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the heart of a siren

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Rain battered against the deck of the Black Trident like thousands of bullets, slicking up the wood and drenching the lot of them to the bone. Relentless, unpredictable waves ruled by the howling wind rocked the ship, sending the occasional unsteady sailor toppling over. Streaks of brilliant lightning lit up the dark gray sky, electrifying the horizon and causing deafening rumbles of thunder that drowned out the clashing of swords and hollers of men onboard.

Jungkook drove his sword through the nearest pirate, the water on the deck running red with his blood, and barked out another order to his navigator at the helm. His soaked hair clung to his forehead and cheeks, and his sopping clothing weighed him down, but the sheer adrenaline of battle made him as good as invincible.

Sea battles during a lightning storm were the source of dread for many a pirate, but for Captain Jeon, they were a thrill.

“A storm like this is a bad omen,” a voice called out over the din as another nearby pirate was stuck through with a sword.

“Everything is a bad omen to you, Taehyung,” Jungkook laughed, tossing a dagger into the neck of a pirate who had been sneaking in on the navigator. “I see it as a challenge from the sea.” He struck down another intruder and turned to grin at his disgruntled first mate. “To see who is worthy of sailing upon her waters.”

“You say everything is a bad omen to me,” Taehyung yelled, “But everything is a challenge to you, Captain.”

Jungkook grinned and looked over to one of his own crew members boarding the Black Trident with a chest under one arm and a sword in the other, slashing his way through a crowd of enemy sailors. “As it should be!”

He didn’t give Taehyung an opportunity to respond, hopping down onto the main deck and lending a hand (and a sword) to his crew, protecting the treasure they’d just successfully pilfered from the other ship.

“Is that everyone?” he asked, and at the grunts of confirmation from his crew, Jungkook roared over the commotion, “Sink them!”

“Captain, I would advise against that,” Taehyung said. “This storm is growing fiercer by the minute, and if we linger—”

“And if we run off and leave them to nurse their wounds, what are we, then? Cowards who flee from battle.” Jungkook turned to his crew, stepping over the body of a dead sailor, and said, “Man the cannons! Keep her steady until we can sink the bastards.”

Taehyung sighed and shook his head but protested no further, merely watching as the cannons turned toward the other ship and fired all at once. The sound of splintered wood and screaming men was deafening, louder than even the thunder and waves crashing against the side of their ship, which was still rocking dangerously with the force of the storm.

“Another ship approaches,” one of his crew members warned, pointing toward a hazy blur on the horizon that was clearly another ship even without the use of the spyglass at Jungkook’s belt.

It was an instinct buried deep inside him, intertwined so deeply with his psyche that Jungkook’s first thought was to keep the ship steady and wait for them to approach so that he could watch as their ship sank beneath the storm-battered waves as well.

However, winning that first battle and procuring the young lord’s stolen jewels had left him well-off enough that he was better able to control his urge to conquer, to be the last ship left standing. Regrettably, he turned away from the incoming enemy and called to his crew to sail full speed ahead in the opposite direction.

Taehyung repeated the order, appearing relieved that they were not staying behind to begin another battle as Jungkook knew he had been expecting.

The main sails turned to ride with the wind rather than fight it, and they picked up speed away from the wreckage of the other ship.

“Will we lose them quick enough?” one man asked, a newer recruit that they’d picked up at the last port, a young lad who had been eager for adventure and the smell of treasure.

“I would like to see them catch up to the fastest ship in the seven seas!” Jungkook roared over the rain, raising his sword to the rolling clouds and tumultuous storm above.

His crew erupted in exhilarated cheers, mirroring their captain’s actions and pointing their swords skyward.

Sure enough, in no time at all the other ship was lost to the fog and rain, and the only thing visible on the stormy gray horizon was the occasional flash of lightning sending vicious streaks of purple through the clouds. Despite Jungkook’s disappointment that they’d had to turn away from another battle, he still had the adrenaline rush from a battle well fought and the thrill of sailing through the storm.

The wind picked up in speed, whistling in Jungkook’s ears almost like a song. The harder it blew, the more it seemed like music, a song from the sea made audible thanks to the storm.

“Do you hear that, friend?” Jungkook asked. “The wind itself is serenading our victory.”

Taehyung shivered and shook the soaking hair from in front of his eyes, staring solemnly out at the sea. “Never a good sign when you hear voices in the breeze, Captain,” he muttered.

Jungkook paid him no mind; storms always pass, after all, so how bad could a simple song in the wind be?

“The voices in the breeze have to be far better omens than the voices you hear in your daft head, Taehyung,” he said, giving his first mate a good-natured clap on the back.

Sure enough, within a matter of hours, the Black Trident had sailed through the worst of the storm, emerging on the other side of the blackened sky to a much calmer part of the sea, with only a light shower and a thinner stretch of fog.

The showers became more of a mist, and the crew relaxed a bit more, dispersing to clean the ship of any signs of the battle that had occured, while others gathered below deck to gamble their new spoils away in a game of Bone or Boon.

The chest they’d stolen from the other group of pirates had belonged to a young lord from the Empire. It was filled with jewels and silks, precious sugar and documents that could be sold and traded for a decent fortune, but it wasn’t the coin that Jungkook was after. As Captain of the Black Trident, it was his right to examine the contents of their spoils before the others, and so along with his share of the treasure, he slipped a map fragment hidden at the bottom of the trunk in with the rest of his portion, keeping it hidden from the eyes of his crew.

“Fools and bastards, the lot of them,” Jungkook said, once his own share of their loot was carefully locked away in his cabin and the map tucked in his pocket. “They’ll have nothing left to sell by the time we make port.”

A wry smile crossed Taehyung’s lips. “You’ve never had the urge to join them, then? You do seem to like the occasional gamble here and there.”

“In life, Taehyung,” Jungkook replied, shaking his head at the ruckus his crew was causing, accusing one another of cheating or peeking at a loose hand of cards. “What good is wasting all my gambles on a silly game when there is the entire ocean, the world at my helm? No, I’ll save my coin, sail through maelstroms, capture a mermaid, battle the navy, trek through uncharted waters instead.”

“Those are bold dreams, Captain.” One of the men, Junho, was roaring now, slamming his fist against the table and sending gold pieces flying. “For now, though, perhaps our focus should be on where next to make port?”

“The storm has set us back a bit. Come, we should look at the maps before setting a course to nowhere.”

The wooden stairs of the ship creaked with every step, still glistening wet from the rain that had soaked through even below deck. It was pitch black the further away from the crew’s quarters they walked, but Taehyung unhooked a lantern nearby and stopped to strike a match to light it, illuminating the gloomy hallway.

Directly ahead were Jungkook’s quarters, but the room they needed was to the left, with maps and diagrams hung from every wall, some marked with ink or knives stabbed into the parchment while others remained untouched.

Jungkook remembered the hassle he had gone to procure some of these maps, the bloodstains on a few of them a testament to how valuable they had been; some poor saps had given their lives protecting them from pirates, and yet they had fallen into his hands nonetheless.

He removed the map fragment from his pocket and for the first time was able to give it a closer look. The parchment was soft to the touch with age, the ink fading and splotched in places, but the seal of the Dragon was still clearly stamped in gold. Jungkook held the fragment up to their maps, scouring them for anything that matched the outline on the piece in his hand.

“The navy have been on the prowl lately,” Taehyung noted, tracing his finger across the coast of China after examining the map piece Jungkook was holding. “We should be careful what colors we fly close to shore.”

“It takes a fool’s fool to fly pirate colors at any port, even near Devil’s Cove. How are the Empire’s flags faring since our last battle?”

“I believe Woohyun stitched them up.”

“Good. We’ll sail with those when the time is right. No one would attack a navy ship.”

Taehyung smiled. “Except you, Captain.”

Jungkook stopped his finger at an island port just south of Singapore, a pirate hotspot called Turtle Bay, and said, “Except me.” He paused, then, in a lower voice, “Any word from the storytellers on the Dragon’s location?”

“None as of yet,” Taehyung murmured. “You know the rumors. It either doesn’t exist or is so well hidden that no one will ever find it.”

“It exists,” Jungkook said, without any hesitation. “The Dragon existed, and his seal is still found scattered across the sea, so his treasure must, too. It may be long-lost, but we are going to ensure that it is found.”

“I will keep my ear to the ground, but I doubt that anyone at our usual stops will have the information we need. Drunks and vagrants don’t often hold the secrets of the sea.”

“Some might,” Jungkook said. “I won’t discount anyone who might be able to point us to the treasure left behind by the Great Dragon of the East. The problems arise when others hear word of us looking for it.”

“Which is why you are choosing to keep our quest secret from the crew?”

Jungkook nodded. “Exactly. I know that they elected me as their captain, but I am not convinced that they would not let greed cloud their judgment. I will tell them when the time is right, but for now, it is best that this remains between us.”

“Keeping secrets from your men is not going to help you gain their trust, Captain,” Taehyung said quietly. “That has never worked in the past.”

“I am nothing like him,” Jungkook said, fixing Taehyung with a hard stare. “How could you compare this to—”

“I wasn’t— I wasn’t referring to… to him. I meant that in general, a captain being dishonest with his crew never turns out well.”

Jungkook breathed out in relief, shaking his head. “My apologies. I didn’t mean to bring it up like that.”

“It’s alright,” Taehyung said, though his lips were pressed more tightly together than they had been before, almost like a grimace. “In any case, the map looks as though it may be part of Turtle Bay, here.” He guided Jungkook’s hand that was still holding the fragment and pointed to the similarities between the two. “I doubt that the treasure is there, but this may be leading to a clue that could place us one step closer to finding it.”

“Perhaps you’re righ—”

A loud crash from above made Jungkook tear his eyes from the map, looking up to where drops of rainwater were dripping down from between the floorboards.

“Something wrong with the crew?” Taehyung said.

“Appears so.”

Jungkook left Taehyung to continue examining their maps, heading back out into the main hub of the ship. There were still lanterns lit in the crew’s quarters, but the table and their game sat abandoned while the ruckus above deck continued.

As Jungkook had suspected, a fight had broken out between his crew members, Tanaka and Junho at each other’s throats while the others watched from a safe distance.

“Go for his eyes!”

“Jab ‘im in the throat!”

Tanaka appeared as though he had the upper hand at first, but with the goading and jeering from the crew, Junho broke out of the chokehold and slammed Tanaka against the mast, reaching for the dagger at his hip.

“Tell me again you didn’t cheat, you nasty little rat,” he hissed. “I saw you slip that card into your sleeve when you thought no one was looking.”

“You didn’t see shit,” Tanaka spat.

Junho roared with rage and whipped out his dagger, aiming it for Tanaka’s neck, and that was when Jungkook charged at them.

“Hey!” Jungkook bellowed, grabbing Junho by the lapel and wrenching him away from Tanaka. “That’s enough!” Junho fought back for only a moment before realizing who had grabbed him. His arm fell to his side and he stopped moving, but he didn’t lessen his grip on the dagger or wipe the scowl from his face.

“He tried to kill me, Cap’n,” Tanaka said. “Over a game o’ cards—“

“Bloody fucking rat was cheating,” Junho interrupted, spinning around to snarl at him. “Trying to swindle me out of my hard-earned loot.”

“Shut it, both of you,” Jungkook snapped. “I have enough to worry about without my crew going for each other’s throats like children.”

Junho stood up straighter. “Children? I’ve lived two of your lifetimes, boy.”

“And you elected me as your captain,” Jungkook shot back, standing his ground and staring Junho directly in the eyes. “So you will respect my authority, or you can try your luck on a different ship. Do I make myself clear?”

Junho didn’t respond, his glare murderous and his lips curled in a sneer. He glanced around at the others, but none of them made a move to take his side or speak out against Jungkook.

“What was that?”

“Yes, sir,” Junho grumbled, sheathing his dagger and stepping down.

Tanaka and the others stood there in silence for a few moments, uncertainty on each of their faces, so Jungkook tore his gaze from Junho and instead fixed it on the rest of his crew. “Well? What are you all standing around for? The ship won’t sail herself. Get back to work!”

Instantly the crowd dispersed, the pirates keeping their heads down as they passed Jungkook, returning to their duties or disappearing back down below deck, probably to clean up the evidence of their game.

Junho stayed behind, looking as though he were weighing his options, until finally he shook his head, muttered something incoherent to himself, and stalked over to the hatch before climbing below deck.

Once the tension had cleared from the air, Jungkook sighed, his eyes closing briefly. It wasn’t very often that he had to deal with internal conflict on the ship, and it certainly wasn’t something he enjoyed doing. Exerting his authority as captain made his skin crawl, but with these men, it was necessary to remind them who was in charge.

Tanaka and Junho would no doubt return to their usual stoicness around each other after this, but Jungkook knew that the relationship between himself and the crew changed a bit each time he had to reprimand one of them.

They were pirates, after all. This wasn’t a navy or merchant ship. They were supposed to be free men who did as they pleased, without any rigid hierarchy that awaited them back on land.

It was that freedom that drew Jungkook to a life of pirating in the first place, freedom and the promise of sailing the seven seas, but when he’d become Captain Jeon Jungkook, he found that he’d lost some of that freedom. Now he had to worry about infighting on his ship, about maintaining the trust of his crew, about keeping everyone content enough that they wouldn’t stage a mutiny against him.

That was why he needed the Dragon’s treasure. That was why he was risking it all to go behind his crew’s back to seek it out. In the end, he’d have that freedom he’s been looking for all this time.

The evening carried on as if the events earlier hadn’t happened at all, but Jungkook was unable to find the time to continue his discussion with Taehyung without raising suspicion from the others. For now, he simply gave word to the navigator to set sail toward Turtle Bay, and they would figure things out once the crew was sated after trading their newly gotten spoils on land.

Despite the storm they had just sailed out of, the night sky was unusually clear above them, millions of stars twinkling overhead, free of any cloud cover. It made for much easier navigation, but at that moment, Jungkook wasn’t thinking of his ship.

His arms were crossed over the side of the Black Trident, his chest leaning against the wood in a more relaxed stance than he’d been able to take in a long while as he traced patterns in the stars with his eyes, his mind drifting.

If he could, he would stay like this forever, just looking out at the sea and the sky, with no one else on the entire horizon. He would have the salty sea breeze caressing his skin, the sound of the waves drowning out everything else, the glow of the sun and moon on the surface of the water the only thing he could see.

Taehyung quietly joined him, but his presence was enough to bring Jungkook back to his reality as captain of a pirate ship sailing dangerous waters. “You seem lost in thought, Captain,” he said.

“At times I wonder how the sea can be so beautiful,” Jungkook mused. “It hardly seems real.”

“It’s best to be wary of things that seem too beautiful to be real,” Taehyung responded. “More often than not, they usually are.”

Jungkook breathed out a laugh. “The sea is real, Taehyung. Real as the salt in the air and the rocking of the waves keeping us afloat.”

“I wasn’t talking about the sea,” was all Taehyung said, though his eyes were still fixed out on the water. “Good night, Jungkook.”

Taehyung retired to his quarters shortly after, but Jungkook didn’t feel like sleeping just yet. It wasn’t often that he had moments like these, when the sea was calm and the night was peaceful, with no battles or storms or thrashing waves dogging them to the ends of the earth. There was no other ship on the horizon, and most of his crew had already gone to sleep, leaving just a few bleary-eyed sailors above deck.

Jungkook tore his gaze from the dark ocean and returned to his nightly rounds, clutching a lantern and inspecting the parts of his ship that had been most affected by their earlier battle. The fresh nicks and stains on her aging wood weren’t things that could be buffed out or repaired, but he rather liked it that way. The ship had scars, same as them, and he liked that she wore them proudly.

He brushed his fingers along a particularly deep gash in the mast, left behind by a sword, and that was when the voice returned.

It was a distant melody, a song carried by the breeze that was similar to the one he had heard earlier, only this time there was no storm or high winds or crashing waves to drown it out. It was clear as day, growing louder by the second. Someone was singing.

The words were not in any language he knew of, but it was perhaps the most beautiful melody he had ever heard. It was as if the sea herself had begun to sing, her voice wrapping itself around him and pulling him toward the side of the ship, beckoning him closer.

He held out his lantern to the darkened waters, searching for the source of the song, but the dim light illuminated nothing but the gently shifting waves lapping against the side of the ship.

Perhaps he’d been imagining things, having had one too many swigs from the flask at his hip, but no sooner had that thought crossed his mind than the lantern’s light fell upon a face staring back at him.

Jungkook nearly dropped the lantern overboard in shock. There was a man in the water, visible only to his bare shoulders, his eyes hooded and dark, and his hair a soft gold that Jungkook had never seen on any human before. His skin was smooth like porcelain and gleamed with an almost blueish green shimmer, as if he were part of the ocean itself. His dark eyes were unblinkingly fixated on Jungkook’s, and his impossibly pink, plump lips were moving in time with the song that had Jungkook entirely enchanted.

His face was somehow more beautiful than the song itself. Too beautiful to be real.

Taehyung’s voice wormed its way into his head, his warning from earlier and his constant cautionary tales of sailors falling victim to things at sea that appear too beautiful to be of this earth interrupting the song.

Ignoring all of it, Jungkook leaned over the edge of the ship and held the man’s gaze for what felt like ages, just standing there and allowing that unearthly voice to envelop him completely. It was almost suffocating, the way it invaded every last part of his mind, slipping into his consciousness until he could no longer form a coherent thought. The only thing he could focus on was getting as close as possible to this man in the water, to hear more of his song, to do whatever he asked.

“Do you need help?” he heard himself asking in a voice that certainly sounded like his own but felt as though it had come from someone else’s lips. His jaw felt slack, and he could not remember speaking.

The man shook his head slowly, the lantern light dancing across the iridescence of his skin and the gold sheen of his hair. Without stopping his song or taking his dark eyes off Jungkook’s, he swam further away, the blackness of the sea still disguising any part of his body below the shoulders.

“Don’t leave,” he called out, panicked that the boy in the water would swim away and take his song with him. Jungkook grabbed a loose rope ladder and tossed it over the side of the ship, leaving his lantern behind and climbing down to the surface of the water where he could be closer to the singer.

The man stopped and resumed staring at him from his fair distance away, his song dancing across the waves and making it difficult to concentrate on keeping his grip on the ladder. Jungkook extended one hand toward him. “I can help you,” he said. “Climb up with me.”

“I don’t think so,” the man said, though he was swimming closer. He was no longer singing, and yet his speaking voice had the same effect on Jungkook, sending a shudder down his spine. It was low, reverberating across the dark surface of the water as if the ocean in all of its depth were speaking through him. “What is your name, sailor?” he asked when he was close enough to touch, close enough that Jungkook could see for himself that the man had not a single imperfection.

“Jeon Jungkook, Captain of the Black Trident.”

The man smiled and tilted his head slightly. “Good to meet you, Captain Jeon Jungkook. You can call me Jimin.”

Somehow the name was almost too plain for his overwhelming beauty, but it rolled off Jungkook’s tongue like a prayer all the same. “Jimin,” he repeated, still in a trance. “I- I can help you. Take my hand.”

Jimin’s grin widened and he lifted his hand from the water. “I know you can help me.” His fingers brushed across the top of Jungkook’s hand, sliding up his wrist and gripping his forearm with a greater strength than Jungkook would have thought he possessed. He lifted himself up, bringing his impossibly perfect face mere centimeters from Jungkook’s, and then his dark eyes glinted with the light from the moon and stars above, and Jungkook felt a monstrously strong pull.

In the time between his fingers slipping away from the rope ladder and his body being yanked under the waves, he was briefly able to regain his senses, Jimin’s hold over his mind having faltered.

Once they were underwater, however, Jimin began to sing once more, and his voice filled every space around them, echoing from the depths to the surface, choking out any last bit of common sense he may have had.

He couldn’t even struggle. He’d gone limp in Jimin’s arms, and could only stare groggily at the light above him as he felt himself being dragged further and further downward into the bitingly cold blackness below. His eyes burned with the salt of the sea and his lungs screamed for air as bubbles escaped his lips in a desperate attempt to seek any form of a breath.

The last thing Jungkook heard before he lost consciousness was Jimin’s song as it deepened its hold on his mind and heart.