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Swords and Sails

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The law of the sea is ruthless. 

 

It was fashioned throughout millennia, following the ebb and flow of the tides, always changing, crashing against ship hulls, tearing people apart. 

 

The law of the sea is simple, at its core: you sink or you swim. You eat or are eaten.

 

Jungkook has heard of pirates of course. You don’t get on a vessel trying to cross the oceans while unaware of the dangers lurking behind the horizon. But there’s something about youth… something which makes you feel invincible. Jungkook never thought he would be in one of those stories, the kind you tell around a bar table, gossiping about the latest ship which went missing and its cabin boys who would never return home. He didn’t think he would be one of those boys.

 

Never thought he’d have to decide whether to sink or swim.

 

Yet here he is, standing on the thin plank of wood, water splashing far beneath him ominously. It calls to him, the sea’s soft voice murmuring sultry words in his ear.

 

She tells him she is ruthless. She tells him he is small. She tells him she is going to devour him.

 

He looks down, gazing into the deepest colour blue, the tops of white brushing against the perfect ship. He’s never seen a more beautiful craft as this one. It has four masts, four! And yet it is thin, slender. From its sides appear windows through which glistening canons point out, and yet she is elegant. This is a ship of legend, and Jungkook can’t help but glimpse at her master.

 

For if the ship is everything a vessel should be, then he is nothing like how he expected a pirate king to look. Death looms at Jungkook’s feet, and yet he can’t tear his eyes away from that point just over his shoulder, where the ruler of the seas peers at him with a smirk on his plush lips.

 

Overgrown curly black hair falls over his midnight eyes, which gaze into his very soul. The sun reflects off the golden hoops dangling from his ears, the thin muscles on his tanned arms rippling where they are crossed over his broad chest, and his eyes are drawn there, accidentally, automatically. For the white shirt is rolled up past the pirate’s elbows, the collar undone so all you can do is stare at golden skin, the bottom of his clothing tucked into the waistband of his trousers, outlining the smallest waist he’s ever seen on a man.

 

The crew are getting impatient, hollering at him to jump into the icy waves, and yet he doesn’t react. Really, he thinks, he should be shaking in fear. He’s spent his childhood being coddled, being protected. His father got him a basic job on a merchant vessel, hoping it would help him ‘man up’ and stop daydreaming all the time. He was a weak child, always scared, always careful. And yet here, dangling on the precipice of death, staring into the twinkling eyes of the pirate king himself, he feels nothing but a tingle of anticipation.

 

When a random pirate gets too impatient and stomps forward, he doesn’t fear it. When the man forces the plank to wobble dangerously, he doesn’t blink.

 

The pirate king’s smirk grows wider until Jungkook can see a flash of white teeth, and he gulps, the fear only just starting to sink in, except it’s not exactly fear… it’s something slightly different. He just doesn’t know what it is.

 

And then the pirate’s foot comes slamming back down and the whole planks tilts, the end he’s standing on dipping towards the thrashing sea, and his knees bend automatically, his arms opening wide, shoulders rising to bring his centre of gravity in.

 

And he’s still standing.

 

Still there as the plank rises again. 

 

Still keeping his balance when his eyes cross the pirate king’s dark ones again.

 

And Kim Taehyung bursts out laughing. It’s a free sound, a powerful one, something completely out of place and yet so, so right.

 

It causes a ripple to spread. His crew of pirates are suddenly grinning, chuckling along with their boisterous leader, and Jungkook is confused, lost.

 

“Well lads,” Taehyung suddenly says, and his baritone voice sends shivers down Jungkook’s spine. “Looks like we’ve found one with sea legs.”

 

Jungkook doesn’t have time to enjoy the sound of his voice, doesn’t have time to recover from how deep it is, how it matches the oceans he controls, embodies it even. He doesn’t even have time to understand what’s going on. Within seconds there are hands grabbing at his shirt and pulling him back to solid ground, laughter echoing around him, hands slamming down onto his shoulders and back like this was all some big joke. Through the mess of the crowd of rowdy men, Jungkook’s eyes search. They sweep the tight space for the captain who’s laugh is still echoing in his mind, adrenaline from his dance above the water still pumping in his veins, but he’s being dragged forwards until he’s pushed below deck, into the crew’s quarters.

 

Above them, the pirate king must be deciding what to do with the rest of the crew, and Jungkook is confused, actual fear starting to settle in now that he isn’t completely bewitched by the mythical man. Someone must notice a change in his countenance, because suddenly there’s a hand on his shoulder, a face grinning down at him.

 

“Don’t worry, your crewmates will all be safe!”

 

Jungkook wants to scoff. It certainly didn’t feel like he was safe just a minute ago, as they’d dangled him over shark-infested waters. And in fact, is he even safe himself? Why the hell are they handing him an old pair of worn boots?!

 

His train of thought must be obvious on his face, and he barely registers the clothes being shoved into his arms as the man speaks up again.

 

“Don’t worry, we won’t actually kill anyone,” he says with a kind smile, one with a bit of mischief laced into it, a dimple barely showing on one of his cheeks. “We’ll drop the rest of the men you were with off close to the nearest port, unharmed, honest. But captain has a way of seeing people, a way of testing them… and you just made the cut! Congrats!”

 

This time, Jungkook does scoff, and yet instead of insulting the man, it makes him laugh. A sound erupting loudly, only to be interrupted by a voice, and it causes Jungkook’s head to spin so quickly it makes him dizzy.

 

“Namjoon, you done dressing the newbie?”

 

Kim Taehyung is leaning against the stair railing, the smirk back onto his soft, gorgeous face. Dark eyes twinkle with mirth despite how badly lit the area under the deck is. Without another word, the man called Namjoon gives Jungkook’s shoulder a firm and friendly pat, tells him to get changed, and heads up the stairs after his captain.

 

 

༻ ◤◢◣◥◤◢◣◥ ⋅☾ ☠ ☽⋅ ◤◢◣◥◤◢◣◥ ༺

 

 

It’s been maybe a week, but honestly Jungkook has lost track of time, he stopped counting after the third night.

 

He’s never been like this. Days would go by smoothly, easily, one by one, always the same, and he would tick them off like a never-ending checklist. He hadn’t realised they were so empty, so boring, until now. 

 

Now he wakes to the sound of pirates calling out to each other, to grumbles and moans as the few men on the night shift kick the day shift out of their beds and replace them. He gets up with Namjoon, who’s kind of taken him under his wing, even though that isn’t really his job as Sailing Master on the ship. Every morning he trundles down the stairs to the cantina, although it’s more of a room filled with barrels where they all crowd onto the wooden cylinders and eat out of a collection of mismatched bowls. The food isn’t terrible, in fact, it’s quite tasty despite its basic components. The chef does wonders with what little he has, always laughing in that high pitched giggle of his and slapping away any impatient hands with his wooden spoon (he specifically keeps one hanging from his belt, just to hit them with).

 

Then he’s up on deck for the best part of the morning: the men emerge onto the deck and wander off to their stations, and Jungkook always joins a random group, learning small pieces of how the ship functions every day. And just as he’s focussing on learning, that’s when his eyes start to drift upwards. Towards the quarterdeck where the captain appears out of nowhere, his serious eyes sweeping over the flurry of activity.

 

That’s when Kim Taehyung speaks to them. He outlines their plans for the day, their plans for the future, how far they’ve come and how far they’re going. It always starts serious, then it evolves into jokes running back and forth with the pirates beneath him. Even through the small interactions the crew send his way throughout his morning speech, even despite the small jabs and laughter, there is an undercurrent of pure respect and trust between the crew and the pirate king. Jungkook realises almost immediately that he could get used to this, could end up putting his very life into this man’s hands with no regret or second thought.

 

It should be terrifying. All of this, his life being upturned, unintentionally joining men who live illegally, Kim Taehyung himself, it should all be terrifying.

 

And yet it isn’t.

 

There’s another word for it, has to be something like... Elating?

 

It’s elating. It’s freeing. He’s never felt like this before: so in control and yet at the mercy of the water. It takes him about 3 days to stop living by his own rules and just start living by the seas'.

 

 

༻ ◤◢◣◥◤◢◣◥ ⋅☾ ☠ ☽⋅ ◤◢◣◥◤◢◣◥ ༺

 

 

He doesn’t know how long he’s been here, maybe two or three weeks, but he’s not counting anymore. All that matters is the way the crew now shout out his name like he’s one of them, like he’s a younger brother to all of them. It’s a struggle to remember everyone’s names, but he’ll often hear “Kook!” echo from a corner of the ship, and he’ll go help out, go learn.

 

He’s learning so much. Mostly he’s helping pull sails down, starting to understand when and why they need to come down or go back up, how to navigate the winds. No one teaches him this, but he’s watching, insatiable suddenly. He wants to know everything. Already his feet feel at home on deck, already he loves the sea air more than he ever loved the smell of the farm he grew up on. He wakes up without nausea now, and his legs swing easily off his hammock, no longer threatening to accidentally toss himself onto another slumbering pirate.

 

Pirate.

 

Is that what he is now? He doesn’t know. Doesn’t care for the title, doesn’t hate it, just doesn’t understand it. What he feels is free.

 

But there is something which he’s been waiting for desperately, something he catches himself staring at longingly despite himself. He’s been told he isn’t ready yet, that he has to get used to the push and pull of the water fighting against the beautiful ship before he can attempt to follow them. Jimin in particular is always sticking his tongue out at him as he climbs nimbly up the rigging. 

 

But then it’s the middle of week two or week three, and he’s rolling up a length of rope the way he’s been shown how: looping it over his elbow and up to his heaven-facing palm and back again, when a shadow falls over him. Confused, Jungkook looks up and peers into mirthful black eyes and a devilish smirk. He scrambles to his feet, fighting the urge to stand to attention (the captain doesn’t like formalities) and tries to swallow despite his suddenly parched mouth.

 

He’s wearing loose trousers, cinched at the waist and ankles. His beige shirt is tucked into them but loose around his shoulders, showing a sliver of toned chest. His arms are tanned and thin, but strong, and his skin disappears under a cuff on each arm. The silver metal glints in the sun, wrapping around his forearms so it covers them from his wrists to his elbows, and although the metal is simple, it's riddled with sharp ridges. They look like sword strikes, and as Jungkook notices that’s exactly what they are, his jaw drops.

 

“Kook,” Taehyung says softly, and the sound of his nickname in that sultry voice nearly sends him spiralling. 

 

He barely lets a squeak out in response.

 

The smirk only grows, and Jungkook is suddenly considering jumping overboard. Yet Taehyung doesn’t mention it further, he simply turns and speaks two words over his shoulder:

 

“Follow me.”

 

It’s the middle of week two or week three, and Jungkook would already follow the pirate king anywhere. Taehyung is just like that, there’s something about him that brings you gravitating to him. So he follows without a word, the length of rope abandoned on the floor.

 

They walk across the deck, ignored by the rest of the crew, feet tapping on the worn wood, and something about the sound has become incredibly comforting to the cabin boy recently. Then Taehyung jumps up onto the bridge railing, so close to the water and Jungkook’s heart leaps into his throat.

 

He swallows it down under Taehyung’s challenging stare, and his palms start to sweat.

 

“You coming?” his captain says, voice light and full of tease.

 

“I’m allowed?” he answers, unable to keep the hope out of his tone.

 

He’s only been given three rules since he was taken into the crew. Rule number one: Respect the captain. In a way, it’s the only rule that matters. Rule number two: Trust the crew. On a ship in the middle of the ocean, they are your family and you are theirs; trust is everything. And rule number three was the only one Jungkook had whined at.

 

“Don’t climb the rigging!” Namjoon had said very sternly, wagging his finger at him.

 

“But whyyy?”

 

“Stop pouting!” the dimpled man had laughed back. “Until you get your sea legs there’s no climbing the rigging. That’s how people fall and break bones.”

 

“I won’t fall though!” Jungkook had exclaimed, so sure of himself.

 

“Yeah, that’s what they all say.”

 

He’d been so excited to climb up into the billowing white sails, in fact he’d been gazing distractedly into the heights of the ship since he’d got here, a fact which has caused him to be teased and brought back down to earth by the pirates he was supposed to help on multiple occasions. Yet now, he finds himself hesitating for some reason. Then his eyes cross into the path of the pirate kings’ and although he can’t read them, they suck the fear out of him.

 

Taehyung doesn’t even say anything, he just swings himself up as Jungkook’s jaw drops.

 

He’s their captain, you’d expect him to be on deck most of the time, yet he climbs so swiftly, so naturally, that he looks like he was born to do this. No movement is out of place, every hand which goes up is precise, yet something about him screams of elegance and power. It’s hypnotizing, and for a second he loses himself in the sight, before the sultry voice laughs down at him.

 

“Enjoying the view, Kook?” Taehyung laughs.

 

And suddenly Jungkook realises what this looks like, and he’s blushing from head to toe. Almost immediately his eyes accidentally glimpse the pirate king’s swinging hips, the way his trousers wrap tightly around his backside as he prowls up the rigging.

 

Muffled, unintelligible excuses tumble from Jungkook’s lips, before he realises they’re useless and instead he rushes to climb the rope ladder, concentrating on his hands and feet, refusing to let his eyes wander up again. His face burns as his mind consumes itself with images which shouldn’t be there, hands and feet working automatically. He’s barely paying attention to where he’s going when he hears the whistle.

 

It’s a surprised sound, an impressed one. 

 

“Are you sure it’s his first time on a ship, Cap'?”

 

Snapped out of his thoughts, Jungkook looks up and has to lean back so he can look up into two sets of eyes. Jimin is staring at him from the crow’s nest where he’s sat, while their captain hangs from the outside of it, one arm swinging in the emptiness, looking so relaxed, golden earrings glinting in the sun and a grin lighting up his face. 

 

“So, what do you think of the view?” Taehyung asks.

 

His voice is sultry, mischievous. Jungkook has to gulp as his mind goes into overdrive, trying to figure out what the hell he’s supposed to say. Okay he was staring, he couldn’t help it! Taehyung looked like the embodiment of wild and free, the incarnation of Poseidon, barely human in his beauty, even when swinging so far above the ground. The view of him effortlessly hanging there? Is heavenly. But is he going to tell the pirate that? Of course not! And that’s when he notices the pirate king has an eyebrow raised, every twitch of his lips is teasing him, and he’s pointing into the distance.

 

Jimin’s snickers fall into the background as Jungkook’s eyes follow the digit and he suddenly takes in where they are, takes in the view. There’s the rope ladder he’s clinging to, it feels solid under his finger tips. Yet the ship itself moves up and over waves, and although it’s not noticeable when you’re on deck, up here every movement is made tenfold more obvious. 

 

And the sea glimmers like a hundred thousand mirrors as he moves; it shines the sunlight back into the skies. The rest of the world falls away as he stares into shimmering horizons and blinding beauty. It’s empty, yet it isn't. There’s something about the wide open space which is full of life and movement, something just beyond his eyesight, and he wonders if it’s the wind. The clouds above are few and far away, gliding effortlessly over the world. And Jungkook screams.

 

With joy and newfound freedom, he woops into the skies. One hand lets go of the rigging so he can lean back and feel like he’s floating through the air. The ship dips over a wave and he tilts even further back, but he’s unafraid, strong, laughing as the wind giggles in his ear. His heart leaps upwards and settles again, filling him with unadulterated joy. Chuckles, real ones, reach his ears, and he looks back up into the grinning faces of two pirates.

 

“Welcome to the crew, Kook.” Taehyung says.

 

Jungkook can only laugh at that, because what else can you say to the man who has offered you a new life, one overflowing with such wonder and beauty? He lets his eyes do the talking; he knows they’re filled to the brim with gratefulness. It’s then that a call comes from below, and Taehyung leans even further over the edge of nothingness, peering down at his quartermaster who’s waving at him.

 

“Looks like you’re needed,” Jimin says.

 

His captain simply nods with a sigh, then heaves himself back up, and he turns.

 

So he’s facing the sea, so he’s looking down into the void with his arms tensed behind him and the wind is pressing his shirt against his rippling chest. And then outrageously, unacceptably, he turns to Jungkook.

 

And he winks.

 

Then he’s letting go and Jungkook’s breath strangles in his throat.

 

Taehyung falls for barely a second before his arms are suddenly reaching over his head, catching the rope he’s tumbling past, and his whole body twists sideways. His forearms are crossed over the cable, fists clenched so they don’t get friction burns, and the metal on his forearms slides over the cable linking the main mast to the aft sails. Down he goes, until suddenly he’s releasing and catching the edge of the top sail with long fingers, so now he’s sliding down fabric and Jungkook has to heave himself up to the crows nest so he can properly watch the insane descent. 

 

From the bottom of the sail Taehyung leaps backwards, arms crossing above his head again so he’s sliding down another cable, and then he’s rolling on the deck and back onto his feet so swiftly it makes Jungkook feel choke on his own saliva.

 

From next to him comes an amused scoff.

 

“Show off,” Jimin says, but he’s grinning and Jungkook is still staring, mouth open in shock as Taehyung saunters over to his quartermaster and they wander off together as if he hadn’t just flown through the air.

 

And alongside the wink and the flight both spinning through his mind, there’s only one other thought occupying Jungkook.

 

“Where can I get those?!” he exclaims, pointing at his own bare forearms and staring at Jimin with wide open eyes.

 

The lookout bursts into loud laughter, then pats him on the shoulder.

 

“The cuffs? He had those made specifically for this, you have no idea how crazy we thought he was back then… As much as both of us would love to do that Kook, it’s way harder than it looks. Cap’ just makes it look easy.”

 

Jungkook wants to pout but he doesn’t, because suddenly there’s something building inside of him, something he hasn’t felt in a long, long time.

 

It’s a goal. It’s ambition. It’s a dream.

 

Without meaning to, Kim Taehyung has just given him a purpose.

 

 

༻ ◤◢◣◥◤◢◣◥ ⋅☾ ☠ ☽⋅ ◤◢◣◥◤◢◣◥ ༺

 

 

He's still thinking about the cuffs when he’s lying in his hammock late at night, wide awake. His eyes are staring at the ceiling but it feels like he can see through the layers of wood and straight up into the starry sky. It calls to him.

 

He’s gotten used to the hammock now, so when he swings out of it and gently presses his feet to the ground, it makes no sound. He weaves between slumbering pirates, sneaking up the stairs and out into the night-time. 

 

Up on deck there are only three men. One of them is up in the crows nest, keeping an eye out. There’s someone behind the helm and a third man walks along the deck. They barely glance at Jungkook as he makes his way to the forecastle deck, climbing the carved stairs until he’s standing at the front of the ship, and there’s only the bowsprit between him and the open ocean.

 

Except that’s not all there is. For there, clothes rustling in the breeze, is a man.

 

The bowsprit is a long piece of wood which juts out above the front of the ship. Underneath it hangs the ship’s figurehead, a bear with its fangs bared. Two ropes wrap around the middle of it, linking it to the front mast. And Kim Taehyung is sat just beyond them.

 

He’s balancing on this ridiculously small piece of wood hanging over the deadly waters, and yet his legs are crossed, his back leaning against the two ropes for the tiniest bit of friction. Apparently, that’s all it takes for him to keep balance. 

 

His hands are near his knees when Jungkook notices he isn’t holding onto anything. The pirate is breathing deeply, and as he does his hands move up through the breeze.

 

He looks at one with the universe and his own body, like he’s in control of everything on the ship and around it, even the elements. Jungkook stops breathing. Can’t help it, when his whole being is trained on the man risking his life yet showing no fear. He looks like this is the most comfortable place in the world, and Jungkook remembers him launching himself from the top of the ship like it was nothing.

 

He could probably watch him like this all night, like the pirate king is absorbing the universe and he would be there to witness it.

 

But then there’s a hand on his arm, pulling him back slowly, with no hesitation. He’s forced to follow the unknown pirate back onto the main deck, and once they’re down the stairs, the other whispers frantically to him.

 

“Don’t bother the Cap’ when he’s meditating!”

 

“Huh?” Jungkook asks, scratching his head in confusion. “Why not?”

 

“Just… don’t. He doesn’t like being disturbed, okay?”

 

There isn’t fear in the man’s voice, not really. It’s more like concern and respect, something that he knows would impact the whole ship if they disturbed their captain. And so, with one last curious look at the figure breathing over the water and the stars which twinkle far above him, Jungkook goes back to his hammock.

 

The next day he’s listening intently to Namjoon while he tresses a rope. The tall man is in charge of mapping their journey, but for long periods of time with no change in direction or weather, he’s free to educate their newest addition to the crew.

 

“Listen, being a pirate isn’t what people expect,” he says. “They expect us to be rude and ruthless, to smell from weeks on a ship, for us to be lonely from the lack of families and enslaved by our cruel captains, to prey on the weak. But Taehyung was never that kind of captain.”

 

At this point, Jungkook is absorbed. If there’s one thing he’s discovered about himself since coming on the ship, it’s that he loves stories, craves to know more about the world he’s stepped into. And, admittedly, he’s particularly interested in the stories revolving around the elusive pirate king.

 

“He’s a leader, first and foremost,” Namjoon carried on. “He lives for the seas, always has. He once said he doesn’t belong on earth, and that’s why he made a home for himself on the ocean. Honestly I think his best characteristic is how he finds people he knows would thrive as pirates, like he can see an aura in them or something, it’s amazing.”

 

There’s nothing but reverence in Namjoon’s voice, but Jungkook frowns at his words.

 

“I didn’t have a choice in being here,” he says.

 

He doesn’t sound angry, just a little confused, his mind trying to sift through that day the ship he’d been on had been captured so effortlessly. Namjoon lifts his eyes up from the piece of rope he’s working on and frowns back.

 

“Is that really what you think?” he asks.

 

He sounds angry and unimpressed, or maybe he sounds like neither of those. His eyes are analysing him, and Jungkook squirms. 

 

“I… I don’t know. Isn’t that what happened? I got captured, and now I'm here.”

 

“Yes,” the other agrees solemnly, rope falling down, forgotten. “But you always had a choice. You saw us drop those men off at port, you could’ve gone with them. So why didn’t you?”

 

Jungkook falls silent, and the sailing master sighs, leaving the rope alone once and for all, standing up and looking down with both soft and stern eyes.

 

“This is a dangerous life to live, Kook. If you don’t truly believe you belong here then you won’t make it. We need you to be a part of this family, and we have to be able to trust you. So figure it out. Do you want to stay?”

 

Jungkook thinks about that question for most of the day, the thoughts spinning round and round in his head, making him dizzy.

 

He’s silent all throughout dinner and he doesn’t take part in the drinking hour before bed, when the pirates laugh over bottles of rum and burst into drunken sea shanties. Instead he’s in his hammock, eyes roaming over the uneven ceiling, thinking. By the time the rest of the crew are snoring all around him, he’s grown a headache from thinking too hard, from trying to balance out his whole life into one yes or no question: does he belong here?

 

Eventually the sounds of slumbering men around him are too much for his increasing migraine. He slips out of the room and up onto deck, breathing a sigh of relief when fresh air invades his lungs. Almost immediately his headache clears and he opens his eyes to thousands of stars, shimmering through the night sky. There a glint bouncing off a spyglass in the crows nest, denoting the lookout who’s scanning the dark seas. The helmsman glances at him from behind the giant wheel, but otherwise there’s no one else.

 

No one, except a silhouette, balancing above the deadly waters.

 

Jungkook knows not to bother him now, but he can’t help but get closer. There’s something about the man in this vulnerable state which calls to him, bewitches him, like a siren.

 

He goes up the stairs to the forecastle deck slowly, carefully, silently. He feels the helmsman’s eyes on his back, but they don’t stop him. Then he’s on the front of the ship and he’s staring at Taehyung, and one of his feet is freezing mid air because a pair of scintillating dark eyes are watching him. Lips twitch into a smile then back down again, and Jungkook gulps at the sight.

 

“Can’t sleep?” the captain asks.

 

Jungkook’s foot finally comes back to the ground, which is a relief because he desperately needs the help keeping his balance under that piercing gaze. He nods, shyly, begging the night to hide the blush creeping up his neck.

 

Tonight the pirate king isn’t sat the way he was before. He’s further along the beam, his back leaning against the only rope tied to the very tip of the bowsprit. His legs are still crossed, knees pointing outwards and his hands resting upon them. But he’s looking at him so clearly, so openly that it makes the cabin boy want to squirm.

 

And then he speaks and makes it worse.

 

“I left a space for you,” he says, and then he leans to pat the wood right in front of him, the place he was in fact sat the night before, so Jungkook knows exactly what he’s implying.

 

He’s asking him to join him over the water, to breath in the night’s breeze and let his soul dance above death, defying it, accepting it. He’s asking him to be close enough that he would see the expressions Kim Taehyung makes when he meditates, and it’s terrifying.

 

That he could be allowed to see that unguarded state, but that to do so he has to balance himself on top of a ship devouring the seas.

 

Jungkook chews on his bottom lip, nervousness tying his stomach into knots, his feet itching to run away, but those eyes keep him frozen in place, they make him answer.

 

“I was told you hate being interrupted though…”

 

“And yet here you are.” Taehyung answers, mirth dancing through his words.

 

The blush only gets more pronounced.

 

Jungkook doesn’t think he can speak another word, so instead he inches forward. He has to step around the roping tying the front mast to the deck, then onto the beam jutting out into nothingness, and he gulps.

 

He’s not afraid of heights, and he isn’t afraid of water, yet the sight below him is terrifying.

 

The ship sails gently, like a whale cruising through the water, but here he can see the way her bow cuts through the waves ruthlessly, the speed at which the white crests zoom past, the hunger of the ocean beneath them.

 

The law of the sea is ruthless; she wants to devour him.

 

And yet Taehyung sits above it all, unafraid, and Jungkook joins him.

 

Hand over hand he inches along the beam, well aware that the captain probably walked along here and that, in comparison, he must look ridiculous crawling along the wood. But he’s no fool. Up here every wave makes his feet shake with miniscule tremors, up here he feels like he’s tempting fate, like he’s challenging the seas.

 

It’s only as he sits down with a shaky breath that he realises maybe that’s exactly why Taehyung comes here. 

 

His shirt is pulling and pushing against his strong frame, the wind angrier than anywhere else on the deck. His hair dances wildly in the wind, and his torso bends and shifts with every movement of the ship. There’s no muscle which isn’t tense, which isn’t fighting in the game he plays with the ship, betting on whether he’ll fall down or not. Even the sounds are louder: where it seemed so peaceful from afar, he can hear the roar of water, the crash of wood against the ocean as the ship carves its way forward.

 

From afar the pirate king looked so relaxed, so at one with the universe around him, but now that he’s so close to him, Jungkook can barely breathe.

 

For Taehyung looks ethereal.

 

Jungkook had been right: up on this beam is the only time Taehyung truly lets his walls fall completely; suddenly Jungkook can read his every expression, and it’s overwhelming.

 

Taehyung’s eyes speak of fun and mischief, they are a challenge to the world, to knock him off his feet. Briefly, Jungkook wonders if that applies to him too. But he’s too busy concentrating on not falling to look at Taehyung for long, and it’s annoying.

 

He wants to be able to stare at the pirate king for as long as he likes, thank you very much.

 

But the sea disagrees; she sends up droplets which cover the beam in water, making it extra slippery. His fleet slide on wood even though he’s sat down, knees pressing into each side of the wood, hands gripping desperately at it.

 

“Kook,” comes a slightly amused voice, yet careful and nurturing.

 

He looks up into the pirate kings eyes and his own widen in fear. 

 

Taehyung has lifted his arms so they spread out around him, his eyes are closed and he’s grinning. Jungkook wonders how the hell he’s doing that, but his teeth are grit too hard for him to actually ask the question. It doesn’t matter; Taehyung senses it.

 

“Just trust the ship,” he says.

 

It’s Jungkook’s turn to laugh. It doesn’t come out very strong, it’s laced with discomfort and fear and it’s more of a giggle, but it’s a sound all the same and it helps him calm down.

 

“The ship can’t think though,” he answers, the words tasting like lies on his tongue. 

 

He’s worried he’s offended him, but Taehyung only smiles softly.

 

“What about the sea?”

 

“Huh?” 

 

He’s lost. What about the sea? She gallops angrily beneath them, she waits for them to fall. What about her?

 

“Can the sea think?” Taehyung asks, his hands still playing with the wind’s currents.

 

“The sea? Well… no I guess not. But what does that have to do with anything?”

 

Taehyung laughs once again, and the sound sucks the fear out of him with how warm and free and relaxed it is. Jungkook feels like drowning in it.

 

“If the sea can’t think and the ship can’t think, then I recommend not thinking either, Kook.”

 

It’s insane. Taehyung is insane, Jungkook thinks. But Taehyung has closed his eyes again, and his hands are rising up to the beat of his breathing, then pressing down again, like he’s pushing the negativity inside him into the water, letting it get washed away. The ship dips over the crest of a wave, and a tremor runs up the bowsprit, causing Jungkook’s nails to dig into the wood in fear. But something else catches his attention.

 

When the ripple runs along the wood, Taehyung raises his hands, lifting one a little higher than the other, keeping his balance like it's second nature. Yet his eyes have flown open.

 

Within a second he’s staring at Jungkook so intently it makes him want to hide, yet he can’t move. They’re analysing him, Taehyung is analysing him. His gaze is taking in every tremor of his muscles, drawing the lines of his body, reading his balance, running up and down him and his stance.

 

He feels naked. And he feels safe.

 

There are muscles tensed in Taehyung’s chest, like he’s ready to leap forward if anything were to happen.

 

“Just trust the ship.”

 

That’s what he’d said; Jungkook doesn’t think he can do that, not yet. But maybe he can trust his captain.

 

So although he keeps his thighs wrapped around the beam, he forces himself to lean back, forces his hands to let go. Automatically they come out to help keep his balance, and he keeps them there, pushing against the wind, fighting to stay upright.

 

And it’s easy. Easier than he’d expected anyways. His eyes open wider at the sudden feeling of freedom seeping into his bones as he looks down into the churning waters and thinks: “You can’t have me.”

 

The sea roars unhappily at him, throwing up water so some droplets hit his face, and he laughs. Laughs loudly and freely, looking up into the grinning face watching him intently.

 

Kim Taehyung is breathtaking.

 

“Now, breathe,” he says, his voice as deep as the ocean and just as playful.

 

His hands come close to his chest, elbows pointing outwards, lifting towards the heavens. Just like that, he controls Jungkook’s breathing. They do this together, for what seems like an eternity. Simply breathing, but somehow… breathing together.

 

Little by little, it lifts the fear out of Jungkook’s body. Everything which was torturing him is slowly siphoned out and released into the skies, or pushed into the seas. It leaves him feeling bare and open, unguarded. In a way he feels pure, cleansed. And so with his protective walls drawn so far down they're non-existent, words slip out uncontrolled.

 

“Do I belong here?” he asks.

 

It sounds like he’s asking the universe, not the person staring into his very soul, their knees close to each other. Taehyung gazes at him for a moment, and then answers him all the same.

 

“Do you want to belong here?”

 

And Jungkook thinks about it. His mind is empty and so everything that he is narrows in on that one thought.

 

Does he want to belong here?

 

Does he miss his family? Certainly, but they had sent him off knowing he may never come back, he had prepared for the possibility of never seeing them again the first time he had stepped onto the deck of a ship. Are the things he misses enough to lose the things he knows he would miss from here?

 

He could go back to his father’s farm, go back to the things he knew and fall in love with someone who lived locally, build a family and get his children to help him when the time came for him to take over from his own father. He could go back to being a cabin boy on random ships, his job pretty much what it is here, but with less freedom, less camaraderie, less climbing into the rigging and… less Taehyung. 

 

He doesn’t even know what being a pirate means, doesn’t know how ruthless they can be, doesn’t know the underlying lives they live… and yet.

 

The sea calls to him in a way she never has before. The ship beneath him is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. The skies are more breathtaking every day, wide and stretching forever, opening up the world for him. The wood beneath him feels safe and warm despite the night’s sea foam breeze; and this... this feels like the home he has never had. 

 

Does he want to belong here?

 

The words surprise even him as he speaks them into existence.

 

“I do,” he breathes out, and his heart beats to the rhythm of the universe, voice trembling under the weight of the truth.

 

“Well then,” Taehyung says, his baritone voice singing in Jungkook’s mind, drawing his eyes back to the pirate resting above the waves. “In that case, you belong here. The Winter Bear is your home for as long as you want it.”

 

The depth of those words hits him with the force of a hurricane, a new reality forcing itself into his soul, and he accepts it all, effortlessly.

 

Then Taehyung is standing, getting up so smoothly and effortlessly that Jungkook is winded once more, his body unable to adapt to the effect the pirate king seems to have on him. Then a hand is thrust at him, and Jungkook glances at it. Taehyung raises a teasing eyebrow at him, wiggling his fingers, his other arm helping him keep balance. Jungkook looks back at the hand and grins; grasps it.

 

“Welcome to the family, Kook,” Taehyung says, and then he grins.

 

It’s unlike any smile he’s ever seen before. This grin shows every tooth, stretching his cheeks upwards, crinkling his eyes and they dance with laughter. The sight sends Jungkook’s heart galloping in his chest just as Taehyung pulls him to his feet.

 

He’s too distracted, too busy staring at the most gorgeous smile he’s ever seen. The sudden movement takes Jungkook by surprise, and the second Taehyung’s hand lets go of his, his foot slips on water-splattered wood. 

 

The universe slows down so every tilting star resonates inside him. The sound of the roaring sea only grows in intensity as she prepares to swallow him whole and his hands grasp at thin air, searching for purchase, finding none.

 

He’s falling, about to fall…

 

No longer falling.

 

Taehyung is everywhere.

 

His arms are wrapped around him. His chest is pressed up against his own, pushing him back into the ropes just behind him, anchoring him to the ship. His feet are bumping into his, one leg so close he can feel it through the thin fabric of his trousers, rubbing against him with every tremble of the ship. Taehyung is so close his head has nowhere to go, and so it’s pressed against the side of his own, their cheeks rubbing, his breathing echoing in the night.

 

Jungkook can’t breathe. The sea demands him, but Taehyung refuses to let her have him. His hands are gripping into the ropes he’s pushed him against, he can feel them digging into his back. And the chuckle which escapes the pirate king ripples through him like thunder.

 

“You know… you’re the first one ever to actually join me on the bowsprit.”

 

The words mean nothing, Jungkook doesn’t understand them, not when adrenaline is coursing through him and his heart is trying to break out of his chest. Not when that chuckle is stirring endlessly in the pits of his stomach. Not when he can smell Taehyung.

 

He smells of sea foam and wood and vanilla.

 

And so there’s only one thing he manages to say.

 

It’s a squeak.

 

“Oh?”

 

The chuckle rumbles again, but this time it’s worse. Because he can feel it through their joint chests. Because he can feel the breath of it against the shell of his ear. Because Taehyung slowly pulls back, but barely. Mere inches separate them, and up close his eyes are more beautiful than he’d been able to fathom before. One of them is a monolid, the other is double lidded, and it encompasses all that Taehyung is:

 

Unique, a little wild and a little soft. And yet he is pirate captain, and pirate king. Jungkook can’t breathe. And when Taehyung speaks again, it takes everything he has to keep his knees from buckling.

 

“I’ve always offered it to new recruits; to join me up here. I only ask once. And yet you…”

 

There’s something slithering at his side, something running up his waist, grazing the skin of his neck before he finally sees what it is. Taehyung is running a hand along him, fingers kissing their way up his body until they reach his hair, where he tucks wild strands behind his ear, and despite the wind, they obey him. Something strangles in Jungkook’s chest.

 

“... you are the first to join me up here, Kook.”

 

There isn’t enough air in the world. There aren’t enough words in the dictionary and there certainly is not enough brainpower left in him to respond. Jungkook can merely gulp, his eyes flitting across Taehyung’s features, unable to look away, drinking in the wondrous sight. And then that chuckle rumbles through them both again, and he hiccups.

 

Actually hiccups just as Taehyung is pulling away. Hiccups again as a pair of hands settle on his hips, turning him softly, guiding him off the beam shaking over the waves, helping him back onto the ship.

 

Returning to the safety of the deck should calm him, fill him with the sense of safety and comfort. But he feels more on edge than he did hovering above the dark waters as he glimpses backwards into twinkling eyes.

 

He has to turn, watching as Taehyung lands behind him with the grace of a cat, can’t stop himself from staring. The stars above them pale in comparison to the pirate king.

 

“Thank you for joining me tonight, Kook,” Taehyung says easily, like he's unaffected by their dance above death.

 

For a second, Jungkook wishes it's not just his heart which is beating out of his chest from the feeling of having Taehyung so close he could feel every ridge of his body.

 

And despite the way his blood seems to bubble under his skin, Jungkook grins at the underlying challenge in those words.

 

“Next time, I won’t slip,” he answers simply, a promise lacing his words.

 

Of many more nights spent together. Of stars and waves crashing beneath them and of rumbling laughter.

 

Taehyung tilts his head at him, causing a strand of wavy black hair to fall over one eye, and Jungkook’s heart skips a beat. And yet, he doesn’t let it show as the pirate king giggles. Not the baritone rumble from earlier which ran all the way to the core of Jungkook’s body, no. This one is a giggle, high-pitched, heavenly. Hellish.

 

A sound come from another universe.

 

“I’m sure you won’t,” Taehyung says.

 

And then he’s walking away, his white shirt beaming the light of the stars back up into the sky, his hand waving cheekily over the top of his shoulder.

 

Jungkook goes back to his hammock, knees knocking together and his mind pulsing with the magical sound of bells which follow him deep into his dreams.