, baring his teeth. Rin pushed him back when he let go, Rei hitting the back cushion of the chair, his glasses askew. "Don't talk anymore," he warned.

So the silence between them began once more.

----------

After another hour, Rin had started pacing to pass the time. His footsteps had grown more than annoying to Rei, and he found it difficult to concentrate with Rin moving about. Despite his own burning ambition and will to decode the map, his eyes eventually started to betray him in an attempt to give his body rest. Rei finally heard the captain's boots stop behind his chair. A long sigh resonated behind him. Rin tapped his feet in what seemed to be a rhythm of creaking by the wood underneath them. An odd and incommodious sound to get used to, Rei told himself through his sleepy haze.

"Did you make any more progress?" Rin asked abruptly, his tone nagging.

Rei raised his head. He took a few seconds to take in that Rin has finally spoken to him after a long silence. Taking a sharp breath through his once again dry throat he answered. "I believe so, but considering you blocked my question yesterday when I translated the word 'Iwatobi' you probably don't want me to read the rest out loud."

Rin clicked his tongue at the cockiness of his captive. How dare he rile him up after he's been halfway thrown out the window to end as sandshark food? After all the kindness Rin had subsequently shown him?

"Shut your mouth!" Rin snapped, sounding at least as thirsty. He coughed a few times and added quietly: "This sandstorm is starting to give me a headache. Your arrogance is making it worse."

"Oh sure, I'm the arrogant one. What happened to 'when you've been through as many sandstorms as m-"

Before Rei could turn his head, Rin had slammed his palm onto the wooden work space and firmly grabbed the fabric around his neck. The captain's voice was low and dripping with anger. "Listen. I won't hesitate to slit your throat or put a gun to your head if you piss me off too much." Rei's head was pushed onto the desk with a loud thud. He let out a groan, his glasses digging into his cheek, yet he kept eye contact with his tormentor who suddenly studied his facial features with high interest.

"Your pretty little face won't save you all the time."

Rin let him go and circled around the desk to stalk toward the windows. Perhaps it had been the diluted lighting caused by the sandstorm, but Rei had noticed an angry red on Rin's cheek before the silence yet again filled the room and left nothing but the driving wind.

"The sun is starting to set." Rin murmured.

Rei lifted his head from the desk and rubbed at his cheek, setting his glasses into the right place again. He could barely see the sunshine out the window, so how Rin could tell the time was beyond him.

"Could you light my lamps again?" Rei asked hesitantly.

Rin glared back at him. "Just one," he said, returning from the window. He fumbled with the matchbox again and quickly lit the oil lamp for Rei.

"Thank you."

Rin turned up his nose at Rei, looking down at him from his standing position. "I'm going to rest. Don't wake me."

And Rin did. He laid down on his heavenly-looking bed again and quickly fell to sleep, leaving Rei on his own with his work. The sunlight outside soon dimmed even further, exacerbated by the sandstorm, and Rei's eyes grew heavy from the darkness. The light in the lamp shrank as the sun did, until it fizzled out completely, leaving Rei in the pitch black of the cabin. Rin must have lit the lantern that was almost out of oil.

There was nothing more he could do for the night, his light extinguished, so Rei put his head down and let sleep take him.

Chapter Text

Rei slept through the whole night this time, but his sleep was not comfortable by any means. Maybe the faster he decoded this map, the sooner he'd get to sleep in a decent bed. He sat up in his chair and arched his back, hearing a satisfying crack from his spine. He curled his hand into a fist and massaged his knuckles into his spine briefly, then stood to stretch his legs.

He bent over to touch his toes and stretch out his calves, and his eyes came to rest on the rope still around his ankle. Rei could hardly believe that he'd been in here for a day and a half already.

A sudden snicker pulled him from his thoughts, startling him and making him stand up straight again.

"Such a brazen display," Rin remarked from his position on the bed, playfulness in his voice that Rei had never heard before. "If you're trying to seduce your way out of here, I can tell you right now that it won't work."

But something told Rei that 'seducing his way out' would absolutely work. However, that was not necessarily a route that he wanted to take. Rei simply disregarded the captain's ramblings as him not being fully awake yet.

"Anything new yet?"

There was the pushy captain Rei had expected.

"A bit," Rei replied as Rin rose from the bed and joined him near the desk. Rin poured himself a small bit of water to quench his thirst, then turned his attention to Rei.

"Well, go on!" He urged.

"I believe this map shows the islands of the legendary beasts of sky and sea, Iwatobi and Samezuka respectively," he explained, pointing to each island on the map as he talked.

"Yes, and?"

Rei had expected Rin to know that much, judging by his reaction the other day, so he continued.

"Unfortunately, I have no idea of where the area this map is showing is located, being that there are no directions among the text I have currently translated."

Rin narrowed his eyes. "And how much do you have translated?"

"Pretty much just the names of the islands and the directional compass." Rei said hesitantly.

"And I heard you were the best navigator in the land," Rin said, his judgmental gaze burning into Rei. It made Rei feel like an idiot.

"I'm getting there! I still have a few more chapters of this book to read. Maybe the key is still hidden within."

Rin crossed his arms, shrugging easily. "Then get to work."

-----------

After a simple breakfast of stale bread from yesterday and a chunk of dried meat, Rei began to read again, hoping that his answer would be in these last couple of chapters. Rin sat across from him, suspiciously quiet, but Rei was pleased with the silence.

Rin was loathe to admit, but his bickering with Rei over the last day or so had been fun. So far, Rei had proven useful, even if he hadn't translated as much of the map as Rin would have liked. The boy was making progress, and given time, he would finish it, Rin was sure of that.

He watched Rei's violet eyes scan the pages of the reference book Rin had given him from behind the frames of his red glasses. His eyes darted back and forth between the book and the map, his lips pursed and eyebrows furrowed in concentration.

"Cute," Rin thought suddenly.

Wait, what?

He tore his eyes from Rei and focused on his own book.

-----------


Sousuke knocked a metal cup against the wall. "Everyone up. Gou's orders."

Makoto cracked his eyes open, but he could hardly see anything. There was almost no light penetrating into the sleeping quarters. He could just make out Sousuke's figure standing against the wall. "What time is it?" he asked.

"It's probably around 7am," Sousuke replied, watching the others stir from their bunks. A groan could be heard from Nagisa.

"Why do we have to wake up so early, Sou-chan?" Nagisa grumbled, "There's not even anything we can do until the sandstorm stops."

"Yeah! Can't we just sleep through it?" Momo added.

Sousuke shrugged. "Fine, you can if you want. More food for the rest of us."

Nagisa and Momo sprang out of their bunks.

"No! I'm hungry now!" Nagisa cried, Momo nodding behind him. Their yelling made Ai glare over at them from his bunk.

"Then get in the galley and find something to eat for breakfast, but remember to ration out food appropriately. Everything we have has to last us until the storm has passed. Only then can we head into port to restock."

Nagisa and Momo took off toward the galley.

"I'd better follow them and make sure they don't eat too much," Ai said, leaving the sleeping quarters.

Makoto sighed. "You don't know how much Nagisa can eat," he said to Sousuke, "He's seriously a glutton."

"It'll be fine. We do have quite a bit of food left, so we don't have to worry yet." Sousuke glanced down at him. "You should go have something to eat too."

Makoto rose from his bunk and suddenly found himself standing chest-to-chest with Sousuke. When had the sleeping quarters become so cramped? At least Sousuke couldn't see him blush in the darkness of the room. "Uhhh, yeah! That's a good idea."

"What's wrong, Makoto? I can tell you're nervous."

Shit! Sousuke didn't have to see his blush, he could tell by the tone of his voice. "No! I'm okay, really!"

Sousuke put his hands on Makoto's shoulders and Makoto thought he was going to melt right into the floor. "You're nervous."

His heart was hammering wildly. "It's just... you know... the s-sandstorm," he fibbed, insanely glad Sousuke couldn't see the deep crimson on his cheeks.

"That's completely understandable," Sousuke replied, his voice deep and soothing. He kept his hands on Makoto's shoulders. "If you need anything, don't be afraid to ask me."

"Yeah..." Makoto murmured, his eyes slipping closed. He was just about to rest his hands upon Sousuke's chest when a sudden grunt from behind him snapped him back to reality. Haru had cleared his throat to get their attention.

"I'm here too," he said.

"Haru!" Makoto cried, whipping around to face him in the dim light. "You're awake! Good morning! Do you want some breakfast?" he rambled, Sousuke still standing behind him.

"I'll have to see what we have. This place is seriously lacking in food," Haru grumbled, climbing down from his bunk.

Makoto jumped suddenly when Sousuke rested a hand on his lower back, guiding him out of the way as Haru passed by them on his way out of the quarters. Once Haru was out of the room, Makoto looked over at Sousuke through the darkness. His hand still rested on Makoto's back.

"Are you hungry?" Sousuke asked. "Let's go."

Makoto could only nod as Sousuke finally lifted his hand and left the room, leaving him staring wide-eyed after the quartermaster.

"Makoto," he called.

That spurred him into action once again. "Coming!"

----------

"So underwhelming," Haru mumbled at the lack of variety in what kinds of things they could eat. It looked like he would have to make soup for lunch again. Meanwhile, they all sat around the small table just outside the galley eating toasted bread and "fresh" vegetables for breakfast.

"I mean, sure they're not fresh, Haru," Makoto offered, "But at least they're not rotten!"

"They may as well be," he replied, holding up a floppy piece of celery.

Sousuke rolled his eyes. "What are you? Some kind of gourmet?"

Haru stared him down. "I just like good food."

Gou sighed at the two boys arguing. "Don't fight please! We're all just trying to enjoy our breakfast."

Ai laughed lightly at Haru and Sousuke. "Come on, Haru. This tastes just fine, and I'm sure lunch will be great." He turned back to the crew. "Does anyone wanna help us prepare lunch later?"

Gou smiled and raised her hand. "I'll help you."

"Thank you, Gou! You'll be much appreciated."

"Sorry to interrupt," Sousuke announced, "But I don't know if anyone else has noticed that the sandstorm is causing the ship to tilt. As soon as we're done breakfast, we need to move all the cargo to the starboard side to keep the ship balanced so we don't capsize."

Momo looked at Sousuke with stars in his eyes. "Wow, you noticed that? You're so observant! I would have never noticed."

"That's why I'm the quartermaster and you're not."

Nagisa laughed at Sousuke's remark. "Good one, Sou-chan!"

Sousuke eyed him with disdain. "Anyway, we'll probably have to keep an eye on the cargo so it doesn't slide around. There needs to be someone on the cargo deck at all times, which shouldn't be hard considering we're all stuck down here."

"I'll assign shifts after we move everything." Gou said. "Finish up your breakfast everyone."

----------

After breakfast, they started moving crates and barrels to the starboard side of the deck. Gou, Ai, Nagisa, and Momo focused on moving the smaller cargo, while Sousuke, Makoto, and Haru moved the bigger items. Momo tried to help with a larger barrel once in an attempt to impress Gou, but he couldn't lift it even a little, so he went, defeated, back to the small crates.

With everyone working together, it didn't take long at all to move everything. Sousuke stood in the approximate middle of the room, breathing hard from the manual labour, and tried to judge if the ship was balanced.

Makoto was breathing hard himself, but he couldn't tear his eyes away from Sousuke. The sheen of sweat on his brow, the heaving of his chest, the twitch of his biceps - everything about him was mesmerizing.

"I think we're okay for now," Sousuke said, removing his bandana and using it to wipe at the sweat on his forehead. "But like I said before, we'll probably have to watch for shifting crates and rolling barrels."

"Ahh, Sousuke always looks so cool when he takes his bandana off!" Momo whined, "Why can't I look so tough?"

"You need more discipline, Momo!" Gou said.

"I don't think he looks that cool," Haru declared, "But his skills are admirable. I'll give him that."

Sousuke shot a surprised look toward Haru, but Haru was not looking at him. "Thanks," he said. He ran a hand through his hair quickly, mussing it up in an attempt to get some of the sweat out.

Makoto knew that he shouldn't stare. He knew, but he couldn't help it. Sousuke was absolutely his type. Muscular, humble, gorgeous. He was everything.

"I'm assigning myself as the first shift to watch the cargo," Gou announced, "I'll watch it until lunch."

Ai turned to her. "Why yourself?"

"So I can figure out the rest of the order while I'm doing the first shift."

--------

Another hour passed by uneventfully, everyone mostly just sitting around talking or occasionally moving about to stretch their legs.

Just then, Ai felt something crawling down his back and he screamed louder than he meant to, leaping out of his chair and untucking his shirt. A handful of sand grains fell to the floor.

"Sand? What the-" He looked behind him and saw Nagisa still holding some sand in his grip. "Where did you get that?"

Everyone's attention now focused on Nagisa, he pointed to one side of the room. "Over there. Behind that crate. I thought it would be funny to watch you jump, Ai-chan, and it was!"

Gou went over to examine the space behind the crate and indeed found a small pile of sand behind it. It seemed to be leaking in from a coin-sized knothole in the hull.

"Sousuke!" she called, "There's a small hole in the wall where sand is getting in. It needs to be repaired immediately!"

"I'm on it," he replied, leaving to grab a piece of lumber, a hammer, and a few nails. He returned after only a minute or so and shoved the crate aside with his hip in order to have enough space to work. He patched the hole with only a few firm knocks of the hammer.

"It's not perfect, but it'll have to do for now."

"Excellent," Gou said. She then turned to Nagisa. "Good job finding that hole. It could have caused a lot more damage if it had gone unnoticed."

Nagisa saluted her. "Always happy to help!"

-----------

Momo was sprawled out in the middle of the room staring at the ceiling. "Is this day ever going to end? I'm so bored!"

Gou scoffed, "It's only just begun! It's not even noon yet!"

He groaned and put his hands over his eyes.

Haru rolled his eyes. "I'm going to the galley."

"Momo," Gou said, authority in her voice. "You want something to do? Fine, you can have the next shift watching the cargo." She stood from her stool at the table and followed after Haru, taking Ai along with her.

Momo rolled over onto his stomach suddenly and watched her retreat into the galley. He didn't know whether to be happy or upset that Gou had chosen him next. On one hand, if he did a good job, it would surely impress her, but on the other hand, it would be even more boring than what he was doing now.

"Fine," he said, climbing up onto the stool from his spot on the floor and settling in for the next few hours.

Sousuke snickered from his spot at the table. All Momo could do was glare.

"Don't worry Momo-chan!" Nagisa said from across the table, "I'll keep you company! We can have fun even while doing boring stuff like this!"

"I trust you two won't try anything stupid like last time?" Sousuke chided, "Rin won't be so lenient with you again."

"You can trust us, Sou-chan! We'll be good!"

"Yeah, we don't wanna go back down there with Kisumi."

Sousuke nodded. "Good, because I'm going to leave you alone for a few minutes; I want to check on the weapons store and make sure nothing shifted in there. I'm going to take Makoto with me."

Makoto jolted upright upon hearing his name. He had been dozing in his seat for the last few minutes, his head bobbing as he drifted between asleep and awake.

"We'll behave!" Momo promised, putting his hand up as if taking an oath.

"You'd better. Come on Makoto." Sousuke waved his hand in the direction of the weapons store.

"Okay!" Makoto nodded, rising from his seat and following after him. He kept a steady pace behind Sousuke until they reached the big, wooden door to the weaponry. Makoto's eyes were again trained on Sousuke's arms, remembering the way he had rested his hands on Makoto's shoulders earlier.

He had almost kissed Sousuke then, but Haru had stopped him.

"This shouldn't take too long," Sousuke said over his shoulder, "The weaponry is already on the starboard side, so we probably won't have to move anything." He unlocked the door and entered the dark room. As Makoto stepped inside behind Sousuke, he noticed that it was almost as dark as the sleeping quarters had been.

"Close the door." Sousuke whispered.

Makoto had hardly heard him. "Sousuke?" he asked, confusion evident on his face.

Sousuke eyed him, and Makoto could see the intensity in his eyes even in the low light. He decided to do what Sousuke had said, turning around to secure the door behind him. Once the latch had fallen into place, Sousuke was right behind him; Makoto could feel his body heat. He gulped, turning to face him, and found that he was pinned against the door, Sousuke's arm on the wall next to his head.

"Sou-"

"Sh, I know you've been watching me," Sousuke murmured, "because I've been watching you too."

Makoto's eyes widened. "R-Really?" he stuttered.

Sousuke chuckled quietly. "You're hard to ignore," he whispered, resting a strong hand on the side of Makoto's neck, making the boy shiver. "You're into me, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't into you."

Sousuke was so close, Makoto could feel his breath on his lips. His face burned from his flush, but his eyes slipped closed and he relaxed into Sousuke's touch.

"Makoto, can I kiss you?"

It took him a second to react to that. He could barely find words, running his hands up Sousuke's back and pulling him close.

"Yes," he finally breathed.

Sousuke wasted no time in bringing their lips together, forceful yet chaste. It lasted mere seconds, but to the both of them, it seemed like an eternity before they separated. Warm breath mingled between them for a moment before Sousuke spoke.

"We should go back, or else they might suspect something."

Makoto nodded once. "Nagisa can be a bit of a gossip." Sousuke pulled away from him, allowing Makoto to turn back to the door.

"Don't you think for a second that this is over, Makoto."

"I was hoping you'd say that."

------------

"Lunch time!" Gou called, poking her head out of the galley. Nagisa and Momo perked up right away, but since Momo was the one on cargo watch, he wasn't allowed to leave his spot.

"We'll bring you some, Momo." Makoto said gently.

They filed into the galley to be served their ration of soup, with one extra cup poured for Makoto to take back to Momo. Of course, Ai secretly poured a cup for Kisumi again. Rin would never find out.

"I'll be back," Ai called, "I'm taking Kisumi his rations." He descended onto the lowest deck, Kisumi perking up once he heard Ai coming.

"Ai! How are you doing today? Any sign that the sandstorm will let up soon?" Kisumi's positive attitude in the face of his situation never failed to surprise Ai.

"The sandstorm is still going strong unfortunately. No changes as of yet." He handed Kisumi the cup. "Here. More soup courtesy of our new cook."

"You mean my husband," he corrected.

"Er, yeah."

After a sip of his soup, Kisumi spoke again, "Tell me about him, Ai."

Ai raised an eyebrow. "Haru?"

Kisumi looked extremely interested. "Is that his name? Haru?" he inquired.

"Y-Yeah, it is."

Kisumi moved closer to the door of the cell, resting on his knees so he looked up at Ai. "What does he look like?"

"Uh," Ai started, "He's a bit shorter than you, and he's got dark hair and eyes like the ocean - the water ocean."

Kisumi's face showed nothing but deep fascination and intrigue. "Wow. He sounds amazing. I'm so lucky."

"O-Okay then. I'm gonna go now."

"Okay! See you soon, Ai!"

Ai quickly went back up to the others, slightly disturbed by Kisumi's weird behaviour.

"Congratulations on making it back." Sousuke said to him when he arrived. "You survived another day with him."

"Yeah, he's really weird," Ai said. He sat down and took a sip of the soup from his cup. He was glad that he was done with Kisumi for the day.

-----------

After everyone was done their lunch, they embarked on various tasks around the lower deck. Haru and Ai went back to the galley to clean the dishes and save the leftover soup, Gou went to take a nap, Sousuke and Makoto were checking the rest of the hull for more holes, and Momo and Nagisa were left to watch the cargo.

"Wow, could this get any more boring?" Momo complained.

"Momo-chan, how did you end up here on this ship? How long have you been here?" Nagisa asked, trying to pass the time with conversation.

"Hm?" Momo turned to Nagisa. "I've been on this ship ever since the captain gathered his crew. He and Gou-san were searching for a crew at one of the ports, and we three were the only ones to join him. He said he sailed the ship into the port with only himself and his first mate, and it was so impressive!" Momo threw his hands up. "I had to join his crew!" he explained, "He also gives us food and water, so we decided that it was a good investment. So far we've all been here for around five months."

Nagisa's eyes lit up. "Wow! How did he make it to port with only two people controlling the ship?"

"I don't know! He doesn't talk about it."

"Well, it's super cool! He must be really talented. So Momo-chan, what did you do before back in the city?" Nagisa asked.

"I worked on the docks with Sousuke and Ai. Ai was a book-keeper and me and Sousuke moved cargo, but when Rin and Gou came along looking for a crew, I had to join. I kinda always wanted to be a pirate," he said, "Plus Gou-san is so pretty that I wanted to be near her everyday!"

Nagisa laughed. "You're so funny, Momo-chan!"

"What about you, Nagisa? What did you do before?"

"Before this?" He looked over at Momo, a blank look on his face before he burst out laughing. "We sailed in our own ship, silly! Then you captured us!"

"No, before that!"

"We were sailing for the king. I don't know why though, only Haru-chan and Rei-chan knew. They were the only ones that needed to know. Mako-chan was just a shipyard worker and I was a merchant," he explained, "Haru-chan was the captain and Rei-chan was the navigator, so they were the ones that the king trusted with the knowledge."

"Do you think Haru would tell us?" Momo asked.

Nagisa shook his head. "Probably not. He's super private."

"Aww," Momo groaned, slumping over onto the table. "Rin won't even tell us what we're looking for either. All he said is that he needs someone who can decode his map."

"Well," Nagisa began, "If anyone can do it, it's Rei-chan!"

"I hope so! I'm really curious about what we're doing out here."

------------

Throughout the day they had spent in the sandstorm, Rin's favourite time-killer had been the observation of his navigator. It disturbed Rei's work, but he begrudgingly accepted that he was the main attraction of the moody captain.

While his mind wandered off to translate yet another section of the ancient language, his hand searched for a portion of dried meat, but froze as his eyes reached the edge of the map. Brows furrowed, Rei groaned in frustration. This couldn't be it.

Rin immediately picked up on Rei's reaction. He strode over to the desk. "What's wrong?"

"It's incomplete," Rei stated restlessly and pointed at the bottom-right corner of the ancient paper. The edges looked torn. "Some text is missing, thus I'm unable to give you a full translation."

Rin made an equally frustrated noise in the back of his dry throat. He slammed his palms onto the wooden desk, the goblet of water jumping and threatening to spill its contents across the workspace. He was sure that with Rei's pace he would have been close to his goal soon. The bad news caught him off-guard.

"Have you been able to translate any more text?" Rin inquired abruptly.

"Y-Yes, I have. I used one of the previous ancient languages as a guide, then was able to get an idea of what the map may be saying."

"What did you find out so far?" Rin barked.

"The text says both creatures reside in their own territory which the counterpart isn't allowed to enter. Iwatobi offers Samezuka its egg every ten years to preserve peace between the sea and sky. Unfortunately, their location isn't mentioned yet in the text here." Rei watched as Rin turned around, frowning. "I do know someone who can help though," Rei offered, "He lives in Harami, where we were originally headed to before you attacked our ship."

That got Rin's attention again. He faced Rei once more and observed him with growing curiosity, authority in his body language, demanding an explanation.

"King Sasabe ordered us to find Iwatobi. Without this map we had no leads or ideas on how to begin our search. My mentor, Sera Tadanori, is immensely profound. He is a scholar and a cartographer. He knows the world better than any of us." Rei's words held pride and admiration. It made Rin sick, but what surprised him even more was the fact that the king himself was planning to get his greedy hands on the legendary creature Rin had already spent months searching for.

Harami, Rin remembered, was a small city filled with knowledgeable people. It was known for its large library and advanced educational system. Of course someone like Rei would be acquainted with such a place.

Rin's gaze fell upon the more familiar map across the desk, the one on his own side of the table. He estimated their current whereabouts and the route to Harami.

"Take me there when the storm is over." Rin's voice was quiet while he spoke, disappointment evident in his face and clearly too tired to argue yet another time. This meant the map he was desperately trying to decode on his own over the past months had been no help at all. All the time he spent in this room was wasted.

In his usual sympathetic nature, Rei felt concern for the captain and offered his help. "I will."

They went silent again. Meanwhile, the storm had picked up in intensity and sand hit the windows at an alarming rate. Rei trembled at the idea they might break at the force and turn this ship into a desert grave for the both of them. He reached for the goblet to satisfy his thirst, but accidentally knocked it over, sending water cascading over Rin's prized map.

"I'm sorry!" Rei immediately sprung from his seat, lifting the paper from the desk by two ends in hope the liquid wouldn't damage any of its inscription. Rin only shot him a glare.

As water poured from the map, they both stared at it, eyes wide when symbol after symbol appeared on the back of it.

"What are you waiting for? Translate!"

"Of course!" Rei sat back down just as quick as he got up. The map still soaking wet and spread in front of him, he quickly copied the ancient text before it had a chance to fade away.

Boots tapped impatiently next to him. Rin stood over his shoulder while he worked, and with the notes he had taken from the book, Rei only took a few minutes to decode the hidden text's first part.

"I have something," Rei said after a long while of silence.

Rin was hoping for more valuable information this time. He leaned in to examine the notes. The closeness made Rei feel nervous. Rin had been unpredictable lately. Rei didn't want to test his luck, so he started reading.

"From the heavens, the sun descends, and with the sea, he makes amends."

In unison, they turned to look at each other, and Rei could have sworn he saw Rin's eyes shine in beautiful shades of red, strong emotions roiling beneath the surface. Had he glimpsed a hidden side of the prideful, fearless captain?

Then Rin smiled at him, inhaled and sang quietly, almost whispering, with the most lovely voice Rei had ever heard.

"From the heavens, the sun descends,
And with the sea, he makes amends.
Offering a gift of glittering gold,
The great sun bird flies down so bold-"

Rei knew this song too, so he joined in.

"For the sea god in the murky deep,
a peace so important he must keep.
A truce of sea and sky must stand,
or else the sea shall turn to sand."

Rei finished, entranced by Rin's singing. He coughed and rubbed his neck. It had been too long since his last drink and his voice had not been at its highest quality. "My apologies. That wasn't beautiful."

Before another word could leave Rei's mouth he was pressed against the backrest of his chair and found himself face to face with Rin. Again, he was way too close for Rei's liking.

"How do you know about this song?" Rin asked louder than intended.

"Sera-san taught me, along with the legacy of Iwatobi and Samezuka."

Rin's astonishment faded quickly. This 'Sera-san' again?'  he thought and clicked his tongue.

"I'm sure that the rest of the text that appeared is the rest of that song. I did search for the words of the song in the text along the side of the map, but it wasn't there," Rei explained. "That's because it was hidden. This map is very interesting, Captain."

Rin suddenly bent down to the floor, and Rei stared at him, confused. "What are you doing?"

"Untying you. What does it look like?"

Rei glanced down at Rin's hands, and he was indeed untying the rope from around his ankle, freeing him from the desk. Rei was speechless.

"Feel free to move about the cabin if you should please."

Only when Rin stood and went over to the windows did Rei find his voice. "B-But... why? Why are you untying me? Not that I'm not thankful, but... this is very sudden."

Rin looked back at him. "Do you want to be tied up?"

"Well, no, but-"

"Then just accept it," Rin said bluntly, "I'm pleased with your efforts so far."

Adrenaline beginning to pump through his veins, Rei smiled, though Rin was not looking at him. "Thank you, Captain! I'll continue working on your translation!"

Even though Rei had had very little to eat and hardly any decent sleep over the last two days, his body and mind were invigorated by Rin's compliments. He had to finish the map.

Rin looked out the windows, gazing intently upwards and studying the light struggling to penetrate through the sandstorm. If he was correct in his judgement, the sun would begin to set soon. It must have been around dinner time, and Rin did find himself to be quite hungry. He went back to the desk and ripped into a chunk of meat from the small box he had brought in a day earlier. Rin had limited himself to three pieces a day, so they had a good supply left. Rei had been eating very little.

Rin decided to lay down while Rei worked. He relaxed into the soft blankets and found himself drifting to sleep for he didn't know how long. He was awoken by Rei calling out to him.

"Captain, I believe I am finished with the text that is here."

Rin rose from the bed and moved to stand next to the desk. "Tell me."

"All that I can make out from the text that remains is that Iwatobi lives in the north region and Samezuka in the south, but again, unfortunately, I don't know where this map is in relation to the area we are located in," Rei said, rubbing at his eyes. "And the rest of the text on the back of the map was indeed the rest of the song."

Rin thought for a moment. "Earlier you said that Iwatobi has to offer Samezuka a golden egg every ten years, but they can't enter each other's territory."

Rei nodded.

"But how? How does Iwatobi give Samezuka the egg if-"

"Well, I also noticed this small island right here," Rei interrupted, pointing to a small bit of land in the middle of the map.

No. Rei did NOT just interrupt him.

"Excuse me?" Rin said, his mouth hanging open in shock.

"This island." He pointed to it again. "It's labeled as 'Horizon'. You know? Where the sky and sea meet?"

"You interrupted me," Rin growled, bringing his face close to Rei's.

Rei paled. "O-Oh, I, uh, I-I'm sorry, Captain."

Rin's scowl faded suddenly into a smirk. "You've got guts, Rei."

Rin had to admit that Rei was something of a genius, even if he needed to work on not interrupting when important people were talking. Rin had seen that small bit of land in the middle and completely ignored it, but it was actually the most important place on the map. It was where the magic happened.

"We need to go there." Rin stated, no room for compromise.

"But we don't know where it is. We need the rest of the directions," Rei said, "I've translated everything here and there are no directions."

Rin stepped back from the desk and sighed. "Fine. We have to go see your teacher or whatever and get the rest of the map from him."

"Maybe get the rest of the map from him. I can tell this map is rare, so even he may not have a copy." Rei pushed his chair backwards from the desk. He finally stood after hours of being seated, but his body was weak from disuse and lack of proper nourishment and sleep. His legs gave out beneath him, and he fell to his knees.

"Rei!" Rin cried, taken off-guard by his sudden fall. He knelt down in front of him. "Are you okay?"

"I'm tired," he explained, "It's a mixture of a lot of things. Thirst, hunger, drowsiness, lack of sun, stress. I just need some good rest."

"Here." Rin helped him stand with an arm around his shoulders and gently guided him to the bed.

Rin's behaviour was genuinely startling to Rei, but he had untied him earlier, so maybe Rin was starting to soften toward him. Rei had finished translating his map, after all. When Rin lowered him down to sit on the bed, Rei's stomach growled. An embarrassed red streak crept into Rei's cheeks. Rin didn't comment on it, but threw him a mildly concerned look.

"No shoes on my bed."

Rei nodded once. "Of course."

While Rei slid out of his boots, his eyes crept back to Rin who had decided to refill the goblet and grab a decent sized piece of meat from the box before he returned.

"You need to eat more." Rin demanded, giving him the rather large portion of meat. A dead navigator would be of no use at all. He watched as Rei ate slowly, mannerly - a sight Rin could barely take when Rei licked his dry lips after every bite. Finally, he handed him the goblet and received a thankful nod.

Thirst and hunger slightly sated, Rei crawled onto the heavenly mattress, which bowed perfectly under his weight. It was wide enough for both of them to rest for the night.

"Do you want to sleep or just stare at the mattress?"

Rei nearly jumped at the question. "Sleep," he murmured, rubbing his over-worked eyes. He added, "May I?" as he pointed to the two blankets that were carelessly thrown onto the corner of the bed, close to the wall. Last night, Rin had used the black one, which led Rei to believe he could use-

"The red blanket is yours," Rin answered quickly. Once boots, belt and vest had been removed, he made himself comfortable next to Rei. The past months he never shared this bed with a crew mate, let alone one he had known for only two days.

They lay in silence, listening to the raging sandstorm outside for a while. Despite Rei's exhaustion, he was unable to ignore the presence close to him. Rin's demeanor had changed, confusing Rei and raising the question how wise it was to enter the captain's bed. Was he looking at him right now? His curiosity won, as usual, and a fleeting glance to his right confirmed his suspicion.

In the dim light of a lamp soon out of oil, Rin scanned Rei's features thoroughly and came to a halt to make eye contact. Rin grinned weakly and brought a hand up to Rei.

"Do you always sleep with your glasses on?" Rin snatched the red frames off his face before Rei could react. Rei flushed and resisted the urge to forcefully take them back. To his chagrin, Rin placed them out of reach.

"Tell me about your crew." Rin said quietly. He pulled the blanket over his legs. "Your captain is clearly an idiot, that tall guy isn't as tough as he looks, and the blond's got some nerves to fire a cannonball without my permission. Why are you sailing with them?"

"It was my task to look for a crew, and to my surprise, Haruka-san had friends who were willing to sail under the king's flag. They're quite friendly and inviting if you give them a chance, captain." Rei spoke with a content smile on his face.

"It's Rin."

"Uhh," Rei met Rin's in the dim light. "I'm sorry?"

"Just call me Rin. Enough with the formalities."

"I'm not sure I feel comfortable with that, but I am willing to compromise."

How dare this guy? No one compromised with the captain.

"I don't wish to disregard your authority. How about I call you 'Rin-san?'"

Rin had been planning to threaten Rei's life once more and force him to use his given name, but was stopped in his tracks when Rei spoke.

"I... I suppose that's fine." Rin felt the ship start to lean, something that he had felt this morning, but had been quickly remedied by the crew below deck. He trusted they would take care of it again. The captain's cabin tended to pitch more wildly than the area below deck, and the leaning was far more pronounced.

"Thank you, Rin-san."

Rin grunted in response and closed his eyes, trying finally to fall asleep. He felt the ship leaning more and more to the starboard side. It made him uneasy, but there was nothing he could do about it, so he kept his eyes closed.

Rei had never felt this sensation before. Why was the ship leaning like this?

"Rin-san?"

"Hm?"

"Why is the ship tilting?"

Rin sighed. "The wind probably shifted direction and it's making the ship tilt. I felt it earlier, but the crew below deck was able to right it quickly. They probably moved all the cargo to the starboard side," he explained, "Now the wind started to blow in the opposite direction, and that plus the weight of the cargo is causing the tilt. There's nothing we can do about it. The crew has to move the cargo again, fast."

"Or we could capsize?" Rei asked.

It took a moment for Rin to respond.

"Yes."

The angle of the lean continued to increase and Rei, unused to the feeling, felt his body start to slide along the mattress, right toward Rin. He tried to steady himself, but he ended up so close to Rin that it startled the captain into opening his eyes.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

Rei couldn't calm the flush on his face as he put his hand Rin's chest. "I-I'm sorry! The angle! It's hard to stay in one place."

Their bodies were touching now, and they could feel each other's heat through their separate blankets.

"I'm sorry, Rin-san.... but I... I can't move back."

A sudden hard jerk of the ship closed the distance between their mouths, pressing their lips together by accident. Rei scrambled to right himself, and Rin looked surprised by the sudden turn of events. The ship finally started to right itself, slowly petering out to a level state. Rei slid back to his side of the bed, embarrassment evident on his face.

"I'm so sorry. It was a complete accident. I mean no disrespect."

Rin's heart was beating like crazy. "Yeah."

There was a long moment of silence before Rei spoke again.

"I'm glad the crew was able to right the ship."

"Yeah."

"Well," Rei continued, a slight waver to his voice. "Good night, Rin-san."

Rin closed his eyes again, but his heart was still beating wildly. "Yeah," he breathed, "Good night."

Chapter Text

Once the sun had descended below the horizon, Kisumi deemed it safe to once again fiddle with the lock to his cell. He had gotten pretty good at opening it himself using a small length of metal he kept hidden in the secret, inner pocket of his lilac vest. He frowned animatedly; the gold embroidery was starting to lose its luster from being down here so long. He shrugged and extended his hand outside the bars and inserted the metal piece into the keyhole, listening carefully for the mechanism to release. The howling of the wind didn't help in the slightest, so he cupped his hand around his ear, brought it close to the back of the lock, and listened very intently to the sounds inside.

When he heard the small but distinct click, he pulled away and smiled as the door opened slowly, allowing him to exit and roam freely while everyone else slept.

"Free at last," he said quietly, "Well, since last night."

Even though the rest of the crew were more-than-likely asleep, Kisumi was always careful while out of his cell. If he ran into anyone, he would surely be tossed overboard by Rin, and he wasn't about to let that happen. He had gotten very good at finding his way around the ship in the darkness, and knew the exact route to the galley - his first stop nightly. He crept along the floor on his tip-toes. The heel of his boot was slightly taller than other's heels and made out of a lacquered piece of wood, so it made a definite clacking sound if he walked normally. He loved the authoritative clicking of his foot steps, but it worked against him when he tried to sneak around.

He quickly and silently made his way up the stairs, cautiously peeking his head above the edge of the floorboards before continuing. He froze when he noticed someone sitting at the small table across the deck, a single lantern burning next to them. The person was, thankfully, not facing him, so Kisumi stayed still and let the darkness conceal him.

Kisumi narrowed his eyes. He had never seen this person before. It was a young man with dark hair-

Wait, dark hair? This one couldn't be the new cook, could he? Kisumi thrummed with excitement; he almost started shaking in anticipation.

He needed to see his eyes, his face. He had to know if this was his Haru. He stood on the stairs in silence waiting for the man to turn his head in a way that would let Kisumi examine his features. After a few seconds, the man rested his elbow on the table, setting his chin in his hand, and Kisumi could see the bored expression on his face. His mouth fell open wordlessly, and he gaped at the beauty of the man.

This had to be Haru. The inky, black hair; the bright, blue eyes; he was just as Ai had said and exactly how Kisumi had imagined.

Kisumi decided to retreat for the night, the image of Haru burned into his mind. "I could die right now, and I would die happy," he thought, carefully heading back down the stairs to the lower deck. He didn't need food tonight, what he just saw would tide him over until tomorrow. Once he reached his cell, he didn't bother locking the door. No one came down to visit him anyway.

---------

When the morning came and everyone had risen from their beds, Gou gathered everyone for a meeting.

"This is day three of the sandstorm," she said, her tone of voice more than a little nervous. "With how long it's been, we need to continuously keep checking the hull for damage, and if we find any, it is to be repaired immediately. We can't risk leaving any open spots for the sand to do any more. We need to check everywhere, the sleeping quarters, the galley, the weapons store, everywhere!" Her voice was getting more and more shrill. "The lower deck should be okay, but we'll check it out anyway!"

"Don't worry Gou-san!" Momo beamed, "We'll find and repair all the holes!"

"If you wanna make it out of this sandstorm, you'd better! This is getting serious. A few more days and the ship may be beyond repair! We could die out here!"

Makoto turned to Haru. "I hope Rei is alright," he whispered.

"Don't worry, Makoto," Haru replied, "Rei is smart; he'll be okay."

"Sousuke," Gou called, "You, Makoto, and Haru are going to be the repairmen. Ai, Momo, Nagisa, and I are going to start looking for weak spots while you three get the supplies from below deck. Bring lots of lumber and plenty of tools," she instructed.

"Will do." He waved Makoto and Haru along behind him, guiding them to the lower deck to fetch the supplies.

When Kisumi heard them approach, he quickly latched the door of the cell, masking the sound of the metal clang by rattling the bars while feigning excitement.

"Sousuke!" He exclaimed, "How are you today-" His voice cut off as he saw who Sousuke had brought down with him - Haru. There was another guy too, but Kisumi hardly paid him any attention. He swiftly regained his voice and addressed Sousuke again. "You brought visitors for me? How kind of you! Who are they?" He stared at Haru.

"No one you need to know." He said bluntly, then turned to Makoto and Haru. "Just ignore him."

They both looked over at Kisumi. Haru's eyes were blank and unimpressed, but Makoto regarded him with compassion.

"Why, Sousuke? He seems nice," Makoto said, "He's definitely well-dressed." He looked at Kisumi's lilac vest with gold embroidery detailing, white pants, and shiny, white boots with a slight high-heel. Makoto waved to him. "My name is Makoto! You must be Kisumi!"

Kisumi grinned widely right back at him, then his gaze fell on Haru. "I am! Who is your friend, Makoto?"

"Oh, this is Haru," he said politely.

Yes! This was his Haru! Kisumi was truly blessed by the gods or something to find someone so gorgeous. "Nice to meet you, Haru." Kisumi purred.

Haru simply nodded and turned away, his expression unchanged, but Kisumi would take it. Haru had acknowledged him! He stepped backwards and rested against the back of the cell, smiling.

"Enough. We need to fix the damage to the ship," Sousuke reminded them, "Come on, grab what you can." They each picked up a stack of lumber, Sousuke balancing a hammer, two hand saws, and a bag on nails on top of his. "We only have one hammer, so only one of us will get to use it. The others have to saw." Haru and Makoto both nodded, then followed Sousuke back up the stairs to the upper deck.

---------

When Rei awoke, his first thought was how warm the bed had gotten. It gave him a feeling of security and comfort. He missed it during the past nights he had spent tied to the desk. His second thought was regarding the peaceful breathing of the body next to him, followed by the sensation of a muscular chest rising and falling under his palm.

Rei's eyes flew open, finally realizing that he had rolled into Rin's arms as they slept. He found himself staring at Rin's exposed collar bone. Arms tangled tighter around him when Rei attempted to escape the headlock.

"Rin-san?" Rei whispered.

Rin moved his head slightly, groaning. He looked at ease and completely harmless, Rei noted.

"Can you let go of me, please, Rin-san?" Rei tried again with a soft voice.

This time the captain growled in half-sleep and turned away from Rei, releasing him. "Don't tell me what to do." After a moment of silence, he huffed triumphantly into the pillow.

Rei sighed and distanced himself from Rin, sliding back to his side of the bed with his cheeks glowing. He laid down and tried to get a bit more sleep before Rin woke.

----------

Rei awoke to Rin moving around next to him. He felt a blanket flop over him as Rin threw it off himself. He turned his head toward the captain, who was sitting on the edge of the bed pulling on his boots. When Rin finished, he looked back at him, his eyes widening in alarm when he noticed Rei was awake too. He turned away again.

"Morning," Rin grunted, his cheeks colouring pink. He was still embarrassed about last night. He knew Rei probably was too.

"Yes," Rei replied, "Good morning." He rubbed at his eyes. "Could you hand me my glasses, Rin-san?"

"Uh, sure." He handed them back to him, then rose from the edge of the bed, allowing Rei to get up as well.

"Thank you," Rei said, following Rin up and slipping on his boots. He watched Rin walk over to the window and peer out.

"It's still going," Rin sighed, "That means I'm stuck in here with you for another day."

Rei frowned, wishing that he could tell Rin that he didn't particularly like being stuck in a volatile pirate captain's bedroom, but he didn't want to make Rin angry. "At least the map is finished," he offered.

Rin tilted his head to one side, as if considering Rei's words. "Yes, you're right." He returned to the desk, tossing another piece of dried meat at Rei. "Eat it, I don't want you dying before we make it to Harami. Your teacher won't help me if I don't have you."

Rei was a smart boy, and he could defer the meaning behind Rin's statement. Rei was valuable to him, at least in some way, therefore Rin wouldn't kill him at the drop of a hat.

"So I'm your bargaining chip?" he asked.

Rin looked back at him. "Not just a chip. You're my royal flush."

----------

Sousuke and Makoto sawed away as quickly as they could, struggling to keep up with the rate at which the others were finding weak points. They had decided that Haru would get the hammer, as Sousuke was particularly fast at cutting the lumber, and Makoto could hold his pace surprisingly well against him. Gou had quickly located two places in the galley, one in the sleeping quarters, and four in the main cargo area already. Ai had found a few of his own as well. Gou instructed Nagisa and Momo to temporarily cover any areas they could find with something, anything, while they awaited a cut of lumber to patch it.

The exhausting work of cutting the lumber was catching up to both Sousuke and Makoto, and they were both breathing hard. Makoto was starting to falter and slow down.

Sousuke glanced over at him, sweat dripping from his brow. "Makoto... don't give up... we need to... keep going!"

"I'm sorry, Sousuke... My arm is... cramping!"

"Someone take over for Makoto!" Gou called.

Momo raised his hand. "Let me!" He took the saw from Makoto and started to hack away at the lumber, cutting at a pretty decent speed. Gou was quite surprised at his skill.

"Alright, Makoto, you're helping Nagisa!" she said.

"Okay!"

"Yay! Come on Mako-chan, I'll teach you my ways!"

Makoto laughed. "Nagisa, we're just reinforcing weak points. It's not that hard."

"I know, Mako-chan, but I wanted to see you smile, because we're all scared right now. We should try to keep the atmosphere light-hearted!"

"You're right, Nagisa. Being scared about it won't help us at all. We just need to work hard to repair the ship."

"That's the spirit, Mako-chan!"

----------

Once Sousuke had also tired out and been unable to cut any more wood, Haru took over for him. Gou took over for Haru, giving Sousuke a much-deserved rest. It seemed like the crew had repaired and patched the whole ship, but Gou knew that it had only been a small portion. They had been at work for almost three hours, and everyone was hungry, but they couldn't stop.

"Sousuke, distribute snacks for everyone! A bit of meat will be fine!" Gou instructed. He gladly complied, as handing out food was a walk on the beach compared to cutting lumber.

Once everyone had a snack in their bellies, the endless sawing and hammering continued. Sousuke sat at the small table with the lantern and wiped his forehead with his bandana. Over the noise of the sawing and the banging of the hammer, he could hear.... nothing?

It was eerily quiet.

"Wait!" he shouted, stopping everyone dead still.

"We can't sto-"

"No, listen!" Sousuke interrupted, "What do you hear?"

A gasp slipped out from Ai, and a big smile split his face. "The wind stopped!" Everyone dropped what they were doing and rushed up the stairs to the main deck. Gou shoved the door open, pushing a pile of sand aside with it.

She stepped outside, and the sky was a perfect, clear blue, and the sun was warm on her cheeks. Everyone tumbled out of the doorway, desperate for warmth and sunlight.

"We did it!" Nagisa cheered, "We survived the sandstorm!"

Ai nodded. "I'm so relieved! I was starting to lose hope!"

While Gou was enjoying the sunlight, there was still work to be done. "Sousuke, Makoto, lower the sails, we need to get to port." She looked around at all the sand that had piled up on deck. "Everyone else will work on getting rid of all this sand! I'll go get Rin and he can set us a course for the nearest port."

-----------

Rin sat in his plush chair, bored out of his mind. He had long finished the book he had been reading, and he didn't feel like starting a new one. Rei had even grown less entertaining, as he wasn't working on the map anymore, so all he did was read. Rin found himself nodding off to the white noise of the sandstorm while Rei read.

Rei was far too engrossed in his book to hear the wind stop. It was only an urgent knock on the door of the cabin that caused him to look up. The knock seemed to have woken Rin as well. A knock was something that he had not been expecting to hear, and it startled him for a second until he realized that he couldn't hear the wind howling anymore.

"Rin-san, there's someone at the door?"

"The wind! It stopped!" Rin laughed in disbelief. "The sandstorm is over!" He jumped up from his chair and flew toward the door, swinging it open to find Gou.

"Rin! You're okay!" She threw her arms around his waist and hugged him tightly. Rin was a bit mad at her show of affection, but he gave in and put his arms protectively around her back as well. "We were all so scared for you!"

Rei was touched by the hug that the two shared, and he couldn't help the smile that grew on his face. He knew he'd have to hide it from Rin.

After a moment of allowing Gou to embrace him, Rin pried her off. "Okay, that's enough."

"Rin, I already have everyone working on getting the ship back in good shape. Could you please set us a course for the nearest port?"

Rin nodded. "Good job, Gou. I'm sure you were a completely capable captain in my absence. Give me a few minutes, and I'll find out where we are and where we should go."

Gou nodded and left the cabin, returning to the rest of the crew on deck. "The captain is working on our route as we speak! Come on everyone, we need to tidy this place up!" Ai had retrieved a broom from below deck and was using it to push sand off the edge of the ship. Makoto and Sousuke worked quickly to lower the sails, and Gou was happy to see that, while they were damaged, they didn't have any holes. She approached Haru, who was kicking sand off the ship. "Haru?"

He stilled, looking up at her.

"You've been really good about not wearing your hat or coat from your time as captain on your ship, and I'd suggest that you continue that," she said carefully. "The captain won't like it at all if you wear them."

"Even if I wanted to wear them, I couldn't. Sousuke took them from me back before the sandstorm hit," he replied.

Gou's eyes widened. "Really? Well, he knows what he's doing. It's for your own good, Haru." She glanced over his plain white shirt and brown trousers. "Just keep wearing what you're wearing and Rin will be fine."

"The sails are ready, Gou," Sousuke called.

She turned toward him. "Good! Rin should be ready with our route any moment." She waved Sousuke and Makoto over. "Help us out with this sand." The crew worked together on removing as much sand from the deck as they could before Rin emerged from his cabin, but they had only been able to make a pitifully small dent when Rin finally did appear.

"Ugh, look at this mess!" he roared, snarling at the sand and kicking angrily at it, sending grains pouring down onto the main deck. "Clean this shit up! Gou, get up here!"

She rushed up the stairs to him and his ferocious expression softened. "Did you figure out the routing?" she inquired.

"Yes." He pulled out his map and showed her roughly where they were, then pointed to a mid-sized port city close by. "This city, Kunisaki, isn't too far, and they have a good sized port. We can rest and restock there."

"Good idea! We need more lumber and food anyway. We did a lot of below deck repairs during the sandstorm. We should also get some patches for the sails," she said, "They aren't torn yet, but they were definitely damaged."

Rin nodded, then turned back toward the cabin. "Rei!"

Makoto, Haru, and Nagisa all looked up, waiting to see their friend emerge safe and sound.

"Rei, help the rest of the crew clean this place up!" Rin shouted as he took hold of the ship's wheel.

When Rei came forth from the cabin, he couldn't help but squint against the blazing sun. His eyes weren't used to the light.

The three boys on the main deck smiled widely at the safe return of their ship mate.

"Rei-chan, you're okay!" Nagisa called up to him.

Rei looked down at them, his hand still above his eyes as a shield. "Yes, I'm fine!" He descended the stairs and joined them on the main deck, Rin eyeing him closely the entire way. There were hugs from Nagisa and Makoto, and even Haru joined in afterward.

Rin had had enough of this sickening reunion. "Get to work down there!" he yelled, "Clear the sand off the deck!"

Gou moved to stand close to Rin, speaking to him quietly so no one else would hear. "You let the navigator out. He finished the map, I presume?"

Rin glanced over at her and smirked. "He did."

"Excellent."

----------

Once most of the sand had been cleaned off the ship, they began to make good time heading toward Kunisaki. Ai was stationed in the crow's nest with his spyglass, watching for anything important to appear in view. He could see some mountains off in the distance on the starboard side and a couple of ships scattered on the horizon.

Makoto and Nagisa were chatting with Rei, curious to know what kinds of things he had endured while stuck in the captain's cabin for three days.

"I decoded his map for him. That's all," Rei explained.

"We're so glad he didn't hurt you," Makoto said, "We were worried."

"What did his map say, Rei-chan?"

Rei paused. "Um, I don't know if I should tell you, Nagisa. I don't want to get in trouble with the captain."

Nagisa pouted and grabbed onto the ruffled sleeve of Rei's shirt. "Aww, come on, tell us!"

"Nagisa, please." Rei pulled his arm out of Nagisa's grasp and retreated toward the door heading below deck. "I'm going to go see if Haruka-san needs any help with lunch." He shut the door gently behind him, descending the short flight of stairs and quickly locating the galley. Rei had yet to explore below deck, so he followed the sound of Haru working. Stopping in the doorway, he called out to Haru, "Captain?"

Haru looked over at him. "You don't have to call me that, Rei. I'm not the captain anymore. Rin will be upset if he hears you."

"You're correct, Haruka-san. My apologies," Rei said. He inched closer to Haru and lowered the volume of his voice. "I do have some very interesting news for you though."

Haru kept his gaze trained on Rei.

"Captain Matsuoka is searching for the same thing we are."

---------

"Captain!"

Rin looked up toward the top of the mast where Ai was situated in the crow's nest. "What is it, Ai?"

"There seems to be a ship sailing closer to us! When they pass by, they will be awfully close!"

"Keep them in your sights!"

"As you wish, captain!"

---------

"Kazuki, lower the flag and instruct the crew to remain hidden. Don't let him recognize the ship."

"Yes, Takuya. Shall I ready the rope swing?"

Takuya nodded once, keeping his eyes trained to the ship they were sailing toward. "Quickly."

---------

Ai watched the ship as it drew closer, and to his astonishment, it seemed unmanned. There was no flag flying and no crew aboard. "Captain!" he called.

"Go ahead, Ai!"

"The ship approaching... I don't see anyone on board!"

Rin narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "They could be hiding! Keep watching!"

"Yes, Captain!"

Makoto slid his gaze toward Sousuke. "Ghost ship?"

"No. Like the captain said, they're probably hiding. We should be ready to engage in combat if they try to ambush us," Sousuke explained.

Makoto shivered. "One bout of combat was enough for me..."

"This is the life we live, Makoto."

Makoto took a deep calming breath. The mysterious ship slowly slid over the sand dunes, closer and closer to their own. Rin leered at the vessel as it drew up parallel to them, seemingly ready to pass them by as an unmanned ship lost to the desert. Rin recognized a few key features - the pristine white sails and the dark wood of the hull.

Gou leaned closer to him. "Rin, is that-"

"Yes," he whispered, leaving the helm and drawing close to the railing of his ship. He felt the anger in him rising. He took a deep breath and roared out a command to his own crew. "Get to the cannons! Prepare for battle!"

Everyone but Sousuke and Gou were baffled by Rin's command.

"But, there's no one there." Momo said.

Sousuke snarled at him. "You heard the captain! Are you disobeying his direct order?"

"No, sir!" Momo dashed off to the lower deck, the others following closely behind.

Rin turned to Gou, snarling and baring his teeth. "They've come for him."

----------

"What should we do about this, Rei?" Haru inquired.

"I think the best plan would be to let him take us there. He has the map, after all," Rei explained, "We still have to go to Harami though because Captain Matsuoka's map is incomplete. I was able to translate it for him, but it has no directions on how to get there, so we will still have to visit Sera-san."

Rei was distracted by the stunned look that suddenly came over Haru's face. "What's wrong, Haruka-san?" He turned around following Haru's sight line to the doorway of the galley, where a neatly-dressed man with pink hair was standing.

"Oh, you're cute! Who are you?" the man asked.

"Uh, I could ask the same of you... My name is Rei."

The man held out his hand. "Nice to meet you, Rei! My name is Kisumi!"

Rei took Kisumi's hand in his own, giving it a firm shake. "Pleasure."

"What are you doing out?"

Rei turned back to Haru. "What are you talking about, Haruka-san?"

Haru pointed to Kisumi. "Him! He's supposed to be in the brig! He's a prisoner!"

"Hey!"

At the voice, Kisumi turned around to see Sousuke and the others coming below deck, most likely headed toward the cannons. Haru and Rei came close to the door at the sound of the rest of the crew's arrival.

"What the hell is this?" Sousuke was lost for words.

"This, Sousuke," Kisumi drawled, moving over to where one of the cannons aimed outward from the hull. "Is the day I make my escape." He rested his back against the wall, stuck his arm out of the hole and snapped his fingers, sending a cannonball blasting out of one of the cannons on the rival ship. The cannonball ripped through the hull of Rin's ship, destroying barrels and sending bits of wood and metal flying.

Everyone ducked for cover as the cannonball put a meter-wide hole in both sides of the hull, as it had gone straight through. Kisumi used this commotion to grab Haru and drag him up the staircase toward the main deck.

Rin caught sight of him dragging Haru across the deck and felt his rage reach a boiling point. "Kisumi, I should have killed you when I had the chance!" he screamed.

Kisumi smirked up at him, a glimmer in his eye. "But you didn't!"

"Captain!" Takuya called from the other ship, tossing a rope across.

Kisumi grabbed the rope with one hand, keeping a struggling Haru secure with the other. "Well, I enjoyed our time together, Rin! I was able to enjoy some great food on this boat; you keep your galley pretty well-stocked," Kisumi taunted, jumping up onto the railing with Haru. "I'm afraid this is where we part, but I'm taking this guy with me. Hope you don't mind!" He then spoke more quietly, only for Haru. "Better hold on if you don't want to fall." Kisumi readjusted his grip on Haru as well as the rope before jumping off and sailing over to his own ship with Haru in tow. They toppled over each other as they hit the deck, rolling together before being helped up by Takuya.

"Captain, it's great to have you back!"

But Kisumi wasn't paying attention to his First Mate and Quartermaster at the moment, he was far too enraptured by the image of Haru on his ship with him. "Haru, we made it!" He hugged Haru tightly and kissed him on the cheek when he turned away.

Rin was blowing a fuse back on his own ship. He pulled his flintlock pistol from his belt and fired a shot toward Kisumi in a blind rage. Unfortunately the shot went high and missed, so Rin tossed his first pistol away and reached for his second. Gou grabbed for his arm and he almost elbowed her in his fury.

"Rin! The ship has been damaged! We need to patch it immediately!"

"Gou, I have to kill him!"

"No, Rin!! We can get him later! We can't risk you hitting Haru!"

Rin scoffed, "I don't care about hitting Haru!"

It was at that moment that the rest of the crew filed back out onto the main deck in a panic. Makoto spotted Haru with Kisumi on the deck of the other ship. "Haru!" he shouted.

"Makoto!" Haru called back, struggling to get away from Kisumi and back to Makoto.

"Secure him!" Kisumi instructed his crew, passing Haru over to two big crewmen. "But don't hurt him, boys! He's important to me!"

"Yes, Captain!"

Rin glared across the gap at Kisumi, Gou still holding his arm and stopping him from firing his pistol.

"Rin, let it go!! We got him once, we can do it again!"

Rin felt his eye twitching in hatred.

"Rin."

He looked down at Gou and saw something soft in her gaze that calmed him. "Okay," he said finally, then he turned back to Kisumi, pointing at him with his free hand. "Kisumi! That's the last time that you steal someone from my crew," he yelled, his eyes briefly shifting over to Takuya and Kazuki who were handing their captain a new coat and hat, as Rin had stripped him of his last ones when he locked him up. "This isn't over! Next time we meet, you won't be so lucky to escape with your life!"

"Consider that cannonball a gift from the King!" Kisumi called, waving and smiling as his ship slid further from Rin's, taking Haru with it. Makoto rushed to the edge of the deck, threatening to jump off and follow, but Sousuke grabbed him at the last moment.

"Don't, Makoto!" Sousuke pleaded. "We'll get him back." Makoto couldn't tear his eyes from the figure of Haru slowly slipping away on an enemy vessel.

"Rin, we need to patch the holes below deck," Gou stated.

Rin turned to the crew on the main deck. "Get down below deck and patch those holes! We still have to make it to Kunisaki!"

Sousuke had to wrench Makoto away from the railing.

Rin watched them all retreat below deck, everyone hurt by the loss of Haru. Rin wondered how his own crew could grow so attached to him in only three days. He watched as Gou left his side to help the crew with the repairs. He sighed and decided to withdraw to his cabin for a while to think.

----------

The crew was mostly silent while they repaired the hull with the little lumber that they had left. Even Nagisa and Momo were eerily quiet. The somber mood gave Rei a lot of opportunities to think about what had happened. He had been there when Kisumi had appeared. He had spoken to Kisumi and been between him and Haru. Why hadn't he been able to defend his captain? He'd dedicated all his energy over the last few days to helping Rin, but his devotion to his own captain had faltered when he needed it most.

Now he was gone.

His eyes came to rest on Makoto, the one who was obviously the most distraught over Haru's capture. Makoto and Haru had such a close relationship, and for Rei to know that he had been the one to cause him to suffer like that broke his heart in two.

Rei had to get some fresh air. He went back up to the main deck just as Rin was coming down from his cabin. Rin noticed his distress.

"Rei, why aren't you helping the others? You need to fix the hull."

Rei started to shake. "I can't go back down there... Not after what I've done."

Rin raised an eyebrow. "What happened down there? What did you do?"

"Nothing! I did nothing!" Rei cried, "And that's the problem! I couldn't help Haruka-san... I was right there when that guy grabbed him, but I couldn't help him!" He clutched at the lapels of Rin's coat and lowered his head in embarrassment. "I'm worthless, Rin-san."

An odd look came over Rin's face, almost something like disgust, when Rin put a hand on Rei's back in a comforting gesture. "Now you know why I hate Kisumi. He takes things that are important to us. So no, Rei, it's not your fault at all," Rin said quietly, "It's his. The only person at fault here is Kisumi."

Rei sniffled and released Rin's lapels. "Thank you, Rin-san. We'll get him back, I'm sure."

"Yeah," Rin sighed.

----------

Once the hull was decently repaired, they started making good time once more on the route to Kunisaki. Ai was up in the crow's nest again keeping watch, and Rin was at the helm. Sousuke and Makoto were running the sails, but Sousuke could tell that Makoto was still insanely upset.

"Makoto."

Makoto looked over at him, and it was obvious that he had been trying his hardest not to cry since Haru had been taken.

Sousuke rested a hand on Makoto's shoulder. "I'm gonna help you get him back." He smiled warmly. "I hate seeing you upset."

"Sousuke, we'll never convince the captain to let us go to look for him, especially because you're so vital to running this ship." Makoto wiped at his eyes, tears threatening to fall.

"Don't worry, It'll happen. Rin will let us go if we tell him that we want to retrieve something Kisumi stole from him."

A sliver of a smile appeared on Makoto's lips. "That makes sense."

"We'll get him back."

----------

Once landing at port in Kunisaki, the crew made quick work of replenishing their lumber. Rin and Gou had sent everyone out into the market while they stayed behind to watch the ship. Rin even let Rei go out into the seaside town with the rest of them, but not before instructing Sousuke to keep an eagle eye on him. Sousuke knew that the navigator was important to his captain, so he intended to not let the boy out of his sight.

Gou sat next to Rin on the main deck, looking out over the sand sea. "I've instructed the crew to get some sturdy fabric for patching the sails, should we need it, as well as the lumber and nails."

"Good job," Rin replied. He turned his head toward her. "Gou, I'm really impressed with how you were able to control the crew while we were stuck in that sandstorm. They arrived here as prisoners, and after only a few days, they listen to you."

Gou set her head on his shoulder. "They'll listen to you too, but it's for a different reason - they don't want to die."

Rin chuckled. "We have different leadership styles."

"We do, but mine gained us three valuable crewmen in three days, while yours lost us a whole crew to Kisumi."

Rin started to growl. "Watch it."

"You know I'm right, Rin. I just hope you treated that navigator decently while he was stuck in there with you."

"Rei."

Gou peered up at him. "Hm?"

"His name is Rei."

Gou's eyes shone. "Rin! I'm glad you took the initiative to learn his name! It's so unlike you! Are you trying to change after what happened with Kisumi?"

Rin frowned. "I'm sorry I said anything."

Gou wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly. "Aww, Rin, you're my brother and I love you anyway, even if you're a bitter, cruel pirate captain."

Rin turned away from her, letting out a disgusted groan, but he didn't try to push her off.

---------

After another few minutes, the crew returned to the ship, boarding and hauling all the extra supplies below deck, as per Rin's orders.

"Ai," Rin called.

"Yes, captain?"

It's getting late, prepare us something to eat while we sail."

Ai nodded once. "As you wish, captain!" He skittered below deck to the galley.

Rin pointed to Sousuke and Makoto. "You two set the sails while your young friends clean up around here!"

Gou pointed at Nagisa and Momo. "That means you!" She handed them each a broom. "Get to work cleaning up the rest of this sand from the sandstorm!"

"Aww!" They groaned in unison as they started to sweep.

"Rei!" Gou called, earning Rei's attention. "You'll be helping Rin and I with charting, so come up to the helm."

Rei nodded and climbed the stairs to the upper deck, joining Rin and Gou at the wheel.

"You need to chart us a path for Harami from here," Rin stated, "And make it quick! As soon as those two are done with the sails, we're sailing."

Rei looked at the map of the Sano kingdom. "Well, Harami is pretty much straight across the sea from here. It should be about a day before we reach it though," Rei explained. "Perhaps we'll get there sometime tomorrow afternoon if everything goes well."

"No more sandstorms," Gou said.

Rei nodded. "Exactly."

A low growl escaped from Rin's throat. "No more fucking sandstorms."

"Calm down, Rin," Gou sighed, "You're so dramatic."

Rei chuckled, causing Rin to shoot him a sharp glare. At that moment, Rei decided that Gou was a very interesting girl.

Chapter Text

Kisumi pulled on his new coat (exactly the same as his old one Rin had destroyed) as they slowly put distance between Rin's crippled ship and his own. He turned to address his crew after settling his new hat perfectly upon his head.

"You all did a great job getting me out of there!" Kisumi praised his crew boisterously. "I'm so lucky to have you guys." His gaze came to rest on Haru, his arms still being restrained by a tough crewman on either side. He walked up close to him and caressed his cheek. "And you too, Haru! I'm so lucky that you're here!" Haru turned away from him, struggling in the grip of the two sailors, causing them to tighten their hold in a way that Kisumi didn't like at all.

"What did I say!" he yelled, "Don't hurt him! Let him go!" Kisumi shooed the two crewmen away from Haru, forcing them to release their grips on his arms. "You guys are too much," he sighed.

Haru backed away from Kisumi and his men, trying to decide whether or not to bolt and dive overboard.

"Haru, I see that look in your eye," Kisumi said gently, stepping closer to him. "Don't do it. You'll be happy here! We have an amazing galley - fully stocked with the best meats and fresh produce." Haru's eyes slid toward his own. "The food you could make here would be some of the best in the kingdom, I'm sure!" Kisumi stopped in front of Haru, kneeling down and taking his hand and placing a kiss upon it. "We want the same things, Haru."

Haru tensed, thoroughly confused by Kisumi's words and wanting to tear his hand out from under his lips. He looked around at Kisumi's crew. The number of men was easily triple the amount back on Rin's ship, even after Rin had captured them. There were at least thirty sailors on board. Considering the number, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to try anything rash, so he decided that his best plan of action would be cooperation.

"Show me," he said quietly.

Kisumi looked up at him with nothing less than complete adoration. "Of course!" He leapt to his feet and pulled Haru along by the hand to show him the galley and food stores below deck. "You're gonna love it, Haru!" He guided him into the galley and released his hand, watching his eyes dance around the room in awe.

Kisumi's galley was double the size of Rin's, with multiple cooking areas for many people to work at once. He had plenty of rations and even an icebox for cold storage. Kisumi lifted the lid on one of the barrels and showed the contents to Haru. "And just like Rin, I also have plenty of water on my ship. I spare no expense."

Haru's eyes glittered at the sight. Rin would have punished him for wasting water, but maybe he could get away with it with Kisumi, considering how much the guy seemed to like him. "Could I... bathe?" he asked gently.

"You want to bathe? Sure, you can!" Kisumi said, a wide smile decorating his face. "I can get you a bathtub in the next town!" he sang, hugging him close. "You'll be happy here, Haru, I'll make sure of that!"

Perhaps this wouldn't be as bad as he thought.

-------

After winning him over with the spacious galley and unlimited water, Kisumi gave Haru the freedom to go anywhere he'd like on board. Haru enjoyed this very much, seeing as he was notoriously independent and cherished his alone time. He spent about an hour in the galley, attempting to distract himself from his thoughts, but all the could think about was Makoto. Haru knew he was shaken by what had happened. He hoped Makoto hadn't done anything severe.

He decided to go above deck for awhile, and when he emerged from below, Kisumi called out to him from the helm.

"Haru, there you are! Have you sufficiently explored the ship?"

Haru glanced up at him, but he said nothing, instead heading toward the railing of the deck and looking out over the sand.

"What's his problem?" Takuya grumbled from Kisumi's side. "He should be glad you took him fro-"

Kisumi held up his hand to halt Takuya's words. "Leave him be. He's getting used to it. Just give him time."

As Kisumi's crew worked to keep the ship sailing, Haru watched them from the corner of his eye. They were far more rambunctious and wild than Rin's crew; Kisumi seemed to let them get away with a lot. He noticed that while they worked, they looked like they were having fun - they looked happy.

--------

As evening turned to night, Rei's eyelids started to become heavy. It had been a few hours of non-stop focus on either the map or their surroundings. Despite the late hour and everyone's fatigue, Rin had commanded them to keep working.

Next to Rei, Gou stood at the helm and hid a yawn every once in a while.

"Can you take over, Rin?" she asked, rubbing her eyes.

Rin turned to her, lowering the sextant from his eye. He looked as least as tired as Rei felt.

"Of course." He gave his sister a gentle push and took control of the ship. "Go to sleep. You've been a great help."

"I'm tired, but probably too excited to sleep." Gou leaned against the railing in front of them, sweeping her gaze along the star-dotted sky.

Rin muttered an apathetic 'whatever'.

"What are you excited about?" Rei couldn't help asking. To him, the current situation wasn't exciting. The chill of night was settling in, and the sea of sand around them seemed endless in all directions. Additionally, the fact that Haru had been taken away from them caused more worry than excitement. And lastly, exhaustion had taken its toll on him yet again. Rei almost tumbled when the ship hit a small dune.

Yes. This definitely wasn't exciting at all.

Gou smiled widely. "We're making progress. That's why."

"Yeah. Progress," Rin scoffed.

The ship shook once again; they hit a bigger dune this time. The unexpected force pushed Rei into the railing. He gasped, holding onto the railing as if his life depended on it while his stomach felt like it was turned upside down. It was only now that Rei noticed the rough and bumpy surface ahead of them.

Rin raised an eyebrow, keeping his eyes trained on Rei. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Rei assured him. He knew Rin would scold him for this pathetic display if he knew the reason. "Can we make a detour and sail around this field?"

The unimpressed look he earned from Rin told him that bargaining wasn't an option. Gou had placed her hand on Rei's shoulder as a comforting gesture.

They sailed through another great dune, sending sand flying across the bow of the ship. Rei clutched his stomach, which decided it had had enough, and used his other hand to cover his mouth.

"What the hell, Rei?!" Rin yelled, quickly motioning for Gou to take over. He pulled Rei closer by the wrist, examining him thoroughly. "Seasickness?! Really?!"

Rei nodded once. "I'm sorry for causing trouble, Rin-san."

Rin let out a sigh to calm himself and helped guide Rei to his cabin. After setting him down on the bed, he allowed Rei to slip off his boots, then pushed him down onto the mattress by both shoulders. Rei stared up as the captain hovered above him, seemingly annoyed. They froze in place, memories of the past night refreshed. Rei was the one to break their eye contact, his gaze slipping from Rin's while an embarrassed flush dusted his cheeks.

"What's with you, Rei?" he whispered.

Rei looked back up at him, almost affronted by the question. "What do you mean?"

"A sailor who gets seasick? That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."

Rei shrugged Rin's hands off his shoulders and sat up. "I beg your pardon? I can't help if I get seasick! It's not something I can cont-" He was stunned into silence by Rin wrapping his arms around him tightly. Why was Rin hugging him? "Rin-san... w-what are you doing?" he stuttered.

Rin chuckled, his breath right next to Rei's ear. "I'm trying to distract you," he said quietly. "Is it working?"

Rei had to admit that it was. He didn't feel nearly as bad as he had when he had been outside, even though he could still feel the ship passing over the dunes. "It is, I guess."

Rin pulled back to look him in the eye. "Let's cut the crap, Rei. We like each other a bit, don't we?"

"Huh? What do you mean?" Rei asked, though he figured that he knew what the captain was alluding to.

Rin shot him a look of disbelief. "Come on, Rei. You're smart. You know exactly what I mean."

Rei steeled himself against Rin's skeptical expression. "I must admit, I do know what you mean," he said quietly, "I just wanted to be sure that that was what you were hinting at."

A toothy grin split Rin's face. "Smart boy. And how does my suggestion make you feel?" He leaned over Rei, pushing him back down onto the blankets.

Rei looked up into Rin's strong, passionate eyes, scared and invigorated by the possibilities laid out before him. For years, he had lived his life carefully, everything plotted out on a grid since he had had the stability to do so. Now he found himself staring into the eyes of a savage pirate and having to make a snap decision.

So he did.

He grabbed Rin around the back of his head and pulled him to his lips, removing his ponytail and threading his fingers through his smooth hair. He moved his lips against Rin's mouth, and Rei could feel his sharp teeth with his tongue and lips. This reminded him that Rin was dangerous, so he pulled back a bit.

Rin had his hand around the back of Rei's neck, and he was breathing hard. He smirked suddenly. "I'm glad you feel the same, Rei. We can have a lot of fun together," he murmured. He released his hold on Rei and sat up once again. "I'll leave you with that for tonight. Think about it whenever you feel seasick again." He stood from the bed. "It'll calm your stomach for sure."

And with those last few words, Rin left the cabin, stepping out into the cold night air again.

Gou watched him from the wheel, noticing the swagger in his step. "You look happy, Rin," she drawled, low enough so the rest of the crew wouldn't hear. "Did something good happen while you two were in there? You were gone an awful long time!"

Rin tried to wipe the smirk off his face. "Yeah, he didn't throw up in my cabin."

"Did he also remove your ponytail while he was 'not throwing up'?" she teased.

Rin threw his hand up and caressed the back of his head, where his hair was loose. Damn, he forgot to tie it back up. "Er, no, I did that because... uh-"

"Oh save it, Rin." She couldn't help but laugh at him.

Rin took the wheel from her and shoved her off. "Go to bed, Gou."

"Fine," she whined, retreating down the stairs to the main deck and toward her own cabin, passing by Sousuke and Makoto working the sails along the way. The moon hung gracefully in the sky, watching over the desert and illuminating the sand and the crew working below.

"Sousuke!" Rin called.

Sousuke looked up at him. "Yes, Captain?"

"Raise the sails and lower the anchor; we're stopping for the night. When you're done, you're all dismissed until tomorrow." Rin left the wheel and headed back into his cabin, out of view of the rest of them.

"Thank goodness," Makoto sighed, "I'm so tired."

Sousuke turned to the younger three crewmen. "Ai, take those two and lower the anchor. We'll raise the sails."

"Will do! Come on, Momo, Nagisa!"

"Coming! Can we get some food on the way?" Nagisa asked as they went below deck.

"We just ate an hour ago!" Sousuke heard Ai say as they left. He chuckled, then nudged Makoto's arm.

"Let's get to work."

----------

It only took them a few minutes to raise all the sails. They then abandoned the chill of the night and headed down below deck to check on Ai, Momo, and Nagisa, but they didn't need any help with the anchor. Sousuke was impressed.

"I thought we were going to have to help you for sure."

Momo looked offended. "No way! We got this!"

"Yeah," Nagisa added, "Now we get to sleep! Best time of the day other than lunch!" He and Momo tore off to the sleeping quarters, while Ai followed behind shaking his head.

Sousuke's eyes shifted over to Makoto, noticing the melancholy look on his face. He put an arm around Makoto's shoulder. "Let it out."

Makoto looked up at him for a few seconds before his expression twisted into a grimace of heartache and tears began to spill down his cheeks. He covered his face with his hands. "I'm sorry, Sousuke," he sobbed, his body shaking in anguish. "I shouldn't make you deal with my grief."

"Your friend was taken. You don't have to stay strong," Sousuke said gently, rubbing Makoto's arm. "Cry if you want."

"I don't want to cry; I just want Haru back." Makoto wiped at his eyes and wrapped his arms around Sousuke. "I don't know what I would do if you weren't here."

Sousuke ran his hand over Makoto's hair over and over again in a soothing motion, even scratching at his scalp a few times to calm him. "Then it's a good thing I'm here."

----------

While Rei was alone in the cabin, he couldn't seem to slow his wild thoughts, shaken up by his experience with the captain. Why had he done that? Why had he kissed Rin like that? This guy was basically holding him hostage, and Rei had kissed him!

"I'm such an idiot," Rei thought.

When Rin entered the cabin again, Rei jumped off the bed, flushed.

"R-Rin-san! You're back!" he stuttered, haphazardly pulling on his boots. "Are you retiring for the night?" Rin simply nodded, removing his coat and hanging it next to the bed. Rei moved past him toward the door. "W-Well, alright then. I'd better leave you for the night... so you can rest."

"Rei," Rin said just as Rei put his hand on the door latch. "You're not going anywhere." He slowly turned back to Rin, expecting to see anger in his eyes, but instead he saw a playful grin. "You can't kiss me like that then just take off. That's rude," Rin taunted.

Rei took a breath. "I'm sorry, Rin-san. I have no idea why I did that. I mean no disrespect to you."

Rin let out a bark of laughter. "You don't know why you did it? Rei, you're dense."

"I am not!" Rei cried in a huff.

"Yes, you are!" Rin chided, "You kissed me because somewhere deep down, you think I'm sexy."

Rei grew livid. "You had me cornered! I didn't know how else to get out of the situation! It's not sexy when I feel like I can't say no to you!" he shrieked, hands tightening into fists.

Rin was shocked by Rei's words, his expression changing instantly to astonishment. Rei stared him down, seemingly awaiting a reply.

Suddenly Rin sneered. "Get out."

It was Rei's turn to look surprised. "Rin-san, I-"

"Get out!" Rin howled, his teeth flashing like daggers.

Rei stood speechless for a second, then turned around, opened the latch on the door and left without a word. Once outside, he leaned against the door and sighed. Rei wasn't sorry for his choice of words. If Rin wanted to be intimate with him, he'd have to treat Rei like his equal instead of pushing him around and intimidating him all the time. He pushed away from the door after a minute and looked over the railing onto the main deck where Sousuke and Makoto were securing the sails. He watched them silently until they finished and went below deck. The chilly air had him longing for a warm bed, but he wasn't going back into the captain's cabin with Rin, so he descended to the main deck and followed Sousuke and Makoto underneath to the sleeping quarters.

---------

Rei glanced over the long room full of bunks stacked three high. Some of them were untidy and mussed up, indicating that they already had an occupant.

"You can pick any one you'd like," Sousuke said easily, "Well, any one that's free. If someone came along and found you sleeping in their bed, they might get the wrong idea."

"Uh, yeah," Rei mumbled. He had slept in Rin's bed last night, and he definitely seemed to get the wrong idea. He decided on one of the bottom bunks, slipping his boots off and laying down. He removed his glasses and set them down next to the uncomfortable pillow. The blanket was scratchy and it made him miss the comfort of Rin's bed. "Whatever," Rei thought, closing his eyes and forcing himself to bear with it.

---------

When the moon was high, Makoto slipped out of his bunk. He crept out of the room, leaving his crew mates behind to continue their slumber. He was envious of them all for being able to sleep; his mind was filled with thoughts of Haru. All he could see when he closed his eyes was Haru being carried off by Kisumi. Makoto couldn't believe that he thought Kisumi looked like a nice guy. Obviously the captain had him in a cell for a reason. He stepped out onto the deck of the ship, shivering in the frigid night air. Temperatures in the desert fluctuated wildly throughout the day, with scorching days and freezing nights. Stepping over toward the railing, he rubbed his arms for warmth and looked up at the stars. The twinkled down on him, each one shining a glimmer of hope that he and Sousuke would get Haru back.

"Makoto."

Makoto flinched, turning his head to face the door, where Sousuke had appeared. "I'm sorry, Sousuke. I know I'm not supposed to be out here at night, but I couldn't sleep," he explained halfheartedly.

Sousuke shrugged, joining him near the railing. "I know. I understand." Makoto's eyes fell back toward the earth, staring at nothing. Even in the dark, Sousuke could see the hopelessness in his expression. He hated that look. "Makoto, there's something I want to tell you." Sousuke's words earned the boy's attention, and he pointed to the large scar on his shoulder, raised and silvery. "I'm sure you've noticed this."

Makoto's eyes widened slightly. "Er, yes, I have-" he said quietly- "but why are you mentioning it now?"

"When I got this scar, I almost lost my arm, but you know who saved me?"

Makoto gulped, "Who?"

Sousuke was silent for a moment before he answered, "Rin."

Makoto was shocked. "Really? But didn't you say he's difficult to get along with?"

"That is somewhat true, he does need to change some things about his attitude, but the best quality about him is that once he sees the worth in someone, he will defend that person to the death."

Makoto shivered in the chill. "Do you think he'd do that for Haru?"

"No-" Sousuke shook his head- "but I'll be able to get him to let us look for Haru, so stop worrying about it."

Makoto nodded, a small smile forming on his lips. "Okay, I trust you."

"Good, now get back to bed. I'm freezing out here."

---------

Even though the bunk was uncomfortable, Rei managed to sleep through the entire night. He didn't even wake when the rest of the crew settled into their respective bunks for the night or when they awoke again in the morning. He shuffled out of the bunk, embarrassed to have slept in, and pulled on his boots. Setting his glasses upon his nose, he smoothed the wrinkles out of his clothes as best as he could and started his journey to the helm to join Rin and Gou. When he stepped outside, he was even more embarrassed to see the rest of the crew already in action and the ship swiftly moving toward Harami. He noticed Sousuke and Makoto working on the sails and Momo and Nagisa sweeping the deck. He took a deep breath and climbed the staircase up toward the wheel, ready to face Rin once again after what happened last night.

"So you finally decided to join us, Rei?" Rin drawled, not really asking.

"No one woke me," he explained.

"I instructed Sousuke not to."

So Rin had wanted him to oversleep and be embarrassed upon waking. Rei figured it was probably Rin's petty way of making him mad.

"Well, I'm here now so it doesn't matter." He turned to Gou. "Any idea on how long until we reach Harami?"

She glanced down at the map. "I think it should be another three hours or so. Early afternoon."

Rei nodded once. "Then we should have plenty of time to visit Sera-san." From behind the wheel, Rin narrowed his eyes at the mention of Sera, but he said nothing.

As Rei moved to join Gou near the map, Sousuke ascended the stairs to the helm, and Rin's eyes went straight to him. "Sousuke, you're supposed to be working the sails," Rin said.

"I believe Makoto can handle it for a moment. May I speak with you in private, Captain?"

Rin raised one eyebrow in curiosity, but ultimately called Gou to take over. He waved Sousuke inside his cabin and closed the door behind them. "What do you want, Sousuke?"

"I want to ask you to allow me to retrieve Haru if the opportunity should arise."

This surprised Rin. "Why should I?"

"Because I want to take back what Kisumi stole from you."

Rin studied him with a determined stare. "That's not the real reason," he said.

Sousuke lowered his eyes. "You're correct. The real reason is I still owe you-" he set a hand on his shoulder, over his scar- "for this."

Rin pursed his lips, thinking for a moment. "Fine, now go."

Sousuke bowed quickly. "Thank you, Captain," he said, then left the cabin. Rin followed and took the wheel back from Gou, sending her back to the map with Rei. She settled in next to him and scanned her eyes over the map, but she wasn't really interested. She was dying to know what had happened in the cabin last night between him and Rin.

She nudged Rei gently with her elbow. "What happened last night?" she whispered.

Rei tensed a bit, but tried not to shy away from answering her question. "Do you mean in the cabin when I was experiencing seasickness?" he replied quietly, so Rin wouldn't overhear. Gou nodded, an expectant smile on her face. "I didn't vomit, if that's what you're wondering," he offered.

She shook her head and leaned in very close. "Did you kiss him?"

Rei blanched and stood up stock straight. He was proud of himself for not screaming. He glanced over at Rin briefly to make sure that he still had not noticed their semi-private conversation. "Why would you think that?!" he whispered harshly.

"No judgement, I just want to make sure Rin is treating you nicely. You're a great person to have around, Rei."

As Rei looked into her eyes, he wondered what to say. She seemed genuine, but he was still embarrassed about what had happened. If he told her, would the whole crew hear about it later? Would Rin be mad?

"He's treating me perfectly fine, Gou-san," Rei said, loud enough for Rin to hear, prompting Rin to look over at them, halting their conversation. Gou wouldn't try to get the information out of him again while she knew Rin was keeping an eye on them.

Rei was happy with the silence that followed.

---------

The sun was shining bright in the sky by the time Ai spotted land through the waves of heat distorting the horizon. The desert sea had seemed a blur with Rin at the wheel, and Rei noticed that he was quite a good captain, always aware of where they were and the distance left to travel. He certainly was able to keep his crew working hard, though Rei was sure that his whole crew was at least a little afraid of him.

"It won't be too much longer if we keep up this pace, Captain!" Ai called from the crow's nest.

"We aren't slowing down now," Rin announced, "Sousuke, keep our speed up!"

"Yes, Captain!"

----------

Rin only allowed them to slow their pace when they approached Harami. Upon drawing close to the docks, Rin scanned the harbor for a place where they could land. His eyes went wide when he noticed a very familiar ship with pure white sails - a ship flying an infuriating flag.

"Sousuke!" he called, gaining the attention of his quartermaster and shifting it toward the enemy ship. "Here's your chance! When we dock, I want you to take back what's mine, and some things that aren't mine too." An evil grin split his face. "I want Kisumi to know exactly who was on his ship while he was out."

Rei looked out over the vibrant city of Harami, the city he called home. It was just as he remembered it when he left a few years ago to work for the king. The harbor was busy, and the market by the docks was crowded. He spotted the roof of the library where he had spent so many days studying and reading with Sera. He smiled at the thought; he couldn't wait to see Sera again. He could really use a familiar, friendly face after the last few days.

Chapter Text

"What do you think, Haru?"

Haru surveyed the cabin Kisumi had offered him for the night. It was nice, but he was sure that some other top-tier crewman had been displaced for him to have this room, perhaps even the first mate.

"It's fine," he answered.

"Please sleep well, Haru. I'll check on you in the morning." Kisumi smiled, taking Haru's hand in his and squeezing once, then turning to leave.

"Kisumi," Haru said abruptly, halting him in his tracks.

He turned back to Haru. "Yes?"

"Why'd you take me?" he asked quietly, without turning toward him.

Kisumi sighed softly and approached Haru again, taking his hand and circling around to stop in front of him. "Haru," he said, smiling gently, "Am I trying to hard to win your heart?" When he was met with a curious glance, Kisumi changed his track. "You're working for the king. I am too. We want the same things." He set his hands upon Haru's shoulders. "I can tell you were the captain even though you lost your coat. Rin took it from you, didn't he? You were captured by him just like I was, weren't you?" He said nothing, making Kisumi chuckle lightly. "Thought so. Thankfully, my crew was able to find me."

"Rin captured my whole crew."

"And that's why I took you, Haru," Kisumi explained, "Rin is not a nice person. He's a dastardly pirate with a bounty on his head. He's ruthless, and you're important."

"My crew is important. Why didn't you bring them along too?"

"Oh Haru, I only have eyes for you."

Haru scowled. "If Rin is as bad as you say, we need to save them too. They're also part of the King's Navy."

Kisumi raised Haru's hands to his lips and kissed his thin fingers. "I will, Haru. I'll get them for you. I'll get you anything you want."

--------

Harami was a bustling city - one of the biggest in the Sano kingdom - and the port was massive. Ships lined every dock. After a quick scan of the harbor, Rin found a suitable place to land the ship along a far dock. Maneuvering into place was a bit difficult, but, working together with a few dock workers, the crew was able to pull the ship up alongside the pier. Once everything was in place, the entire crew disembarked the ship and split into three groups. Rin and Rei would head toward Sera's home, looking for help and clues regarding the ancient map; Sousuke and Makoto would go straight for Kisumi's ship to retrieve Haru; and Gou, Ai, Nagisa, and Momo would go to the market to restock on supplies and food for the next leg of their journey.

Rin tucked the map safely into his coat and turned to Sousuke and Makoto. "Bring me back something good," he said. Sousuke simply nodded once and started off up the dock, Makoto following behind him. Rin handed Gou a small satchel of coins to buy supplies, then nudged Rei in the back. "Lead the way to this teacher of yours."

They left the others behind and Rei led Rin carefully through the crowded streets, confidently leading him along and periodically checking behind him to make sure he hadn't been swallowed up in the throng of people. As they moved further from the docks, the crowd began to thin, and Rei worried about someone possibly recognizing Rin as the dread pirate he was. Rei would be in trouble for sure if he was caught with a criminal like Rin.

"Rin-san?" he said quietly.

"What?"

"Do you have any sort of disguise you can wear while we're in town?" Rei asked, continuing along the cobbled street.

Rin raised an eyebrow. "No."

Rei sighed. He figured that would be the answer. "Can you at least take your hat off? It marks you as a pirate, and we could get in a lot of trouble if someone alerts the authorities."

"Relax, Rei. Don't worry about a thing," he said easily. The two of them walked through the streets, passing residents, who gave Rin a weird look. He glared back at them, showing off his sharp teeth in a smirk when they flinched.

"You're not helping," Rei nagged.

Rin laughed as the people on the street looked away from them, trying to keep out of the pirate's business. "Yes, I am."

Rei shook his head in exasperation. "Fine, if you say so," he said curtly. He guided Rin onto a side street out of public view. "We're close," he assured.

"You'd better be right," Rin growled, put off Rei had not found his antics with the townspeople funny. "I can't wait to meet that teacher of yours. Is he as conceited as you?" He poked Rei in the back to try and rile him up, but there was a certain playfulness in his voice. He was up for a fight, which Rei wasn't interested in giving him. Not today.

Rei stopped, completely ignorant to the insult thrown at him, and eyed the building. It had been years since he had lived with Sera. The worn, wooden stairs Rei had taken every day when he was younger had been burned into his memory. The house on the hill was all too familiar to him. Rei couldn't help but smile, memories flashing through his mind.

Rei's reaction didn't go unnoticed. Rin followed him up the stairs, eager to get information. Coming to a halt at the door, Rei knocked twice.

"One moment, please!" A voice inside called.

A few seconds later, the door flew open. The man in front of them looked to be in his late twenties. He was taller than both of them and had silver-framed glasses sitting on his nose. He wore a beige shirt and green vest similar to Rei's. Rin knew it was the man they had been looking for when his eyes widened and a broad smile formed on his face.

"Rei," Sera almost whispered to himself, before he wrapped his arms around Rei in a tight and welcoming hug. "Is that really you? It's been so long!" A sigh escaped him, all worries gone.

"I'm back, Sera-san." Rei returned the hug and rested his chin on Sera's shoulder.

Rin's stomach coiled. Their embrace lasted too long and the content expression on Rei's face was unbearable to watch, as it wasn't meant for him. It made him feel out of place, unwanted. He cleared his throat to get their attention. "Are you done?" he growled.

Finally, they untangled and faced him. Sera's eyes wandered up and down his form, scanning and judging him. This guy obviously was as sharp as Rei and at least as obnoxious to handle in terms of cooperation.

"And you are?" Sera asked.

The question was directed at Rin, but Rei took the liberty of answering. "Rin-san, a friend of mine." The words left Rin speechless, but he would roll with it if it meant easy access to information about Iwatobi's island.

"Er, yeah, we're friends."

Sera raised an eyebrow, skeptical. "Really?"

Rei noticed the look on Sera's face. "Yes, and we need help," he said, turning Sera's attention back to him. "You were the only one I could think of that might be able to help us." He looked over at Rin, holding out his hand. "Rin-san, show him the map."

"No!" Rin wouldn't just hand his map over to someone he didn't know or trust.

"Rin-san, please! This is no time for your ego! If you want help with the map, Sera-san needs to see it!"

Rin growled at him, but Sera interrupted before he could say anything back to Rei. "It's completely alright!" he said, then turned to Rei. "Rei, could I speak to you alone for a moment?"

"Yes, I suppose," Rei said, "Excuse me, Rin-san." Rei and Sera went to the far corner of the room, away from Rin. Admittedly, it was not quite 'in private', but it was far enough away from Rin that he couldn't hear what they were saying.

"Rei-" Sera said in a grave tone- "why are you hanging out with pirates?"

Rei's eyes grew wide and his mouth fell open. "He's not a pirate," he whispered harshly, "He's just a friend of mine who needs help with his map!"

The look on Sera's face told Rei that he didn't buy a single word he was saying. "Rei, don't take me for a fool. He's a pirate. Anyone can see that." He rested a hand on Rei's shoulder. "I'm worried about you. Are you okay?"

Rei looked down at the floor boards. "I'm fine. Everything is fine... Can you please just help us? No questions asked?" he pleaded quietly.

Sera studied Rei's facial expression for a moment. "Okay, but don't be afraid to contact me if you need help."

"Thank you, Sera." Rei looked back over at Rin, who was staring at them impatiently. He turned back and whispered, "Rin-san has a map of the legendary islands."

Sera was speechless for a moment. "Only one was thought to exist."

"Can you help us?" Rei asked.

Sera glanced over at Rin, who was growing more impatient by the second. "Rin-san, Rei tells me you have a very interesting map," he called, striding carefully back toward him. "I can definitely give you some information, but I want you to do something for me first. Then we can both get the help we need."

Rin sneered at him. "What do you want?"

Chuckling, Sera continued, "I need something from the marketplace, something that the seller won't sell me."

"That sounds like your problem."

"Maybe you could use your... persuasive ways to get it for me? Then maybe I could help you with your legendary map," Sera said.

Rin regarded Sera with a harsh, leery expression. "What is this thing you need, and who has it?"

Sera shrugged. "It's just a simple textbook. The annoying man with red hair at the market won't sell it to me for some reason."

"Maybe it's because you call him annoying," Rin snapped, "What's the book called?"

"Don't laugh at me, Rei, but it's called 'Gardening in the Desert'. I want to grow herbs for myself so I don't have to buy them from the market," he explained, "That book has lots of good tips for growing plants in poor conditions."

Rin snickered, but Rei seemed impressed. "That's very admirable of you, Sera-san. We'll get that book for you."

"Hey, I never agreed to that!"

"Rin-san, please," Rei scolded, "We have to get that book, otherwise he won't help us."

Rin shrugged. "I could just threaten to kill him?"

"Rin-san," Rei said, exasperated, "Stop."

"Fine," he groaned, "You said he was the annoying guy with red hair?"

Sera nodded. "I believe his name is Seijuurou."

---------

Sousuke and Makoto approached Kisumi's ship with caution. They had no idea if anyone was still on board to stop them, so they watched the ship from afar for a few minutes before making their move. When they saw no movement on board, they decided it was safe to attempt to infiltrate. They climbed the gangway onto Kisumi's ship and looked around the deck. They found no one on the main deck, but that didn't mean there couldn't be people below.

"Where do you think he would keep Haru?" Makoto asked.

"Brig?" Sousuke offered.

"Good idea, but we might run into a lot of crewmen down there," Makoto said, an apprehensive look on his face. "It'll be dangerous. We need to be really careful."

Sousuke nodded. "You're right. I'll lead, you watch my back and tell me if someone is trying to sneak up on us."

"Okay, you can trust me! Let's go." They descended below deck slowly, alert for anyone that may jump out to ambush them. The layout of Kisumi's ship was similar to Rin's, but far bigger and brighter. The openness of the space gave potential attackers fewer places to hide. They still proceeded carefully, always vigilant.

"Maybe the cells are on the next deck down?" Makoto said.

"Yeah." Sousuke stopped at the stairs leading down. "Keep watch." Makoto nodded as Sousuke a descended a few steps on the stairs and crouched so his head was just under the deck, enough for him to survey without having to waste time going all the way down. "There's nothing down there. No cells at all."

Makoto gasped. "Then where is he?"

Sousuke looked back up at him. "Captain's cabin?"

"Oh no," Makoto groaned, "I've got a bad feeling."

Sousuke stood and was by his side again. "It's fine. We're gonna find him." Makoto took a deep, calming breath, and they started on their search again, heading back up to the main deck as carefully as they had come down. Together, they climbed up to the captain's cabin and both took a deep breath before inching open the wooden door to peer around inside.

Makoto frowned and groaned softly. "Nothing."

"Hmm," Sousuke hummed, "I noticed a hallway to some sleeping cabins below deck. Maybe we should check them out."

"Great, that's where we're gonna find sleeping pirates." Makoto whined, moving away from the door.

Sousuke closed the door and looked over at Makoto quizzically. "Makoto, this isn't a pirate vessal. It's a navy ship. Didn't you notice? Kisumi obviously works for the king."

Makoto looked around, and indeed, Kisumi's ship was a royal navy ship. He wondered how he hadn't noticed before. "If he's not a pirate, why would he kidnap Haru? It doesn't make sense."

"Kisumi doesn't make sense." Sousuke waved Makoto along as he moved back toward the lower decks. "Come on."

"Maybe he thought Haru was a pirate and wants to send him to the king as a prisoner?" Makoto said as he followed along behind Sousuke. "That would be stupid, because we were also working for the king as part of the Royal Navy."

"Makoto, focus."

"Sorry!" They went below deck again and Sousuke peeked his head around the corner into the hallway, but he immediately drew back and covered Makoto's mouth. He then said into Makoto's ear, "There's someone there," in the quietest whisper he could manage.

Makoto's eyes went wide and he made a gesture that Sousuke knew to mean, 'What are we gonna do?'

"He could be guarding Haru," Sousuke whispered. He put his finger to his lips, telling Makoto to not make a single sound. Only when he nodded did Sousuke release him. "Stay here," he mouthed. He then looked around the corner again and judged how long it would take for him to get to the guy from here.

A second and a half, probably.

He drew back and stood flat against the wall, breathing in deeply as Makoto watched him nervously. Holding the breath in his lungs, he rounded the corner quickly, gaining the surprised attention of the crewman guarding the door. He tried to stand and defend himself, but Sousuke was upon him instantly, landing a punch to his face and knocking him out.

Makoto had peeked around the corner to watch the event unfold. Normally, he was notoriously anti-violence, but something about seeing Sousuke knock out a guy with one punch left him feeling faint. "Sou-" He was silenced by Sousuke holding up his hand. They listened to the sounds of movement coming from one of the cabins, their bodies tense. Makoto could feel his hands shaking and his heart pounding. "Sousuke," he whispered.

"Wait," Sousuke replied so quietly, Makoto almost didn't hear him. One door started to shake as the occupant opened the latch. They both jerked their eyes over in time to see the door slowly open and someone familiar peek out.

"Haru!" Makoto cried, dashing past Sousuke to envelop him in a hug.

Haru jumped into Makoto's arms and wouldn't let go. Everything that Kisumi had told him or promised him went right out of his head the moment he saw Makoto. All he had needed was his best friend back.

"What a touching reunion." Sousuke teased.

"Sousuke, let's get out of here now!" Makoto said, still holding Haru in his arms.

"But Rin wants us to steal stuff."

Haru piped up. "Let's break stuff."

Sousuke grinned. "Good idea."

Haru jumped out of Makoto's arms and entered the cabin again, smashing lamps and breaking paintings before joining them again. "That was fun."

"Shall we break more?" Sousuke asked, smirking.

"Yes."

"Let's just go! We got Haru back!" Makoto pleaded, "We don't need to do any more!" Unfortunately, Haru and Sousuke weren't listening. They had run back to the main room of the lower deck and were smashing barrels and unscrewing bolts on cannons. They even went into the galley and started breaking plates. Makoto followed them and sighed. "I'm happy you two are getting along, but really, please let's go!"

"One more thing," Haru said, grabbing a few bottles of various types of alcohol. "Okay, now we can go."

"You're having some great ideas today, Haru," Sousuke said, taking a few bottles of his own. "Rin will enjoy this. Okay, let's get out of here."

"Finally," Makoto sighed, taking off to the upper deck with Haru and Sousuke close behind. They ran across the gangway with their stolen alcohol, leaving a trail of destruction behind them. They laughed as they ran across the docks with the alcohol, even Makoto joining in, but as they approached Rin's ship, Sousuke stopped them.

"Wait! We can't go back yet!"

Makoto skidded to a stop and turned to him. "Why not?"

"When Kisumi comes back and sees Haru gone and his ship in shambles, what is he gonna suspect?"

"We took him back," Makoto said.

Sousuke nodded. "And if he sees Rin's ship at the pier, where's the first place he's gonna look?"

"Rin's ship. You're right, Sousuke. We need to lay low, hide in the city."

"We should drop off the alcohol," Haru suggested.

"Yes, we should. Then we hide until everyone is back and ready to leave." Sousuke continued toward the ship with the other two following behind.

---------

"I hope we can find this freak and get that damn book," Rin muttered as he followed along behind Rei.

"I hope you don't say anything like that to him, otherwise we definitely won't get the book."

"Whatever. Why is Sera so annoying? He wants us to get a stupid book for him?" Rin whined, "Does he have any idea who I am?"

Rei couldn't help but roll his eyes and turn back to Rin, staring him down. "Yes, he does! And if he wanted, he could call the authorities on us at any moment, so shut up!" Rin locked eyes with him, spitfire red burning in contempt, but Rei didn't flinch. He held Rin's gaze for a moment, daring him to argue, then turned back to the street and continued on.

'Damn,' Rin thought, 'This guy has nerve.'

As they passed one of the many non-descriptive buildings in the city, something interesting caught Rin's eye. "Rei, look!" he said, moving to stand closer to a lamp post decorated with a picture of him. "It's my wanted poster!" Rin smiled as he posed next to it, showing off his sharp teeth again.

"You seem quite proud," Rei quipped.

"No, not really. This picture is a pretty bad artist's rendition, and my bounty definitely isn't high enough." He pointed to a measly sum underneath his name. "Only ten thousand gold coins? I'm worth at least fifty thousand!"

"Maybe the low bounty is the reason you haven't been hung yet," Rei chided, starting down the street again as if Rin wasn't having a crisis over his cheap reward. "No one wants to waste their time trying to catch you for only ten thousand coins."

"Maybe," Rin surrendered, abandoning the poster and following Rei down a few more streets until they reached the marketplace. The crowd was bustling again and they tried their best to roam through the packed streets and avoid merchants trying to sell them things they didn't need. Their minds were focused on that book.

"Stay close to me, Rin-san, we shouldn't get separated."

"I won't let you out of my sight," Rin hummed. Rei rolled his eyes again, but said nothing.

"Rin!" They stopped in their tracks when the voice called out to them. Peering around, they noticed Gou waving from across the cobbled street. She jogged toward them. "What are you two doing down in the market?" she asked.

"We're looking for a particular merchant." Rin waved her along, not wanting to stop his search for the man.

"What does he look like? Maybe I can help?"

Rei answered, "Apparently, he's an annoying redhead."

Gou laughed, "Like Rin?"

"You could say that."

Rin shot them an offended glare. "Hey!"

Rei and Gou laughed as the three of them continued along the street, passing merchant stalls and food carts along the way. By the end of the street, a man called out to Gou.

"Hey, beautiful little lady, come check out what I have to sell!"

Gou looked over at him. He was tall and had slicked back red hair. She also noticed that Momo, Nagisa, and Ai were at his stall. She approached, Rin and Rei close behind. "There you guys are! I was looking for you, but I ended up finding these two instead!"

"Gou-san! This is my older brother!" Momo announced, "His name is Seijuurou!"

Rin and Rei shared a look.

"Momo, you know this little pirate queen?" Sei asked, amazed.

"Yeah of course! She's the first mate of the ship I'm sailing on, and this red-haired guy with her is the captain!"

"He looks familiar," Sei drawled, rubbing his chin.

Rin narrowed his eyes threateningly, but Rei jumped in to calm the situation. "Good merchant, what can you sell us today? We have some extra pocket money to spare."

Sei instantly moved his attention from Rin to Rei. "What kinds of things are you looking for? I dabble in a little bit of everything."

Momo grinned and made a triumphant fist. "My brother knows about lots of stuff!"

"Well," Rei said, exaggerating his curiosity, "I love to read. It gets rather boring while we're sailing, so I try to acquire more knowledge. Do you have any books? Maybe something obscure? I've read many over the years, and sometimes it's difficult to find one I haven't read."

Rin was impressed by Rei's show. He watched him spin his half-truths with fascination. There was a bit of a nefarious streak in Rei that he was excited to see more of.

"I do have some books as a matter of fact!" He bent down to retrieve some books from under the desk of his stall, popping back up with five in his hands. "Excuse my narrow selection, I don't sell too many books anymore, so I've stopped buying them." He set the five books flat on the wood and laid them out for Rei to examine.

Rei's eyes scanned over the books, and he immediately noticed the one that Sera was after among them. He didn't want to give away that he was only interested in that one, so he gave attention to all five books. "I've read two of them, and I'm not interested in novels, so only this one is left," he said, pointing to the gardening book Sera wanted. "I'm not really into gardening, but I'll take it."

Sei chuckled. "I've had that book for a long time! No one seemed to want it, except one guy I really don't get along with. He looked a bit like you actually," he said. He looked closer at Rei and tilted his head to the side. "Wait-"

Rei gulped, his body tensing.

"You really do have a lot in common with that scholar on the hill." Sei narrowed his gaze as he scrutinized Rei. "You're not working for him, are you?"

"N-no! I don't know what you're talking about!" Rei stuttered.

"I don't trust you, but I'll make you a deal. I'll let you buy the book if your little pirate queen will go on a date with me."

Rin clenched his jaw so hard it hurt.

"Never!" Gou cried.

Sei shrugged. "Then no book." He went to pick up all the books, but Rei threw his hands over the one they needed.

"Please, we really need it!" he said, grasping the book tightly.

"If the little lady won't date me, no deal."

Rei turned his head to her. "Gou-san!"

She didn't understand why Rin and Rei needed this book so badly, but she was sure Rei wouldn't be acting like he was if it wasn't important. "Is there anything else you'll accept from me in lieu of a date, Seijuurou-san?"

"Hmm, maybe a kiss would make me change-" He was interrupted by the cock of a gun. He turned his head toward the sound and found himself staring down the barrel of Rin's flintlock pistol. The air around the group had gone eerily still, and the noise of the crowd seemed to fade into an deafening silence.

"Just give us the damn book." Rin snarled, baring his teeth again.

"Rin!" Gou shrieked, "Stop it!" She grabbed his arm, but his aim was steady, rage boiling in his eyes.

Rei glanced around at the people in the market. A few citizens were beginning to notice Rin's action, and it wouldn't be long before everyone in the area was thrown into a panic. He turned back to Sei. "Please, just give us the book," he pleaded, "I don't want this to get any worse than it already is."

Sei released his hold on the book, allowing Rei to pull it into his arms. "Okay, take it."

Rin lowered his gun. "Good choice."

"Thank you, Seijuurou-san, and I'm sorry," Rei apologized as he left with Rin, making their escape from the marketplace back toward Sera's house.

Gou leaned forward to look in Sei's eyes. "Are you alright? Just shocked?"

He nodded and looked down at her. "That guy is your captain? What's wrong with him?"

"He's actually my brother," Gou explained, "That's why he's so protective. Please understand that I don't agree with what he did!"

"Yeah, Sei! Rin has always been crazy!" Momo added.

"I think that was pretty gutsy of him to do that right here in the market!" Nagisa said, "We could have all been caught!"

"Yes," Ai said quietly, "The captain can be very impulsive."

"We're all very sorry for what happened," Gou apologized to Sei, putting a hand on his arm. "Here, take this for the book." She put a handful of gold coins down on the table for him as compensation for the incident. "Please forgive us."

He looked into her eyes and instantly forgave her, for she had done nothing wrong. "It's fine," he said, taking her hand in his. "You didn't do anything wrong. In fact, you even tried to save me! Thank you, my little pirate queen."

"Hey, I met her first!" Momo whined.

Sei laughed. "You're too young for her! I'm a tough, older guy who could really protect her!"

Nagisa glanced over at Ai, silently asking for an explanation. Ai just shrugged in confusion.

"I'm only one year younger than her!"

Sei laughed boisterously. "I know what will make you feel better, Momo!" He turned around and began rifling through the stall, looking for something. "I caught this guy the other day! I was gonna try to sell him, but I think you'd like him more!" Sei pulled a glass jar out from the random assortment of stuff he was planning to sell and handed it to Momo, watching his eyes grow wide.

"A stag beetle! He's huge, Sei! Where did you catch him?" Momo couldn't take his eyes off the gorgeous beetle.

"I found him up the mountain a few days ago! He's all yours."

"Thanks, Sei! He's so cool! He's my new best friend!"

Nagisa was a little offended. "Hey! What about me, Momo-chan?"

"Aside from you, Nagisachii!"

Gou started to inch away from the stall. "We really should be going now! We have a lot more shopping to do! Come on, boys!"

Sei waved her off. "Come visit me anytime, my little pirate queen! You can leave your crazy brother at home though!"

Gou cracked a fake smile and waved as they left him.

---------

When they arrived back at Sera's home, they were pleased to find that he had pulled out all the books he had that referenced the legendary islands, and Sera was ecstatic that Rei had gotten him his gardening book.

"How did you get it from him?" he asked, examining it.

Rei looked away from him, embarrassed to explain what had happened. "It's better if you don't know."

Rin rolled his eyes, quickly losing patience. "All that matters is that we got it, now tell us what you know!"

Sera snapped his gaze over to Rin in surprise. He certainly was hot-tempered. "As you wish, Rin-san. You got me this book, so I'll uphold my end of the bargain." He went over to the desk where he had set out a few books, bookmarks littering them to save important places. "Firstly, this one has some information about the islands themselves." Rin and Rei stepped closer to the desk and watched Sera open the book to one of the bookmarked pages. The title at the top read 'Ancient Peoples of Sano', and Sera pointed to a passage about halfway down. "This says that, in the past, people worshiped the two creatures as gods, and that the main shrine they built for them was on a small island in the middle of the sea." He flipped the page and there was a drawing of the shrine. It was a raised pool surrounded by a circle of stone bricks. A statue of a majestic bird stood at one side, and a statue of a diving shark stood at the other side. Perched on top of the two statues, seeming to balance perfectly, was a large stone ring. There was some text underneath the picture in the same language that Rin's map had been written in. "This text here says-"

"The ancient shrine of Iwatobi and Samezuka was built as an offering to the gods by the people of Sano," Rei finished for him.

Sera stared in astonishment. "I didn't know you could read this language."

"Yes. I learned it a few days ago, actually."

"Rei, are you being serious?" Sera asked incredulously. "It took me a year to learn this language!"

Rei's eyes landed briefly on Rin before moving back to Sera. "Sometimes we do things out of necessity."

"That's astounding, Rei. You've learned well."

Rin spoke suddenly, "Okay, enough talking! Let's get back to explaining these islands."

Sera scoffed, but continued, "This passage underneath the image of the shrine explains that the islands were hidden from mortal eyes, hence why they've never been mapped." He laid his gaze upon Rin. "Or so I thought until I heard about the possible existence of one map depicting the hidden isles. A map which, apparently, you have, Rin-san."

"There's no 'apparently', I do have it."

"Be that as it may, even though you have the map, I still don't know how you plan to get to the islands," Sera said, "They are hidden from mortals, after all."

"That's what I have this guy for." He gestured toward Rei. "He's the brains. He'll figure it out."

"Thank you, Rin-san, for putting all the pressure on me," Rei said, unimpressed.

"While Rei is very smart, and I know that better than anyone," Sera began, "this is all just lore. There's no way of knowing if that map is even real."

At this, Rin became very defensive. "Of course my map is real! I have no reason to doubt its authenticity, and I have no reason to doubt the truth behind the legend of Iwatobi and Samezuka," he growled, "and you shouldn't either! Not after what happened ten years ago! Water doesn't just turn to sand like nothing!"

Sera and Rei both stared at Rin's seething expression for a moment. Finally, Rei spoke, "Indeed, Rin-san, there is something intriguing about this journey we've started on, and I am interested in seeing it through."

"So-" Sera began- "you intend to reach the islands to try and fix what happened ten years ago?"

Rin looked Sera hard in the eyes. "Yes."

Sera closed his eyes and nodded once. "That's commendable. I wish you good luck."

The venom in Rin's expression dissipated. "Do you have any more information that could help us?"

"Hm, if you are intending on restoring the ocean, I assume you know all about the legends and myths." Sera tilted his head in thought. "I suppose it would be easiest to ask you what you want to know."

"How do we make the islands visible? And how can we sail to them?" Rin asked.

Sera shook his head. "That, I don't know."

Rei asked, "Will we, as mortals, even be able to see the legendary creatures?"

"Again, I don't know," Sera said.

"Fat lot of help you are, Sera-san," Rin spat, mockingly drawing out his name. "I bet you can't even tell us what happened ten years ago."

"I do have an idea about that. If you follow the myth, the golden egg wasn't delivered by Iwatobi, so Samezuka cursed the sea."

"But why?" Rei asked, "Why wouldn't Iwatobi bring the egg if it had been doing so for all those years?"

Sera smiled lightly. "That's a good question, Rei. I think that's definitely something you should try to find the answer to. For now, I suggest you find the shrine island; it may offer you some clues."

Rei nodded. "That sounds like a good plan." He turned to Rin. "What do you think, Rin-san?"

"I guess."

Rei turned back to Sera, walking over to him and giving him another hug. "Thank you so much for your time, Sera-san. I look forward to talking with you again soon."

"Same to you, Rei," Sera said back, holding him close for a few seconds before releasing him.

Rin found himself glaring at the two of them. He wasn't happy with the amount of information Sera had given them, and he definitely wasn't happy with the amount of physical contact between Sera and Rei. He grunted his discontent and turned to leave. "Come on, Rei!"

Rei quickly followed along behind Rin. "Farewell, Sera-san!"

"Farewell, Rei."

When they were outside on the street again, Rin shot Rei a scrutinizing look. It made Rei flinch.

"What?" he asked.

Rin scowled and removed his gaze from Rei. "Nothing," he said quickly, turning to move down the street again toward the pier. The crowd had thinned out a bit since midday, and it didn't take them nearly as long to get back to the ship as it had taken to make their way up toward Sera's house. Upon approaching the docks, Rin spoke, "So what is that guy to you, Rei?"

Rei sighed. He did not want to have this conversation with Rin. Why did he have to be so jealous? "Rin, just please, drop it. I don't have to explain my life to you," Rei said as they began their trek along the docks toward the ship.

"Is he your lover?"

"What?!" Rei screeched, his hands clenching into fists.

Rin snickered, continuing toward the ship. Rei fumed behind him as the ship drew closer.

Suddenly, Rin stopped walking. He looked up at the ship and listened intently.

"Wha-" Rei started, but Rin immediately shushed him, holding up a hand. In the quiet of the far corner of the docks, they could hear movement and voices within the ship, and none of the voices sounded like any crew members.

"There's someone on my ship. Someone that doesn't belong there." Rin ground out, his right hand covering the hilt of his sword, and his left hand drawing his pistol.

Rei put his hand on Rin's arm, trying to calm him. "Let's not jump to conclusions. Who do you think it is?" he asked.

Rin shrugged Rei's hand off himself and started toward the ship. "Doesn't matter. No one steals from me."

Chapter Text

Rei watched Rin advance toward the ship, pure murder exuding from his being. "Rin-san," he said carefully. "What are you going to do?" However, he received no answer. It was as if Rin couldn't even hear him. He followed Rin across the gangway and the pair were met by two men rummaging through crates on the main deck.

"What do you think you're doing?" Rin asked, his voice low.

The two looked over at him and their eyes widened. "Shit!"

Rei didn't know very much about the pirate way, but something told him that these men on board Rin's ship had definitely been here at a very bad time. Rin had earned his reputation, after all.

"You guys have some nerve trying to steal from me," Rin said, moving closer to the men, his gun aiming straight for them. He kept his other hand on the hilt of his sabre, waiting for the perfect moment to draw. "How many of you are here?"

The two men looked at each other briefly before one answered, "Three more. Two below deck and one in the captain's cabin."

Rei watched the scene unfold, holding his breath in his lungs. He wanted to run upstairs. He had already seen Rin pull his gun on someone once today, he didn't need this stress again.

Fuming, Rin gestured to the far railing of the ship with his pistol. "Get to the edge," he commanded the men, who followed his order without hesitation. When they were flush along the waist-height railing, Rin wasted no time in drawing his sword and slashing one of them across the chest in one precise stroke. Rei gasped, covering his mouth and watching the man's blood run down over his stomach. Rei dropped to the deck in an instant; he felt sick. He crawled clumsily toward the stairs leading up to Rin's cabin.

Rin pushed the wounded man over the railing into the sand below before any of his blood could hit the deck, then he placed his pistol directly under the second man's chin, leaning in close and pushing him dangerously far back over the railing.

"Do you value your life, thief?" he asked coldly, sharp teeth glinting in the sunlight.

"Yes! Please!"

"Then you shouldn't have boarded my ship."

Rei couldn't look. He began to climb the stairs as quickly as he could, holding the railing to keep himself steady, but he was halted partway up by a sudden gunshot ringing in his ears. He felt faint when he heard the second body crash into the sand below, only to sink underneath ominously, leaving no trace of the horror that had taken place. He wouldn't look back.

Rin pulled away from the railing, dropping his first gun and smudging away the streak of blood that had landed on his cheek. He smirked, drawling, "It's been so long." He glanced up at Rei on the stairs, frozen in fear. Rin could see him shaking. 'Maybe I shouldn't have done that,' he thought. 'I don't want to draw too much attention.' He could suddenly hear footsteps approaching from below deck, so he hid behind the door where the next set of thieves would appear from. "Stay right where you are, Rei," he called up to him before the other two appeared from the door.

"What happened-" they started, but were cut off when Rin slammed the door behind them closed to reveal his hiding spot. They looked back at him in panic. His blunderbuss was aimed directly toward them.

"Get to the railing. I don't want a mess on my ship."

The two men glanced at each other. "You think we could take him?" one asked the other.

Rin smirked. "Please try. I'd love to shoot this gun right in both your faces. They'd never identify your bodies."

Rei listened to the conversation taking place just below his feet, but he dare not look for fear of him seeing something he'd never be able to wipe from his mind. Rin had told him not to move, so he wouldn't.

The two men split apart from each other, one lunging for Rin and the other diving to the middle of the deck. Rin immediately shot the one that came toward him, incapacitating him easily and abandoning him to bleed on the ground. He dropped his now-useless blunderbuss and headed straight toward the second bandit who was trying to get back onto the docks and away from the ship. With one swift stab, Rin had run the man through. He moved his sword to the side, guiding the stabbed man along while he could still walk.

"I said 'Get to the railing'," Rin said coldly. He pushed the man across the deck by the sword sticking into his back and reappearing out of his chest. He retracted his sword and kicked him over the railing, sending him tumbling into the sand sea below.

Closing his eyes, Rei stood fixed on the stairs, only a few from the top, exactly where he had been stopped by Rin's first gunshot. Rin moved back toward the man laying on the deck, lifeless and bleeding. He wiped the bloody end of his sword on the man's clothes to clean it off, then glanced up at Rei, well aware there was still another bandit upstairs in his cabin who had yet to show himself.

"Rei, come down here," Rin called.

Rei shook his head, but he was otherwise unable to move. "I can't, Rin-san," he said quietly. Rin could see that his eyes were clenched shut. He didn't want to shock Rei into bolting from him, so he decided to ascend the other staircase up toward the wheel and the captain's cabin to allow Rei his space.

As soon as Rin reached the top of the staircase, the final bandit emerged from Rin's cabin. They locked eyes for a moment, Rin glaring daggers at the man for attempting to steal from him. He held the hilt of his sabre tightly in his grip, then he watched the man's eyes dart briefly to Rei before settling back on himself. Rin's whole body went numb in that moment.

This fucker was gonna try to grab Rei, and Rin was not about to let that happen.

"Rei!"

Rei snapped his eyes open, and all he saw was the strange man coming toward him while Rin tried to intercept. The situation played out in slow motion, but it was over in a second. Rin had flung his sword down and tackled the man, knocking him to the deck. He began beating mercilessly on the bandit, holding nothing back as punishment for both trespassing on his ship and daring to think he could touch Rei.

Rei watched the two roll around on the wood of the deck, both fighting to be the dominant party, but Rin held so much more passion in the punches he was throwing. The other man was just fighting to get away, but Rin was fighting to kill. Rei could see the emotion behind his rage, and when Rin finally got the upper hand, he started pounding viciously on the man's face and shoulders, his rings crunching bone and leaving bloody cuts and bruises. Rei could only stare in horror as Rin ferociously assaulted the man, fully intent on killing him just as he had the others, only this time he wanted to do it with his hands instead of a weapon.

In that moment, Rin's brain said nothing but 'kill'. As soon as he had noticed the men on his ship, he knew he was going to end all of their lives, but this one that tried to get to Rei? He was going to die at Rin's bare hands.

A few more strikes, and it was over. The man stopped struggling and his hands hit the deck, his face so disfigured Rei couldn't even look at it. Rin was breathing hard when he finally ceased punching, his hands covered in blood. The front of his clothes were flecked with blood as well, along with his face and chest where his shirt was open. He finally stood, still breathing hard, and dragged the body of the last bandit to the edge of the ship, hoisting it over the railing and dropping it into the sand. He turned back to look at Rei. He was staring absently at the streak of blood that marked the path of the body. His eyes were glazed over in shock.

Rin retrieved his sword, sliding it back into the scabbard on his belt, and moved toward Rei. His breathing was still labored from the fight. He stopped at the top of the staircase that Rei was still perched on. "I wasn't going to let him take you," he panted.

Rei still trembled. He gripped the railing of the staircase tightly to steady himself. He felt like running far away from here, never looking back. Rin had terrified him so much. "I n-need to be alone, Rin-san." With that, he turned and started to descend the stairs, aware that he would run into another body at the door leading below deck. After what he had seen, he figured it wouldn't faze him. He passed by the face-down body laying in a pool of blood and moved through the door, Rin watching him from above, but making no move to stop him.

Rin looked down at the body. 'I might as well get rid of that before the others get back,' he thought, descending the stairs and dragging it over to the far railing and tossing it overboard to join the rest as shark food. The trail of blood matched the one on the upper deck.

---------

"Good job everyone! We managed to buy the rest of the things we needed without getting separated again!" Gou said triumphantly, her arms full of bags of vegetables. "Also, we avoided Momo's brother!"

Momo stared at the beetle he had gotten from Seijuurou. He held the bottle in one hand and carried a few small boxes of more dried meat under his other arm. "I'm gonna name him 'Pyuunsuke'." Everyone gave Momo a weird look, but they said nothing.

"I wonder if the captain will be ready to go when we get back to the ship," Ai said.

"I hope so," Nagisa whined. "I'm hungry!"

Gou ignored all the boys and continued down the street through the marketplace. Upon nearing the end of the street, she caught sight of Sousuke standing tall above the crowd. "Sousuke!" she called, waving her hand above everyone else's heads to get his attention. When he looked over and recognized her, he started to move through the crowd toward their group, and Gou could just make out the top of Makoto's head bobbing alongside Sousuke as well. When the two groups met, she was left speechless.

They had Haru with them.

"Haru-chan!" Nagisa cried, dropping the paper bags of bread he was carrying and wrapping his arms around Haru in a tight hug.

"It's so good to see you safe and sound, Haru!" Gou said, smiling.

"Yes," Ai nodded in agreement. "It will be nice to cook delicious meals with you again! We even bought some spices while we were shopping in town today so we can make even tastier dishes!"

Haru cracked a rare smile. "That sounds like a good plan."

Sousuke hated to break up the reunion, but they needed to get back to the ship. "Does anyone know if Rin and Rei are finished in town yet?"

Gou looked up at him. "No, but we were just about to go back to the ship anyway. You should join us."

"We will," Sousuke said.

"Nagisa, pick up that bread and let's go!" Gou cried.

Nagisa finally released Haru and gathered his bags of bread from the ground. Thankfully, none of the loaves had fallen out.

As they walked toward the docks, they were bombarded with questions about how they had managed to rescue Haru.

Makoto told the harrowing story as they walked, as Sousuke and Haru didn't feel like explaining it. Everyone loved the part where Sousuke and Haru destroyed things on Kisumi's ship.

Momo made a menacing face. "Was it awful on his ship, Haru? Did he make you do all the chores and cooking? Did he whip you? Did he put you in shackles?"

Haru stared at Momo blankly. "No."

Momo was confused. "No, what?"

"No to everything," Haru clarified.

"Even 'No, it wasn't awful'?" he asked in surprise.

"It was okay. He gave me a nice cabin."

Everyone was shocked. Even Sousuke and Makoto were a little surprised.

"If you didn't mind it, Haru-" Makoto started- "why did you come back with us?"

Haru answered that question easily, "You weren't there, Makoto."

Makoto smiled at his response. It was enough for him. "I see."

The group continued along the dock, finally reaching the ship and crossing the gangway to find a massive pool of blood on the deck. They all stared at it, horrified.

"What happened here?!" Gou shrieked, causing Rin to exit his cabin and stare down at them.

"Keep it down," he scolded. They all looked up at him. He was still covered in blood.

"Rin, what's going on here? Why are you covered in blood?" she asked frantically. "Where's Rei?"

"It's not his blood."

She sighed in relief. "Thank you, but that's not what I asked!"

"He's below deck," Rin offered. "He's been down there for about a half-hour."

"And the blood?" She needed the answer to this.

Rin tilted his head in boredom. "Bandits."

Gou sighed, exasperated. "We need to get out of here. Sousuke, Makoto, we're sailing as soon as we can." They both nodded and went to work on the sails. "Everyone else, we're gonna clean this up."

"Don't forget the one up here," Rin said confidently.

"Rin, shut up," Gou growled. "Go clean yourself off."

Rin just shrugged and did as she said, walking down the stairs and going below deck. When he passed by the door to the galley, he considered talking to Rei to see how he was doing, but decided against it. He'd give him space and let him come to him on his own terms. Rin grabbed a cup off the table and pried open one of the barrels, dipping the cup into the water and using it to rinse the dried blood off his hands. He then splashed some on his chest and face, wiping at it with his hands to remove the little red flecks. He removed his hat and poured the last bit of water over his hair, letting it fall onto his clothes and over his chest and face to carry away the blood. He quickly splashed another cup of water haphazardly over his clothes in a meager attempt to clear away the last traces of his heinous deed. He was emotionless as he watched the red run down his skin, water dripping from his hair.

"Rin," Gou called from above, "bring some water up here!"

"Okay," he replied, "but I can't bring too much! I can't carry it all!" He settled on carrying up a bit of water in a leather drinking satchel. He'd let them get the rest.

When he stepped back outside, he handed Gou the satchel. "Here."

"Rin, this is nowhere near enough!"

"It's all I could carry," he said, his expression blank.

Gou sighed, "Fine. Just know that this will stain! This bloodstain will probably never be fully gone! Couldn't you have been a bit more careful?"

"Only two of them even bled on the ship. I managed to kill the other three without letting any of their blood hit the deck."

"There were five of them?" Gou asked in shock, receiving a simple nod from Rin. "If that is the case, then I'm surprised there's not more blood. Anyway, it will still stain," she finished.

"Understandable," Rin replied. He looked over toward Sousuke and Makoto. "Sousuke, are we ready to sail?"

"Any time."

"Alright, then we'll head out," he said, climbing the stairs up to the helm, ignoring the streak of blood marring the wood in front of his cabin door.

---------

As they sailed, the crew went through three quarters of a barrel of water cleaning up the blood smears on the main deck, and they used the rest of the barrel to clean the one in front of Rin's cabin. Rin had retreated into his cabin once the ship was moving at a good pace and the blood had been cleaned up, letting Gou take over the wheel.

Haru left the group a bit early to start work on dinner, and as he entered the galley and started to gather supplies, he heard a voice from the sleeping quarters.

"Haruka-san, you're back," Rei said. "I'm glad to see you."

Haru turned to him, nodding in acknowledgment. "I'm glad to see you as well, Rei." He glanced up and down Rei's form, examining his bleak expression and wrinkled clothing. "Are you alright? We all saw the blood on the deck."

Rei winced at the memory. He didn't want to remember what had happened, but if he didn't talk to someone about this, it would eat away at his brain. Keeping things bottled up inside was never a good idea; Rei knew that well.

"Physically, I am fine, but mentally, I'm not sure," Rei explained. "Seeing Rin-san do that was really horrifying. He was like a monster in the way that he attacked those men. It was painful to watch, but I couldn't look away. It was shocking."

Haru let Rei talk, listening to him without interruption.

"I tried not to watch him throughout the whole thing, but he killed that one man right in front of me, the one outside his cabin." Rei looked at the ground, focusing on his and Haru's boots. "He beat that man to death right in front of my eyes, and I did nothing." He closed his eyes and sighed. "Should I have tried to stop him?"

Rei had grown silent, and Haru considered his response carefully. "Would it have helped?"

"I don't know, and now I'll never know."

"Be free," Haru said bluntly. "Let all your painful thoughts go. You won't be able to swim with worries pulling you down into the deep."

Rei looked up at him, staring in bewilderment. He wasn't exactly sure what he was trying to say. Sometimes Haru was like that; Rei knew he was just trying to help. "Er, okay," he said. Haru nodded once and continued moving about the room collecting his supplies. "Can I spend some time in here with you, Haruka-san? I'd like to keep my mind occupied."

"Sure, you can help me cook dinner."

"What are you planning to make?" Rei asked.

"Roasted fish, fried vegetables, and soup. Here." He carefully handed Rei a knife and a box containing broccoli and carrots, then shooed him over to a table close by. "You can cut these. I'm going to de-bone the fish."

"Alright, I'll do my best." Rei set the box and knife down on the table top and removed his thin, black gloves. He set them down far from where he would be cutting the vegetables and cleared a space for him to work. Then he pulled a piece of broccoli out of the box and picked up the knife in shaky fingers.

As he clumsily chopped the first piece of broccoli, Haru watched him out of the corner of his eye. Rei hadn't yet found his calm over what had happened with Rin, and if he didn't find it soon, he'd end up accidentally cutting himself with that knife. Haru waited until he was done with the broccoli crown, then laid a hand on his arm. "Rei, calm down. You're going to hurt yourself with such shaky hands."

"I'm sorry, Haruka-san," he said.

"It's okay. I just don't want you to get hurt. You can keep going, just be careful."

Rei nodded, resolved to finish his task. "Okay, you can count on me."

---------

By the time the evening was upon them, the ship had fled a considerable distance from Harami. Soon they would be safe to lower the anchor and call it a day. Sousuke positioned the sails to increase the ship's speed.

"It'll be dark in a few minutes. Do you think Kisumi will find us?" Makoto asked while fastening a rope. He had become accustomed to the ship since he had started working on it, and he was a great help to Sousuke, relieving a lot of the pressure on him.

"He might if we stay too close. That's why I'm trying to get us out of this place as fast as possible." He answered calmly, letting his gaze sweep across the ship. A light source caught his attention. "Makoto, can you put out that lantern over there? It gives away our position."

Makoto nodded and made his way toward it. It cast light onto the floor, illuminating the numerous blood stains the crew was unable to clean off the deck properly. He quickly extinguished the light, hiding the putrid mark under the cover of darkness. It made Makoto incredibly uncomfortable to consider what Rei must have witnessed. As Makoto put effort into shaking bad scenarios out of his mind, Ai emerged from the lower decks.

"How far have we come?" Ai walked to the railing, interested in checking the far-off lights of Harami's port.

"Not far enough. Makoto and I are waiting for the captain's command to lower the anchor."

Speaking of the captain, Ai's gaze shot up to the captain's cabin one deck above, then back to Sousuke and Makoto. Before Ai had the chance to ask, Sousuke shook his head lightly. "Rin hasn't been out yet."

"I see." Ai went back to the door that led to the lower deck. "Please tell him we're celebrating Haru's return downstairs. He's cooking already." With that said and a sweet smile, he disappeared behind the door.

---------

"Nagisacchi! Do you smell that?" Momo stacked the box he was carrying on top of another one. "I can't wait to eat!"

"Everyone's in love with Haru-chan's food! Rei-chan is helping him today, so it might not turn out so good," Nagisa snickered. With all his strength, he pushed a barrel into the corner of the storage room on the lowest deck, which both were told to organize so they could stock the day's purchases after they had finished scrubbing the main deck. He took a step back to admire his work. "I think we're done here, Momo-chan. We brought all the food and lumber down. Let's go sneak some of that delicious-smelling cooking!"

"Yes, we should! Let's race!" Momo exclaimed, but Nagisa was already running. "Hey, no fair!" he cried, taking off after him. They both ran up the stairs and crossed the middle deck in an instant, barreling into the galley to try and snatch some food.

Haru had other plans, unfortunately. He had heard them coming and blocked the way to the food. "It's not done yet," he said, Rei snickering behind him.

"Awww!" Nagisa groaned.

"Just one bite" Momo pleaded, but Haru was not giving in, a firm shake of his head cementing the decision.

"You have to wait, just like the rest of us."

"Dang," they said in unison, leaving the galley, defeated.

Haru returned to stand beside Rei, who was stirring the vegetables in the pan to ensure they wouldn't burn. Haru continued rotating the fish over the fire grate. "I lied, Rei."

Rei turned his head toward Haru in curiosity. "What do you mean?"

"We actually get to eat before everyone else," he said with a smirk.

Rei couldn't help but laugh. "Good to know!"

----------

Kisumi waved his hand through the air, directing two crewman over the narrow, crowded docks toward his ship. "This way, boys! Bring it over carefully! We can't scratch it!" He watched them carry a large, clawfoot bathtub over the wooden planks. Kisumi picked out a really fancy one for Haru, pure white with gold feet. He was sure Haru would love it and collapse into his embrace in appreciation. He might even kiss him. Kisumi shivered in excitement and crossed the gap, boarding the ship to guide the crewmen from that side.

"Be careful bringing that over the gangway! It might be too heavy!" He watched closely as the two men carried it gently across, sighing in relief when it didn't cause the planks to snap. He was probably just paranoid. The tub wasn't that heavy - at least, not when it was empty.

"Captain!" Takuya, Kazuki, and a few crewmen had already made their way back to the ship after their excursions in town, and it seemed his first mate needed to speak with him.

"What is it, Takuya?" he asked, still watching the two men with the tub.

"This is going to need your utmost attention, sir."

Kisumi sighed. "Here. Set it down here for now!" The two crewmen carefully placed the tub down on the main deck, and Kisumi strode toward the door to the lower deck where Takuya had appeared. "What is it?"

"I need to show you something," he said, leading his captain below deck and showing off all the things that had been broken or damaged along the way.

"What happened?"

"It looks as though someone was on the ship while we were gone and was rifling through our supplies. It doesn't appear that anything is missing-" he hesitated- "except one thing."

Kisumi peered over at him with wide eyes. "What?" he asked suspiciously.

Takuya took a second to inhale and exhale a deep breath before answering, "Your boy."

Kisumi froze. Somehow, he knew Takuya was going to say that. He needed to calm down; he had to keep his cool. After a moment of silence with Takuya's eyes glued to him, he spoke. "We're going to search the city. Get the rest of the crew on this immediately."

"S-sir, do you think that's wise?" Takuya began, "Just searching an entire city with no leads?"

Kisumi clenched his fists, but quickly relaxed. "What other choice do we have?" he said simply.

Takuya wanted to suggest that they just leave the boy behind, but he had seen how attached to him Kisumi had become. He had no idea why his captain was so smitten with the boy, but he was in no position to argue with his superior. "Shouta!" he realized. "We can ask Shouta what happened! He was guarding Haru, but was knocked out by whoever was in here. He might have some leads for us, but he's currently still out cold."

"Wake him." Kisumi commanded, and Takuya led him to a small cabin next to Haru's that a few men had moved Shouta to when they had found him. Kazuki was sitting next to the bed, waiting for him to wake.

"Kazuki, the captain wants us to wake Shouta so we can get information from him."

"Alright, we can try," Kazuki replied, looking down at the man on the bed. His short brown hair was messed up and a bruise had already started to form on the side of his face. "Shouta," Kazuki called, gently shaking him awake. He didn't want to agitate the man too much, seeing as he was injured.

Shouta groaned, slowly gaining alertness.

Kazuki continued to shake him lightly, calling his name. "Shouta, we need you to wake up. The captain needs your help."

Shouta sluggishly opened his eyes, bringing his hands up to his head and holding it when he felt the pain blossoming. "What happened?"

"That's what I'd like to know," Kisumi said, standing at the foot of the bed. "Who was on my ship? Did they take Haru?"

Shouta sat up and closed his eyes, trying desperately to remember what had happened. His memory was fuzzy; all he remembered was that guy coming at him. "I don't know if he took Haru," he said, voice hoarse. "He just came at me and hit me."

"What did he look like?" Kisumi asked abruptly.

Shouta gripped his head again, fighting to remember the details. "Dark hair, and he was wearing a red bandana," he said, "Really big guy. Muscular. Huge arms."

Thinking over all of that information, Kisumi knew who had been on his ship. "Alright," he said, "we won't search the town. We sail as soon as everyone has returned to the ship, and while we're out there in the desert, I want you all to keep an eye out for Rin, because I would like to reclaim Haru from him."

----------

By now, Harami was merely a dot at the horizon. Sousuke and Makoto leaned against the railing, watching the last orange shimmer of sunlight vanish while the ship slid peacefully across the sand sea. They finally shared a moment in privacy, yet neither of them knew how to begin. Makoto was the first to break the easy silence.

"Thank you for rescuing Haru, Sousuke. I'm not sure what I'd have done without you." He earned a gentle smile from Sousuke, followed by a firm hug, which Makoto was sure would have been too strong if it was with any of the other guys. Makoto could feel Sousuke's breath on his neck.

"No problem. I'm glad you're feeling better now," Sousuke replied, kissing a trail over Makoto's collar bone and up his neck to his ear. He caressed the small of Makoto's back with strong, weathered hands. He could feel the pleasant shiver running through his body.

"Sousuke," Makoto purred, leaning into his embrace and allowing his whole body to relax. He felt safe with Sousuke.

At that moment, they heard a door slam open and they broke apart instantly. Makoto looked at the door leading below deck, but no one was there. Sousuke nudged him, earning his attention and pointing to the upper deck, where Rin was perched at the railing with his spyglass. Makoto released a shaky breath, and they watched Rin intently. He was focused on his task, peering through his telescope in the direction of Harami.

Rin watched Harami closely, watching Kisumi's ship leave the port. He needed to know which direction the man would sail, so he would know if Kisumi had spotted them. For a few minutes, no one on deck said anything, patiently waiting for the verdict. Only when Rin lowered his spyglass and turned to Sousuke and Makoto to tell them to drop the anchor, did they relax. None of them really wanted to be involved in a chase right now, and it seemed their prayers had been answered.

Rin looked down at the two men on the main deck as he descended the stairs. "You can raise the sails and lower the anchor. He's sailed off to the north. Then I guess there's some sort of party. You can join us when you're done."

"Yes, captain," they said in unison.

Rin then went down to the lower deck, where Gou and the rest of the crew were waiting for him.

"Rin! Kisumi sailed the other way? Everything is good?" she asked.

Rin nodded. "Yes, we're okay for now; he didn't see us."

"Thank goodness! Now we can stop worrying and celebrate Haru's return!"

They all sat at the small table, and Haru brought out the food he and Rei had prepared, allowing everyone an equal portion of everything. Before Rin had come down, Haru had given Rei his own share of soup to help calm his mind, though cooking with Haru had helped considerably. Rei didn't want to accept the extra portion of soup, but Haru practically forced him to drink it.

When Rin got his ration of food, he took it and seated himself on the stairs overlooking the crew so he could eat in peace. The rest of the crew didn't bother him, mostly talking and joking among themselves and trying to be close to Haru.

After a few moments, Sousuke and Makoto came down the stairs and Rin slipped slightly to one side to allow them to pass. They served themselves a bit of food and joined the others around the table. They were welcomed by the crew, but Gou looked back to where Rin sat on the stairs.

"Rin, stop being so antisocial! Come sit next to me and join us!"

There was a spot between her and Rei at the table, but Rin wasn't feeling up to joining their party. "No, I'm fine."

"Come on, Rin! Sousuke, Makoto, and Haru brought some alcohol from Kisumi's ship for us!"

That caught Rin's attention. "Really?" He locked eyes with Sousuke and nodded. "Good job, Sousuke."

Sousuke nodded back. "Thanks."

Gou went into the galley to grab one of the many bottles that they had brought back. She removed the cork and poured a cup of whatever was inside for Rin. She hoped it would make him loosen up and join them. "Here," she said, handing him the cup. "Drink it and join the fun!"

He took the cup from her and took a swig. It was bitter, but he would drink it anyway. He felt like he needed it today. He watched her take the bottle over to the table so everyone could have some, and they all started pouring themselves some except Rei. Rin watched him closely as he continued picking at his food and drinking the small bit of soup he had.

"Rei-chan, you should have some too!" Nagisa suggested, offering him his own cup to drink from.

"No, thank you. I'd rather not."

Rin downed the rest of his liquor. Holding his cup out, he called, "I'll take his share." Everyone looked over at him as he stood from the stairs, striding over to the table and pounding his cup down as a command for more.

Gou laughed. "We're already gonna need another bottle!" She quickly went into the galley and grabbed another three.

Nagisa jumped up from the table. "Good idea bringing three!"

"I'm just thinking ahead!"

"Enough talk! I want some more liquor in my cup right now." Rin announced.

Gou happily poured him another cup.

----------

It didn't take long for everyone to start feeling the effects of the alcohol, and they didn't stop drinking when they started to feel drunk. The night had devolved into loud, off-key singing and crazy laughter from pretty much everyone. Makoto sat between Haru and Sousuke, and Haru had almost fallen asleep on Makoto's shoulder, his face beet red.

Makoto shook him gently. "Haru, maybe you should go to bed," he slurred, "You earned it."

"Okay," he replied simply, standing from the table and stumbling as best as he could to the sleeping quarters. Nagisa and Momo laughed at Haru's walk before collapsing themselves.

Rin had moved himself over to the table after several cups of liquor, but he told himself it was just so he could be closer to the alcohol and fill his cup easier, not so he could be near Rei, who unfairly wasn't even drunk. Rin stared at him as he chuckled at Nagisa and Momo making fools of themselves. Rei was so cute when he laughed.

"Hey," Momo stuttered, more than a little drunk. "I just had a really good idea!"

Nagisa looked up at him as though he was going to reveal the meaning of life. "What?"

"Pyuunsuke should be at this party!"

"Pyuunsuke!" Nagisa threw up his arms, making Makoto laugh.

Momo tore off to the sleeping quarters to retrieve Pyuunsuke's jar, then returned to the table and opened it, letting Pyunnsuke fly freely. The beetle did a lap around the room while everyone watched, entranced, before landing on top of Sousuke's head. Unfortunately, Sousuke didn't notice this at all, and he was confused when everyone looked at him.

"What?" he asked.

"Look everyone!" Momo announced, "It's Pyuun-Sousuke!"

Gou could hardly contain her laughter. The poor girl looked like she was on the verge of tears, but Sousuke still hadn't noticed there was a bug on his head.

"This liquor must be bad, because I don't feel drunk at all," Sousuke said, standing up from the table, then promptly falling over, Pyuunsuke finally flying off his head and landing back near Momo.

"You are most certainly drunk, Sousuke-san." Rei said, laughing.

Sousuke peeked up over the edge of the table. "Well, maybe a little." Makoto chuckled at him.

"Momo, be careful with Pyuunsuke," Ai said, barely drunk himself. "You don't want him to get away."

Momo looked scandalized. "Pyuunsuke would never leave me!"

Ai stood from the table, only slightly wobbly on his feet. "Fine. Don't cry to me when he flies out the window and you never see him again. I'm going to bed."

Gou had finally stopped laughing at the image of 'Pyuun-Sousuke' and realized that she had a pounding headache. "Ugh, me too." She stumbled her way up the stairs to her cabin, leaving the boys to continue their antics.

"Nagisachii, you don't think Pyuunsuke would ever leave me right?" Momo asked. When he received no answer, he looked around for Nagisa and found him passed out cold on the floor.

"Nagisa-kun can sleep anywhere." Rei announced.

Rin was still watching Rei, and he was upset how Rei had not said a word to him all night. He decided to change seats so he would be sitting next to him, scooting over toward him. This did not go unnoticed by Rei, who glanced at him briefly, then tensed and became silent. Rin hunched his shoulders, and lowered his head to rest on the table, still staring at him.

Rei had noticed Rin staring at him all night, but he had tried to ignore it. He had also noticed that Rin drank twice the amount that anyone else had tonight. When Rin stood suddenly from the table and left, Rei wanted to follow him. He was worried for Rin. The man was very drunk, and something bad could happen. He excused himself and followed Rin up the stairs, far enough behind that he wouldn't notice. He watched him lurch out of the doorway onto the main deck and sway toward the staircase leading up to his cabin. Rei stayed just inside the doorway, carefully watching Rin in case he should fall on his perilous trek up the stairs.

Only when Rei heard Rin enter his cabin did he follow. He easily climbed the staircase to the upper deck and gently opened the door to Rin's cabin, peering inside. Rin was sitting on the bed with his head in his hands. His hat had slipped off.

"Rin-san, can I come in?"

Rin lifted his head suddenly, once again staring at Rei peeking through the door. "Why? Come to laugh at your pathetic, drunken captain?"

"No, not at all," Rei said, entering the cabin and closing the door behind him. "I was simply worried about you."

Rin gave a doubtful snort. "I doubt that... No one gives a fuck about me. I'm just a sad, lame pirate," he slurred, dropping his hands to the bed.

Rei sat down on the edge of the bed and turned to face Rin. "Why are you so upset today, Rin-san? Is it because of what happened this afternoon with the bandits?" Rei didn't want to remember this himself, but he could see that Rin was hurting.

"No," Rin said, looking away.

He put a hand on Rin's arm. "Then tell me, Rin-san. I guarantee you'll feel better if you talk with someone about your problems."

The second Rei willingly put his hand on Rin, tears started to flow down his cheeks. "Rei, I..." he sniffed.

"Rin-san, you're crying?" Now Rei was really curious. "Please tell me what's hurting you." He took Rin's hand in both of his and held it tightly.

"I just wanna be close to you," he sobbed, "I want you to look at me with pride, like my father used to."

Rei's heart clenched. Rin's words were so raw and expressive. He could tell by the pain on Rin's face that his father was long gone from this world. He felt tears welling behind his eyes.

"What happened to him, Rin-san?"

"He's dead," Rin sobbed, his body shaking. "He's dead and all I have is Gou and my mother. Do you know how hard it is to lose your father?"

Rei closed his eyes tightly behind his glasses. "Yes, Rin-san, I know. I know what it's like to lose your family."

Rin's eyes opened wide, and he regarded Rei with an astonished expression. "Rei, your dad is dead too?" he asked, tears still rolling down his face.

Rei shook his head. "Not just my father. I lost my entire family. My mother, my father, my older brother - everyone," he explained, still holding Rin's hand in his. "I'm an orphan, Rin-san. I spent my whole childhood at the orphanage in Harami."

Rin couldn't stop the tears pouring from his eyes. "Rei," he breathed, wrapping his arms around Rei's neck and pulling him close. "I thought my life sucked after losing my father, but it's nothing like yours. I'm so sorry I'm such an asshole," he said tearfully.

"It's alright, Rin-san. Just because you didn't lose as much as me doesn't mean it hurts any less," Rei assured him. "I knew you had a reason for your anger. I'm glad you told me. Can you tell me more? I want to know more about your father."

"Really?" Rin asked, his breath on Rei's neck.

Rei nodded. "As much as you are comfortable with telling."

"Okay." Rin gulped down a sob. "My father was a travelling merchant. He bought and sold stuff all over Sano." Rin's voice wavered and slurred, reminding Rei that he was drunk. "He was the one who gave me the map, and this too." He pulled out of his embrace with Rei and lifted the shark tooth necklace laying on his chest.

"That's why you're so protective of the map. I understand."

"My father wanted to try and follow the map and do the same thing I'm trying to do, but he was killed by some thieves who wanted his merchandise. He's the reason I'm doing this," Rin explained, "That's also the reason I killed those bandits today. I hate bandits."

"I understand."

Rin wiped at his face, clearing away some tears, only for them to be replaced in the next moment. "What about your family? What happened to them?"

Rei could barely remember; he had been so young when his family had been killed. "I was very young. I believe I was four or five at the time. All I remember is hearing my mother scream and running to check on her, then seeing her lying on the ground bleeding. My father and brother were on the ground too," he said, releasing a shaky breath. "I don't know why the men who killed my family left me alive."

"I'm glad they did," Rin blurted out.

Rei glanced up at him, smiling lightly at his tear-stained cheeks. "I'm glad I'm still here as well, but I miss my parents and brother tremendously."

Rin sniffled again, wiping at his face and soaking the sleeve of his coat with tears. "Rei," he said, "I'm so sorry."

Rei pulled him into a hug and took a deep breath. "Rin-san, earlier you asked me what Sera means to me." He could feel Rin tense at the mention of him. He'd change Rin's view of Sera before this conversation was over. "He's the closest thing I have to a father. He used to visit the orphanage all the time, and I looked up to him so much."

Rin pulled out of the embrace and a curious look washed over his face. "Tell me more."

"When I was first placed in the orphanage, a lot of the other kids were mean to me. They used to bully me all the time," he said, "After about three years, Sera started coming to the orphanage a few times a week to teach us things. It was just something to keep us occupied, and a lot of the kids didn't really care, but I did." Rei smiled at the memory. "He began to come to the orphanage to see me specifically, and I looked forward to that immensely. He was always nice to me, even though the other kids weren't. He used to say 'People are only mean because something is hurting them inside.' Ever since then, I always try to remember that and be kind to everyone." He brushed his fingertips against Rin's cheek, rubbing the wet streaks away.

"Rei," Rin whispered, relishing the sweep of Rei's fingers across his skin.

"The caretakers at the orphanage could see how much I had bonded with Sera, so after a few years, when Sera was of age to foster me, they allowed him to do so. I was thirteen at the time. I began living with him and he taught me everything I know. He's very important to me."

"I'm sorry for harassing you about him," Rin uttered, "I wish I had someone like that."

Rei shook his head. "It's alright. I forgive you."

"Thanks for telling me about your life and stuff," Rin sniffled again, tears still falling. This was the closest and most sincere he had been with anyone in a long while. It felt good to open up and share his vulnerabilities and hear Rei's in return.

"Thank you for sharing your story with me as well, Rin-san," Rei said quietly, leaning close to him and setting his hand on the side of his neck. "I'm so glad I could get to know you a bit better." Rei could see that Rin's eyes still held an oppressing melancholy behind them, as though talking about his past had caused him great pain. Rei felt guilty for bringing it up, but he was absolutely sure that this conversation would benefit both of them in the future. Rei grazed his palm up Rin's neck to rest on his cheek, and Rin leaned into his caress.

Rei decided to follow his gut and his next move was just as surprising to him as it was to Rin. He leaned in and gently kissed Rin's lips, pulling back slowly after only a few seconds.

"And that one was for real," he murmured, "my own decision. I'm happy to give that to you today. Now-" he took his hand back and stood from the bed- "Good night, Rin-san."

Rin was absolutely speechless as Rei stood from the bed. He reached out, grabbing for Rei's hand. "Wait!"

Rei stopped and looked back at him curiously.

"Stay with me tonight?" Rin asked.

Rei shook his head wistfully. "No, not while you're drunk."

Releasing his hold on Rei's hand, Rin nodded in understanding. "Okay."

Rei smiled and watched Rin curl up on his bed, pulling his pillow close and laying down. "Sleep well, Rin-san," he said as he left the cabin. He knew that their relationship would never be the same again. Rei had no doubt that kissing Rin had been the right thing to do in the moment. Maybe that was what Haru had meant when he had told him to 'be free' - to stop overthinking and do as your heart told you. Rei considered this as he made his way back to the sleeping quarters. Only Nagisa was in the main room below deck, still passed out on the floor. Rei laughed lightly at the sight. Everyone else seemed to have gone to bed, and Rei was ready to join them in sleep.

----------

As Sousuke watched Rei trail after Rin up the stairs, he knew that the party was over for the night. He sat next to Makoto, considering heading to bed. He really wasn't that tired, but there didn't appear to be anything else for him to do tonight.

"Everyone is gone except for us," Momo said suddenly, "and Gou-san already left." He seemed very disappointed. "All I have left is Pyuunsuke." He returned Pyuunsuke to the jar and carried him to the sleeping quarters, deciding to retire for the night.

Sousuke chugged the rest of the liquor in his cup and got up from the chair. The room started to spin slightly, but he took a deep breath to steady himself. Before he could leave the table, Makoto grabbed his arm gently. Sousuke froze and turned his head, supporting his weight on the table top.

"Sousuke." He heard Makoto say his name softly. "Don't go yet."

Aside from Nagisa passed out on the floor, they were alone for the first time in a while. The alcohol made Sousuke bolder, because to him, Makoto looked cuter than ever. He strongly wanted to spend the night in private with him. Makoto stood from the table as well, closing the distance between them to place a shy kiss onto his lips, slow and agonizing. Then they parted, only to reunite again. Makoto's small moans and the wet smacking of their lips went straight to Sousuke's groin.

A sudden loud shriek from Ai next door made them come to their senses. Momo must have been pestering him with Pyuunsuke. It wasn't a smart move to indulge in sexual activities in a place where they could be easily caught or Nagisa could wake at any moment.

"Come with me," Makoto offered, and Sousuke understood immediately. They descended swiftly to the deck below, dashing underneath the staircase. Once out of sight, Sousuke pushed Makoto up against the hull of the ship, pinning him there. He pulled him into another kiss, hot and eager to taste him again.

"Mmm," Sousuke mumbled against Makoto's lips, "I've been looking forward to when we would finally have time in private." He grazed one hand down Makoto's chest and past his waist line, stopping finally at his crotch and cupping his hand over it. He had been waiting so long to feel him there. "Are you okay with this?" he asked.

Makoto gave him a firm nod in return. "Yes, of course," he said, swiping the bandana off Sousuke's head and tossing it to the floor. "But I want to see your hair during this; it's sexy."

"If that's what you want," Sousuke replied, smirking and massaging his hand into Makoto's crotch. He could feel him getting harder by the second. Sousuke kissed along his neck again and sucked on his collar bone while Makoto tugged his hair in response, moaning quietly. Neither of them wanted anyone above to hear what they were up to. Sousuke unbuttoned the front of Makoto's pants easily and slid his hand inside, giving him a heavier, firmer touch and feeling the satisfying weight of Makoto's cock. He was pleased to find that Makoto was bare under his trousers.

"Sousuke," Makoto pleaded, enjoying his hand on him. "Please let me feel you as well."

Sousuke pulled back and undid the sash around his waist, letting it drop to the floor as he untied the second one as well. Then he took Makoto's hands in his and brought them to his waist. "Go ahead, feel me." He was already so hard; his bulge was clear as day, even in the dim light of the single lantern.

Makoto didn't wait, fumbling with Sousuke's belt and the buttons on his trousers before pulling them down slightly to reveal his hefty cock. Makoto swore there were stars in his eyes. Sousuke was a totally his type, and his package was no exception. He knew he was staring, but he couldn't help it.

While Sousuke liked that Makoto was happy with what he had to offer, he wanted to get this started, so he slid his hands over Makoto's waist and underneath his trousers again, gently pulling them down and watching his cock spring up from the fabric. It was so cute how he blushed and covered his face at that. He pulled Makoto to him again, bringing their lips together and gripping both their dicks in his large hand.

Makoto pushed him back. "No," he said breathlessly, "I want you to fuck me."

Sousuke's eyes widened slightly. "Really?"

"Yes," he nodded. "I'm sure."

Sousuke nodded. "Okay, turn around."

Makoto could feel his heartbeat throbbing in every corner of his body. The pulse was almost immobilizing until Sousuke spun his finger in a circle as a hint, reminding him to face the wall. He turned and put his hands on the wall, and Sousuke pushed him against the hull firmly, but not painfully. He absolutely loved the unshakable grip Sousuke held him in. He felt his pants slip down over his ass and a hand pull one cheek outward, exposing his hole.

"You've got a nice ass, Makoto," Sousuke whispered, taking his hand off Makoto's back and using it to pull him wider and get a better look at his hole. "Stay still." He quickly popped two fingers into his mouth to coat them in saliva, then said, "We don't have anything else except spit, so this might hurt a little."

"It's okay," Makoto murmured, "Go ahead." He took a deep breath as Sousuke's finger began to prod at his opening, his exhale quivering when it pushed inside. He groaned at the intrusion.

Hearing Makoto's low, gasping whines made Sousuke painfully hard. He wanted to slide into him right now, but he knew that it would hurt Makoto if he tried to do that before stretching him. Sousuke had played with his ass before, so he felt that he knew what he was doing when it came to someone else. He leaned close to Makoto's ear and whispered, "Do you like that?"

"Yes!" Makoto gasped.

With that, Sousuke added his second finger, opening him a little further. He stilled to allow Makoto time to adjust to the stretch, but Makoto didn't want to wait.

"One more, Sousuke," he moaned, panting lightly.

Sousuke hesitated, but he was sure that Makoto knew his own limits better than he did, so he went along with his request. He allowed a glob of his saliva to fall onto Makoto's entrance as he slid a third finger home.

Makoto whined loudly, and Sousuke was afraid of them being heard. He covered Makoto's mouth with his free hand, trapping his cries inside. He whispered a quick 'shh' into his ear while curling his fingers around inside him, ever diligent about opening Makoto up for his cock.

Sousuke's fingers inside him felt better than Makoto ever could have imagined, and he fully expected his cock to make him scream in pleasure. He had seen the size and girth and weight of it, and he wanted it inside him. He mumbled against Sousuke's hand between groans and whimpers, but Sousuke was too distracted working his fingers into Makoto to notice his grunts. He reached up and patted the back of the hand covering his mouth, causing him to remove it.

"Too much?" Sousuke asked.

Makoto shook his head. "Not enough," he purred, giving him an inviting glance.

Sousuke removed his fingers from Makoto's ass, spat in his hand, and gave his dick a few tugs to coat it with slick. "Are you sure you're ready?" he asked, receiving a quick nod in response. "If you say so." He lined up the head of his cock with the slightly-engorged rim of Makoto's hole and began to work it in.

"Sou," Makoto moaned. He was in heaven as Sousuke's thick cock bullied its way inside his ass. He tilted his hips back to allow him to go deeper. "Oh, that's so good, Sousuke."

Sousuke leaned in close to his ear. "Are you ready for more?"

"God, yes." Makoto braced himself on the hull of the ship as Sousuke began to move inside him, slowly at first, then faster and harder. This was what Makoto wanted. He wanted to feel it. "Sousuke! Yes! Harder!"

Sousuke covered his mouth again to shut him up. The last thing he wanted was to get caught. "You have to be quieter," he panted between thrusts. When Makoto nodded, he removed his hand from his mouth, trusting that he would try his best to be quiet. He only had to stay quiet for a few minutes because Sousuke was sure he wouldn't last much longer than that. He had wanted to fuck the boy raw for a while, and he had been waiting patiently for this. He took firm hold of Makoto's hips and bounced him back and forth hard on his cock.

Makoto reached down to wrap a hand around his dick, and he was in heaven. With Sousuke's fat cock burrowing inside him over and over, he felt like he would never need anything else in his life. He was completely satisfied, now and forever. He stroked his dick in time with Sousuke's thrusts and he felt himself drawing closer and closer to the edge. "Sou," he panted, "I'm close!"

"Then come," Sousuke replied through gritted teeth, sweat beading on his forehead. "I want you to come on my cock."

Hearing Sousuke talk like that forced Makoto over the edge, and he came all over his hand and the wall, his hole constricting perfectly around Sousuke's dick. He held his moans inside as best he could, only a few croaks and cracks of his voice escaping as he came hard. His orgasm lasted a few seconds, then finally his body relaxed, Sousuke still pumping away inside him. He propped his arm up on the hull and rested his forehead against it while Sousuke kept fucking him, chasing his orgasm as well.

Suddenly, Sousuke slammed his cock deep, and Makoto knew he was coming. He grunted as his balls emptied inside Makoto, pulling him hard onto his cock. After a few seconds of hard, driving thrusts, his body was spent. He pulled out, a string of come connecting his dick with Makoto's hole before it snapped and fell away. They both panted hard as they stood motionless for a few seconds, coming down from the highs of orgasm.

Makoto knew he would feel that tomorrow. Between the rough fucking and the fact that Sousuke came inside him, he wouldn't be able to forget this if he wanted to. The remnants of the act may appear again tomorrow morning to remind him of what they had done.

Sousuke pulled away and took the lid off one of the barrels nearby. It was full of water. "We should wash up before we go back upstairs," he said, tossing Makoto a rag. He caught it in one hand and stood up straight, holding up his pants and dipping the rag into the water, using it to clean his hands. He gently rubbed it between his buttocks to wipe at his hole, then twisted the rag in his hands, wringing it out onto the floor. Sousuke used his own rag to clean his hands and dick before tossing it away and fastening his pants again. He tied the fabric he had dropped earlier back around his waist and tied his bandana back around his head. Makoto set his dirty rag down on a crate and buttoned his pants as well.

Sousuke suddenly pulled him into a kiss, their mouths moving against each other for a few seconds before they split apart.

"Not a word of this to anyone else," Sousuke warned, "I don't know what Rin would do if he found out."

"I understand." The last thing Makoto wanted the do was get on Rin's bad side.

Sousuke yawned, exhaustion creeping up on him. "We should go to sleep," he said. He waved a hand, motioning for Makoto to follow him back upstairs to the sleeping quarters. They climbed the stairs and silently passed by Nagisa still on the floor, out cold, then entered the sleeping quarters and settled into their respective bunks without waking anyone.

"Goodnight, Sousuke," Makoto whispered.

"Goodnight, Makoto."

Chapter Text

When the sun finally rose, Nagisa still lay in the same spot he had passed out in, face pressed into the floor boards of the deck. Sousuke, having risen with the sun as he always did, glanced down at the boy. He himself had a bit of a headache from the night before, but it was nothing that he couldn't manage. He nudged Nagisa's side with his boot in a gentle attempt to wake him. When he didn't stir, Sousuke knew that more drastic measures would be needed.

"Nagisa," he said, once again prodding at him with his foot, but there was no response. Sousuke could hear him breathing and see his body rising and falling with each breath, so he knew Nagisa was alive. He sighed and crouched down to jab at his ribs with a finger, jarring him enough to warrant a distressed groan, but Nagisa did not make any effort to pick himself up off the floor.

"Come on, Nagisa-" Sousuke poked at him again- "You can't stay on the floor forever."

"Five minutes, Sou-chan," Nagisa breathed out in half sleep while adjusting his position, which didn't seem any more comfortable than the prior. Sousuke watched in annoyance as Nagisa began to fall asleep again. He wasn't in the mood to play this game, and after taking a few heavy strides to the table, Sousuke lifted a chair next to the sleepy blonde and slammed it on the floor with force, making the chairs and table shake and the floor tremble. Nagisa jumped and curled in on himself, covering his ears with his hands. "Sou-chan! You're mean!"

Sousuke grabbed the back of Nagisa's shirt and hauled him up off the floor, causing him to scramble for something to grab on to. "Sou-chan!" he cried.

"It's morning, and we need to get going." Sousuke's tone left no room for negotiation.

Nagisa grimaced as Sousuke released him after setting him up on his feet. The floor definitely wasn't the most comfortable place to sleep, but Nagisa still wished he could have had five more minutes of rest. His body was in pain from passing out on the floor, and his head hurt a little bit as well. "Why are you so mean, Sou-chan?"

Sousuke raised an eyebrow. He had no intention of answering any of Nagisa's questions as long as he used that ridiculous nickname on him. He turned away and moved toward the stairs. "Go wake the others. I'll wake the captain," he commanded.

Nagisa's eyes widened in excitement. "You can count on me!" he said, giving him a firm salute as well as a mischievous grin. Sousuke then climbed the stairs to the main deck, leaving the young crewman to his task.

Nagisa was wide awake now. He looked around the room. The alcohol bottles from previous night were scattered around the floor. If the ship had been moving overnight, Nagisa was sure this room would have been too noisy to sleep in. His gaze fell on the doorway to the galley. He was supposed to wake everyone up. He accidentally kicked a bottle on his way, which caused it to hit the hull with a loud thunk.

There was a devious plan brewing in his mind. He was supposed to wake the others, and he would. He didn't think twice about his idea. He picked up three bottles, giggling, and filled one of them with water at a barrel.

"What are you doing?" A calm voice came from the opposite corner of the room.

Nagisa faced whoever was lucky enough to escape his evil little plan in time. "Haru-chan! You're awake already?" He held the bottles in front of his chest.

Haru nodded. His gaze scanned Nagisa, observant enough to figure out what these bottles were for. "Never mind. Do what you want."

It wasn't like Nagisa expected Haru to reason with him, nor did he need permission. His former captain never cared much for his pranks.

Except for some quiet breathing, the sleeping quarters were silent. Nagisa set the full bottle down on the floor and took one empty bottle in each hand. He started rattling along the frame of the bunks as he yelled, "Wake up! Breakfast is ready!" Makoto and Momo were immediately wide awake, though for different reasons.

"Breakfast?" Momo said with shining eyes. He almost fell from his bunk.

"Nagisa, please! You almost gave me a heart attack!" Makoto sighed, slowly getting on his feet.

"What's for breakfast?" Ai asked weakly, just as fed up with Nagisa's antics.

Haru appeared from the galley, shrugging. "I don't know yet. I haven't decided."

"Nagisacchi, you liar!" Momo exclaimed. He yawned loudly, walking past Nagisa and Haru.

Everyone was out of bed. Everyone but Rei. Nagisa wouldn't let his duty go unfinished and allow Rei to laze around. With the bottle of water in his hand Nagisa observed Rei for a moment.

"Wake up, sleeping beauty!"

Rei protested, mumbling incoherently into the pillow. It wasn't like Rei to stay in bed for long. He seemed to need a little more motivation to open his eyes today. Nagisa upturned the bottle, pouring the entire thing onto him and expecting an amusing reaction. He wasn't disappointed when Rei sat up with wide eyes, gasping as if he'd almost drowned.

"N-Nagisa-kun!" Rei cried.

"Oh my god, Rei-chan! You should see your face right now!" Nagisa clutched his stomach, laughing.

Meanwhile, Rei tried to save his clothing from getting wet, but it was too late. Having removed his vest before falling asleep, he had left his white undershirt open to attack, and it was now soaking wet from his shoulders to stomach. It didn't leave much to the imagination. Rei blushed, wrapping his arms around himself to preserve his modesty.

"Are you alright, Rei?" Makoto gave him a concerned look.

Rei slipped from the bunk and sighed, putting his glasses on. "Yes. I'm fine. I just need to dry my clothes in the sun."

---------

Upon hearing a few firm knocks on the door of his cabin, Rin stirred awake, his head spinning. He groaned at the noise.

"It's morning, Captain," he heard. Sousuke always woke up before he did.

"Okay," he called, unwilling to get up, but knowing it needed to be done. He lifted his head from the pillow and was hit with a wave of dizziness and ache. Clenching his eyes shut, he listened to Sousuke's footsteps recede from the door, each one seeming as loud as a gunshot. After a few moments, he cracked his eyes open and looked over to the table in the middle of the cabin, searching for some leftover water to rid his mouth of the dry hoarseness the night had left him with. There was one cup on the table, but he didn't know if there was any water left in it.

Investigation was required.

He stood carefully from the bed and walked slowly toward the table, trying not to become disoriented as he went. He peered into the cup and found a few gulps of water left, which he was forever grateful for. Lifting the cup to his mouth, he swallowed down the last dregs of water, rinsing his parched throat and quenching his thirst. He felt marginally better, but he'd need more than half a cup of old water to break out of his hangover. Rin hung his head, unwilling to venture out among the crew to get himself some food and water. He slumped down in his desk chair and covered his eyes with his hands. Maybe if he let the water he drank sit for a moment, he might not feel so bad when he went out into the blinding sun.

He thought about the previous night and how he had gotten pissed drunk and acted like a total outcast when they were supposed to be having a party. Sitting by himself in the corner was not going to make Rei open up to him!

Rei! He had almost forgotten about their talk last night. The details were spotty, but Rin remembered that Rei had been in his cabin. What had they talked about? Rin probed his brain, trying his best to remember, but his head hurt from his hangover. He massaged his fingers into his temples, breathing slowly and evenly. He sat back in his chair for a few minutes, trying to relax and tune out the world, until he started to feel a bit better.

----------

After Sousuke had woken Rin, he hung out on deck for a few moments admiring the morning landscape. There was a bit of a chill in the air, as the sun hadn't warmed the desert to scorching quite yet, but it was definitely beginning to. When he finally decided to fetch Makoto to help him with the sails, he happened to pass by a soaked Rei on the stairs. Sousuke narrowed his eyes in suspicion, but said nothing. He found Makoto in the galley with Haru. They looked like they were working on breakfast.

"Makoto," Sousuke called, causing the boy to turn to him. "We need to ready the sails."

"Okay, I'll join you!" Makoto answered, following him out of the galley. Suddenly, he slowed his pace. "Sousuke, could I talk to you alone for a second?"

Sousuke was surprised for a second, but he was not against spending more alone time with Makoto after what happened last night. "Sure. Follow me." Before going back above deck, they took a detour to the weapons storage room. "Is this a good place?"

"It's fine," Makoto answered as Sousuke shut the heavy door behind them. "I just wanted to tell you that... I, uh," His words trailed off as Sousuke drew closer to him.

"What is it, Makoto?" he drawled. His voice was low and seemed to rumble Makoto's spine. When the boy started to tremble, Sousuke backed off. "Wait, what's wrong? Are you uncomfortable?"

Makoto snapped his gaze to Sousuke. "No! It's just... I think that you think I brought you for something in particular, but I just wanted to say something that has been eating away at my mind since last night."

"Please, Makoto, by all means, tell me."

Makoto took a deep breath. "I've finally started to feel comfortable here, and I'm afraid that we messed it all up last night." His voice was small and timid. "I don't want you to think that I just wanted that from you," he said, "I like helping you out here, and I like working with you, so please don't cast me aside now."

Feeling his stomach clench, Sousuke put a hand on Makoto's shoulder. "What makes you think I would do that? Do I seem like that kind of person?"

"Well, no, it's just something that gets into my head and I can't help it," Makoto breathed.

Sousuke leaned in and gave him a quick kiss. "It won't happen. You don't need to worry. I like having you here too; you help me out a lot, and your contributions are greatly appreciated."

Makoto couldn't help but smile. "Thanks."

Sousuke put a muscular arm around his shoulder. "Do you want to stay here for a few minutes before we work on the sails?"

Makoto nodded.

----------

It had been a few minutes, and Rin felt like his headache had calmed a bit, perhaps he would try venturing out onto the deck. He rose from his chair and inched across the cabin. He set his hand on the latch of the door and closed his eyes again before opening it slightly and allowing a bit of light into the room. He'd have to do this slowly if he didn't want his headache to come right back in full force. He turned away from the door and pulled it open a bit further, allowing his eyes to adjust to the light naturally. He noticed his hat on the bed and decided to go back and grab it, knowing that the slight brim would make a decent sun visor. Setting it on his head, he turned back to the door and walked slowly toward the blinding light streaming in, keeping his head down to block most of the light. He stopped in front of the door, wondering again about what he and Rei could have possibly talked about. He recalled that Rei had been worried about him because of how much he had drank, but what else?

He steeled himself against the sunlight and stepped out onto the deck, his eyes pinched shut and his head down. He stood still for a few seconds, the orange glow behind his eyelids burning his vision, before he cracked open one eye just a bit. The deck was so bright Rin could barely keep his eyes open, but he managed and he caught sight of the blood stain left behind from yesterday.

He had almost forgotten about that as well.

----------

Rei pushed open the door to the main deck and stepped out. The dry, desert air burned his lungs and the sun shone bright. Below deck was always dark and gloomy, so his eyes weren't yet used to the morning light. Shielding his eyes from the sun, he took a few steps toward the railing and into the warmth of the sun, hoping that it wouldn't take too long to dry his shirt off. It was only morning and the sun was already starting to blaze hot. He leaned against the railing and sighed.

----------

Rin stood outside his cabin for a moment before hearing a door open. Intrigued, he crept over to the railing of the upper deck to peer down at whoever had come from below. However, his eyes weren't quite adjusted to the sunlight yet, so all he could make out before he had to shut his eyes again was the vague shape of someone in a white shirt. After another few seconds, he opened his eyes once more and found that the person below was Rei, and much to Rin's surprise, he seemed to be wet for some reason. This enraged Rin, as water was precious and was not to be wasted under any circumstance, but the peachy tones of Rei's skin peeking through his soaked white shirt made Rin smirk in devilish joy. Maybe it was okay to waste a little bit of water for some things. He took a deep breath and let out a mischievous whistle, causing Rei to glance up at him.

"What happened to you, Rei? You know I don't like people wasting water."

Rei flushed in embarrassment, knowing his shirt didn't cover nearly as much as it was designed to. "Rin-san, it wasn't my fault, I swear," Rei pleaded as Rin began to descend the stairs toward him.

Rin chuckled as he drew closer, stopping a few steps away from him. "Normally, I would be punishing you and whoever did that to you, but I really like the sight I'm seeing right now, so I think I'll let it slide."

The lecherous glint in Rin's gaze was clear as day. Rei couldn't have missed it if he was blind. He laughed awkwardly, adjusting his glasses before saying, "I'm glad to see that you feel better after last night, Rin-san. You were in a pretty bad place."

Rin's eyes widened in alarm. He needed to remember what they had talked about! "Er, yeah. I do feel better aside from a bit of a hangover. It's nothing I can't handle though; I've had worse."

Rei's expression turned to worried concern. "You shouldn't drink so much, Rin-san," he said gently. "I know you've gone through a lot in life, but heavy drinking is no way to handle it."

What was Rei talking about? How did he know that Rin had a troubled past? Rin stood puzzled for a moment until the memory of Rei's lips chastely pressed against his own last night popped into his mind.

"You kissed me," Rin said suddenly.

Rei was surprised by the sudden statement. "Uh, yeah... I did."

"Why?" His question was abrupt and came out a bit louder than he would have liked.

"I just-" Rei paused in the middle of the thought and cast his eyes downward- "thought you needed it at the time. You were so upset," he explained. "I was so moved when you told me about your father, and you listened so intently to my story too." Rei lifted his head and locked eyes with Rin. "It was the only way to show you my gratitude and let you know that someone cares about you."

Rin could remember everything now in vivid detail. The copious amount of alcohol he drank, the drunken journey to his room, the heart-wrenching and tear-filled conversation with Rei, and the kiss. Oh god, did he remember that kiss. Rin didn't deserve that kiss at all, but like an angel from the heavens, Rei had bestowed it upon him so gracefully.

"I don't deserve that, Rei," Rin whispered.

"You do," Rei retorted, "You do deserve that."

"I'm not a good person," Rin said weakly, "I'm not worthy of anyone's praise or compassion."

Rei stepped closer to Rin and set a hand upon his arm. "Don't say that about yourself. I can see a great man inside you, and I know you can let that side of yourself shine. You might need some help, but I'll be here for you."

Rin wiped at his eye. "The sun is so bright out here," he croaked.

Rei knew that he didn't actually mean that, but he played along anyway. "Yes, it is very bright."

After spending a moment regaining his composure, Rin looked back up at him. "Do you really think I could be great?" he asked.

"Yes, of course. You have so much passion and love in your heart," Rei explained, "If you channeled your energy into compassion instead of anger, there's no telling what you could accomplish."

Having someone say that he could grow to be such a great person filled Rin with energy. "And you'll help me?"

"Of course! You're welcome to request my help at any time," Rei said, "That's what friends are for, right?"

Rin was shaken. He had never had anyone want to be his friend before. He had to admit though, he wanted to be something more than friends with Rei. "Friends?"

Rei could hear all sorts of different emotions toiling in Rin's voice with that one word - from joy to shock to disappointment. "Maybe more than friends," he added, smiling shyly. "If it comes to that. We'll see."

Rin smiled lightly. "Having friends sounds nice."

Rei couldn't help but laugh lightly at Rin's statement. "Maybe start with your crew?"

"I'll work on it, but first we need to find that shrine."

"Of course. Perhaps we should ask the others if they've seen the shrine before?" Rei suggested.

"Er, they don't know about this," Rin said.

"Really?" Rei asked. "Why do you hide it from them? They may have some good ideas. Anyway, you'll have to tell them sooner or later because we have to work together to get to the legendary islands." Rin's first thought was an immediate 'no', but Rei continued, "Plus it would probably help you gain their trust because it'll be one less secret that you're keeping from them."

Reflecting back on Rei's remark from earlier that if he were nicer and more compassionate, he could be a great man worthy of admiration, Rin considered Rei's suggestion. If he wanted Rei to see that he was capable of change, he'd have to commit.

At that moment, Rin heard the door open again and glanced back to see Gou emerge from below deck. She yawned before spotting Rin and Rei.

"Morning, Rin. You as well, Rei," she greeted.

"Gou, can you gather the others below deck," Rin said, turning toward her, "We all need to talk."

She nodded in acknowledgement. "Sure, we can all talk over breakfast, but why?"

Rin closed the distance between them in a few steps, leaving Rei near the railing. "It's time to inform our crew of the purpose of this voyage."

Gou was intrigued by Rin's sudden will to share their information with the rest of the crew. "Have you stumbled upon some information that they need to know?"

Rin looked back at Rei for a second before answering her, "No, we need their help."

----------

It was easy for Gou to get the rest of the boys to gather in one place considering that Haru was serving breakfast. Rin had gone back to his cabin while Rei finished drying off his shirt, and once it was acceptable to Rei, he descended back below deck and put his vest back on. After securing every button and making himself look presentable once more, he joined everyone else for a simple breakfast of soup and lightly-toasted bread. After Haru had finished distributing a share of food to everyone, Rin seemed to appear from atop the stairs as if by magic. Everyone watched in silence as he made his way down toward them. Rei noticed that his expression was cold and unshakable, as though he was trying to intimidate everyone there. Rei sighed lightly. If he wanted to win his crew over, that certainly wasn't the expression he should be using to do it.

Old habits die hard.

"Rin! You're joining us for breakfast?" Gou said, lightening the atmosphere a bit, though she knew the real reason he was here. "That's not like you, but we're glad you're here!"

"I'm not here to hang out," he snapped, stepping close to the table and setting the map down. "I'm here to inform you all of how the next few days are going to go." The crew shared puzzled looks before Rin continued. "You all know that I have a map that I've had Rei decode for me. This map is exceptionally rare. There may be only one in the world." He took a deep breath. "Do any of you have any guesses on what this map might depict?"

The rest of the crewmen stared at Rin, different levels of interest showing on their faces as they waited for Rin to tell them. All of them except Haru. He knew exactly what was on those maps because Rei had told him prior to his abduction by Kisumi. He locked eyes with Rei, and a small nod from the navigator affirmed his suspicions. Haru wasn't going to answer Rin's question though. He could see that Rin was the kind of captain who didn't want his questions to be answered by anyone - he wanted to be the one to grace you with the knowledge himself. So, Haru said nothing.

"I'll show you," Rin offered, unfurling the map on the table top and allowing the crew to look. "But don't touch."

As the rest of the crew peered over the map, Rin watched their reactions. They all seemed semi-interested, but they mostly looked like they had no idea what they were looking at.

"If I may be so bold, what are we looking at, Captain?" Ai asked gently.

Rin regarded his crew with a authoritative gaze before answering, "This is a map of the legendary islands of Iwatobi and Samezuka."

Sousuke's eyes widened slightly. "And we're looking for them?" The room was dead silent. Not even a breeze could be heard outside.

"Yes," Rin stated.

Nagisa pulled a confused face. "But those are just legends!"

Rin snarled at him. Reactions like that were the reason he had hesitated telling his crew. He didn't like when people thought of him as a hopeless dreamer following myths. "Do any of you know the reason why the sea turned to sand all those years ago? You should all know that story well."

"I do know it," Ai started, "but I thought it was just that - a story."

Rin slammed a fist down on the table, rattling bowls and cutlery. "If it's just a legend, why did all the water in the ocean turn into sand? Shit like that doesn't just happen for no reason!" he roared, startling everyone, including Rei. How could his own crew could be so blind? It pissed him off.

"You know," Makoto said quietly, "He has a point. Maybe it's not just a myth." He had told his younger siblings of a time before the sand sea - a time they had never known. They had always wanted to see the whole ocean full of water, and it captivated them immensely. They begged Makoto to show them, but he had to deny them every time. He wanted nothing more than to make them happy. "We all remember when water wasn't rare."

"We're going to turn the ocean back to water," Rin stated.

Haru scoffed, "How?"

"We'll figure it out!" Rin snapped back.

Haru crossed his arms. "That map has no directions and no landmarks. The islands could be thousands of kilometers away."

"Idiot!" Rin stood over the table, baring his teeth and glaring down at Haru. "Iwatobi and Samezuka were once worshiped as gods by the ancient people of Sano! The islands are nearby somewhere, we just have to find them!"

"Rin!" Gou grabbed his arm. "Calm down."

Rei caught Rin's gaze and the look in his eye told Rin he needed to chill out. Rei knew that Rin was passionate about his quest, but yelling was no way to win over his crew.

"And how do you expect to find them?" Haru continued. "You have a plan, I assume."

Rin was seething. Haru was a captain in his own right, so he knew the logistics of sailing, but Rin didn't like it when uppity crew members tried to humiliate him. "Of course! There's a shrine somewhere - a shrine dedicated to the two legendary beasts. If we find it, we can get some leads."

Haru grunted in acknowledgement, settling for that answer for now. He glanced down at the map again, and his eyes focused on the small island between the larger two. He'd bet his life on the shrine being on that island. As Rei had suggested a few days ago, the best course of action was to allow Rin to do the hard work of locating the islands they had been searching for on behalf of the king.

Nagisa slammed a finger down onto the small island, exclaiming, "I bet it's here!"

Rin was quick to slap his hand away from the map. "I said 'don't touch'!"

Rei thought about Nagisa's statement for a moment. "Rin-san," he started, "He has a point."

"Obviously the shrine is on the horizon island!" Rin scoffed. "Where else would it be?"

Ai spoke up next. "It shouldn't be too hard. On the map, it looks like this one-" He pointed to Iwatobi's Island- "is a really tall mountian. We should be able to see it from really far away!"

Rei shook his head. "I'm afraid that won't be the case. The bigger islands are the homes of the two beasts - Iwatobi in the north and Samezuka in the south - and they're hidden from mortal eyes," he explained. "Perhaps they exist only in the realm of the gods, and the Horizon Island is the portal to our world."

"Wait," Sousuke said. "Can you tell us a bit more about this 'Horizon Island'?

Rei glanced over at Rin, inquiring whether or not he could explain more. Rin waved a hand through the air, letting him know he could continue. Rei then turned back to the rest of the crew. "The islands of the beasts are hidden from humans, seeing as they are the homes of the gods, so we won't be able to see them or sail to them. The Horizon Island is most likely where the shrine was placed, and it was used in the past as the main place of worship for the ancient people of Sano. It's also where Iwatobi and Samezuka meet every ten years for the ritual."

"Ritual?" Momo said.

"You must have heard the story," Rei said. "Every ten years, Iwatobi will deliver Samezuka an egg made of gold as a gift, and in return, Samezuka keeps the sea in order. If Iwatobi can't bring the egg to the shrine, the sea is cursed and all life will suffer."

"So that's what happened?" Makoto said. "Iwatobi didn't bring the egg to the shrine?"

Rei nodded. "We believe that is what happened."

"But why?" Momo asked. "What happened to make Iwatobi not bring the egg?"

All Rei could do was shrug. "We don't know, but it would be a good idea for us to find out."

"Enough!" Rin shouted. "Does anyone have any ideas where this island might be? Any ideas of where to start looking?" Rin regarded his men, who could do nothing but stare at their captain, absolutely clueless. "Useless!" He rolled his map back up and left the table, furiously climbing back up the stairs to the main deck.

Rei sighed. Rin wasn't making any meaningful progress on getting his crew to like and trust him. Rei watched everyone disperse to start their daily duties, but he stayed back to think about their current situation. If they couldn't find that shrine, they would have no hope of finding the legendary beasts. It had to be somewhere. Perhaps north of here toward the next country?

"Rei."

Rei jumped upon hearing his name, startled out of thought. He glanced over to where the voice had come from - the galley. Haru peered over at him, an unreadable expression on his face.

"What is it, Haruka-san?"

"Could you come in here please?"

"Sure." He stood up from the table and followed Haru into the galley where it was quiet. "Do you need help with something?"

"No. I just need to talk to you." Haru turned to face him when they were alone.

Oh no, maybe he knew something about him and Rin? "About?"

"Iwatobi. You said we should find out why it didn't deliver the egg to the shrine."

Rei was confused. "Er, yes. Don't you think the same?"

Haru shrugged. "Rei, you know it's none of our business to find out what happened all those years ago. We just have to find Iwatobi and bring it to the king so he can be sure that it never fails to deliver an egg again."

"I know what we have to do," Rei said, a bit disappointed. "I'd just like to know what happened."

Haru nodded. "I understand, Rei, but that isn't important. We just need to find Iwatobi for the king. That's what we were sent out here to do."

"Understood-" Rei bowed to Haru- "Captain."

----------

Rin paced across his cabin, considering the islands he sought. He had spent years of his life sailing these desert seas and he had encountered many tiny, nondescript islands in the middle of the ocean. Plenty of them were so small that they weren't even included on any maps, for they were more like sandbars than true islands. Any of them could be the one he was looking for.

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. Pulled from thought, Rin yanked on the latch and threw the door wide to see Rei and Gou standing there.

"Rin, do we have a course yet?" Gou asked.

Rin growled in frustration. He wanted to tell them that he had figured everything out and he knew exactly where to go, but he couldn't lie to his own sister.

"No," he sighed. "Just hoist the sails and take us north. We may as well sail in any direction and see if we can find something."

"I'll give the order to Sousuke and Makoto at once," she said, abruptly turning away.

Once she had gone, Rei addressed Rin and gestured to the room behind his back. "May I come in?"

Shrugging, Rin replied, "Sure." He stepped aside and allowed Rei entry into the cabin. He noticed a concerned expression on his face, but before Rin could comment on it, Rei spoke.

"Is something the matter, Rin-san?"

"Of course something is the matter!" Rin roared. "Where the hell is that shrine?!"

Rei was taken by surprise at Rin's sudden outburst. "Calm down! We'll find it!"

"You don't understand, Rei! I've come across countless tiny, unmarked islands, and any one of them could be the shrine island!"

"Not necessarily! If the island is small enough to be unmarked on maps, and the shrine is indeed on one of them, it should be noticeable from the ship," Rei explained. "Also, if you remember the image that Sera-san showed us of the shrine, it was surrounded by trees. Therefore, we can rule out any tiny islands or sandbars that are bare of trees."

Rin hummed to himself and rubbed at his chin. "You have a point." A small smirk drew across his lips. "That's why I keep you around."

Rei rolled his eyes slightly. "Glad I could be of some use."

"Come on-" Rin grabbed Rei by the sleeve- "Let's go outside." He pulled Rei out of the cabin, then stepped toward the helm and took hold of the wheel. Sousuke and Makoto were readying the sails, but he paid them no mind. Rei tried his best to avoid the bloodstain, crossing the deck in a few steps and looking out over the desert. One island couldn't be that hard to find.

----------

Over the next hour or so of sailing, everyone was on high alert for any islands that may appear in the distance. After setting the course, Rin had removed himself from the helm and allowed the wind to steer them along. He rested his elbows on the railing, gazing intently at Rei. He was completely immersed in the map, trying to figure out which direction they had to go. The island they were searching for was most-likely incredibly small - so small that it may not even be on a common map - and covered in dense trees. The trees alone made Rin hope it was easily identified once come across. His eyes rested on Rei's concentrated face for an embarrassingly long time. He was unable to stop staring even if Rei had noticed, but for the moment Rei's focus lied purely on finding their current location. Rin's gaze wandered along Rei's jawline and onto his long inviting neck, half hidden behind the white shirt collar and ready to be kissed or bitten if Rin would allow himself to be so bold. Rei's shirt was dry and buttoned up perfectly. He had put his vest back on too. Rin thanked the gods for this beauty on his ship. It couldn't hurt to pray for more sights like these. Praying to some god would make him a better person eventually, right?

"Are you daydreaming again, Rin-san?" Rei gave him a soft nudge and their eyes met. To Rin's surprise, he was greeted with Rei's soft smile and hint of a blush on his cheeks instead of a frown. Rin's staring hadn't gone unnoticed. "Honestly, if you space out and drink that much you'll miss all the important moments in life." Rei looked back into the distance, amused and smiling.

"I'm not sure what you're talking about; I'm having a blast." Rin wasn't ashamed to look him over more noticeably this time. He bit his lower lip, holding in any words that could possibly make Rei feel uncomfortable.

"Captain," Ai called from up in the crow's nest, "There is a ship in the distance!" He pointed off the port side toward a roving ship far out on the desert. Rin shot his head up in surprise, scanning the horizon.

Rei glanced quickly at his compass, then announced, "North-northwest. It's single-masted. These are usually merchant ships." Rei glanced back at Rin, adjusting his glasses. "We should make contact and ask if they came across any islands similar to the one we're looking for."

"Good idea!" Rin turned and made his way back to the wheel, steering the ship toward the only hope of information that they currently had.

Rei's eyes followed him, and he chuckled to himself.

"Why are you laughing?" Rin raised an eyebrow, puzzled. He kept one hand on the wheel to hold it steady, but the other hand went to his hip. "Are you laughing with me or at me?"

Rei couldn't help but chuckle again, covering his mouth with his hand in a polite manner. "It's just- I like your enthusiasm." There was an embarrassed red on Rei's cheeks again which Rin couldn't get enough of. "I like that side of you- when you're excited, I mean."

Rin definitely liked where this was going. He grinned, but as he tried to say something witty, Rei turned his back on him, leaning over the railing and looking toward the other ship once more.

"They're turning away. Let's make clear that we don't mean any harm."

"We don't?"

An exasperated sigh escaped Rei when he faced Rin again. He opened his hand and took a few steps toward him. "May I have your spyglass for a moment?"

"What do you need it for?" Rin handed it to him, eager to see what it could do to in this situation.

Rin watched as Rei descended the stairs and made his way across the deck to the bow of the ship. Once in position, Rei held the spyglass up, shining a reflection of sunlight on the merchant's ship. They would definitely notice the bright, flashing light, even if the sun itself was fairly strong today. Rei began covering the lens with his hand, uncovering it only to repeat that action in shorter or longer intervals as needed.

Rin watched him intently from the helm. Was this some kind of morse code he was using? Rin was impressed yet again. It wouldn't surprise him if Rei knew how to read braille or use sign language. Rin made a mental note to take Rei along in case he ever met a deaf or mute pirate he wanted to say his "good-byes" to before killing, but right now, Rin was in awe that Rei's method of communication was fruitful. Only a few moments passed until the men on board the other ship raised the sails and turned the ship back toward them.

"I can't believe that fucking worked," Rin said to himself. When the ship sailed closer, Rin confirmed that they were merchants - two men. He didn't bother raising the sails, but quickly called down to Sousuke, instructing him to lower the anchor. The ship came to an abrupt halt, as did the other ship right next to them. Rei almost toppled at the sudden lurch, but soon righted himself and greeted the men on the smaller vessel with a bow and friendly smile.

"Good day, sirs. My apologies for interrupting your trip. May I ask you for directions?"

The two men looked at each other for a moment. One of them was portly and short and the other tall and strong. Brains and brawn if Rin had ever seen it. They didn't seem to expect a well-mannered passenger on a ship as menacing-looking as Rin's. If only they could see the remains of the blood bath that took place the other day.

The shorter merchant smiled at Rei. "Of course! Why don't you come aboard and look at what we have to sell first?"

"Oh, well-"

"You want us to buy your cheap crap in exchange for information?" Rin interrupted before Rei could give in to any dishonest offers. He had definitely had his share of low quality and broken items from dubious sellers in the past.

Both men now understood that this was, in fact, not a very pleasant place to be. They each took a step back, petrified to realize they were open for a pirate attack. Where there was a pirate captain, there was a whole pirate crew. The pirate had tricked them with a charming, foppish decoy.

Rin jumped over the high railing and onto the merchant's boat, where he looked around at crates, barrels, and piles of loose merchandise stored on the main deck. He finally came to stand beside the short, fat merchant. With a smirk on his lips, he leisurely rested an arm on the man's shoulder, who was now sweating and trembling in fear.

"That wasn't nice of me. Let me start again. I'm Rin Matsuoka." He could feel the guy stiffen under him, much to Rin's delight. It bolstered his ego to know he had been heard of and was feared by all. "I'd like some information about a small island somewhere in the middle of the sand sea. It will have lots of trees on it. Do you happen to know anything?" Rin moved his arm around the man's neck, making sure he would feel the flexing of Rin's biceps and the nails digging into skin. His other hand was occupied playing with the grip of his blunderbuss.

"I... I m-m-might have..."

"What was that?"

"W-We saw- It was th-"

"Speak louder!" As much as it amused Rin, he was quickly fed up with the mumbling and stuttering. He clicked his tongue.

"We sailed p-past a very small, tree-covered island h-half an hour ago. I-It's said to be cursed." The merchant finally managed to say something more than incoherent babbling.

"Cursed?" Rei commented from across the gap. Rin shot him an intrigued look.

"Yes! Cursed! Demons are born on that island!" He yelled, apparently bothered by the simple thought of the existence of a demon-spawning island.

This was going to be fun. Rin tightened his grip on the merchant's neck and leaned in to whisper in his ear venomously, "Are you making fun of my home?"

Meanwhile, Gou emerged from her cabin. She had noticed the ship had stopped in its tracks. Who wouldn't have noticed a force that threw books off shelves?

"Take your hands off of me, demon!!!"

She joined Rei at the railing and watched the man struggle to push Rin away, who still had him secure in a tight hold. "What have you done this time, Rin?" she exhaled deeply.

"Who's this?!" the merchant exclaimed loudly. The red hair and similar style in clothes alarmed him.

"That's my sister." Rin smirked playfully.

"She's a demon too! Your whole ship is infested with demons!"

"Who're you calling a demon?!"

Rei watched the scene unfold and couldn't help but see that even Gou could become as furious as Rin sometimes, though this time it made him smile for some reason. He calmed Gou, then focused his attention back on Rin.

"Let him go, Rin-san." Rin glanced up, slowly letting go of the man. Rei continued, "He can tell me which direction it was."

Rin said nothing more. He pulled a small bag of gold from his red fabric belt and roughly pushed it into the merchant's grip, who was surprised to be paid and finally shut up.

Rei came on board the small ship and discussed the directions to the cursed island. He even asked for the story as to why that island would be cursed to begin with. All the while, Rin kept his eyes glued on them. The taller guy was suspicious. He hadn't said a word the whole time Rin had been on board. In case of danger, Rin wouldn't hesitate to kill him.

Rei turned away from the man and joined back up with Rin. "We should go back to the ship. The merchant asks that we leave if we aren't going to buy anything."

Rin huffed and looked back over at the man, shooting him a glare. He snickered when the man trembled.

"Stop it, Rin. It took me a lot of smooth talking to convince him that you weren't a demon."

"Why did you do that? I was having so much fun with it," he whined.

"They are still scared of you," Rei said, "You are a pirate, after all."

Rin glanced back over toward the two men. "Good. They better be scared of me." He turned back to Rei. "Let's go."

The two of them hopped back onto their own ship and Rin ordered Sousuke to pull up the anchor, finally allowing the merchants some peace as they watched the pirate vessel pull away from their humble merchant ship. They were both relieved to escape with their lives, and the pirate captain had even given them a bit of gold!

As they sailed further from the merchants, Rin asked Rei, "What did he say about the island?"

"He said that the island is exactly like what we're looking for - very small with a swath of dense forest covering it," Rei said, "He also said that we should avoid it at all costs because it's cursed, obviously."

Rin chuckled. "Obviously," he drawled, "We're going to check it out. Just because he said not to."

"Obviously," Rei confirmed.

"Did he say what exactly made people think it's cursed?" Rin asked.

"All he said, aside from the demon thing, was 'The island confuses those who step foot on it.' and I'm not sure what he means by that, as he wouldn't elaborate any further." Rei stroked his chin in thought. "We'll just have to investigate."

"Did he tell you how to get there?"

"He said it's northeast of here, and that we can't miss it. He said, and I quote, 'The trees glow green over the burnt orange sand.'"

"Promising," Rin said. He turned toward Sousuke and Makoto. "We're sailing northeast. Full speed."

Sousuke nodded. "Yes, Captain."

Chapter Text

They only had to sail northeast for a half-hour before Ai spotted land from the crow's nest.

"Captain," he called down, "I think I see it!"

Rin was at the wheel. "Are we on the right path to reach the island?"

Ai looked out over the water again, judging their trajectory toward the island. "Maybe just a bit more to the starboard side, Captain!"

Rin shifted the wheel to the right just a bit, and the faintest swell of green came into view on the farthest reaches of the horizon, distorted by waves of heat already rising from the desert sand. "How's that?" he called.

"Great!" Ai answered, never taking his eye from his spyglass.

Raising a hand to shield his eyes from the sun, Rei gazed out at the tiny dot of an island in the distance. As the ship drew closer and the speck of green trees grew into something more substantial, he contemplated the merchant's warnings about this place. Of course, Rei didn't believe in such things as haunted and cursed islands, but some of what the man had said was indeed true - the rich green of the island really did make it look like it was glowing. The contrast of the green foliage and copper sand was mesmerizing.

Rin looked over toward Rei, watching him regard the island with awe. He wanted Rei to look at him like that.

"Rei, come over here!" he called, startling him out of his daze. When Rei approached and stopped next to him, Rin gave him his orders, "I want you to put together a crew of a few men we'll take onto the island. Gou will stay behind on the ship with the ones who don't accompany us. Talk with her and make the plans."

Rei nodded. "Alright, I will talk to her," he said, then headed toward the stairs down to the main deck.

"Rei!" Rin stopped him. "One more thing, I want Sousuke to come with us," he said, "He'd be valuable on shore; we don't know what we'll find out there."

Rei nodded again, and went on his mission to find Gou. He figured he'd check her cabin first. After passing by Sousuke and Makoto on the main deck, he entered the doorway leading to the lower decks, but he walked right by the stairway and continued down the hall to Gou's cabin. Stopping outside the door, he knocked three times.

After a few seconds of nothing, he knocked again, but there was still no answer. Perhaps he would check below deck. He went back through the hallway and took the stairs downward into the belly of the ship, finding Gou at the table with Haru.

"Gou-san, may I speak with you for a moment?" he asked.

She glanced up at him and gestured to an empty chair. "Sure! Have a seat, Rei."

"Thank you." He sat down at the table, Haru parallel to him and Gou perpendicular.

"What would you like to talk about, Rei?" Gou asked.

"Rin-san wants me to speak with you about putting together a crew to go ashore when we reach the cursed island," he explained. "Who do you think would be best? Rin-san said he wants you to stay behind, but he definitely wants to bring Sousuke-san."

Gou let out a loud bark of laughter, startling Rei and Haru, but quickly reigned herself in. "No," she said, "That's not a good idea."

"Why not?" Rei asked.

"I'll stay behind for sure, but Sousuke has an awful sense of direction and gets lost very easily. Unfortunately, Rin never seems to remember this. He just likes having Sousuke with him because he uses him as a personal bodyguard of sorts," she explained. "Sousuke can be very intimidating, though Rin is also quite intimidating on his own. Anyway, I won't allow him off this ship to possibly get lost on some cursed island. He's far too valuable. You can take anyone else, but Sousuke stays with me."

"You might have to explain that to Rin-san then," Rei said, cautiously. "He might not want to hear it from me."

"Don't worry. I'll talk with him about it if need be," she assured him. "Who else does the mighty captain want to take onto the cursed island?"

Rei chuckled lightly at her words. "He had no other specific requests."

"I'll go," Haru said suddenly.

Both turned their heads to him.

"Really, Haruka-san? I'd love to have you come along," Rei said. Haru was a very observant person, and he was always calm and collected. He'd make an excellent companion on a possibly-cursed island, and Rei was truly glad to have him.

Haru simply nodded and said nothing more.

Gou thought for a moment. "Who else should go? I'd suggest someone brave and fearless."

"That disqualifies Makoto-san, but Nagisa-kun is definitely fearless," Rei sighed. "I guess we'll bring him along too."

"If you take Nagisa, why not take Momo as well?" Gou suggested.

Rei glanced at Haru for an answer, but only received a shrug.

"Sure, I don't see why we can't bring Momotarou-kun as well," Rei said.

Haru addressed Rei. "So you, me, Rin, Nagisa, and Momo," he said. "That leaves Gou, Makoto, Sousuke, and Ai on board."

"Is that acceptable, Gou-san?" Rei asked.

Gou gave a thumbs up. "Perfectly fine! I'll let you deliver the news to Rin, and tell him to talk to me if he has any problems with the arrangements."

Rei smiled, standing from his chair. "Indeed I will. Thank you, Gou-san." He left Gou and Haru behind at the table and climbed the stairs up and out of the gloomy innards of the ship. Upon reaching the top of the staircase and stepping out onto the main deck, he saw Makoto and Sousuke working the rigging ropes and his stomach began to flutter. Rei had to admit that he was a bit scared to relay Gou's message to Rin. Indeed, Rin had been making an effort to be nicer lately, but no one had completely refuted any of his decisions yet, and now Rei was the innocent messenger caught in the crossfire. He took a deep breath to steel himself before he climbed the stairs up to the top deck where Rin stood tall at the helm, still steering straight and true toward the gem of green sprouting from the sand.

Rin glanced over at Rei, watching him cautiously approach. Rin raised an eyebrow in concern. "So, what have you two decided?" he asked.

Rei gulped. "I'm afraid Gou-san wasn't so accommodating toward your request for Sousuke-san to accompany us onto the island," he explained, waiting for the outburst he knew was coming. A careful look over Rin's face told him all he needed to know. He could see the way Rin's jaw clenched and his nostrils flared. He reminded Rei of a raging bull ready to charge.

One thing that Rei did not expect was for Rin to remain quiet.

"Rin-san-" he raised a hand gently to get his attention- "are you alright?"

Rin's eyes snapped to Rei, his hands gripping the wheel tightly as Rei tried to talk him down. He stared at Rei for a moment before releasing his grip and passing by Rei as he moved toward the stairs. "Hold that steady!" he bellowed to Rei, pointing firmly at the wheel.

Rei tensed suddenly under Rin's command, but flew to the wheel and stood petrified holding it in the same position Rin had been only a second before.

"I'll be right back," Rin growled.

Rei didn't dare to move, even when he heard Sousuke call out in a panic for Rin, his captain seemingly abandoning the steering wheel. As Rin disappeared below deck, Sousuke looked up toward the helm and saw Rei holding fast. Sousuke's mouth hung open in shock as he regarded the unexpected situation, but Rei paid him no mind. Even though his body trembled and his hands were damp with sweat, he needed to keep their course steady.

-----------

Rin thundered down the stairs, snarling and staring directly at the back of Gou's head. She didn't even flinch when he stomped to a stop right next to her.

"You're a little later than I thought you'd be," she said, finally glancing back at him. "What took you so long?"

Rin sneered down at her, his eyes shifting briefly over to Haru as well, but he said nothing.

"Rin," Gou said firmly, "You're not taking Sousuke onto that island. Are you trying to lose him?"

"It will be fine," he ground out, his eyes burning hot.

"He gets lost on the ship sometimes! He stands no chance on that island!"

"I'll be there, and Rei as well!"

"I won't take the chance, Rin!" Gou stood suddenly and faced him. "He is far too valuable to this ship to be tossed into some glorified bodyguard role when you feel like it!"

Rin's cheeks flushed, but his teeth were pearly daggers behind his scowl. His eyes shifted to Haru again, and even he seemed surprised by Gou's ferocity. He stepped back and covered his teeth with his lips. "Fine," he muttered, "He can stay here."

Gou's eyes lit up like she wasn't finished messing with her dear big brother yet. "Great! You get Haru, Nagisa, and Momo instead!"

"WHAT?!" Rin roared, making sure everyone on board heard it. His eyes were wild and his breathing ragged as Gou began to explain.

"You need someone out there who will stay calm under pressure - that's Haru. Then you need someone who is fearless - that's Nagisa and Momo," she explained, "You have your brainiac - obviously Rei. Then you - the captain. Everything works out."

Rin didn't want to admit it, but she was right. Everything she said made perfect sense, but Rin couldn't say anything, his face stuck in a wide-eyed, toothy display of astonished, otherworldly outrage. He wanted to get out of here, so he simply turned and went back up the stairs and out of sight.

"Is he okay?" Haru asked. "His face just then was really...interesting."

Gou waved Haru off. "Oh yeah, he's fine. That's the face he makes when he knows I'm right."

----------

While Rei eagerly awaited Rin's return to the helm, he didn't dare to let the wheel stray from its position. Rin might bite his head off if they lost the course to the island, especially after hearing that his request had been denied by Gou. Rei hoped that Rin came back from their talk with a calm demeanor and a desire to take the wheel back from him.

Sousuke watched Rei carefully from his position on the main deck. How Rin could abandon the wheel to Rei - someone who quite possibly had no experience sailing a ship - baffled him, so Sousuke watched, ready to spring into action if need be. Makoto looked distressed at the sight of Rei at the helm as well. Perhaps Makoto knew something about Rei and his sailing abilities that Sousuke didn't.

A few seconds later, the door leading from the lower deck flew open, banging loudly into the wall and drawing attention from Sousuke and Makoto. As Rin emerged from the doorway, the look on his face scared Makoto a bit, who cowered back behind Sousuke. As Rin noticed the effect his demeanor had on his crew, he clenched his fists tightly and took a deep breath. This change of plans wasn't anything he needed to worry about, but there was one thing he had to do before they landed on that island. He moved one hand to his flintlock pistol and started up the stairs, two sets of eyes watching him intently. When he reached the top, he called out to Rei, causing him to jump.

"Rei," he said, his hand still on his pistol. "Let go of the wheel."

Rei looked over at him, and his eyes followed Rin's arm down to where his hand rested on his gun. "Rin-san, w-what are you doing?" he stuttered, immediately taking his hands off the wheel and holding them up in the air.

"Rin!" Sousuke called, Makoto still behind him. "Don't do anything stupid!"

Rin glanced down at him, confused. "What?" he said, raising an eyebrow.

"Please don't hurt Rei!" Makoto pleaded.

Rin saw the way Makoto hid behind Sousuke and suddenly became hyper-aware of how aggressive his body language was. He took his hand off his pistol and tried to backtrack.

"I wasn't-" He turned back to Rei. "I would never!" Rin could see the unease in Rei's eyes, even behind the sun glare on his glasses. He stepped closer, keeping his hands away from his belt and any possible weapons. "I just want to teach you how to use a gun, Rei," he explained.

Even from all the way up here, Rei could hear Makoto and Sousuke sigh in relief. He lowered his hands and let out the breath he had been holding. "Rin-san, please consider your body language."

"Sorry." He hung his head shamefully, directing his gaze anywhere but Rei.

"Next time," Rei said gently.

Rin's eyes slid over to Makoto and Sousuke still watching them from the lower deck, and Rin felt anger prickle within him. He turned toward them and leaned over the railing overlooking the main deck and shouted, "Get back to work!"

The two of them sprang back into action instantly while Rei shook his head in disappointment. Every time Rin made a bit of progress forward, he seemed to move backward some too. Rei was only mildly upset; he knew it would take a while for Rin to exhibit any real change, so he wouldn't give up on him.

Rin eyed Sousuke and Makoto for a quick moment before directing his attention back to Rei. "Have you ever fired a gun before?"

"No, I haven't." Rei had never even held a gun before, and after the incident with the bandits, he wasn't sure that he ever wanted to. Growing up in the orphanage and then with Sera, he had not been provided with any instances of handling a firearm, and that was the way he liked it. Rei didn't consider himself a violent person in the slightest.

"Here," Rin said, drawing the pistol from his belt and guiding Rei to the railing before setting the gun in his hand. "Keep it pointed out there."

Rei grimaced at the rancid weight of the gun in his hand. It was both light and heavy at the same time. "Rin-san, I-"

"You're not holding it properly," Rin said, "Here, do it like this." He re-positioned the gun in Rei's palm, but Rei didn't care. He couldn't muster any interest in this barbaric tool he held limply in his hand.

"Rin-san, please. I would rather not."

Rin's features drew into confusion. "Come on, it's not that hard."

"Rin-san, why are you so adamant on teaching me this anyway?" Rei continued to hold the pistol weakly in his right hand, only using enough strength to keep it from dropping into the sand below.

"Because we don't know what we'll find on that island!"

"But how can I learn to properly use a gun in less than an hour?" Rei asked. "We don't have that much longer before we land-" Rei set the butt of the pistol gently back into Rin's hand- "so wouldn't it be easier if you protected me?"

Rei didn't necessarily like flirting his way out of situations that he didn't want to be in, but sometimes it was the easiest way. He watched Rin's eyes grow wider for a split-second and his cheeks flush just the slightest bit.

"Fine," Rin replied, "I won't make you learn, but you need to stay close to me on that island. I still need your brain."

Rei laughed lightly at Rin's reasoning. "Sure."

Rin broke away from Rei and moved back toward the wheel, then called out to Ai, "How long until we reach the island?"

"Not more than half an hour, Captain!"

Rin nodded and turned his head toward Rei. "Go back to Gou and tell her to instruct Momo and Nagisa to ready the rowboat. They can do that simply enough, I assume?"

Rei looked thoughtful for a split-second. "I hope so," he said, departing back down the stairs as Rin sighed. He once again passed by Sousuke and Makoto on the main deck and descended below, into the belly of the ship in search of Gou. She was seated in the same position she had been when he had left earlier, though Haru had gone into the galley.

"Rei, you're back," she remarked. "Do you need more help with Rin?"

Rei shook his head. "No, he's just asked me to inform you that we'll be within range of the island soon, and he wants Momotarou-kun and Nagisa-kun to prepare the rowboat."

After stretching her arms dramatically above her head, she stood from the table. "Alright, I'll instruct them right away. Did he say how long until we arrive?"

"Ai insists it will be no longer than thirty minutes."

"Understood." She turned away from Rei and crossed the deck toward the stairs leading to the lowest deck. She stepped down a few steps on the stairs and crouched, craning her neck to the side to look down into the even deeper depths of the ship, where Nagisa and Momo were working. "Nagisa, Momo, prep the rowboat! Captain's orders!"

With a quick "Yes, Gou-san!", Momo threw his hand to his forehead in a enthusiastic salute, but Nagisa groaned.

"Ugh, I'm hungry! Can't we eat first, then prep the rowboat?"

Gou shook her head. "No! You can prep the rowboat, then if you have any time left before you go out onto that island, you can have something small! Now get to it!" she ordered.

"Come on Nagisacchi, if we start now, we can eat faster!" Momo grabbed him by the hand and started toward the stairs where Gou was resting, and Nagisa allowed Momo to pull him along.

"Fine! Let's work fast!" he said, climbing the stairs quickly. Gou had moved out of the way as soon and they had started toward her, not wanting to be bowled over by the two of them as they ran. She watched them dash past Rei and disappear up the stairs.

Rei had also stepped aside and allowed them to pass by before turning back to Gou, who was drawing closer to the table she had sat at before. "They know what they're doing, right?" he asked.

"They better," she replied. "If they damage the rowboat, we'll have to use the backup, plus we'll have to either replace or repair the one they damage, which will take time and possibly a trip to the nearest port. Rin won't like that, and he'll probably put them in the brig for a week or maybe even longer."

Rei sighed. The odds were against them.

----------

"How the heck are we supposed to get this thing off the ship, Momo-chan?" Nagisa stared at the rowboat resting on the main deck at the bow of the ship.

"Well, first we have to move it." Momo sat down between the railing and the rowboat and tried to move it with his legs, pushing as hard as he could. He managed to move it a fair distance and became excited. "See? We can do it!" He waved Nagisa over to join him. "Come on! If you help, it'll go way faster!

Nagisa was also excited by how well Momo was doing with moving the boat, he sat down next to him and began to push with his legs as well, but soon the boat was out of the reach of their short legs.

"We have to get up and push now, Momo-chan!" He stood and positioned himself behind the rowboat, but Momo moved to the front.

"You push, I'll pull!"

So they did, slowly moving the boat along the length of the ship, stopping at the halfway point between the bow and stern.

"Okay," Nagisa said, "Now how do we get it over the railing and into the sand? We can't lift it."

Momo thought for a moment, his eyes scanning the deck for something that could help them. His eyes landed on Sousuke. "We could get Sousuke to throw it overboard!"

At the mention of his name, Sousuke's eyes were drawn toward the two boys.

"No, Momo-chan! We don't want to break it!"

Sousuke called out to Nagisa, grabbing his attention. He held up a rope in his hand and pointed upwards, directing Nagisa's attention to the crossbeam yard rigging extending off the main mast, and Nagisa suddenly knew what to do.

"I know! We'll tie the rope around the rowboat and toss the rope over the mast rigging, then we can lower the boat to the sand gently with manpower!"

"Good idea, Nagisacchi!" He held his hand up for a high-five, which Nagisa returned without hesitation. "I'm great at knots, so I'll tie the rope around the rowboat!" He retrieved the long length of rope from Sousuke and set to work tying it around the boat, making sure all of his knots were done properly and would support the weight they needed to. It only took him a few minutes to secure all the right knots in all the right places, then they were ready to throw the rope over the mast and lower the boat to the sand below.

"We need to tie something to this end of the rope so we can throw it over easier," Nagisa said, holding the bare end of the rope in his hand. "What can we use?"

Momo looked around for a second, then picked up a bucket that was set nearby. "How about this?" he offered.

"Perfect! It's easy to tie the rope around the handle!" Nagisa tied an improper knot around the handle, and Momo cringed at the shoddy form. Nagisa then tossed the bucket over the rails of the rigging and it crashed down on the deck, surprisingly not breaking. "Okay, we're ready!"

"Wait," Makoto said. "Shouldn't we wait to lower the boat until everyone is on board?"

Sousuke shook his head. "The rigging might not hold the weight of the boat and everyone. The mast could snap."

"So we do it now!" Momo said excitedly.

Sousuke held up his hand. "No. We wait until we're at the island. We don't want the rowboat dragging alongside the ship and putting strain on the mast if we don't need it to."

"Smart!" Nagisa exclaimed. "We're so lucky to have you, Sou-chan!"

Sousuke eyed him for a moment, but then turned away. "We've done all we can for now. All we can do is continue on our path toward the island."

"And now we can eat!" Nagisa's eyes glowed brightly at the thought of food. "Come on, Momo-chan!"

"Yes!"

----------

"What do you think we'll find on that island, Haruka-san?" Rei asked, watching as Haru prepared a bit of food for them to eat before they ventured out. It was just something small - some sliced fruits and vegetables and a glass of water each. He prepped a bit for Momo and Nagisa as well.

Haru went still for a moment, staring down at the knife in his hand. He was silent for a long moment, so long that Rei was a bit unnerved. Haru finally took a deep breath and said, "Probably nothing."

Rei couldn't shake his uneasy feeling regarding Haru's behavior. "Why the long pause?" he asked.

"I was considering my answer," he replied as though it were obvious, "and I came to the conclusion that the island will probably be empty and devoid of life. I wouldn't be surprised if the merchant was lying to us in the hope that we would leave."

"You're right," Rei agreed, "There is probably nothing, but Rin-san insists that we check it out anyway."

"That's fine. We'll go along with his plans for now."

Rei nodded.

----------

As they drew closer to the island, Rin ordered Sousuke to decrease their speed. They couldn't get too close for fear of stranding the ship in the shallows. That was what the rowboat was for.

"I think we're close enough! Raise the sails completely and drop the anchor!" Rin ordered.

"Yes, Captain!" Sousuke and Makoto called in unison. The two of them pulled up the sails swiftly as a well-trained and experienced duo, and Rin was proud of them, though he would never admit it. The ship slowly came to a halt as they lowered the anchor the short distance through the shallows of the sand sea.

"Lower the rowboat!" Rin commanded. Rei and Haru emerged from the lower decks, brought to attention by the stopping of the ship. Rin noticed them right away. "Rei, come up here."

Rei looked up toward Rin, blocking out the sun with his hand. He glanced back at the rowboat, wanting to help with it, but Rin whistled to get his attention.

"Rei, I said 'Come up here.'"

Rei sighed at Rin's domineering behavior, but did as he was told. He quickly climbed the stars and took his place next to Rin. "I should help them out," he said quietly.

"Don't worry about it, Rei. They can do it themselves." The two of them watched everyone else(aside from Gou) lower the rowboat to the sea, and they were able to do it faster than Rei had expected. He was impressed.

Rin was also impressed, but he would never admit it.

"Alright," Rin announced, finally moving to join the rest of the crew on the main deck with Rei following along behind him, "Everyone who's coming with me, get in that boat!"

Momo and Nagisa wasted no time in climbing over the edge and down into the rowboat, but Haru didn't budge.

Rin cast an angry gaze over him. "Scared, Haru?"

Haru shook his head. "Not at all. I just think it would be smarter and easier to get into the rowboat from the cannon windows below deck."

His blood boiling at the audacity of his prisoner (whom he had ordered a rescue of, no doubt!) to question his authority in matters regarding his ship, Rin screeched, "Then go down there and do it! Just get in the boat!"

"You don't have to yell," Haru said, easily meandering past Rin toward the lower deck. "I'm right in front of you, not across the ship." He then disappeared through the door, reappearing a few seconds later when he climbed onto the rowboat to join Nagisa and Momo.

Sousuke and Rei were amused by the situation, but kept it quiet while Rin seethed with anger. Anyone on board could see that he was pissed.

Rei nudged him gently with his elbow. "Perhaps we should join them now, Rin-san?"

"Just give me a minute," Rin said, obviously still angry. Haru was right. It would be far easier for him to get on the rowboat by going through the cannon opening below deck, but if he did that, he was admitting that Haru was right, and he didn't want to give Haru the satisfaction.

"Oh my god, Rin," Gou shouted, annoyed by his behavior. "Stop being so dramatic and just go!"

Rin shot her an annoyed look, but Rei tugged on his arm, pulling him along to join the others on the rowboat. They took the same route that Haru had.

----------

The ride to the island was uneventful, and Nagisa and Momo had been ordered by Rin to work the oars. Haru sat in the front and Rin and Rei sat at the back, behind Nagisa and Momo. Rin pouted quietly all the way. The boat was cramped, but thankfully they didn't have to spend too long on it. Nagisa and Momo were the first ones out once they hit the shore. The shoreline was barely distinguishable from the sea, and the only way to tell was the slightly different hue of the sand and the more solid consistency of the beach compared to the sea. Haru was next off the boat, followed by Rei.

As Nagisa, Momo, and Haru gathered further up the beach near the trees, Rei turned back to the boat to help Rin up, offering his hand.

"Come on, Rin-san."

Rin glanced briefly at Rei's hand, then ignored it in favor of pushing himself up and stepping out of the boat. "Don't worry about it, Rei." He turned back and grabbed the edge of the rowboat. "Help me pull this further up the beach so we don't lose it."

Rei simply nodded and helped Rin pull the small boat up the shore, beaching it entirely.

"We need to be careful here," Rin said, eyeing Rei while they walked toward the others. "Rumors don't start from nothing."

After talking with Haru, Rei firmly believed that there would be absolutely nothing on this island. This tiny island probably didn't even contain a single animal, except for maybe a bird or two that happened to be passing by. The only thing that Rei found odd was how dense the trees seemed to be. An island this size should never be able to support so many thick trees and bushes.

"Oi!" Rin called, grabbing the attention of the others as he and Rei approached. "We stay together out here. No splitting up."

Nagisa saluted to Rin. "Yes, Captain Rin!"

Momo couldn't hold his tongue, asking, "Do you really think there's gonna be something crazy out here, Captain? It's such a small island."

"Something bad could happen in a heartbeat," Rin explained. "It shouldn't take too long to explore the entirety of this island, considering how small it is, but we always need to keep our guards up. Now, are you all ready?"

After a round of agreement from everyone, Rei spoke.

"I'll go first, if you'd like, Rin-san."

"No." Rin cut him off instantly, then looked at Haru. "He'll go first."

Rin had obviously been trying to intimidate Haru, but Haru wasn't falling for it. "Fine," he shrugged, turning and heading toward the dense foliage.

"Be careful, Haru-chan!" Nagisa called before Haru disappeared fully behind a tree, the sound of his footsteps vanishing.

The other four watched carefully, Nagisa calling out after a few seconds. "Haru-chan? What's it like in there?" They waited for a response, but nothing came.

"Haru?" Rei called again.

Nothing.

"Haru-chan, quit playing tricks on us!" Nagisa said, bounding off behind the same tree, all sound ceasing once he was out of sight.

Rei's stomach dropped. If Nagisa was quiet, something was wrong.

"I'm coming too, Nagisacchi!" Momo called, following after him.

"No, wait!" Rei cried, but it was too late. Momo had vanished into the silent forest along with the others. Rei glanced over at Rin, his eyes wide. "They're gone!"

"Yeah," Rin replied, running his fingers along the brim of his hat, "And now it's our turn."

Rei's eyes slid from Rin, looking back toward the ship anchored off shore. The rising heat of the sand made the horizon beyond the ship twist and distort strangely, almost seeming as if there were trees beyond the ship. Rei found himself staring at the hypnotizing effect. He wrenched his gaze away and shifted it back to Rin, meeting his eyes and grounding himself with the image of something real and tangible. He put his hands on Rin's shoulders and closed his eyes, suddenly feeling dizzy and light-headed.

"Hey, are you alright?" Rin asked, and upon hearing Rin's voice, Rei felt vastly more rational and lucid.

Rei removed his hands from Rin's shoulders and dusted off the front of his vest, blushing slightly. "Er, yes, I'm fine. I'm sorry, I don't know what came over me just then."

Rin placed his hand on Rei's lower back. "It's alright. Just stay close to me, okay?"

Rei nodded once, then allowed Rin to guide him toward the same tree the others had disappeared behind. Rei wanted to look back to the ship once more, but decided against it considering what had happened last time. Rei closed his eyes and focused on Rin's hand on the small of his back, allowing Rin to lead him completely. Rei listened to the sounds of their footsteps and concentrated on the way the burning heat faded into a balmy warmth as they entered the shade of the trees. After passing by the perimeter of the trees, he heard a plethora of new sounds, including bird calls, rustling leaves, and waterfalls, but the one sound that made him open his eyes was Rin's stunned whisper.

"What?" Rin whispered, only barely heard by Rei over the other new sounds. He probably wouldn't have heard it if Rin had been any further from him. The word was filled with so much confusion that Rei could easily see it on his face when he finally opened his eyes. Rei had never seen that look on Rin's face before, and it wasn't long until the same awestruck look crept onto his own features as well.

When Rei turned his gaze to the forest in front of them, it had absolutely ballooned in size. What looked like a tiny island from the outside hid an enormous jungle within its depths. The trees had opened up above them where they could see birds flying overhead and mountains towering above them in the distance, massive waterfalls cascading down from their peaks. He could hear bird calls and animal noises and insect chirps from within the thick foliage of the trees. The only thing that was the same as he had expected it to be was the sun in the sky, beating down its burning heat, though it seemed far more humid in here than outside.

"Rin-san, what is this place?"

Rin finally removed his hand from Rei's back. "It's a trial. It's made to protect the shrine." He turned back toward the way that they had come in only to find that the jungle extended far behind them as well. "We're trapped in here."

"Oh god," Rei said, resting his hand on his forehead. "That's why the merchant said the island is cursed and it drives people crazy."

"Calm down, we have to figure out the puzzle so we can either find the shrine or the way out. Preferably the shrine."

Rei jerked his head up in shock, suddenly realizing that the others were nowhere to be seen. "Wait, we have to find the others first!"

"I'm sure they're around here somewhere," Rin said, "Come on, let's start looking around."

"Do you think that's smart, Rin-san? Just walking in a random direction with no aim?"

Rin glared at him. "Do you have a better idea?"

Rei looked away from Rin, flushing slightly. "Well, no."

Smirking, Rin stretched out his hand toward Rei. "Then come on."

----------

After walking for what seemed to be a half-hour at least, the two of them stepped into a clearing where the trees split, allowing them to see the sky again. It didn't take them long to notice that this was the exact spot where they had come in.

"Did we just walk in a circle?" Rei asked.

"Probably. This island wants us to get lost."

"Hmm." Rei closed his eyes, giving himself a moment to think. "I don't remember passing anything that we could use as a marker."

"We probably won't be able to make any progress until we figure out how to identify the proper path to the shrine." Rin rolled his eyes. "But of course the others had to go get lost, so finding them has become our first priority instead of looking for clues to the path."

"Well, we can't just leave them in here. They're our friends," Rei stated.

Rin continued walking along the path that they had taken before. "Uh, they're your friends."

"They're your crew!" Rei said, following along behind Rin, not wanting to get lost himself. "And don't walk away from me. You told me to stay close to you, and I want to do that."

Rin stopped suddenly in the path, Rei almost bumping into him.

"Rin-san, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," he said, turning his head toward Rei. "I'm sorry. I don't want to lose you either. You're all I have right now."

Feeling his heart start to beat faster, Rei moved to stand next to Rin, taking his hand. "Come on, let's find the others."

As if on cue, a voice floated toward them. It was faint, but distinctive.

"Wow, look at that one!"

Rin and Rei looked at each other in surprise.

"That sounded like Momotarou-kun!" Rei said.

Rin nodded and called out to the jungle. "Momo? Are you out there?"

After a few seconds, they heard voices coming back to them. "Captain? Is that you?"

"Yes! Where are you? Is anyone with you?"

A new voice joined Momo - Nagisa. "I'm here too, Captain Rin! And Haru-chan too! Is Rei-chan with you?"

"Nagisa-kun! I'm here as well!" Rei called. "Just keep talking to us. We'll find you!"

Momo called out to them again. "You gotta hurry! You guys need to see this cool beetle!"

Rin and Rei walked through the trees and bushes while following the sound of Nagisa and Momo's voices. "A beetle? What is it like?" Rei asked, not really caring, but wanting them to keep talking.

"Oh, he's so cool! He's a glowing beetle, and he's huge!" Momo said.

They drew closer and closer to the other three, indicated by the volume of the statements they received back. "Glowing? I've never heard of a beetle like that, Momotarou-kun."

"Me either, but he's really cool! I'm gonna try to catch him so he can be a friend for Pyunnsuke, but he's up really high in the tree, so I have to climb up or wait for him to come down a little further!"

Rin and Rei passed a particularly thick tree and caught sight of Momo, Nagisa, and Haru.

"There you guys are!" Rin shouted. "Why didn't you wait for us at the entrance?"

The other three looked over at them in confusion.

"What do you mean?" Nagisa asked.

"What do you think I mean, idiot?"

"We did wait there," Haru said, "We waited for a long time, but we never saw you."

Rei was confused by this. "What? How long were you there?"

Haru answered, "About an hour. What took you guys so long to enter?"

"An hour?" But we haven't even been in here for an hour." Rei was thoroughly confused. The island was playing tricks on them.

Rin cut into the conversation. "Time must flow faster in the jungle," he said, "It did take us a bit longer to enter because you were acting funny, Rei. Maybe it seemed like only a minute to us, but was an hour for them."

"That makes no sense, Rin-san."

"Nothing in here makes sense." Rin replied.

Haru nodded, a small gesture that signaled that he agreed with Rin's statement.

Nagisa threw his arms up. "Well, now that we're all together, we shouldn't split up! Otherwise we don't know what could happen!"

"I agree," Rei replied.

Momo looked back to see the beetle again, but was devastated to see that it had flown away. "Oh no! Pyunnsuke's new friend is gone!"

"Forget about the stupid beetle!" Rin growled. "We need to find that shrine!"

"But he was so cool..."

"It's okay, Momo-chan! We'll find him again!" Nagisa assured him, winking. "Trust me, this face wouldn't lie to you!"

At that, Momo laughed. "I do trust you, Nagisacchi!"

Rin scowled. "Can we just go?"

"Hold on a second, Rin-san. Now that we found the others, we need to focus on looking for clues regarding the path to the shrine," Rei said, "Does anyone have any ideas?"

"Beetles!"

"Enough with the beetles, Momo!" Rin shouted.

"I saw a river earlier," Haru said, "We could try following it upstream."

"Considering that we have no other ideas, we'll have to start there. We just have to find the river again," Rei said.

"It was just over here." Haru said, pointing off to the right.

Rin didn't want to follow Haru around the jungle, but it was their only lead currently. "Show us," he said.

----------

Ai watched the small rowboat make it to shore through his spyglass. "They made it! They're on shore now."

"Good," Gou said, breathing a sigh of relief. Sending a crew out onto the sea in a rowboat, even so close to shore, was always a risk.

Unfortunately, while they all watched the rowboat approach the island, they weren't watching a ship sneak up on them from behind. They only heard the rattling of the rigging when it was practically upon them.

"Fancy meeting you here!" Kisumi called once they noticed him.

"You!" Gou exclaimed, "What are you doing here? If you've come back to get Haru, you're too late, he and the others are already on the island!"

Kisumi chuckled, though it was obviously inaudible to them, as he was quite far away on his own ship. "I'm not here for Haru!" he called, "Well, actually, I am, but you'll do fine as well!"

"Me? What do you want with me?" Gou yelled back.

"Not just you! All of you! I'm taking you all hostage while your captain is gone!"

Gou flushed with anger. "Not without a fight!" she screamed, "Prepare for battle!"

Kisumi tutted and waved his finger. "I wouldn't do that if I were you! You're anchored and you only have a crew of four, while I have a crew of almost thirty!"

Gou seethed. He was right. It would be suicide to try to fight him.

"Come on, Gou. We can resist," Sousuke said.

"No, we can't," she sighed. "There's no way we can beat him as we are. The ship would be absolutely demolished if he fired on us." She resigned herself to the fact that she would have to surrender to him. "There's nothing we can do. We have to surrender." She turned to address Kisumi, calling across the sand to him. "We surrender to you, just spare our lives and ship!"

"Oh, no one is going to die and your ship is perfectly safe. I just need you all as bargaining chips!" he called. "You're all worth so much more to me alive and well! Remember, it's Haru that I want!"

Chapter Text

"Here's the river." Haru gestured casually towards the gently flowing water. It had taken him longer than anticipated to find it again, but he had been able to follow the sound to the river's edge. As they fumbled through the trees, Rin had been swatting and tearing at leaves and branches, getting angry at the idea that Haru had forgotten where the river was, but Haru had never cared about what Rin thought of him, so he paid the irritable captain no mind.

"About time," Rin grumbled, "You can't even remember where the river was? You're so useless. I should have tossed you overboard when I had the chance."

"I found it, didn't I?" Haru shrugged and turned away from Rin, leaving him to fume. Haru gazed down into the flowing water, wanting desperately to swim. It had been so long.

Rin growled quietly, but one gaze from Rei calmed him. He was trying to be better, he remembered. "I suppose you did," he said quickly, moving to the edge of the water and gazing upstream. "We'll follow the river upstream and see what we find."

"Okay!" Nagisa agreed, giving him an enthusiastic salute.

"I hope we find another beetle!" Momo said, his eyes sparkling.

"Just come on-" Rin waved a hand through the air as a signal to follow him- "before I change my mind and leave you all behind."

Nagisa and Momo were the first to follow, both not wanting to be left behind and also excited at the adventure that stood before them. Rei and Haru shared a look, but quickly followed along behind Rin.

----------

After one hour of walking, they had not seemed to go anywhere. Even though they had continued along the river upstream and not strayed from the path, it was as though they were walking in a circle. The forest had not changed at all, and even the river looked the same. Their position in the forest had not moved. The mountains still seemed as far as they had when the party had arrived. Even the sun had not changed positions in the sky, and it continued to beat down a searing heat whenever it was in view. The boys tried to stay in the shade of the great palm leaves so they wouldn't grow too hot. Rei could feel the sweat on his brow, and he wiped it away with the sleeve of his shirt, lifting his glasses and wiping at his eyes as well. He could see the sweat and discomfort marring everyone else's features too. Nagisa's blond hair was stringy and damp under his bandana, and Momo looked disappointed that they had not found any more beetles or other interesting bugs. In fact, they hadn't seen very many animals at all since that one beetle. Even the birds were quiet.

Rin growled suddenly, "What the hell is going on here? Why aren't we going anywhere? The mountains aren't any closer than they were one hour ago, and the river has taken us nowhere!"

"Rin-san, you know the forest wants to trick us," Rei said, "perhaps this isn't the right path?"

"Then which fucking path do we take? Someone find a clue!"

Haru rolled his eyes, but thankfully Rin didn't see.

"Rin-san, that is easier said than done." Rei adjusted his glasses, and his voice was hoarse from the heat and lack of water.

Rin's concern went straight to Rei. His eyes focused on his navigator with worry. "Do you need some water?" he asked.

Rei shook his head. "No, I'm alright for now."

Rin was not convinced, but he was satisfied with that for now. He glanced about the area, scanning for anything that might be of interest, but unfortunately there were only jungle trees, the midsize river, and the distant mountains within their sight. Rin wanted to reach the mountains to get a better view of the island, but their journey seemed fruitless, and the far off mountains stayed as inaccessible to them as they had been when they had entered here. It was like the remote mountains were a backdrop to their adventure - some painted image that they were never meant to get near.

"Maybe this really is a demon island?" Momo said. "What if we aren't meant to find the exit? What if it doesn't exist and we're trapped here forever?"

"Then you get to live with the glowing beetles forever, Momo-chan!"

"But I want to sail the seas! I love sailing!" Momo replied. "If I could have the glowing beetle and keep sailing, my life would be perfect!"

"Enough about the beetle! You're giving me a headache!" Rin shouted, turning back to face them with an angry expression. Rei put up a hand to try to calm him, and Rin sighed.

"Why don't we all take a rest?" Rei suggested. "Maybe we'll all feel better and more aware afterwards. Then we can continue looking for clues regarding the possible direction of the shrine."

They sat down next to the river for a few moments, pondering a possible answer to the riddle of this island. The eerie silence of the island was unsettling. The wilds shouldn't be like this. Sounds of birds and bugs and wind and water should have been audible as they walked, but the only sounds that they had heard since they had come together had been their own footsteps and voices.

Rei glanced over at the river, noticing that it had changed direction in the time that they had been sitting there. He was absolutely sure that they had not gotten mixed up and turned around. "This place," he said, attracting the attention of the others, "is almost like a dream. It doesn't really make sense. The laws of physics are all wrong."

"What do you mean?" Rin asked.

Rei pointed to the river. "Look. The water has changed direction."

Haru looked at the waterfall coming down from the mountains in the distance, and sure enough, the water was flowing upwards toward the peak. It was difficult to tell from so far away, but he was sure.

"What the heck?" Nagisa said. "This is so weird!"

All of a sudden, Haru saw a single bird flying toward them from the mountain. It was the first one they had seen in a long while. It seemed quite large for being so far away, and as it approached, it grew in size even more.

"Umm," Haru said, concern lacing his voice, "maybe we should hide from that?"

"Agreed!" Rin replied, going along willingly with one of Haru's suggestions for once. They ducked under the shelter of the trees and waited quietly for the bird to pass overhead, trying not to give up their location.

By the time it had reached them, the bird was massive - bigger than any bird any of them had ever seen. In all his time with Sera, Rei had never even read about a bird that big. It soared above them, apparently without noticing them. Once it had passed by, Momo spoke.

"That is definitely not normal."

"We should follow it," Rei said.

Rin looked at him like he was a lunatic. "What the hell are you saying, Rei? Did you see the size of that thing? Why the hell would we follow it? We should be going the other way."

"Just hear me out, okay?" Rei explained. "If something were hidden on this island, don't you think there would be trials and deterrents to keep people from finding it? Maybe that giant bird is something that the island created to make people not want to go that way." He pointed in the direction the bird was flying.

"That makes sense," Rin said. "Though I still think this is a bad idea." The five of them hopped out from their hiding places below the canopy of trees and moved back toward the river. However, upon reaching the spot that they had been sitting in before, the river had vanished and been replaced by a clearing of grass.

"Okay," Rin said, thoroughly confused. "This place is really messed up."

Rei replied, "From now on, we should assume that absolutely anything can happen. Like I said, the rules of physics do not apply here. In fact, this whole place may even be a dream."

Usually when someone realizes that they're dreaming, the dream will break up and the person will awaken.

Considering that that did not happen to Rei, he knew that he was already awake and this was something that they were going to have to figure out on their own. The other four boys looked at him with incredulous expressions, but they all realized that he seemed to be be the only one who had any ideas worth pursuing, so they all came to the same conclusion - listen to Rei.

"Alright, Rei," Rin announced, joining him at the head of the group. "Lead the way."

After falling into a steady pace, Rei leaned close to Rin and whispered something to him.

"Forgive me, Rin-san, this may be a little presumptuous of me to suggest, but I have an idea about that bird."

This caught Rin's attention, and his eyes focused firmly on Rei's lips. "Go ahead, Rei."

He smiled slightly, and Rin loved the way his lips turned up at the corners. Then he spoke, his voice barely a whisper in Rin's ear.

"I think that may be Iwatobi."

Rin's eyes widened in shock. "You really think so?"

"Well, it looked very similar to the statue of Iwatobi that we saw in Sera's book," Rei explained, "Do you remember the picture of the shrine that we saw?"

"Of course," Rin said, considering his idea. "You do have a point."

Rei nodded and continued along the path where the river had been previously, Rin close behind. He kept his eyes pointed in the direction in which the bird had flown, not wanting the island to change again. Rei figured that if he kept his gaze on the landscape, it would not have the opportunity to shift and warp before his eyes. Rin kept his eyes on Rei's back, only briefly shifting down to his butt. The others followed behind them, they themselves looking around and surveying the jungle. Haru kept Nagisa and Momo from straying too far behind the rest of them. He knew Momo would be looking for that beetle again.

They traveled swiftly through the jungle, and the scenery finally began to change somewhat. There were new trees, only slightly different from the ones they had seen before, but Rei recognized the minute differences from what he had read in books. Some had bigger leaves, others had a different colored husk, but the changes were definite.

A few moments later and the trees and plants begin to change drastically. The leaves faded to a dull brown, and the soil underfoot turned green. It was as if the jungle had swapped colors between the leaves and dirt.

"Is this a good sign?" Momo asked, a bit disturbed.

"I'm not sure. Possibly?" Rei stopped on the path, Rin almost bumping into him. He glanced around the forest, looking for some sort of sign to continue in the direction they were facing or turn back. He turned back to the group and closed his eyes for a moment, considering their options intensely. All eyes were on him.

"Hey," Nagisa exclaimed, "The river is back!"

Sure enough, when Rei opened his eyes again, the river was there, just as it had been before. He looked around at their other surroundings and noticed that the mountain in the distance was now placed in the direction that they were walking instead of behind them.

Rin grew agitated and irritated with the island, but he knew that his temper would get him nowhere here. The island could not be intimidated by him. He steadied himself with a deep breath.

Suddenly, Haru pointed toward the mountain and said, "The bird is up there now."

Rin looked up and saw the giant bird perched on the cliffside. "Then let's continue on in this direction," he announced, leading the way. They walked for about a minute in silence, everyone too tense to even utter a word. They feared the jungle would swallow them up forever if it so desired. A bit deeper into the forest and the trees regained their normal colouration once more. This helped to calm the group, the familiarity leaving them feeling slightly more relaxed.

The quiet was broken by Momo suddenly shouting, "There it is!" and dashing off to the side of the path.

The group turned in his direction and Rei called out to him, "Momotarou-kun, wait!"

"Yeah," Rin added, "Don't get separated from us!"

Thankfully, Momo had never left their line of sight. He stopped suddenly and turned back to face them, but lifted his arm to point at something to the right of the path.

"The glowing beetle is back! Just over there!"

Rin rubbed a hand over his face in exasperation. "I don't care about the beetles! We're trying to find the shrine!"

"Maybe the beetle can help us!" Momo offered.

Rin looked at him like he was insane. "How could a fucking beetle help us? Please explain it to me." It was obvious to the entire group that Rin didn't care to know at all.

As Rin stared at Momo, awaiting an answer that he didn't want, Rei looked over toward the beetle Momo had seen. The insect sat high in the tree, glowing a faint red. It stood out starkly against the faded brown husk of the tree. It was definitely surprising to come across a bioluminescent beetle. His eyes drew upwards and he caught sight of the bird perched on the mountain. The creature was looking in his direction, as if ready to swoop down on them again, but it didn't move. In fact, even though it was incredibly far away and couldn't possibly see them from such a distance, it seemed to hold eye contact with Rei for a few seconds before turning away. Rei looked back at the beetle and the glow seemed to pulse momentarily.

"Rin-san, wait," Rei said, causing the captain to shift his gaze toward Rei. "Maybe Momotarou-kun is right."

"You're not serious," Rin said, absolutely dumbfounded.

"It can't hurt to try." Rei explained.

"We could get even more helplessly lost, and maybe even possibly get eaten by that bird?"

"I don't think that will happen," Rei trailed off, moving toward the beetle and away from the group.

Rin watched him walk off the path and quickly followed, not wanting to lose him in the jungle. The other three were right behind. As Rei approached the tree, the beetle began to fly away, but landed on another tree a few steps further into the jungle.

"Let's follow it!" Momo said.

Rei nodded, but then turned to Rin. "What do you think we should do, Rin-san?"

Rin focused his eyes on the bird, simply watching it perched upon the mountain, so close yet so far. It didn't even look at him. He wanted to reach it so badly.

"Yes," he said, "Let's follow the dumb beetle."

Momo suddenly looked determined. "I'm gonna catch him and he'll be a friend for Pyuunsuke!"

"You can't catch it too soon," Rei said, "Remember, we're trying to follow it."

The group turned and watched the beetle flit its wings before taking off again.

"Quick!" Rin exclaimed, and they all started running through the forest, following the faintly glowing insect as it darted between the trees. Then, when it finally came to rest upon another tree, the group stopped suddenly. Rei had his arm stretched out to the side to block them.

"Careful," he said, "We don't want to scare it off."

When he finished that sentence, the beetle began to fly again, but this time it flew straight up and out of the trees. They all watched in disappointment as it disappeared.

"Fuck," Rin groaned. "Now what?"

Rei let out a big sigh and shook his head. They would have to continue on as they had been before - no leads. Momo whined about losing the beetle, and Nagisa tried to comfort him. Haru glanced around and noticed the sky was slightly darker than it had been previously, but the sun had still not moved.

Suddenly, another beetle fluttered by in front of Haru's face. This one glowed a faint orange.

"Guys," he said, turning their attention to the new beetle.

They all watched it fly by, then Rin shouted, "Follow it!" The party took off again in pursuit of the insect. Once again, they were able to follow the beetle deeper into the jungle, and while they ran, Haru noticed that they sky was darkening even further. It almost seemed like it was evening. The beetle glowed a bit brighter before disappearing again.

"Keep your eyes open," Rei instructed. "Another one may appear."

Sure enough, another beetle did indeed appear - this one glowing a brighter yellow.

"Fascinating!" Rei remarked as the group chased the new beetle. "They're following the spectrum of the rainbow! Once this one vanishes, the next one should be green!"

"I'll catch one of every colour!" Momo said excitedly.

While everyone else's spirit's seemed to be high, Haru couldn't shake the uneasy dread that filled him as the sky continued to darken. The bird on the mountain still sat high above them, appearing disinterested in their presence in its domain, though Haru only caught brief glimpses of it between the canopy of the trees.

Once the yellow beetle finally disappeared, the rest of the party ultimately realized how dark the sky had become. It appeared like the sky at dusk, just after the sun had dipped below the horizon, but they could still see the real sun above them.

"This is really freaking me out," Rin said. "I don't like it here at all."

"For once, I agree with you," Haru added. "The deeper we get into this jungle, the darker the sky gets. Did you notice before? This has been going on since the first beetle."

"Really?" Rei asked. "I was so focused on following them that I didn't realize."

"Did we get too carried away following the beetles?" Nagisa said quietly. "Maybe we weren't supposed to come this way... Maybe the darker it gets, the more trouble we're in."

Momo looked disturbed. "Should we go back? I can live without a friend for Pyuunsuke."

"No," Rin stated, and his tone left no room for deliberation. "We follow the next beetle - the green one."

Unfortunately, the green beetle was nowhere to be found. The group kept a sharp eye out for it, but it did not appear as quickly as the last ones had.

Rei scratched his head. "Why is it not appearing?"

"Maybe we have to find it?" Rin suggested.

"I suppose we could look around."

Nagisa whined behind him, tired from all the running they had been doing. "I'm thirsty! Do we have any water?" As soon as those words left his mouth, the sound of rushing water could be heard behind them, and they had not realized that the sound had stopped previously.

"Yay! We can all have a drink!" Nagisa cheered. "Does anyone have a cup?"

"Nagisa-kun, wait! I don't know if it's a good idea to drink the water here."

"Why not? Water is water." Haru said, looking a bit offended.

"But this island is not anything like the world out there!" Rei exclaimed. "We can't trust anything in here."

Haru narrowed his gaze at Rei, but he didn't say anything more.

"I'm sorry, Haruka-san, but I wouldn't trust it." As soon as he finished his thought, he caught sight of the green beetle. "There! Come on!"

Again, the group found themselves chasing down a bug in a dark, creepy, messed up jungle. They crashed through the brush, batting aside wide leaves and thick vines as they went. This time, they were all aware of the ever-darkening sky.

Rin looked through the gaps in the treetops toward the mountain's peak again, but the sky was far too dark now to be able to make out if the bird was still up there or not.

"No wonder people think this place is cursed." Rin thought.

As quickly as it had appeared, the green beetle vanished. Thankfully, the group did not have to wait long to see the next glowing orb up ahead of them - this one a brilliant, bright, aqua. This light was quite a bit smaller than the previous ones, but the boys assumed it was because this one was still quite far in the distance.

"We're close!" Rin called out, and as soon as he did, the one turquoise light became two and a low growl could be heard, thundering in the bones of all five boys and stopping them dead in their tracks.

These lights were not beetles. They were eyes.

The sky was an inky black now, and not a single star could be seen. Even the sun had disappeared. The only light illuminating the forest was the glow of the creature's eyes.

They all dived into the thick brush alongside the path so the creature would not be able to see them. No one knew if the creature had seen them yet, but they weren't going to take any chances out in the open. The creature might have the ability to see in the dark. They stayed as quiet as possible, even going so far as to hold their breath. The jungle was eerily silent, save for the footsteps and heavy breathing of the creature. No wildlife could be heard this deep within. In the oppressive darkness and silence, all the boys had to know that they were still with their group was the warmth of their bodies brushing up against one another as they hid. They listened to the beast sniff the air, then pad off in the other direction, only daring to whisper their words once it had grown completely quiet again.

"What was that?" Nagisa whispered harshly.

"I have no idea, it was too dark to see," Rei replied, "but I hope we don't run into it again."

"If we do-" Rin pulled out his pistol and cocked it- "we'll be ready."

"I don't think you could kill it, Rin-san," Rei said.

"You don't have any faith in me, Rei?"

Rei didn't say anything more. He didn't want to tell Rin that he may not be able to kill it because this forest was a dark and twisted place. Everything here was against them. They never should have come here.

"What should we do?" Momo said quietly.

Rin took a deep, calming breath and said, "We keep going."

With that, they crawled out from their hiding spot and stood, dusting themselves off quietly. When they were ready, they continued walking in the same direction and hoped they wouldn't run into the beast again.

After a few minutes, the sky started to lighten again and Rei thought that maybe they weren't going in the right direction anymore, but he treasured the increased visibility. Even though the sky only appeared as it looks in the early morning before the sun rises, it was better than the inhuman darkness they had experienced previously. The group stayed alert and on lookout for the creature as they progressed further and deeper into the jungle.

Rei felt a deep unease when the air around them grew thick and dim again. He couldn't shake the terrible feeling that they might lose one of their crew members on this island. A sick sense of dread filled his heart when he felt a vibration shake the ground and a rumble tear through the silence. The group froze, barely daring to move, when the eyes appeared again a few dozen meters in front of them. Rei briefly wondered how this thing was getting around so quietly, but then remembered that the forest did whatever it wanted.

Only a faint outline of the beast could be seen in the dim light. It was quite large and stood on two legs, with reptilian feet and sharp, gangling claws at the end of each of its appendages. Each arm came to a single point - a long stinger-like talon. Its skull was wide and most of its face was mouth, where needle-like teeth grew out in disarray, pointing out in all angles. The round eyes still glowed brightly, and they were pointed straight at the group.

As they stood there terrified, the monster seemed to change - or rather, it was constantly changing. Sometimes it was more wolf-like, sometimes more human-like, and sometimes it looked like nothing that any of them had ever seen before. It was very difficult to tell, as it was always shrouded in the impenetrable darkness, and only a hazy outline could be determined.

Only one thing was certain - it had seen them.

It immediately bounded toward them, moving quickly on all fours, and everyone except Rin was frozen in fear. He thrust his arm in front of Rei, pushing him behind him and out of harm's way, then drew his pistol and aimed at the monster barreling toward them. The ground thundered under the heavy footfalls of the creature, and every one of them could feel it in their bones. Rin could feel his arm shaking as he tried to hold the gun steady as the monster approached, its mouth gaping and teeth glinting in the light its eyes produced.

Only when he felt Rei grip his shoulders tightly in fear did he find the courage and strength to fire his one shot into the beast.

Unfortunately, that did not stop it. It continued on its charging path toward the group, tearing through the darkness like a shadow.

"Get down!" Rin shouted, pulling Rei down to the ground with him before the beast reached them.

What they didn't see while they were on the ground was thin cracks of turquoise light begin to appear on the creature's body, running all along the length of it as it ran, and growing larger and thicker the closer it came. When it was almost on top of them, the cracks were too much for the body of the creature to endure, and the forest was bathed momentarily in that same aqua light as the monster crumbled into glowing fragments. The pieces dropped to the ground with dull thumps, but continued to to glow.

After a few moments of silence, Nagisa looked up and asked, "What's going on? Are we dead now?"

Momo lifted his head as well, and smiled wide when he saw the glowing fragments of what was left of the beast. "Nagisacchi, look!" He pointed at the hundreds of glowing turquoise beetles.

The rest of them looked up to see the beetles as well, thankful that they were all still alive. Rin could still feel Rei trembling in his grasp, the terror not yet gone from his mind.

"Rei," he said gently, and he was surprised by the petrified expression still present on his features when Rei looked at him. He noticed a bit of dirt on Rei's glasses. "It's okay now, I think we're safe. And you have some dirt on your glasses."

That idea brought a bit of familiarity back to Rei's face.

"No!" He exclaimed, quickly pulling them off and wiping them on the sleeve of his shirt. Rin chuckled before standing and looking over the pool of beetles just a few steps ahead of them.

"I guess these are the beetles were were looking for," Rin said.

Rei replaced his glasses and look down at them. They gave off such a bright light that he could barely look at it. There were so many of them in one place. He watched Momo move to pick one up, but his hands passed right through it.

"Hey, let me pick you up!" Momo exclaimed. "I want you to be Pyuunsuke's friend!" As he spoke, he tried to pick up more, but most of the beetles disintegrated, leaving only one still whole and glowing, which took off into the air and weaved through the trees.

"That's the one we have to follow!" Rin announced. "Come on!"

Everyone scrambled up from the ground and followed Rin into the jungle again in pursuit of the beetle, and as they followed, the sky brightened incredibly quickly, almost as if the sun was rising instantaneously. The light made it far easier to traverse the jungle, but more difficult to see their target, as the light from the sun dimmed the glow of the beetle.

"Stay on it!" Rin called, trying hard to keep pace. A few more strides through the trees, and the beetle faded like a spectre in the sun. It was completely gone, and Rin was pissed.

"God damn it!"

As the others came to a stop behind him, breathing heavily from the exertion, Rei thought for a moment. When Momo had touched the beetle before, his hands had passed right through it, then a large portion of them had disappeared. Was this the illusion of the forest breaking up when it was interfered with? Could that monster have even touched them? Or was it also an illusion? He reached out a hand and tried to touch the trunk of a tall palm tree, only to have his hand pass through as well. Soon after, the tree also vanished, just as the beetles had.

"Everything is an illusion," he said.

Rin turned back to him. "Obviously."

"No, what I mean is that we can interfere with the illusion and cause it to disappear." He passed his hand through another tree, which quickly vanished as well. "See?"

Momo and Nagisa were amazed. "Wow!" They began running from tree to tree and touching every one, causing them to crumble.

Haru looked up through the tree tops again, spotting the giant bird on the mountain side. It was looking at them again, and upon locking eyes with Haru, it seemed to nod. It then took off and soared high into the sky out of Haru's view. He thought that was a bit odd, but he didn't have a lot of time to ponder it, as Momo and Nagisa were rushing past him and vanishing trees left and right. As they tapped a few trees close to Haru, a gap opened up and he saw a stone structure within a clearing beyond.

"Rei," he called, grabbing his attention and gesturing him over. When Rei was at his side, he pointed toward the structure, and Rei recognized it as the shrine. It looked similar to the one in Sera's book, but it was far more grand, and a lot bigger than he thought it would be. The picture in Sera's book had been an idealized version of the shrine, but this one that Rei was seeing now was in a state of decay. There were vines and greenery covering the stone structure, and the turquoise glow from the picture in the book was not present.

"Rin-san, you need to see this."

Upon joining him, Rin was speechless. He stared in wonder at the shrine that had finally been located after many long years. It was not a myth after all, and his search had not been in vain. He stepped through the trees and into the clearing with the shrine. It seemed to react to his presence and pulsed with that same blue glow.

Rei called the other boys over and they all followed Rin into the clearing, looking around in wonder at the treasure they had discovered.

"I can't believe we found it," Rin said in wonder, his eyes wide. He approached the shrine and kicked at a few of the vines, and when he did, the light pulsed again, surprising him. He knelt down and placed a hand on the cold stone, and the shrine glowed even brighter than before.

"It likes the captain!" Momo exclaimed.

Rei stepped close to Rin, stopping just behind him. "So what do we do here, Rin-san? Where is Iwatobi?"

Rin glanced back at him, then up toward the sky, but all the mountains were gone. Even the expansive jungle that they had just passed through was gone. Rin looked about frantically. The sky was normal, the sun was back where it supposed to be in the sky, and the day was scorching. All that was left was the single ring of trees that they had seen when they approached the island on their tiny rowboat.

Nagisa looked around excitedly. "We're free! We can go back to the ship!"

"That is certainly a good development," Rei said," Though I think we should figure out what to do here at the shrine first."

Rin looked disappointed. "I don't know what we should do here. We don't have the egg."

"But if we did have the egg, what would we do with it?" Rei said, "I think it would be a good idea to think about that while we're here."

They all glanced over the shrine. It was now that Haru noticed that there was a good amount of water in the pool of the structure. While no one was looking, he bent down to dip his fingers in the water, cherishing the calm emotion that filled his thoughts. A force told him to jump in and swim. The water was cradling his fingers, and he wanted to feel that throughout his entire body. The pool of the shrine looked impossibly deep. Maybe no one would notice if he slipped in for just a second. He didn't bother removing any clothing (as he wasn't planning on staying in for very long), then allowed himself to fall into the pool, drawn in by the pool itself.

The splash caused everyone to look over and see that Haru had disappeared. This put Rei, Nagisa, and Momo into a panic. The last thing they wanted was for Haru to drown in the shrine. They rushed to the edge, leaving Rin on his own next to the stones, but Haru did not need their help. He floated leisurely on the surface, his entire body drenched in water.

"Get the hell out of there, idiot!" Rin roared, standing and clenching his fists. "This isn't a lake!"

"You know what you should do with the egg, Rin?" Haru said simply.

Rin gritted his teeth, waiting for the snarky answer. "What?"

But no snarky answer came. Haru simply pointed to a statue of a bird on the left side of the pool. It looked very much like the bird that had been watching them whole time they had been here, but one wing was extended above it holding up a stone ring above the pool, and the other wing was downward in a position of holding something, though the slot was empty. "Put it right there."

Rin blinked once in confusion, then frowned. "I might try that."

Haru's contented expression didn't change, though he felt satisfaction at driving Rin to speechlessness.

Rei looked over the statue of the bird, examining the slot where Haru suggested the egg should sit. There seemed to be an indent where something could be placed.

"Yes, Haruka-san," Rei said, "I like your idea."

"So that's what we'll do," Nagisa interjected. "When we get the egg, we'll give it to the bird statue!"

"Exactly!" Rei affirmed.

Rin knelt down and placed his hand on the stone ring of the pool again, seeing the light pulse and feeling it at the same time. The feeling in his chest was indescribable. He had searched for this for so long, and his goal was finally starting to come within reach. He looked over toward Rei, who was still looking intently over the Iwatobi statue, and considered how lucky he had been to meet him. His life would never be the same now. He tore his eyes away from Rei and looked over at the shark statue to his right representing Samezuka. It was a similar height to the Iwatobi statue, a diving shark holding up the stone ring above with the ridge of its tail. Its head was resting just above the pool and a gentle stream of water was flowing from its mouth, bubbling through the sharp teeth. Rin briefly wondered how the water was flowing from no source, but realized there would probably never be an easy answer to that. He pulled his waterskin from his belt and discretely filled it with the spring water coming from the mouth of the statue. With water being so rare, he'd never miss an opportunity to acquire a little extra.

Once his waterskin was full, Rin stood. "Get out of the pool, idiot," he barked at Haru. "Let's get back to the ship."

Haru stared at Rin for a moment before begrudgingly hoisting himself out of the water. Rei waved them all back toward the treeline, leading the way back to their small rowboat. He turned back to look at Rin, locking eyes with him for a second and smiling before disappearing through the trees. Rin stood back for a second, admiring the residual image of Rei's beautiful smile in his memory, then looked back at the shrine for a moment and hoped they wouldn't have to go through the same trial to get here again once they had the egg. He turned away from the shrine, and as he walked further from it, the aqua glow faded as though it was saddened by his departure. Rin noticed this, but continued walking toward the beach, following after the other boys. Once he had passed through the veil of trees and was standing on the beach, he could no longer see the rest of the group. The ship was still anchored off-shore, but Rin couldn't see anyone on board. It was as though they had all disappeared.

"What the hell? Where is everyone?" Rin called, thoroughly confused. He really hoped that the island had finished with its tricks.

"Captain," Momo called, grabbing Rin's attention. "You need to see this!"

Rin ran as fast as he could through the sand toward the source of Momo's voice. He drew further from the rowboat, and as he rounded the trees, his heart began to beat fast and his face burned in rage.

"Rin! So nice to see you again!" Kisumi said from a few meters along the beach, holding Rei hostage with a knife to his throat and a large crewman on either side of him. Haru, Nagisa, and Momo stood off to the side, wanting so badly to help, but unwilling to risk Rei's life.

Rin felt a fire burning within his gut. "Kisumi, are you fucking insane?" he asked, his eyes narrow in fury. "I'll kill you!" He reached for his second pistol.

Suddenly, Rei called out to him. "No, Rin-san! Don't! Please think rationally about this!"

Haru looked over toward Rin, and he looked like thinking rationally was the last thing on his mind. His face was a ferocious red, and he showed off his sharp teeth in intimidation. He wrapped his fingers around the butt of his pistol and drew it out from his belt, but as he pointed it toward Kisumi, he caught Rei's eyes. The look he gave Rin silently begged him to hold his temper in check. Rei even gave his head a small shake and mouthed "don't" as Rin snarled at Kisumi from across the beach.

The pistol shook as Rin's hand trembled with rage. How dare Kisumi touch Rei? Rin knew he shouldn't have let Rei out of his sight. He had been so ecstatic about finding the shrine that he had let his guard down and gotten sloppy.

"Rin," Kisumi said, "this can be very simple."

"Shut up!" Rin roared, gesturing his flintlock pistol in Kisumi's direction wildly, his finger dangerously close to the trigger. He looked at Rei again. He didn't want to risk hitting him, but he wanted to jump on Kisumi and beat him to a bloody pulp so badly.

"Rin-san," Rei said, quiet and desperate, "Please."

Rin lowered the gun slowly, and he saw Rei's eyes briefly shine with pride. Rin addressed Kisumi, malice in his gaze. "Talk."

Kisumi smiled his lazy smile. "Like I said, this can be very simple," he drawled. "Just give me Haru."

Nagisa and Momo jumped on Haru, wrapping their arms around him. Haru looked a bit annoyed at their grabbing.

"No, don't take him!" Nagisa cried.

Kisumi chuckled. "That is my one offer, Rin. Give me Haru, and you can have your crew back."

"You have the rest of them too?" Rin asked, outraged.

Kisumi nodded and gestured to Rin's ship. "Your ship is empty at the moment, Rin."

Rin felt his rage burning anew. His whole crew had been taken by Kisumi. And of course, his beloved sister too.

"Let me see Gou," he said bluntly. "She'd better be okay, or you're going to die."

Kisumi scoffed. "Of course she's fine, but if you insist." He nodded his head to one of the men next to him, who waved a hand at the ship, signaling them to bring the hostages forward.

Suddenly, on the edge of Kisumi's ship, Rin could see Gou, Sousuke, Ai, and Makoto with their hands bound, but safe. He then looked back to Kisumi and Rei and stared intensely at the knife at Rei's neck. "Him too," Rin said, "I want to see him safe as well."

"Then hand Haru over."

"Give me Rei first. You have five of my crewmen," Rin said, "I only have one thing you want."

Kisumi sighed and removed the knife from Rei's neck, allowing him to go free. "Fine, that is a valid point."

Rei returned quickly to Rin's side, jumping behind him and putting Rin's body between himself and Kisumi. Rin wanted to embrace him and never let anyone touch him ever again, but he also wanted to keep up his tough pirate facade, so he continued staring Kisumi down.

Rei whispered in Rin's ear, "Be careful, Rin-san. He could have any number of tricks up his sleeve."

Rin considered that for a moment, and he knew that Rei was right. As much as Rin disliked Haru and didn't care one bit if he gave him over to Kisumi, Rin knew that he wanted to keep an eye on Kisumi so he wouldn't be able to surprise him like this again.

"I'm adding an extra clause to our trade," Rin said.

"Name it," Kisumi replied.

If there was one thing Rin wanted to strive for in his life, it was being unpredictable.

"Help me find the egg."

Kisumi looked rather surprised about that, as did everyone else, including Rei.

"Rin, I-" Kisumi started, but Rin promptly cut him off.

"Don't play dumb. I know you know what I'm talking about. If you want him-" He pointed his gun at Haru- "Work with me."

It took Kisumi a moment to wipe the dumbfounded look off his face. Was Kisumi hearing him correctly? He actually wanted to work with him to find the egg? Did that mean Rin would give up any information he had regarding the egg? Kisumi really didn't see a downside to this deal, but at the same time, he didn't want to seem too eager. He brought his hand to his chin to make it look like he was deep in thought and consideration over Rin's offer.

"I'm a servant of the king. Why should I work with a pirate?" he asked.

"You want him, don't you?" Rin asked. "If so, you need to make a deal with me. Join me and we'll combine our forces. Then we'll find the egg in no time."

"R-Rin-san," Rei stuttered from behind Rin. "I don't know if this is such a good idea."

Rin turned his head slightly to address Rei, his expression softer than it had been previously. "Well, you didn't want me to hurt him. Why not work with him instead?"

Rei was very surprised at Rin's change of heart, but he was also very impressed. This was the first time that Rei felt like Rin was actually trying to make a beneficial change to his personality. An odd sense of pride swelled in Rei's heart, and he set his hands on Rin's shoulders, giving them a gentle squeeze as he smiled sweetly. "Alright, Rin-san. I trust you to make the right decision."

Rin turned back to Kisumi. "Well? What do you say?"

"Hmm, I suppose you leave me no choice," Kisumi said, "but I don't take orders from pirates."

Rin turned his head to Haru and pointed his gun at him once more. "Well, go on," he said, nodding his head toward Kisumi.

Nagisa and Momo didn't let go of Haru, staunchly holding on to him in protest.

"You can't make me let go of Haru-chan!" Nagisa called. "I'll never let that guy take him!"

Haru held up his hand, calming the two boys gripping him tightly. "It's alright. I'll go with him." Nagisa and Momo both let go of him, shocked, and Haru turned to Kisumi. "Just please don't hurt them."

The expression on Kisumi's face was blissful. "Of course, Haru! Anything you say!" He turned back to the ship and waved his arm, yelling, "Cut their bonds!" and Takuya severed all the ropes on their wrists, freeing them. Kisumi called out to Takuya again. "Take them back to their ship, then come back for us!"

"Come on," Rin called to Nagisa and Momo, "Let's get back to the ship. You guys are rowing!"

Forlorn, the two younger boys left Haru's side, padding over to the rowboat and working on getting it out of its sedentary position on the beach, and Haru moved to stand next to Kisumi and his two other crewmen. Kisumi took his hand.

"I'm so glad you decided to join me Haru," he gushed. "I can have a bath ready for you within an hour of boarding the ship, if you desire."

Haru tried not to give away how excited that made him. "That would be nice," he said carefully.

Kisumi smiled widely. "Consider it done."

----------

Once everyone was back on their respective ships, Rei had to get Rin alone in the captain's cabin to ask him a burning question.

"While I am very impressed at your actions today, what are you hoping to gain from this partnership, Rin-san?"

Rin glanced up at him from his chair behind the desk. Rei hadn't seen him sit there since they had been trapped in here during the sandstorm.

"That's simple. Number one: information. Any help I can get regarding this journey will be beneficial." He leaned forward and put his elbows on the desk. "Number two: I want to keep an eye on him. He's sneaky, and I don't want him surprising us like he did today ever again."

Those were both very good points. "I suppose you are onto something."

Rin put a hand up to halt Rei's words. "There is one more reason as well."

"Please tell me, Rin-san."

"I did it because I wanted to make you happy. You didn't want me to hurt him, and you want me to try to be more open and compassionate." Rin cast his eyes down toward the desk, a slight blush on his cheeks. "So, I figured that would be a good place to start."

Rei smiled. He was so pleased with the thought process that Rin had had today. He circled the desk and put a hand on Rin's shoulder. "That is indeed admirable, Rin-san. Forgiving your enemies is a great feat worthy of a king."

Rin looked up at him in confusion, one eyebrow raised. "I never said I forgive him. I'm just agreeing to work with him."

Rei chuckled and leaned down, bringing his face close to Rin's and said, "That is a good start." He smiled and glanced down at Rin's lips, staring for a few seconds. "Can I kiss you, Rin-san?"

Rin flushed again before regaining his composure and smirking. "I thought you'd never ask." His hand crawled along the back of Rei's neck and pulled him in for a sweet, simple kiss, but before he could deepen it, Rei pulled back slightly.

"Thank you for reacting quickly to that monster in the jungle. Even though it probably couldn't have hurt us, it meant a lot to me when you jumped in front of everyone to take it on." He kissed Rin quickly again. "I'm starting to see that great man in you come to the surface. Please keep him around, Rin-san."

"If it gets me more of this, I'll be on my best behaviour," he said, smirking.

Rei pulled away further, standing to his full height next to the desk. "I must confess, I'm starting to feel rather strongly for you. Your actions today were a big influence, and I would love to see more."

Rin couldn't believe that Rei had basically just admitted to being in love with him. "I... uh... feel strongly for you as well, Rei," he mumbled.

Rei smiled and rounded the desk, heading toward the doorway. "Then keep impressing me," he said, before leaving the cabin.

Even though Rei was gone, Rin whispered, "I will."

He would not fall through on that promise.

Chapter Text

After returning to the ship, Haru and Kisumi retreated to the captain's cabin while they waited for Haru's bath to be drawn.

"You didn't have to do that," Haru said.

Kisumi looked up at him, smirking. "Do what?"

"Take everyone hostage to antagonize Rin," Haru explained. " Especially Rei. That's dangerous."

"Why 'especially Rei'? I wasn't trying to grab him specifically, he was just the first one that appeared out of the jungle, and therefore the most convenient to grab," Kisumi said.

Haru cast his gaze downward. "Rin sees Rei like his property. When we were first kidnapped, Rei was kept in Rin's cabin and forced to decode his map. When he did, Rin knew that he couldn't let go of Rei for anything, so it's dangerous to put yourself in between them. He won't hesitate to kill you."

Kisumi smiled. "Well, now I don't have to anymore! I have you back!"

Haru frowned. "Stop."

"Haru," Kisumi began, "Do you still believe that all I want is to keep you as a house husband? You're a captain of the King's Navy! You are incredibly important and useful, and you have information that I could use."

Haru was suddenly intrigued. "Go on."

"Obviously, you know that I was looking for Iwatobi, just the same as you were. I told you that before. I was the first one sent out by King Sasabe on the mission to find Iwatobi. When Rin captured me, I lost contact with him. He thought I was gone forever, so he had a new crew assembled," Kisumi explained. "It just so happened that the second crew was also captured by Rin. King Sasabe is probably wondering why he hasn't heard from us in a while."

"We could go back to Katagami now and explain the situation," Haru said, but Kisumi shook his head.

"We can't leave Rin now. I promised to stick with him in exchange for you."

Haru grumbled. "I don't like seeing anyone fall so easily into working for Rin."

Kisumi tilted his head in confusion. "What do you mean?"

Haru scowled, his eyes narrowing. "When we were kidnapped, my crew seemed to fall into service for him very easily. I don't know what it is that makes people obey him so quickly, but fear might be a part of it. As long as they're afraid, they will continue to serve him." He looked back up at Kisumi. "I don't like that.'

Kisumi looked over Haru's clothing. He wore a simple white shirt and brown pants with a red sash tied around his waist as a belt. He didn't look anything like the captain he should. "Haru, would you like a new captain's jacket?"

Haru went silent, his eyes widening in confusion.

Chuckling, Kisumi elaborated, "Would you like to be restored to the authority of a captain? You could be my co-captain, if you'd like. You have experience, and the king chose you to be the next captain after me, so you are obviously talented."

Haru stayed silent, unsure if Kisumi was serious or not.

Waving a hand, Kisumi said, "You don't have to decide anything, of course, until you've had your bath. Think about it." He got up to leave, moving toward the door, but Haru spoke.

"I'll do it."

Kisumi stopped in his tracks and turned back to him, smiling. "I'm so glad for that." He moved to stand in front of Haru and put his hands on his shoulders, his expression serious. "Tell me everything. What has Rin done? What does he know?"

Haru was surprised by Kisumi's sudden humorless demeanor. Based on what he had seen so far, he hadn't thought him able to be serious like this. With alarmed eyes, he tried to step back away from Kisumi's grip, but he was held fast and Kisumi smiled again.

"I'm sorry for becoming so stern and businesslike, but I really would like to know what Rin has been up to," he said, smiling sweetly. "Please tell me, Haru."

Haru was silent for a few more seconds before answering. "We've been to the shrine."

Kisumi's eyes shone. "Really? Fascinating... Please tell me more!"

"Rin doesn't really know much more. He's just moving forward as best as he can; he has no real plan."

Kisumi glanced off to the side and stroked his chin in thought. "Hmm, then we should just follow along behind him as he does all the hard work for us."

"As I said before," Haru said, "Rei is his brain. If you want to get to Iwatobi, you can't get between Rin and Rei, though I'm loathe to allow them to stay together for long." Haru looked angry at the thought.

Kisumi tilted his head. "Why does it bother you?"

Haru was silent again, his eyes narrow in anger. Kisumi was about to speak, but Haru cut him off. "I feel like they are too close," he said. "I fear that Rei has already become attached to him. He may not be loyal to me anymore."

Kisumi spoke gently. "It is a fine line that we must toe regarding them." He tapped a heel on the wood floor. "We have to allow them to be together to find Iwatobi, but we need to keep Rei on our side."

"Rei took a liking to Rin very quickly. They spend a lot of time together on the ship. Whether it is out of fear, or Rei harboring deeper feelings for Rin, I do not know, but it is concerning."

"We'll keep an eye on them," Kisumi said, "but don't worry yourself about it now. We'll put all our efforts into learning as much as we can from Rin. He'll have to tell us what he knows if he wants us to help him, and you can leave the gathering of information to me." He winked at the end of his sentence, as though he had some covert plan.

Haru nodded once, and Kisumi walked over to the door, throwing it open. He called out to his First Mate.

"Takuya! How much longer for Haru's bath?"

"The cold water is already in the tub, and the cooks are just boiling the hot water to add now!" Takuya called back from somewhere outside.

"Please inform me when it's ready!"

"Yes, Captain!"

Kisumi was about to turn back and close the door when he remembered one more thing he wanted to ask Takuya. "Also, when Haru is in the bath, have his clothing cleaned!"

"Yes, Captain."

Haru was impressed with the amount that Kisumi was doing for him, but with how much trouble he had gone through to obtain him, Haru really shouldn't have been surprised. "Why are you doing this for me?" he asked.

Kisumi turned to him. "We're part of the Royal Navy. We take care of each other. That's our duty."

----------

Only a few minutes later, Takuya knocked on the door and informed Kisumi that Haru's bath was ready. The tub had been placed on the level just underneath the main deck, but could be moved in the future, depending on where Haru wanted it. When they reached the tub, the water was steaming, and Kisumi ordered all the crewmen off the lower deck and up to the main deck, so Haru could have some privacy. Haru looked over the water and dipped his hand in. It was hot, but not too hot.

"Please make yourself comfortable."

Before Kisumi had even finished his sentence, Haru was stripping. He seemed to have no qualm with Kisumi being in the room with him. He made no move to hide his naked body.

"So bold," Kisumi said as Haru stripped down to nothing, dropping his dirty clothing on the floor. Kisumi gathered them up, setting his boots off to the side, and said, "This will be cleaned while you bathe. I'll get someone on it right away and have them returned to you before you finish, though they might still be a little damp."

"That's fine," Haru said, climbing into the tub and seating himself in the warm water. "It's better than I had before." He sunk down neck deep in the water and closed his eyes, indulging in the warmth surrounding him. Nothing in the world could cradle and comfort him like water. His blissful silence was only broken by Kisumi's next question.

"Will you be needing anything else, Haru?"

"No, thank you," he answered simply, "this will be fine."

"Then I'll leave you in peace," he said, and with that, left, taking Haru's dirty clothes to be quickly laundered, and allowing him the entire deck to himself.

----------

After handing off Haru's dirty clothes to another crewman, Kisumi went back to his cabin. He opened up his closet and pulled out a magnificent captain's jacket similar to his own. Where his own jacket was white and flashy and embroidered with gold thread, this one was black, sleek and sophisticated with silver buttons. He had bought it in Harami with the intention of offering Haru the position of his co-captain then, but as he had been taken back by Sousuke, Kisumi had not had the opportunity. Now he did, and Haru had accepted his offer. He laid the jacket down on the bed and admired it. He had chosen something that was similar to his own, but suited Haru as well. He had even picked up a matching hat. He would present them to Haru once he was done his bath.

----------

"How did I get stuck with this job?" the crewman said. He was the one that Kisumi had handed Haru's dirty clothes off to, now he was in charge of washing them. He scrubbed as much dirt and sweat out of them as he could in a bucket of soap and water before hanging them over the railing of the main deck to quickly air dry. The desert sun and warm breeze made quick work of them, with only a few grains of sand stuck to them by the time they were dry. Kisumi gathered them up and went back down to give them to Haru, who had been in the bath for over one hour now.

"Haru!" Kisumi said as he entered the room. "Here's your clothing back." He set them down and moved toward the tub, sticking his hand in the water. "Just as I suspected; the water is cold," he said, grinning down at Haru. "You've been in here for a long time."

"It's comfortable," Haru said, bringing his knees to his chest.

Kisumi chuckled before he said, "Well, you can stay in longer if you want, but your clothes are clean." He pointed to where he had set them, all neatly folded. "Then, when you are done, I have a present for you in my cabin."

Haru perked up slightly. "What kind of present?" he asked calmly, a neutral expression on his face.

"Your new coat and hat, of course."

Haru looked down into the water, his eyes sparkling, but he didn't give away how excited he was. "I'll get out," he said. After being on Rin's ship as nothing more than a crewman, he wanted to feel like a captain again.

"Feel free to join me in my cabin after you've dressed," Kisumi said, turning away from Haru before he left the tub. He left the room, going back above deck to allow Haru some modesty, though Haru really didn't seem to care. He climbed out of the tub and wiped his body off with a bit of fabric dedicated as a towel. Once he was sufficiently dry, he dressed himself and stood still for a moment, savoring the feeling of clean clothes on his skin. It had been a long time since he had felt that.

He then decided to make his way to Kisumi's cabin to claim his title. He pushed open the door and found Kisumi sitting on his bed. He sprang up when Haru entered the room.

"Haru, you're here!" He turned back to the bed and lifted the coat, thrusting it toward Haru. "Here is your new coat. Do you like it?"

Haru did. It was not garish or ugly or too flashy- all things that he had worried about when he heard that Kisumi was the one who had bought it. He figured that if the coat looked anything like Kisumi's, it would not suit him, but this one did. It was a simple black. Admittedly, it may not be comfortable under the desert sun, but at least he wouldn't look like Kisumi.

"I like it," he said, "but what's the catch?"

Kisumi looked scandalized. "No catch! Though I suppose I could ask for a kiss as payment-" he saw Haru's eyes widen in alarm- "but no, I wouldn't ask you for that." He continued to hold out the coat toward Haru. "It's yours."

Approaching him carefully, Haru took the coat and slipped it on over his shirt. Kisumi leaned down toward the bed and picked up the hat as well.

"The final touch."

Haru moved to take the hat from him, but Kisumi pulled it back.

"Allow me," he said. Haru was a bit apprehensive at that, but he gave in after a moment and allowed Kisumi to place the hat gently on his head. There was a light in his eyes that Haru couldn't decide if he liked or not, and suddenly Kisumi was gazing up at him from down on one knee.

"Haru-" Kisumi took his hand- "you have no idea how happy it makes me to have you on my ship and away from Rin. I'm sure you have heard the stories about him." He laid a kiss upon Haru's hand. "You're safe here."

Haru opened his mouth as if to speak, but Kisumi cut him off.

"We will keep an eye on the others as well. I won't let anything happen to them," he said. "We may even be able to win them back from Rin and bring them to our ship. Then we'll have Rei. We can leave Rin in the dust and find Iwatobi on our own."

Haru nodded. "Something to work toward."

----------

Rin and Kisumi took a few minutes to talk at each other from the decks of their ships trying to decide their next move.

"We should continue on to find the next island!" Kisumi said.

"My crew needs rest!" Rin barked, leaning over the railing toward him. "Half of them were hostages, and half of them traveled through a fucked up forest! I'm not sailing any further until we get some rest!"

"That wouldn't be a problem if you had more crewmen." Kisumi crossed his arms smugly.

Rin narrowed his eyes in anger. "Whose fault is that?" he seethed. He remembered the day when his previous crew left him for Kisumi, abandoning the pirate life to serve the king. He was still bitter about it.

Kisumi sighed from his ship. "Fine, we'll stay here for the night, but as soon as the sun rises, we have to go."

"Deal." Rin looked past Kisumi toward Haru standing behind him, looking as stony as ever. Rin scowled at the new hat and coat Kisumi had given him, restoring him to the level of captain. Rin didn't like that. Kisumi was the one he'd address as captain, not Haru.

Rei, on the other hand, was very pleased that Haru had regained the title of captain, even if it was only in spirit and he didn't have his own ship to sail or crew to command. He liked seeing him as a captain again. It pleased the rest of his former crew as well. Both Makoto and Nagisa were delighted to see him in his new finery.

Once it had been decided that they would rest for the night, everyone retreated back into their own ships to have a quick, small meal as the sun went down, then retired to their sleeping quarters.

Now that Haru was gone, Makoto felt uneasy. He tried his best to keep his feelings calm, but having Haru be on Kisumi's ship alone scared him, even though Haru had agreed to go. He couldn't shake the feeling that something bad would happen.

After they had laid down on their bunks, Nagisa noticed Makoto's solemn expression and leaned over the edge of his bed, looking down at him from his bunk on the top level. "What's wrong, Mako-chan?" he asked, drawing not only Makoto's attention, but the attention of everyone else as well.

Makoto looked up at him, flushing in embarrassment as he noticed everyone else looking at him as well. "I'm just worried about Haru," he said carefully.

"We're all worried about him too," Ai said. "I loved having him around to help out in the galley."

"I agree, Makoto-san. I'm also worried about Haruka-san," Rei started, "but he is a very smart individual and fully capable of handling the situation on his own. I don't think he needs us to worry about him." Rei fluffed the pillow under his head and took off his glasses, setting them next to his pillow before closing his eyes.

"You're right, Rei. He's strong, but I can't help but worry." Makoto laid his head down on the pillow.

"That's alright, Makoto-san," Rei said, already slipping into sleep, "That makes you human."

-----------

Rin got barely any sleep that night. He was uneasy about Kisumi and his crew being so close; it had him on edge all night. He only managed to catch a few hours of sleep periodically, while at the same time, trying to watch out for any ambushes that may occur. He kept his belt with his pistols and sword on the floor next to his bed in case anything happened. He was probably worrying over nothing, but he would rather be too watchful than not enough.

When the sun finally started to rise, Rin decided to give up on trying to sleep and rose from his bed, collecting his weapons on the way. After putting his boots on, he went over to his desk and sat down in his chair, pulling the map out of his jacket and laying it out on the desk. He looked closely at the islands depicted on it. Their ship was still anchored off the shrine island, which was labeled "Horizon Island" on Rin's map. Now that they knew where the shrine island was in relation to the other two islands, they should be easy to find.

On that thought, he sat back in his chair, waiting for the rise of both the sun and his crew.

----------

After dozing in his chair on and off for another hour, he was roused by a knock on his door.

"Captain-" It was Sousuke. He always rose with the sun- "It's morning."

Rin called out to him, "I'm already awake." He stood and moved to the door, opening it and coming face-to-face with Sousuke, who seemed surprised that Rin was awake before him. "Couldn't sleep very well."

Sousuke nodded as if he understood why Rin had had trouble sleeping. "No one else is awake yet over here," he said. "I'm not sure about over there." He tilted his head toward Kisumi's ship.

Rin scowled at the mere thought of Kisumi's ship anchored next to his own. He hated the idea of working together with him and giving him any information about the shrine or Iwatobi. "Let's get this over with," he said, pushing past Sousuke and exiting his cabin. "Wake the others. I want my crew ready before his."

Sousuke nodded. "Yes, Captain."

He watched Sousuke go, then turned his eyes to Kisumi's ship again. The grand vessel made his own ship look like a dinghy. As he stared, he saw a door on the ship open and Kisumi step into view. He was yawning and stretching his arms above his head. Rin smirked and addressed him.

"So, you're finally awake? Took you long enough," he said, crossing his arms in mock annoyance.

Kisumi glanced over at him and smiled. "Aw, Rin," he started, Haru emerging from the doorway behind him, "You were waiting up for us? How sweet!"

Haru almost laughed at that, but he held his gaze, not even a smile breaking over his lips.

Suddenly, Rin felt his anger growing. He took a deep breath to calm himself. "We had a deal, didn't we?"

"Indeed," Kisumi said, "So where are we going, Rin?"

Now Rin was confused. "What are you talking about?"

Kisumi had begun to look impatient. He crossed his arms, for it was his turn to exhibit annoyance. "You have the map! You set the charts!"

"Are you telling me that you have no idea where to go?" Rin asked.

"Why would I know? You have the map!" he replied, shrugging as if it were common knowledge.

Rin felt himself getting mad again and knew this was only the beginning of what Kisumi would subject him to. If he wanted to get through this journey without tearing his hair out (or tearing Kisumi limb-from-limb) he needed to not let Kisumi's bullshit bother him. He simply closed his eyes and breathed.

Kisumi glanced over at Haru to gauge his reaction to the little game he was playing with Rin. Though his face had barely changed, Kisumi could see there was a hint of something akin to amusement. He'd pull a smile out of Haru if it was the last thing he ever did. He wanted to see that smile.

Rin spoke suddenly, "Lucky for you then that I actually know what I'm doing."

"Really? I heard something different," Kisumi said, touching his chin as if he were actually considering Rin's words.

Before Rin let his anger get away from him, he said, "Yes, I have the map, therefore I'm already ten steps ahead of you."

"Then tell us where to go," Kisumi said simply.

Rin glanced back and forth between Haru and Kisumi for a moment before speaking. "Fine. As soon as my crew is on deck, we sail." There was a sound of a door opening below him, and Rin leaned over the railing to look down on to the main deck. Rei had emerged from the doorway.

"Rei!" he called, garnering his attention. "Come up here. Let's go over the map."

"Sure," he said, climbing the stairs to the upper level.

Rin handed him the map. "Chart our course to Iwatobi Island."

Rei was willing, but apprehensive. "Iwatobi Island? Rin-san, how are we supposed to get there?" he asked.

"We know where the shrine island is, so it should be easy to find the others now too."

Rei considered this. "Hm, that makes sense. It can't hurt to try." He opened the map and looked thoroughly at it. "We want to sail northeast. According to this, we should see it before we hit the mainland."

"We sail as soon as possible," Rin said. Just then, there was another sound of a door below them. Rin looked over the railing again - it was Gou.

"Gou-" She looked up- "Have Momo and Nagisa raise the anchor and get Sousuke and Makoto up here! We're going!"

"Sure," she said, disappearing below deck, only to reappear a few seconds later with Sousuke and Makoto, who immediately began working on the sails.

Rin looked back over toward Kisumi's ship and was astonished at the amount of crewmen that had joined their captain on deck within such a short time. Rin was a bit upset at this. He had wanted to begin sailing a few minutes ahead of them and leave them struggling to catch up, but it seemed that wouldn't be the case. The crew was working quickly to get everything in order, and Rin had never seen them work that fast when they were part of his crew. He scowled at the memory.

When Rin looked back toward Sousuke and Makoto, they weren't working nearly as fast as he wanted them to, but he knew that he shouldn't yell at them to work faster because Rei was out here with him. Instead, he took hold of the wheel and waited for a route from Rei.

A few moments more and Rei approached him.

"I have our routing ready."

"Great," he said. He then called over to Kisumi, "Try to keep up!"

"Don't worry about that! Just don't run us aground!" Kisumi said, laughing.

Rin sneered, but a voice distracted him.

"We're all ready down here, Captain!" Sousuke called.

Rin's attention went back to sailing. "Perfect, give us a bit of speed until we're far enough from the island!"

----------

After a few minutes, the ship picked up speed as they drifted further from the shrine island and into the northeast, looking for an island none of them had ever seen or been to. The only clue they had about the island was that it probably had a mountain on it because there was a tiny mountain drawn on the small circle of land on the map. Ai was in the crow's nest with his spyglass, keeping a sharp eye out for any land that they came across while Rei kept his mind on their position and route. Kisumi was an ever present shadow behind them, never making any move to pass. He just contented himself with sailing along in the path they carved.

After a while, Haru became bored with being on the main deck and went below to the galley, eager to experiment with everything that Kisumi's galley had to offer. He did not emerge for the entire morning, as their journey was very uneventful. Both crews saw nothing except golden sand and blue sky for hours, and the sun was starting to feel unbearably hot. Except for the sound of the ships pushing through the sand, the desert was quiet. Eventually, by some divine intervention, Ai found a point of land on the horizon.

"I see an island to the east!" he called.

Rin turned the wheel slightly to the right. "Then that's where we're going."

The small island started to grow as they came closer to it, Kisumi following along behind them. Behind the island, the mainland started to come into view.

Rei looked down at the map and stared in confusion. "I don't think that's the one," he said quietly.

"We'll check it out anyway," Rin replied, steering ever closer to the mystery island. Rei was certain this island was a small fort meant to serve as a lookout for the city of Katagami - the city where the king lived. Had they really gone this way? Rei had charted their course to sail northeast. They shouldn't be anywhere near here. Rei gazed out at the small outpost. The only thing on the island was a single sentry tower occupied by a few guards at the top of the mountain. They were to keep watch for attacking ships and light the beacon to warn the garrison in the city if someone with malicious intent were to pass by. Rei was a bit worried that Rin would draw too close to the island and alert the guards, but after getting close and studying it for a few seconds, he sailed right past and continued toward the city. Rei supposed the guards wouldn't sound the alarm for them anyway; a royal naval ship was tailing them, after all.

"Rin-san, what are you doing?" Rei asked, confused.

Rin turned his head toward him. "I know where we are." He knew this place well - the outpost, the safe ocean paths leading in and out of the city, and the city itself. He was familiar with it all.

This was where he and Gou had been born.

Gou rushed up the stairs once she realized where they were, suddenly joining Rin and Rei on the upper deck and jabbing an elbow into Rin's side playfully. "What the heck is going on? Do you miss mum?" she asked. "Are we gonna visit her?"

Rin was about to say something snarky back to her, but decided against it. He missed his mother, and he was sure Gou did as well. "Yeah, why not?" he said.

"Oh, that's exciting! She'll be so happy to see us!"

Rei was listening to the conversation between the siblings, and he was honestly at a loss for words. Rin, a fierce pirate captain, wanted to visit his mother? That was the most adorable thing Rei had ever heard. He couldn't help the smile that blossomed on his face and turned away from Rin to hide it.

"Go get ready," Rin said, sending Gou off. "We'll be at the docks soon."

"Yes, Captain!" she said, giving him a playful salute and running off to her cabin.

Rei watched Gou leave and returned to Rin's side, a small smile still present on his face. He was about to open his mouth to say something, but Rin cut him off.

"You can't come."

The words were so blunt and matter-of-fact that Rei almost felt like he was suddenly being excluded from Rin's life.

"What would you have me do here, Rin-san?" he asked.

"You can do as you please," he answered. "You've been to this city before, haven't you? Enjoy a day without me."

Rei could hear a slight melancholy in his voice, as though he was loath to be away from him for a day. "I have been here before. In fact, I lived here for quite some time after I became part of the royal Navy. Katagami is where the king lives," he said.

"I was born here," Rin stated. "Gou as well."

"You know this place well then. Do the citizens know you well too? The king is after you for being a pirate, so perhaps it's not such a good idea for us to come here."

Rin shook his head. "It's not a good idea, but it has been a long time since we have seen our mother, so we'll take the chance."

"You should be careful. Perhaps a disguise is a good idea? Do you have any other clothing?" Rei asked.

Rin was silent for a moment as he considered Rei's words. "I do have something."

"Please wear it if it will make you look less like a pirate," Rei said.

"I'll change after we get to the docks."

----------

Only when the ship was finally tied firmly at the pier did Rin return to has cabin to get changed. Rei waited patiently to see what Rin had in store for a disguise, and after a few minutes, Gou returned to the helm where Rei was waiting. She was wearing a floor-length, red silk dress with a large puffy skirt and a tightly-cinched waist. There were black lace trimmings on the bottoms of the sleeves, the front of the bodice, and all down the front of the dress. The neckline was cut low, leaving her shoulders exposed, and her hair was up in a hastily-done updo. Completing the look was a small black hat with feathers and red lace fixed to her hair with pins and a black sash under her chin. She also carried a black lace fan to keep herself cool in the desert heat.

Rei was fascinated by her transformation from carefree pirate to gorgeous socialite. "Gou-san, how did you do that?"

She stopped just before the door to Rin's cabin. She had been about to enter to help her brother dress. "What do you mean?"

"I have never seen you look like that." He gestured to the dress.

"Oh, yes-" she looked over the dress briefly- "Well, it's not very practical for everyday wear, and I do have to wear a corset with it. It also takes forever to put on, but our mother made these outfits for us, so we wear them when we visit her."

"Well, it is very beautiful."

Gou smiled. "Thank you, Rei. Now, I have to check on Rin and see if he needs any help. If you will excuse me," she said, dipping in a curtsy before she opened the door to Rin's cabin and slipped inside.

After a few more minutes, Gou emerged from Rin's cabin and said, "He's just putting the finishing touches on his outfit, then he'll be right out." She suddenly remembered the day when Rin and Rei had disappeared into private when Rei had been seasick and giggled behind her hand. "Brace yourself, Rei. If you thought I looked good, get ready to be blown away."

At that, she left, leaving Rei flushing red as he waited for Rin. He had grown so curious. He wondered if Rin's outfit would match Gou's. Rei couldn't imagine Rin looking good in an all-red silk outfit, but he didn't have to wait much longer. A door opened, catching his attention and pulling his eyes to Rin's form standing in the doorway. Rei couldn't believe how good he looked. He was dressed in all black, with only a few touches of red detail, including a red satin cravat. He wore a high-collared shirt under a silk vest embroidered with red details. His damask-patterned overcoat was long, falling all the way to his knees and just brushing the tops of his black leather boots. The only plain thing about his outfit was the pants, a simple black, though his belt buckle was shiny metal shaped into a disk and painted red, gold, and black. Even though Rei didn't recognize the design, it looked expensive. Everything about Rin's outfit looked expensive, right down to the tall, exquisitely-carved cane painted with black lacquer. The metal head of the cane was shaped like a shark's head.

"So," Rin started, "What do you think?"

Rei wanted to say something, anything, but he could find no words to describe how beautiful Rin looked.

Rin chuckled. "I'm glad you like it," he said, striding past Rei and showing off. "It's fucking uncomfortable to wear, but my mom loves it and she made it for me, so I'll suffer through it. You want to know my favourite part?" He smirked and pulled on the head of the cane, exposing a sharp dagger hidden within. He glanced over Rei for a moment, then sheathed the knife. "Meet me in the market square later. We'll do some shopping." He moved down the stairs and Rei followed him, unable to look away. Rin stepped toward Gou and held out an arm to her. "Shall we?"

She closed her fan and smiled, taking his arm and allowing him to lead her over the gangway. "Lead the way, Rin."

Rei was startled out of his stupor by Makoto's voice.

"Wow, they look pretty fancy, don't you think, Rei?" he said.

Rei took a moment to compose himself. "Er, yeah." He looked back toward them walking along the docks and knew that they would be fine today. Something in his mind told him that no one would suspect them of being anything other than nobility.

----------

As soon as Rin had made it clear that he was going to land at Katagami, Kisumi had instructed one of his crewmen to bring Haru above deck, and Haru had recognized where they were in an instant. He looked up at Kisumi in surprise, and Kisumi gave him a wink.

"Why the hell was Rin leading them here?" Haru thought.

"I guess you'll get to talk to the king after all, Haru!" Kisumi called.

----------

They tied the ship up at the dock only a few minutes after Rin had, then they stepped off the ship onto the dock at the same time as Rin and Gou had been leaving dressed in their fancy outfits. Kisumi was about to ask them why they had landed here, but now he would not have the chance. He turned to Haru and said, "Let's go talk with the king." but Haru was not looking at him. Instead, his gaze was fixed on Rin's ship. Kisumi wondered why and followed his line of sight to Rei. He was silent for a while longer, allowing Rin and Gou to get far enough away as to not hear him call out to Rei.

"Rei," Haru said, grabbing his attention. "Would you like to come with us into the city?"

Rei looked down at Haru on the dock several meters away. Kisumi was behind him, smiling politely. Rei crossed the gangway and joined them on the dock. "That sounds like it would be more fun than waiting around here," Rei answered. "What did you have in mind for the day?"

Kisumi still held his smile. It never seemed to leave his face. "We're going to visit with the king," he said.

Rei was suddenly apprehensive. "Why?"

"To let him know we're okay," Haru answered.

"Should we tell him about Rin?"

"Of course," Haru started, but Kisumi silenced him.

"I think we should tell the king about Rin and what he's doing, but I think we should be very careful about what information we give him," Kisumi said.

Rei needed clarification on this. "What should we say to him?"

"We should tell him that we are using him to find Iwatobi," Kisumi started, "And if we let him do all the work, he will lead us right to it. We'll go that route with King Sasabe. He should be alright with that. I think we should tell him that our ships -mine and Haru's, I mean- met up and we're working together to trail Rin and find out what he knows. Don't tell him that we're actually working with Rin; he may have us executed."

Haru spoke then. "Kisumi, that sounds pretty shady, almost like you want to disobey the king."

"Not at all, Haru, it's just that the easiest way that we can get Iwatobi is by letting Rin do all the hard work, and the king might not be okay with us working with pirates, but following Rin and swooping in to take Iwatobi just before he can grab it? King Sasabe will love that," Kisumi explained. "He wants the bird any way we can get it; the fate of the people depends on it, and our best chance is working with Rin. What the king doesn't know won't hurt him."

"You have a point," Haru said.

"Why don't we just let Rin go through with his plan?" Rei asked, causing both Kisumi and Haru to look over at him. "The king wants to help the people by bringing back the ocean, right? That's what Rin wants too, so maybe we can just let him go through with it?"

Kisumi shook his head. "Pirates only want two things: fame and gold. He'll probably take the golden egg for himself and sell it for a fortune. A solid gold egg would earn him enough money to take over the entire kingdom." A grave expression descended over his face. "We can't trust him."

Rei wanted to tell Kisumi that he was wrong, and that Rin was sweet and kind underneath the surface, but he didn't dare defy someone of higher status than him, so he remained silent and lowered his head.

Kisumi turned away from the other two and began to make his way up the dock. Haru looked over Rei's face, studying his features and the odd worry that had surfaced there. He put a hand on Rei's shoulder. "Come on, Rei. Just let us do all the talking when we see the king."

Rei simply nodded and followed along behind Haru as they walked.

----------

Rin led Gou through the narrow streets back to the house where they had grown up. It was a very plain dwelling, a two-story building with a tailor's shop on the main floor and the living space above. Their mother had converted the lower floor into a tailor's shop after their father had died, as she had needed to start earning money to support herself. She had no desire to remarry after the accident.

They stopped in front of the door to the shop and each took a deep breath. It had been months since they had seen their mother. They nodded to each other, signaling that they were ready, and Rin pushed open the door, causing the little bell on the door to jingle. They stepped into the shop, but no one was in the room.

Alerted by the bell, a voice rang out, "Just one second, I'll be right there!"

It was their mother, Miyako, fumbling around in the back room as she did when she had a few free minutes. She didn't yet know who had walked into her shop, and Rin brought a finger to his lips to keep Gou quiet. She nodded, smiling mischievously.

A few seconds later, Miyako stepped into the main room of the shop and her heart almost stopped at the sight of her two beloved children finally home again. She threw her hands in the air and flew towards them, pulling them both into a big hug.

"You're home!" she squealed. "It's been so long!"

"Yes," Rin said softly, allowing all his stress to melt away as he was held by the only two family members he had left. "It has been too long."

"We missed you a lot, Mom!" Gou said.

"And I missed you both as well." Miyako suddenly pulled away from them to look over their outfits. "Those still fit you well. I'm glad to see them in such good shape. Though, I suppose you don't wear them very often," she said. She knew what her children did for a living, and though she worried constantly for them, she would support them no matter what they decided to do. She flipped the sign in the window from 'open' to 'closed' and ushered them both upstairs. "Let's have some tea and catch up."

As Miyako put the kettle on, Rin said, "Mum, I've been making progress on that old map Dad gave me."

"Have you?" she asked. "He would be so proud."

"Rin met someone who can read it!" Gou added.

"I did. He's quite interesting," Rin said. "He's from Harami."

Miyako smiled as she prepared the tea leaves. "That's just across the sea from here. Toraichi used to go over there all the time to buy and sell things. It's where all the scholars live, and they have an amazing marketplace there as well."

Rin's chest tightened at the mention of his father, but he expertly held his feelings back.

"Rin?" Miyako said, causing him to look up at her. She was facing him now, a soft, gentle smile on her face.

"Yes?"

"Do you still have that necklace your father gave you?" she asked.

Rin set his hand upon his chest. The necklace was well protected, set upon his chest underneath his clothing. "Of course. I would never get rid of it."

She closed her eyes, the calm smile still resting upon her lips. "Good. I'm glad you care for it so. It was a gift from the king."

Gou tilted her head "Really? What did Dad do to warrant such an honor?"

"You were both too young to remember, but your father used to sail with the king when he was the heir to the throne. The royal family was having some financial trouble and Sasabe wanted to secure some money for his uncle, who was king at the time. If he could do that, he'd be seen as worthy of the throne, so he put together a crew and Toraichi was a part of it." She smiled fondly at the memory of her late husband. "He was one of the best navigators in the land and was actually a good friend to Sasabe."

Rin felt his eyes grow teary at the information that his mother presented. He had never known these things about his father. He and Gou listened to their mother's story with rapt attention.

She continued, "I'm not sure what happened on that journey, but after it was over and the future of the royal family had been secured, the king suddenly passed on. Because Sasabe had been able to find a way for the royal family to continue, he was seen as a worthy heir and he was crowned in a lavish ceremony. Only a few weeks later, Toraichi was invited to the palace for another ceremony. This one was to show off the family's new wealth. He and the rest of Sasabe's crew were gifted trinkets from the new king. Some were given jewels, some were given gold, and some were even given titles and land or the opportunity to work in the palace, but your father was gifted that necklace, and he was happy with it. It became something of an heirloom, passing on to you, Rin."

For the whole story, Rin's hand had not moved from the position on his chest where he felt the silver shark tooth pendant under his clothes. He had known that the necklace had been important to his father, but he had not realized that it had been a gift from the king.

The water suddenly began to whistle in the kettle and Miyako removed it from the heat, quickly filling their cups and setting it to the side.

"That is a nice story, Mom, but is there an heirloom for me?" she asked, mostly joking. She didn't want or need anything except her mother's love.

"I'll leave you my business when I'm too old to continue," she said. "Don't think I'll forget about you."

Gou grew teary eyed at that. "Oh Mom, that is so sweet!" He stood from her chair and rushed over to give her a hug.

"I'm glad you liked that story," she said, "because that's where the sweetness ends. It wasn't long after your father gave you that necklace that he was found dead on his ship." A pained look came over her face, and a few tears welled in her eyes, but she pushed them back. "Now you two are all I have."

Rin stood from his chair. "And I'll take care of you two. Here." He pulled a small bag of gold coins out of his jacket and set it on the table. "That's for you, Mom."

She smiled, setting Gou back in her seat and sitting down herself. "Thank you, Rin. Now, please sit. I'll tell you all about what I've been up to."

----------

After getting past the guards at the gate, the three boys were escorted to the throne room and into the presence of the king.

"Your majesty," Kisumi started, crouching down to rest on one knee, the others following his lead, "we have returned at last."

Sasabe had an annoyed look on his face. "Where have you been? It's been forever since I heard from either of you," he boomed. "What of the mission?"

Kisumi looked up, but remained on one knee. "We were captured by pirates, but we managed to escape, and we now have a lead, your majesty. Iwatobi is within our grasp."

"Explain." The king was suddenly very interested.

"While we were in the clutches of the fierce pirate captain Matsuoka, we discovered that he is also searching for Iwatobi," Kisumi explained. "After escaping with our lives, we began tailing him and recruiting merchant ships to keep tabs on him. He will lead us right to Iwatobi, then we will snatch it right from under him and deliver it to you, your majesty."

Matsuoka. Sasabe didn't want to hear that name; he never wanted to think about that man again. He had done away with him years ago. Toraichi had come far too close to uncovering his misdeeds and he had to disappear. Sasabe had heard about the pirate Matsuoka, but he always assumed that he was not related to Toraichi, but now he could not deny the coincidence of this new Matsuoka following in the footsteps of his father in search of Iwatobi, just as Toraichi and himself had done years ago. If only Sasabe had taken the map that he and Toraichi had used to find Iwatobi the first time, then he wouldn't have to send his own crews out on a fruitless search of the entire sand sea. This pirate was probably using the very same map.

"You were lucky to escape from him, and I trust you will fulfill this mission for me. Matsuoka can not get his hands on the bird, do you understand? He can not be trusted."

Rei's eye twitched in anger, but he kept his head down to hide it from the king.

Kisumi nodded once. "Yes, your majesty. We'll grab it right from under his nose when the time is right. Then we will bring it to you so you can ensure the restoration and balance of the seas for years to come."

"Yes," Sasabe said. "Now go, keep your eyes on him and do not disappoint me."

"We won't," Kisumi said, standing and bowing to the king. Haru and Rei followed his lead, then the three of them departed the throne room and left the palace.

Once they were outside, Rei turned to Kisumi and Haru.

"I'm going to go back to the ship," he said. "If you will excuse me." With that, he slipped away from them and toward the docks.

Haru glanced over at Kisumi. "I don't think he's going back to the ship."

"Me either," Kisumi replied.

"Remember how I said I felt he was far too close with Rin?"

"I do. Let's follow him."

Haru nodded in agreement.

----------

To pass the time while the others were gone, Sousuke and Makoto had decided to go into town. They wandered around the market looking at all the stalls and checking out the shops. Sousuke suddenly pulled lightly on Makoto's arm.

"Let's go in here for a second," he said.

Makoto looked over at the storefront. There were fancy silks and metal statues and crystals in the windows. It confused him; this didn't seem like a place where Sousuke would like to shop, but he followed him inside anyway. Makoto looked around at all of the rich, exotic wares while Sousuke talked to the shopkeeper.

"I want to buy a charm - something that will ward off restlessness and anxiety," he said.

The woman at the counter studied his face, her eyes dark with mystery. She was dressed in extravagant silks and many beads. "You don't seem like a very anxious person," she said.

"It's not for me."

A knowing look came across her face, as though she had solved a great puzzle. "Ah, you are buying for someone you care about. I see." She pulled out a small gemstone - a polished, circular opal with a gorgeous rainbow of colours hidden within, despite its small size. "Human-made charms are not so durable, they are temporary, but natural stones will last a lifetime. That's what you want for someone you love."

"Can you put this on a necklace for me?" he asked. "A simple cord will be fine."

"Of course I can. Unfortunately, this stone is not cheap. I can't accept less than ten gold pieces for it."

"That's fine." He set a handful of gold pieces on the counter.

The woman glanced behind Sousuke and back at Makoto. He was still looking around at all the oddities on the shelves. She then turned her attention back to Sousuke and collected the gold from the counter. "I will be right back with your completed piece. Please feel free to have a look around." She disappeared into the back room, and Sousuke turned back to Makoto. He moved to his side and looked up at all the things that had caught his attention.

"Did you buy something?" Makoto asked, amused by all the things here.

"Yes."

"What is it?"

"A necklace."

Makoto was a bit confused. He looked at Sousuke's bare neck. "But you don't wear necklaces."

"It's not for me," he said, gazing into Makoto's eyes.

Makoto flushed suddenly. "I-Is it for me?" he stuttered. "Y-You don't h-have to do that!"

He took Makoto's hand. "But I want to."

Makoto took a breath to calm himself. "I have to get something for you as well."

"No, you don't."

"But now that you did it, you gave me the idea and I have to follow through with it."

Sousuke chuckled as he watched Makoto look around at the things in the store, searching for something suitable to give him as a gift, but it wasn't until the woman came back with the opal necklace that he realized that jewelry was probably the best idea. It was small and easy to transport and could be on your body at all times. His eyes glanced over the gemstones in the case as Sousuke took the opal necklace from the shopkeeper. His eyes eventually settled on a fair-sized brilliant green stone wrapped in a thin, silver wire frame attached to a silver chain.

"What is this one?" he asked the woman.

"That one is Aventurine. It is known to be one of the luckiest types of stones in the world. It's also a stone that promotes new growth in all opportunities of life." She pulled it out from the case and set it down on the counter. "Because your friend bought that one, I'll let this one go for two gold pieces."

Makoto pulled out two gold pieces from his pocket and set them down on the counter. "Thank you! I will take it."

"Thank you for your business, boys," she said, collecting the gold pieces and smiling at them. "Please enjoy your day, and may those stones serve you well."

Makoto picked up his purchase and nodded to her. The two of them left the store together and walked toward the dry fountain in the middle of the market square, sitting down on the rim. The fountain had been emptied years ago, as water had become too precious.

Sousuke held out the small opal he had purchased for Makoto. "This is supposed to help with anxiety and nerves. Sorry it's so small. It was already pretty expensive."

"I don't care about the size. As long as it's from you, I will gladly accept it," he said. "Also, you probably didn't know this, but opal is my birthstone."

"Really? I picked the right stone then."

Makoto nodded. "Yes! Will you put it on me?"

"Of course," Sousuke replied, fastening the clasp around Makoto's neck easily.

Makoto gave the green stone to Sousuke. The one Makoto had bought was a far larger stone, but it had been cheaper. He guessed it wasn't as valuable as the one that Sousuke had bought him. "I know this one was cheap and you also don't wear necklaces, but maybe you can put it somewhere else."

"I think I'll hang it from my belt," he said, clasping it tightly around the sash of his belt. "And don't worry about the price. Anything from you is perfect."

Makoto smiled, but suddenly caught sight of Rei across the square. Sousuke followed his gaze until his eyes also landed on Rei.

"What is he doing here all alone?" Sousuke asked.

"He looks upset. Maybe we should go see what's wrong." Makoto moved to stand, but Sousuke held him back.

"Wait, it doesn't really look like he wants to be bothered."

Makoto looked over at him again, and Sousuke was right. He seemed tense, like he was deep in thought. As they stared at him, they didn't realize that Rin and Gou had caught sight of them. The siblings had just finished the visit with their mother and come to the market. Rin had told Rei to meet him there earlier.

"Sousuke!" Rin called, snapping their attention to him. "Take Gou back to the ship. I'm not comfortable with letting her walk back alone."

Sousuke and Makoto took a second to realize what had happened, but after gaining their composure, they stood.

"Yes, Captain," Sousuke answered. He then took Gou's arm and began to lead her back to the docks, Makoto right behind him.

As they moved down the street, Rin turned to survey the market square, catching sight of Rei after a moment. He quickly crossed the square and when he came within range, he called out to him.

"Rei!"

Rei was startled at hearing his name so suddenly. He quickly turned his head toward Rin. "R-Rin-san," he stuttered, remembering how much he had liked the outfit Rin wore.

Rin waved his hand toward himself. "Come on, there's something I want to pick up." He started off toward the far end of the market, headed to an unmarked window at the end of the block, and Rei caught up to him easily, falling into step beside him.

"I finally look fancier than you," Rin snickered.

"Er, yes," Rei replied. "You look good."

"Yeah, but it's not really me, don't you think?"

"As far as I've seen, no, it's not."

Rin stopped in front of the door of the shop, turning the handle and pushing inside. An older gentleman sat behind the counter reading a newspaper waiting for customers. This made no sense to Rei, as the shop gave no indication of being anything more than a residential dwelling. There was no signage outside to imply that a store was hidden within. The man glanced over at the two of them and, upon recognizing Rin, immediately set down his newspaper and stood.

"Matsuoka-san, it is good to see you again," the man said, surprising Rei. He guessed Rin was a regular here, seeing as the man recognized him and knew him by name. "What brings you here today?"

"Yoshida-san, I want to buy a new ring," Rin said. Rei was still very confused, but by the fact that the shop was unmarked, he assumed that it was a high-end, independent jeweler and one needed to be told of it to know it was here.

Yoshida nodded and pulled out a small tray of heavy gold rings. "I know you like gold best," he said.

"I do," Rin replied, looking over the ring tray. He wasn't sure what style he wanted, so he let his eyes wander until he saw one he liked. He settled on a plain gold ring with a thick band and a warm, sunny colour. "I want this one. What is the karatage on it?"

Yoshida's eyes lit up. "Ah, you have a fine eye, Matsuoka-san. This one is 22 karats, some of the best gold you can get." He pulled the ring out from the tray and set it in Rin's outstretched hand, allowing him to examine it. He tried it on a couple of different fingers and nodded.

"I'll take it," he said, placing it on his right ring finger, and setting a small bag of gold on the counter. "How much do I owe you?"

"This one is 50 gold pieces," Yoshida replied.

Rei almost fainted at the price of such a simple ring, but if that was what Rin wanted to spend his money on then it was his choice. He watched Rin count out the gold pieces and slide them across the counter to Yoshida.

"Pleasure doing business with you once again, Matsuoka-san."

Rin nodded to him. "Same to you." He glanced at Rei and waved him along. "Let's go, Rei."

All Rei could do was follow him out the door, still amazed at how much money Rin had just spent on his ring. When they were outside, Rei said, "Rin-san, please don't take this the wrong way, but don't you have enough rings already?" He looked down at Rin's hands, where he had a ring for almost every finger.

"You can never have too many rings," he said, holding up his right hand to examine and admire his new gold ring.

Rei left it at that. "Shall we head back to the ship now?" he asked.

"I'm feeling hungry. Let's find some food," Rin said, looking around the market. He settled his eyes on a man grilling skewers of meat. "There-" he pointed to the smoke rising from the man's grill- "Let's get that." He pulled Rei through the crowd, stopping in front of the man. He said, "Give me two of those."

Rei looked down at the skewers on the grill, and he noticed the man was also grilling vegetables. "Actually Rin-san, I'd like one of those," he said, pointing to the vegetable ones.

"Sure, Rei. One of each then."

"It's one gold piece for the meat, and five silver pieces for the vegetables," the cook replied.

Rin dug around in his pouch for the appropriate coins and handed them over to the man, who gave him one skewer of each variety. As they left the stall, Rin handed the vegetable one to Rei. It had slices of bell peppers and mushrooms and broccoli and each one looked more delicious than the last. Rei tried a bite and found that he really loved it.

"How is it?" Rin asked.

After swallowing, Rei replied, "It's amazing! I want to try to make this on the ship!"

Rin tried a bite of his own, chewing it for a few seconds and then swallowing. He sighed. "Unfortunately, I can't have grilled meat like this on the ship. Fresh meat doesn't keep for very long, so we can only bring along dried."

"May I try a bite, Rin-san?" Rei asked.

Rin stared at him, startled. "Sure, I suppose." He offered the skewer to Rei, but he did not take it from his hand. Instead, he simply took a bite while Rin was still holding it. As he was chewing, he offered Rin a bite of his of his own. Rin accepted it, taking a bite of a slice of pepper in the same fashion that Rei had done.

Rei didn't realize how intimate that action had seemed until it had passed. He flushed, feeling bashful over his deed, and Rin returning it in the same way.

"Let's go back to the ship now," Rin said, starting off toward the docks. "We can eat these along the way, and I want to change."

Rei chuckled, walking next to him. "Is that outfit really so uncomfortable?"

"It's not that bad. I mostly just don't want to wreck it," Rin said.

Rei remembered that Rin said his mother had made it for him, and he understood. He nodded, but said nothing more as they walked.

----------

"That is indeed suspicious," Kisumi said quietly to Haru. They had been watching Rin and Rei go into the little store and then get food together. They had seen them share their food as well.

Haru nodded. "I told you. They're too close. I think we're losing Rei. I don't know what Rin said or did to earn his loyalty, but it's dangerous. We have to do something."

"I agree," Kisumi said. "We'll figure something out."

Chapter Text

Once they were back at the ship, it didn't take Rin long to change out of his fancy clothing. It was not as uncomfortable as he had said, but the last thing he wanted to do was damage it. He made sure to store every piece correctly so they would be in perfect condition for the next time he saw his mother. The storage process took longer than undressing, but once he was in his familiar pirate attire, he felt like himself again. He set his hat upon his head and left his cabin. Gou was waiting for him outside along with Rei.

"Where to next, Captain?" Gou asked.

Rin looked off to the side. "Back in the direction we came from, I guess. We need to find that island. This was only a detour." The sun was already high in the sky. He guessed it was probably about four in the afternoon. "Has everyone returned to their ships?"

"I believe so, Rin-san."

He nodded. "Good. We need to get going. Gou, instruct the crew to ready the ship."

She put her hand up to her forehead in a salute. "Will do!"

As soon as she left, he looked over at Rei, meeting his eyes and smiling. Rei shyly returned the gesture, flushing and looking down after a few seconds.

"When everyone is ready, we sail," Rin said, holding the map out toward him. "Can you chart us another path toward Iwatobi Island?"

Rei was certainly ready and willing to chart another path for Rin, but he couldn't figure out what had happened last time. Why had the ship avoided the area where he had sent them? He was sure that he had sent them straight northeast, but they had ended up near Katagami in the far east. Why? They had seen absolutely no trace of any island other than the mainland and the small outpost near Katagami.

"Of course,' he answered, taking the offered map and unrolling it. "It shouldn't be too difficult. We just need to head northwest - back the way we came - and hope we see it. Though, I have no idea why we didn't see it before."

"Don't worry about it. We'll find it this time."

----------

A few minutes later and everyone was off and sailing. Again, the journey was uneventful, and Rin saw nothing of note on the sea, but he tried to keep his spirits up and continued to tell himself that Iwatobi's Isle was just over the horizon.

'Just a little bit further,' he thought.

Only when night began to fall did Rin allow himself to get angry. They had sailed for hours and seen absolutely nothing.

"Rei!" he barked, summoning Rei to his side in a heartbeat.

"Yes?"

"What's going on?" he ground out, trying hard not to be pissed, but it was Rei's charting that he was following, and it had not led them to the island. He said nothing more, allowing Rei a moment to answer.

"Well, I am not quite sure, Rin-san. After leaving Katagami, we sailed due northwest, seemingly directly toward the island, yet we discovered nothing." He looked toward the deck as he thought. "Perhaps the island is hidden?"

Rin raised one eyebrow and was about to comment, but he instantly realized that that idea was actually incredibly probable. He tilted his head as he considered that. "That's pretty smart. Of course the island would be hidden; it is the home of Iwatobi. It needs to be safe from mortals."

Rei was a bit surprised that he had agreed with his sudden idea so quickly. He had expected at least a bit of resistance. "But, the question is - how do we make it appear?" he said.

"Yes-" Rin tapped his fingers on the wheel of the ship- "That is the question of the hour."

"Is it even possible?" Rei asked.

"It better be."

Rei hesitated with his next words. "Well, Rin-san, that might be something that takes a little while to figure out."

Rin growled a bit, but sighed before he let anything more come of it. "That's a risk we need to take." He looked up at the darkening sky, knowing they would soon need to stop for the night. He knew his crew was getting tired. "We can brainstorm that tonight."

Rei nodded once in agreement. "Yes, Rin-san. Do you want everyone together?"

He shook his head. "No - just you and me."

"O-Okay," he stuttered, flushing slightly.

Rin called down to his crew. "Alright everyone, we're stopping for the night again! Raise the sails and lower the anchor!"

From his own ship, Kisumi watched Rin slowly begin to round up his crew for the night. 'Are we stopping already?' he thought.

Haru, who had gone below deck for a nap earlier in the day, stirred as the ship begin to slow. He made his way above deck to confront Kisumi. When he arrived at his side, he gave him a puzzled look, but said nothing.

Kisumi broke the silence. "It looks like Rin wants to stop for the night. We should talk to Rei, don't you think? He looked quite upset earlier."

Haru considered this for a moment, then nodded. "I will ask him to come over."

Kisumi pulled his ship up alongside Rin's and ordered a few crewmen to drop anchor. He told another to prepare the gangway plank, as he was going across to Rin's ship. The man saluted him and ran off to grab the plank. Before they would go across, Kisumi pulled Haru aside and whispered to him, "We have to get him to trust us again. I think it would be best if you did the talking."

"What should I tell him?"

There was a thoughtful gleam in Kisumi's eyes. "We may not trust Rin, but we don't want to hurt him, so maybe we should reiterate the truth to Rei. We want to work with Rin, not against him. We didn't want the king to know that, but we all know it to be true. Our and goals may be different, but we can combine our strengths to complete this quest and see it through to our individual ends."

Haru was impressed with that idea; it was incredibly well-spoken. "Alright, I'll see what I can do," he said, and at that, once the crew had halted the ship and set up their gangway, Haru and Kisumi crossed over to Rin's ship.

Rin was a bit surprised to see them boarding his ship so suddenly, but he wouldn't let them get under his skin. "Why are you over here?" He called down to them.

Kisumi gave him a little wave. "We want to talk to Rei! We just need to take him for a few minutes!"

"Why should I let you?" he sneered, but Rei put a hand on his shoulder.

"It's alright, Rin-san, I'll talk with them," he said solemnly.

Rin didn't want to let him go, but he didn't have the heart to stop him. He wanted to allow Rei to make his own decisions. Glancing over at him, he nodded. "Okay."

"I won't be long."

With that, he left, following Haru and Kisumi back across the plank and onto the hulking ship alongside them. They took Rei into a secluded cabin and sat him down. They looked down at him with friendly expressions.

"I know you are a bit upset about what happened with the king today," Haru started.

"N-Not at all, Haruka-san."

Haru shook his head. "I noticed, Rei." He had always been very observant. Nothing ever got past Haru.

"Haruka-san." Rei wanted to say something more, but the words died in his throat before they had the chance to come out. He didn't really know what to say.

"I know we told the king that we can't trust Rin and we aren't working with him, but that's almost the opposite of what we are doing. Rei, you know the king would never agree to have us work with pirates. We couldn't tell him the truth."

"I know," he replied.

"We don't want to hurt Rin at all," Kisumi said. "In fact, we want to work with him. I admire the drive he has, and he's definitely a talented sailor. Unfortunately, I've done some terrible things to him the past, so I'd kind of like to make up for them. Rin is the best chance we have of finding Iwatobi for the king."

Rei was pleased that Kisumi could see the same passion and capability that he saw in Rin.

Haru continued, "So we want to keep him happy, and perhaps we can even allow him to do the ritual to restore the ocean, but when the time comes, we need to bring Iwatobi back to the king so we don't have to keep making sure the egg gets to the shrine. It will fall under the jurisdiction of the king after that."

Rei closed his eyes tightly. "Yes, that seems reasonable." He didn't want to go against Haru, but Rin was not the cruel, savage pirate that King Sasabe believed him to be. Rei knew what Rin wanted and he had committed himself to helping him achieve that goal.

"Rin isn't our enemy, but he is the king's," Haru said. "Listen, I don't care what he does, but we work for the king, and we have a job to do."

Rei sighed quietly, surrendering to Haru's words. "Yes, Haruka-san." He stood delicately from his chair. "Are you both serious about allowing Rin to fix the ocean?"

"If Rin wants that, we won't stop him, but Iwatobi goes to King Sasabe."

Rei nodded. "May I go now, Haruka-san?"

"If you wish."

Rei turned, a small smile on his face. "I take my leave then. Good night."

They simply watched as he left. Once he was out of earshot, Kisumi turned to Haru and said, "I think that went pretty well."

----------

Rei thought about their words as he went back to Rin. Kisumi had a very believable quality about him, but Rei couldn't shake the feeling that he shouldn't trust him. There was nothing blackening his image of Haru, but Kisumi was an unknown to him.

Trust. Neither of them had ever said that they trusted Rin. They probably didn't. Why should they? They didn't know him like Rei did. His thoughts toiled in his mind as he made his way to Rin's cabin. The deck was empty, as everyone had already gone below. He climbed the stairs and knocked on the door to Rin's quarters, but there was no answer. When he peeked inside, he found no one within. Wondering where he had gone, he decided to look below deck. Perhaps he had joined his crew for supper, and sure enough, that was where Rei found him. He was sitting at the table between Gou and Sousuke, and he was smiling. It wasn't a smirk like Rei had seen before, but a genuine, happy smile - warm and spirited. Gou seemed very pleased that Rin had joined them for dinner, as he usually ate alone in his cabin, and when he saw Rei coming down the stairs, he stood and called out to him.

"Rei! How did it go over there? Do I need to kill someone?" he asked, but Rei heard a playfulness in his words and he knew Rin wasn't being serious.

"Not at all, Rin-san," he answered, taking a seat across from him at the table.

"I'd do it though."

"I know you would," Rei said, chuckling.

As Rei sat, Sousuke stood. "I'm going to help Ai with the cooking. Now that Haru is gone, he'll need help."

Rei smiled. "You're so nice to him, Sousuke-san."

"I try."

With that, Sousuke disappeared into the galley, and Ai was happy to have him.

Makoto, Nagisa, and Momo were here as well, and Gou admired the image of Rin at the table with everyone. She had been trying to get him to come down and eat with them for the longest time, but he always resisted. She was glad Rei was here. She didn't know exactly what was going on between him and Rin, but she had a vague idea, and she was happy that Rin was beginning to open up to them. Her brother was a wonderful person - he just needed some guidance in the right direction.

"I'm glad you're back, Rei-chan! I thought that Kisumi guy was going to run off with you like he did with Haru."

"Haruka-san isn't gone. He's just on the other ship."

Nagisa crossed his arms and pouted. "He may as well be gone! We don't get to see him that much anymore."

A sad look flashed over Rei's face. "He's just doing what he thinks is right."

Rin had been staring at Rei, so of course he caught that melancholy look that came over his features. He didn't like it one bit. Perhaps he would actually have to kill someone, but for the moment, he would let it slide. He knew that he was making Gou happy by being down here and he didn't want to disappoint her. He would ask Rei more about his visit on Kisumi's ship later when they were alone in his cabin.

Suddenly, Rei's expression changed back to an easy smile. "It certainly is nice to see you down here with us for a meal, Rin-san."

"Isn't it great?" Gou asked, her voice giddy. "He's really growing! He never would have eaten with us before."

Rin grimaced. "And I might not do it again if you keep saying embarrassing things."

"Oh, lighten up," she teased.

Rei laughed lightly as they bantered, then looked up suddenly and caught Rin looking at him again.

"It looks like Rin likes to see you laugh," Gou teased, nudging Rin with her elbow.

Rin flushed suddenly. "Stop," he said, turning away.

Gou simply shrugged. She knew it to be true. She started to talk about something with Nagisa and Momo that Rei found uninteresting, so he spent a few minutes thinking about what had happened on Kisumi's ship. The deal hadn't seemed that bad - Rin would get to restore the ocean and the king would get to have possession of Iwatobi. That was a win for everyone, but Rei didn't like it for some reason. He felt like Kisumi was influencing Haru in some way - possibly planting words in his mouth or bullying him into agreeing with him, but he didn't have any reason to believe that Haru wouldn't agree with Kisumi. They were both working for the king - Rei was as well - so why did everything seem so shady? He was caught up on these thoughts for a few minutes until Sousuke and Ai brought out a simple meal for them all - vegetable soup.

"We still have some alcohol left over," Ai said. "Would anyone like some?"

Rin remembered what happened the last time he drank alcohol and refused the offer. Rei also refused. However, the rest of the crew indulged themselves, taking a glass each.

"You guys can have it," Rin said. "Consider it my gift to you."

To no one's surprise, Nagisa was the first to finish his meal, Sousuke following soon after. Sousuke downed the rest of his drink, then announced that he was going to bed, leaving Nagisa and Momo in charge of the clean up. He and Ai had made the food, so it seemed fair that someone else would clean it up. When Nagisa and Momo looked over at Gou for confirmation of this order, she nodded. She found it to be fair, and they would never go against her order, so they resigned themselves to their task with a sigh.

The others slowly finished off their meals and left the dishes to the clean-up crew. When Rin was done, he pushed his bowl away from him and stood.

"I'll be in my cabin," he announced to no one in particular, but Rei knew that it was meant for him. They were supposed to discuss the map and how to make the next island appear.

Gou was the next to retire for the night, and Makoto was only seconds behind her. Ai was after that. Only Rei, Nagisa, and Momo were left, and Rei finally surrendered his bowl to them. He excused himself, saying he needed to speak with Rin regarding the map before joining them for the night. He left them and climbed up and up, all the way to Rin's cabin. He knocked on the door, and Rin was there in an instant. He waved Rei inside and shut the door behind him.

"So, what's going on?" Rin asked, but Rei was confused.

"What do you mean?"

"The island," Rin clarified. "Do you have any ideas?"

"Oh, well, uh," Rei stuttered. Thinking about Iwatobi again made Rei remember his talk with Haru and Kisumi, and his anxiety came flooding right back. He had mostly forgotten about it over dinner. "Maybe, uh... magic?"

Rin raised an eyebrow in disbelief. "Magic? Really?" A flustered look was plastered on Rei's face, and Rin didn't like it. "What is with you today? You don't seem like yourself. Is it something that happened with Haru and Kisumi?" he pressed. "Do I actually have to kill them?"

"No!" Rei exclaimed. "It's nothing, I swear."

"Don't lie to me, Rei. You're upset about something. I can tell." He wrapped his hand gently around Rei's wrist, holding him firmly, but not uncomfortably.

Rei looked into his eyes and saw a sincere caring sparkle.

"I don't like that you're upset, and I'll kill them if you want."

"No, Rin-san," Rei said, wiggling free of his grip. "Don't. It's fine."

"It's not fine," Rin retorted. He looked down then and his voice got really quiet. "I care about you."

Rei's heart started to hammer behind his ribs. "I care about you as well, Rin-san. I'll tell you what happened."

Rin was quiet as he waited for the explanation. He wouldn't interrupt.

Rei took a deep breath, but his heart was still pounding. "I don't know if I should trust what they say. They are loyal to the king, but I don't know if I want to go that route anymore. I don't think they trust you. I believe they will betray you."

There was a knowing look on Rin's face. "Rei, I want you to know that even if you trusted Haru and Kisumi, I still wouldn't." When Rei shot him a surprised look, Rin shoved him over to the desk and sat him down. "Why would I ever trust them? What have either of them ever done for me?"

"But," Rei started, "why did you ask them to work with you?"

"I told you that - you wanted me to open up to people."

Rei stood again. "But this might be your downfall, Rin-san! I think they want you to fail!" Rei was growing frantic. "They said they would let you have the egg to take to the shrine, but Kisumi doesn't seem genuine!"

"Calm down, Rei," Rin said, pushing him back into the desk and leaning over him to keep him secure. "You'll wake the others - especially Gou. Her cabin is right below mine.

Rei could feel the wood of the desk digging into his lower back, and this situation reminded him of when he was a prisoner in this room previously, only this time, Rin was a lot more reasonable.

"I'm sorry, Rin-san. I was getting a little carried away."

Rin backed away from him, letting him up so the wood wasn't grinding into his back, though he stayed close, only centimeters between them.

"Listen, Rei, I know that they don't trust me and I know they'll betray me, but that changes nothing because I don't trust them either, and I definitely don't trust some rich asshole sitting in his palace and reveling in wealth while all us poor suckers die of hunger and dehydration," he growled, making Rei's breath catch. "The sea needs to be saved or people will continue to die. Water is life."

The conviction in his voice made a shiver crawl up Rei's spine. He was hell-bent on fulfilling his dream, and Rei felt his heart thud wildly in determination, his own passion set ablaze by Rin's. He cared, and Haru and Kisumi would never know that side of him like Rei did.

"Kiss me," he said, holding eye contact with Rin.

Rin's eyes widened in surprise. "What?"

Rei's gloved hands gripped at the collar of Rin's shirt. "I want to help you do this, Rin-san. I'm here to help you reach your goal." He pulled Rin close to him. "Kiss me."

After a few seconds of Rin trying to wrap his head around exactly what was happening, he happily gave in to the command, leaning in and planting his lips firmly upon Rei's. They moved together for a moment, kissing until Rin pulled away. Rei thought that maybe he wanted to stop, but he quickly moved his lips and teeth over to Rei's neck, pushing aside the frilly collar of his shirt to kiss at the tender skin. Rei closed his eyes and sighed at the contact, tilting his head back.

"Rin-san," he murmured, pushing lightly on his shoulders.

Rin stepped back from him, pulling his lips from Rei's neck. "Do you want to stop?"

Rei shook his head. "No, but we should sit down," he said, nodding toward the bed. "It will be more comfortable."

Rin was surprised. "Do you really want to?"

"Sit down?" Rei replied. "Well, we don't have to, but don't you think it'd be more comfortable than standing?"

So Rei wasn't being sly when he said they should go to the bed. He literally only meant that they should sit down. Rin was alright with that; he didn't want Rei to feel pressured into anything.

"Okay," he said, moving toward the bed and pulling Rei with him. "Let's sit down."

Once they sat down on the soft sheets, they resumed their previous kisses, Rei cupping Rin's cheek with his gloved hand. The black gloves were soft and smooth against his skin, and Rin wanted to touch them. He grasped Rei's hand in his own, feeling his long, thin fingers through the fabric.

"You should take your gloves off," Rin said quietly.

Rei smirked. "I never thought gloves could be erotic."

Hearing Rei say that made something awaken in Rin, something he didn't necessarily want to come out, but he couldn't help his arousal making itself known in his pants. He tried his best to hide it while Rei removed his gloves. He focused on his hands, trying to will away his erection. If Rei just wanted to kiss, then he would control himself.

Once Rei's hands were bare, Rin took one in his own, admiring the pale, sinuous skin and delicate, thin fingers. He pulled his hand to his lips and kissed his fingers, trying his best to keep Rei's attention on his eyes so he wouldn't notice the bulge in his pants.

"Your hands are very beautiful, Rei," he said gently, holding eye contact with him. "Not at all like mine."

"No, Rin-san, your hands are beautiful too, but in a different way," he explained. "Where mine are soft and dexterous, yours are tenacious and strong." He pulled away and took Rin's hands in his own, looking down to admire the slightly-tanned skin, worn from years of seafaring. They were rough and calloused, but Rei liked them all the same. These were hands that told a story, and he smiled.

Rin found himself blushing at the close attention that Rei was paying him, and he hoped that his gaze would not stray too far from his hands, for he had yet to will his erection down. He looked away, flushed.

Still smiling, Rei kissed his cheek again. "You're cute like this, Rin-san."

Rin shifted his eyes back to Rei. He was still embarrassed about his erection, but it seemed as though it hadn't yet been noticed, so Rin kissed him again. He placed one hand on the side of his neck, pulling him close. There was no way Rin would get his erection to go down now. His face burned as though he had been under the hot sun all day.

Rei pulled back. "Rin-san, your face is really warm," he said. "Why are you blushing so intensely? I don't want you to feel uncomfortable."

Rin chuckled - an nervous tick. "Too late."

"Really? We could stop if you want?"

"No!" Rin blurted out. "I mean... I'd like to keep kissing you because it feels nice, but-"

"Is it because of your erection?"

Rin turned to him suddenly, stunned. "You noticed?"

"Of course. You have never acted like this before, so I assumed you were feeling too aroused. Then when you turned away from me trying to hide, it was obvious," he explained.

"Well, don't worry about it. I can take care of it," Rin said, rubbing at the back of his neck.

Rei didn't answer for a moment, and when Rin looked up to investigate the silence, Rei was covering a smile with his hand.

"I would like to take care of it," he said, a small flush of his own working its way onto his cheeks. "If that's alright with you, of course."

Rin couldn't muster any words in response. He only blinked a few times, his mouth agape.

"Rin-san?"

With a quick shake of his head, Rin replied, "I-If you want, I guess..."

Rei nodded, the pinkish tinge still set upon his cheeks and nose. "I must admit that I don't have any experience with things of this nature. I've never had sexual urges like this before. Is there anything in particular that you like?"

"A-Anything will be f-fine if it's from you," Rin stuttered. He could hardly believe that Rei was willing to do this for him.

"I suppose I'll start with a touch, then." Rei slowly brought his hand toward Rin's crotch, but stopped before he made contact, his hand hovering above his hips. He was frozen as he looked down at the bulge in his pants. Rin noticed his hesitation.

"I-It's okay. Just take your time," he said.

This was brand new territory to Rei, but the gentle encouragement pushed his confidence back up, and he finally laid his hand down on the tent in Rin's pants. Rin tensed under his touch, his shoulders hunching. This small touch already had him close. How was he going to last?

"Here," Rei said, untying the knot in Rin's sash belt and slipping it off. There wasn't much else holding his pants firm, so Rei slipped the fabric down over his length, exposing it. Suddenly, Rin felt uncomfortable and his erection ebbed a little bit, shrinking down slightly.

"Rin-san," Rei said, "You don't wear undergarments?"

Rin looked at him like he was insane. "No! Why would I do that?"

"Cleanliness?"

Rin waved his hand. "Whatever. No time for that."

Rei raised one eyebrow in disbelief. "I must admit that I am less willing to touch you here now."

"I keep myself clean! What are you implying?" he argued.

Rei chuckled a bit at his sudden confidence. It always came around when he was arguing. "Do you have any water here?"

"Why?"

"I would feel a lot more comfortable with this if you washed yourself before I think about touching you there with any part of my body," he explained.

Rin grumbled, "Fine." He then stood, pants still open, and made his way over to the desk where a skin of water laid. He uncorked the top and poured a little bit onto his hand, then used a few handfuls to cleanse himself thoroughly while facing away from Rei. He shuddered while he pulled on his length. The water was not warm. Once he was done, he turned back toward the bed. "Happy?"

Rei waved him back over, chuckling. "Good enough, I suppose," he said with an exaggerated huff. While Rei liked when Rin was shy and embarrassed, he loved when he was confident and cocky. Rei had to strike a delicate balance with his words to keep him from slipping back into his previous state. A little teasing here and there should do just fine.

Rin slumped back down onto the bed and turned to Rei, looking into his eyes and leaning in for a kiss. His lips found their mark when Rei leaned into him as well, wrapping one hand around the back of his neck and the other around his dick. Rin shuddered against his lips. Suddenly, Rei was pushing him down to lay on the bed. He kept his hand on him, but did not yet start stroking, continuing to kiss him instead.

After a few seconds, he pulled back slightly, allowing his soft breath to caress Rin's cheek as he spoke. "Shall I begin?"

Rin's mind was swimming, but he managed a smirk. Pulling Rei back toward him, he captured his lips again before saying, "Why haven't you yet?"

"Judging by this situation, I don't think you're in a position to make demands of me, Rin-san." He punctuated his words with a firm tug on his cock, making him groan. Rin laid his head back on the bed, and Rei watched his face contort and relax in pleasure. Quiet moans escaped from his throat, which spurred Rei on even more, as he was the one making him sound like that. He ducked his head down to kiss at Rin's neck, stroking him faster and gripping more firmly onto his cock. He felt Rin's hips thrusting almost involuntarily, rising up slightly off the edge of the bed before falling again.

"Rei," Rin groaned between kisses, "that's so good." Throwing a hand up to Rei's neck, he caressed under the ruffles of his collar while his length was stroked beautifully, the pleasure winding up behind his hips.

Rei was certainly enjoying himself as well. He loved how Rin made all those delightful expressions of ecstasy, and he felt his own body reacting to them. He had definitely had erections before, but they had mostly been automatic bodily functions and not caused by another person. Rei really did not have experience with sex. His life had not allowed him the luxury, but he was feeling it now.

Suddenly, Rin couldn't hold back any longer. He pulled Rei to his lips again, kissing him while coming hard all over his hand. He thrust his hips a few more times before collapsing, his heart beating wildly.

Rei was shaken by the sudden orgasm. He hadn't expected it so quickly, but it wasn't at all disappointing. He had obviously pleased Rin, and that had been his goal.

"That was exciting, Rin-san," he said, managing to keep his voice steady even though he was on the verge of being out of breath as well. He had barely done anything and his heart was beating almost as wildly as Rin's. He looked around for something he could wipe his hand off with. "What can I use to wipe this off?"

Rin grunted in response, waving his hand over his head as he tried to regain awareness.

With that, Rei stood and went over to the table where Rin had found the water skin and used a bit of the water to clean his hand off. By the time he was done and had turned back toward the bed, Rin was sitting up and had his pants fastened. He was staring at Rei and had noticed his erection.

"Your turn," he said.

"You don't have to, Rin-san."

"But I want to! You did this for me, so I'll finish you off too. Come back over here," he said, waving Rei over.

He seemed determined, and Rei honestly didn't want to deny him, so he went back over to the bed and sat down next to him. Rin was on him instantly, kissing at his throat and caressing his back. It didn't take long for his hands to wander to the belt around Rei's waist, undoing it and letting it fall. He pushed his vest and shirt out of the way to get to his pants. He struggled a bit with the buttons on the trousers, but managed to get them all open eventually, and dragged his pants and undergarments down his crotch.

"Rin-san! You are too forceful!" he cried.

Rin looked a bit ashamed. "Sorry."

Rei smiled. "Don't worry about it. Just consider that in the future."

In the future? Rin liked the sound of that. "I will, I promise," he replied.

Rei nodded and said, "Keep going."

He took Rei's dick in his hand, gently squeezing and tugging until he shuddered in pleasure.

"R-Rin-san, that feels so good," he murmured.

Rin loved that he could make him feel like that, but he wanted to go further. "Can I do something else, Rei?"

Rei was taken off guard. "Like what?"

"I want to suck you off."

Rei's eyes widened in alarm. The first thing that came to mind was 'teeth'. He had seen Rin's teeth, and he was reluctant to having them anywhere near his penis. "D-Do you think that's a good idea?"

"Come on, Rei. I'll be careful." He pushed him down onto the bed, just as Rei had done to him. He let their lips come together again, trying to ease him back into the mood, and between kisses, he finally agreed.

"Okay, Rin-san. I trust you."

Rin pulled away and smiled. "You're going to love it. I'll go slow, I promise." He leaned down over Rei's hips and gently put his lips to the head of his cock, lightly resting them there as if kissing it. Rei seemed to like that, so he started jerking his hand up and down the shaft while carefully licking the head. Rei suddenly cried out - an abrupt sound.

"Careful, Rei, remember that Gou's cabin is right below mine," he warned.

Rei responded by slapping a hand over his mouth to keep his cries inside. Once Rin had informed him of that, he started to torture him more with his mouth, sucking his cock between his lips into the warmth of his mouth. Rei groaned, but kept his hand planted firmly over his mouth. He had never felt anything like this before - even the few times he had indulged himself had not been this good. The tight, tense feeling built in his muscles, and all he could do was hold on and enjoy it while Rin worked his magic. Rei focused on the warm, wet pleasure surrounding his cock. When he had first arrived on this ship, he had never imagined that he would end up in this situation, yet fate had brought him here, and he would never be able to go back to his previous life without Rin.

Suddenly, he was coming - like a rush of precious water bursting from a dam. His entire body went tight as Rin coaxed the orgasm out of him and swallowed up his come. Of course, he did not notice this in his ecstasy. Instead, his eyes were fuzzy and he felt lightheaded. He barely felt Rin pull up off his cock.

"How was that, Rei?"

He did not respond for a moment, trying to regain his wits. Rin simply waited for him to respond, watching him lift his head and blink a few times.

"It was definitely... nice," he said, feeling out of breath again.

Rin looked pleased, his lips turning up in a peaceful, serene smile. Rei had never seen that kind of expression on him before, but he found it very beautiful.

"I'm glad," he said. "Feel free to stay the night if you wish."

Rei sat up, pulling his pants up over his hips and tucking everything back into place. "I will, though I am quite exhausted after that."

"I am as well. It won't take long for me to fall asleep tonight," Rin said, finally kicking off his boots and crawling into bed. He laid his head down on the pillow and looked over at Rei. His eyes held no mirth, but instead, a playful glint. "No boots on the bed."

Rei chuckled and pulled off his boots. "Understood."

----------

Two days.

He had been out here alone for two days with no sign of any other ships. When the ship he was on had been attacked, looted, and sank by pirates, he had managed to escape in the rowboat while everyone else was killed. He was the only one left. He drifted aimlessly over the sand. He had pretty much given up on finding solace.

Until, by some stroke of unbelievable luck, he spotted the faint outline of a ship in the moonlight. At least, it looked like it could be a ship; there was the possibility it could just be a mirage caused by his hunger and dehydration. He sat watching the ship in the distance for a few moments, to make sure it stayed put so he knew his mind was not playing tricks on him.

Thankfully, it did not disappear. Filled with a sudden vigor, he began paddling toward the ship as fast as he could. It didn't matter who he found on the ship, he just hoped that they would be merciful toward him - maybe give him a bit of food and drop him off at the next port.

As he slid closer and closer to the ship, his arms were burning from the constant, frantic rowing. Once he got close enough, he noticed another, larger ship behind the one he was headed toward.

"There has to be someone here who will take pity on me," he said aloud, smashing the oars into the sand as he moved along.

Unfortunately, his commotion had attracted some unwanted attention. Over the past two days, because he had not made any intense movements with the rowboat, he had avoided the attention of the predators who ignored the boat, thinking it was nothing useful, but now that he was making noise and throwing sand about, he had definitely been noticed.

As he strayed closer and closer to the ship, he felt something bump into his little rowboat, and he knew he had company. This was one of the reasons he had avoided rowing previously; he knew it would attract sand sharks. He had to move - fast.

He was getting closer, but he felt another bump, this one more forceful, then his oar hit something.

A bit closer. Sand flew everywhere and a hard knock almost flipped the boat. His oar came up with a piece missing.

His lungs burned from exertion as he rowed as hard as he could until his little rowboat hit the side of the larger ship and one of the oars was ripped from the boat, right out of his hand. He looked down to the sand in panic and saw a rough, taupe-coloured head filled with many sharp teeth rising up to take a chunk out of the side of his boat. He stood and leapt as high as he could, grabbing onto a cannon jutting from the side of the ship and climbing up inside just as the small boat was torn to driftwood by three sand sharks right where he had been sitting.

He sighed at his luck, slumping down onto the floor next to the cannon. He ran a hand through his hair, feeling the sweat on his brow as he tried to get his heartbeat under control.

After a few moments listening to the sand sharks outside, he looked around the room and saw many cannons on either side of the ship and a small table with chairs around it near one end of the room. At the other end, he saw a staircase leading down. He figured that would be the best place to get some rest, so he crawled silently over toward the stairs and snuck down them, curling up amidst the crates and barrels and closing his eyes. He would rest here for the night, then deal with whatever came in the morning when the time came.

For now, he let sleep take him.