Actions

Work Header

From Countess to Cabin Boy

Chapter Text

ACT ONE

Urie Manor, home of the illustrious Count Urie, his wife, Countess Urie, and their lovely five children

When Brendon hears that her parents have arranged her marriage, she knows, that as a dutiful daughter, she really has no choice in the matter. A countess-to-be does not have the luxury of choices. She must docilely await his arrival, get married to him, and spend the rest of her life trying to be a caring, attentive wife. Who knows, she might even be lucky enough to fall in love with her husband.

That night, after dinner, Brendon slips upstairs to work on her embroidery, since all well-mannered young ladies should strive to better themselves at the fairer tasks. Then, once her maid has disappeared, she shoves open the window, grabs the bag she's had hidden in her closet for two years, and shimmies down the trellis that's always been conveniently close to her room.

Brendon has never been particularly good at being a dutiful daughter.

 

Summerside, the closest port town to Urie Manor

To be fair, Brendon never truly intends to join the crew of a pirate ship. It just sort of... happens.

She's simply minding her own business, sitting in a tavern and enjoying the freedom of pants and short hair. Not that she doesn't like skirts and long hair, since they were kind of fun when she wanted to dress up, but they probably would have hindered her cunning plans to run away and pretend to be a boy.

It hasn't been terribly difficult, so far. She lets herself indulge in one tiny moment of regret that her chest had been so easy to flatten, before deciding that it's stupid to be upset about something that makes pretending to be a boy so much easier. Clearly, she's just going along with some sort of divine plan, here. In a way, it's nice to think that there's a reason beyond stature and genetics that she has small boobs.

She's sitting at a table in the corner, sipping her water (what? It's not like she doesn't want to try ale one day, but she really doesn't want to get drunk and blow her cover on her third night away from home) and trying to figure out where to go next, when a boy about her age sits down at the table with her.

"Have you ever considered a life of action and adventure on the high seas?" he asks her cheerfully.

Brendon stares at him. She also stares at his hair — at least, she thinks it's his hair. It could be some sort of weird, hair-like hat gone terribly, terribly wrong. "Um. What?"

"Have you ever considered a life of action and adventure on the high seas?" he repeats, just as cheerfully.

"Not until now," she admits honestly. She hasn't really trusted the sea, after Jon. Still, it's not like anybody really told her what happened to him; there were just a few careful implications that he had been swallowed by a giant squid or something. For all she knows, he could have sunk in quicksand. Or cursed by a witch. Or he could have fallen in love with some girl who would have had a much harder time dressing up as a boy than Brendon.

The point is that the sea might not necessarily be the reason why he never came back, so maybe Brendon shouldn't disregard it out of hand. After all, she was planning on taking a boat anyway, to get out of town fast. She just hadn't thought about staying on one. But her parents aren't going to be able to search every ship on the sea, are they?

And you know what, screw giant squids. If a giant squid somewhere out there swallowed Jon, Brendon is damn well going to find it and beat it up until it's begging her to make it calamari.

"Wait, so you're considering it? Awesome!" he exclaims. He tips his chair back until it's on two legs, and his hair shifts with the movement. Brendon follows it with her eyes. "That totally hasn't worked so far this evening."

"Really?" she asks curiously. "It sounded pretty good to me."

"I know, right?" He grins at her, waving a waitress over. "Can I have a firewhiskey?"

The waitress, who has the body Brendon might have had if not for genetics, stature and divine plans, looks down her nose at the boy and snorts. "Yeah, right. Does your mother know that you're in here?"

"What, you want me to go back to Chicago to get her written permission?" he demands, and the waitress lightly smacks the back of his head. His hair moves again. Brendon watches it suspiciously.

"At least this one didn't even try," she tells him, pointing at Brendon, who blushes. "Now. Would you like to try that order again?"

"I'd like a virgin piña colada, please," he mutters sulkily. The waitress nods and bustles off.

"Wow," Brendon says, a little impressed. "I always thought taverns were more lenient than that."

"You just have to find the right ones," he assures her. "And come with the right people. If I was with Gabe or Frank, she totally would have let it slide."

"Who are they?" Brendon asks, and then reconsiders her question when she realizes that the only things she knows about the boy sitting in front of her are that he has fascinating hair, he's too young to be drinking, and he thinks that the proper way to start a conversation is asking someone if they've considered a life of action and adventure on the high seas. All of which are awesome character references, but still. "Who are you?"

"Oh!" he says, looking a little embarrassed to have forgotten. "Adam Siska, at your service." He holds out his hand, and she shakes it. "But you can call me Sisky."

"Brendon," she says without thinking. She'd used fake names when she was passing through the other towns, but it's not second nature or anything. Luckily, Brendon is a boy's name — she was named after a great uncle, in the hopes of getting some portion of his inheritance — so she probably doesn't have to worry about it too much.

Just another example of how her running away is obviously predestined. This is pretty cool. Brendon never really thought about some kind of higher power actually being real, but she might have to reevaluate that.

"Awesome! Right, so I work for this ship called The Hush Sound Is..., with the three dots at the end, that's pretty important, and I need to find a cabin boy." Sisky sounds deadly serious. Brendon never knew cabin boys were such a big deal.

"You have a cabin? I thought those only went to, like, the captain?" Brendon blanches, because oh shit, what if this kid is the captain, of some ridiculously young ship or whatever, and she just insulted him and ruined her only chance of getting a job without actually going out and looking for one? "Are you the captain? You just seem a little —"

He laughs. "What? No, I'm totally not the captain." He looks out the window reflectively. "One day, though..." After a moment, he blinks and looks back at her. "No, I'm the cabin boy."

Brendon blinks. "I'm confused."

"I'm quitting. Well, not the ship, the ship is awesome, but I'm sick of being cabin boy, so I talked to Spencer and he said I could totally get promoted if I found another cabin boy. I mean, I suggested one of the Alexes, not Suarez Alex, the other Alexes, but Spencer said that none of the Alexes could be trusted with Ryan's hats, so." He just shrugs and steals a sip of her water like everything he just said actually made sense.

In retaliation, Brendon drinks some of his virgin piña colada before he even gets to taste it.

"Hey!" he protests, grabbing it back.

"Turnabout is fair play, dude," she tells him, and he makes a face like he's doesn't want to admit just how right she is. (She happens to be very right. She knows these things. Also, the piña colada is excellent.) "So wait, okay. You need to find a replacement cabin boy."

"Yeah."

"And the only people on your ship who would have been able to do it are these... Alexes?" She's not entirely sure whether he means they're people named Alex, or if they're some different species. She'll probably be able to figure it out if she makes it on the ship, though, and if she doesn't make it on the ship, it won't really matter, will it?

"Yeah. Because Cash is one of the Alexes, and anybody connected with Cash is automatically a little less trustworthy with things like that," Sisky says sagely, drinking his piña colada. "Also, they would probably have sex in the captain's bed. It's hard to fit five people in a hammock."

"Okay," Brendon says slowly. She knew her parents kept her somewhat sheltered, but she hadn't known how much.

But, still. Being on a crew where five members may be a different species and are also having sex, versus an arranged marriage with someone whom she already knows she's absolutely never going to be able to love, no matter who it is? Yeah, no contest.

"Sign me up," she says, smacking the table with her palm, just for emphasis. She's always wanted to do that, but apparently it's not very ladylike. Being a boy is so liberating!

Sisky steadies his piña colada and grins like she's just made his day. "Seriously? Awesome! Dude, you totally won't regret this. It's going to be great." He takes another gulp of piña colada and has to wait for the inevitable brain freeze to pass before he adds, "At least, once you pass all the tests it will be."

 

The Hush Sound Is..., docked in the port of Summerside

"So, you're the new cabin boy," Bob says. At least, Brendon has been reliably informed that the man in front of her is Bob. He certainly fits Sisky's description from the night before, possessing both red hair and ninja-like qualities. (As opposed to the Other Bob, according to Sisky, who is no longer on the ship but is blond and ninja-like and also looks like he could probably kill you with one hand, despite being a bit of a marshmallow on the inside.) To be fair, Brendon hasn't seen the ninja-like qualities yet, but she can extrapolate.

"Um. Well, not yet," Brendon says, locking her hands behind her back and trying not to fidget. She wants to make a good impression on these guys, since for the moment they're her best job opportunity. Also, she's kind of looking forward to the idea of being a cabin boy. It's definitely a change from being a countess-to-be, which mostly involved a lot of embroidery and etiquette. Brendon sucks at both embroidery and etiquette.

"Not yet?"

"Sisky told me I had to pass tests first."

"Tests?" a woman says, coming up from belowdecks. Brendon feels a pang of envy, knowing she will never look that blonde, that sweet, or that curvy. Also, she wouldn't be surprised if this woman could probably kick her ass blindfolded. She's got that look about her. "Ooh, is this the new cabin boy? Do we get to test him now?"

She looks at Brendon and then loses her smile, peering more closely. Brendon fights the urge to take a step backwards, but it's okay; after a moment, the woman's smile returns, bigger and more lovely than ever. Brendon's just a little worried what she saw in that moment.

"Greta," Bob says, rolling his eyes. He turns to Brendon. "Sisky was kidding. We're not going to test you."

"Aww," Greta complains. "I need something to entertain me, now that Jon has gone off for the week."

Brendon's heart thrills a little at the name Jon, but she relentlessly squashes it. She's not allowed to get her hopes up, or pine over him, or even think about him. That was four years ago, and even if he isn't dead, he certainly never made any effort to contact her, so she really needs to just... get over it.

Maybe being on The Hush Sound Is... will be good for her. She's heard that the sea cures all ills, when it isn't making you vomit over the side of the boat.

"Oh," Brendon says, because she figures she needs to respond somehow. "Okay." She looks at Greta. "Um, I'm sorry?"

Greta smiles at her, wide and dazzling. "You're a sweetheart, aren't you? I'm glad Sisky found you."

"Me too?" Brendon says. Despite her best efforts, it still sounds like a question.

"I'm Greta," Greta tells her, holding out her hand.

Brendon shakes it. "Brendon."

"Where are you from, Brendon?"

Brendon shrugs. "Here and there. I've been traveling for a little while." Three days totally counts as a little while. "I just — I wanted something new, you know? I needed to make a change, get away from home."

"And your parents?" Greta's voice is kind, like she already knows everything Brendon could possibly tell her.

Brendon fidgets. "Didn't exactly give permission."

"Oh, honey," Greta says, wrapping her arm around Brendon's shoulders. She looks at Bob. "I approve of this one. We can keep him, right?"

Bob just looks at Brendon, who tries to stand to attention as much as she can with Greta still partially wrapped around her. "You have any stuff you need to get?"

"Some clothes," Brendon says, looking at him hopefully. Does this mean they're going to let her on the ship? Because that would rock. "And my guitar."

And wow, had that been a pain in the ass to drag between towns, but there was no way in hell Brendon was going to leave that behind. She'd worked too hard to learn guitar, and then hide it from her parents (guitar is apparently less ladylike than piano, since it gives you calluses — whatever, like Brendon cares), to not bring her baby with her when she went out to find the rest of her life. Plus, if they'd found it after she disappeared, they probably would have given it to one of her nephews, and they would definitely not have treated it with the proper respect. Brendon knows her nephews, okay, they would have either let it gather dust in a corner or mistreated it while allegedly practicing.

Honestly, it's just a pity she couldn't take her piano with her. Or her harp. Or the trombone she had totally planned on learning how to play one day.

"Take Sisky with you and go get it," Bob says, motioning with his hand. He's not the captain, Brendon knows, but Sisky said that everyone trusts Bob to make the decisions when the first mate and some guy named William — not Captain Ross, who is apparently not allowed to make decisions without someone else approving them — all aren't there. The Hush Sound Is... seems to have a very complicated power structure. "You can stow it on the ship."

"Really?" Brendon squeaks, lighting up. She dashes forward to hug Bob. "You're totally not going to regret this!" After a moment, she remembers where she is, who she's talking to, and who's she's pretending to be, and steps back, blushing and trying to lower her voice. "I mean, uh. Thank you."

Greta laughs. "Oh, you're totally going to fit in here. Run along, now."

Brendon runs along. Eventually Sisky catches up, and they stroll through town to the room Brendon rented above the tavern. She didn't like leaving her stuff there — what if someone tried to steal her guitar? — but carrying everything with her through the streets when she wasn't sure that she even had the position seemed a little impractical.

She has her guitar strapped to her back and the bag with her clothes slung over her shoulder as they trek back, laughing and occasionally dodging piles of shit. Brendon feels great. She hasn't felt this great in years, or this comfortable with people she doesn't know. Not since Jon, now that she thinks about it.

Then Sisky pulls her over to the side and whispers, "Hey, keep walking down this road for a little while, will you? I'll catch up."

"Adam Siska," Brendon says, trying to look stern. "Are you up to something scandalous?"

He grins at her. "I don't know, am I?"

"I wouldn't doubt it," she says, laughing. "Just make sure you meet back up with me, I wouldn't want Greta or Bob to get angry with me for losing you or something. That would be a bad first day, I think."

"Don't worry about it," he says, dashing off.

Brendon shrugs inwardly and keeps going, watching the people around her while still keeping an eye on her bags. She doesn't have that much money in there, but it's a matter of principle. The principle, in this case, is mostly that it would be just plain embarrassing if she got her pocket picked. She doesn't want to be the living example of what happens to unsuspecting, sheltered women when they go into gritty port towns.

A flash of color catches her eye, and she turns to look at a group of three men, one of whom is decorated with tattoos almost everywhere he's showing skin. It's only because she's watching him so intently, trying to pick out each individual design, that she notices Sisky creep up and slip his hand into each of the men's pockets.

Absently, she slaps someone's hand away from her own bags, trying to process this. So Sisky is a thief. This must be one of the other things that her parents sheltered her from — the fact that someone can be a criminal, but also be nice and funny, and not have an ugly pointy beard that shows he's evil.

Although to be fair, she's never seen what's so evil about picking someone's pocket. Slightly illegal, yes, but not evil.

Sisky returns to her side before she has a chance to sort things out entirely in her head, or figure out what her reaction should be. In a split second, she decides to just ask him about it. She's curious, they're going to be working together, and straightforwardness has worked pretty well for her with this crew so far.

"So, those men," she says, not sure how to bring it up. "You weren't just groping them, were you?"

He looks at her, his eyes widening in surprise for a moment. "You saw that? Whoops."

"Yeah. Does, uh, does everyone on the crew do... things like that?" She doesn't want to say the word "steal" out loud, worried that she'll attract undue attention.

"Yeah, pretty much," Sisky says off-handedly.

Right at that moment, they pass a member of the Royal Guard, standing at attention by the side of the road, his red coat bright and gleaming. Brendon could call out to him, if she wanted, say that she just saw the man next to her steal from three people. It would be the lawful thing to do, and her parents always taught her to follow the law.

Instead, she walks past him with Sisky, barely giving the officer a second glance.

Once they're one or two blocks away, Sisky gives her a delighted grin. "Yeah?"

Brendon's not sure what she's agreeing to, but she replies, "Yeah," with a rueful smile and half of a shrug. She likes Sisky, is the thing. She likes Sisky and Greta and Bob, and if they occasionally pick a pocket or two, she's not going to turn them in for it.

Maybe she could even learn how to do it. Not that she would steal things, though. Probably. But it would be a cool skill to have, right?

Just as she's thinking that, another guard comes barrelling up the road, shouts of "Thief, thief!" resounding in the background.

"Shit," Sisky mutters, looking backwards. "Meet me at the statue, okay?"

Brendon barely has time to nod before he's off again, slinking into the crowd so that he's almost invisible between the veiled ladies, hooded priest, and assorted sailors and riffraff from at least five different countries.

Brendon's just about to take a circuitous route to the statue of Admiral Sinatra when the guard grabs her and shoves her into a wall. She only just manages to keep herself from kneeing him in the groin. What? It's a reflex, okay. Not a particularly ladylike one, admittedly, but Jon taught her to keep her guard up when other men pushed her into walls.

Well, men besides him, obviously, but that was different. Brendon liked it when Jon held her against walls.

"What?" she demands, staring at the guard and trying to look terrified. It's not too hard; he has very intimidating eyes. She's not sure if playing meek and scared will work as well when she's pretending to be a boy, but she has to try, doesn't she?

"Which way did he go?" the guard demands, his hands fisting in the collar of her shirt. It's probably going to wrinkle.

Playing dumb obviously won't work, since he probably saw her talking to Sisky, so Brendon goes a slightly different route. "I — why are you asking me? I just met him! He was supposed to help me find someone, I didn't know he'd done anything wrong —"

She cowers, and jumps when he slams his hand into the wall right next to her ear. "Damnit, where is he? Answer me!"

Distantly, Brendon notes that he just spat on her face while yelling, but at least his breath doesn't smell. "He just vanished into the crowd, I didn't see — he said he'd meet me at the Harper's Dragon, I'm new in town, I don't want to do anything wrong —"

"Why should I believe you?" he growls, his face coming closer so that his nose is nearly pressed into his cheek.

"You don't have to, obviously you don't have to, but you asked and that's it, he said the Harper's Dragon, he was going to help me find my sister — oh god, please don't hurt me, I'm not a criminal, I promise I'm not, I just didn't know who to ask and he said he could find her — I don't want to cause trouble, please don't hurt me, I didn't know —"

"Shut up," he orders, sneering at her disdainfully. "You see him, you find a guard, got it? I'll find out if you don't, and you'll wish you'd never been born."

"Got it!" she promises in a yelp, widening her eyes and trying to dig herself into the wall behind her. "I promise, I swear —"

He's already off and running. Brendon slumps down, panting for a few moments to try to keep up the act. Once she thinks enough time has elapsed, she takes her guitar off her back and checks for damage. The case is a little scratched, but other than that it should be fine.

Breathing a sigh of relief, she slings it over her back again and moves on, trying to act shaken for the benefit of random passersby. She wonders how long it will take the guard to reach the Harper's Dragon, which is quite conveniently on the side of town farthest away from Admiral Sinatra's statue and the dock where The Hush Sound Is... is moored.

When she reaches the statue, Sisky is sitting there waiting for her, throwing small pebbles at the feet of some of the largest seagulls Brendon's ever seen.

"You probably shouldn't do that," she tells him, hooking her thumbs over the strap of her bag. "I'm a little afraid they're going to attack you."

He looks up, flipping his hair back slightly. Brendon's still a little suspicious of his hair, but she thinks she's beginning to get used to it. She doesn't stare quite as obviously, at least. "Brendon!" he exclaims. "Awesome, man, you made it."

"Well, you know how it is." Brendon's actually not entirely sure that she knows how it is, but it sounds good. "So, um, are we done running around for one day? Because that was a lot of action and adventure right there, but I kind of thought I would be having the action and adventure on a boat, not on land."

Sisky swears that they're done, and they head straight back to the ship. They're both talking and laughing as they walk up the gangplank, which is why Brendon doesn't notice that the ship is a lot more full than it was when she left until everybody on the deck looks at them and cheers.

"So this is the new recruit!" she hears someone say. "Sisky was so cute about it last night. It was like he found a puppy on the street and wanted to know if he could keep it."

Brendon turns around and sees the tattooed guy that Sisky stole from earlier in the day. When she glances at Sisky he just grins abashedly; suspicious, Brendon examines the rest of the crew, and sees not only the other two "victims", but also both guards.

She laughs. "You're a dirty liar!" she tells a grinning Bob, delighted. "You told me there would be no tests!"

"Well, it's not like we could let you expect it," Greta explains, slinging an arm over Brendon's shoulders and squeezing slightly. "But you passed with flying colors! Congratulations!"

"Yeah?" Sisky demands. "C'mon, I missed Carden's part, what happened?"

Carden must be the name of the scary, wall-shoving guard, because that's the guy who starts talking. "It was great, man. He went the pathetic route and started whimpering, and sent me in the completely wrong direction. Very convincing." He quirks up one side of his mouth and gives Brendon a thumbs up, which helps him look a little less terrifying. Brendon returns the thumbs up triumphantly.

"See? See?" Sisky demands, twisting to look at everyone around him. "I'm a totally great judge of character! And now I don't have to be the cabin boy!"

"Congratulations, Adam," Greta says sincerely, laughing. She uses the arm still wrapped around Brendon to tug her around and start making introductions. The three men that Sisky robbed are the Butcher, Chris, and Darren; Mike Carden and Michael Guy Chislett were the guards. "You'll meet William, Alex and Ryland later; they've got... business in town."

"And Jon," the Butcher adds, lounging against the railing with Sisky tucked up against him. They're very cute together, even if Sisky's hair is blowing oddly in the sea breeze. "But he's not in town, he's got other business."

Carden snorts. "Yeah, stupid business."

"It's sweet," Greta says firmly. "Even if it does mean he has to disappear for a week. And do you want me to tell Kevin that you think love is stupid?"

Carden blushes and looks away. Greta looks triumphant.

"He's already got Ryan and Spencer," Michael points out, stretching. He's got an accent of some sort; Brendon can't place it, but she knows that she wants one exactly like it. "I think he's just greedy."

"Ignore them," Greta tells Brendon firmly. Brendon is quite happy to, since she doesn't have the least idea what they're talking about and it's kind of distressing to hear about men named Jon being in love with other people, even if she knows it isn't her Jon. "Oh! And you'll have to meet the other crew, obviously."

"The other crew?" Brendon's willing to admit she doesn't know much about ships, but she'd been pretty sure that the rule was just one crew per boat.

"It's — complicated," Greta says delicately. "I'll explain it in a bit."

Brendon shrugs and lets it slide; she's already got so much buzzing around in her head that waiting a while before she learns more probably won't hurt.

*

Obviously, running away from home and dressing like a guy and becoming a cabin boy was an awesome choice on Brendon's part, because every single person on The Hush Sound Is... is awesome. Just flat out awesome. Brendon's never felt so comfortable with so many people at any point in her life. It's like — like being around ten million Jons, or something, except they all have different personalities and she isn't sleeping with any of them.

Really, though, they're all so funny and smart and fantastic. They're also pirates. Well, technically they're smugglers, but everyone agrees that pirates just sound cooler.

When the celebrations are over — apparently these guys celebrate at the drop of a hat — and all of Brendon's stuff has been put away, Greta explains it to Brendon, with plenty of (very loud) input from the rest of the crew.

As far as Brendon can understand it, there are two ships, The Hush Sound Is... and The Black Parade. She maybe has to hold in a teeny gasp — of surprise, and excitement — when she hears the second name, because The Black Parade is famous. They're the strongest, deadliest pirates on the seven seas. Her own parents used them as a threat: "See, that's what happens when you stray away from the protection of your elders! You could walk into danger and get kidnapped by The Black Parade."

...Which actually ended up working pretty well for Brendon, so.

"Right, except they're not really The Black Parade anymore," Michael interrupts. Brendon sways a little towards his accent. "Captain Way turned the ship over to Ryan and William and then they all went off to retire."

"Except Frank and Jamia!" Sisky butts in to say. "Frank and Jamia come out with us sometimes. They're awesome. They'll just show up in a random port and jump on the ship and start making fun of Gerard and Bob and Mikey and Ray for staying in one place all the time."

"We think Pete tells them where we're going to be," Chris explains reflectively, tilting his head to the side.

"I was getting to that," Greta informs all of them, her hands on her hips. "Shush. Besides, you guys forgot to mention that the whole point of The Black Parade is that they weren't really pirates."

Butcher nods solemnly. "This is true. Gerard would be an artsy stranger traveling with them, and would go into bars and tell stories of their conquests."

"And then all they would have to do was show up and wave their swords around and people would do whatever they wanted!" Sisky adds.

"Right," Greta agrees, firmly retaking control of the story. "And then when they decided to retire — except Frank and Jamia, yes, I know, Adam — Pete, Patrick, Andy and Joe stayed back a little to help Ryan and William get used to captaining —"

"And then they complicated things," Bob states.

"Because that's what Pete Wentz does," Carden declares. It sounds like some sort of motto, or some phrase that gets repeated often enough that everyone knows the words. Brendon approves.

"I want to meet this dude," she says.

"He'll want to meet you too," Greta tells her wryly. "He insists on meeting every new hire. Andy will send a pigeon and we'll find out when."

"How will he know I've been hired?" Brendon wonders.

The crew all share a look, some sort of cross between amused and long-suffering. "Pete knows everything," Bob says. "We've given up trying to figure out how."

"Anyway, the point of the story is that when Pete and his boys were helping Ryan and William, they ended up getting another ship and starting to run a smuggling operation," Greta says, sounding both exasperated and fond. Brendon figures that Pete Wentz must just inspire this contradictory mix of emotions. She definitely wants to meet this guy.

"Not bad smuggling, or anything," Michael explains, waiting patiently while the rest of the crew laughs at him. "Oh, you know what I mean. Not people-smuggling or anything like that."

"He's right," Greta says, nodding. "Sometimes it's something a little dangerous, but other times it's as simple as banned pamphlets or books. We show up in the guise of mostly respectable businesspeople and scope out the territory, and then The Black Parade shows up to cause a distraction. They're good at that." She smiles nostalgically. "And then we smuggle or steal whatever it is we're there for."

"And that's why you're here?" Brendon asks, her eyes wide. "You're going to smuggle something out of here?" This is so cool, she doesn't even know what to say. Possibly this means that she really does have an immoral soul, just like the priest always told her, but. Pirates! Pirates are awesome!

Greta and Bob share an inscrutable look. "Well, sort of," Greta responds. "Jon had — an errand he needed to run, so he switched over to this ship because we can actually stay in a port for a week without causing a panic. And we decided that if we were going to be here, we might as well conduct some business."

"We switch ships a lot," Sisky explains cheerfully.

"Helps us keep from killing each other," Mike Carden says.

"Oh, be quiet, Mike, we all know you're a softy," Greta orders imperiously, waving her hand. She looks at Brendon slyly. "If you're ever scared of Mike, just remember that he's ridiculously, sappily in love with this guy named Kevin who lives on one of the bigger islands in the South Seas and that they met when Mike heroically saved Kevin from a group of terrible ruffians."

"Shut up," Mike mutters, crossing his arms and looking away. Brendon thinks he might be blushing a little.

"So," Bob says. "Any more questions, Brendon?"

"One. Um," Brendon says. "You guys are going to be doing one of your... things at the end of the week?"

"Three days from now, yes."

"Am I going to be helping? Is there anything I should know?"

Greta looks at her consideringly. "We'll start showing you the ropes tomorrow, and decide when the time comes. But we're going to switch you over to The Black Parade when we meet up with them, since that's where the main captain always lives, and so that's where your job description requires you to be."

"About that," Brendon says. "What does a cabin boy really do?" Sisky had started to explain, but then he kept on getting distracted and talking about hats, for some reason.

"Basically, whatever the captain needs you to do," Greta says, shrugging. "Don't worry, Spencer will keep him in line. Also, you'll carry messages and run some small errands for the rest of us, but don't worry, if anything's too much you can always tells us we're being lazy bastards and we should do it ourselves."

"Really?" Brendon asks, raising her eyebrows.

"Yup."

"Oh, and don't pay attention to anything the Alexes ask you to do," Sisky tells her seriously. "Especially Cash."

"He's the Alex with the tattoo on his hand," Butcher says, nodding.

"And you should probably learn the flash codes," Darren adds.

"Oh, the codes!" Greta sighs. "I forgot about those. Well, we've got three days just to idle while Alex, Ryland and William take care of things. We'll teach you what you need to know."

*

"We have to do it tonight," Alex Suarez says the next day, pacing up and down the deck. Ryland and William are still in town, but they sent him back to the ship to explain that the plans need to be moved up. "We've got problems. Some — princess, or duchess, or someone, disappeared, and now a huge swarm of royal guards is going to be coming in two days to search every ship in the harbor."

"And delay everything, so we won't be able to get out," Bob extrapolates, rubbing his temples.

"Disappeared how?" Greta asks quietly. "Dead, run away, or kidnapped?"

"Everyone has a different story," Alex sighs, still pacing. "Are we in range of The Black Parade? Can we flash them, let them know the change in plans?"

"We should be able to," Chris says, staring at a map of Summerside.

"I'm just worried about Jon," Greta admits. "I don't like leaving him here."

"Jon's smart," Butcher tells her reassuringly. "He'll see the guards and figure it out, and we can wait for him at the contingency spot."

"Yeah," Greta says, chewing her lip. She shakes her head, and in a second she's all business. "Right. Sorry, Brendon, but we'll need to get you to The Black Parade as quickly as possible. I'll tell them about you when I flash them. Butcher, be a pirate tonight. Brendon will meet you guys at the retreat point, and you'll make the introductions and then get back here. We'll need your help. Brendon, once Butcher has introduced you and run off, the pirates will take you back to the Parade. When you're all out of the harbor, they're probably going to all jump on you and you won't be able to understand what the hell they're talking about. Ask for Spencer; he'll get everything sorted out."

"Retreat point, ship, Spencer," Brendon says, nodding. "Got it."

"Good. I'm sorry that we don't have the time to ease you into this, but missing women always get everyone riled up." She rolls her eyes. "Duchesses, god."

Brendon tries not to blush. It's not like she meant to cause trouble for them, honestly. All she wanted to do was run away. The trouble just sort of... happened. She's thankful that it took them this long to expand the search, though. And that she found the one ship that's going to be leaving the harbor before the guards come looking for her.

Divine plan, seriously. It has to be.

*

They rush through all the preparations that day; Brendon helps where she can, but mostly she stays out of the way so she doesn't hinder the people who actually know what they're doing. This is mostly her fault, anyway; the least she can do is not screw things up even more.

The retreat point is the Sinatra statue again; the pirates will storm in, wave their swords, and then make a thrilling escape, passing by the statue and grabbing Brendon on their way. They never worry seriously about getting captured; the guards are pretty terrible, and anyway, the watching crowds prefer it when pirates get away, so sometimes they help trip up the guards. It makes for better stories if the notorious outlaws aren't caught, after all.

Brendon waits at the statue with her stuff for what feels like hours, the Summerside nightlife skipping and murmuring all around her. She's a little freaked out, she's not going to lie. What if they do get caught? What if they don't run past the statue? What if they forget about her, or decide they don't need a cabin boy after all?

And then a swarm of sword-waving pirates runs by and she gets dragged into the middle of it, so maybe her worries were a little unfounded in the end.

"Hey Brendon!" Butcher says, grinning exuberantly and managing to sheath his sword while running, which Brendon thinks is pretty impressive.

"Hey, Butcher!" she says, running as fast as she can to keep up with the rest of the group. "How's it going?"

"Life of piracy, you know how it is," he tells her, shrugging and nimbly avoiding a rough patch of cobblestones. The group all turns right, and Brendon finds that she doesn't even have to worry about switching directions; she just gets pushed along with the current. All she has to do is keep running. "So, guys, this is Brendon. He's the new cabin boy, try not to break him."

"We'll try our best," one man, as tattooed as the Butcher, says, laughing. Well, it's really more of a giggle, which Brendon adores. She also adores that he's about as tall as she is, since she was beginning to worry that everyone on The Black Parade was twice her height.

Brendon hops over an abandoned top hat as the Butcher says, "So, I'm going to head to the other ship now. See you guys next ship-kiss."

"Bye!" Brendon pants, as the rest of the pirates yell out some variation of, "See you later."

Butcher turns left when they turn right, and then suddenly everybody piles into a rickety rowboat that doesn't seem strong enough to hold them all, especially not when they're all yelling and laughing and reaching over each other to grab the oars. It's like a boatload of chaos, but somehow they manage to not only not sink, but also to make it to the ship farther out in the water, the dramatically painted letters on its side proclaiming: THE BLACK PARADE.

Brendon stops breathing for a moment when she sees it. It's so — there. And real, and perfect.

"Hurry up!" a voice hisses from over the rail of The Black Parade, and then suddenly a rope swings down.

One of the group — a really tall man, wearing a shade of purple that glows even in the weak moonlight and would almost be obnoxious if Brendon didn't love it so much — grabs the end of the rope and anchors it to a hook in the bottom of the boat. "Alexes?" he whispers. "You first."

Five boys scramble over each other to get to the rope, climbing almost right on top of each other. At least, Brendon thinks they're all boys. She's not entirely sure about the one with the longish, wavy hair; he's kind of pretty. It could go either way.

The tiny tattooed man goes next, followed by two women who, like Greta, wear the swords slung at their hips with absolute authority. Brendon thinks her childhood would have been so much greater if she'd had a couple women like that to be her role models, instead of the prissy duchesses who came to visit and always wore at least four petticoats.

Then Brendon feels a shove at her back, and someone tells her, "Come on, cabin boy, your turn."

She scrambles up the rope the best she can. It's a good thing that she's always liked climbing things; she was climbing trees as soon as she was tall enough to reach the branches. One of her brothers even dubbed her Monkey for a little while. In retrospect, Brendon thinks he might have meant it as an insult. Oh well.

She swings herself over the rail and scoots backwards, flopping down when she estimates herself to be a safe distance away. She can feel the adrenaline pumping through her veins, though, urging her to get up and jump around, so she clambers to her feet and waits for everyone to make it to the deck, bouncing on the balls of her feet. This is easily the most exciting thing she's ever done, even counting that time when she and Jon snuck away for the entire night and she had to rush to sneak back into her room before breakfast.

"Alright, heave," she hears one woman says, and she bounces over to see them pulling the rowboat up the side of the ship. She helps, grabbing a free section of rope and tugging. They've got the boat halfway up the side of the ship when The Black Parade starts moving. Not just rocking with the motion of the waves, either — actually moving, heading out to sea and away from pursuing royal ships.

Brendon laughs, a little hysterically, and pulls harder, trying to keep her feet under her.

They've worked up a pretty good speed by the time the boat is dripping on the deck, and everybody seems to relax, either dropping to sit down or pulling each other into hugs. Or tackling each other into hugs, in the case of the boys she's pretty sure are the Alexes.

Brendon stands back a little awkwardly, not certain what she should be doing, until someone — the guy who was waiting on the boat for them, she thinks, demands, "Wait, is this the new cabin boy?" Suddenly, all their attention is focused on her.

Brendon is very proud of the fact that she doesn't take two big steps backward. Instead, she waves. "Hi. Greta said I'm supposed to ask for Spencer?"

"Nate, can you steer for Spencer for a little bit?" a man wearing an absolutely fabulous hat asks. Brendon can't see too well, considering that it's the middle of the night, but she's positive that the hat is fabulous. It has feathers on it.

"Sure thing," Waiting On The Boat Man — apparently named Nate — says, running off. In a minute, he's safely ensconced behind the steering wheel, and the man who Brendon is going to assume is Spencer is wandering over.

Meanwhile, Brendon has been surrounded by pirates. Most of them are hugging her or slapping her on the back. Brendon never could have imagined that pirates would be so tactile; it's kind of great. She loves hugging people.

"Sisky must be so happy," she hears someone say, snickering.

When Spencer arrives, everyone takes a step back and lets him look her over. Brendon looks back. Spencer is taller than her, with a beard and eyes that she kind of wants to see in the sunlight. She thinks they're blue, but she wants to be sure.

"Hi," she says, sticking her hands in her pockets and trying not to fidget. It's not a nervous habit, it just comes out of having too much energy all the damn time. It made dinner parties nearly unbearable. "I'm Brendon."

"I figured," he says dryly. "Since I was there when the Butcher said, 'Hey everyone, this is Brendon, he's our new cabin boy.'"

"Well." Brendon shrugs. "I mean, you were waving a sword around at the time, you could have been thinking of other stuff."

He laughs. It's a very nice sound. "Alex, take Brendon's bags belowdecks. We'll do introductions tomorrow, when we can actually see each other." One of the five boys who are twined around each other rushes over, grabbing Brendon's bags and her guitar before she even thinks to protest. It's just — her guitar! What if something happens to it?

"Hey, speak for yourself," Tall Purple Man scoffs. "I can see perfectly well at night. It's the gift of the Cobra."

"Then you can get out the alcohol. I think we need to celebrate another successful night, don't you?"

Brendon joins in the resounding cheer.

 

The Black Parade, notorious pirate ship

The rest of the night is a little hazy in Brendon's head, which might have something to do with the two big glasses of ale that somehow ended up in front of her. And, of course, once they were there she kind of had to drink them. It would have been rude not to. She is, however, absolutely positive that she didn't let anyone know that she's actually a girl.

Granted, this might have simply been because everyone on the crew seemed to think of gender-role-bending as a way of life, but hey, it's still a victory.

She might have ended up waltzing around the deck with Tall Purple Man, who seems to be named Gabe, if Brendon remembers correctly. And then she and one of the Alexes had some sort of impassioned debate about pastries, and then she danced a little more, and then she vomited over the railing. Twice. She plans on blaming it on seasickness.

When she wakes up in the morning — late, late in the morning — her head is pounding, but not quite as terribly as she expected. She feels a little nauseous, but for the most part is seems like she got all her seasickness out last night.

Awesome. She hadn't known that could happen. Her cousin traveled by boat once and he said he spent the entire time throwing up.

She tries to shake the bleariness out of her skull before rolling out of her hammock, which is more difficult than you might imagine, and making her way up to the deck. Now that she's not tipsy, she's not entirely certain how she should be acting.

Like normal, it turns out, when she gets hugged in passing by one of the Alexes before he scurries up the rigging.

A man who she's pretty sure is Spencer is leaning with his elbows on the railing, looking out at the horizon. The set of his back and his shoulders is familiar, but the beard is really the dead giveaway.

"Um," she says, walking over to him. "Spencer?"

He looks up at her and smiles, and wow, it turns out last night's instinctual desire to see him in the sunlight was spot-on. That smile is dazzling. (And she was totally right, his eyes are blue.)

Brendon squashes that line of thought. It can lead nowhere good.

"Brendon," he says. "Hey. Sorry your introduction to us was so crazy."

Brendon shrugs. "It was kind of fun," she admits. "And I'm pretty sure I didn't do anything too embarrassing last night?"

"No," he assures her. "But you're very good at the waltz."

Brendon only just manages to bite back her immediate response about years of courtly dance lessons. There's something about Spencer that's very disarming. This could be dangerous. "Thanks," she says instead. "Um, you said something about introductions?"

"Right," he says, turning around to stare at the crew instead of the horizon. Helpfully, he points to each person as he names them. She was right, Gabe is Tall Purple Man. Frank is Tiny Tattooed Man, and the woman he's hanging on is Jamia. Victoria and Nate are the two laughing over a pile of rope.

"And nobody really bothers to tell the Alexes apart," Spencer tells her, waving a hand absently. "They all answer to Alex, anyway."

"Hey!" one of the Alexes says, skidding to a halt in front of the two of them. "We're not all named Alex, okay. I'm Cash, and the little dude with the hair is Ian." Ian flips Cash off and gets back to doing... whatever it is that he's doing. Brendon is very willing to admit that she knows almost nothing about ship life. "Alex DeLeon is up in the crow's nest —" that must be the one who hugged Brendon, whose gender she wasn't entirely sure of last night "— Alex Marshall is steering, and Alex Johnson is off being a ninja or something, it's what he does."

"Thanks," Brendon says, blinking a little at the sudden influx of information. She kind of expects Cash to run off again after that, leaving as quickly as he arrived, but instead he peers at her. She raises her eyebrows, and he steps back, looking satisfied.

"Spencer, can we have a cabin?" he demands, apparently speaking for all four fellow members of his species. "We want a cabin boy."

Spencer sighs. "That's not how it works, Cash."

Cash perks up, looking at Spencer hopefully. "Can we have a cabin boy without having a cabin?"

"No."

Cash deflates, looking like one of Brendon's nieces or nephews when they're denied cookies. Brendon has to stifle her giggle. "Fine," he mutters, slouching away dejectedly — at least until he reaches Ian, when he straightens up and whispers loudly, "He's totally going to say yes one day, I know it!"

"Yeah right," Spencer yells over.

Cash jumps. "How did he hear that?" he demands, still in the whisper loud enough to carry through Brendon's entire house, probably. And Brendon's house was pretty big, so.

"Maybe because you're a douchebag who sucks at whispering?" Ian asks without sounding irritated in the slightest, which is a pretty great feat.

Spencer rolls his eyes and looks back at Brendon. "Don't mind them. They stowed away on the ship two years ago, when we first got it, and then refused to leave."

"Right," Brendon says, nodding solemnly. "I can see why you wouldn't want to abandon a couple of six-year-olds."

Spencer stares at her for a moment, then chuckles. "Greta was right, you're going to be fine here," he tells her, which makes Brendon glow a little on the inside. "So, your name is Brendon? Brendon what?"

Spencer still looks friendly, but this doesn't sound like an entirely innocuous question. "Boyd," she lies calmly, thinking back to the uncle she's named after. It's a common enough last name; not everyone in their family was born rich, after all.

"Brendon Boyd, okay. I'm Spencer Smith," he says. Brendon tests out the sound of it in her head. Spencer Smith. Spencer Smith. Spencersmithspencersmithspencersmith. "Greta didn't have a chance to tell us where you were from."

"Salt City." It's not too far away from her home province of Vegas; Brendon has cousins there, and she can describe the geography well enough to pass if pressed. "I — left, recently."

"And decided to work on a ship? Why?" Spencer is watching her closely. Brendon tries to not get distracted by it, but it's hard. She can feel the heat coming off his body. "Salt City is landbound. You could have chosen something you knew better."

"I needed something new," she says firmly. This is all true. "I needed — I had to leave." She breaks eye contact, looking at the ocean and wrapping her arms around herself. "I couldn't stay."

Spencer's voice is soft when he says, "Yeah, okay." He pats her on the shoulder and adds, "Sorry, I had to know before I let you meet Ryan."

"It's okay, I get it." Brendon does, she really does. If she had a ship and crew as awesome as this, she would want to make sure that newcomers were as trustworthy as possible. "And apparently I still have to get interrogated by someone named Pete?"

"What about Pete?" a voice behind Brendon asks, and she spins around, only just managing not to fall in the ocean.

Before she can help it, she gasps. "Oh my god."

"What?" the man asks, looking at her uncertainly. He's the only one Spencer hasn't named yet, so Brendon's going to assume that he's Ryan. "What is it?"

"Your hat." Brendon knows she sounds reverent, but she can't control it. Besides, at least if she's focusing on the hat she's not thinking about how extraordinarily attractive Ryan is. Really, he's prettier than Brendon could ever hope to be even as a girl. "It's even more amazing than the other one."

Ryan smiles happily, stroking the brim. "Isn't it?" He shakes off his dreaminess and focuses on her face. "Oh! You're the new cabin boy, aren't you?"

"Ryan, this is Brendon," Spencer says, putting a warm hand on Brendon's shoulder. "Brendon, this is Captain Ross. Call him Ryan, everybody else does. He's going to be taking up most of your time sending you on ridiculous errands."

Ryan frowns. "I'm not that bad," he protests.

"No, you're not," Spencer agrees. Brendon twists around to look at him, seeing the look on his face as he looks at Ryan.

Well, that's interesting, she thinks. The Butcher and Sisky are together, the Alexes are apparently involved in some sort of five-way relationship, Gabe spent all last night talking about William, Frank and Jamia seem inseparable, and the captain and the first mate are in love. And might also be in a relationship with somebody named Jon, who had romantic reasons for coming to Summerside that had nothing to do with Spencer and Ryan.

Running away was the best decision she ever made.