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The Keys to Reality

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“Jeremy! Don't touch that!”

“Michael? Guys? What are you doing here?”

There was a loud crash, then the sound of rushing wind.

People screaming.

“Jenna!”

“Christine! Don't go after her!”

More screams, and people crying.

“Jeremy, run!”

“Michael! NO!”

The sensation of being pulled down into a swirling vortex.

Darkness.

 

 


Jeremy woke up with a groan. His head was throbbing and he didn't know exactly where he was. The hammock he was lying in swayed slightly with the movement of the room. It was quite relaxing, if a little unnerving.


“What a strange dream…” Jeremy murmured aloud, shaking his head. He looked around the room again, noting the sway and the table full of maps. Wait maps? Oh yes, the maps!
Jeremy sprung out of his hammock and scooped up a number of the maps and tools from the desk, bringing them up, outside and onto the deck of his ship.


Quickly, he used his tools to identify where he was (about half way to his final destination, and maybe 16 miles too far to the east) and placed a marker on the map. After stowing them back away in his cabin, Jeremy went and weighed anchor, setting a course for the island.


He had to find the Fallen Angel! That ship, and more specifically her captain, had stolen Jeremy’s beloved Christine! Merely days before they were supposed to be wed, no less! Jeremy, being the devoted husband he would be (actually, just a good friend for now, but he was told they would fall in love eventually) of course Jeremy was the one to go after his betrothed.


His time at sea had been a lonely one so far. True, he had very little to learn, being a travelling merchant’s son did help him gather some useful skills. However, no one was willing to travel with him, too afraid of the crew of the Fallen Angel. They had a fearsome reputation, having never been caught and anyone they take never returning, and their captain, Blood Coat, had a bounty on his head for one hundred thousand crowns.


Jeremy didn't care. He just needed to rescue Christine.

 

Of course, Blood Coat had a reason to be feared. He was one of the most notorious pirates active, known for his kidnapping and ransom. There were very few people who knew what he looked like, most never being seen again after being taken by his greedy hands. Jeremy shivered. Christine would not be one of those people. She was too kind and too sweet to suffer like that. So he would have to get her back, no questions asked.

 

Checking his compass, Jeremy adjusted his course a little. Christine was his best friend, he had to save her no matter how scared he was. Even if he didn’t know exactly who he was up against (except that he wore a blood red coat) or if he was a little lacking in the muscles and fighting departments or if the crew of the ship he was pursuing was known to never keep prisoners alive unless it was to ransom them... okay, Jeremy was actually terrified. Why did he ever think this was a good idea? He would have been better off leaving Christine for dead like everyone else. But then, she was his best friend, his only friend really. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he didn’t at least try.

 

Being so enamored in his own mental prep-talk, he didn’t notice that his small ship was being tailed until it was too late. He was only aware of the other ship when he heard the sound of metal against wood. Whipping his head around, he saw that plenty of hooks were pulling his ship close to the towering vessel. He could feel his pale skin go ghostly white as he read, in neat paint, the name Fallen Angel on the side of the ship.


Before he could react, he saw someone’s form swing on rope, landing on his deck with a roll to his feet and a flourish of a sword to his neck. The manic look in the shorter male’s eyes matched the fiery streak in his hair. “Boo.”

 

Jeremy didn’t move, didn’t fight back, didn’t even dare to breath for a second. Then, as if being possessed by some higher, more skilled force, he grabbed the man’s arm and yanked him forwards, trapping the sword in the ship’s wheel. Obviously, the man wasn’t expecting him to actually do anything, and was caught off guard, giving Jeremy a chance to quickly unsheathe his own sword and get into a shaky stance. He was ready... sort of. ‘For Christine.’

 

He could see genuine shock on this pirate's face. It lingered for a second or two as Jeremy prepared himself before he managed to untrap his sword as Jeremy readied himself. There was something in his eyes that Jeremy did not like, a smirk on his lips. "Oh, so you do have some skill in those skinny arms of yours? Alright then, give me your best shot."


As he finished, he lunged forward at Jeremy. In the background, Jeremy could faintly register more voices, as well as the sound of wood being shifted before a loud 'thunk' as he realized they put a board between the ship so he could be overtaken.

 

Jeremy swiftly (and clumsily) swatted the blade out of the way. This was not part of the plan. He was supposed to sneak in and sneak out. Not be caught in an all out battle! Still, the did his best to parry every attack, not having enough time to actually fight back but also managing to avoid being hurt so far.

 

Being so caught up in parrying, he didn't realize he was being backed up. He stopped when he felt his back pressed against something- correction, someone, as arms grabbed him. They hooked under his arms, lifting him up and having him drop his sword onto the deck of his little boat.


The tip of the blade he had been parrying gently prodded at his chest, only enough to leave a small hole in the fabric. "You have some bad perception, tall ass." The man looked over at the others who he realized boarded him ship, which was an array of women and a man, and the man was currently holding him still. "Loot his vessel, girls. Jake, tie him up and get him ready to meet with Blood Coat. He's not very happy with with you."

 

Jeremy struggled, to no avail. The man holding him was very strong and Jeremy didn’t get an inch of leeway as he was brought to the other ship. Drawing every ounce of courage he had, Jeremy glared at the short man, trying desperately to ignore the fact that he was about to be face to face with one of the most dangerous pirates around!


“Where is Christine?” he spat, feeling rather proud of himself for not stuttering or even shaking too much. The two men laughed as Jeremy was tied up, leaving him helplessly kneeling on the deck in front of the cabin door. Nausea crept up his throat but he did his best to squash it. There was still a chance, he could still help Christine. He just... had to help himself first.

 

The agony of waiting was slowly killing him, especially as he saw the three girls who had been on his ship hauling over all of his goods from his ship.


After what felt like an eternity of waiting, the cabin door swung open. Jeremy was sure he was going to meet his doom here, so the details of Blood Coat were going to remain lost to all others. He did, indeed, wear a coat as red as blood to start. He had tanned skin and black hair, partially slicked back but a curly, wavy mess otherwise that was somewhat tamed with a red bandana and his captain’s hat. He wore a slightly puffy white shirt and black pants that hung loosely above his white leather boots. His framed face (literally, he had glasses) held brown eyes that, if not for the circumstances, would win him over.


Jeremy, however, was trying his best to keep himself calm and collected as he was stared down with a look that made his stomach drop off the edge of the ship. "So, you've been trying to track my ship, you scum? You think a bag of bones like you could do something? You must have a screw loose up there, because anyone with half a brain knows not to come after the Fallen Angel."

 

Jeremy met his stare with his own, furious eyes. He would not cower, he would not show fear. Despite the fact that internally, he was sure his insides turned to liquid (though not only from fear, strangely), Jeremy remained proud. He was the son of James Heere. He would not break under pressure. That’s what he told himself anyway.


“You have my fiancée. I’m here to make sure she gets home safely.” There was a barely there tremor in his voice, but Jeremy tried to ignore it. He was here get his best friend back, he wasn’t going to let anything stop him as long as he had an ounce of fight left in him. “So where is she? Christine Canigula. Is she safe? Alive? Because if not, I can promise you you’ll receive hell from me and my family.”

 

As Jeremy spoke, he could see Blood Coat's face harden before he took out his sword, placing it right against his Adam's apple and drawing a drop of blood. The temperature in the air felt like it dropped a little before the pirate captain spoke.


"You are not to worry about her. The only thing that you should be concerned or not is if we decide to ransom you off or have balls chained around your ankles and let you sink to the bottom of the sea. We do not take kindly to those who try to force us to do anything, do you understand?"

 

Jeremy held back a gulp and tried his best to stare Blood Coat down, even as he started shivering from fear. He couldn’t maintain his calm facade for much longer though, suddenly understanding why the man was feared at every port. He opened his mouth to respond when a shrill, familiar, cry of, “Stop!” echoed around everyone.


From a trap door, Christine popped out, looking healthy and comfortably dressed in clothes similar to the pirates who had captured him. She ran over to Blood Coat and smacked his arm (the one not holding the sword), looking as furious as she had ever managed. “Bad Michael, don’t hurt him!” In an instant, she was kneeling next to Jeremy, grabbing his face and looking him over. “Are you alright, Jeremy? They didn’t hurt you, did they? You stupid boy, you weren’t supposed to follow me!”

 

Jeremy sighed in relief, sagging slightly against her. “Chrissy! You’re okay!”

 

“Wh- Christine, we told you to stay below deck! We were keeping you from returning to your arranged marriage!” the man with the red streak nearly screeched as Blood Coat stared at Christine, his intimidating look gone.


“Christine, you never told us that Jeremy and the man you were being forced to marry were one and the same. I could have sliced his throat open.”

 

“Yeah, well I didn’t expect this idiot to try to follow me,” she scowled over at the pirates before turning back to Jeremy. His head was almost spinning from the quick change which overcame Blood Coat. In an instant he had gone from fearsome pirate to normal guy, friendly even.


“Chrissy, I don’t understand, what’s going on?” Jeremy found his breathing evened out a little as he looked over his best friend. She looked better than she had ever since the marriage was announced five weeks ago. Chrissy lightly smacked him around the head and messed up his hair. It was a familiar, comforting gesture.


“I couldn’t marry you, Jeremy. I couldn’t do that to either of us, not when you’re like a brother to me. So I ran away. Mi- I mean Blood Coat picked me up from the docks and took me in after seeing how happy being out here made me.” She pressed a quick kiss to his forehead. Jeremy sighed, allowing himself to forget that he was tied up on one of the most feared ships ever. A small, exasperated smile spread onto his face.


“You could have just told me, Chrissy. You know I didn’t want it either, we could have figured something out. But you’re okay now, right? Happy?” he asked softly, just indulging in the feeling Chrissy being here again.

 

Christine nodded to that, giving Jeremy a big smile. “I’m happier than I could have ever been, being forced to do whatever task because we were going to be married. No offense, Jeremy, but being a household lady or helping out merchant duties is just not my thing.”


She looked out over the sea, over the side of the boat, and smiled. “I can be free out here to do what I want! M- Blood Coat and his crew took me in and helped me become part of their family. I help where I can and can entertain everyone with my theatrics! It’s just amazing, and I can go around and see the world to boot!” As she spoke and rambled happily, her eyes lit up like how Jeremy remembered when she was having, quoting the girl herself, ‘mad, gigantic feelings.’

 

“You’re looking like your old self again. And if they’re treating you right, that’s enough for me.” Jeremy grinned at her before looking up at Blood Coat, feeling so much calmer. If Christine was happy and safe, Jeremy didn’t care about much else. Hell, he wouldn’t even care if they left him on a deserted island at this point, at least he wouldn’t have to take over the family business. “I won’t tell anyone she’s still here. I’ll say I never found you and no one will be any wiser. Thank you for helping her.” he said clearly, sincerity coloring his tone.

 

When he looked at Blood Coat, he could see a few emotions running across his face before he spoke up. “You’re alright with her staying and never seeing her again? Won’t you miss your best friend?” There seemed to be something else he was thinking about, but he didn’t pipe up about it (at least, not yet).

 

Jeremy shot Christine a small smile. “Of course I’ll miss her. She’s one of, if not the most, important people in my life. But I want her happy above all else and if she gets that out here, with you, then that’s enough for me.” He looked back up at the pirate, his gaze open and honest.

 

Blood Coat seemed to hum in thought for a minute. “The most important person in your life... That makes sense, as you came after one of the more dangerous ships in the seas just to get her back. If you’re going to lose the most important person to you, what are you going back to?”

 

“Not much, admittedly.” He sighed, the familiar tiredness flooding through him. He did not want to be a merchant, even if he was decently good at it. “True, my father is wealthy and I live in comfort, but it seems I’m destined for a life of boredom. He’s a merchant, and I doubt he’s even noticed I’ve been gone. The wedding was cancelled when Christine disappeared so he would likely be just fussing over his wears, as usual. That’s the life I’m in for, ending up like him...” It wasn’t often someone actually asked Jeremy on what he actually had, everyone saw wealth and assumed that was it. So when he was asked, he couldn’t help but say it all.

Because of that, he was even more surprised when the sword Blood Coat had swung at him. Oh, maybe he was going to put him out of his misery instead of living such a life?


Nope. The ropes tied around him dropped, and he saw Blood Coat sheath his sword as he reached a hand out to him. “Well, how about you ditch that? I hear there is a pirate crew that is willing to take people out of terrible life situations and let them join the family.”

 

Jeremy blinked, trying to get his bearings. Blood Coat was offering him a place on the crew? Just like that? Surely, it was too good to be true... but then the same happened with Christine. Slowly, he reached out and took Blood Coat’s hand, a small, shocked smile on his face. “Really? Because I think I would love that.”

 

Blood Coat’s hand gripped his tight as he yanked him up to his feat, catching Jeremy as he stumbled onto his feet by wrapping an arm around his shoulder. “Great! Honestly, I would rather not have to do another ransom gig right now, and you seemed too cute to kill.” Wait, what?

 

“Cheers for our newest member of the crew: Jeremy!” Before he could process what was happening, everyone on the ship was cheering, the intimidating aura and coldness the ship held being replaced in an instant. It was honestly a bit jarring, though invigorating as well.

 

Jeremy shot Christine a helpless glance, but she was cheering along with the rest of the crew, giggling a little as well. Jeremy couldn’t help but grin, his head spinning with the abruptness of it all but a strange warmth bubbling in his chest, sort of like happiness but somehow more.

 

After the warm welcome, Blood Coat, though he was told to call him ‘Michael’ when they weren’t around other pirates, let him be shown around by the first man he met. “Rich here will show you around and help you meet everyone. I have to finish charting some things and make sure we get to port safely to restock ourselves for a journey we have going on.” With a hardy few pats to his back, Blo- Michael left, shooting the pair a near-blinding grin before disappearing into his quarters.


Now alone, as everyone else hurried to continue their previous duties, Rich turned around and gave Jeremy a wide grin. “Good to have you on board, tall ass!” ... Did he always have a lisp? “Sorry about before, but orders are orders and you also impressed me for a second. I couldn’t just go easy on you, you know?” He gave him what Jeremy knew Rich thought was a light, friendly punch, but it actually hurt.

 

Jeremy chuckled awkwardly, rubbing his arm. “It’s... fine. You guys have a reputation to uphold, right? I get it, it is... was pretty much the same for me.” He looked over to his ship, seeing the other man rolling a barrel onto it and setting a charge. “Is... he going to blow up my old ship?”

 

Rich looked over, and seemingly was unable to keep himself from letting out a brief burst of laughter. "Mhmm. Can't let anyone know you're with us now, they gotta think you're just gone. Y'know, become one of those missing people that was 'never seen again.'" He used air quotes at the end of his sentence as the other man seemed to be finishing up. "You're doing great, Jake!" He got a thumbs-up back at that.

Jeremy blinked then grinned widely. “Awesome.” He looked around, noticing how every person in the crew seemed to be pretty happy, very content at the very least. It was unusual, every other ship everyone always seemed to be downcast. Maybe it had something to do with Michael? He seemed to be really nice, not at all like the stern, commanding captains on his father’s ships. Jeremy turned back to Rich. “So... where are we headed now? And what can I do to help?”

 

Looking back at him, Rich hummed as he walked, seemingly expecting for Jeremy to trail along after him (which... he did do). "We're heading first to port to restock, but we're heading to an island after that to follow this lead Michael's gotten. We're trying to stop someone else from getting something that should never fall into the wrong hands, and we're either gonna hide it all once we've found it or destroy it," Rich explained as they walked by someone steering the ship, who just waved after Rich practically yelled for her attention.


"Oh, and that's Chloe. She's in charge of all of our loot and money, but when she isn't, she's switching off with Jake over on your ship to steer us around. Jake's also our weapons master. He loves things that explode and go 'boom.'" As if to prove his point, Rich made an exploding hand motion and mimicked the sound.

 

Jeremy giggled, nodding. “I can understand that.” He paused, thinking over what he had been told. “I might be able to help Chloe with the loot, I’ve got a pretty good eye for good craftsmanship,” he mused happily.

 

"You can talk to her about that later, right now we-"


"Watch out, backs to the boat!" Quickly, Jeremy was turned around, and prompted to cover his ears. He could see Chloe groan for a moment as Jake swung back over to the ship, landing with his ears covered just as the sound of a muffled explosion went off, heat warming his back up. "Whoo!"


"Nice one, Jakey," Rich said after uncovering his ears before high-fiving Jake. Looking back, Jeremy could see the remains of his boat, and his previous life, burning and sinking into the sea as they were steered back on-course.

 

Jeremy’s eyes went wide and a sort of manic giggle escaped his lips. “I really do never have to go back, do I?” Jeremy whispered, giddily, looking at the remains of his ship. He was free. He never needed to go back to boring lectures and counting cash and sorting stock. He could actually do something useful and he could spend time with Christine anytime he wanted and he got to spend time on the sea, which was his favorite part of being a travelling merchant.

 

He felt a hand pat his shoulder, and he looked up to see Jake, looking at him with a relaxed grin that contrasted the wild, excited look in his eyes. "Nope. Have fun touring, 'm gonna go take care of some weaponry stuff." Jake shot some finger guns to the pair before heading somewhere below deck.


"You're probably gonna have some kind of energetic high, but make sure to get it out before we make it to the market," Rich told him before leading him below deck, heading towards the kitchen area.

 

“Okay!” Jeremy chirped, his mood skyrocketing. He felt giddy, but also a little detached. Like he was dreaming. Still, he followed after Rich, a sort of spring in his step. Even if this was a dream, he was going to enjoy it. “So, how many people are on the ship?”

Rich seemed to think about it for a second before answering, "With you now on-board? Eight. We aren't a big ship and aren't a huge crew compared to others, but that's because Michael just takes us in and do what we need to help others. You got me, I'm the first mate, and then you already know Jake, Chloe, and Michael. Christine told you what she does too... All that's left is Brooke and Jenna."


As they walked into the kitchen, one of the girls who helped loot his ship popped up from where she was hidden behind some counters. "Someone call for me?" she asked, short strands of blond hair sticking out from her bandanna-wrapped head.


"Yup. Showing the new guy 'round," Rich told her before the girl hurried over, though made sure her bandanna was still tight around her head.


She stuck her hand out to Jeremy then, a warm smile on her face. "It's nice to meet you without having to tie you up! I'm Brooke, I do the cooking and healing around here."

 

Jeremy took her hand instantly, a bright grin on his face. Something was just... likable about Brooke, he couldn’t explain it. She sort of radiated sunshine, kinda like Christine did. “Nice to meet you! I’d really love to learn a bit about healing, it’s a fascinating subject. Also, I really like your bandanna.”

 

What he said seemed to really make her happy, as she bounced on the balls of her feet for a few moments. "I'll definitely teach you, and thanks! It's one of my favorites, Christine actually got it for me last week when we were restocking." She took her focus off of Jeremy for a moment before yelling, "Rich, get away from the stew! It's not done yet!"


Looking back, Jeremy saw Rich back off, grumbling as he crossed his arms. "Hey, you need a taste-tester sometimes, don't'cha?"


"Yeah, and when I do, I'll ask for one."

 

Jeremy chuckled at Rich’s pout. “Looks good, Brooke! I’m looking forward to eating it!” He really was. Jeremy hadn’t had a proper meal in two weeks, his ship wasn’t equipped for cooking really and he didn’t know how to cook anyway. Maybe Brooke could teach him a little of that too. Jeremy followed the still grumbling Rich out of the kitchen with a cheery wave goodbye to Brooke.

 

"OK, so the last person's Jenna. She's probably cooped up in the crow's nest or something," Rich said, waving to Christine as they passed her doing some reading in her hammock. "Also, we're passing by where we all sorta sleep. Michael initially wanted us all to have rooms but that was a bit ridiculous, and it's nice and homey this way I guess."

 

Jeremy looked around the crew’s quarters, shocked at how nice they were. They were well lit by windows and the multiple oil lamps hung on the struts (turned off at the moment). Small chests for personal belongings (as well as a few spare off to one side) were stacked next to each hammock, making it feel really cozy. Jeremy loved it instantly. “This is way nicer than any crew quarters I’ve ever been in. It’s so... cozy! Like it feels just like a normal room!” He grinned before looking at Rich properly.

 

“Wait, he wanted everyone to have rooms? But he’s the captain! He’s the only one who gets a room normally!” Jeremy paused for a second, taking it all in with a massive grin. “I really think I’m gonna like it here. Michael seems like the most fair captain I’ve ever seen and everyone is so nice.”

 

"Well, Michael's basically taken everyone in. He just wants the best for us," Rich said, though he was smiling despite his nonchalant tone. "We'll get you your own little area later, but for now, we find Jenna."


They made their way above-deck then, and Rich put his fingers in his mouth before letting out a near ear-splitting whistle. "Jenna, introduce yourself to tall-ass!"

 

Jeremy rubbed his ear a little, worried he had lost a little hearing from how loud that sound was. Yet another thing to learn. He watched as a slightly chubby girl, with her hair in a purple ribbon, slid smoothly down the ladder, gracefully stepping away from it and turning to Jeremy. Deciding that he might as well be the polite one this time, he stuck out his hand.


“Hi, it’s nice to meet you.” Years of forced meeting with his father meant that Jeremy had a sort of confidence when it came to introductions at least. And he was feeling a little more of the nervous energy burn off, although that excitement Rich had mentioned was still bubbling close to the surface.

 

"Hey, nice to meet you, glad you're sticking around," she said as she took Jeremy's hand and shook it, having a tight and strong grip before letting go. "So, what can you do? Michael's currently charting stuff out for our excursion, so we need to know where to place you and how you can help us." As she spoke, she was seemingly eyeing him up, which made sense if she wanted to know where he went. Still, it didn't make him feel any better to be looked at in such a scrutinizing way.

 

He resisted the urge to squirm, another benefit from merchant training, and stood a little straighter. “Well I was training to be a merchant, so I can work with people for the most part as well as get better deals, if that is any use to you guys. I’m fluent in three? Yeah, three languages and I’m decent with forgery in all of them. Plus I already have the basics for sailing and I have memorized about five of the most popular trading routes, so I can tell you when it would be most dangerous to pass around those locations.” He wasn’t really sure what she wanted, but his answer seemed to satisfy her mostly.

 

"OK, we'll see how you are at the market when we get there. Are there any on-board skills you'd be good at? We already have a sailing crew with Chloe, Jake, and I, as well as Rich when he's not busy helping Michael." Her arms rested on her hips as she seemed to wait, all while Rich seemed to go off somewhere while she was interrogating him.

 

Jeremy shrugged helplessly. “I don’t really know? Like I’ll help out anyway I can, I’m a quick study, but I can’t say I was really allowed to help while we were travelling at sea. Wasn’t proper for me to or some such nonsense. My dad was kinda strict about all that.” He chuckled nervously. “He didn’t even know I knew how to sail at all. I had to learn in secret from some of the boys on-board whenever he was asleep.”

 

Jenna seemed to narrow her eyes as she looked him over once more before waving a hand. "We'll start teaching you basics and see where you fit best, we're doing that with Christine too. Do you have any kind of survival skills? From what I saw from the lookout, your swordsmanship is abysmal, but isn't hopeless."

 

“I’m not much of a fighter, but I am pretty decent with potions. I can make all sorts of things like mini bombs and smoke screens and stuff like that. I can also usually figure out what things are made of given enough time. And while I can’t cook, I can identify a good number of plants which are edible or just useful in general. There was still a lot for me to learn with that, but I could find something useful in most environments by this point.” Jeremy was proud of his potion skills, it was the one thing he actually liked about his old studies. He could whip of a batch of most basic potions in a matter of hours at this point, as well as some of the more rare, complex ones. While he wasn’t the best at using them right for things like healing, he knew how to make them.

 

The other nodded as she took this in, and it seemed like she wanted to say more when an arm wrapped around Jeremy's shoulder, bringing him close and scaring the hell out of him. "Jenna, stop interrogating him, he's not a hostage or anything."


"We need to know what he can bring to the table, Michael," the girl said as she crossed her arms over her chest, a brow raised.


"Yeah yeah, but we need to just relax a bit right now and still celebrate our newest crew member! We're having a nice meal and then resupplying our ship, and then we're going to relax with Jeremy here." Michael squeezed Jeremy around the shoulder before looking down at him, a warm yet playful smirk resting on his lips. "Isn't that right?"

 

Jeremy nodded eagerly, trying to calm his racing heart. “Y-Yeah!” He grinned, gratitude apparent in his every movement. “This ship is really awesome, Michael. And everyone here is so cool!”

 

Jeremy had felt drawn to Michael ever since he had invited him to join the crew, he just relaxed Jeremy somehow. It was like, the moment he stopped being Blood Coat, Jeremy wanted to be near him. Maybe it was just the genuine kindness and joy he radiated. Still, the cynical part of him (trained into him by his parents since birth) was sure that this was all a ruse and everyone would rip the rug out from under him any moment.

 

"Well, I'd hope so. I wouldn't want you stuck with some shitty group of people that you end up hating as your family." Standing up then, Michael quickly ruffled his hair before quickly whistling (it wasn't as sharp and harsh as Rich's) before waving down Chloe and Jake. "Anchor down soon, we're gonna eat and then travel the last twenty minutes to the docks! Brooke's making stew!"


"Hell yeah!" Jake called as he hurried to set anchors while Chloe made sure they were in a good spot to stop, hidden from view of other ships with the nearby land masses that provided cover naturally.

 

Once the ship was properly settled, he felt Michael's arm around his shoulder again, tugging him down to the stairs. "C'mon, Brooke's a phenomenal cook!"

 

 



After they ate their meal, happily conversing and allowing Jeremy to know them further (Brooke definitely had a thing for Christine, Michael had been doing this for a few years now, and everyone on board except for Jenna were rescued and brought 'into the family'). It wasn't much longer after he helped Brooke clean up everything that Rich snuck in and popped up behind Jeremy, teasing in how he startled him. "Come on, tall-ass, time to see if you're all bark and no bite! Show us your market skills with our food and getting yourself some new clothes."

 

Jeremy looked down at himself with a sigh. He did stand out a little, these were a little too nice for his new life. Thinking for a second, Jeremy nodded. “Get me a list,” was all he said.


At the market, Jeremy was armed with a bag full of coins and a decent sized list of supplies. There were a lot of islands in the area that they were travelling to, but Michael apparently liked to be prepared. While Jenna went over to talk to someone about organizing the water barrels, Jeremy quickly purchased himself a new outfit (at three quarters the price he would have normally paid for it). It was simple, just a soft pair of pants, a comfortable striped shirt (it was really soft!) and a warm, blue jacket.


Once he had gotten himself changed (so as not to stand out as someone from money) Jeremy went over to the first stall they needed for food. He knew the crew were all watching him, but he also didn’t feel nervous. As much as he hated his job before, he was good at it.


For a while, everything went well. Jeremy managed to haggle prices down a good chunk each time, and had no problem securing everything he had been asked to get. It wasn’t until he went to go and buy Brooke a new pot that he encountered a problem. “Excuse me? But that’s way too much, especially for a pot like this.” He kept his temper, he had probably misheard the merchant. “A pot like this is worth about twice as much, son. I’d recommend you take the deal.”

 

Okay, that was it. Jeremy’s eyes narrowed and he poked the bottom of the pot. “It’s a fake, the mark on here is not from the next village over as you claim. It’s the mark of one Darius Smith, a man known for lining his pots with toxins before selling them. Now, I’m sure you don’t want to get into trouble, sir, so I suggest you lower the price to something a little more reasonable, or else I’ll be forced to report you. You can let me go and tell the guards that you’re intentionally selling poisoned goods. Now, you sniveling ass monkey, what’s it going to be?” The man sputtered and Jeremy threw a few more insults his way, not restricting his tongue like he usually would. He grew up on the sea, he’s heard his fair share of creative swears. He even used the one Christine shot over to him, enjoying the familiar rush from lashing someone verbally.


A few minutes later, he practically skipped back over to the group, holding the pot and feeling very proud of himself.

 

Everyone seemed to have some different form of a shocked reaction at this except for Christine... and Michael, who just looked extremely impressed. Christine took the pot from him, looking it over as she exclaimed and chattered happily on about Jeremy's outstanding bartering skills, as well as his bullshitting.


Michael just let out a low whistle, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his pants (everyone was dressed like normal civilians, otherwise they would be recognized in a second, especially Michael with his signature coat). "Wow, I'm impressed. You're our new shopper, sorry about that. Never have I seen such amazing shopper skills."


Jenna just nodded, and seemed to be adding this to her mental list of details about Jeremy.

 

“Awesome! Man though, that merchant was an asshole. Charging so much for a bog standard pot like this.” He nudged Chrissy playfully. “He ate up the Darius Smith story though, didn’t he? Man, I thought for sure he’d call me out on it.” Jeremy chuckled to himself.

 

Brooke looked confused. “So wait, is this pot poisoned or not?”

 

Jeremy genuinely laughed at that, a loud, wheezing chuckled that was quite infectious. “No, it’s not! Darius Smith doesn’t exist, it’s just my go-to name when I’m bullshitting someone. He was charging twice the price for pots from the mainland. No way was I letting him get off easily with that! The pot’s fine, I promise.”

 

Chloe just was stuttering in confusion for a moment at Jeremy while Rich's jaw practically dropped. "Well, we definitely needed a barterer on the crew, so I'm glad we got you," Michael said, smiling down at Jeremy before he held some of the bags of stuff they got for some of their supplies. "Now, let's go back and get to know Jeremy a bit more before bed, and we head out to the first stop of our journey in the morning."