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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.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Jungkook wakes up the next morning feeling more alive than ever. As soon as his eyes open he’s tingling with life, desperate to get up. So he jumps out of his hammock and shoves his boots on. He’s one of the first to claim their breakfast from Seokjin, then he’s wolfing it down and rushing up to the deck, breathing in the ocean air like he’s never truly tasted it. It’s a new world which opens up for him, one which promises adventure and home.

 

Jimin is still rubbing his eyes when he spots him looking into the sails and wanders over, Jungkook trying to be patient despite the ache in his bones to be aloft once more.

 

Then Jimin is giving him the go ahead, something he’s still required to have as a new recruit, and he’s climbing.

 

Hand over hand he goes up, eyes trained on the sky which gets closer and closer until it feels like he’s standing in the middle of it. The weather isn’t sunny today, a thin blanket of clouds covers the skies, but it makes the view all the more breathtaking.

 

When he reaches the crow’s nest, the night shift lookout tiredly hands him the spyglass and scrambles back to the deck, mumbling a morning greeting to Jimin who’s only halfway up. 

 

Jungkook isn’t paying attention. He looks out past the ship and gasps.

 

Sunlight streams in through the gaps in the clouds, pouring down onto the water like bridges arching through the emptiness, connecting the world to the heavens. For a second Jungkook thinks he’s going to cry. His heart is beating deeply, a normal pace but it pulses in his fingertips, he senses the ship's movements through his feet and it feels like they’re breathing as one.

 

Then Jimin is tumbling in next to him, yawning. Jungkook hands over the spyglass without looking so he doesn't have to stop admiring the neverending ocean. Overhead there’s a flock of seafaring birds and he waves at them with a giant grin on his face. He can feel Jimin watching him with raised eyebrows but he doesn’t care. 

 

He enjoys every minute spent up there, knowing he’s escaping the duties which are sure to catch up with him. Sure enough, a call rises from the ground, and Jimin sends him back down despite his whining.

 

“You’re not allowed to miss the Captain’s briefing, Kook!” he laughs at him.

 

And maybe that’s the only thing which could have gotten him to descend the main mast: Taehyung is up. He’s getting ready to address them from the stern’s deck. Flashes of starlight smiles and chests pressed against each other burn through his mind as he scrambles down the woven ladder. From above him comes a worried call to be careful, to slow down, but he can’t control the sudden rampant desire to set his eyes on the pirate with golden hoops for earrings.

 

He’s still several feet from the ground when he jumps. His feet land on the deck with a resounding thump, knees bending to absorb the shock and hands touching down on wood. Then he’s standing up excitedly and he notices his mistake.

 

Every pirate on deck is staring at him, some shaking their heads with small smiles, others glaring at him, and above them, leaning against the higher deck railing, is Taehyung.

 

His eyes dance with something unknown, long tanned fingers threaded together, his rings glinting in the sunlight which decides to fall upon the ship right at that moment. Jungkook feels faint. Taehyung is smirking. The crew are watching.

 

Then their captain finally turns away and starts his morning briefing and he can finally breathe. Their captain talks them through the day’s plans, where they’re headed, which team has got what job, yet Jungkook isn’t listening. He should be listening. But he can’t help it. He’s somehow only just noticed how a particular strand of Taehyung’s hair curls into the nape of his neck, brushing the golden skin there every time he moves, and he’s unable to look away, unable to focus on anything else. Taehyung is talking and yet his words never reach him, they're just a beautiful mumble of soulful sounds.

 

Suddenly the sounds around him are rising once more as the pirates move off in groups, chatting animatedly to each other, and it snaps Jungkook out of whatever trance he’s been stuck in. Panic rises as he realises he's heard nothing. He doesn't know what they're doing, he doesn't know where he's supposed to go, all he knows is that Taehyung is too beautiful to fathom. Trying to rein in the blush he can feel creeping over his ears, he peers around, planning to sneak off to find Namjoon, hoping the man won’t have noticed his distraction. Maybe he'll tell him what he's supposed to be doing, maybe he won't ask him why he wasn't listening to a word of the morning briefing...

 

The pirates are still ambling on deck so he weaves a path away from the aft deck, aiming for the front of the ship. He’s hoping he’s escaped, ducking between groups of confused men, when his name rings out.

 

“Kook! Over here!”

 

Everything in him freezes, but then he realises it isn’t the deep, mesmerising voice he’s clearly unarmed against. Instead it’s a recognisable one. He looks over his shoulder and turns to follow it. Seokjin is standing near the front deck, waving madly at him, and the curiosity is too great for Jungkook to be careful. He regrets that immediately.

 

The crowd thins further and he’s only a few feet away when he realises Taehyung is stood right there. Right next to a grinning Seokjin. Even worse, peeking from behind them is the smuggest-looking Namjoon you could find. He definitely noticed how Jungkook had zoned out during briefing.

 

He’s sure his ears are bright red right now. He’s grappling with his own mind, desperate to find something to say, an excuse to save himself from the impending barrage of teasing questions he's sure to receive. And then Seokjin saves him.

 

“You and I are training today, Kook!” he says with the brightest smile.

 

He wants to ask what they're training for but he’s not sure whether Taehyung covered that during his morning briefing and there’s no way he’s admitting he actually spent the whole time staring at his neck. Thankfully, he’s saved once more.

 

“Aren’t you going to ask what you’re training for?”

 

Seokjin sounds so sad suddenly, and it draws his eyes to the ship’s chef.

 

“Um… cooking?” he ventures.

 

It isn’t a big stretch. But then Seokjin is huffing and mumbling to himself while Taehyung pats the man's shoulder playfully.

 

“I’m not just a chef, you know!” Seokjin suddenly explodes, but although he’s miffed, Jungkook isn’t scared.

 

He can only smile apologetically, his hands lifting to show he means no harm. And that’s why he’s taken by surprise when suddenly metal is hurtling his way. Panic rushes through him as he suddenly notices a blade is coming towards his face and his hands grab for the handle. He catches the sword remarkably easily, and that’s when he realises it was thrown ever so carefully.

 

Taehyung is smirking at him, handing a second weapon to Seokjin who immediately swings it around in complex shapes, and Jungkook looks down at his own. It’s got a simply carved metal handle, its blade shines. It's very clearly polished and its edges are rounded. Too curious, he presses it against his palm.

 

Nothing. The blade has been smoothed down until it’s unable to cut so much as a boiled potato. It's a training blade.

 

“You’re teaching me… sword fighting?!”

 

Seokjin sighs loudly and starts ranting about how he never looks like he’s a good swordsman even though he’s practically taught the whole crew, but Jungkook is distracted. His hands run over the metal, excitement filling him to the brim until he’s suddenly swinging the blunt sword around to test its weight.

 

Amused chuckles are echoing around him but he’s not paying attention. Suddenly Seokjin is in his space and his own sword his swinging downwards. Jungkook rushes the raise his arm, but he’s too late. The shock is too great and his own weapon is pushed aside. Seokjin’s blunt blade lands on his shoulder, and the cook grins.

 

“You lose!” He barks out cheekily, but Jungkook’s not having it.

 

“Again!” he says, and so the sword lifts and comes back.

 

He doesn’t know when Namjoon and Taehyung leave. He’s too absorbed in the lesson.

 

They spend most of the day fighting. By the time the sun is up in the sky, Jungkook is sweating more than he has in a long time, but he's loving it. The burn in his muscles feels useful and natural, feels needed. Although he's exhausted he also feels revived, alive. In the afternoon the skies turn grey with a solid, uninterrupted blanket of clouds. The breeze picks up slightly, so as the temperature drops, he regains some energy that the pockets of sun had leached from him.

 

Seokjin is mumbling about how he's got infuriating levels of stamina, and it makes him laugh. He's learning, building a home with a purpose at the centre of it, and he loves it.

 

Dinner with the crew seems rowdier than usual, and this time he joins in. When they break out the bottles of rum, he takes a sip and chokes on a cough at the strong taste, refusing any more after that, and it makes the pirates around him laugh. Soon he joins in with the loud singing, and by the time the crew go to bed all together, the wind is too strong for him to go up on deck and meditate above the water, so he climbs into his hammock amidst pirates settling into sleep. It's with a smile on his face that he lets his dreams take him, not too far away, but to a bowsprit balancing over the seas.

 

 

༻ ◤◢◣◥◤◢◣◥ ⋅☾ ☠ ☽⋅ ◤◢◣◥◤◢◣◥ ༺

 

 

He's awoken by the sound of sloshing water and shouts. There's a hand shaking him awake and calls for buckets as the armada of pirates in the room pull on their trousers and boots haphazardly, orders trying to rein them in. Their quartermaster Min Yoongi is banging on a pot from the bottom of the stairs, and the sound rings every alarm in Jungkook's body. He leaps out of the hammock, only to have his feet sink into water, and it laps over his ankles. It's freezing cold.

 

There's panic in the air, but more than that, there's Yoongi's voice breaking through the fear, calm and loud and straightforward.

 

"LOOKOUTS TO THE RIGGING! CABIN BOYS TO THE DECK! CANNON CREW GET YOUR BUCKETS!"

 

For a minute it's pure chaos as the entire crew searches for their shoes and clothing, then they're all running up or down stairs. The portholes are pushed open and a humongous chain of men start collecting the water cascading down the stairs with pails and tubs, then they're chucking it back into the ocean through the open windows.

 

Jungkook's pushed up the stairs without warning by an unknown hand, through the waterfall in the stairwell and up onto the soaking deck.

 

It's hell on Earth.

 

The soft grey clouds from the night before have turned into a ruthless storm, one of the ones which would cause him to barricade the farm back at home, hiding the animals away from the torrential rains and praying their crops would survive. The sails are billowing dangerously, making the ship skim faster than ever into wall-like waves. The ocean swells crash into the ship and rise above the pirates, falling back down in cascading waterfalls.

 

At the wheel of the ship is Taehyung, his hair pulled back into a bun so he can see through the storm, a light swinging wildly and uselessly by his side. He looks fierce. He looks like fire battling an ocean. There's a glint of challenge in the way he's looking around, something about him which suggests he isn't worried, and it settles Jungkook's nerves. Taehyung's shouting down at Yoongi who's relaying his orders with more hand gestures than words, and the crew obey immediately.

 

There's a set of men who are used to climbing the rigging who are suddenly up in the skies, gales of wind battering violently at them. They swing dangerously, their hands slipping on wet ropes. Right at the top Jungkook glimpses Jimin who's wrestling a cable which has broken free and is whipping around dangerously. Then Jungkook is pushed forward, and now he's moving fast. Weeks of labour have fashioned his instincts; the ship needs him.

 

His hands grasp at the aft sail tethers and he pulls, using his whole body, another pirate pulling behind him in perfect sync, and almost instinctively they're all in improvised pairs, hoisting the sails up as quickly as possible. At the top he can make out tiny figures trying to secure them. He can barely see through the waves crashing onto deck, through the rain pouring down upon them. The ship heaves itself over another wave and when it reaches the crest and comes back down, Jungkook feels his body react.

 

His stomach flips and his feet dig into the slippery ground just as everyone round him starts to slip and slide, their progress with stowing the sails halting. But they need them down. Now. An hour ago. The higher the sails, the more raging wind they take in, the faster they collide with mountain-like waves and he can't let his home go down like this.

 

The ship crests again, then swoops down through the angry seas, and a sound resonates from right next to him. It's horrifying, followed by a grunt of pain. Jungkook forces himself to finish tying off the sail they've managed to heave upwards and then he's looking down at the man groaning at his feet. It's one of the lookouts, shouting in pain. He doesn't look hurt but he's winded, barely conscious. In a second there's muffled shouting, then Yoongi is fighting his way towards them through the rain, relaying new orders and two men are pulling the injured one below deck. A hand grabs onto Jungkook's arm.

 

"UP YOU GO!" Yoongi shouts at him, pointing up towards the crow's nest hanging from the main mast.

 

"ME?!" Jungkook screams back through the storm, hair sticking to his face and getting into his eyes.

 

"TAE SAID YOU CAN DO IT! CAN YOU?!"

 

It takes him a second, just a glimpse at the captain above him who's somehow keeping his eyes on the battering seas and also nodding at him, and then Jungkook is running.

 

He's slipping and sliding along the deck as the ship tilts one way and the other, then he's reached the rigging rising to the centre of the ship. And he's climbing.

 

Hand over hand was easy before, now the tempest is against him. His sore muscles scream in discomfort, except the water cools them down, the wind batters at him but he is the ship. He is not a toy to steal from it. He will not fall. He is part of the ship, and he trusts it. Taehyung trusts him.

 

The rigging is slippery and shaking like a wild animal trying to throw him off, yet his teeth are gritted. He's pulling on his arms and pushing upwards and he struggles through the torrential rain until he's on the secondary main sail and he's shouting out to the pirates waiting for help. He's never tried to reel in the fabric before, but Jimin, poor exhausted Jimin, is there, and he's showing him how.

 

Latching onto wooden beams, they gather the material the pirates on deck are heaving up, him and Jimin on one end, two other men on the other, the four of them grasping at ropes flying wildly through the air and wrapping them round the sails which fight to break lose.

 

Nothing has ever been this difficult, Jungkook can see the wildness of the seas from here. They fight angrily against the ship, showing him how small they are, proving how puny the human crew are, and it's terrifying. Yet an image sticks in his mind, egging him on. An image of a man with his hair tied up, golden hoops still glinting in the stormy darkness, his eyes dancing with trust and challenge.

 

They can do this. Jungkook can do this.

 

The sail is stowed and the four of them rush to climb higher, to the top sail. Already the men on deck are hoisting it up, and up here the wind is crazier than ever. It bites at his skin, tears at his clothes, yet Jungkook keeps going. Up here it's even harder to wrestle the ship into submission. He can glimps see the lookout, clinging onto the crows nest for dear life, and Taehyung not too far below them on the highest deck.

 

And then the sound they all fear breaks through the madness.

 

It's a testimony to human survival instincts that they all hear the voice, but they do. Jungkook can tell by the way every pirate ties themself to the ship with the nearest rope, the way Jimin's eyes look at him in horror.

 

"BROACHING! BROACHING!"

 

It's Taehyung's voice. It breaks through the storm, like he controls the seas, like the winds have no power over him. Jungkook can barely see through the rain, but he has to peer down.

 

He knows what broaching is. He knows the ship is trying to keel onto her side, and once she does, it's over for them.

 

But Taehyung isn't scared.

 

Taehyung is looking up at him.

 

Jungkook's stomach heaves as he feels the Winter Bear turn and tilt, feels his heart leap upwards.

 

Taehyung is looking up at him.

 

His arms are fighting the steering wheel, arms bulging under the effort, body angling to fight the tilt of the deck, strands of hair falling out of his hairtie.

 

And then one hand lets go of the rudder, his entire weight thrown against it so he can steer them straight and still do the unthinkable.

 

He brings his arm out in a swinging ark, his eyes looking right into Jungkook's.

 

And he screams.

 

Taehyung is looking up at him.

 

"FLY!"

 

The sound barely reaches him, but when it does it echoes in his head.

 

Fly.

 

Fly...

 

Taehyung is looking up at him.

 

FLY!!

 

Jungkook doesn't think. He looks down at the rope his fingers are gripped around. He sees the way he hasn't yet stowed the sail properly. He sees that the right-hand storm sail has torn from its mast. They're unbalanced.

 

The Winter Bear is keeling left.

 

He's on the right.

 

FLY!!

 

Jungkook leaps off into the void.

 

His hands are wrapped in the rope and his feet are swinging through the hurricane. Air and water lashing at his face.

 

He's falling.

 

There's a monumentous tug and a burn rips at his hands, arms screaming.

 

Then he's swinging. Through the air and through the storm.

 

He's swinging down, fighting the elements, fighting to keep his grip and beneath him there's only water. But above him there is a sail.

 

His weight brings down the right hand side of it and suddenly the wind catches the canvas.

 

White fabric bulges outwards, and the ship tilts under the strain. He's sure he can hear the main mast cracking under the pressure, but he doesn't have time to think about it. Because suddenly he's no longer above water.

 

The sail billowing with wind brings him flying back with a scream, and time slows down.

 

Below him are pirates, looking up through the maelstrom. There's rain everywhere. And then there's Taehyung.

 

He's grinning.

 

Jungkook is screaming and the sail is whipping him back towards the deck and suddenly the rope he's clinging on to dear life to is catching on something.

 

It's pulled taut, and he's no longer swinging wildly. The rain screams and fights him, but he's halfway between a rippling sail and something tethering him to the ground.

 

He peers over his shoulder, and something stirs within him.

 

There are shadows all over the ship. Waves crash at their feet but they are rushing forward. Hands upon hands upon hands grab at the rope, and they pull.

 

The entire crew, together, heave at the wild sail. Inch by inch Jungkook goes down, until there are fingers grabbing at his boots and he's tugged to relative safety.

 

As soon as his feet are on deck he hears howling.

 

Loud, beckoning.

 

Taehyung is screaming at the skies, and the pirates answer him.

 

The pirate crew of the Winter Bear roar back at the storm.

 

Taehyung is mad; this is maddening. He made Jungkook fly.

 

And now they have to fly their ship through the storm. The crew secure the sail, bring down the surviving storm sail and they release the forward ones, stow away the canvas hanging from the main mast. It's hours and hours of work, Jungkook's hands are burning from the shock of the fall, exhaustion pulls at his muscles, but he's there. He's pulling and fighting against the elements.

 

And through it all Taehyung guides them, Yoongi organises them, the ship carries them.

 

They fight their way to safety.

 

When finally they break through into a patch of unexpected sunlight, Jungkook looks up in confusion. He'd lost track of when the seas had calmed, of when the rain had stopped.

 

All he knows is his legs are jelly, and he collapses onto the sopping deck, he's pretty sure a few others join him.

 

Somehow, laughter echoes around the deck. Orders to keep going try to force them to pull themselves together, but it doesn't work. Not until Taehyung starts singing.

 

It's a song they all know, one Jungkook has learnt over nights when the men drank rum and sang together under the stars. His baritone timber pushes Jungkook to his feet with an insane smile, and they get back to work.

 

The pirates sing their sea shanties and the Winter Bear survives the storm.

 

 

༻ ◤◢◣◥◤◢◣◥ ⋅☾ ☠ ☽⋅ ◤◢◣◥◤◢◣◥ ༺

 

 

That was insane.

 

The thought only settles into Jungkook's mind when the ship is following its new course smoothly, the storm now falling far behind them. He's stood on deck, heart struggling to calm down under the petering rush of adrenaline. His gaze is trained downwards, eyes running over the skin of his hands.

 

His palms are covered in rope burns, stinging painfully, and yet he knows he was lucky.

 

That was insane, he thinks. His mind feels breathless.

 

Out of the corner of his eye he vaguely registers someone counting crew members, and a general sigh of relief when they realise that, miraculously, they didn't lose anyone in the storm. He briefly wonders about the man who fell from the rigging, realises he can't have fallen from too high up if he survived.

 

That was insane.

 

He can't stop thinking, can't stop staring at his hands. Shock is taking a hold of him, the sudden realisation that the seas beneath him are deadly, ruthless. They stand on a piece of wood tied together with string and fabric. They are mortal. He is hurt.

 

That was insane.

 

"Hey."

 

The voice is soft and careful. It's deep and beautiful.

 

He looks up from his burning hands and stares into a proud, tired face. Taehyung's hair is pulled tightly into his bun once more, his golden hoops glinting in the welcome sunlight. From somewhere behind Jungkook comes the call for food, Seokjin gathering the pirates without letting them escape, forcing them down to the cantina so they can eat. The deck clears gradually, a small group of pirates remaining under Yoongi's orders, a new lookout climbing up the dripping rigging.

 

Taehyung is staring at him. Taehyung is running two fingers over Jungkook's cheek.

 

"That was insane," Jungkook says.

 

And Taehyung giggles.

 

The shock of the storm is cleared out by the sound. It replaces every emotion in his veins, brings him back to the land of the sane.

 

"It was, wasn't it?" the captain says cheerfully, like he didn't navigate them away from certain death.

 

Then he's looking down at Jungkook's hands, and his fingers leave his cheek, leaving an emptiness behind. But now his pads are running over Jungkook's palms carefully, and the feeling fills him to the brim.

 

The world had been nothing but a ship in the storm. Now his world narrows down to just the two of them, stood close on the soaking deck.

 

"Come on," Taehyung practically whispers. "Let's get you patched up."

 

The pirate king turns, his hand gently curling around his wrist, and Jungkook follows without resistance, without a word. They climb the stairs up to the sterncastle deck, and the shock may be seeping out of him, but it's replaced by something stronger.

 

He's mesmerised, enthralled. Taehyung's soaked white shirt sticks to his back, and he's divine. He's strong and beautiful and kind and the sound of him belting out sea shanties through a storm swims in Jungkook's head.

 

He's pulled forward, kindly, carefully. Then Taehyung leads him through a door, and Jungkook's jaw drops.

 

He's in the captain's quarters; he can't quite believe it. Is anyone even allowed in here?

 

There are wide and crooked windows letting newly found sunlight pour into the room. Beneath them sits a desk, huge, heavy looking. It's tethered to the wooden floor with thin ropes nailed into its side, instruments of all kinds slotted into grooves in its surface. The ground is covered with a thick rug, threads of purple meeting red, and for a second all he wants is to lie on it.

 

A chest sits on one side, bookshelves with large metal handles locking them shut cover one wall, strange shapes hang from the ceiling, beautiful and complex. There's a painting nailed to a wall. To his left there's a bed, not quite a double, but large enough. The biggest luxury on this ship. It's smothered with blankets and quilts, and that's where Taehyung guides him.

 

He pushes some of the fabrics away, then gestures at him to sit down, so Jungkook does exactly that. He feels incredibly out of place, yet his eyes are wide with curiosity, drinking in the room he's honoured to be allowed into.

 

Taehyung steps away, walking over to the chest sat across from them. Jungkook looks down at his wrist. It feels empty suddenly. It tingles.

 

"Do they hurt?"

 

He lifts his head up in surprise.

 

"Huh?"

 

Taehyung smiles, and Jungkook doesn't know why, doesn't understand. There is so much he cannot figure out about Kim Taehyung.

 

"The friction burns. Do they hurt?" he asks again, patiently, softly, as he bends down and Jungkook panics.

 

Kim Taehyung, Pirate King CANNOT be kneeling at his feet. He's about to say exactly that, mouth opening in protest and hands clenching, when Taehyung tuts at him.

 

"You'll hurt yourself more. Stop moving."

 

And just like that all the fight leaves Jungkook's body.

 

"It doesn't hurt..." he mumbles.

 

Taehyung peers up at him for a moment, and time seems to stretch for an eternity. His curly hair is drying, escaping his bun once more in curly, wild strands. His earrings dangle, glinting gold. His eyes are deeper than an ocean, his skin smoother than the morning seas.

 

"Don't move," he whispers.

 

It echoes through the room. It's louder than thunder

 

So Jungkook falls silent and watches, mesmerised. He watches as Taehyung settles a small box against the ground and flips its lock open. Then he's pouring some form of alcohol onto a cotton ball and pressing it into his palms. It steals a hiss from Jungkook's lips, but it doesn't hurt, not too much. He's too distracted for it to hurt.

 

He can't look away. Not when Taehyung is cradling one of his hands so carefully. Not when he's biting his bottom lip in concentration. Not when his hair is still pulled back and it lets him watch as every expression flits across his features.

 

The pirate king is so careful as he puts Jungkook's hand down and picks up the other one, repeating the same movements. Silence stretches through the cabin, only interrupted by the sounds of alcohol sloshing in its bottle and of their breathing.

 

The tingle in his palms hurt, but the sight is soothing. He can't believe someone as beautiful as Taehyung exists. He cannot fathom it, even though he's staring right at him. It doesn't make sense: the way Taehyung is brave and inspiring, maddening and teasing, careful and nurturing. One person cannot contain such multitudes...

 

And yet.

 

He's so lost in staring at the man at his feet that he doesn't notice when Taehyung is bandaging his hands. It's only when the pirate is tucking in the last bandage that he manages to tear his eyes away from Taehyung's face.

 

He glances down at his hands, sees how they're snuggly fitted, wrapped so carefully, and he flexes his fingers tentatively. It doesn't hurt anymore, but more than that, the shock of the storm has somehow seeped out of him.

 

"Thank you..." he whispers.

 

There's not enough strength in his voice right now to say anything without it coming out as a murmur.

 

Taehyung opens his mouth, looks like he's about to say something.

 

There's a knock on the doorframe and a head pokes in, freezing at the sight of his captain kneeling in front of their newly acquired cabin boy. Namjoon looks exhausted, yet he still has the energy to blink in confusion at Jungkook, raising an eyebrow at his captain who simply ignores it, asking what's up.

 

"I finished rectifying our course," Namjoon says, tearing his eyes away from Jungkook and back to the man with the golden earrings. "We went off by quite a bit, but we're not in dangerous waters. We're a little closer to the shipping lanes, but we can work with that."

 

Taehyung nods thoughtfully, humming, then he waves Namjoon away.

 

"You've worked hard, Joon," he says. "You deserve to go eat and nap. I'll call for you if I need anything."

 

Their sailing master looks beyond relieved, and he leaves almost immediately, only lingering long enough to stare at them curiously some more. But when he receives no explanation as to why Taehyung has someone in his cabin, he leaves.

 

And then Jungkook rushes to his feet.

 

He shouldn't be here. People will misunderstand. Taehyung is being too kind, too nice... it's messing with his head. The smell of wood and salt and vanilla permeates the air, stifling, addictive.

 

He needs to get out of there, or he'll do something he'll regret. He can feel it in the way his fingers twitch. They want to touch so bad.

 

"Kook?" comes the confused voice from behind him.

 

"Ah..." he panics, doesn't know what to say, fumbles with his words. "I... thank you for... the hands? The bandages! Thanks for... um that. Cap'?"

 

The name comes out like a question. He doesn't like the taste of it on his tongue, it feels weird. It feels common.

 

"Kook," Taehyung says, and Jungkook shivers.

 

He's right behind him, a hand gliding over his shoulder and pulling ever so slightly. Like a question. Will you turn around?

 

He does.

 

The other is stood too close. It robs him from his breath, his body still doesn't know how to react when he's this close to the maddening captain. Taehyung is smiling at him, softly.

 

Everything about him is soft in that moment. The sunshine pouring in through the windows and sending ripples of light to caress his cheeks is soft. The slowly drying shirt wraps around him softly. His lips smile and look so, so soft. His eyes are open and twinkling and kind.

 

"Just call me hyung, kay?" he says, low and melodious.

 

Soft.

 

Jungkook can only nod. Then the hand is dropping away from his shoulder and he's walking out on shaky legs, forcing himself to move. And just as he's crossing the room's threshold, he stops. Doesn't want to leave like this. So he turns to grin over his shoulder.

 

"Thanks, hyung."

 

Taehyung smiles back, his lips stretching into a wide grin which goes straight to his heart.

 

"Thanks for what, Kook?"

 

Thanks for what indeed. Jungkook just shrugs, smiling still, then he escapes.

 

His feet make a thudding sound on the wooden deck. The sunshine is drying the floor, cleansing the water from their home, and he gazes into the once more bright skies.

 

This is insane. And it's home.